AEGEAN CROSSING

by Nancy M

The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA , Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story contains no violence. There are no sexually explicit or suggestive scenes. This story takes place sometime in mid Season 2.


"Tell me again why this is such a good idea."

Gabrielle looked out at the moderate sea building and breaking against the rocks protecting the harbor of Ephesus. Already her stomach was rebelling.

Xena sighed and set down the gear she had been about to stow below decks. "Because it will get us to Greece in a day and a half, instead of three weeks, and we're being paid to do it. And it will give us a chance to take home some of that Anatolian wine you've become so fond of."

"If it's so great why is the owner paying us to sail his boat?"

"Because he and his wife are taking the scenic route back to Greece, by land."

"And why isn't his hired captain just delivering the boat for him."

"Because he quit. He didn't say why. Now are you going to help me, or just stand there?"

Gabrielle lifted one of the sacks and handed it across the gunwale to Xena. "So this rich guy has his own yacht with a hired captain and crew to take him anywhere he wants to go. But instead he's taking a three-week overland route back to Greece. Doesn't this tell you something Xena?"

"Yeah. It tells me we're lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Come on Gabrielle! It's a day and a half at most, a nice beam reach. You'll hardly feel the seas, and we'll be home before you know it."

Gabrielle passed another sack to Xena. "So why is it you think two of us can handle her alone, when it normally takes a crew of four?"

"Because, Miss Skeptic of the Known World, two of those four are playing cook and maid for the owner and his wife. I could almost handle her alone, except I'd need relief to sleep. Now quit griping and let's get this stuff stowed."

Gabrielle was far from convinced, but turned to the task without further comment.

The yacht was a handsome vessel. Even Gabrielle couldn't help admire her sleek lines and efficient-looking rig. It was confusing to the girl, though. Instead of the usual athwart-ship sails common among Mediterranean cargo vessels, this boat carried her sail fore and aft, in a rig future generations would call a gaff headed schooner. The rig could be close hauled to work to windward, yet the sails could be doused quickly if necessary.

But the fine nature of the rig was lost on Gabrielle. A confusing array of lines led up the masts and to the booms. Gabrielle was relieved she wouldn't be called on to sort them out.

When the last of the gear and supplies was aboard, Xena vaulted onto the pier. "I'll be back in a minute. I want to see Argo off." The mare was making the Aegean crossing from Ephesus to Athens in a cargo vessel designed for ferrying livestock. It would take a few days longer for the cumbersome ship to cross.

Gabrielle explored the yacht in Xena's absence. The vessel was named Hera, and was about sixteen paces long on deck. Two masts towered above her. The helm, a tiller, looked simpler and more reliable than the wheels Gabrielle had seen, but also looked as if it would take more strength to control. The companionway to below decks was just forward of the cockpit and tiller, and Gabrielle scampered down the ladder.

The main cabin did seem luxurious. Bright brass lanterns hung over the beautifully oiled and gimbaled table. The table's design captured her attention for several minutes until she devised its purpose and function, to stay level no matter how the boat heeled. The bunks sported satin pillows and beautifully woven quilts. Continuing forward to the fo'c'sle, Gabrielle found a cozy bunk tucked all the way into the bow. She smiled. This will be my spot while Miss Knows It All sails this thing, she thought. I can just snuggle up here and write my scrolls. She did say she could sail it alone, after all.

She had just dumped her travel bag on the bunk when she heard Xena's footsteps on the foredeck above her. The warrior-turned-captain called to her.

"Gabrielle! Let's get some sail on! I want to get underway before noon."

"What's the rush?" Gabrielle grumbled as she climbed the main cabin ladder.

"I want to clear the coastal shipping lanes before dark, and if we catch the tide right we can be in Piraeus by tomorrow afternoon. Now let's MOVE!"

"Oh alright. What do you want me to do?"

"Hoist the main and for's'l, but leave the peak halyards slacked until we take in lines."

Gabrielle stood, looking blankly at Xena. The warrior raised an eyebrow.

"Xena, I understand 'hoist', but which are the main and for's'l, and what's the 'peak halyard' and how do I leave it 'slacked off'"?

Xena rolled her eyes and took Gabrielle by the hand, leading her forward in disgust. The bard balked at Xenaís attitude.

"Hey! Don't get mad at me! This was your idea! You're the sailor here. I've been to sea a total of three times, was sick as a dog most of the time, all those ships had square sails that went sideways, and most important, they had someone else to sail them!"

Xena relented. "Okay, okay. Not your fault. Here. These lines are the main halyards. The main is the big sail on the tallest mast. This is the throat halyard. It raises the front end of the gaff - that's the big log on the top of the sail. This line is the peak halyard. It raises the other end of the gaff. When the sail is hoisted all the way, the peak is higher than the throat. But I want you to NOT raise the peak all the way for now, so it won't draw - that is fill with wind - until we're ready to cast off. Got it?"

Gabrielle nodded.

Xena went on to describe a dozen other lines and their functions. Soon Gabrielle's brain was floating in a sea of alien words. Jib, stays'l, toppinglifts, downhauls, fairleads, jib halyard and sheets, outhauls, shrouds, stays, spreaders and ratlines, main and for's'l sheets. Her eyes glazed over. Xena droned on.

Finally Xena deemed them ready. Gabrielle hoisted the main and for's'l under Xena's supervision. Xena rigged a spring line to slip, took in the stern line, and told Gabrielle to hoist the jib, then quick take in the bowline. The southeast breeze filled the jib and Hera fell away from the pier on the port tack. Xena waited until the bow had swung well away and the jib was drawing full before slipping the spring line. She called to Gabrielle to top up both peak halyards and in a moment they were moving smartly out of the harbor.

Gabrielle decided maybe this sailor stuff wasnít so hard after all. She went aft and stood next to the cockpit as Xena fussed with the sheets, getting the trim just the way she wanted it. Xena told Gabrielle that rather than threading the channel between Samos and the mainland, she had opted to sail north of the island, to give them both time to get used to Hera. The sea in the lee of Samos was smooth, and the steady southeast breeze pushed them along at almost seven knots. Xena was insufferably elated.

"At this rate weíll be in Piraeus well before dark tomorrow. Gods, Iíd forgotten how much I enjoyed sailing!"

"Xena, tell me where weíre going, what islands weíll be passing."

"Since when are you interested in navigation?"

"Iím not really. I just like to know where we are."

Xena nodded, satisfied now with Heraís trim. "Alright. The big island to port, on the left, is Samos. We should be past it before suppertime. Then we head southwest, more to windward, until we pass Icaros. Thatíll be to starboard. On the right. Then around sunset we can ease sheets, sail west southwest, until we pass the beacon on Delos, sometime after midnight."

"You mean Delos, where Apollo was born?"

Yes, that Delos."

"Does that mean weíre going to sail all night? Not stop somewhere?"

"Uh...Gabrielle, thatís what ships at sea do."

"Youíre planning on being up all night?"

"Nooo. Iím planning on being up part of the night. We take turns on watch."

"Do you mean I have to sail this thing alone while you sleep?!"

"Thatís the general idea, Gabrielle." Xenaís unbounded joy had lost some of its luster as she realized just how much of a landlubber Gabrielle really was. Her irritation was not lost on the bard, and she rankled a bit.

"Xena, Iím sorry I didnít spend three years at sea as a pirate just so I could know everything you know about sailing. But I didnít, and thereís nothing we can do about it, so just give me a break, huh?"

Xena took a deep breath. "Alright. Do you want to hear about the rest of the trip?"

Gabrielle nodded.

"After we pass Delos, we change course again, and head due west until daylight, when we can see Cythnus. Then turn northwest and skirt Cape Sounion, and on into Piraeus. Got it?"

"Yeah sure." Gabrielle had an urge to be far away from her friend for a while. "Iím going below now. Iíll be in that little room way up front, working on my scrolls."

"Thatís fine with me. Pass me some biscuits and water on the way, would you?"

"You want some jerky and cheese too?"

"No. Biscuits will be just fine."

"Well Iím going to have jerky and cheese, and some of that Anatolian wine."

"Gabrielle, that might not be a good idea."

"Iíll be the judge of what I eat, thank you. Unless culinary appreciation is another of your many skills that I missed out on." Gabrielle immediately regretted her tone. Part of her was angry with Xena for her unreasonable expectations, and part was angry with herself for disappointing her partner and soul mate.

"Suit yourself."

"I will." And with that Gabrielle went below.

The first few hours passed pleasantly enough. There was a gentle motion to the boat, and the sound of the bow wave just a few feet from her was soothing. She lay on the bunk, alternately day dreaming and writing. For some reason working on the scroll caused a mild sense of discontent, but Gabrielle attributed that to her anger with Xena.

She could hear the warrior on deck. Occasionally she would walk forward, her bare feet padding on the deck, as she checked some obscure line or sail.

Sometime in late afternoon she noticed the motion of the boat increasing. At the same time she heard Xena adjusting lines. The boat heeled more, and the bow started to pitch into the waves. Her mild sense of discontent became a discomfort, and then her stomach told her it was time to get on deck. In a hurry.

As soon as her head came above the deck, Xena simply said "Leeward side."

"What does that mean?" Gabrielle moaned as she reached over the rail. The jerky, cheese and wine left her stomach only to blow back at her.

"It means do your puking on the same side the sails are on."

"Oh." Gabrielle wiped her face, then stumbled across to the starboard rail. She had eaten quite a lot of jerky, cheese, and wine.

"Weíre out of the lee of Samos now. Thatís why the seas are bigger," Xena explained.

Gabrielle didnít care why. She just wanted to know how long. But she couldnít find the will to ask even that. Her stomach heaved again and she hung over the rail.

"Youíd better get some rest. You go on watch in a few hours." Xena seemed to be enjoying Gabrielleís discomfort.

"Rest. You want me to rest." Gabrielle glared at Xena. "You deliberately let me eat all thatÖstuff."

"I tried to tell you." Xenaís smirk infuriated her, but she didnít have the strength to argue.

For the next three hours Gabrielle lay on the starboard deck, periodically raising her head to vomit. At sunset Xena took pity on her and brought her some water and dry bread. "Here. Itís easier on your stomach if you have something in it."

Gabrielle stared at the food, and then at Xena. Then she expressed her true feelings to the woman.

"Gabrielle, I donít think thatís anatomically possible, but Iíll keep it in mind. Now shake a leg. I need you to take the watch."

Gabrielle groaned and pushed herself up. She clung to the lifelines as she worked her way aft to the cockpit.

Xena was busy changing course. They had cleared the point of Icaros to starboard and the warrior eased the sheets some, and headed in a more westerly direction. Of course Gabrielle didnít understand that. She only knew that the boat didnít heel quite as much, and there was less of the Aegean coming over the bow and sluicing down the decks.

"Here Gabrielle. Let me show you how to stay on course. Iíve got all the sails trimmed and balanced." She indicated for Gabrielle to sit on the side of the cockpit, facing the sails.

The last of the twilight was yielding in the western sky, and the stars and planets took their rightful place in the indigo sky. Gabrielle sat down.

"You remember how to find the North Star?"

"Sure," she said miserably. "Use those two stars in the Bear Ė you call it the Dipper Ė to point." She tried to focus on the conversation.

"Okay. Find it," said Xena. Gabrielle looked for a moment then pointed.

"Good. Now see how itís straight up from that life line stanchion?" Gabrielle nodded.

"Just keep it there. If you pull the tiller towards you, it makes the star move left. If you push it away, the star moves right. So just keep it straight over the stanchion, and weíll be on course."

"Sure." Gabrielle experimented briefly, getting a feel for the tiller and the boatís response.

"I got it." She lined up the star and stanchion again.

"Keep your eye out for the beacon on Delos. Call me when you see it. It should be visible in three or four hours."

"Beacon. Delos. Leeward rail. Right."

"Donít hesitate to call me if you have a problem."

"Uh huh."

"Iíll see you later, then," said the warrior, and disappeared below.

Gabrielleís response was a lurch to the rail. When she returned to her seat, the North Star was to the left of the stanchion. She pushed the tiller to line it up again.

Two trips to the rail later Gabrielle decided she would be better off sitting a little further aft, where there was a scupper. It would save her having to go to the rail every time her stomach spoke to her.

She moved her seat just as her stomach rebelled again. When she sat in her new seat, she saw the star had moved to the right. She pulled the tiller until it lined up again.

Then she sat, in abject misery, for almost three hours. She forced herself to concentrate on the star, to keep alert. The schooner pounded through the seas sending spray in sheets over the foredeck.

Gabrielle began searching the horizon for the beacon on Delos. Finally she spotted a light well off the port bow. She was just getting up to call Xena when the warrior appeared in the companionway.

"Thereís the beacon, Xena," she said with pride.

But Xenaís reaction was not what she expected.

"Why in Hades is it off the port bow? Didnít you stay on course?" she cried.

"But Xena, I did! Look, the North Star is still over the stanchion!"

"Dammit Gabrielle, what are you doing sitting way back there? You were supposed to line up the star and the stanchion from here!" Xena stomped the spot on deck where Gabrielle had begun the watch. "Youíve sailed us a good twenty degrees off course by sitting back there!" Xena was truly angry.

"But it was nearer the rail! I donít understand! What difference does it make?"

"Come sit here, and tell me how the star lines up now." Gabrielle moved, and immediately could see what changing her seat had done. The star was well to the left of the stanchion.

"Oh gods, Xena, Iím sorry. I didnít realize, I mean I didnít thinkÖ"

"You didnít think alright. Dammit Gabrielle, this could be real trouble. Put us back on course for the beacon and Iíll trim sails."

Gabrielle pushed the tiller away until the beacon was just off the starboard bow. The boat wouldnít come left any more without the sails luffing. Xena trimmed all the sheets in tight, and Hera heeled sharply, the wind almost holding her rail under now.

"We might just be able to lay the point. Make sure the beacon stays to starboardÖto the right side of the bow. Iím going to reef. The wind has really picked up."

Gabrielle gritted her teeth in determination and concentrated on the beacon while Xena reefed the main and forísíl.

"Xena, why canít we turn and put the sails on the other side, head off to the left a while to get back where we should be?"

"You mean to tack. Thatís what we should do, but thereís a small problem I discovered below, just before I came up. One of the seams in the topside planking, just above the waterline on the port side, is open. It doesnít matter when weíre on an even keel, or heeling over this way. But if we tack weíll heel the other way and the seam will be underwater. I donít think six men could bail fast enough to keep the water out. I should have realized this was too good to be true."

A nagging tickle of fear joined the nausea in the pit of Gabrielleís stomach. For the first time she understood why Xena was so angry with her. Her thoughtlessness had put both their lives at serious risk. The wind moaned, and the rigging creaked as the gale increased, and the schooner clawed her way to windward.

"Just go below Gabrielle. Youíll be safer there. Weíll both be safer with you there." Xenaís profound disappointment was evident. So was her worry.

Frightened, wet, dirty, and sick, Gabrielle crawled below. She knew better than to go to the snug bunk in the bow. It would be pitching wildly now. Instead she curled up in the starboard bunk in the main cabin and pulled a bucket next to her. The boat creaked and moaned and spray pounded the deck above her. She squeezed her eyes shut trying to close out the world, to no avail. So she lay there, shivering, miserable and full of self-loathing. She wanted to die.

It was perhaps two hours later. Gabrielle was roused by a strong gust heeling the boat sharply. Hera shook herself like a wet dog and struggled upright. Then there was a shout from on deck. "Gabrielle Ė I need you!" The bard heard pain and urgency in the voice, and she rushed up the ladder.

Xena stood in the cockpit, straddling the tiller and gripping the main sheet in her left hand. Her right arm hung awkwardly at her side. Gabrielle grabbed the line and hauled on it until Xena shouted, "Thatís enough. Now tie it off!" She complied, figure-eighting the line around the cleat.

She started to ask about Xenaís arm, but the wind gusted again just then. Suddenly she heard a sound like a whip crack. As she looked forward, the jib slacked on the forestay, and Hera fell off the wind. The beacon drifted to the left of the bow.

"Xena! The sailÖ"

"I see it. The jib halyard parted." Xena was fighting the pain in her voice.

"Whatís that gonna do to us?"

"I wonít be able to hold her into the wind without the jib drawing. Weíre going to have to fix it," the warrior shouted.

"How?"

"Iíll have to go aloft and retrieve the end. Tie it together again." Gabrielle looked up the fore mast to where the jib halyard swung in the gale. The mast whipped back and forth with every sea.

"Xena, you canít climb up there with your arm like that," she shouted.

Xena didnít answer.

Gabrielle looked up the mast again, miserable. "Iím going," she stated.

"You canít! You canít hang on up there!"

"And you can?" In her heart, Gabrielle believed Xena was right. The power generated by the mast whipping back and forth would flip her off like a flea.

"Xena, if we donít recover that rope Ė that jib halyard - weíll shipwreck on Delos, right?" Xena nodded, her face contorted with pain.

"And itís certain you canít do it. Am I right?" Again Xena nodded.

"So I might die if I try, and I certainly will die if I donít." Although the warrior didnít answer, Gabrielle could see in her eyes she had spoken the truth.

"Well then. Thereís nothing for it but to do it."

As she turned to go forward, Xena reached to hold her arm.

"Gabrielle, IÖ"

The bard waited a second, then answered her. "Itís okay. Me too."

Xena looked at her in the darkness for a moment, then nodded and released her arm.

Gabrielle crawled forward, staying low to the deck and gripping the lifeline hand over hand. She decided to go up the starboard ratlines, because the wind blew the parted end of the line that way.

The rope ladder was wet and coarse in her hand as she pulled herself upright at its base. The rough marlin would blister her hands, but she knew it would make for an easier grip. The ratline was almost vertical with the heel of the boat. She opted to climb on the inside, so if she fell she might land on deck. She found the lower end of the parted line where it lay in a heap on deck, and freeing it from the belaying pin, she tucked one end in her belt. Carefully she put one foot on the first rung, and pulled herself up.

On the second rung she began to feel the power of the sea tossing her back and forth. Concentrate on your hands, she thought. Focus on holding on. Another rung, and then another. The jib flogged, slack on the forestay, the wet canvas sounding like a dozen drums pounding at once. Rain began to fall in sheets, driving icy needles into the back of her arms and legs. Her hair whipped in her face.

Rung by rung she climbed, stopping with each step to time the next so she would have both hands and legs gripping at the end of each swaying arc.

By the time she reached the level even with the gaff, her hands were bleeding and her arms ached. She couldnít tell if her shivering was from cold or exhaustion. Another four rungs and she would be able to grab the loose halyard.

Every pitch of the mast almost tore her off. For the first time in her life she was grateful for the size and strength of her hands.

Finally she was even with the broken line. She wound her legs around the rope rungs and shrouds for extra support, then wrapped her right arm around and through the ropes also. She would have to let go with her left hand.

She missed the line on the first grab, and the second. She almost lost her grip on the third as Hera pitched into a large sea just as her fingers were about to close on the line.

She waited now, watching where the line swung on each pitch, and on the fourth try her fingers closed on it. She brought it to her and held it in her teeth while she pulled the other line from her belt. She bent them together, and began her descent to the deck.

The steps were easier going down, as the swaying was less with every step. Still, she grasped the ratlines with her full strength, not trusting her blood-slick hands.

When her feet touched the deck she paused for a moment to savor the security, and then fumbled for the halyard. She heaved on it to raise the jib, but it wouldnít budge.

Xena was shouting something at her. The words were lost to the storm, but she could see the warrior slacking the jib sheet. The sail flapped horribly, but she felt the halyard give under her strain. She hauled away.

Inch by inch, then a foot at a time she raised the sail to the top. As she secured it to the belaying pin, Xena trimmed the sheet.

Hera responded immediately. As soon as the jib drew fully, her bow came up into the wind and the beacon fell again to the starboard side of the bow.

Weakly, and shaking all over now, Gabrielle crawled back to the cockpit. Without speaking she moved to Xenaís right side. The warrior held the tiller in her left hand, bracing her legs across the cockpit for strength. Gabrielle knew what to do, and Xena knew she was going to do it.

Xena had a curious way of handling pain. Minor pain, like stitches or broken teeth she treated as irritations, barely worthy of her notice. But she gave full voice to the pain of broken bones or childbirth. This was pain worthy of respect and she paid homage.

The pain of her dislocated shoulder was worthy of respect as well. When Gabrielle grasped her upper arm and pulled it away from the socket, Xenaís cry would have awakened Poseidon. Gabrielle almost stopped, but Xena nodded to her even as she cried out, and Gabrielle strained to hold the arm out until she felt the joint slip into place.

Then she turned to the rail and vomited.

"Gabrielle, take the helm. I need to make a sling," Xena called, her voice still shaking. Gabrielle obeyed, making absolutely certain where to point the bow of the boat.

When Xena emerged from the companionway a short time later, her arm was bound tightly to her body, and she carried two leather harnesses. "Here. Lash the helm, then hitch these on us."

For the next three hours the two sat side by side, together wrestling the helm as the seas crashed over them and the wind screamed. Sometime after midnight the beacon on Delos passed harmlessly to starboard, and the exhausted warrior eased the sheets and passed the watch to the bard, and went below.

The next hours passed quickly as Gabrielle grew to feel the rhythm of the vessel and to anticipate her moves. The power of the wind in the sails was exhilarating and the clouds raced out of the sky, once again revealing the diamond dust stars.

The dawn was stealing up behind her, giving hue to the wine dark sea, when Gabrielle first noticed a curious sensation.

She was hungry. No, she was ravenous!

The island of Cythnus slipped by to starboard. She called to Xena, who came on deck and instructed her as she eased the sheets and altered course to the northwest. Then the warrior went below again.

When the sun finally rose Gabrielle could discern the shape of Cape Sounion rising from the sea ahead of them. A tiny white speck gleamed in the rosy dawn, the temple of Poseidon, perched on the tip of the cape.

Her stomach was more insistent now, but Xena must have anticipated her. She handed a steaming bowl of broth and a broken loaf of bread up through the hatch. Never had bread and broth looked so good, and she took them gratefully.

The wind and seas were off the port quarter now and Hera hissed along, surfing the waves as they heaved up under her stern. The sky was blue and cloud free, and Gabrielle relished the power she felt as Hera surged ahead.

Xena came on deck, a bowl of broth in one hand while the other remained tightly bound.

"Morning, Sunshine!"

"Hi Xena!"

The warrior seated herself, and briefly looked at the sails.

"We must be doing nine or ten knots! Weíll be in Piraeus by early afternoon. Good work!"

"Xena, Iím so sorry about the course last night."

"Yeah, well, I shouldnít have expected so much from you."

"Yes you should, and I let you down. You saw the worst in me last night."

"Thatís true," Xena answered. "But I also saw the best. Gabrielle Iíve known grizzled sea dogs who wouldnít have gone up the rigging in that storm. That took real courage,"

Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. "Xena, the way I felt last night, I think I would have rather died. It didnít take courage to move a step closer to that end."

"Think what you want Gabrielle. I know what it took, and what youíre made of. And Iím proud of you."

Gabrielle just smiled, pulling against the tiller as Hera heaved forward in the rushing foam.

"But next time, we take the scenic route."

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