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"Isle of Medusa"
The characters, names and storylines which have appeared in the syndicated television show Xena: Warrior Princess are copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters in this story and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story can not be used or sold for profit in any way. This story has been written solely for the reading enjoyment of Xena: Warrior Princess fans of the internet.
This story takes place during the fifth season of Xena: Warrior Princess
Note to Reader:
My fourth Xena story has: a goddesses of light, an arrow attack by night, a sailing crew, a gathering of both old friends and new, an ancient serpent feared by man, and a mythical deadly island.
"So tell me Gabrielle." Xena asked as she held her chakrum up in front of her. "How exactly did this happen again?"
Gabrielle was seated across from her friend on the other side of the evening campfire. She was finishing her meal and still looking to her plate as she responded. "Well, like I said, while you were catching the fish, it just sort of happened."
Xena brought the chakrum closer to her face and sniffed at it slightly. She made a face at the strong smell of trout that stayed with her prized weapon. She looked to the chakrum and then to Gabrielle. Then she looked to the chakrum and to Gabrielle again. "Mmm hmm."
Gabrielle for her part was busy running her finger around the inside of the plate, getting every last piece of their evening meal. She was far too busy to bother to look up and meet Xena's studying eyes. "When you were pulling the fish out of the water, I guess one of them must have run across it. It happens now and then." She nodded supportively to her friend.
"Oh does it now?" The faintest expression of a smile played across Xena's lips, but she held it in check. It was a practiced skill that made her sarcasm sound a lot like a threat in certain circumstances. That had always served her well in the past. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked to Gabrielle awhile longer.
Gabrielle looked up briefly and rewarded her with an open, innocent smile. Xena turned the chakrum around in a circle in front of her. She sniffed all along the inside and outside of it. "Pretty big fish to smell it up all the way to the center." She watched Gabrielle for any signs of guilt.
Gabrielle shrugged and looked to her plate again. She glanced up briefly while Xena looked away to her side. Xena was still sniffing at her chakrum, turning it around in the air. Gabrielle let out a quiet laugh.
That drew Xena's attention back to her. She watched as Gabrielle buried her eyes down in her pouch looking for something. When Gabrielle looked up, she still held an innocent, patient look to her that made Xena all the more suspicious. She shook her head lightly and placed her chakrum to her side. Gabrielle had come along way since they first met. She wasn't always sure if that was for the better.
"So, um how much longer will it be?" Gabrielle asked hoping to change the subject. She had taken out a needle and thread to fix a small tear in her boot.
Xena leaned back against the old tree stump and let her hands rest at her side. "Oh not too long." She looked up and took a deep relaxing breath. "We should be at the port by tomorrow night. Tomorrow evening if we push it. We'll have to find a good stable for Argo of course."
"Of course." Gabrielle nodded, still fixing her boot. She looked up. "Why not let Argo run out in the fields? You know like she did before." She thought it was a good idea anyway.
"Oh no." Xena shook her head. She made sure Argo could clearly hear what was being said. "I tried that just a few weeks ago if you'll remember. No, Argo will be staying in a nice clean stable. She is developing too much love for apples."
Argo let out a small sound of dissatisfaction and Gabrielle laughed at that. Actually she was also laughing at Xena sniffing at a chakrum as well, but she wouldn't let her know that. She remembered three weeks ago when she and Xena had run themselves to near exhaustion not far from a farmer's apple orchard. It had taken an entire day for Xena to work out a plan where Gabrielle successfully chased Argo over to Xena. Xena gave out one of her battle cries and back flipped in the air to land in her saddle. Argo's response was to just stand there as though nothing had ever happened.
"Nothing but good quality oats for her this time around. Right girl?" Xena looked back behind her.
Argo just stood there.
"I hope we get to meet some famous people." Gabrielle looked up from her scroll with a wishful attitude. "I mean, judging by the scroll, that invitation could be open to anyone. Heroes of any kind."
"Yeah, I guess it could." Xena was looking to the campfire now, but her thoughts were on something else. She could see the flames catching out to a few leaves nearby. Her boot kicked some dirt in that direction and the leaves died out in no time. "That's fine with me. No need for all the glory on this one, just as long as the job gets done."
"Really? Modesty from the warrior princess." Gabrielle smiled to her, clearly teasing her.
Xena returned her smile. "I like to try it now and then." She tossed a stick into the fire and then pointed to the scroll. "You getting that down."
Gabrielle nodded. "Oh I am. And that too." She pointed to the chakrum and smiled again.
"Oh yeah?" Xena asked her.
"Yeah." Gabrielle responded playfully.
"Well you just do that." Xena smiled and closed her eyes, relaxing more. She must have laid there for about half an hour before the sound of Gabrielle's scroll being rolled up focused her attention. Gabrielle had gotten up and was preparing to go over to put her writings in Argo's pack. Xena reached over to pick up her plate.
"Are you feeling alright Xena?" Gabrielle looked to her with just a touch of concern.
"I don't know. I think I might have caught my foot in between a couple of rocks while I was fishing."
"Do you want me to look at it?" Gabrielle walked over and took the plate.
Xena waved her away. "No, that's alright. I just need to rest it for the night. That's all."
Gabrielle nodded her head, accepting her friends statement. "Sure. I'll just put these back in the pack."
"Ok, you do that." Xena watched her walk over to Argo.
Gabrielle rubbed as much of the food off of the plates as she could with some large tree leaves near her. She would wash them more properly tomorrow morning. She put the plates in a side pouch and then walked to the other side of Argo to put her scrolls in another pouch. "Good girl." Gabrielle gently patted Argo's side. Argo let out a low happy sound.
Gabrielle returned to the camp to find Xena already resting on her blankets. "We'd better get some sleep. We've got along day ahead Gabrielle."
"Right." Gabrielle went over to her bedding and pulled the cover over her as well. "Goodnight Xena. Oh and Xena?"
"Yes?" Xena turned to look in her direction.
"Why is there a piece of your trout meal lying under my blanket?" She asked.
"Heh heh." Xena let out a small laugh and turned back to face away from Gabrielle. She fell asleep with a smile on her face.
Gabrielle's first sight of the day was Xena standing up over her. Xena had her usual grin whenever she said. "Rise and shine!"
Gabrielle moaned and tried to pull the blanket back over her. She mumbled. "Do I have to?"
Xena reached down and took the blanket. "Oh yeah, you have to." She watched as her sleepy friend moaned again before finally sitting up. Xena walked over to the campfire and stirred some more dirt into it to make sure it went out. By the time she finished with the campfire, Gabrielle was standing and already folding up her blankets. Xena smiled. Her friend's timing was improving considerably. She would make a morning person out of Gabrielle yet.
In no time at all the two of them were walking down to the lake. Both of them cleaned themselves up. Gabrielle then quickly washed their plates from the night before as Xena led Argo over to drink some water. They both finished their chores at about the same time and so they started down the small trail once again.
The day was sunny and warm. A slight breeze would pass by them from time to time, making the leaves in the trees rustle on both sides of the path. It was one of those perfect days where nothing could go wrong. So of course, Gabrielle reasoned to herself, we have to go looking for trouble in some far away land.
Xena and Gabrielle continued along the path for some time before Gabrielle spoke up. "I hear this woman is powerful and dangerous. Whole armies of men have traveled to her caves to defeat her and never returned again."
Xena raised her eyebrows up in mild amusement. She could tell that her friend was giving this situation careful consideration with a bard's interest for adventure. She smiled slightly. "Actually its an island Gabrielle, and not a cave. And yes, there have been a few groups that have traveled out there to deal with her. None of them returned."
Gabrielle looked confused. "But I thought... I mean didn't Perseus take care of her? That's what I heard."
"That's what I've heard too." Xena frowned at the thought of a job not finished. Something wasn't right about that, but there was no need to worry Gabrielle about it. "I guess that's why King Oreastes sent that scroll out. Gather up enough adventurers and sooner or later somebody will get to her."
Gabrielle looked hopeful. "Well, with Hercules and Iolaus' help I don't imagine there will be any problem."
"Uh uh." Xena shook her head as they continued along. "Hercules and Iolaus won't be able to make it. At least not in time for the boat anyway." She noticed her friend growing more concerned after hearing that. Gabrielle still held a heroic admiration toward those two. Xena understood that of course. Hercules and Iolaus' reputation for helping others was quickly growing into tales of legendary journeys. Xena herself held a great amount of respect for the two of them. But you couldn't spend the rest of your life depending on others to help you in bad situations. You had to learn to make do with your own abilities.
"Hey." Xena tapped Gabrielle on the shoulder lightly. "If it comes down to it, we've always got the secret weapon." Gabrielle gave her a questioning glance and Xena responded. "Joxer's gravy." That brought a smile to Gabrielle's face.
They continued to the port of Lerain without any problems. The weather stayed as warm and as inviting as the few people they happened to meet on the way there. Starting out early had paid off as Xena had promised, they managed to walk into the small port town by evening. There was still a couple of hours left of sunlight and the traffic of people on the streets was light.
Gabrielle agreed to take Argo to a nearby stable while Xena went to speak to the dockmaster. Xena watched her two friends head further into town and then she turned to walk over to the dock. She could see the dockmaster was busy instructing a couple of workers about unloading a ship's supplies. There were several crates and boxes on the end of the dock.
Xena looked up to the large sailing ship, the Sargasso. It looked to be in good condition. The sails were undamaged and the sides of the ship appeared to cleaned regularly. Xena could smell the saltwater of the sea. She hoped the sea would be more inviting that it had been in past situations.
Xena introduced herself to the dock master and showed him the scroll she had received from King Oreastes. He told her that guests of the king would be meeting soon in a nearby tavern. He pointed it out to her. This was the ship they would be taking. Her captain was a seasoned naval officer by the name of Herabes. Xena thanked him and headed back toward town. She could see that Gabrielle was standing not far from where they had parted.
"Did you get what you needed?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes, we're supposed to meet in a tavern nearby. That's where everyone will be." Xena explained.
"I can take us there. I saw it on the way to the stables." Gabrielle led the way. Then entered a small tavern that didn't even have a name. There were already a few people there. Xena nodded a greeting to a few of them before sitting at a table near the wall. Gabrielle joined her.
After an hour passed by, the small tavern was almost full. There were about thirty faces in the crowd. Xena recognized a few of the faces in the room. Judging by the dirty looks she received from a couple of them, there were a few people that recognized her as well. Just then the door opened an a strong middle-aged man entered. Several of the people in the room greeted him openly.
"Jason." Gabrielle said out loud, thrilled to see the well known hero. Jason greeted a few of his old friends as well as the others. His eyes passed over the room and briefly recognized Xena. He frowned slightly and turned to someone else, talking to a long held friend. Gabrielle had noticed his reaction to Xena. She turned to look to her.
Xena picked up on Gabrielle's concerned look. She spoke quietly so nobody else but Gabrielle could hear. "He and I had some past differences. "
Gabrielle nodded quietly. She looked back over to Jason who was now sitting with a couple of other men. Jason was a good friend of Hercules. She was sure that the past could be left in the past. Maybe she would talk to him sometime during the voyage.
Captain Herabes arrived several minutes later and walked up to the bar. He turned to face the crowd. "As some of you know, my name is Herabes, captain of the Sargasso. King Oreastes has made it known to you that there is a problem to be dealt without on the Gorgon's island. This town is a part of that." Herabes reached over and took a drink of ale before continuing with his speech.
"Several weeks ago an adventurer by the name of Perseus traveled to the island and supposedly defeated the monster. Then reports were received by the king saying that some of the townspeople of Lorien were gone. One even said that a person had been turned to stone out by the shore," Herabes noticed the mumbling in the crowd. "but that was never proven."
Xena and Gabrielle looked to each other briefly while they listened to Herabes. "My point is there is definitely something going on out on that mountain. The fact that Persues returned at all makes me confident that what he said was true. The monster Medusa is dead." Somebody mumbled a question of why they would need to return if that was the case. Herabes ignored him. "The king has instructed me to reward the victors of this adventure a prize of sixteen-hundred dinars for the securing of the island."
There was a lot of talk in the crowd now. Sixteen-hundred dinars was a considerable amount of money. Herabes continued. "We'll be shipping out in a couple of hours from now and use the nighttime for our voyage. We should reach the island by tomorrow morning. I suggest that each of you find your place on the ship and get some sleep as soon as possible. A few more adventurers have already arrived and boarded." With that said, Herabes made his closing remarks and wished everyone well. He left for the ship. Several people were starting to pack up their things and head out to the Sargasso.
"So what do you think Xena?" Gabrielle looked to her.
Xena looked over to her friend thoughtfully. "Bad things seldom come alone Gabrielle. There's something out there on that island alright. I suppose we won't find out exactly what it is until tomorrow."
Xena and Gabrielle picked up their things and headed out of the tavern to the ship like most everybody else. She had recognized more than a few faces in that tavern. Some of them like Darinus were from her dark past. He had been a third lieutenant to Draco at one time. Others like Jason were not quite convinced or at least not quite comfortable with her growing reputation as a reformed warlord. She couldn't say that she blamed them too much. A reforming warlord was an uncommon thing to see.
They made their way onto the ship and were luckily given a room for just the two of them. The room was small of course and there was barely enough space to put down their possessions, but Xena liked it that way. The two of them agreed to put their things in the room and then explore the ship for awhile to pass the time.
Dockworkers and crewmen from the ship yelled out instructions to each other as the last of the lines and the boarding ramp were separated from the ship. Xena and Gabrielle stood at the edge of the ship's deck, looking down to the dock. Most of the other passengers were on deck as well. Some of them were talking to one another while others looked out to the sea or the town. Gabrielle was waving to some children down on the dock.
Gabrielle imagined the children had gathered to see the ship set sail before their morning chores would be expected of them. "That's a good sign you know," She commented to Xena. "Children are always a good sign." She continued to wave out to them as the ship left the port.
"Until you have to change and feed them." Xena remarked. She was busy looking to the other passengers on the deck. There were a total of about eight men and women whom she recognized. Only one of them had thought to approach her and say hello. He was a retired soldier from the Greek army. Xena had fought with him once when she helped repel criminals from a farming town. That happened a long time ago before she met Gabrielle.
"Always the optimist Xena." Gabrielle sighed and turned to face her. The ship was slowly changing course and taking the dock out of view. "Xena... have you ever thought... " Her voice trailed off as she thought about asking a question.
"Forty-six." Xena said calmly. Gabrielle asked her what she meant by that. She explained. "Forty-six passengers. I spoke to the captain earlier. He said there were forty-nine scheduled." Xena stopped for a second, recognizing that Gabrielle had started a question. "Have I ever thought about what?"
"I don't know." Gabrielle shrugged. "Children. I was just thinking about the kids on the dock."
Xena nodded thoughtfully. She gave a halfhearted smile to her friend. "I think about it from time to time. I don't know... it just doesn't seem like something in the immediate future." Gabrielle agreed with her. Xena decided not to say anything more about the subject. Neither one of them had had the best history with children.
After a few awkward minutes, Xena broke the silence. "I'm going to go meet a few of these people. I want to see just who we'll be dealing with." Gabrielle nodded. "If I have to fight with them, I want to get to know them first." Xena left her, approaching a couple of men and a woman who were talking.
Gabrielle turned back to look out to the sea. The water went out as far as the horizon. She closed her eyes and felt a slight cool mist of sea air brush across her face. In her mind, she tried to imagine what it would be like for her and Xena to be mother's once again. Hopefully the next time around, it would be something more as she had imagined it to be. She had plans on being a mother again someday, though she wasn't sure exactly what the circumstances would be. Gabrielle sighed letting her imagination of a perfect family keep her company for now.
Xena was now standing in the center of the deck on her own, looking up at the top of the mast. She was trying to determine the age of the sails. They appeared to be older than she had first thought, but they didn't seem to show any wear or tear. Most sails showed some damage from storms or broken lines and masts. She surmised Herabus must be a very thorough captain to see to such detail.
She was still looking up when she heard a man walk up behind her and speak. His voice was deep and aged. "You can tell the quality of a man by his ship." Xena turned to see the former king of Corinth. She smiled at his comment, as his ships had held a reputation for excellence during his rule.
"Yeah. Not too bad, though there's the smallest build up of salt around the lower edges." She pointed out a few spots. She was surprised he had approached her. In her earlier days, when she was still intent on conquering the world, she had attacked her fair share of outlying Corinth provinces. She had heard there was a considerable bounty on her head in those days.
"Well, I'm sure Herabus will have his crew cleaning them soon. He's good at that." Jason said. There was a few seconds of silence as they looked to the sails. "I hear you come with good recommendations." Xena turned to look at him. "Hercules sends his best."
She nodded. "Is he doing alright?" Xena had heard about his mother passing away some time ago but had only been able to send a letter of condolence to Alcemene's home. She was also aware of Jason's marriage to her. That had been another reason she had hesitated to visit.
"He's fine. Hercules and Iolaus are as inseparable as always." Jason laughed at that. "Though what Hercules sees in Iolaus as a friend I never could tell." They both laughed at his remark.
"Hercules is a good judge of character. He's had good friends I hear." Xena commented.
Jason looked to her. "That he does." He turned to wave to a man that had said hello to him and then returned his attention to her. "I'm glad to see you came along on this adventure. We'll need the best swords we can get." Xena smiled at his compliment and thanked him. He excused himself to speak with an old army friend. Xena stood there by herself, thinking that maybe old grudges between them could be forgotten.
"So what did you say, huh?" Gabrielle asked. She had approached Xena as soon as Jason left. She stood there smiling, pleased to see the two of them had spoken to each other without her having to force Xena to do it.
"Oh, you know, things." Xena knew that would only make Gabrielle more curious. That was what she had intended to do. "We're making progress."
"That's good." Gabrielle looked behind Xena for a few seconds before speaking. "Xena why is that man over there looking at you like he could chew through a rope?"
"Let me guess." Xena had an amused look on her face. "Big, strong and dumn looking with a scar on his left cheek." Gabrielle nodded. "That's Beorn. He's a second rate warlord I made the mistake of teaming up with a couple of years before we met. What can I say, I was desperate."
Gabrielle could tell by her sarcasm that Xena was insulting Beorn more than herself. "Well, um the big dumn looking warlord is coming over here."
Xena kept facing forward as he closed in toward her. With a sudden speed, she reached out for a mop in front of her and swung around. The mop struck the side of Beorn's ankle. He fell to the deck and a few of the others around him chuckled. They stopped quickly as his growl made them reconsider their laughter. He was about to get up when the mop handle hit his chest forcefully. "I wouldn't do that just yet." Xena warned him. Her eyes were narrowed and her voice was low and threatening.
"Nice to see you again Xena. What's it been? A few years and a few men?" His anger was clearly showing.
"Its not my fault your men knew a better deal when they saw one. Your operation was sloppy." Beorn growled and reached up for the mop handle, but Xena struck him in the side with it a couple of times before hitting his chest again.
"I'll not have any fighting on my ship. Save it for the island." Herabus' tone was sharp. He had been told about the incident between the two of them. Xena and Beorn looked to him and after some time they grudgingly agreed to forget the incident. Beorn reached a hand up so she could help him stand. She frowned at him and declined to give any assistance. He laughed at that, got up and returned to his talks with a warrior far away.
Xena shook her head as Gabrielle walked up to her. "Some people never change. They stay just as dumb as they always were."
"Come on, Xena." Gabrielle pointed to one of the crew from the ship's galley. He was directing the passengers and some of the crew to the mess hall. "A nice hot meal will make you feel better."
"Yeah, well just a little bit." Xena glanced back in Beorn's direction. "As long as I don't get too full and loose my edge. You can't afford that with this crowd." She let Gabrielle lead her over to the mess hall.
The evening meal had been as good as Gabrielle had promised. All kinds of wine and juices were available. There was fresh bread, meats, gravy and desserts. Xena decided on a simple beef and vegetable tray. She smiled as she looked over to Gabrielle's tray. Her friend wasn't being too shy about her servings. Xena made a quiet joke about it and got a look from Gabrielle. She laughed and continued to eat her own meal.
They were all sitting on the top deck once again. It was the only place on the ship that could hold so many people. The food had been in the galley below. Everyone took a plate and mug and worked their way through the line and then headed back up to the top. Gabrielle had agreed to sit with Xena near the entrance where everyone was heading back out onto the deck. She said it would be a good chance to get a better look at everyone. There were still several people she had not met yet.
Gabrielle could tell that that bothered her. Preparation was always an important factor to Xena. She needed to know as much about a situation as she possibly could before she chose her actions. That was kind of ironic to Gabrielle, since she always thought of herself as the one more likely to weight the pros and cons of a decision. Xena told her that is situations like this with such high stakes, you could never have too much information.
Xena finished the last of her meal and set her plate down. "I think I'm going to go over to Veren and Maltees. See if they want to get in a little sword practice before we reach the island."
Gabrielle looked over to the two men. "You see something special in them?" To Gabrielle they looked like most of the other passengers.
"I spoke to them yesterday and they seemed to have sharp minds. Veren used to be a soldier in the Athenian army. Maltees was a trainer in a village militia not far from the Persian border." Xena explained. "There probably two of the more honest people on this trip."
Gabrielle nodded and watched her friend stand and walk over to them. She had some more of her fish and biscuits to finish. She was curious about how the captain could afford such fine food. She had always thought poor food was expected on ships. Maybe the king had given Harabus some extra money for that. She would certainly thank him if she ever got the chance. The food was very good.
"Enjoying your meal?" A woman's gentle voice called out to her. She stood near Gabrielle, drawing a light cloak over her shoulders.
Gabrielle looked up and sat their motionless for a few seconds. "Na-- Najara?"
"It's me Gabrielle. How have you been?" Najara smiled. She seemed at peace with herself.
"Oh, um I've been fine." Gabrielle returned her smile slightly. "Weren't you-- I mean the last time--"
"Wasn't I back in prison." Najara finished her sentence. She noticed that Gabrielle seemed uncomfortable. "Good behavior gets your time reduced considerably. Jailers have little need for a woman who dealt with slavers and pirates. They recognized the greater threats to society."
Gabrielle wasn't sure if that was an accusation or just her imagination. She didn't imagine Najara could be too pleased with her and Xena for returning her to prison. Gabrielle couldn't see any injuries in her chest from where the dagger had hit her. She supposed that was a good thing.
"Well, I'm glad to see you are doing well." Gabrielle offered, noticing that Najara sat down near her without the need of being invited to do so.
Najara gave a simple smile. "So am I."
"What have you been doing with your time?" Gabrielle asked curiously.
"I've been traveling around, here and there. Helping people when I can and then I read a scroll that had been posted in a town square. It mentioned this adventure and so here I am." Najara explained.
"And the... Jinn?" Gabrielle didn't want to sound disrespectful when she asked the question.
"The Jinn still guides me." Najara nodded.
"Wonderful." Gabrielle and Najara turned at the sound of Xena's voice. "This trip just keeps getting better and better." Xena's voice was low and sarcastic.
"Hello Xena." Najara greeted her with a pleasant look before standing. "Gabrielle and I were just catching up on a few things."
Xena didn't look interested. "Really? Tell me, why didn't we see you earlier?"
"I chose to stay below decks." Najara pointed to three other passengers. "Those two over there, I took their armies away from them when I had my soldiers. I don't think they would like to see me."
"You think so?" Xena responded with a mix of tiredness and sarcasm.
"The other one is a common criminal pretending to be a hero." She explained. "He'll hold back and wait for everyone else to fall before he moves. I'd watch him if I were you."
Despite her dislike for Najara, Xena looked intently to the criminal and made a point of recognizing his face in a crowd. She declined to thank Najara though. "I'll remember." Xena thought for a few seconds. "So you're one of the three Herabes said was below deck."
"Yes." Najara replied. "Me and two others, though one of them had a bad stomach flu. I don't think he'll be much help once we get there."
"With the way things are likely to go, he'll probably be the lucky one. " Xena commented.
"Lucky?" Gabrielle asked. "I don't understand."
"I think what Xena's trying to say is that we're not the first group of people to try and stop this problem. If others have failed, then there must be something that stopped them." Najara explained.
Xena reached out to take Gabrielle's hand, pulling her to her feet. She made a slight nod of her head to suggest they move on to another part of the deck. "Thanks for clearing that up Najara. Far be it for me to speak for myself. Come on Gabrielle."
Najara gave them a simple, warm smile as she watched them walk away. Xena had given her a slight frown as she turned back to look at her. Najara leaned back in the seat and looked out to the sea.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked again. "What exactly was she implying by that?" She had stopped walking away and gave Xena a look that suggested she wanted answers.
Xena sighed before answering. "Listen Gabrielle... we've been through a lot together and I know we've held our own through several bad situations..." Her voice trailed off as she searched for the right words. "but with this one it might be different."
Gabrielle started to look concern. "What do you mean? This isn't another vision of yours is it?"
Xena shook her head. "No. No vision. More of a feel for these kind of things." Actually she hadn't had any visions since they were crucified. She shook her head slightly at the thought of that. "All I'm saying is that well... she could be right."
Xena shrugged and offered a brief smile to put her friend at ease. They both walked over to the front of the ship where a young woman was telling a mystical tale of long ago. There were several people there, a few retired soldiers, a mercenary Xena recognized, an Amazon and a few others. Gabrielle glanced over to the Amazon a few times but the woman didn't respond much. She looked as though she were lost in thought. Xena recognized the look in her eyes as Gabrielle asked about her. She explained it away as the young woman trying to stay focused for the upcoming challenge. To herself, Xena thought it was more likely the look of someone thinking of past regrets. At least that was how she interpreted it.
The storyteller was a very skilled bard. Her name was Karissa. She seemed every bit as full of life and energy as the detailed images she conveyed to those around her. At the same time she held a reserved, delicate nature that captured Gabrielle's attention even more. The woman has a certain fire in her eyes as she used her gift to tell of an ancient curse and the island ahead. Everyone around her listened with great enthusiasm. Gabrielle promised herself that she would make a point of meeting Karissa later if she could.
Karissa spoke of the ancient gorgons and of the one known as Medusa. She was one of three sisters, the only mortal among them. Originally she was rumored to be a rather fair looking woman. She made a tragic mistake however in developing a romantic relation with the god Poseidon. They shared a kiss in the temple of Athena on night and the goddess had become angered by that. She had later cursed Medusa into looking as she did when Perseus beheaded her. Her hair had been turned to a nest of poisonous snakes, her lower body changed to that of a serpent and her gaze could turn mortal man into stone.
According to Karissa's tale, the hero Perseus and several of his men had gone to the island just a few months ago to rid the world of the gorgon beast. Many heroic men lost their lives on that island, not only to Medusa but to her two headed dog as well. Xena had a random thought of Hades when Karissa mentioned that. He had such a pet as well. She wondered if they might be one in the same.
A light breeze blew across the deck causing Gabrielle to reach for her shawl and wrap it around her shoulders. The others who were gathered there for the story began to leave as Karissa finished her tale. She cautioned them that while Perseus was credited with the defeat of Medusa, nothing was ever said of her two gorgon sisters. Karissa smiled slightly as the tale left its mystical message of warning. It was a subtle skill Gabrielle herself had yet to learn.
Gabrielle stood and walked over to introduce herself. Karissa greeted her warmly and asked of her new friend.. The two women sat and talked for some time. Gabrielle was pleased to spend time with another bard. She and Xena did not meet many other than a time long ago at a bard academy. Karissa agreed that meeting bards was rare. It was a gift she credited her grandmother with. They both smiled at that and continued with their conversation.
Xena made her way over to the lone Amazon and received a brief nod. She introduced herself and to her surprise the young woman said she already knew her. Xena thought for awhile but didn't remember the woman herself. She studied her for a few seconds before the woman introduced herself as Amber. She had heard of Xena passing through her home village of Stronbren a year ago. The local villagers had said Xena was hunting a wild animal that attacked some of the people there.
She remembered the village now. It was a few weeks after Xena had suffered the loss of Gabrielle to the lava pit. That had been a time in her life when she had returned to her old dark ways. Xena mentioned that she never did actually catch the beast, but she had certainly chased it far away from the village. Amber didn't respond for some time. Xena studied her further wondering if she had suffered some loss as well.
Xena had gotten into a fight in a tavern and stayed in a room upstairs, trying to sleep off her misery of loosing her closest friend. She awoke from a nightmare to find the tavern owner talking to a concerned villager. There had been a report of a beast of some kind. She had joined the tavern owner and they had went to a barn. Inside were the remains of the beasts meal. Xena tried to get the image out of her mind. It hadn't been very pleasant.
She asked the young Amazon about any rumors she had heard since that time. The young woman shrugged and said little more. All she would say is that she joined the Amazon's shortly after that, as she had always said she would. Her mother would have wanted that. Xena nodded quietly deciding not to ask for any more details than the woman was willing to share with her.
Gabrielle approached them both. Xena looked up and saw that Karissa along with several others were returning to their assigned cabins for the night. It was approaching that time where everyone needed to sleep. Gabrielle and Amber exchanged greetings. Amber mentioned she was from the tribe led by the Amazon queen Lilith. Gabrielle complimented the queen when she heard her name. Ephiny had mentioned good things of her.
Xena stood and suggested that they all get a good nights sleep. The other two women agreed and they all headed to their own rooms. Xena and Gabrielle made their way down the galley stairway toward the back of the boat. Their room was the first door to the left. It was barely big enough for the two of them but they had just enough room. Small shelves sat on the opposite side of the center area. Xena dug her sword blade lightly into the wooden deck of the floor and propped the hilt under the door handle. The sword was meant to serve as a door stop. Gabrielle asked if there were any limits to her creativity. Xena just smiled saying she wanted to make sure nobody could force their way in. Both of them rested back on their bunks and drifted to sleep.
The night was rather quiet with the exception of a few mild noises. There was always that dull creaking noise of wood against wood. It was heard on every ship that sailed the open seas. That wasn't what was keeping Gabrielle awake. She was just in one of those moods where sleep was not cooperating with her. Xena had told her once it was because she thought to much before she went to sleep. Xena had said it wasn't a problem for her. Gabrielle smiled at the memory. She had mentioned the admission of not thinking to Xena and had received a clever response. In some small way, it was comforting to know that Xena could share in light hearted teasing. There were times when even the warrior princess let her guard down to relax.
Gabrielle had noticed that about Xena lately. Maybe it was because of what they had went through not long ago. Their ordeal in the Apennine mountains had been rather extreme. She still had the scars on her hands and feet from where the nails had been driven into her by the Romans. They continued to heal of course and would eventually fade away given enough time. Gabrielle sighed. It was something she and Xena had not fully come to terms with. Neither of them openly volunteered to bring the subject up. Gabrielle assumed it was concern for her own feelings on Xena's part. That at least was why she didn't bring it up in conversation with Xena. It was an ironic thing really, especially for her being a bard, but sometimes you didn't have to say anything in order to deliver a message.
Xena had been helpful after their return of course. What she had done to those Roman soldiers had been very upsetting emotionally for her. Even moreso afterwards when she had time to think about it. Xena talked to her openly one evening about it and thanked her for her actions. She reasoned with Gabrielle that perhaps it was some small step to her next life as a warrior. Gabrielle hadn't been sure about that, but the more she thought of it, the more she had faith in Xena's interpretation. Who better to know of the way of a warrior than Xena. Xena had mentioned that if she were to be the mother of peace in her own next life, then spending time with Gabrielle now was probably the best thing she could do.
Gabrielle turned her head slightly to look over to Xena. The room had no window in it, so she could just barely see her friend sleeping across the room from her. There was just the smallest hint of moonlight which passed under the door. It was enough that Gabrielle could see that Xena was sleeping on her back. The calm, even sound of her voice let Gabrielle know that Xena must be enjoying a good sleep right now. She wish she could sleep as well.
She looked to the door as she heard the sound of footsteps near the room. Someone from one of the other rooms probably couldn't sleep either and was now walking up to the main deck. Gabrielle understood how they felt. Sometimes she was like that herself. Whenever there was an important battle or confrontation the next day, Gabrielle found it hard to relax and sleep. Xena had no trouble with it though. Gabrielle imagined all those years of being a warrior had conditioned her to being used to the situation.
An unexpected idea entered her mind. It was one of those stray thoughts that a person had when they were lying there with nothing to do but think of things. Gabrielle looked to the door for a few seconds. She could have sworn that something was not quite right. She wasn't sure of course, afterall this entire adventure they were on wasn't quite right by her definition of the term. Still it was something that was bothering Gabrielle. She realized then that is was something so minor she had almost missed it.
Whoever had passed by their room to go updeck hadn't gone all the way up deck. Gabrielle supposed that it was boredom or perhaps it was Xena's mentioning earlier that their were forty-nine passengers, but whatever it was Gabrielle's mind was stuck on numbers. She hadn't heard the correct number of footsteps from the person out in the hall. There had been far too few sounds of boots walking up the stairs. Four or five steps up missing by her count. That caused her a bit of concern.
She looked over to Xena again. Xena was still sleeping peacefully. She stirred somewhat and turned to her side so that she faced Gabrielle but she was still sleeping. Gabrielle glanced around the room slowly as best as she could in the dark. She could just barely make out the shape of Xena's sword propped under the door handle. Gabrielle knew that would hold the door shut. It wasn't that she was worried exactly. She was just awake for some reason tonight and the thought of the sound had struck her as unusual.
Then she heard a second person walking through the hallway. They were headed toward the stairs as well. Gabrielle looked to the door and saw the person's shadow cut across the moonlit crack under the door. Whoever was out their walked quietly up the stairs and then the sound of their boots against the wooden deck stopped. Gabrielle's became more alert and awake at that sound. She knew for a fact that there were more than just six steps up to the main deck. She was beginning to feel a bit uneasy.
A sudden crashing sound caused her to jump up and call out for Xena. Someone had tried to break down the door, but the sword had done its job. It had been pushed a couple of inches into the deck floor and was holding the door steady. Xena awoke and looked up and over to Gabrielle. She could see that her friend was startled and for good reason. Someone was trying to break into the room and get at them.
Someone hit the door again and the wooden frame started to split. Another hit and they would be through. Xena stood quickly and motioned for Gabrielle to stay where she was. She reached forward quickly and took her sword. Just as she did so someone rammed into the door and flew wide open. A large man came flying in, loosing his balance at the sudden weakness of the door. He fell toward Xena and both of them went down.
"Aaiieyyahh!" Xena punched him in the face and his head turned to the side. They wrestled on the floor and knocked into Gabrielle's bunk. She was already standing on her bunk looking down at the two of them. Gabrielle looked to the door and saw a second man enter the room. He was a rough looking man with a dark tan. She could see he had the look of trouble by his hateful snarl. The man looked down to his friend and Xena wrestling on the floor and he drew a dagger.
The dagger left his hand quickly though. Gabrielle's new staff smacked him hard on the wrist and he let out a yelp as the dagger hit the floor. Xena's foot kicked it out into the hallway as she traded punches with the first attacker. They were an even match in the dark and were both content with a fist fight for now.
Gabrielle leapt over them to Xena's bunk. She could see the second attacker had returned to the hallway to search for his dagger. She decided to stay where she was. Then a third man approached the door. Gabrielle hadn't heard him in the hallway before and assumed he had not had time to position himself for the attack. She recognized him instantly of course. He was the warlord Xena had referred to as Beorn.
Gabrielle ignored the sound of fighting next to her and jabbed the end of her staff into Beorn's chest. He stumbled back but managed to grab the staff and pull it to the side. Gabrielle was knocked off balance and fell onto the man Xena was struggling with. There was a bit of chaos as the three of them tried to stand. The second attacker from outside used the confusion to his advantage and rushed into the room with his dagger once more.
The only thing the second attacker found in the room was the sharp end of Xena's sword. She had somehow managed to bring the sword up into the air as he ran forward. The second attacker yelled and fell back to the floor. Beorn was getting ready to run up into the room and attack but he was tacked by a couple of men. Gabrielle couldn't see who they were but she was grateful for their help.
Xena knocked the wind out of the first attacker with a couple of hits to his chest. The man fell and she could tell the energy to fight was no longer in him. Her eyes glanced up sharply to Gabrielle to check on her friend's safety and then to the hallway outside. There was still some sounds of struggling, but she could tell by the frustration in Beorn's voice that he was on the loosing end of the fight.
Xena and Gabrielle quickly stood up and walked out into the hall to see what was going on. Several of the other passengers were also awake now and were standing at the far end of the hallway. Xena looked down to see that Jason and another man had managed to pin Beorn to the ground. Captain Herabus ran down the stairs from the main deck just a few seconds later.
"What's the meaning of this?" He glared at Beorn, who had now stopped struggling. "I thought I'd made myself clear." A couple of men from the ship's crew hurried down the steps and took hold of Beorn. Jason and the other man stood up and took a few relaxing breaths.
Herabus continued. "Alright men. Take him and his two thugs up on deck. I think we can get this misplaced energy out of their systems." The crewmen nodded and dragged the reluctant warlord up the stairs. The man who had helped Jason was now helping a few other adventures with taking the other attackers up to the main deck also. The one who had met with Xena's sword was no longer a threat. He was dead.
Jason walked over and put a hand on Xena's shoulder. "You sure do have a lot of friends." He smiled to her trying to make a lighter mood of the situation.
Xena returned his smile. "What can I say, Beorn's a friendly kind of guy." Jason let out a mild laugh. "Thanks for the help."
Jason nodded. "Anytime." He walked back down the hall and spoke to the others who had gathered around. "Alright folks, shows over. Time to get some more sleep." A few of the people gathered around wanted to stay for awhile longer but Jason encouraged them all to go. They agreed and started to return to their rooms.
"What do you think they'll do to him Xena?" Gabrielle looked to her friend.
"I don't know and to be honest I don't really care." Xena sighed. "I was right in the middle of a good dream too."
"Oh? Wanna share a little on that?" Gabrielle asked her curiously.
Xena looked over to her with a tired smile. "Not really. Now lets try to get some sleep." Before her friend could think of a response, Xena stepped over the broken doorframe and returned to her bed. Gabrielle realized she would get nothing more from Xena tonight so she returned to her bunk as well. Thankfully, she managed to fall asleep in no time at all.
Gabrielle woke up to the faint sound of seagulls in the distance. She yawned and propped herself up on her elbows. Xena must have let her sleep for some time. She hadn't remembered getting this much of a rest for several days. Gabrielle looked over to thank her friend but Xena was already gone. Somehow that didn't surprise her. Xena always woke early in the morning.
She sat up and reached for her staff. Her boots were still on from the night before. She didn't think they were much of a concern last night with all things considered. Gabrielle could see that the door was still lying on the deck halfway in the room and halfway in the hall. Nobody had thought to move it, though more than likely they had chosen not to do anything so that she could sleep. She was grateful for that.
The room was well lit from the bright morning light falling down the nearby stairs. She looked around and saw that all of her things were still where she had placed them. At least those men had not taken anything. Gabrielle stood up and took her pack. She looked for anything else of use to her and walked out of the room and up the steps to the main deck.
When she finally made her way up to the deck, Gabrielle saw that several of the passengers and crew were already there. A couple of men were climbing the sail masts to secure the ship's speed while one or two others were either cleaning the deck or putting away some supplies. A couple of passengers were helping the crew while many others were standing in small groups talking about the days ahead. She glanced over behind her, to the small area at the very back of the ship and saw Xena talking to Captain Herabus.
"Good morning Gabrielle." Xena greeted her friend with a smile as Gabrielle walked up next to her. "The Captain and I have come to a mutual agreement about last night." Xena pointed out to the open sea behind them.
Gabrielle looked out behind the ship and saw one of the safety boats following as best it could through the waves. It was tied to the ship by a thick rope. Three men were inside the boat. Two of them were frantically trying to keep pace with the larger ship by paddling their oars on both sides. Gabrielle recognized them as the men that had attacked their cabin the night before. Beorn and one of his thugs were each using their oars while the third man who had met with Xena's sword rested across the front of the boat.
Captain Herabus smirked. "That's been keeping them busy for several hours now."
Xena notices a slight look of concern on her friends face. "Beorn's strong. By the time we reach the island, he'll be too tired to put up much of a fight."
Gabrielle appeared more relaxed after hearing Xena's reassurances. Xena smiled slightly. She was impressed with her regard for life. Gabrielle had mentioned something of her beliefs long ago when they had both dealt with Callisto and Velaska, something about forgiving others so they she could move on with her life. Xena had tried to use that idea as best she could. Gabrielle excused herself and headed toward the front of the ship. She had seen the storyteller Karissa and had wanted to speak to her again. Xena imagined they had much in common. They probably enjoyed their conversations as much as she enjoyed speaking with warriors. A common bond always proved interesting.
Xena glanced back over to Captain Herabus. "These must be trying times for you."
"Oh? How so?" He was still looking to Beorn and the boat behind them.
Both men were using their oars to keep pace with the larger ship. If they were to fall behind, the waves and the steady pace of the Sargasso would pull them under. The waves crashing against the boat and filled it with water. Every few minutes Beorn's soldier would stop rowing to bail a few buckets of water out of the boat. Then he would grab the oar quickly and continue.
Xena studied him. He didn't appear to be too concerned about their destination. She wasn't sure if it was just the confident nature of a seasoned sea captain or something else. You never could tell with older, experienced soldiers. "Well, considering where it is that we're going and with the past failed attempts. I would think it might make you a bit concerned."
Herabus looked over to her. "It makes me concerned alright. This is the fourth crew to approach that island." He looked down slightly, adjusting the half moon necklace around his neck. "I made a promise to myself to make that beast... or whatever it is on that island, pay for its crimes. I intend to live up to that promise."
Xena nodded in silent agreement. "I don't suppose loosing a crew can ever be easy."
"No. It isn't." He responded.
She could see that he was twisting a small piece of rope in his hand. He continued with his part of the conversation. "We'd been turned out to sea. Slightly off course due to a storm and we had spotted the island. It seemed peaceful enough, so we went their just to relax and look for a few simple supplies."
He sighed slightly. "We could have kept going I suppose but I didn't see anything wrong by it." Herabus tossed the small piece of rope over the side and into the water. "I wish I'd just have kept going."
Xena stood there listening. She didn't think to ask further on that part of the subject, but she had to know more. "So what exactly are we facing on that island?"
"I don't know exactly." He shrugged. "Whoever they are or whatever they are, they picked off my crew one at a time. I barely had enough luck and crew to get away when I did. Of course, when king Oreastes heard about what had happened, he immediately sent me back with a fresh crew to take the island. Kings can be that way you know."
"Yes, they can." She understood well. She had seen her fair share of wars and battles start because of a king's pride. It was generally the soldiers that paid for such a shortsighted vision.
"We stayed off shore of the island and sent a couple of groups in. They were good men. They didn't return. So we sent a third group in and it was pretty much the same thing." He explained. "I had the good sense to turn back while we could."
"And then Oreastes sent word out for skilled warriors." Xena stated calmly. In fact, she had received a scroll from the first invitation of warriors but she had neglected to tell Gabrielle. Her friend had wanted to visit a village library known for its historical records and Xena had agreed to go there.
"Yes, skilled warriors." Herabus nodded his head in agreement. "So I set sail again for the island. A good number of Thracian militia were on that trip. Skilled and brave too I might add. But in the end it all met with the same result. There's so much vegetation there, you really have to scout around before you can see a means to attack."
"Any particular reason why you haven't shared any of this with the rest of the passengers?" Xena's dark gaze studied his actions for a response. The tight lipped response he gave alerted her to a deeper, unspoken concern.
"I will in time I guess. Well, I had better be getting on to running this ship." He nodded to her and walked off in the opposite direction. She just stood there for a few minutes, thinking of what he had said. She imagined that there was more to the story than he had told, but she wouldn't press him on the issue for now. She had noticed his growing unease with the topic. It was another one of the skills learned in battle. She often judged another person's resolve by the manner in which they responded to questions. It said alot about a person.
The sound of the ocean waves drew her attention back to the small boat struggling to follow the larger ship. Beorn and his soldier were still busy fighting the raging waves. The line between the boat and ship grew tight every once in awhile and jerked the small boat forward. Each time that it did, the two men in the boat dug into the water with renewed strength. Xena couldn't help but smile slightly. They deserved as much.
As she turned her attention back to the rest of the people on the main deck, Xena could see that Gabrielle was talking to the storyteller Karissa once again. The two of them sat in the center of the deck, not far from the base of the central mast. Xena was curious about Karissa. She wasn't sure exactly why the woman was on a mission such as this. She reminded herself that Gabrielle was a bard as well, but that was different. She was a skilled fighter by her own right and she was traveling with Xena afterall. In truth, the two of them had been traveling together for so long, it seemed out of place to not have Gabrielle join her on this mission. That troubled Xena.
She didn't want to be the one to cause harm to her friend as she had up in the Apennine mountains. Xena knew of course that Gabrielle would likely correct her about that feeling. The two of them had done what had to be done. Gabrielle seemed to be coming to terms about her departure from the way of peace. Xena had tried to comfort her as best she knew how. She had mentioned something of the warrior and bard being opposites that balanced. It had been a small bit of philosophy she had learned while traveling in the Orient. Gabrielle had seemed to accept that. Xena had learned to believe in her own words as well. It amazed her in some ways how she could reflect on the Lao Mau's teachings after all this time and still draw something new and useful from the experience.
Gabrielle noticed her as she approached and invited her to sit down. She was about to do so when one of the men at the top of the mast yelled out. "Landfall. Straight ahead!"
All eyes turned to focus on the front of the ship. Xena could see both Gabrielle and Karissa turn to look ahead. Her eyes narrowed as she also tried to search for the sighting of land. There was a considerable amount of mist drifting up from the front of the ship. It clouded her sight slightly, but with time she could begin to see differences in color. After about ten or fifteen minutes the difference was unmistakable. A large area of dark gray was forming on the horizon.
Xena would have preferred to be standing atop the mast with the two crewmen above. The mist would have provided no distractions to her vision from up there. She sighed. By the time she could climb up the rigging, the island would be clearly visible from where she was. She resigned herself to stay where she was for now.
The Sargasso continued to sail through the moderate waves of the ocean. The sky above was of a consistent gray cloudiness. There was no immediate promise of a rain storm and yet everyone knew that it was certain before the day was over. The clean smell in the air made that rather obvious. Some of the crew were already talking to each other about how to handle the sails before the rain set in.
Captain Herabus passed by Xena's right side. He walked confidently up the center of the deck and then passed over to the right side. He leaned against the railing to get a better view and then stood back straight. Herabus called out to the crew. "Alright! Look alive! Set the sails for a slow approach. Steering, I want us in nice and easy. Prepare to drop anchor on my command."
Crewmen hurried to their respective positions. One or two other men rushed pass Xena as they made their way to the sails and other duties. Gabrielle and Karissa got up from where they stood and walked over to Xena's side. A crewman approached where they had been sitting and started to help with the sails. Xena could see that they were preparing to let down some of the sails to slow their approach to the island. Herabus knew what he was doing. He had been here before afterall.
The sound of waves crashing against the lower sides of the Sargasso could be heard even from the center of the main deck. Gabrielle and Karissa stood to the left side of Xena exchanging a few comments to themselves. Xena continued to gaze out to the quiet island ahead. She could now begin to see individual shapes against its dark appearance. Herabus had been right. There were alot of trees on the island. Enough of them to create a problem from a tactical point of view.
Xena imagined that any number of creatures might be living in the small forest on the island. Creatures who were no doubt well aware of the ship's approach by now. The ship would certainly stand out from the ocean background by now. She found herself wondering of the number of cautious eyes studying the ship. Was there a gorgon on the island as she and most of the others suspected? Were their several? Or pirates perhaps taking advantage of a local fear of the place? It was hard to tell. The only way to be sure was to mount an expedition onto the island, just as the previous ships' crews had done before.
"Port side! Port side!" One of the men up in the central sailing mast yelled out.
Several of the passengers and a couple of crewmen looked over to the left side of the ship. Xena looked as well but she could see nothing out as far as the horizon. Then one of the adventurers looked down to the side of the ship out in the waters. He yelled out and pointed. Captain Herabus quickly ran over to the port side and began to yell as soon as he looked down. Xena and Gabrielle walked over to the port side to look down into the water.
"Stand down!" Herabus shouted. "Stop or I'll send men down to stop you!"
Xena and Gabrielle looked down into the waters to see that the boat which had been tied behind the Sargasso now sailed free. The warlord Beorn and his soldier were frantically trying do distance themselves from the Sargasso. They were slowly making their way farther out to the side of the large ship. From this close everyone could see that the third person in the boat was dead. He had been the one to meet up with Xena's sword in the cabin last night.
Captain Herabus repeated his warning but Beorn ignored him. He and his soldier continued to sail away. Herabus took a dagger from his boot and threw it at Beorn. The escaping warlord managed to dodge the flying weapon just in time. The dagger struck into the seat just behind him. Beorn continued to paddle as quickly as he could.
"Prepare the long boat." Herabus commanded. Several of the crew rushed to the back of the boat where a second slightly larger boat was tied down. The boat that Beorn and his men were in was just big enough for about four people. This larger boat looked as though it could comfortably seat seven or eight men. It hadn't been easy for Herabus to find the room for the two boats, but he had managed somehow.
By now it was clear that Beorn intended to steer his boat toward the island. It was the only place he could go to get away from them. Xena didn't know whether to be impressed with him or disappointed. He was either brave or foolish to risk landing on the island. With her past dealings with the man, either possibility was a good one. Then an interesting thought struck her mind.
"Captain." Xena called out to Herabus as he and others were making preparations to hoist the boat down into the water. Herabus turned to her curiously. "Why not use Beorn to our advantage. Let him scout the island."
"Not a bad idea." Herabus answered. "But I still don't like the idea of him getting away. And there's the boat to consider. I don't trust him to keep it from getting damaged somehow." He nodded to the crewmen. They began to slowly carry the boat to the side of the ship with help from some of the passengers. Crewmembers were tossing lines to one another. A simple system of ropes and pulleys was quickly being made to lower the boat down into the water. Xena and Gabrielle walked up closer to where the men were working.
Xena spoke to the captain again. "Let me lead the scouting party." She ignored Gabrielle's quiet protest and kept her eyes focused on the Captain. He seemed to be considering her offer.
"I wouldn't mind stretching these old sea legs myself." Jason smiled to her as he leaned against a barrel.
"Mmm. Verywell." Herabus nodded. "I suppose the two of you can go. I want four others to go with you as well. I don't want any chances of you being outnumbered." Xena and Jason easily agreed to the captain's command.
"Xena. Do you really have to go now? Herabus and his men can see to it. They know the seas afterall." Gabrielle appeared concerned for her friend and Xena appreciated that.
"They may know the sea Gabrielle, but once were on land it'll be up to Jason and I to track Beorn down. Don't forget I used to travel with the man for a short time." She explained. "I know a little about how he thinks."
Gabrielle nodded quietly, recognizing a firm resolve in Xena's voice. When she spoke with such certainty, it was hard to convince her otherwise. Gabrielle watched along with her friend Karissa as Xena and Jason boarded the boat. The boat was now alongside the Sargasso, sitting up in the air. Two crewmen and two other adventurers boarded the boat. Each of them carefully sat down and held onto the sides of the boat as it was lowered down into the water.
Gabrielle walked over to the edge of the ship and looked down. Crewmen to the sides of her pulled a few lines and the ship was cleared. The two crewmen in the boat below quickly rowed out away from the larger ship and began to head toward the island. Jason was sitting toward the front of the boat while Xena sat in the middle. Both of them were exchanging words to each other. Gabrielle imagined their words were ideas on what to do once they reached the island. As the ship made its way further toward the island, she prayed silently that they wouldn't become more casualties of an island known for its dark secrets.
Xena continued to hold onto the sides of the boat as it made its way to the island. The two crewmen behind her continued with their steady rowing pace. Jason and the two adventurers in front of her looked forward to the island as well. All of them saw the same thing. An abandoned boat and a body each lie on the small dirt beach ahead.
Beorn and his soldier had reached the island a full ten to fifteen minutes ago. It would likely be another ten minutes before they reached the shore. That gave Beorn a considerable amount of time to find a place to hide. He could easily lie low for a few more hours until the sun began to slowly sink into the western sky. Xena knew that they didn't have much time.
Jason had spoken to her earlier about their efforts once they reached the island. He wanted to take the two adventurers into the trees to the left of where Beorn's boat was. Xena agreed to that. She would go to the right. Both of the crewmen who were steering the boat to shore would remain with the boat. It would be just like Beorn to double back and try to either wreck or steal their boat once they started to search inland.
The boat began to rock with a more sudden rhythm as the waves became more noticeable. They were feeling the return waves from the shore rush up against the waves sending them forward. It had the effect of jarring the boat slightly. After a few more minutes however they would be alright. Xena tried to focus her thoughts on calming her stomach. Unfortunately, her stomach had its own ideas on the issue. She smiled briefly, thankful that Gabrielle wasn't here to see her momentary seasickness. She was sure her friend would tease her to no end.
The boat finally reached close enough to the shore that one of the other adventures jumped out over the side of the boat. The water came up halfway to his chest. He helped to drag the boat further along until the water came down to his waste. At that time, Jason and one of the two men using the oars jumped out into the water as well. In no time, they managed to drag the ship up onto the dirt. Xena and the other two men left the boat as well. All six of them looked to the line of trees ahead and to the set of two footprints that headed up to the trees.
Jason nodded to the two adventurers and they followed him along to the left side of the beach. Xena turned to the boat to see that the two crewmen were already dragging the boat further up the shore. She exchanged glances with one of them and started up to the tree-line toward the right of where the footprints were. She and Jason had already agreed to meet in the middle later on. They would try to flush Beorn and his soldier back to the shore where the two crewmen were. Xena looked back one last time to the men, seeing that they were now looking to Beorn's dead soldier and the stolen boat. Then Xena made her way into the forest.
The trees were very thick where she was. She had to constantly hold her sword in front of her so that branches hanging out from the trees didn't hit her in the face. She frowned as she continued forward. The rustling sound of the branches being pushed back was creating far more noise than she had wanted. If Beorn had chosen to stop and rest for awhile, he could probably hear her approach from a distance.
She glanced around her position, trying to take in the surroundings. By most respects the forest looked just like any other she had seen in Greece. There were many different kinds of trees, weeds and flowers scattered all around her. She saw the occasion area of dead leaves which had fallen to the ground. She even saw one or two rabbits hopping away from her in the distance. It all seemed so peaceful and pleasant, hardly the likely location for a fabled monster of myth. She half expected to hear someone cry out for help, but it hadn't happened. She thanked the Fates for that small bit of luck.
After some time she began to turn in toward the left. She wasn't sure just how far Jason had intended to go into the forest, but this seemed about the right distance. She stopped for a quick rest a few minutes later and heard some rustling in the distance to her left. She stood perfectly still and tried to look in that direction. The covering of branches and leaves between her and the sound made it impossible for her to get a clear look as to who or what was approaching. She could tell by the slow manner in which the sounds were approaching her that whoever it was, they were in no great hurry. That calmed her down somewhat.
Xena saw the outline of a man and then two others. She recognized them then as Jason and the two adventurers who had went with him. She approached them and they soon met up with each other. Both of them exchanged the same stories. Unfortunately, neither had found any sign of Beorn or his soldier so far. Jason suggested there was a good chance that the two of them were caught in between where they had already searched. All they had to do now was head back to the shore and force Beorn back to the boats.
As the four of them started back, it became clear that they were not going to have an easy time of finding Beorn. There were no obvious signs such as disturbed leaves or snapped branches for them to draw a likely lead upon. One of the adventurers to her side made the short comment of Beorn having disappeared into thin air. Xena frowned slightly but said nothing. She hoped the man wasn't given to superstitions. That could become a real burden on a mission like this.
They reached the shore once more. Jason sighed in frustration. Beorn had apparently vanished without a trace just as the man had suggested. Xena looked out to the two crewmen. They still stood by their boat, waiting for either Beorn or Jason and Xena to return. One of them nodded with a bit of relief upon seeing the four of them return. Xena followed Jason and the others back to the boats where they all regrouped to think of a new plan.
"Well, it seems our warlord friend is more resourceful than we gave him credit." Jason explained.
One of the two crewmen spoke. "He can't get far. These boats are the only way off the island."
"He doesn't want to get off of the island. Not yet." Xena explained. The man looked to her with a lack of understanding. She continued. "Beorn will wait until more of us come to the island and then he'll try to blend in with the rest of us."
"What for Xena?" Jason asked. "They're not likely to accept him now that the captain has made his intentions clear."
Xena looked over to Jason and explained herself. "I wouldn't be too sure about that Jason. Old battles make strange alliances. I saw Beorn talk to enough people on deck to bet he could get a couple of them to help him hide out if need be. He likes to work in the background. It explained why I took over his army so easily."
Jason couldn't help but smile slightly at her comment. One of the other adventurers laughed under his breath as well. He had seen her knock Beorn onto the deck the previous day and had been impressed. Xena for her part was too busy scanning the ocean horizon to take much notice. The Sargasso sat comfortably out there, far away from the island.
Jason was the first to speak up. "We should be heading back to the ship."
Everyone agreed with him. The two crewmen, Xena and Jason drug the bigger boat out to the water while the other two adventurers agreed to take the smaller boat back to the ship. The crewmen had already placed the dead body of Beorn's soldier into the larger boat. He would most likely be buried at sea after a few days. It seemed a more fitting end for a person who traveled the seas. It was more fitting than just lying on the open dirt shore at any rate. Jason and one of the crewmen jumped up into the boat when the water reached their chests. The crewmen started to row the boat out into the water. The other boat was alongside them and keeping up with their pace. Xena glanced back to look at the island. She had no great love for Beorn. That was certain. Still, she wondered how he would do remaining overnight on the island.
Back further into the wooded area of the island, a light breeze picked up against a pile of leaves. A few of the leaves were blown up gently into the air. A rustling sound could be heard and then another. Shortly thereafter, the faces of the warlord Beorn and his soldier glanced up at the trees above them. They quickly worked their way out of the pile of leaves and stood. Each of them brushed themselves off and looked around them.
"Hah hah hah." Beorn laughed. He brushed some leaves out of his unkept hair. "I thought they would miss us. I learned that little trick from Xena." His voice took on a mocking tone. The other soldier was continuing to brush off leaves as Beorn continued, speaking to no one in particular. "Didn't remember that one did you warrior princess?"
The two of them could see that the people that had given chase were long gone by now. Beorn reached down for his sword somewhere in the leaves and he managed to find it. He put it back into his scabbard and instructed his soldier to follow. The man did as he was told.
They headed forward until they reached the end of the trees. The dirt shore lie ahead. Beorn could see the footprints where Xena and the others had likely been walking around. He had seen their boat lowered into the waters as he and his soldier had reached the shore. There hadn't been enough time to do much about the man Xena had killed. Beorn gave a light shrug. The guy was dead anyway, what did he care.
"Go back to where we hid the supplies and bring them back. I'll keep watch and make sure they don't return. I wanna camp here just outside their line of sight. That way we can see when they start out tomorrow." Beorn explained.
"Sure." His soldier replied. The man returned in the direction they had just came from.
He and Beorn had managed to sneak a couple of small supply ration packs with them on the dead man's body. Nobody had thought to check the man. It had been a clever idea from one of the adventurers on the ship. Ronin was his name. He had a similar dislike for Xena for some reason. Beorn didn't care why, he was just grateful for the assistance from an unexpected friend.
Beorn imagined that there were probably several of the men on the ship who wouldn't mind a chance at settling an old score with Xena. She had that kind of effect on people. He knew he certainly wanted to resolve some past differences. That woman was going to pay for messing up his chances at taking the villages in the Anerenci valley.
He nodded to himself and mumbled. "Oh yeah lady. You're gonna pay big."
Beorn could hear his soldier making his way through the leaves far behind him. He frowned. The guy wasn't the brightest around but he was all Beorn could find on such short notice. The same could be said for the other unlucky soldier that had been taken down by Xena. When he could get a piece of the reward for taking care of business here, then he would be in action again. He would have enough gold dinars to start up a small army and grow from there.
"You forget where the stuff is already?!" Beorn called out. He could hear the rustling far behind him again. It sounded as though the man was moving along without a care in the world. Beorn shook his head.
"I told ya earlier. It was right between us. Just feel around for it." Beorn was growing frustrated. "I swear. If I have to go get it myself...."
Beorn stood and looked back to the area where he and his soldier had been hiding. It was some ways back into the forest and he could just barely see it. There were a few too many branches with leaves in the way to get a clear view.
"Hey! What are you doing back there?" He continued to look in that direction. There was no response. Beorn could hear the slight sound of leaves rustling as though the man was still searching.
"Answer me when I'm talking to you! I don't expect to keep repeating myself! You know!" Again there was no response except for a light rustling of the leaves. Beorn stood there for a few seconds. He grumbled to himself and started to walk back to where the soldier was. By the time he reached the area where they had hid earlier, he was really mad. He pushed back a branch to look at the man. "How can you search that long and not find it?"
Beorn's eyes widened at what he saw in front of him. It hadn't been the soldier who had been making the rustling sound in the leaves. Whatever it was, all Beorn could see of his soldier was the guy's boots as they hung out of the thing's mouth. Beorn stumbled back against and tree and numbly reached for his sword. He spun around and ran as fast as he could toward the beach ahead. He could hear the sound of leaves rustling closely behind him.
"Did you hear something Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she looked up and turned her ear to the ocean.
"Hear something?" Xena looked up from the string she was winding around her hand.
"Yeah. It sounded like a man yelling in the distance." Gabrielle looked out to the water beyond the ship. The sky held shades of dark blue and dark orange. Sunset had already begun and the colors were keeping the young bard entertained up until now.
Xena shrugged. "It's nothing. Probably Beorn gloating over the fact that we missed him. He's like that."
Gabrielle nodded and looked to her writings once more. The two of them were sitting on the main deck toward the front of the ship. Gabrielle had mentioned something of wanting to see the sunset, so Xena had went below deck to get their meals and they ate them here undisturbed. Xena had opted for fish and bread while her friend had chosen some of the dried meats carried onboard with a few vegetables. Both had finished their meals and the empty plates sat on the deck beside them.
"What do you think of my ablaut?" Gabrielle asked.
"Your what?" Xena looked up to her. She was still trying to wind the string up into a loose ball. She had found it just lying there on the deck earlier. Gabrielle told her it was a fixation with her. Everything had to have its place. Xena had just smiled to her in a sarcastic way. Still, she had picked up the string anyway and had shrugged at the time. No need for good string to just lie around unwound.
Gabrielle looked to her and sighed. "Ablaut. You know the way some words sound when you change a letter here and there." She looked back to her scroll and began to write again. She was humming a short song to herself. "Sing sang song sung. Sing sang song sung." She repeated it a few more times. Xena glanced up to her and smiled, shaking her head at Gabrielle's activities. She finished winding up the string and looped the end of it back through the center before finishing.
"That's an obsession with you you know." Gabrielle was grinning as she looked over to Xena.
"You think so?" Xena tossed the rolled up string to her and it landed around the end of the quill the bard was writing with. Xena gave a smile of satisfaction at making her target.
Gabrielle pulled her quill out from the string and set the string to her side. "I know its an obsession alright." She nodded.
Xena looked over to her writings. "So what's all this with something you're going to sing or sang song sung or whatever?"
Gabrielle repeated herself. "Sing. Sang. Song. Sung. That's ablaut."
"I'll say it is." Xena responded jokingly. "That's about all the ways you can say the word anyway."
Gabrielle laughed lightly. "Not about. Ablaut. Its something Karissa mentioned to me. We were talking earlier about methods of writing. You know not just telling a tale, but trying to use patterns within a story as well. She says it gives something extra to the tale."
"Oh." Xena looked around for a few seconds. "Well, I think your stories are fine just the way they are."
"Thank you Xena." Gabrielle returned to her writing in her scroll.
Xena looked around her to the others. A few adventurers were standing farther back to the side. A crewman was positioned in the lookout tower above. Another crewmember nodded to her as he walked on toward his assigned place on deck. Xena imagined he was part of the night watch. She looked out to the ocean. There were only the slightest traces of dark orange and dark blue in the sky. Blackness was reclaiming the night once more and most of the people on the ship were slowly returning below deck to get some more sleep.
Xena thought about suggesting the same for her and Gabrielle, but she knew her friend to well to make any comments on that. Gabrielle was far too busy writing some kind of tale on her scrolls for the moment. She was glad to see that Karissa and her were getting along well. She only hoped that her stories didn't change to much from the way they were usually being written. Xena thought they were just fine actually.
Their supplies, including several of Gabrielle's other scrolls, were still in the same cabin where they had stayed the night before. The door was still missing of course, but Xena didn't mind that much. After her taking on Beorn and his thugs, Xena had noticed an increase in respect shown to her by the others onboard. Jason had offered to change rooms with one of the men next to her room. Xena thanked him for his concern. She assured him she could take care of any trouble that might repeat itself.
A couple of other adventurers walked along the deck off to the right. They were both women. One was a warrior dressed in a mixed assembly of Greek and Roman clothing and the other woman was the Amazon Xena had met before. She recalled the woman's name as Amber. She couldn't hear what the two of them were talking about and so she looked back to Gabrielle.
A sharp cry of pain caused her to look back at the women. The woman next to Amber had been hit with an arrow. Xena looked to the arrow and noticed the direction it pointed back to just before the woman fell. She had been hit in the chest and the arrow had went halfway through. Amber dropped to the deck floor quickly, partially to help her friend and also to avoid be the next target. Xena reached forward to grab Gabrielle. She pulled her down to the deck where she was just as another arrow flew in the air above them.
"Hey. What's the--?" Gabrielle asked as she was jerked down to the deck. Her scroll and quill were tossed to the side. She looked to Xena and saw that her friend was wound up and focused. Then she looked behind her to the side of a nearby barrel. Something was sticking out of it. "It looks like--"
"--an arrow. Yeah I know." Xena nodded. "It came from out there. Out on the island." Xena looked behind her to the few others that were on the deck. "Everybody stay down! Keep low!"
Xena could hear the guy up on the lookout tower mumbling to himself faintly. "What in the world is that thing?" They were the last words he said. He let out a yelp of pain and stumbled back into the tower where he fell down.
Xena looked over to Amber who was crawling over to them. "You alright?"
Amber nodded. "Sure. Took me by surprise. That's all. Who is it?"
"Its not Beorn. That's for sure." Xena repeated her warning to the others on deck. Some of the other people yelled the same thing out to others further back on the ship. A few more arrows could be heard flying through the air. Someone in the far back of the ship yelled out and the sound of a barrel being knocked over could be heard.
"By the gods, Xena" Gabrielle looked to her with concern.
Amber smiled slightly. "Sure wouldn't like to meet that person in an archery contest."
Xena looked over to Amber to make sure she was alright and then to Gabrielle. A few arrows were being fired here and there. None of them were hitting anybody for now. Xena crawled over to the railing of the ship. She slowly started to raise her head over the wooden banister to get a look at the island. She heard a familiar sound and ducked quickly. The sound of an arrow hit the other side of the boat. Xena looked puzzled for a few seconds. Then she looked over to Amber.
"Think you can get me that arrow over there without getting hit?" Xena pointed to the barrel.
"Sure." Amber began to crawl backwards, nearing the side of the barrel. She grabbed a wooden broom handle and raised it up to smack against the arrow in the barrel. Two more arrows quickly shot out at the barrel. Each of them sunk halfway into it. Amber jumped in fright and then got angry. She smacked the arrow as hard as she could and the arrow broke. She grabbed the other half and started to return to Xena.
Just then they heard someone else cry out in pain as a few arrows flew to the back of the ship. Someone had been hit. Most likely they had just come up on deck and had been unaware of what was going on. People from all over the deck were yelling out warnings again of everybody staying down. Xena looked over to see Amber on the other side of Gabrielle. Amber tossed the arrow to her.
Xena looked to it and was instantly amazed to see it was made of stone. The design was unmistakable. The scaled pattern of the arrow was an exact match of a snake. She quickly tossed the arrow half over the side into the ocean. Gabrielle had already seen it though and was noticeably worried.
Amber raised her broom handle and smacked it across the railing just to show her defiance. The action was quickly met with a series of arrows shot off in their direction. The grain sacks that were leaning against the room further back had several arrows in them now.
"Um, I think they got your message Amber." Gabrielle stated quietly. She could hear a couple of more arrows hit the outside of the boat.
"Yeah. Guess you're right." Amber quickly pulled the broom handle down and rested next to Gabrielle. All of them were lying on their stomachs. Xena turned and looked behind her on both sides. She could see at least eight other people were doing the same. There were probably even more further back.
"Oh yeah." Xena commented to herself. "This is going to be a fun night."
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