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MCA/UNIVERSAL/RENAISSANCE owns Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo (poor baby needs a better agent, she's getting paid only in apples and oats) and others from X:WP. All others are a possible hazardous byproduct of the icky gray stuff that is stuck inside the boney thingy on my shoulders.
This story is written without wanting to infringe on the above companies rights. (If I do they'd sic the "Amazon Collection Agency" or ACA on me, and they always get their prey.) This story is also non-profit and any reproduction or use of this story without my permission will make me call the ACA on your bootie.
Violence is present in this story, and some of it is very graphic. This is Xena after all. If you don't approve please just read something you find more appropriate.
Special Thanks go out to Perager, my editor. Whose patience is probably getting thin from trying to teach me the difference between "blah," she said, and "blah." She said. Don't worry . . . I'll get it down . . . sometime . . . hehe.
Oh gods . . . that gray stuff is bubbling outta my ears again, perhaps I should just get on with the story before it's all gone?
A CROWN OF LAUREL
Callisto materialized with a shower of light in a large sumptuous bedroom. Silks and other precious fabrics decorated the walls and columns in flowing designs. Scrolls littered several tables and food and drink sat uneaten on a silver tray. A huge circular bed took up much of the space, draped on all sides by sheer silks.
The warrior goddess pursed her lips together and grinned impishly when she realized that the bed was occupied by two people.
"Oh my . . . am I interrupting anything?" Callisto asked as she slid onto the bed, startling the two occupants. The goddess reached out a slim hand and cupped the woman s chin. "Having fun? I hope I'm not spoiling the mood." She smiled, her eyelids half drooping.
The man stood and wrapped himself in a heavy robe, then dismissed his bedmate with a casual wave of his hand. The young girl gathered up her clothes and veritably ran out the doors. The guards stationed outside stuck their heads in, but at a silent signal from their ruler, they closed the doors, leaving Callisto and the man alone.
The blond goddess stretched seductively across the bed, grinning at the man she had come to see. "Join me?" She asked, though her tone made it more of a command. The man complied, easing himself to lay next to her, but not touching her.
"What do I owe for the honor of this visit?" He asked, his eyes hooded, his face expressionless.
Callisto threw back her head and squealed in delight, then turned her bright eyes onto his. "No. No. It's all my pleasure, I assure you." She ran a long finger down his arm. "In fact . . . though it's not here yet, I've brought you a present."
The mans eyes grew flinty. "How close is she?"
"Tomorrow morning I want you to get on your fastest ship and head east. We will find you after that. It should only be a day or two." Callisto answered, than ran her fingers through his hair roughly.
"You are sure she is . . . " He started, but was interrupted by his hair being grasped firmly and his head being yanked back. Callisto leaned close, her eyes deadly serious in contrast to the sweet smile on her lips.
"Do not question me. Ever. I have this all planned out, and it's right on schedule," she admonished. Giving him a quick peck on the lips, she released him and leapt off the bed. Turning back she gazed down at him, her hands resting lightly on her hips.
"Fastest ship. Bring your best men. And chains . . . don't forget the chains." She giggled a moment. "Don't be too late, you don't want to spoil our fun," Callisto advised, waggling a finger at the still man.
"I will do as you say," he said simply.
"Good." She waved and disappeared in a flash.
The man stood and pondered the situation. To get Xena he was having to pander to this strange unknown goddess, and he didn't like it. But to have Xena in his hands again . . . he would do almost anything.
I will play your game . . . for now. He thought silently, then called for the girl to be returned to his bed.
* * * * *
Xena ran down the passageway banging on cabin doors with enough force to wake the dead. As she tried to wake the captain, Gabrielle was the first one out, ready with her staff. Seconds later the merchant and the captain opened their doors and the crew awoke at her alarm.
"What in Poseidon s name is going on here?!" Captain Fenal bellowed, looking very tired and silly in his nightclothes.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked in concern.
"No time!! Everyone hang on!!!" Xena yelled at the top of her voice then turned and slammed into the bard, sending them both into their cabin. As she shoved her friend toward the hammock, the Jade Dolphin suddenly heaved, as if it had been given life and was taking its first breath. With Gabrielle held close in one arm, Xena tucked up her legs and sprung across the cabin, aiming for the hammock. The ship's now violent chaotic movement impeded her abilities but the warrior's determination to get them both to the hammock, so that they wouldn't die from being slammed time and time again into a wall or the floor, got her close enough to their destination that she easily shoved her terrified companion into the hammock. Pulling herself into the contraption with her, Xena trapped Gabrielle in her arms and held on with all her strength.
"Xena . . . .what . . . what's happening?" Gabrielle moaned, very afraid. I hate the sea. I hate the sea. I hate the sea, was her silent mantra.
"Poseidon is my guess." The warrior muttered, listening to the ship's sounds carefully for signs of impending flooding. She could hear the screams of sailors and hear the low toned *thumps* as some collided with unyielding objects. Xena smiled tightly for a split moment as the loud roar of one of the crew was heard cursing the name of Poseidon to Tartarus and back again. On and on the duo swayed and rocked violently in their berth, both anxiously waiting for the end to come.
Abruptly the ship's movement stopped leaving an almost supernatural silence. Letting go the sides of the hammock that kept them in, Xena tumbled out and raced out the cabin door grabbing her healing kit and throwing Gabrielle the extra one out of the chest on the way. She needed to look for wounded and to assess the damage to the ship. Gabrielle followed close behind, knowing her skills would also be needed. The bard had learned and helped Xena many times with wounded people and had gotten quite proficient at it.
"Gabrielle, check the cabins! I'll go on deck with the sailors!" Xena shouted as she ran up the passageway ladder.
"Right." The bard stated immediately going for the nearest door, the merchant Marlius . Not bothering to knock she rushed in and took in the situation.
His cabin was bigger than their own and filled with loose objects that could have become deadly. Gabrielle thanked the gods that all of their own few possessions had been packed safely away. Spotting the large rotund man under a pile of clothes and pottery the woman hurried forward. She threw items off him left and right, uncovering the man. Gabrielle groaned with dismay at seeing blood on his scalp, but with a closer examination she saw it was a minor wound and that he would be unconscious for only a little while longer. The man might wake up with a headache, but it wouldn't kill him.
Quickly she wiped up the blood, smeared some healing salve on it and applied a cloth bandage. Finished, she hurried out of the room to the next, which was Alexis room, Marlius daughter. Once again she barged her way through, but quickly saw no one was inside and left, heading for the captain's cabin.
The bard started her way through the door as before, but her progress was halted by an obstacle just behind the door. Feeling the object give a little, Gabrielle put her shoulder against the door and slowly pushed her way through. When she had enough room she poked her head in and was startled to see it was the captain that had been lying behind the door, completely unconscious and looking badly wounded. The slim woman made her way past the door and started working on Fenal.
A large piece of wood, that looked to her like a chair leg, had been plunged deep into his chest. It bled out slowly, but the bard could tell most of the blood was staying in the body cavity due to the discoloration of the skin. Gabrielle felt for a pulse and sighed. His skin was ice cold, clammy, and she could barely feel a pulse. Her eyes watering, the bard dragged Captain Fenal away from the door.
"Can I help?" asked a small man that stood in the doorway. Gabrielle recognized him as the ship's cook. "Your friend, Xena, told me to come down and give you a hand since I didn't get hurt much. Just some bruises." He walked over and looked down at his captain sadly.
"Bad is it?" He quietly asked. Gabrielle just nodded and patted him on the arm.
"Would you do me a favor? Stay with him. I don't think he has much longer and I need to go help Xena." The woman asked, wanting someone to be with Fenal till the end, just in case he woke up.
The cook knelt down and took Fenal's hand. "I'll do it . . . and gladly. He is . . . is a good man."
Gabrielle lowered her head and quickly left the room, making for the deck above.
What she saw dismayed her. Usually the sailors slept up on deck, except for in bad weather which drove them into the hold, which was not unusual on a ship this size. Where there had been ten sailors, now lay only three, with Xena tending their wounds feverishly. Rope line, wood splinters from the mast, water and seaweed lay everywhere, and the bard had to be very careful of her step.
As she reached Xena's side, the warrior reached up without looking and grabbed her hand dragging her down and placing it on a sailor's thigh.
"Hold it right there. Tightly. No. Tighter, Gabrielle." She commanded, trying to stop the heavy bleeding from the sailor's mangled leg. She grabbed a length of rope, deftly split it into thinner pieces and used one as a tourniquet.
"Ok. You can let go now. How is everyone down below?" asked the warrior, taking a quick glance at her friend to make sure she was all right. Her eyes narrowed when she saw something in the bard's face that worried her.
"The merchant is fine I think. Just a bump on the head. He should wake up with a slight headache," Gabrielle said softly.
"Uh huh. And the others?" Xena asked as she washed out the man s wound of foreign matter before packing it with herbs.
Gabrielle handed Xena a clean bandage when she was ready for it, then sighed. "Was his daughter up here?" She quietly asked.
Xena looked up at the bard but kept her hands busy, they knew their job almost automatically. "No. I take it she wasn't down there."
"I'll go check the hold . . . someone ought to anyway, in case we are leaking," the woman offered, dreading the notion of finding the ship sinking under them.
"That would be helpful, Gabrielle, thank you. How's Captain Fenal?" the warrior asked, tying off the end of the bandage tightly.
"He's dying. I had the cook stay with him, in case he woke up," Gabrielle whispered, then told her friend the cause.
Xena nodded. "I trust your judgment. Damn!" She swore quietly, then looked back up to the bard. "Have you looked overboard yet?"
"No. Should I?" the woman asked, concerned at her friend's tone.
"Be prepared, Gabrielle. This isn't over yet," Xena stated. Her sudden calmness steadied her friend. Her tranquillity is like a force of nature sometimes. It overwhelms you, leaving you no choice but to follow it. Scary, Gabrielle thought in wonder. I'm one of the few people that sees that that calmness hides a storm of uncertainty.
Taking a deep, calming breath she stood and looked over the side of the Jade Dolphin, and almost crumpled in shock and surprise.
"Be careful, Gabrielle," came the concerned voice.
"I'll be ok. I can handle this. I can . . . I know I can because you're here with me." She started to babble a little, her voice soft, barely a whisper.
The Jade Dolphin rode, instead of the sea waves that she was built for, a giant outstretched hand of water that raced across the sea faster than any ship, faster than any dolphin, and faster than any wind.
"Poseidon." Gabrielle winced. She knew that the God of the Sea, named "Earthshaker," was a long-standing foe of Xena's. The warrior had never told her when the two had first crossed paths and why they didn't get along, but Gabrielle had seen for herself the animosity of Poseidon for the warrior. Cecrops himself had been offered his freedom if he had thrown Xena overboard. He had tried to discourage the warrior from helping Ulysses also and had gotten furious when she had bluntly told him she was helping the king to reach his home.
And now it seemed that the sea god was taking a more personal hand, so to speak, in Xena's future. There was no doubt in her mind it was Poseidon either. No one had the power of the natural force of the water like him.
"Where is he taking us?" Gabrielle said aloud to her friend.
"I don't know, but for now we are moving south very quickly." The warrior replied from just over her shoulder. The bard turned and looked up at her companion with worry.
"Will they be ok?" she asked, looking momentarily at the hurt sailors a few feet away.
"They'll be fine. The one with the leg wound was the worst. If I can keep out the infection he will live, with his leg too if I have anything to say about it." The warriors voice was firm and steady. The ship had lost a large part of the crew and would lose its captain, if he wasn't dead already, and damned if she would let Hades have another soul. "Go below and see if you can find the girl. Be careful though, and if there's a leak come up here immediately and tell me. OK?" Xena asked, touching Gabrielle's arm to reassure her for a moment. Turning back to the ship she proceeded to clean off the deck, throwing overboard what was no longer needed, and keeping that which they could still use.
Gabrielle backed away from the railing and walked careful down the passageway again. Amazingly enough, since Poseidon had taken them, the ship was still and barely rocked at all, which made the bard's passage more easy.
For a brief moment she popped her head into the captain's cabin. "Is he . . . ?" She started to ask the cook, but she didn't know whether to be happy or sad that he hadn't died yet. Happy in a small way that Hades hadn't gotten him, the bard didn't like Hades much having had a couple of bad experiences. And also sad, for the captain to live on would only mean his continued suffering.
The woman nodded slightly, thanking the cook, then went to go open the hatch to the hold below. Grabbing a lit lantern she hovered low over the hole and peered down into its depths. Looking closely she was glad to see no water in the hold so far. She stepped down unto the ladder and slowly made her way below.
"Hello?" Gabrielle called. She didn't see anyone yet, but that didn't mean that there wasn't an unconscious person down here.
Reaching the bottom, she gingerly made her way around crates and bundles, very glad to see that most of it had been tied down securely and so very little had broken free, causing damage or blocking the way. What had been damaged was easily navigated and Gabrielle had soon searched the entire hold, not finding a soul.
The sensitive bard shivered at having to tell Marlius that his daughter was no longer on board. Though she herself didn't get along with her parents, she couldn't imagine telling Cyrene her daughter had died, let alone Xena having to tell her parents what had happened to their wayward daughter. But Gabrielle would tell him, knowing that Xena would feel more uncomfortable and that it would be best. I doubt if I can help him, but I can try. I can't imagine how . . . yes . . . yes I can. Thought Gabrielle silently, having forgotten about Perdicus. He didn't come to her thoughts as much anymore, but he was still in her heart. She had loved him in her way, but not enough, as she knew she should have. She still hadn't thought through all of her feeling about Perdicus and his death yet.
Shaking her head to clear the dangerous thoughts, she started back down the aisle to the ladder. Unexpectedly a sound from behind her caught her attention. "Eww . . . rats?" She cringed at the thought .
She glimpsed a brief flash of color out of the corner of her eye and turned with the lantern to get a better look. Seeing nothing she walked over carefully, not wanting to step on an errant rat if there was one.
From behind a large bale peeked a small slippered foot and the bard rushed forward in relief. Seeing the veiled figure laying peacefully on a pile of carpets Gabrielle smiled, glad that she didn't have anymore bad news to give out today. Seeing no blood she reached and picked up the girls . . . No . . . a woman s hand, she observed and patted it gently to wake her up. The woman's entire head was veiled so that only the barest hint of her eyes could be seen through the cloth. In curiosity Gabrielle started to reach up and peek past the veil, when the woman s hand twitched and her eyes opened.
"Ah . . . your awake. Good. How are you feeling?" The bard asked, slightly embarrassed, hoping the woman hadn't seen her hand almost touching the veil.
The woman sat up slowly then turned to Gabrielle and cocked her head to the side. Then cautiously she nodded her head and withdrew her hand from the other woman's.
"Does anything hurt?" Gabrielle asked, still concerned. Why doesn't the woman answer? Unless . . . hmm . . . it would explain why she likes her privacy, she mused.
The woman shook her head and stood up slowly.
"Oh . . . umm . . . you can't speak?" The bard asked carefully, hoping she didn't offend her.
Again the head shake, then a little shrug.
"Well, that's ok. Let's get you to your father, shall we? He hurt his head a little bit, but he'll be fine." Gabrielle smiled reassuringly and led the way out. She held the lantern as the veiled woman quickly went up the ladder. Taking a last look around the hold, she thanked the gods that they weren't sinking and that she had found Alexis. Gabrielle frowned, as she watched the hypnotic flickering shadows from the lantern on the crates and ships hull for a moment, forgetting the turmoil around her. A sense a unease crept into her as she looked toward the area where she had found the woman.
I swear I had looked there. The bard frowned deeply.
"Gabrielle?" Came Xena's call.
"Coming!" Cried Gabrielle, as she hurried up the ladder, her thought forgotten.
* * * * *
The remaining passengers and crew of the Jade Dolphin slept listlessly through the night. Only a lone figure paced the wooden deck watching the wounded and gazing out into the still darkness. Candlemarks passed and the sun rose, its rays showing more clearly the supernatural position they were in. But nothing could be done when the mast was broken in two and the tiller had been ripped off. So the Jade Dolphin rode Poseidon s hand off to the west now, swifter than the wind.
Far away a man readied himself and his guard for a sea voyage to the east and to the woman he had left long ago.
He climbed swiftly onto his fleet's fastest vessel, his best friend close behind him. Both of them were ready for battle, in bright armor and leather. Nodding to the captain, the ship's sail was set and the rowers put their backs to their oars. Extra rowing slaves had been brought along for the journey, so that the pace would not falter.
Soon Xena. Soon you will see my face again and shiver. Came the silent thought as the man gazed intently towards the rising sun.
* * * * *
Xena and Drenarious, the cook, heaved the plank's end up over their shoulders, then lowered it to the deck as the shrouded body slipped off into the water.
Solemnly Xena took a deep breath, then sang Fenal s funeral dirge. They could not light a pyre since they were at sea, so they laid him to his rest in the depths of the sea that he had sailed over for so many years.
Gabrielle s eyes glistened as she watched and listened to her best friend sing Fenal's soul to Hades' realm. She had heard it before, this song sung with such depth and feeling that the bard knew the gods themselves would cry if they listened. Once for Marcus. Another sad time for when Hercules' wife, Serena, had died. And the last time . . . when Perdicus had died. Her heart pounded as the words rang soft but sure out into the new day's light, sending a soul out from Helios' rays into the never-ending light and bliss of the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle didn't know the man well of course, but she could see good in people, and Fenal was bound to only one place in her opinion.
And still the song was sung on, caressing the listeners, sailors and Gabrielle alike, in its deep sadness and its words of farewell and hope. Then with a long drawn out note it was ended and Xena took a step forward to the railing. The bard knew what the warrior was planning and stood beside her to watch.
"POSEIDON!" Xena cried, her voice now no longer filled with sorrow but anger.
Gabrielle looked over the railing and into the monstrous watery hand that carried them through the waters so swiftly.
"Look, Xena." The bard pointed just overboard to where bright lights flashed in turmoil.
"Xena." Came a deep voice from seemingly below and all around them at once. Silence for a moment then laughter roared around them.
"Enjoying the ride, Warrior Princess?" The sea god asked.
"What do you want with us, Poseidon?" Xena ignored the question, asking instead one of her own. She would give the god no satisfaction if she could.
"Xena. You wound me. No pleasant conversation?" said the god, sounding anything but wounded, instead he seemed amused.
"I wish I could wound you." Xena muttered, barely under her breath. Gabrielle put out a hand to her. It wouldn't help them any if the warrior lost her temper.
"Are you after the ship or me?" Xena demanded.
"Hmm . . . I'm not really after either. I'm just completing a small deal to deliver you and the ship. It's too bad really . . . if the deal hadn't gone through I would have taken this ship to my destination instead and had fun. But . . . a deal is a deal."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other a moment in bewilderment.
"Who?" Gabrielle spoke up before Xena. The warrior glared at her a moment then shrugged when she saw the bard's determination.
"Ah . . . the bard. I could give you a choice. Yes . . . yes I think I'll do that." Poseidon's voice paused a moment. "Entertain me bard, and I will let you go free. The bargain only included Xena." A deep chuckle could be heard from the sea depths.
Gabrielle frowned. Poseidon knows nothing about me if he thinks I would . . . Her thought was interrupted as Xena took her by the shoulders.
"Do it, Gabrielle," Xena ordered. The warrior s stomach was knotted up with uncertainty, but if she could get her friend to safety, she knew she could better face whatever was to come.
Gabrielle's face grew dark with anger. Shrugging Xena's hands away, she leaned close to her friend and spoke earnestly. "I have told you time and time again Xena. I will not leave. His offer is unacceptable. I couldn't just tell him stories to entertain him for my freedom and not yours."
Xena looked into Gabrielle s eyes deeply, searching for something to tell her what she should do. Finally she smiled a little at her friend and turned back to the sea . . . Gabrielle let out a little sigh of relief. Xena is just too stubborn sometimes about my safety. But I can be just as stubborn too. At least she gave in this time. Gabrielle stole a look at her friend's face.
"No deal, Poseidon. I have a prior engagement." Gabrielle replied, her voice sure.
The lights swirled more chaotically for a moment, as if in anger, then slowed.
"Then your fate and the fate of Xena is sealed. You shall be delivered." The sea god responded.
"What about us?" Came a voice behind them.
"Your lives I could care less about. Stay on the ship or swim back to land. I care not."
"NO!!" Xena and Gabrielle spun around towards the voice of the angry merchant. "You have no right to decide for the rest of us!! My daughter! What about my daughter?"
Gabrielle felt for the man, but didn't know what to say.
Xena however wasn't speechless at all. "I rather doubt it's only just your daughter you're worried about." She said without expression, her arms crossed in front of her.
"So what if it is? The captain is dead, so is most of the crew. The rest of them are injured, and I've been given a bad head wound." Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the last. "And my poor Alexis. What's to become of her? Poseidon only wants you! I say we give you to him if he will let us go free!" The man s arms flailed and pointed at the warrior as he spoke to the hurt sailors and the cook.
But each of the sailors had reason to thank Xena for their very lives and didn't appreciate Marlius' cowardice.
Drenarious, his small body shaking with anger, stepped forward and drove his fist into the man's face. The merchant's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed onto the deck, unconscious.
The cook shook his fist, trying to rid it of the pain. He glanced sheepishly over to the two women and blushed. Gabrielle tried not to chuckle as she saw the amused expression on Xena's face, but wasn't having much luck. The cook's fellow sailors didn't hold back either, instead hooting at him in glee, which just made him blush more.
"Thank you. But he had a point. This doesn't involve you." Xena stated firmly.
"Beggin' your pard' n warrior, but it does. Poseidon took our capt' n and fellows." One of the men replied adamantly.
"Xena." Poseidon s voice came again.
The warrior ignored it for a moment, instead looking at the sailors gauging their reactions. Satisfied with what she saw she turned back to the sea god.
"Except for one, maybe two, there isn't anyone on this ship that will stand with you. I don't know if that makes them brave or stupid." She spared a quick smile to the group over her shoulder. They chuckled appreciatively. "As for the merchant and his daughter . . . "
Poseidon interrupted her. "I could care less. Like I said Xena, they can either swim or stay aboard."
Xena frowned. More blood on my hands? More souls to be responsible for?
"I give my life to you in exchange for everyone s safety." The warrior replied quickly. Gabrielle gasped in shock and sounds of disagreement came from the crew.
"NO!" The bard yelled, but Xena ignored her.
"As much as I appreciate the offer Xena, I can't take it. You're . . . wanted elsewhere. But I'll remember your offer for the next time we meet." Gabrielle was please to hear the words and even heard a tone of unhappiness in his voice that he couldn't take the warrior up on her offer.
"Tell me, Poseidon. Who are you dealing with?" Xena commanded the god. She had never had patience for the gods' conniving, manipulative ways and was not afraid to show it.
"Hmm . . . should I spoil the surprise? No . . . I think not. Don't worry Xena, in one or two days you'll get your answers." The voice drifted off and the unwilling prisoners of the Jade Dolphin watched as the lights dissipated in the waters. But all of them knew Poseidon's presence was still with them, embodied in the huge hand that help them captive.
"You would think they would have better things to do besides try and torment us." Xena growled as she slammed her fist unto the railing. The men quietly let the two alone, taking the merchant to his cabin and informing his daughter of his state.
"Perhaps. But where's the story in that?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena glanced over at the bard and raised an eyebrow. "You think this is funny?"
"No." Gabrielle shook her head. "But he does. They legends tell us in a few stories of how we mortals were made. All of them say a god created us. They created everything and now they are bored, in my opinion."
"In some ways, a lot really, they are like children. They need constant attention, and they need to play to be happy . . . to be amused." The bard continued. "They have taken the older gods' places and duties, but have nothing to keep them occupied. Except for us, their toys."
Xena thought for a moment. "Yes. But it doesn't make it right. I'm not some puppet to be pulled by its strings."
"Not in our opinion, Xena. But in theirs? In their view we are here for them. Not the other way around." The bard shrugged. "At least that is what I think I see through their eyes." She was silent a moment as she considered whether to bring up another validating point or not. She knew this reminder might upset her friend. After considering she rushed on.
"In fact . . . did you worship Ares for your own benefit or his, when you were . . . umm . . . a warlord?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
Xena's eyes narrowed a moment at the God of War's name and at the flood of dark memories that it evoked in her. "Mine, of course." She answered tensely.
"And did he want you for his own purposes? Or did he help you for your own purposes?" Gabrielle asked, watching her friend carefully.
"Both . . . well, no that's not true. I know better. His purposes followed mine at the time, but he gave me men and power for his own twisted reasons. Not mine." Xena frowned. He is the major reason why I don't trust the gods either.
"OK. So since we are on the subject, let s consider Poseidon's purpose, shall we?" The blond woman replied. "The gods tend not to bow to the wishes of mortals." Xena smiled ironically at the bard's words and nodded. "Instead, most of their plots tend to be against each other by pitting us mortals against each other. True?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena considered a moment then nodded. "The Big Game."
"Yes. Poseidon said he was 'completing a small deal' . Anything he needs from the mortal world, for the most part is easy for him to demand or take, if he really wants it. So what could be so important that he would trade a favor for?"
"Not gold, jewels, or treasure. That's too easy. Hmm . . . something powerful . . . or which would give him more power? Or . . . something another god has that he wants?" Xena s eyes narrowed as she thought aloud.
"It could be anything, Xena. But that's not really the issue. My bet is that Poseidon couldn't get it himself, so someone else got it for him. Someone that could get it, when he couldn't. And that leaves only one answer." Gabrielle pointed out.
The warrior frowned. "Another god, of course."
"Yes. But which one? That I don't have any clue. Except . . . "
"Ares." Xena interrupted. Gabrielle just nodded in agreement. "He has been rather active against us this year. But I usually know when Ares is involved. It s just this feeling I get whenever he is around."
"I don't know Xena. But whomever it is, be it mortal or god, I don't think the next few days will be pleasant." Gabrielle shivered uneasily.
"Don't worry. We'll get through this." Xena put an arm around the bard and gave her a squeeze.
* * * * *
Marlius the jewelry merchant groaned loudly in pain, his head swimming as he tried to sit up. He rubbed his jaw carefully, very confused about what had happened.
The last thing he could clearly remember was his daughter, Alexis, coming to visit him early this morning. She hadn't felt well, so had begged out of the funeral for Captain Fenal.
Marlius had been concerned of course, hoping his daughter wasn't ill. She had assured him that it was probably just a reaction to the situation and that she just needed to rest. Then they had spent some time together, communicating on parchment.
The man tried to focus on what they had talked about, for he was proud of his daughter. She was quite learned and they enjoyed spending time with each other discussing a wide range of topics, but for some reason his memory was too clouded to remember.
He could remember leaving his cabin for the funeral, then the soulful dirge that the warrior had sung for the captain. After that things were just a blur for him, his mind only remembering a pair of eyes of blue hue, far too bright to be normal.
The door to his cabin opened quietly and he smiled as his daughter walked gracefully into the room.
As she walked closer to his bed, Marlius senses reeled with emotions of unease and danger. He looked up at his daughter but saw nothing out of the ordinary. She was wearing the veil, that she had taken to wearing several weeks ago when he had decided to move his household and his business. But still something felt not right to him.
"Father." The woman said aloud.
"Wha . . . " Marlius gaped in astonishment. His daughter had been unable to speak since an accident when she was a child.
"Ooo . . . you were a good boy, weren't you. But now you've lost your usefulness." A slim hand caressed his cheek for a moment. "You know, I used to have a daddy. But he died. You don't make a good replacement." The hand suddenly became like iron, wrenching his head and body around so his back was to her. She held his chin to her stomach tightly, and no amount of struggling against the slim form would release him.
Marlius' mind screamed as his daughter drew a long bright dagger and drove it deep in and across his throat from ear to ear. Blood sprayed everywhere as the merchant was released to fall back onto his bed.
As he lay there, his vision darkening in his last moments, his murderous daughter bent closely and pulled aside her veil. What he saw was not his daughter but a monster in beautiful form, twisted by hate and bloodlust that was etched deep into her face, and with eyes a bright blue that wasn't natural.
"Goodnight, daddy." Cooed Callisto softly in Marlius ear as the darkness overtook him. "Tell Hades Callisto sent you."
* * * * *
The change could be felt throughout the ship. Gabrielle, Xena and the crew gathered together on the deck sensing something was happening.
"I think we are about there. We seem to be slowing down." Xena observed, her eyes staring down at Poseidon s hand.
"Where?" Denarious asked with concern.
"I have no idea, I've seen no land in sight since port. We are far west of Greece, but I don't know how far." The warrior's impatience could be heard clearly. It was hard to do nothing, even though she knew there wasn't anything she could have done to help their situation. A pawn of the gods. Again. And they wonder why I refuse to worship or respect them.
Xena turned to Gabrielle. "This is really frustrating."
"I know. I would have been more comfortable going over land myself. Or sitting in a nice tavern regaling the audience with stories of you." She winked. "Or . . . hey . . . even getting another bruise or two from staff practice with you." Her eyes twinkled with amusement as she got a chuckle out of her friend. "By the way . . . have I thanked you yet for keeping your side of the deal?"
"No." The warrior grinned. She had had a short talk with Denarious at the beginning of their journey. Xena had made it very clear that no unusual foods would be served to the bard while they sailed with them. Thankfully that hadn't been a hard chore for the man since he prided himself on his job, and seemed to have taken a fatherly liking to Gabrielle. "Keep your thanks until we are on dry land and you have a better knowledge of what you ate." Xena grinned. "Now quite trying to distract me . . . I'm brooding."
Gabrielle laughed and slapped her friend on the arm. "Just like a chicken." Then stumbled as the ship rocked violently underneath her. "Wha . . . ."
"Everyone grab something solid and hang on!!" Yelled Xena as she held Gabrielle and herself tightly against the railing.
The Jade Dolphin was released from Poseidon s grasp and was set down roughly into the sea below. Water cascaded over the deck, drenching everyone, but it was over quickly. Xena helped Gabrielle to her feet, glancing over to make sure everyone was all right. Satisfied, she peered over the edge of the ship.
The huge watery hand had disappeared leaving them stranded in the sea. As she was looking, a small swirl of dancing lights appeared in the water, and Poseidon spoke.
"I've been . . . informed that this is where I can leave you, Xena." The god sounded odd, as if upset about something.
"Damn you, Poseidon! Are you so petty that you'd let us die out here without a way to save ourselves?" Xena shouted.
"Giving up already Xena? That is quite unlike you." He chuckled deeply. "Besides, I doubt you're to be just left here to die. Good luck Xena. I hope we meet again." The voice faded and the unwilling passengers watched as the last visage of the sea god flickered away to nothingness.
"Arrrgghh!!" Xena screamed in frustration. She usually was a patient person, but not when it came to the gods.
"Shhh . . . Xena, calm down."
"I really, really dislike being a pawn of the gods, Gabrielle." The warrior fumed.
"You said we were stranded." Gabrielle tried to get her friend's mind off Poseidon and onto their situation again.
Xena nodded. "Nothing to replace the mast, or the sail anywhere on board. We might be able to cannibalize a bit and make a rudder, but it wouldn't do us any good without a sail. We are stuck with no way to leave, and no knowledge of where we are." The warrior frowned in thought. "We should start rationing food supplies and the water. Who knows how long it will be until we see land or a ship."
Denarious nodded. "Good idea. I'll take care of the rationing of course."
"Other than eating and sleeping, there is nothing to do. So we are going to have to keep ourselves entertained, other than Gabrielle's stories." She smiled at her friend. "We don't want you to lose your voice because you kept us from boredom. We'll have to think of other things to do also. Gabrielle I want you to . . . "
"Ship!!" Cried a sailor pointing to the horizon over Xena s shoulder.
Xena and Gabrielle turned back to the sea shading their eyes from the sun to get a better look. Xena spotted it almost at once, but had to point so that the bard could see it.
The tiny spot of white sail was so far away on the horizon that it would take them several candlemarks to reach them.
"Too much of a coincidence?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. I don't like this. Not at all," replied Xena, as she turned back to the crew. "OK. We can't be sure whether it's friend or foe considering our situation. Either way, we will be outnumbered and on a ship that can't flee or maneuver. So we'll have to do the best we can. We have some time before they reach us, which should be after sunset. Now here's what we can do . . . " She said, starting to lay out a plan. Let's just hope they are friends and not enemies, Xena silently thought. But I rather doubt it . . . it's just not my luck.
* * * * *
The moon was clear and bright on the night sea as the foreign ship finally made its way along side the Jade Dolphin. Xena stood next to the ships wheel fully armored, her sword loose in its sheath. The sleek ship was close enough that she could see the bright flashes of armor clad soldiers on the deck, but couldn't make out any details of who they might be. Both ships had put out all flame aboard to prevent the other side from getting an idea of numbers on board, plunging them into darkness. Xena had waited before she had put out theirs, then gave the order when the other ship doused its lights, knowing it wasn't the gesture of a friendly ship.
The woman quickly gazed out over the deck of the Jade Dolphin checking for the readiness of the crew. Denarious and the three remaining sailors were hidden behind several solid railings with crossbows and swords ready, just in case. Gabrielle was a few feet from her also, kneeling just behind a large barrel set up in front of the door that led down into the ship.
Xena knew if it came down to a fight, depending on how many were on the approaching sip, they would be hard pressed not to lose anyone. I could really use ten extra men right about now. Gabrielle had gone down earlier to speak with Marlius and Alexis, but she had come back saying the woman had been told to say from her father that they both would stay below, so that left just the six of them on deck. Stupid man. They would probably be more of a liability anyway. Xena growled silently. I would have gone down myself to get them up here, but Gabrielle insisted. Xena s attention shifted back as the fast ship came into shouting distance and a loud voice cried out to the Jade Dolphin.
"Prepare for boarding!"
Xena stood firm, knowing she was visible in the moonlight. "By whom?" She called back as grappling hooks flew out and pulled the ships firmly together.
"Board her." Came the voice again, this time to his men.
As they came into view the Xena got a good look and was momentarily shocked. Romans. Seeing she and the crew were outnumbered and that the soldiers hadn't drawn steel yet, she called out to her crew before someone drew blood.
"We don't want bloodshed, just safe passage to land for all of us if that's possible."
Denarious and the sailors reluctantly stood, but kept their weapons ready. Gabrielle stood and moved before the passageway door.
Roman legionnaires surrounded the crew and more continued to come aboard. This is not good. Let's hope I can talk our way out of this.
Xena walked calmly down the aft stairs to the main deck, her hands out showing no weapons.
"Who's your commander?" She asked the first soldier she came across.
"I am." Came the reply in Greek, as a Centurion came forward. His tone was harsh and flat. "Who is the captain of this vessel?"
"That would be Captain Fenal. But he isn't available at the moment. We ran into some . . . trouble and we had to bury him yesterday." Xena smiled.
The Roman nodded. "What ship is this and which port did you sail from?"
"The Jade Dolphin, a merchant ship recently out of Kynos. I'll be very willing to overlook your boarding our ship if you'd tow us to the nearest port." Xena reasoned. "We would really like to get on with our journey, but as you can see, we are stranded."
"I believe that can be arranged. I am Centurion Arian Maior. Since you seem to be speaking for the crew, may I have your name."
Xena felt a prickle of unease. "Drixia of Athens."
The roman officer nodded as if satisfied and turned to a squad of soldier that stood behind him. "Take her." He ordered stepping back and drawing his sword.
Xena spared a glance towards Gabrielle and was pleased to see her staff up and ready.
"Now!", she yelled, grinning hugely.
Denarious swung his sword and cleaved two rope lines that had been set precisely. Without the rope to hold it, two heavy crates fell overboard trailing taut lines that pulled nets made out of hammocks across the deck and through the soldiers. Entangled, eight soldier were pulled after the crates and were dragged overboard and into the sea.
Another sailor purposely tripped a wire that ran down the length of the deck. Threaded through five crossbows that were hidden just under the railing, the wire pulled the triggers all at once. Bolts shot out, amazingly all hitting targets, one of them the Centurion. Denarious and the crew raised their crossbows and quickly dispatched the last four men, before their fallen companions hit the deck in agony.
It had all happened in a blink of an eye, then chaos broke out on the Roman ship, as they realized that this little merchant ship with only a handful of crew had killed or incapacitated seventeen in a split moment. As more were starting to come aboard, Xena took four running steps and hurled herself end over end, up and across to the Roman ship. She landed nimbly amongst a large group of soldiers, who just stood there a moment in shocked surprise.
"Permission to come aboard?" She quipped as she drew her sword. As the soldiers drew their own, she threw back an elbow into the man's face behind her and was satisfied to hear him groan and hit the deck. Then blocking two swords with hers, that were aimed at her head, she heaved them upwards, pivoted and slammed her left foot in one s stomach and the hilt of her sword in to the jaw of the other.
More legionnaires took their place and Xena laughed loudly with glee, swinging her sword in a tight figure eight around her body.
Gabrielle watched her companion in concern, but held her post. She watched as Denarious and the crew reloaded their crossbows and started shooting soldiers. The plan was for all of them to stay on the Jade Dolphin and out of Xena s way.
The bard complied reluctantly and watched the other ship closely. Suddenly a hand shot out from behind her and spun her around. Automatically she tried to thrust up with her staff to defend herself, but felt a harsh blow that caused her to drop her weapon. Bringing her eyes up to her assailant she stumbled back a moment in shock.
Alexis grabbed Gabrielle by the hair and dragged her close, putting a sharp dagger right under the bard's chin. Gabrielle squirmed a little, then stilled as the dagger pricked her flesh.
"OK. I get the picture. I'm not moving."
Alexis spun the woman back around wrapping her arm around her captive and pressing the dagger close.
"Call her." she leaned close to the bard s ear and whispered.
Gabrielle froze in horror at the familiar voice that haunted so many of her nightmares at night. "Oh, my god." she muttered in horror.
"No. That would be goddess, now wouldn't it?" Callisto giggled, then pressed the dagger tighter against the bard s throat. "Now . . . call her."
"Xena." The hoarse whisper barely left her throat.
"Don't make me kill you before I can really enjoy it." The goddess warned.
"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled.
Xena and the crew of the Jade Dolphin froze, instantly hearing the fear in the woman's voice. The warrior glanced over at where Gabrielle was standing and hissed in anger. Throwing her sword up into the night sky, she exploded into a frenzy of lethal activity. Thrusting her arms out, her fists connected solidly with two soldiers faces, then she started to spin. Faster and faster she went, knocking out any soldier she hit. Then with exact timing, she stopped and caught her sword with a quick flourish.
She spun back to Gabrielle, the warrior's space momentarily free of soldiers, though the deck was crawling with more. Seeing her friend in danger, she started to gather herself to leap back to the ship, when Gabrielle's assailant ripped off her veils.
"Callisto." Xena growled, her breath taken away by complete surprise.
"Hello Xena. Nice to see you again." The blond goddess' eyes gleamed like lanterns in the moonlit night. Xena took a step forward, but stopped when Callisto pressed the blade against her friend's jugular in warning.
Xena could feel the Romans gathering around her. "I assume this is all your doing?"
"Well, with a little help from 'Waterboy', yes. You wouldn't believe the trouble I had to go through to set all this up for you." Callisto rolled her eyes. "Now to business. Drop your weapons, Xena."
Looking over her shoulder Xena saw soldiers crowded behind her, some with crossbows ready and pointing right at her. She was confident that she could take care of the crossbolts and the soldiers but that would mean sacrificing Gabrielle's life, and she knew Callisto wouldn't hesitate to take it if necessary. And Gabrielle's life was just not a bargaining chip Xena played with. Calmly, she threw down her sword and chakram.
"Oh . . . that's good. Now, kneel." Callisto ordered, grinning evilly.
The warrior glared, but complied.
A soldier came up with lengths of chain and shackles, but Xena ignored his presence except to hold out her wrists in compliance.
"I'm surprised at you, Callisto. This is rather more trouble than you usually go to." She observed as the heavy chains were applied.
"Well, you know how it is. The plan did start out small, but it just grew and grew till it had a life of its own." Callisto cocked her head slightly and beamed a bright smile to Xena in triumph. "And you haven't seen the best part yet. In fact, Xena, you've been so well behaved, that I think it's time for a present. Would you like a present, Xena?" The goddess pushed Gabrielle in front of her, till they were against the railing, only a few feet of deck and water between them and Xena.
Gabrielle looked at her friend sadly. "I m sorry, Xena. She sneaked up on me."
"It's not your fault, Gabrielle." Xena tried to reassure her.
"Hello, Xena." Came a voice from behind Xena. It's familiarity rocked through her, dragging up nightmares that had been buried for years, and more dreadful recent ones. Xena turned and gazed up.
He stood there before her silently, letting her look at him and remember. Silver embossed greaves over fine leather boots. A white thigh length tunic with purple trim, covered by a heavily decorated steel breastplate, that shone in the moonlight. Over his shoulder flowed a deep red cloak that was gathered at the end draped over a muscular forearm. His sharp features, short brown hair and dark eyes, all of these shocked Xena to the core.
"Caesar." she whispered, not even hearing the shrill laughter of Callisto behind her. She gazed over his shoulder to another man almost as familiar to her. "Brutus."
"Ah . . . you remember. I see you have not forgotten me? What? No greetings?" Caesar leaned close, his eyes almost black in the night, threatening to consume her soul. "A shame. I thought you d be happy to see me." He chuckled. "No matter. Chain her to the mast."
Soldiers came forward and did his bidding, first divesting her of her armor and checking her for other weapons. One took the breast dagger from her laying it beside her other weapons.
Callisto brought Gabrielle aboard ship and tied her to the second mast, across from Xena, so that they both could see each other. The bard was confused and not a little bit frightened, but she refused to show it as much as possible, instead she kept her sight on Xena.
The goddess snapped her slim fingers and in a bright flash of light, was now attired in her usual leather armor and sword. Casually, she picked up Xena's weapons, caressing the chakram with a long slim finger. Then she walked over to the Roman Emperor and leaned against him familiarly.
"I'm hurt, Xena. I went through all this trouble and not one word of appreciation on how I brought two old friends together." She reached out and ran her hand alongside the woman's cheek. Xena just looked at the two of them impassively. "It took me a lot of work you know, to find out about your past. I didn't believe the story at first of course, it sounded so unlike you to trust someone to come back to you and join your army, after you had the audacity to ransom him." She threw back her head and cackled. "I really thought you were the type to send bits and pieces till the gold came, not offer to take him as your partner."
"But then I heard the rest of the story, and it made so much sense about you. It was Caesar here who set you even more firmly on the path that brought you to Cirra, wasn't it? He crucified you and your men, broke your legs and left you for dead, ripping what trust you had right out from your heart." Callisto chuckled a moment then started to circle the mast and Xena. "That must have hurt you deeply. Almost as much as Draco stealing your army . . . hmm?"
"Oh, but you got back some of your pride, didn't you. I so wish I had been in Britannia with you." Callisto grinned at Gabrielle a moment. "And I heard you had some fun too, little bard. I really would have loved to have seen that self-righteous face of yours after you drove that knife into the priestess' gut. How did it feel to have her hot blood gush onto your hands, Gabrielle? Hmmm?" she purred into the bard's ear.
Gabrielle flinched at the raw memories that the goddess drew out unrelentingly.
Caesar looked to the Jade Dolphin and to its crew that had been captured, then back to his captive.
"I see you still have a bit of the pirate in you, Xena. A bit of a small crew though. But I must admit you did extremely well against my best men. But as you know, there is only one punishment I give out to pirates." He motioned to Brutus, who nodded, then crossed over to the other ship.
"No! They aren't pirates!" Xena yelled, knowing what he was planning to do.
"Really? Well, then the charge is the death of several of my men, and the attempted murder of several more. And since they aren't Roman citizens I don't have to bring them back to Rome for judgment. We can take care of it here. You and your friend I'll be bringing back to Rome to face other crimes."
"Xena?" Gabrielle finally spoke. Her fears weren't just for herself, but for her friend. Xena had long ago told her about her first meeting with Caesar and how he had betrayed her and her crew. Gabrielle knew the two hated each other with passion and Gabrielle herself didn't really care for the man, considering he had crucified her and had ordered her legs broken.
Abruptly, her thoughts were silenced as a fist slammed into her stomach. A Roman soldier leaned close and snarled. "You have not been given permission to speak!"
Gabrielle hung from the mast, her stomach in immense agony as she gulped in huge breaths in shock. She could hear Xena straining against her chains, cursing, and Callisto's insane laughter in the background. Slowly the pain receded and she looked up to see Xena s eyes looking into her own with concern. The bard nodded that she was ok and saw the relief on her friend s face change to an expressionless mask of ice as she looked at her captors.
A low moan brought the bard s attention to the Jade Dolphin, and she gasped aloud in horror. Denarious and the three remaining sailors were raised high onto the deck, all hanging from stout crosses that had been cannibalized from the ship itself. While other soldiers made a long line and passed crate after crate of cargo, from the doomed ship, others made sure the four unfortunate men were securely tied.
"Well, this is fun, but I have some things to do." Callisto said, twirling Xena s chakram around a finger. She tossed Caesar the warrior s sword. "A souvenir. Don't worry, Xena, you'll be seeing me again soon enough. I'm sure Julius here has lots planned for you, and I intend to be there for the fun. But not your death, of course. At least he'd better not kill you, you know I've always wanted that pleasure for myself, but I'll be nice and share. He can have your little bard." She smiled, quite happy with herself, then disappeared in a show of light.
Xena looked into Denarious' eyes. The small man hung from a cross only a few feet from her, on the Jade Dolphin side. She saw helplessness, resignation, and pity in his eyes, for her and Gabrielle. This man cares more for our fate than his own. Xena thought in amazement.
"Smooth sailing, Xena." He said to her simply, knowing the warrior had seen his emotions. Then he turned to Gabrielle. He would miss her and her stories. A tear went down the man s face when he saw her. She looked so lost and afraid for him, and very determined not to show fear to the Romans.
"I'd ask you to tell me a tale, Gabrielle, but I fear our friends here wouldn't like it."
Gabrielle smiled sadly, her eyes overflowing. She really had gotten to like the small cook in the few days they had sailed together. She cast a dark look at the soldier standing next to her, then spoke to Denarious, headless of whatever punishment she would receive.
"Instead of telling you an old one, I'll create one with you in it, and some day we'll get together in some port you're in and I'll bore you with it." She smiled.
Caesar watched the exchange and waved off the soldier that would have hit her again for talking. Rather brave, considering. Then his attention shifted to Brutus, who had returned to his side.
"The cargo's loaded, Caesar."
The Emperor nodded. "Cut the lines and take us home." He turned to walk to his cabin, then paused beside Xena, making it seem as if he had momentarily forgotten about her.
"Let me make this clear, Xena. You are both now my personal property. Your friend's health is dependent solely on your good behavior. Any attempt, whatsoever, to escape will find your friend on a beach beside you, hanging from a cross again. And this time Xena . . . " He paused, leaning close to her face. "This time I'll break your legs myself, and hers as well, just to be sure it's done correctly." His eyes were dark as he reached out a hand and gripped the woman s chin, turning her face toward his. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Very." Xena nodded. "Now let me make myself clear to you. You hurt a single hair on her head and all of your legions of soldiers combined won't be able to keep you alive," she snarled.
Brutus smashed his fist into the side of her face, but was rather surprised as her head snapped back towards him and smiled evilly at him. "I've been hit harder by a five year old. Perhaps if you worked out more?" Xena said.
Brutus made to hit her again, but stopped at Caesar's hand on his arm. "I've changed my mind. Chain her to an oar by herself. Keep her there till we make port. No contact with her friend either." The emperor ordered, then went below.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called in concern.
"Don't worry Gabrielle, I'm fine." Xena gave her friend a reassuring smile as she was dragged below to the oars.
Gabrielle slumped against the ropes as she watched the Jade Dolphin, and its human masts, drift away in the night.
The End of Part One.
Comments are welcome.