Hurt/Comfort Warning Disclaimer:
Part five contains violence and innuendoes of rape. If you do not like to read depictions of this sort, you may wish to read something other than part five.
Characters from the television series, Xena Warrior Princess is the property of MCA/Universal.
Sea, and the other characters, penned are the sole property of the author.
Chapter Twenty Eight
The winds had returned making everyone happy once more. Xena never left Gabrielle and Gina stayed within easy distance of Sea. They had been sailing for days and the strong winds were now getting them closer to their destination.
Sea and Xena had been staring at the clouds with looks of concern as Gabrielle and Gina approached the women.
Gina spoke first, "Noticed the way you two have been looking at the sky, something wrong?"
Gabrielle had approached as she said, "It's the weather isn't it? I've heard of storms like you are thinking, but have never been in one."
Gina's eyes widened as she asked, "Storms, as in a rainstorm?"
Sea looked at Xena then back to the woman as she replied, "Hope that is all."
Gina changed her gaze to Xena as she asked, "And you, do you think it is just a rainstorm?"
Her hands were on her hips as she surveyed Saxton and the crew feverishly working on deck. Finally her eyes searched Sea's as she said, "Think it time you told her, better than being hit by it un expectantly."
Sea did not look to happy as she nodded and said, "Why don't you two go below and see if you can help secure some of the things."
They nodded and left as Gina chewed at her lip and said, "All right, I have learned enough to know Xena and Gabrielle, as well as you, do not think this is going to be a little rain. Tell me?"
Sea walked toward the bulwark, leaned against it and said, "Notice the way the clouds are moving over the moon?"
The woman nodded and said, "They do that most nights, when there are clouds."
Shaking her head, Sea replied, "Not quite the same, the wind has picked up, and as darkness is beginning to settle, the clouds have grown darker. I think we might have some bad weather. I thank the Gods you can swim."
A worried frown crossed the woman's brow as she stuttered, "Swim? Are you telling me a little rain and wind will make me swim?"
Sea could already feel the movement of the ship had increased as she said, "Get below, I pray I am wrong." She reached out and grabbed Gina's left arm and ordered, "Now! Get below!"
They had just reached the passageway when the skies opened up, sending torrential rain down upon the ship. Gina put her fingers to her ears trying to shut out the deafening sound of thunder. Lightening was zigzagging across the sky and illuminated everything as the storm struck with a fury few had ever seen.
Gina called out, "What is happening?!"
Sea grabbed her and ordered, "Get down to the cargo hold, hurry!" It was at this time, a large tidal wave covered the boat. The ship rocked from side to side sending the women plummeting to the floor. Water had found the opening to the passageway and came pouring down upon them. Sea reached out and grabbed Gina as she pulled her to her feet. "Come on, got to get to the hold."
Gina gazed up at her, both women were drenched as she yelled, "What is happening?"
Sea pulled her toward the hold as she strained her voice to say, "Poseidon's wrath! Never mind, get in there!" Pushing the woman through the opening, she spied Gabrielle and Xena trying to help secure the crates. Many of the crew had found their way below and were trying to help. Sea told Gina to hold onto a rope that was secured near the steps. She nodded and called out, "What are you going to do?"
The ship was hit by another wall of water throwing the woman backwards and into several crates. Gina screamed as she fought the water and the intense rocking of the boat to get to the woman's side. "Sea! Sea! Help me someone?" Xena and Gabrielle heard the woman's cries as they looked over to see what was happening. Immediately they attempted to make it to her. The violent throes the ship was in threw both women into the hull, Xena reached out and grabbed Gabrielle as she said, "Hang onto me!"
Gabrielle had wrapped her arms around the woman's neck, her eyes searching the woman's as she cried, "Xena!"
Gina had made it to Sea only to be knocked back. She fought the ache on the back of her head and struggled to make it to the woman. Sea was lodged in between two crates. The woman was unconscious. Gina grabbed at the wood, ripping loose pieces as she yelled, "Sea!" She had managed to get her left leg in-between them and was using her body to force a path to the woman. By the time Xena and Gabrielle made it there, she was on her knees, caressing Sea's face.
Slowly the woman opened her eyes and stared up at the women then said, "Got to move the crates into the bow, give the ship ballast going into the waves." Gina cried, "Are you hurt?"
She turned her attention to her as she said, "Even drenched like that, you are beautiful."
Xena reached down, grasped Sea's shoulders as she pulled the woman to her feet and said, "She's fine, the woman can even find time to court in this." The smile on her face was warm but her eyes showed concern as she added, "You are all right, aren't you?"
Nodding as she was rocked forward, immediately grabbing a crate she said, "Few bruises but none like you gave me." Both women laughed as they began to help move crates and secure them toward the bow. Once this was done, Xena and Gabrielle found a spot and tied themselves to a secure station. Sea wrapped her arms around Gina and said, "Stay with me, we will ride this out together."
By the time the storm had subsided, everyone had felt its fury. The cargo hold had taken on water. Xena and Gabrielle were loosening their ties and Gina and Sea had slid down into the water. They sat in it as Gabrielle called out, "Kind of wet down there."
Sea looked at her clothes as she reached up to brush strands of hair off her face and said, "Can't get any wetter. You two ok?"
They looked at one another than said, "Few cuts and bruises, that's all." Sea's eyes surveyed the room as she said, "If this looks like this, what must it look like topside?"
Xena reached down to help her up and said, "Might as well go have a look."
Sea looked toward Gina as she said, "Come on, let . . . "
The woman's eyes were closed as she reached over and touched her face, "Gina, this is no time to take a nap." She threw her arms out and caught her as Gina fell forward.
Sea stood with Xena's assistance, she picked the woman up and cradled her in her arms as she said, "She's been hurt, got to get her to the cabin."
It was not easy going as they waded through the water. Reaching the cabin, they were happy to see it was secure. The water had not reached there, she looked at Xena and said, "Find, Saxton and see if he can get the men working on bailing this out. Find out what has happened to the ship. As soon as I tend to Gina, I will join you."
Xena nodded as she said, "Come on Gabrielle, you can help."
After they left, she took Gina into the quarter and laid the woman on the bed. Turning her onto her left side, she could see the blood. It didn't take long to clean the area and wrap it with a cloth. Then she removed the woman's wet clothes and dried her off. After blanketing her with several fur covers, she sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the woman. Gina had been courageous, standing beside her and helping, she would not forget the woman's mettle. Bringing her head down, she placed a kiss on Gina's forehead then said, "Rest, I will be back."
When she made it topside, her eyes surveyed the damage. The ship had taken a hard beating, it was plain to see they would be crippled going in the rest of the way. Saxton saw her and approached as he said, "Lost three of the crew with this one captain. Course you can see the rest."
She nodded and said, "See things are put right, I'll be in the cabin if you need me."
His eyes had surveyed the woman's cuts as he said, "Should have someone look at those."
Shaking her head she said, "Be fine. Tell Xena and Gabrielle where I will be."
He nodded and said, "Those two have been working right along side the men. I see what Gabrielle does."
Her eyes searching for Xena and Gabrielle she asked, "Oh, and just what is that?"
He smiled, "You two, Xena and you, are so alike."
She watched the two women then gazed back at him and said, "Nah. You have taken in too much water." Turning she went below.
Xena and Gabrielle had finished what they were doing and walked toward Saxton. He looked up as they approached and
asked, "Everything all right?"
Nodding they said, "What else can we do?"
His eyes surveyed the damage they had both sustained as she said, "Best go lay down, neither one of you looks to be in good shape."
They nodded and walked away. Gabrielle looked up at her and asked, "'Good shape? Neither one of us.' What is he talking about?"
Xena faltered as she said, "We just took a beating yet we are both still moving, I think we could use a rest."
Gabrielle smiled as she said, "How do you think Gina is?"
Xena shrugged her shoulders as she said, "Got hurt when she went to help Sea, I thought I saw something hit her head but she seemed fine. Let's go see."
They had just entered the passageway when they saw Sea's body laying against the hull. Rushing to her, they dropped to their knees. Xena checked for a pulse and Gabrielle felt the woman's face. Her eyes darted to Xena. "What happened?"
Xena reached down to pick the woman up and fell back down as Gabrielle said, "You are in no shape for this, take her arm's I'll grab her feet. The two of us should be able to get her to the cabin."
It was not easy but they managed to get Sea to the cabin and once inside, lay her on the floor. Gabrielle stumbled to the bed, her eyes searching Gina's body for signs of life. Turning to look at Xena, she could see the woman had collapsed next to Sea as she laid down next to Gina and drifted off into an exhaustive sleep.
Gabrielle and Gina were mending the mainsail. Sea and Xena were below in the cargo hold taking care of the damage there. The storm had wreaked havoc with everything. They were going to have to put into the next port. Their food supply had been ruined, the drinking water contaminated. The loss of three crew members was bad and Sea was surprised it had not been worse. Actually she was amazed the ship weathered the storm. Each day she grew to like Xena more and was happy to see her and Gabrielle getting along so well.
The young woman, Gina, had proved she could handle a situation and keep going. She and Gabrielle had spent many days and nights, working on mending torn sails and riggings.
They had just dropped anchor and several longboats were getting ready to cast off. Saxton was taking some of the crew to the island they had neared that morning. Sea hoped they would be able to stock up on some of the supplies.
Gina stood by Gabrielle as they watched the boats being pushed off. Gabrielle turned to gaze at the woman
asking, "First storm?"
Shaking her head then thinking about it, Gina replied, "I've been in rain storms before but nothing like what hit the ship. I guess we are all lucky to have lived through it."
Nodding, Gabrielle said, "It was bad I know I don't ever want to face anything like that again. Sea and Xena hated to admit it but both of them were injured in the turmoil."
Smiling, Gina said, "We didn't fare too well ourselves. Something, waking up with you in bed with me."
Gabrielle's blue green eyes glimmered as she said, "That wasn't anything to those two." She was pointing to Xena and Sea as she continued, "Sea woke up with Xena snuggled up against her back and her right arm, draped over Sea's chest."
Trying to stop a giggle, Gina said, "I know, I can still hear her words of amazement."
Gabrielle laughed as she said, "Watching Sea do a double take was worth it."
Gina's eyes were set on Xena and Sea as she said, "Actually you were cute the way you rolled off the bed and hit the floor."
Grinning, Gabrielle asked, "Cute huh? It just surprised me. What did you think, waking up and looking into my eyes?"
Smiling, Gina said, "Thought I was dreaming, till you hit the floor."
Gabrielle rubbed her backside as she said, "It was a bad storm and we were all totally exhausted." Her eyes gazed up at the crow's nest as she continued, "The Bounty is a seaworthy ship and we were fortunate to have been on her."
Gabrielle stared at Gina and said, "Oh yes, all pirate ships are her."
Pursing her lips, Gina muttered, "'Her,' have to remember that."
Mid afternoon, the crew had not returned yet and Xena and Sea were escorted to the bridge by Gina and Gabrielle. The two women seemed pleased at their insistence and went willingly.
Xena stared at Gabrielle and asked, "All right, what are the two of you up to?"
Gina smiled as she gazed at Sea, "Wanted to show the two of you, what Gabrielle has been teaching me on the trip."
Xena's left eyebrow arched and Sea held a look of fascination as they both said, "We're game." They stood and watched as Gina and Gabrielle grabbed a rope and swung down to the deck. Xena and Sea seemed skeptical as they watched. The minute Gabrielle struck out at Gina, Sea yelled, "Not again!"
Gina dodged the blow and easily moved around the woman. Gabrielle grabbed a heavy piece of wood and readied the weapon as she set her eyes on Gina's. It was Xena's turn this time as the woman called out, "Enough, before one of you gets hurt!"
They ignored her and continued to move in a circle. Without warning, Gabrielle charged the woman, the wooden stick making sharp moves in the air as she fell to her knees, sending the weapon toward Gina's ankles. A look of horror crossed Sea's normally warm features as she cried, "Stop!"
Gina had leaped into the air and somersaulted over Gabrielle landing behind the woman. Gabrielle rolled and came back up on her feet as she smiled and charged once more. Gina feigned to the left as she jumped up and grabbed the rigging, coming down on Gabrielle's shoulders. Her legs wrapped around the woman as she placed her hands over Gabrielle's eyes. Sea and Xena stood, hands on their hips, as both women intently watched the struggle taking place below them.
Dropping to the floor, Gabrielle managed to loosen Gina's grip and the two women rolled. They stood and gazed at Xena and Sea as they said, "Well?"
The two women looked at one another and said, "Good."
Sea added, "An enemy wouldn't stage your fight." She had barely gotten the words out when Gina shrugged her shoulders and started to walk toward them. Gabrielle had crept up behind her and raised her right fist, quickly bringing it down toward the woman's neck. Gina threw up her right hand and grasped Gabrielle's, stopping the blow before she made contact. Stepping out, she easily flipped the woman sending her to the deck. Gabrielle smiled at Gina as she held out a hand and said, "Maybe I taught you too well." Gina grabbed the outstretched hand and helped her up as she asked, "Are you all right?"
Grinning, Gabrielle answered, "Fine, you're not half bad." She placed an arm around Gina's waist as the two women started toward Xena and Sea. As they neared, Sea pursed her lips and said, "That was quite a show. Guess you two have been doing things Xena and I knew nothing about."
Xena smiled and said, "Cargo hold, you two have been slipping down there and practicing, haven't you?"
They looked at one another and chimed, "Yes."
Sea looked at Gina and said, "Have you two been doing anything else down there?"
Their eyes darted to one another as they both shook their heads.
Smiling, Sea said, "Come with me Gina, there is something I want to discuss with you."
She nodded, smiled at Gabrielle and followed Sea below.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and said, "That was nice, teaching her like that."
"It was fun, we kinda turned it into a game. She is ready, maybe not really face a woman like Asterea but she can defend herself if need be. Just hope it doesn't come to that."
Reaching out and grasping Gabrielle's left hand, Xena said, "Let's go below, take a little time to talk, before the boats return."
She smiled and walked beside the woman as they left the deck.
Chapter Twenty Nine
The sound of what once was merriment had dwindled away. The atmosphere had shifted and now, people were intently thinking about only one thing, getting to Tunis and out. Sea had become more distant, leaving Gina to fall into a deep depressive mood. Xena and Gabrielle had remained close but Gabrielle could already sense the change in The Warrior. Xena seemed to be falling deeper into a place she could not reach. Though she talked to Gabrielle, her mind was somewhere else and the way she paid constant attention to the sword she carried, gave the woman chills. Gabrielle was more fearful than before. She noticed Gina had even changed, she no longer exhibited the carefree childish wonder she reveled in. Instead, she had become glum and moody.
Gabrielle had just stepped up top as her eyes searched the area for Sea, the woman was nowhere in sight. She gazed out at the water she could see the looming landscape coming into sight. A quick trickle of fear ran down her back as she grasped at her stomach. A sickening sensation had settled there. It was not a feeling she wanted to have as she turned and walked back down below.
When she left Xena, the woman was in her own world and never even heard what Gabrielle had told her. She hadn't seen Ann for a day and from the distress in Gina's voice she decided to pay the woman a visit. Gabrielle knew it had to be hard on Sea, what was coming and what had happened.
Approaching the cabin, she knocked, there was no answer and she knocked once more. Still no answer as she
called out, "Sea, if you are in there, it's me Gabrielle, is it all right if I come in?"
No answer so she took a deep breath and opened the door. The minute she opened it, she could see the woman's back. Sea was standing at the porthole, staring out at the water. She turned when Gabrielle entered the room. A look of surprise on her face as she asked, "Are you lost?"
Shaking her head, Gabrielle replied, "No, I was looking for you."
Sea turned back around and continued to stare out the porthole as she said, "Think Xena will be looking for you."
She had stepped close to the woman. "She is busy, I was worried about you."
The woman slowly turned and gazed down at her. Gabrielle's eyes were warm and the concerned look on the woman's face did not go unnoticed. She brushed past her and said, "What you have had to say, has been, so leave it at that."
Gabrielle followed as she said, "Sea, I can't help but worry."
Her turn around was so quick, the woman's red hair, tossed about her head, trying to decide which way to go. "Don't!" Her words were cold as she continued, "Feel pity for me! I can stand anything but that. Now, go back to Xena."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "No! Just because we are together does not mean I will forget you, Gods, Sea, you and I have a history. I care for you."
Sea's emerald green's searched Gabrielle's face as she said, "I care for my horse, but I love--loved you."
Reaching out and placing her right hand on Sea's left arm, Gabrielle softly murmured, "I know, and I will always love you, too. We knew, you knew when you met me there was Xena, I never tried to hide the woman. I have been blessed to have her in my life and you. Whatever may happen in Tunis, I want you to know that."
Sea's look had softened as she glanced at the woman's hand on her arm. "You didn't need to speak the words, I know. I'm glad you came to talk there is something I need to tell you."
An arched eyebrow seemed to pose a look of complexity before Gabrielle said, "Oh, what?"
Sea reached up and touched Gabrielle's hand on her arm and said, "About the day I interfered with you and Gina. I apologize."
Gabrielle looked at Sea's hand on hers as she said, "It is I that need to apologize to you. I would never have hit you, you know. I have to say I was surprised the way you came to Gina's defense so quickly. I have to admit it now, maybe I was a little jealous." Sea's eyes narrowed as Gabrielle continued, "I know, I have no right, still I can't help feeling certain things. Don't get me wrong, I love Xena and always will I just want you to know, you are in my thoughts and always will be. I told you a long time ago you have found a place in my heart." She had placed her left hand over her heart as she gazed at the woman.
Sea pursed her lips and said, "I never would have struck you either, just was completely dumfounded at your sudden change. Would you like a drink?" She was pointing toward the desk and a half-filled bottle or port.
Nodding, Gabrielle answered, "Yes. When you reached out and whirled me around, I felt the wrath of Ann Bounty and that was all I wanted to feel."
Sea had poured two mugs and as she handed one to Gabrielle she said, "You two did all that, just to see if I harbored feelings for Gina. I must say, that is a true test of friendship, willing to get beat up to find out. Guess I kinda blew it, didn't I?"
Taking a sip of the port, Gabrielle answered, "You showed you are only human, Come sit with me."
Sea watched her walk toward the bed as she followed. Once they were sitting beside one another, Gabrielle placed her left hand on the bed and said, "I was concerned about coming on this trip, all of us, knowing there would be you and me and so many beautiful memories of us to face each day."
Sea smiled as she said, "That's what they are, memories. I will always be thankful you entered my life, Gabrielle of Potidaea, remember that."
Gabrielle noticed the woman's look had darkened once more as she said, "I will but I don't need a memory, when I can look at the real thing. Just because Xena and I are together and we always have been, does not mean you cannot come visit or that I can't go visit you and your mother."
Sea reached up and placed a finger on Gabrielle's nose as she whispered, "But, things are different."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "No, I just pray things here will work out for you. I love you enough to want to see you with someone who will make you happy always, not just once in awhile. Gina will do that for you."
Sea started to say something as Gabrielle said, "Gina told me about your attempt to kill yourself. Dumb, Sea, no one is worth that."
Sea looked away as she said, "You are. I could not live with the ache my body went through every day. I really loved you."
Gabrielle stood and walked toward the desk. She set down the mug she had been holding. Glancing down she spied the music box and lifted the lid. As the music filled the room, she turned to gaze at Sea and asked, "Dance with me?"
Sea stood as she shook her head and said, "Not a good idea, Xena hit you once, next time might be worse."
Gabrielle had a determined look on her face as she said, "No, she will never strike me again, she knows I love her." Her eyes were sorrowful as she pleaded, "Please, it might be the last dance for all of us."
Hesitantly Sea approached the desk and set her mug next to Gabrielle's as she stared at the music box. "It has given me many days and nights of relaxation."
The woman had stepped closer, holding out a hand she said, "Then give me this."
Sea grasped the woman's outstretched hand as she pulled her close and said, "Shouldn't be doing this, but Gods help me, I am weak around you."
Their steps were awkward at first, Sea tried to stay at arms length but slowly they found themselves touching as Gabrielle whispered, "Close your eyes, just listen to the music, let our bodies do the rest."
It felt so natural, the coming together of their bodies in mutual love. Sea pressed her body to the woman's as Gabrielle's head rested on Sea's chest. Their touch was warm and familiar as they moved slowly to the music, nothing else mattered that moment in time. Gabrielle had stopped moving as Sea stared down at her and said, "What is the matter, am I being too clumsy?"
Shaking her head, her eyes touching Sea's, she uttered, "No."
The music, the closeness and the atmosphere at that moment were conducive to an electric current traveling the room. They stared at one another, eyes never moving as Sea lowered her head, bringing her lips down on the woman's. Gabrielle could have pulled back but she didn't, she met the kiss with one of her own. And for that moment everything had vanished, and this moment in time was theirs.
Gabrielle stood leaning against the bulwark, her eyes searching the coastline. The slight breeze that would sweep across her face felt good to the woman. Her mind drifted back to the last conversation she had with Sea.
Gabrielle looked up to see the tall woman, standing in the crow's nest. She waved to her and called out, "What are you doing up there?"
Sea waved back as she said, "Getting a last taste of freedom, wind against my face feels good."
Jumping to the rigging, Gabrielle climbed up as she said, "Wind is blowing down here also. I'm coming up."
Sea stared after the woman as she asked, "Where is Xena?"
Her hands were within distance of the nest as Gabrielle said, "Busy, all she can think of now is this woman, Asterea."
Sea reached out and pulled her the rest of the way up as she said, "Has to be a difficult thing she is going through. You must watch her, make sure she doesn't end up in the woman's clutches again." Her eyes looked at the woman with a soft, tender glow in them as she added, "You neither."
Gabrielle stared down at the deck and said, "It's today isn't it?"
Nodding, Sea answered, "Yes, I am waiting for Saxton to give me the signal. He will row me to the island. There will be a horse waiting and I will ride in the rest of the way."
Biting her lower lip, Gabrielle said, "How--you are just giving up your life. What must Gina think."
Her look was sad as Sea whispered, "She will be fine, you and Xena will see to that."
Turning to look straight at the woman, Gabrielle asked, "Have you talked to Gina?"
Shaking her head, Sea answered, "No, it will be too hard, I will be gone before she knows it. Best this way, she has a tendency to follow me and not pay any attention to what I say." Her eyes softened as a smile crossed her face she added, "Not so unlike a certain bard I know."
Grinning, Gabrielle said, "I know what this is doing to me, can imagine what it is doing to her and you, Gods, we both have been in this man's grip before. Sea, he is evil."
Looking toward the shore, Sea said, "I know, I must see mother is released. I have sent people to have a look at the stronghold and the word I have received is it is impenetrable. I have no recourse except to ride in. I will not risk the lives of the crew and the ship."
"I will be going with Xena, I just pray, we don't get caught. I will try to see to it Gina stays aboard." Her eyes roamed Sea's body as she smiled, "If she is anything like me and we are a lot alike, she will ignore what I have said. So, don't be surprised to see the woman there."
A look of dismay-covered Sea's face as she said, "Then you will have to see she doesn't."
With a chuckle in her voice, Gabrielle replied, "What would you have me do, shackle the woman in the hull?"
Sea nodded and said, "If you have to."
It was plain to see Gabrielle was taken aback at the woman's words as she said, "It would be cruel."
"Not as cruel as what Calico and the woman might do to her, you know that. Now, promise me."
Pursing her lips, Gabrielle said, "All right, but she will not be happy."
Sea reached out and touched Gabrielle's face with her left hand as she said, "Be safe." Before Gabrielle could say anything, she had shimmied down a rope and landed on the deck. Gazing up at Gabrielle she waved as the woman cried, "Sea . . . "
She turned and walked toward the rope ladder and the longboat that was waiting to take her to shore. Gabrielle reached up to wipe the tears that had found themselves falling down her face. She stayed there, watching Sea and Saxton in the boat. Sea never looked back and she was glad, for if she had, she would have seen how devastated Gabrielle was.
Once Saxton had pulled the boat onto the beach, he turned to gaze at Sea. His face though weather-beaten still showed the deep concern he felt for the woman. Sea's eyes were looking at the black horse that was tied to a nearby tree. She started to walk toward it as the man said, "No, you will not just walk out of my life like that, Ann Bounty, if it is the last thing I do, it will be to speak to you."
She stopped and turned, her eyes looking at the man. He stepped toward her and said, "You don't have to be strong in front of me. I have known you too long."
She faltered as her eyes grew misty and before she could do anything, he reached out and hugged her. All her reserve was gone as she lay her head on his shoulder and sobbed. Saxton held her close, his grip was firm though his touch was soft. Sea finally pulled back as she reached up to brush tears away. "Now look what you have gone and made me do."
He reached out and grasped the woman's right hand as he brought it to his mouth and placed a tender kiss then said, "You are the daughter I never had, take care of yourself. I will wait for Kierra."
She nodded as her voice cracked, like a vase into a million pieces. "Lo--v--you." She turned and strode toward the horse and within seconds was mounted and galloping it from the area.
Gina had made her way to the deck, she was frantic, Sea had been giving her such a wide berth lately she felt the woman had changed her feelings toward her. Gabrielle always seemed to be with Xena and Sea had no time for her. She was feeling pretty lonely as she gazed around. Having just come from Sea's cabin, she decided to try the deck. Looking toward the bow, she called out, "Gabrielle, are you out here?"
Gabrielle grabbed a rope as she said, "Be right down!"
Gina looked up to see Gabrielle coming down from the crow's nest. She waited and when the woman's feet were planted firmly on the deck she said, "Have you seen Sea? I just came from her cabin, she's not there."
Gabrielle's eyes darted past Gina toward the shore line as she said, "She has left."
Gina seemed to lose her balance for an instant as she said, "Left?"
Gabrielle could see from the woman's expression, she was devastated as she said, "The shore, Saxton took her over."
Gina had regained her composure as she began to fume, "You did nothing to stop her? How could you?"
Gabrielle tried to pacify the woman by saying, "Can't reason with her, you should know that. It is something she felt she had to do."
Gina was boiling by this time as she spout, "She must really hate me, couldn't even say good-by. Yet, she must have told you."
Gabrielle hesitated and finally said, "She doesn't hate you."
"Really, then why couldn't she have given me the opportunity to . . . "
Cutting in Gabrielle said, "To what? Make her feel more guilty? I think she didn't want to hurt you anymore than this. It is a hard thing she is doing and to feel you close, trying to talk her out of it, would have been more than she could have taken." Her hands were on Gina's shoulders and her eyes set on the woman's as she continued, "You say you love her, then understand it is what she has to do. Love her enough to wish Sea the best."
Gina shrugged off Gabrielle's hands as she said, "Coming from you that is quite a line. You seem to have the best of both worlds. Xena on one side and Sea on the other."
"That is not fair, you are just angry at the moment, once you settle down, you will see things differently."
Gina started toward the steps leading below as she said, "Left that beautiful sword in the cabin, kinda tells me she did not think she would be coming back."
Calling out to her, Gabrielle said, "Maybe she just didn't want to see it get into the wrong hands, it is one of a kind you know. Now where are you going?"
Gina called back, "To get a few things together."
Gabrielle followed her as she said, "Speaking of things, Sea did leave something for you."
Gina stopped, her face lit up as she asked, "For me? What?"
Gabrielle spoke quietly, "Follow me, it's in the hold."
Gina watched the woman and shrugged her shoulders, as she called, "What on earth could Sea have left for me there?"
Once the two had entered the room, Gabrielle pointed to several crates tied to the wall and stated, "Said it was behind the largest one."
Gina walked toward them as she said, "Did she tell you what it is?"
Gabrielle's words were soft as she said, "Probably under the straw there. Don't know."
Gina had dropped to her knees and was intently sifting through straw on the floor when Gabrielle secured the shackle around the woman's left ankle.
Gina jumped and grabbed but she was too late as Gabrielle stood, "Said to leave you like this till one of us returned. Sea does not want you chasing after her."
Gina was tugging on the chain, her eyes shooting daggers at Gabrielle as she cried, "How could you! You love the woman too, how can you do this to me?"
Stepping backwards, Gabrielle bit at her lower lip and said, "This hurts me more than you know. Just relax, someone will come and let you out of this when the time is right. If all goes right we will be back before you even miss us."
As she left the room, she could still hear Gina's voice cursing at her. Hurrying to the cabin, she hoped Xena had changed her mind.
Reining the beautiful black stallion, Sea gazed at the slope of hill interspersed with unusual trees and perfectly free from undergrowth. Her eyes spied a long deteriorating building on the summit that was half concealed in the tall grass. The large holes in the roof gaped back at her even from afar. The unusal trees made an eerie background.
She dismounted and let the reins drop to the ground. Taking the water skin, her mouth sought the coolness of the water. Her lips were parched, it had been a long ride and she was not in a big hurry to go the rest of the way. Sitting, she stared at the horse as its teeth nibbled contently traveling the space looking for something to eat.
She'd had plenty of time to think, and that was one thing she did not want to do anymore. Sea had placed a small dagger in her left boot, she knew if she got the chance, she would use it. Taking a look around, she got to her feet and walked up to the horse. Once the reins were back over the animals head, she mounted. Reining the animal in the direction of the summit. It didn't take the horse long to make the climb and she soon found herself staring down at the dwellings, every possible combination of styles lined the slopes of the canyon.
And as her eyes made their way to the floor of the canyon she could see houses that were different, one and two split levels. Some had colonnade columns in a row, usually supporting a roof or a wall with a breeze way between buildings. She could see the open square and people busily moving about it. There were ornamental gardens with paths running toward walkways, with vine-covered posts and trellis work. As her eyes took in the larger buildings she could see they all had parapets, every house was a fortress. The man was prepared for any type of defense. The square was surrounded by its porticoes of stone and stucco. The great street facing the southern crossway, unlike most others in the place, was wide and extended some miles in nearly a straight line through the center of the city. Sighing, Sea urged the animal forward, she knew it was too late to turn back now. She prayed her mother would be all right.
Her way was blocked at the entrance to the city, several armed men stood in her path. She had dropped the reins on the horse's neck, raising her hands in the air she said, "I've come to see Calico."
A tall man who was standing behind the two men, stepped forward and said, "He has been expecting you. We will take you the rest of the way." His eyes scanned her body as he ordered, "Step down!"
She threw her right leg over the saddle horn and jumped to the ground. The minute her feet touched, three men grabbed her and threw her to the ground. Roughly pulling her hands behind her back as they wrapped a leather tie around her wrists. Pulling her to her feet, the tall man reached down and removed her cutlass as he said, "Won't have anymore use for this." Taking a rope, he wrapped it around her waist and said, "I'll ride, you walk." Sea straightened up as her eyes met the man's. He stepped back and said, "Don't go getting any idea's, if you do, your mother will be dog food."
Her lip curled but she didn't say a word and when the man mounted the black horse, he pulled her alongside, through the city.
Dogs had been snapping at her boots as she tried to keep up with the man and horse. Finally stopping as they arrived in front of a large edifice. Curious people were lining the street and she could see Calico, standing beside a pillar, looking like he had all the time in the world.
She could feel and taste the dust that was blowing off the street, as it found its way to her nostrils. She hoped the man would end it for her quickly.
The horse had stopped and she stood still, waiting for the next flutter of nausea to hit her body. Closing her eyes, she prayed for a quick ending. It was then she heard the man's cold words, "Don't be praying for a quick death, won't happen."
She opened her eyes to stare into his as she glared at the man. He walked around her and removed the rope from her waist as he said, "Made pretty good time. I was beginning to wonder if you were really going to show up or not. Had already prepared an exhibition for tomorrow, your mother being the calling card."
She snarled, "Leave my mother out of this, I am here and you said you would release her."
He was standing in front of her as his eyes surveyed her form, "I will, after all I did promise. Where are the rest?"
She looked at him questioningly and replied, "Others? There are no others."
He looked toward a tall woman and said, "Thought you said, the woman, Gina would be here."
She stepped forward, a swagger in her step. Stopping to look at Sea she replied, "Woman was supposed to bring her." Reaching out her left hand touched Sea's face as she asked, "Where is she?"
Sea glowered at the woman and said, "Don't know what you are talking about."
Calico stepped up and said, "Asterea, see the woman is taken to a cell, I'll make arrangements for mother and daughter to have one last visit."
She nodded, her hand still caressing Sea's face as she said, "Come on, will be my pleasure."
Sea balked as Asterea turned, a sadistic look played across her face as her right fist slammed into the woman's stomach with such force it knocked the breath from her and sent her to her knees. "Get up! You get up or I will let you feel my boot along side your head!"
Sea stumbled but managed to get to her feet. Asterea reached out and grabbed the woman's shirt as she pulled it from the waist of her breeches and said, "Look too high and mighty for my taste, before I am through with you, you will wish you were dead a thousand times over." She stepped behind the woman and placed her left hand on Sea's shoulder as she said, "Let's go, just follow the man in front of you, I will see you get settled in real good."
Kiera was just setting a pot of water on the hearth to warm. It was getting late afternoon and she thought tea would be a refreshing change. Alexia had been gone for awhile and she was looking forward to the woman's return.
The door flew open as Alexia barreled into the room. Her face was flushed and she had a look that terrified Kiera. She stopped what she was doing and rushed to the woman. "What is the matter? You look and act like Hades himself is after you!"
Trying to catch her breath she took a deep breath and stammered, "She is here!"
Kiera reached out to steady the woman, her eyes imploring as she asked, "Who is here?"
Alexia's eyes had grown larger as she spurt out the words, "Ann!"
Kiera's face grew pale as her voice raised an octave, "No! She would not be so foolish!"
Nodding her head, Alexia said, "True, it is all they are talking about in the square."
Kiera seemed shaky as Alexia said, "Let me help you to the bed. Sit, this is too much strain on you."
Shaking her head, the woman queried, "Where is she? I must see her."
Alexia walked toward the cupboard and found a bottle of port. Taking it down, she said, "The woman Asterea took her."
Kiera was standing one minute and the next, she was laying on the floor. Within seconds, Alexia was kneeling beside her. When the woman opened her eyes, she said, "It is my fault, she is here because of me. I struck Asterea and she will see my daughter pays." He eyes sorrowful as her expression changed to regret. "What am I going to do?"
Alexia answered, "First thing, we get you off the floor." She helped the woman up and to the bed then said, "I'll pour us a drink, tell you all I have heard."
Kiera nodded but her mind seemed to be a million miles away.
Sea had been sitting on the dirt floor, her hands still tied behind her back. She worried about her mother and prayed Calico would keep his word and let the woman go. The man had said he would let her see Kiera but she didn't know if he really would or not. The more she thought about it the more she thought it was not a good idea. If her mother saw her like this, she would be upset. Though Kiera was strong, the one person she always seemed to have a weakness for was Ann.
Her mind drifted to the woman Asterea, a venomous woman and one that seemed to thrive on another's pain. She felt for Xena, having been in the woman's hands and poor sweet Gina. Sea thanked the Gods the woman had escaped. She hoped Gabrielle had been able to talk Gina out of doing something foolhardy.
Where were Xena and Gabrielle at that moment? She prayed, far away from this place. Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard footsteps in the passageway. The glow from a torch was coming toward the cell and she readied for anything.
It wasn't long before Asterea, followed by Calico Jack and her mother, came into view. Sea managed to get to her feet and was standing as they neared the cell. Kiera's voice was shaky as she cried, "Ann, Ann what have they done to you?"
She managed a smile and said, "I'm all right. Are you ok?"
Asterea stepped up to the cell door and growled, "Enough! This is not a party. You are here to bid one another good-by!"
Kiera's voice quivered as she pleaded, "Please, let my daughter go?"
Calico smiled and said, "Fraid not, but I will let you and your friend leave. First I will leave the two of you to visit." He turned his gaze toward Asterea ordering, "See they get to do this."
She nodded and watched the man walk away. When he was out of sight, she looked at Sea and said, "Found it, your Achilles heel, good old mom."
Sea cursed under her breath as she said, "If you are going to let us visit, then untie me."
Laughing the woman said, "Not hardly, I know how you fight and you will not get that chance around me."
She reached out and grasped Kiera's left hand as she said, "Need for you to be real good." Manacling the wrist to the wall, she turned to glower at Sea and said, "Time to check you for weapons."
"My cutlass has already been taken. Release my mother!"
This time Asterea howled and said, "You don't give me orders, when I am finished with you, it is you that will be taking mine."
Sea scowled, "In your dreams. And when I look at you it has to be a bad one."
Asterea had opened the cell and stepped into the room. Her eyes checking out the woman. She glanced back at Kiera and asked, "Is the guard still standing out there?"
She gazed toward the passageway and said, "Yes."
Asterea stepped close, her nose touching Sea's as their eyes locked. She snarled, "Spread your legs and stand at attention when I am talking to you." Sea heard snakes before but this woman's words sounded worse than any snake she had ever encountered. Her eyes darted to her mother, the woman was frightened.
Asterea had placed her right hand on Sea's stomach as she said, "Want your mother to watch me beat you? Maybe you want to watch me beat the woman? If not, then do as I said!"
She stepped out, standing tall, never moving a muscle as she said, "Satisfied?"
An evil grin moved the woman's lips as she said, "Not till I search you."
Emerald green's defied Asterea as Sea whispered, "You watch it."
Asterea smiled, "If I give the guard orders to kill your mother, he will, should you get brave. Which is it to be?"
Sea's eyes had grown cold as she said, "Get it over with, but I will promise you, do anything in front of my mother, I will kill you."
Asterea had dropped to her knees as she said, "You told me to watch it, I am always good at that. This won't hurt, unless you get foolish." The woman's words were barely out of her mouth when she felt Asterea's hands on her legs. She brought them up the outside of her pant legs then proceeded to pat down the inner area.
Sea's eyes were fixed on her mother. It hurt her to have to see the woman watch this. It was plain Asterea was trying to demean her.
She was standing now, her hands touching Sea in places she reserved for someone she loved. Asterea stopped as her right hand slid over Sea's left breast. Sea's lip was curling up at the corners as she said, "Finish, I want to visit with mother, not you."
Grinning, Asterea pressed harder, and said, "Thought I detected a weapon, going to have to remove the shirt."
It was a flash, that's how quick it happened, Sea brought her right knee up and into the woman's stomach. Clutching at herself, Asterea fell to the floor. Sea jumped into the air, and spinning she came back around and hit the woman on the side of her head with her right foot. Asterea crumpled to the floor. Sea was trying to get the woman's sword from its sheath when several guards ran up to the cell. She was ready to take them on until one held a knife to her mother. Backing away she said, "Don't hurt her."
As they dragged her mother away, the woman was calling out to her. Sea stood back as they entered the cell, their swords drawn, they pulled Asterea from the small room and locked the door. A shorter man looked into the cell and said, "Hate to be in your shoes when the woman wakes up. Hell hath no fury like Asterea, take my word for it."
Sea watched them pick the woman up as she said, "Tell Calico I want to see him."
They laughed as they left.
Pacing the room, Sea was trying to get rid of the anger she was feeling. The woman was enjoying her little game and the more she thought about her the madder she became. She had been trying to run and struck out at the cell door. Her right leg and foot hitting it with force, finally giving up. The room was too small and did not give her the distance she needed to jar the door open. She tried to move her shoulders, closing her eyes she cursed, trying to rid her body of the woman's touch. She knew Xena was having difficulty with whatever happened to her and it didn't take an oracle for Sea to realize what might have happened. She tried to move her hands, get some feeling back into them but the leather ties were relentless and she soon gave up.
She had no idea how long it had been. Things looked the same and it was dark with some light from a few torches that lined the outer walls. Her pacing had begun once more, stopped by the sounds of footsteps coming her way.
Before long Calico Jack appeared, followed by what seemed to be an army. He walked up to the cell door and said, "Heard you gave Asterea a rough time. Bad move you know."
She was standing, her face held little emotion but the woman's body showed every visible sign of being alert.
His voice was imposing as he said, "Won't happen with me. Fool really thought she could touch you." He motioned with his left hand and said, "Brought your mother back for that visit I promised. First, need to do something with you."
Sea's eyes were on the men that were pushing her mother into the open. They held the woman so tightly, she could see the pain in Kiera's eyes. "Let her go!" She demanded.
He laughed and said, "You have been naughty, and having her here will keep you obeying my orders. Because if you don't, believe me when I say, you will watch her die in front of your eyes." His voice was cold and she knew the man meant what he had said. Her eyes moving to her mother than back to him as she said, "I'll do whatever it is, don't hurt her."
Kiera tried to break loose from the men that held her as she cried, "No daughter! Don't let them get to you like this!"
Looking at her mother, her green eyes held a softness for a moment as Sea said, "I'm sorry."
Calico opened the door as his eyes narrowed he commanded, "Get down on your knees. You make one wrong move and mother is history."
Slowly, Sea dropped to her knees and said, "Won't, just don't hurt her."
At this time, guards entered the cell and surrounded the woman. She felt the boot strike the middle of her back as she fell forward, her face hitting the ground. She hadn't even touched the ground before she felt the hands on her. They held her there, on her stomach as Calico removed her boots. His lips curled in a sadistic snarl when he saw the dagger hit the ground. Reaching down to pick it up he said, "Seems Asterea was looking in the wrong place." He kneeled and cut the ties from her wrists and said, "Get her to her feet." She was roughly jerked up, glaring at the man, her eyes darted to her mother. It was evident this was taking a toll on the woman. Her face was ashen and the terror in her eyes was something Ann had hoped the woman would never have to see.
Calico motioned to a guard and the man handed him a pair of shackles. He stood in front of Sea and grinned, "With these on, those hands or feet won't do your biding." It wasn't long, before he had closed the steel bracelets around her wrists and ankles. The chain that ran between the two, keeping her from doing what she had to Asterea.
Sea stared at the restraints and said, "Had your little fun, now can I visit with my mother?"
He smirked, "Of course, but not in here, she will stay on the other side of the cell."
The men that had helped him subdue Sea had left the room and he turned and followed. Once the door was closed, he pulled her mother close to it and said, "You two can visit for a short time but only this way." He had Kiera's wrists secured to the bars of the cell and said, "You can look but sorry, no touching." His laugh was still echoing after they had all left the area.
Kiera gazed at Sea, it was a mother's look of love as she said, "I will hate myself for what time I have left for letting this happen."
Sea moved slowly, trying to get used to the new confines of her wrists and legs. Standing close to the cell's bars, her eyes reached out to her mother as she said, "Never, neither of us could have prevented this. I am sorry you had to see this."
Kierea fought the tears that were trying to emerge as she said, "It was not good, but better than watching you be beaten or tortured."
Sighing, Sea replied, "I fear it will come to that. You have to promise me to leave if he allows it. Saxton is waiting at . . . "
Kiera's eyes lit up as she said, "Then he will figure a way to get you out of here."
Shaking her head, Sea replied, "No, I will not have anyone else be this man's entertainment. Promise me you and Alexia will go to Saxton?"
Nodding, Kiera said, "I promise." It was evident the two wanted to make some sort of body contact but this was impossible as Kiera said, "I only want to touch you once more, my daughter."
Sea's body was close as she lay the right side of her cheek against the bars and said, "And me."
Kierea's lips found a spot on Sea's cheek. Her touch was soft as she said, "Even now, when I look at you, I see that child."
Stepping back, Sea replied, "That child no longer exits."
The woman's voice was warm as she whispered, "From the day you were placed in my arms and I gazed at your face . . . " She almost broke down, then continued, "Your cries, that angry red face, I knew then my daughter would make a mark on this land." The sounds of footsteps were approaching as she desperately said, "Always my daughter, you will always be that child to me. I love you."
Sea stepped back as she saw Calico come into sight. Her smile was warm and her look gentle as she whispered, "Love you mother, promise you will do what I have asked?"
Nodding, Kiera answered, "Promise."
Sea didn't see her mother after that, she had no idea if the woman was still there or of the man had released her. Calico had denied the woman food and only water sparingly. Each day she could feel her strength waning and knew this was the man's plan. He had guards take her from the cell each day and march her through the square. Leaving her tied to the same posts they had released Xena from. Her days and nights meant nothing to the woman any more and she had finally decided, the man would not end her torment until he was completely satisfied. She had defied him, left him in agony last time they were there and he was paying her back full time.
The woman Asterea had been coming around once more, taunting her with little nuances and she knew any day she would be facing the woman.
Calico had told her he had let her mother go but she didn't trust the man.
As she tried to stand between the two posts, her eyes gazed at the people that would walk close and spit at her. How could they not, they were his people. She had lowered her head and was staring at the ground when she saw the brown boots step in front of her. Before the woman spoke, she knew it was Asterea.
"I see all that fire being extinguished in your eyes each day." The woman reached out, placing her right hand under Sea's chin and raised her head. "Look at you, the woman that walked into this square no longer exists, in her place is this poor excuse for what was once."
Sea didn't move. Asterea's hand traveled up the woman's cheek as she rested it near Sea's left eye, her thumb moving close to it. Sea pulled her head back and said, "Don't."
Laughing, the woman glanced around and said, "Who is going to stop me? Surely not you. You are weaker than that pup over there."
Sea glanced at the small child holding a puppy in his arms. "Was your childhood so bad that you have to intimidate and hurt?"
Moving close, her eyes staring down at Sea's legs and the leather ties that held them to the posts she said, "You will never get the chance to do that again. I will see you are always bound up in some way."
Sea blinked her eyes as she said, "Why don't the two of you just get it over?"
Asterea leaned forward, her mouth close to Sea's left ear as she whispered, "Because it is such fun watching you suffer. I have not paid you back for attacking me but I will." Her teeth found Sea's earlobe and clamped down on it. She waited for Sea to cry but the woman never did as she stepped back and said, "You will cry, I will see to it. I want to see you on your knees begging for mercy and you will." She turned and walked away. Sea struggled with the ties but it was futile, her ear ached as she closed her eyes. She had managed to get through the days and nights by taking her mind back to The Bounty and a beautiful woman with dimples playing across her face.
Gabrielle had been following Xena. She had been so intent in watching the woman's movements in the skin tight black leather pants she found herself running into the woman when she stopped. Xena smiled down at her as she said, "Day dreaming again?"
A sheepish look traveled the woman's face as she said, "No, just enjoying the view."
Xena looked questioningly for a second, then she grinned, "Pants huh? I told you I hate to wear these."
Stepping past her, Gabrielle said, "Maybe, but you definitely look sensual in them."
Xena reached out and grabbed Gabrielle's left arm and said, "Wait up, sensual is not what I am going for, is it?"
Smiling at the woman, Gabrielle said, "If you are going to pretend to be Mary Ready, definitely sensual is the format."
Xena sat as she said, "Come down here with me, tell me about Mary, only met her once, seems you know the woman pretty well."
As Gabrielle sat beside her, she gazed at the scar that was on her cheek and said, "Looks real, the scar. Hope you didn't mind me trimming your hair and combing it a little different."
Shaking her head, Xena said, "No, if it gets us into the place. Now tell me once more how this is going to happen?"
Gabrielle swallowed as she said, "Calico is upset at you for what happened, before, so you need to appease the man and by bringing me to him, it will work."
Standing, Xena said, "Oh no, you never told me this part. I will not hand you over to them . . . " Her mouth turned up into a snarl as she continued, "Never, you will never be in their hands."
Standing, Gabrielle asked, "It seems to be the only way and even then he may not accept this act of friendship. He may not forgive Mary that would mean we both would be in danger."
Chapter Thirty One
Her stance seemed to falter as the woman caught herself. She stepped to the wooden bench that set in the cell. Staring at the empty room, she sat, her body sending signals of pain throughout. The time had been difficult and it was sheer perseverance that had kept her from sinking into the mode Asterea was waiting for. Her shackles had been removed and she could walk freely now. Though she was so weak, it was difficult to do. Her wrists were raw from the heavy metal that had been keeping them confined for so long. There had been no word from the outside and she had no idea what was happening. Her mother always told her, 'no news is good news,' and for the time being, she was willing to believe the words.
Finding that sitting was not a comfortable thing to do, she stood. Holding the bars with her hands, she walked the room. Sea made herself do this five times a day, she had to make her body remember something. Calico and Asterea had dealt many blows to her body, both physical and mental. Each day it became a fight to distinguish reality from the unreal. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the woman Asterea was always skulking nearby and it sent out a warning signal to her body.
Sea was now standing, her back to the cell door as she stared at the rock wall.
"I see that you are still standing, must be quite some system you have. I am sure you know by now, I have just been biding the time, the time when I can do what I want with . . . "
Slowly turning, she faced Asterea and said, "You wish. I may look like hades but you come near me and I will take you there myself."
The woman ignored her as she said, "I really thought the loss of food would do it but how I don't know, you are still standing." She opened the cell door and stepped into the room. Sea watched her as Asterea cautiously walked a circle around her. She placed her left hand on Sea's back and let it glide around the woman as she moved. Now standing in front of Sea, she shoved her. Sea lost her balance but caught herself before she fell over backwards, she posed for another push. Her emerald green eyes glaring at the woman as she said, "Not exactly what you had in mind huh?"
Asterea never took her eyes from Sea's as she drew her right arm back and sent her fist into the woman's stomach. Sea reeled from the impact but managed to stay on her feet. Asterea glowered at her as she threw another punch only to be met by Sea's hand. She had reached out and grabbed Asterea's right fist, stopping it from making contact.
Asterea laughed as her left hand lashed out striking Sea across the face. It only knocked her several steps back as Asterea growled, "Damn it woman, fall down! It's no disgrace to succumb to a blow!"
Sea was wobbling as she said, "Guess there was no one else to entertain so I got you."
Grinning, Asterea gazed at the woman and said, "Oh you got me all right. I will leave you for now, but when I return, I want you down on your knees in front of me." Her eyes grew dark as she added, "If you don't, you will regret it." She turned and left the cell. Sea stood until the woman was out of sight then crumbled to the floor.
She was still laying when Asterea returned followed by Calico Jack. Asterea opened the cell door and stepped in, her eyes taking in the woman's form. Kneeling, she gazed at Sea and said, "You are so weak now, I could do anything I wanted, you wouldn't like it but I could do it." Sea's eyes darted past her to Calico, though she never said a word, her eyes spoke for her.
Asterea, not a person to be ignored, slapped her face and said, "The woman Xena, she wasn't easy either, I always get what I want."
Gazing at Calico once more, Sea managed to say, "Takes both of you to kill me, at least knowing that, it is something I can take with me."
Reaching out, Asterea grabbed Sea's left arm and pulled her up. "Not that easy. First I get a little sport."
Sea was shaky as she glanced at Calico and said, "Sport? What is she talking about?"
The man smiled, "The people, they need something to enjoy. I thought it would be entertaining to have you face Asterea in the square."
Sea glared at Asterea then back at the man as she sneered, "Not much sport, me like this."
He laughed, "It will be."
She cocked her head to the right and said, "Just what is the catch?"
He replied, "She has the weapons and whatever she wants, you have none."
Asterea grinned, "Shouldn't take long." She reached out and placed her right hand on Sea's shoulder. Her fingers, searched until they found the point she was looking for as she squeezed, putting pressure on the spot. The excruciating pain that shot through the woman took her to her knees. Sea stayed very still as she asked, "Tell me when I can finally be granted peace?"
Calico smiled and said, "Let's see how this comes out this afternoon. Who knows what kind of mood Asterea will be in."
Asterea kneeled as she stared into Sea's eyes and said, "Might just want to play with you and then again, maybe I will kill you." Her words were chilling as Sea watched her stand and leave the cell followed by Calico. The minute they were gone, she fell to the floor. Closing her eyes, she tried to shut out the tears that had found their way there. Sea hoped she would wake to find it had all been a bad dream.
Gina had been trying to loosen the shackle that held her ankle. She had cursed so many times at Gabrielle she felt remorseful. She now knew the woman was only doing Sea's bidding. Though she had stopped blaming Gabrielle, she certainly had discovered a few words for Sea. It hurt her that the woman could not even say good-by. Trying to understand Sea's situation, she knew the woman wanted to keep her out of Asterea's hands.
Her fingers were diligently playing with the shackle as she muttered, "It is my life, I should have been given the choice. Gods Sea, don't you know without you in my world I would rather be dead." Her eyes were fixed on the chain that ran from the shackle to the wall. And in her mind at that moment, she could see the woman. A gasp cleared her throat.
Sea was laying in a fetal position, her clothes torn, the woman was barefoot. The cuts and traces of blood that were evident sent chills up and down Gina's spine. The woman's beautiful red hair was matted and the ravishing face she had come to know had been altered. There were cuts and bruises running rampant on her face. It was plain to see the woman had been mistreated. The apparition disappeared as fast as it had appeared. Gina reached out to try and snap it up but there was nothing except the chain. Her hand struck it and at the same time, the chain loosened from the hull.
Her eyes widened as she stared up. It was loose and she set her sights on finishing the job.
Before long she had pulled it from the wall. Holding the chain in her right hand, she headed for the cabin, remembering she had seen Ann with a set of keys near her desk.
She found them and after many tries succeeded in unlocking the shackle. Heaving a sigh, she removed the boot and rubbed her ankle. She had been devastated when she saw Sea, how it happened she had no idea, she only knew she had to get to Xena and Gabrielle, they would help her save the woman. Gina stepped to the wall and removed a cutlass, it didn't take the woman long to strap on a sheath and make it topside.
Her eyes searching the deck, she spied several men and walked toward them. "Need a ride over to the shore."
They glanced at her and said, "Captain didn't take you? Odd that Xena and Gabrielle left without you."
She smiled and said, "Had something to get out of. Now, will you take me over or do I swim?"
They laughed and said, "Get in a boat, we'll row you over. Saxton is there you know?"
She nodded and said, "Let's go, I need to catch up with Xena and Gabrielle."
The minute she set foot on the beach, Gina stared around. She had no idea where she was going but she could not go back now. Finding a path, she began to take it, before long she came into a clearing and could see a shack setting among a group of trees. She walked toward it and as she neared, she could hear voices. Dropping to the ground she watched, soon Saxton came into view followed by two women. Gina's mouth gaped open when her eyes fell on the tall woman. She was older and had a terrible scar on her face but she was the spitting image of Sea.
Getting to her feet she started toward them. Saxton heard her and turned, his face lit up for a second as he said, "Gina! What are you doing here?"
She looked around and replied, "I'm going to go look for Sea."
The tall woman and her friend had been eyeing the woman and she stepped forward at this time asking, "Sea? You know my daughter?"
A feeling of joy overcame Gina for an instant, then regaining her composure she stuttered, "Se . . . Yo . . . mother?"
A pleasant smile traveled the woman's face as she said, "Kiera, yes, I am Sea's mother." Her eyes surveyed the woman as she added. "Now, tell me who are you?"
She managed to say, "Gina."
Saxton stepped up to the two and said, "Gina, is a good . . . " His eyes spoke to the woman as he continued, "She is a friend. There is a lot you don't know. Things have happened and Gina is one of them."
Kiera's eyes lit up as she reached out and grasped Gina's right arm. It was a firm grip as she said, "You are the light in my daughter's eyes, even there I could sense it. You may be the only thing that is keeping her alive, if indeed she still is."
Gina grasped the woman's arm and held it, her eyes gazing into Kiera's. "I have seen her, in a vision, Sea may not make it much longer." She turned to Saxton and said, "Have to help her."
He gritted his teeth and said, "I know. She is bullheaded like her mother." His eyes darted to Kiera as he said, "Sea is not here to give me orders now, so I will do what I feel is best."
Kiera turned to gaze at the man as she said, "Sea does not want this." A smile crossed her face as she added, "Blazes with what she wants, I know my daughter and she must be praying for death at this moment. They will not torture or torment her any longer. Let's go!"
Saxton reached out and touched the woman's left arm and said, "No, I will go."
Gina stepped close and said, "No, we all love Sea, we all go, that is, those who want to."
Kiera placed her right arm around the woman's waist as she said, "Come, Gina, tell me about you and my daughter. Saxton and Alexia will get things together, we will leave soon."
Gina smiled at the woman and sought comfort in her embrace.
After Kiera heard the whole story, the woman was shocked to find out her daughter had attempted suicide. She was grateful to the woman for being there. Turning to gaze into Gina's light brown eyes, the woman said, "After all you have told me, I think it would be best if you stayed. I have seen the woman Asterea and she revels in the pain and discomfort she can deal out. Sea would not be happy to know you might get caught."
Standing, Gina said, "If I cannot know Sea exists any longer, I have no need for this life."
Taken aback at Gina's heartfelt words, Kiera said, "I never thought the day would come."
Gina looked at her with a look of wonder as she asked, "Day?"
Nodding, Kiera said, "The day someone would come into my daughters life and love her. Love Sea for herself and not be afraid she might run into the shadow of Gabrielle. The woman haunts everything Sea does you know."
Gina stared for a few minutes before she said, "I know they share a past and a present. I do not fear people trying to make some sort of image of the two. I care enough to love your daughter for herself and I know she cares for me."
Grinning the woman said, "I can see a lot of Gabrielle's fire in you. Gina, I am happy for you and for Sea. You are welcome at Spoon Island and in my life."
Thanking the woman, she walked toward the wooden table and found a chair as she sat. "I pray the Gods, I will still have a life with Sea."
Kiera had approached the table and pulled out a chair as she sat and gazed at the woman. "You are beautiful, and I'll bet the first time my daughter saw those dimples she fell under your spell."
Grinning, Gina answered, "Not before I had fallen under hers. Tell me about your time at Tunis, and Sea."
Xena and Gabrielle were nearing the top of the summit. Their eyes were gazing at the houses that set along the slope. Gabrielle whispered, "Quite a sight. The bottom is even more awesome. Calico has been making good money off of some misfortunates."
Turning to gaze at the strawberry blond, Xena said, "I have little recollection of the place, I'm sure you and Sea are more apt to recall certain things."
Looking away, Gabrielle replied, "Don't go there Xena. We have hashed this over."
Xena smiled as she reached out and touched the woman's face with her left hand. "I will always go there. I want you to know, if there has to be anyone other than me for you, the woman does not send me into that dark place anymore."
Her eyes searching Xena's bottomless blues, she said, "You mean that don't you?"
Nodding, she said, "Actually, I kinda like the woman. Now, about this little ploy you are sending us down into
this hornet's nest . . . "
Gabrielle reached out and hugged the woman as she said, "It has to work, if it doesn't, I don't know what will happen."
Xena pulled her close as their bodies touched she said, "We will do it. I have faith in you in us."
Gabrielle's lips touched Xena's chest as she murmured, "I do love you, you know that don't you?"
Smiling, Xena answered, "Oh yes, my body is beginning to yearn for that love every day."
Raising her head, and staring up at Xena she said, "I feel it also. Xena if you can't find this woman and kill her, will it be over?"
Xena pursed her lips and said, "I have to confront her, I have to let her know, know . . . "
"It's all right, don't need to go there. Do me a favor?"
Xena arched an eyebrow as she asked, "What? I will do anything I can for you, you know that."
Grasping the woman's right hand in hers, she said, "Then come lay on the grass with me and hold me for what might be the last time."
The look in Gabrielle's eyes, seemed to turn her into mush as she said, "Come." Leading the woman toward a shade tree, she said, "Here, only the Gods can see us and they already have." She dropped to her knees pulling the woman down with her as she said, "Each day with you, my body wakes, each time you look at me like that it stirs and I know, it is awakening." She lowered her head and pressed a tender kiss on Gabrielle's forehead. "I had forgot how wonderful the feeling could be." Her eyes warmly sending glimmers of love to Gabrielle as she said, "If it is the last, let it be the best."
Gabrielle's eyes were wide, her look was skeptical as she said, "Xena do you know what you are saying?"
She gently pulled the woman down onto her as she whispered, "More than anything, I love you Gabrielle." Their lips met in a kiss and feeling that had been denied for too long. A soft wind caressed their bodies as they became lost in a love that had been awakened.
Calico had been busily going through some charts on his desk when he heard the commotion in the square. Standing he walked toward the doorway then took several steps outside. His eyes searched the area and it was then he saw Mary Ready walking through the area. She carried a cutlass in her right hand and her left was hanging onto a rope she had slung over her shoulder. His eyes darted behind the woman and could see the rope was attached to a prisoner. He stepped into the open and watched the woman. Mary Ready was walking as if she owned the area. Her head held high as she half pulled and dragged the prisoner.
Seeing the man step into the open, she slowed her pace and when near she stopped. She turned and grasped the rope that was binding Gabrielle's hands together and she whispered, "Sorry." Giving the rope a hard jerk, she flung the woman to the ground.
Calico stepped up to them, his eyes surveying them both as he said, "Lot of gaul you have, coming in here after what you have done."
The woman set her eyes on the man, never flinching as she said, "Thought you might accept my apology if I brought the woman Gabrielle to you."
He stepped past her and looked down at Gabrielle then turned his attention to Mary Ready. "What makes you think I would even think about letting you back into my life? You and this woman became friends. I haven't forgotten that."
She reached down and jerked Gabrielle to her feet as she said, "She is no friend of mine. Played mind games with me but I know better now. The woman betrayed me to Xena. What is it to be, we talk or I take her out of here?"
He laughed, "Always knew you to be a dealer. All right, I'll have the woman taken to a cell and we can talk."
Xena watched as they dragged Gabrielle away. It was all she could do not to cut them down. Taking a deep breath, she turned her attention to the man and said, "Let's talk."
He motioned toward the building. "Bottle of port, some food." His eyes were roaming her body as he added, "Always remember what a fire you could light under me."
She spoke calmly, "I don't light anyone's fires anymore, only mine. Now, let's go have that drink, I am thirsty."
Gabrielle was thrown into the cell with such force she lost her balance and fell to the floor. She had just made it to her knees when she heard the words, "You and I have to stop meeting like this."
She looked up to see Ann Bounty, she was leaning against the wall. Though she had obviously been through a difficult time, the woman's emerald green eyes were reaching out caressing her with a love she remembered so well. Standing she smiled, "Sea! Gods it is good to see you!" She took several steps toward the woman as Sea said, "You are a vision to these eyes."
Gabrielle reached out to hug the woman and realized her wrists were still tied as she said, "And to me, Sea . . . "
Reaching out the woman began to untie the rope from Gabrielle's wrists. Once done she said, "Though it warms my heart to see you, what are you doing here?"
Wrapping her arms around the woman, Gabrielle said, "Don't you know, you will never get away from me. We are fated to be together."
"Well, just what fate played into this?" Gabrielle could feel Sea's body as it cried out in pain. She laid her head against the woman's chest and said, "You have been hurt."
Sea placed a finger under Gabrielle's chin and raised the woman's head as she said, "Only the body. Can't touch my soul. Where is Xena?"
Gabrielle whispered, "She is near, we are going to get you out of here."
Sea pulled the woman tighter to her as she said, "You two, don't you know there is an entire city out there?"
She nodded as she said, "We know. Now we must discuss how to get you out."
Laughing, Sea replied, "Look around, those are steel bars, this is an underground passage, you are a prisoner also. Now, tell me how you are going to accomplish this?"
Grinning, Gabrielle said, "I have been known to move even a staunch pirate from time to time, surely this should be a piece of cake."
Sea stepped back, her eyes taking the woman into them as she said, "A staunch pirate huh? Anyone we both know?"
Gabrielle grinned as she dropped to her knees, her hand grasping Sea's and pulling the woman down with her as she said, "Well maybe not staunch but you did . . . "
Sea gazed at her as she said, "You can still look at me like that? I must be a sight."
Caressing the woman's face with her left hand, Gabrielle whispered, "You are beautiful, their marks cannot dim that. If my touch hurts you, tell me?"
Sea felt her face moving against Gabrielle's touch as she said, "When you touch me, I forget everything but you." She suddenly drew back and said, "Can't do this. I will die soon and you have Xena to think about."
Gabrielle reached out and touched the woman once more as she said, "Xena and I are fine. You will not die unless it is by my hand."
Sea looked at her a startled expression in her eyes as she said, "You have a dagger with you?"
The woman's blue green eyes glowed as she whispered, "No, but I do intend to take you to places other than this dreary room."
Sea felt her heart leap into her throat as she said, "Can't, though I must admit, the thought is enough to take me."
Leaning forward, Gabrielle's lips caressed the woman's face. She placed tender kisses on the woman's bruises and soon found her way to Sea's waiting lips. Their touch was slow, as if searching.
Sea pulled back, the yearning and hunger in her face apparent as she said, "Don't, do not do this because you pity me and in my state that is all one would do."
Gabrielle moved closer as she said, "Pity, hardly. No one in their right mind would pity you. We are adults, in a prison cell, you say they will kill you. Well in case you have forgotten, Calico will do the same to me. So we are here and they are there. There is nothing wrong with our being together, unless you find me . . . "
Sea raised her right hand and touched Gabrielle's face as she said, "I find you my friend and, and . . . "
Gabrielle pulled the woman to the floor as she said, "When I am finished with you, then you tell me, but for now woman, you need to feel me and know you are alive. You have every reason to want to live."
Sea closed her eyes as her lips sought Gabrielle's, the aches of her body were denied as she welcomed the overwhelming feeling of love.
Chapter Thirty Two
Xena had been given one of the rooms above the tavern. She felt relieved to be able to sit and try to unwind. Leaving Gabrielle as their prisoner had turned her stomach into knots. She poured some water into a basin and patted her face with the liquid. She knew she had to be careful not to remove the scar Gabrielle had so apply placed on her cheek.
Her visit with Calico had been all right, the man seemed to believe her story and for now that was the best she could hope for. Gazing around the room, her eyes spied a picture, as she remembered Gabrielle's words about there being someone who was spying on Sea and her. Walking toward it, she stopped and stared. Stepping to the bed, she removed a cover and hung it over the picture. Smiling she walked to the bed and sat.
She had just removed her boots, when someone knocked at the door. Standing she called out, "Who is it?"
Calico's voice rang back, "It's me."
She opened the door and stared at the man. His eyes darted past her as he said, "What's the idea?"
She answered, "That's an old trick. No one spies on me."
He scowled and said, "No one has ever caught that, must say you are back to your old self." He noticed she had removed her boots as he said, "Wanted you to meet Asterea, she is second in command here. If you are planning on returning, the two of you will need to get along."
Xena's face remained void of any expression. "Asterea huh? I have heard a few things about the woman, seems she cannot keep her desires in check." Her tone was dry.
He quickly said, "Not so unlike you, when we first met. I want you to meet her later this evening. So if you are planning on taking a nap, make it quick. She will be here later and I expect to see you."
Her hand was on the door as she looked at him and said, "If that is all, I would like to rest."
He nodded and walked away. Xena closed the door. It was plain to see she was having a hard time controlling her feelings. She hated the man, it had been his doing that brought her to Tunis before. Trying to control the anger that was simmering in her body she cursed. It had been hard controlling herself when talking with him. She could still feel the man's wrath and cruelty.
Walking toward the table, she picked up a bottle of port and stared at it as she muttered, "Probably drugged. You will not get me into that state again." She set the bottle back down.
Her mind drifted to Gabrielle, she hoped the woman was all right. If something were to happen to her, none of this would be worth anything. She knew it had been the woman's gentleness and love that had finally brought them together. Xena hated herself at that moment for letting Gabrielle talk her into this plan. The more she dwelled on it, the more she felt they all would be doomed. Calico had an armed fortress here and though they succeeded in getting in, the big question would be how would they get out? She walked toward the bed and lay back on it, closing her eyes she sought rest. She would need all she could manage, the thought of meeting the woman Asterea was tearing at her as she fought the hatred and whispered, "For Gabrielle, must control my anger."
Gabrielle was staring at Sea, the woman was sitting, her knees drawn up to her chest. Even in the dimly lit room, the woman was captivating. "Are you all right?" her words softly drifted to the woman.
Sea raised her head and gazed at her as she said, "Better than I should be."
Crawling toward her, Gabrielle asked, "What are you trying to say?"
Sea's eyes were now in direct contact with Gabrielle's as she said, "You were, are wonderful."
Sitting beside the woman, Gabrielle said, "You are pretty marvelous yourself you know. It's hard to tell in here whether it is day or night."
Nodding, Sea said, "They haven't carted me out to the square yet so must still be morning."
Gabrielle looked at her and said, "I need to tell you about Xena."
Sea managed to smile as she said, "Probably will join Asterea in finishing me off."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "Nope, she is here to help free you. Course, killing the woman is her top priority. Xena has been racked with depression and rage since her ordeal here."
Sea reached out and touched Gabrielle's right hand and said, "If she went though anything like they've put me through, it is a wonder she is even in her right mind." Emerald green's searched Gabrielle's eyes as she continued, "You must not let the woman near you. She seems to feed on the pain and suffering she can cause." her voice falling as she added, "If that isn't enough, she takes great pleasure in taking anything and everything that makes you . . . "
Pressing a finger to the woman's lips, Gabrielle said, "I know, I finally figured it out. Sea, she didn't, you . . . "
Reaching up and grasping Gabrielle's hand, Sea cut in, "No, Gods know the woman has tried. I realized in my state of being it would only be a matter of time. She waits like a vulture and when the time is right, comes in for the kill. If I have any life left, I will kill the bitch."
Placing her arm around the woman's waist, Gabrielle laid her head on Sea's shoulder and said, "I don't know what exactly happened with Xena, I only know Asterea did enough to drive her into the depressive state she has been in. I thank the Gods, she is finally beginning to come back."
Sea asked, "'Come back?' Does this mean, what I think? The two of you are all right again?"
"Yes, and so will you be."
Managing a smile, Sea replied, "That's another thing I love about you, though everything is dark, you try to pull out that silver lining." Biting at her lower lip she cautiously asked, "Gina, is she all right?"
Raising her head and gazing at the woman, Gabrielle smiled and said, "Did what you asked." She told Sea how she had lured the woman into the hold and left her shackled, when she was finished Sea said, "Have your ears been burning? Surely mine should have been. She may hate us now but in the long run, she will be thankful. No one in their right mind wants to come up against this woman."
Gabrielle laid her head back on the woman as she whispered, "You are right, but, anyone that grows to love and care for you will want to be there for you and with you."
Sea managed to smile as she whispered, "Never noticed it before, but the two of you are a lot alike."
Gabrielle's eyes were questioning as she asked, "What do you mean?"
Placing her arm around Gabrielle's waist, she answered, "Both of you will do what you want and be hanged with what I say."
Laughing, she whispered, "Gina told me you know."
Now it was Sea's turn to seem puzzled as she asked, ''What?"
Gabrielle had placed her lips near Sea's ear as she whispered, "That you cannot be tantalized or feel anything if she makes love to you in a drunken state."
Sea sat back and said, "You didn't, did you?"
Laughing, Gabrielle said, "Wanted to, she was so down. Now that I think about it, I should have told her, half the pleasure is rousing you when you are like that."
Sea's eyes seemed to hold a sparkle that had been missing for a while as she said, "I am thankful you didn't, that is all I need."
Gabrielle was standing, as she stared down at the woman and said, "Gina's smart, she will probably figure this out herself. I can see it in your eyes, you care for her. If there is anyone that knows you Sea, it is me. This is between the two of you but if someone loves me the way she does you." She hesitated then continued, "I would revel in their touch."
Sea was standing as she said, "It is really all mute, don't you think? I won't ever get out of here but maybe with Xena's help you two might. First chance you get to see the woman, tell her and get out of this place."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle said, "Not without you." Her eyes were gazing at the rope on the floor as she added, "Better tie my wrists back together, they will be coming in soon."
Sea reached down and grasped the rope. She carefully tied it around Gabrielle's wrists and said, "It is loose, if you hold it just right, they will not notice."
Gabrielle smiled and said, "I will always be thankful to have you in my life."
Sea's hands were holding Gabrielle's as she said, "In your life, you talk as if there will be."
Turning to stare at the cell door, Gabrielle said, "There will be, promise me you will take care of yourself out there?"
Sea nodded as she said, "Promise. Now, you promise me, the first chance you get, you and Xena will leave, no regrets, no looking back?"
Her blue green eyes searching Sea's she replied, "I will, but you will also."
Grinning Sea said, "Can't win this one can I? All right, with all the power I can summon up, I will try."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle replied, "Not good enough." Her eyes seemed to be reading Sea's thoughts as the woman said, "I give, you have asked for it woman, you will never be rid of Ann Bounty." She squeezed Gabrielle's hands and said, "Friends, always."
Her eyes gleaming at the woman, Gabrielle whispered, "Always."
Xena woke from a restless sleep. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, standing, she stretched. Walking toward the basin she poured water and brought it to her eyes. Her hands cupping the liquid as she placed it on the aching orbs. Drying her face, she strode to the bed and sat. Picking up her boots, she slid her feet into them. She paced the room several times trying to bring her body out of its groggy state. Strapping the cutlass and sheath to her waist, she proceeded to the tavern. She took each step with caution. Everything about the place sent warning vibes throughout her body and she listened to everyone.
As her feet touched the ground floor, Calico spotted her and waved to the woman. He was sitting at a table with the woman. Xena felt the hair on the back of her neck begin to stand as she bit her lip and started toward them.
Calico stood as she approached and said, "Mary, had a good rest I hope." He gestured toward Asterea who was still sitting and said, "This is Asterea." Eyeing the woman, he said, "This is Mary Ready."
Xena gazed at the obnoxious look the woman was giving her as she nodded her head toward her and said, "So, what is this meeting all about?"
He called for several drinks and said, "Wanted the two of you to meet."
Pulling out a chair, she sat and stared at the woman and said, "We met. Now what?"
Asterea slammed the mug of ale she had been drinking on the table with such force it overflowed onto the wood. Xena looked at Calico and said, "Looks like you need to keep your second in command in tow. Woman has a problem."
Asterea was on her feet as she glowered down at Xena and said, "Problem? The only problem I can see around here is you!"
Xena ignored the woman and centered her attention on Calico as she said, "I think I have pay coming?"
Asterea had drawn her cutlass and smiled as she brought it down toward the woman. Xena turned, bringing her hands up she caught the blade between her palms and stopped it midway.
Asterea's eyes grew wide but before she could do anything, Xena had sent her right foot crashing into the woman's stomach. Calico stood up, a grin on his face as he looked at Xena and said, "She started it, just don't kill her."
Standing, Xena kicked the chair away as she stared down at the woman.
Asterea was getting to her feet as she scowled, "Lucky hit." The woman ran toward Xena, her right fist readied for action. Xena saw it coming and ducked, only to be met with the woman's left. The blow knocked Xena several steps back and it was then that Asterea threw out her left foot catching Xena behind her leg and with a jerk, she knocked her off balance. Knowing she was falling, Xena went with it and as she hit the floor, bounced back onto her feet. The two women stood glowering at one another. Xena shrugged her shoulders and said, "Lucky hit." Asterea laughed as she said, "I just might grow to like you."
Her eyes darted to Calico as she said, "This Mary Ready is all right in my book."
He walked back to the table and gazed at the two women as he said, "Now, can we sit and talk business?"
Xena's eyes were set on Asterea's as the woman held out her hand and said, "Good to have you in the camp, Mary."
Xena clasped the woman's arm and nodded. After they sat, she looked at Calico and said, "Tell me, anything interesting been happening? I hear you have been doing all right for yourself since moving here."
He called for more drinks and said, "Better than before. Only problem I ever had was that harlot Ann Bounty."
Asterea leaned forward a glint in her eyes as she said, "I have taken care of the problem."
Arching an eyebrow, Xena asked, "The Ann Bounty I know, would not be taken down easily."
He leaned back in his chair and said, "Maybe, but the woman you knew does not exist any longer."
Xena looked away as she muttered, "Yeah, tell me another story."
Asterea was feeling a rush as she said, "Got her right here."
Calico gave the woman a warning glance as he said, "She's right, Ann Bounty is a prisoner here."
Xena smiled, "Like she would just walk in and say, all right, here I am, nothing else to do, so take me prisoner."
His eyes narrowed as she said, "This is no joke. She is here, how it happened is not important."
Asterea laughed, "And it has been my pleasure to make each day a living hell for the woman."
His eyes had been searching Xena for a sign, as he said, "Been watching you, looking for that glint of love you used to carry for the woman. Don't see it, maybe you have finally grown away from her."
Asterea looked at Xena as she said, "'Look of love,' you and the woman were intimate?"
This caught Xena off guard as she searched her mind for something to say. Finally knowing the two were staring at her
she said, "We were close."
The drinks had arrived and Calico said, "Let's drink to reuniting old friendships."
Xena hesitated and he said, "If you don't drink with me, you will not be here long."
She pursed her lips and took a drink.
They had visited for sometime and Xena had learned more than she ever thought she would. Calico had left to attend to some business and the woman asked if she wanted to go with her while she paid Ann Bounty a visit. This did not set will with her but she nodded and said, "Nothing else to do." As they left the building, Xena pursed her lips and wondered what would happen once Ann saw her. If she and this woman had been close and evidently from the man's words, lovers, what had she stepped into now?"
Gabrielle and Sea were sitting on the wooden bench when the two women walked into view. The minute Gabrielle saw Xena she realized she had forgotten to tell Sea how Xena was dressed. She glanced at the woman but before she could say anything they were at the cell door.
Sea gazed at the two and when her eyes fell on Mary, she glanced away. Asterea opened the door and walked in as
she said, "Come on in Mary, greet your old friend." Her eyes had traveled to Gabrielle as she added, "This the one
you brought in to Calico? She is a beauty. He should reward you well for this."
Sea seethed as she watched them approach. Asterea glared at Sea as she said, "You and the woman, stand up!" Her tone was threatening and Sea stood. Gabrielle followed as she eyed Xena. Sea looked at the two women and said, "Might have known, you turned on me now you turn on Gabrielle. You and this one belong together."
Asterea laughed as she said, "Have to postpone our little match. Tomorrow will be soon enough. Give you one last night to breathe." She reached out and placed her right hand on Sea's cheek as she said, "I will finish the job I started tomorrow."
Gabrielle threw out her bound wrists and knocked the woman's hand away as she glowered, "Leave the woman alone! Haven't you done enough?"
Asterea turned her vindictive eyes toward her as she said, "Another one, even in this disrumpled state, you have conquered another one." She lashed out, her right fist knocking Gabrielle back and as the woman crashed against the bench, Sea ran to her. Asterea had drawn her sword as Xena placed a hand on hers and said, "No, tomorrow would be fitting to see they both end up in the place, don't you think?"
The woman pondered Xena's words as she said, "You are right, tomorrow, both of them. I will love it. Let's go, leave them to their last night."
Xena took one last look at Gabrielle then followed the woman from the area.
Sea had helped Gabrielle to her feet, She put the bench upright as she said, "That was a foolish thing to do." Helping her to sit, she held the woman close as Gabrielle said, "Couldn't stand to see her touching you like that."
Sea whispered, "It doesn't bother me anymore, she is just looking for a reaction, you gave it to her. Gods my facing the woman was one thing but you. What have you gotten yourself into?"
Resting her head on Sea's shoulder, she said, "It's all right, Xena will help."
Sea scoffed, "Xena, where is the woman by the way?"
Smiling, Gabrielle answered, "Mary Ready, that was Xena."
Sea pulled away, her eyes looked amazed as she said, "No way, I know Mary and
that was the . . . "
"That was Xena, trust me, it was my make-up that did it."
Sea was amazed as she said, "I'll be . . . "
Chapter Thirty Three
The two women were standing when the guards walked into the area. Asterea was not with them as they approached the cell. Sea looked at Gabrielle and said, "Guess this is it. Listen to me for once, first chance you get grab Xena and get out of here."
She stared at the woman and queried, "Sea?"
Smiling at her Sea whispered, "You will be all right, Xena will see to it."
Several guards entered the cell, the large man in front said, "Time to go ladies. The crowd awaits and so does Asterea."
Sea stared at the man as several men grasped her arms twisting them behind her, they pushed her from the cell. She heard them grab Gabrielle and called back, "Don't fight them!"
The bright sun hurt the woman's eyes as she was pushed from the building into the square. She blinked several times, trying to accustom them to the sudden change.
The square had been surrounded by villagers. They yelled and taunted the woman. It didn't take her long to spy Asterea, the woman stepped into the square, her stance was formidable and the look in her eyes was chilling. She carried a coiled black whip in her right hand as she watched the men bring her and Gabrielle closer. Holding up her hand, she said, "Nice of you two to join me." Her stare traveled to Gabrielle as she approached the woman and said, "Maybe I will start with you."
Sea scoffed, "Yeah, take it out on her, after all the woman has not been starved like I have."
Turning her attention back to Sea, she said, "Then again, taking you to your knees in front of everyone would certainly get my juices flowing. I would enjoy taking your little friend all the more once you have been put in your place."
Sea glared at her as she said, "Seems to me you have been trying to put me there for sometime. Let's see if you are just all talk and intimidation."
She motioned for a guard to pull Gabrielle away as she said, "Fine by me. I wanted to do you first anyway." She walked around the square, her eyes taking in the people, stopping a good distance from where Sea was standing. Moving, she let the whip unfurl. She was turning as she cracked the leather into the air sending people scurrying away from the woman. Now, facing Sea, she popped the leather as it traveled through the air, its fangs seeking the next victim.
To the woman's surprise, Sea dodged and all Asterea hit was the guard standing nearby. Cursing she drew the leather back once more and said, "Can't do that too many times, not in your condition."
The four had just come into the throngs of people as Gina whispered, "What do you think is going on?"
Saxton stared at Kiera and answered, "Nothing good. Let's see if we can get closer without being detected."
Kiera glanced at Alexia as she said, "This is why there weren't that many guards to take down, everyone is here."
They were all wearing dark cloaks and in the warmth of the sun, it was becoming cumbersome. Saxton tapped a woman on the shoulder and asked, "What is going on up ahead?"
She turned to gaze at him then said, "Asterea, she is facing the prisoner, Ann Bounty." A set look on the woman's face as she added, "Time that heathen got what she deserved." His look was questioning as she smiled, "Ann Bounty, woman thought the ocean and all its spoils belonged to her, guess she will certainly rue the day she met Calico Jack."
Gina's right hand had balled into a fist as Kiera grasped Gina's left shoulder and said, "No, no sense hitting her, poor fool just knows what the man tells her." Her eyes darted to Saxton as she added, "Have to help her."
He nodded and said, "We will, promise me you all will be careful. We got in here but it may not be as easy to get out."
They all nodded and began to push their way through the crowd.
Gina's eyes grew wide when the activities in the square came into view. The woman Asterea was a force to be reckoned with. She had control of a whip and was making it speak for her, as she sent it cracking toward Ann.
Kiera's right hand touched Gina as she whispered, "Don't do anything you or Ann will regret."
She nodded, as she turned to look at the woman she said, "I will not see the woman hurt her."
Kiera's hand caressed her face as she said, "Nor I but we cannot be responsible for her death either. If we should make a move and it be the wrong one, the first person the woman will destroy is Ann."
Nodding, Gina turned to gaze at the two women once more.
Sea had managed to elude every strike Asterea sent her way and it was evident the woman was becoming upset. She scowled at Sea and said, "For someone that seemed so weak, you move well."
Sea watched the woman step to the right and was completely surprised when her whip sailed through the air wrapping its talons around Gabrielle's throat. Gabrielle reached up and grasped the leather, attempting to loosen its hold on her. Sea cursed the woman as she ran toward Gabrielle. Grabbing the leather, she pulled it loose from its comfortable position around the woman's neck.
Asterea had quickly made her way to the woman and as Sea released the leather from Gabrielle's neck. Asterea brought the handle of the whip down on the woman's head. Stumbling, Sea tried to catch her balance as Gabrielle struck out at Asterea. The woman glared at the guards and yelled, "Don't just stand there, get her!" They grabbed Gabrielle pulling her back, the woman fighting them all the way.
Asterea drove the handle into Sea's right side, sending the woman to the ground. Glowering over her, she said, "Should have tried that sooner. Your feelings for others would eventually lead to your downfall." She went to strike Sea across the face with the handle and the woman grabbed it, using Asterea's own strength she pulled herself up. The woman's eyes grew large as she said, "How? You should not have the strength to do this."
Sending two fingers straight into the woman's eyes, she said, "I've been waiting for this."
Asterea dropped the whip as she grabbed at her eyes, and screamed, "Take her, take the woman!"
Sea reached down and withdrew Asterea's cutlass and ran the hilt into the woman's stomach. Falling back, Asterea
bellowed, "You fools, stop her!"
Sea gazed around and at this time she could see Xena had jumped into the square and was fending the guards off. Soon, Gabrielle was standing beside the woman, she had easily removed the ties around her wrists.
Sea saw the cloaked figures emerge from the crowd and braced to fend them off. As they neared, they tossed their cloaks and she found herself staring into the eyes of, Saxton, Gina, Alexia and her mother.
Saxton walked past to intercept a man heading toward Sea and said, "No need to thank me, good to see you again."
She smiled at the man, as her eyes sought the other two. Kiera called out, "Better do something with that sword."
Asterea had regained her vision and was making a beeline for Sea. Sea had been gazing at Gina and it was then Asterea jumped onto her back. Her legs wrapped around Sea like a snake as her fist's rained down on her head and face. Sea could not shake the woman's hold. And finally dropping to the ground, she rolled unseating the woman. Both had quickly regained their footing and were facing one another. Asterea grinned, I can see it in your eyes, little foggy." She gestured toward Xena and added, "Looks like your friend Mary is still in the wrong camp."
Asterea had grabbed a sword that was tossed to her as she swung it through the air and said, "Come on, let's see how much power you really have in those arms."
The sound of metal on metal and people screaming was in abundance as Sea braced herself for the woman's charge. Her eyes had spotted Gina standing nearby, the woman had stopped what she was doing to pick up a puppy. "Get out of the way!" Sea's scream at the woman caused her to look up and it was then Asterea's eyes found her.
She stepped toward Gina, the woman was holding the puppy in her arms. "Well, well, looks like I have finally found my merchandise. Come here woman!"
Gina stepped back as Sea somersaulted through the air and landed nearby, she warned Asterea, "Don't even think of going there!"
Asterea was ignoring her as she stepped closer to Gina and demanded, "I told you to come here!"
Gina threw the dog in the woman's face and caught it as it fell. Her teeth, sinking into the woman's hand holding the sword.
Asterea screamed as she dropped the weapon and tried to remove the woman's vise grip on her hand.
Sea was taking a step toward Asterea when she heard the cold voice, "So, we are met with your little games once more."
Turning she gazed into Calico's eyes, a cruel smile curved his lips as he said, "Seems you have no end of friends." His cutlass swished back and forth as he chided, "Your little friend has good teeth." He struck with such fury, it took all the strength she had to keep the blade from finding its intended mark. He glowered down at her hand, and said, "See a little trembling there, no food, is finally paying off."
Calico jumped back, the blade cut through the air as he thrust it past Sea's left arm. She turned as the sharp weapon whizzed by, glancing her arm, she could see where the metal had cut the material.
While this was going on, Gina could see the woman Asterea was moving toward Sea's back and this time she stepped in front of her. Asterea sneered at her and said, "Tell me, what does the woman have that makes you all want to die for her?"
"Leave her alone!"
Taken aback at the woman's words, Asterea said, "For a little one, you certainly try to give orders." Her eyes scanned the woman as she added, "I should have done it on the ship. Then, there is no time like the present."
Reaching out, she grasped Gina's shoulders and to her surprise the woman didn't move, instead she smiled up at her. Her fingers were gripping Gina's shoulders tightly as Asterea lowered her head, her lips searching the woman's mouth. Gina didn't move. Asterea's lips sought hers with a vengeance. Gina could hear the woman moan as she savored her lips. It was then Gina brought her knee up between the woman's legs. The blow was sudden and as Asterea pulled back, Gina brought her left boot down on the woman's right foot.
The woman was in pain as she tried to maintain herself but the blond was relentless. Her left fist found Asterea's stomach as she pounded her. The woman's left and right hand seemed to be a blur as Gina struck the woman. Asterea fell to the ground on her knees, Gina reached down and grabbed a handful of hair as she pulled Asterea's head back and said, "Never touch Ann Bounty again!" Her left hand slapped the woman as she continued, "Never touch anyone again!" She struck out at the woman again. Finally releasing her hair, she turned and walked away.
Asterea was spitting blood as she called out, "Is the harlot that good in bed?"
She didn't even get the words out because Gina had turned and made a running leap into the air, her front feet landing solidly on the woman's face. Asterea went down with a groan and Gina easily was back on her feet. As she walked away, she said, "That was for my sister."
Xena and Gabrielle had watched the woman and both were amazed.
It was at this time several loud explosions had rocked the area sending people running for cover.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and said, "Started a few fires when no one was looking."
They stood and observed the devastation. Bodies lay all around and buildings were burning in the background. Everyone was there except Sea, she was missing and so was Calico. Gabrielle stepped up to Gina and said, "That was good, I am proud of you."
Beaming, Gina said, "Thanks, the woman just made me so mad."
Gabrielle smiled as she said, "I don't know, might have to get you some sort of herb that contains special powers, after her lips were on yours, you might get sick."
Xena stepped up to her and said, "I wanted to do that, but watching you do it gave me satisfaction. Where is the woman anyway?"
They all stared in the direction they had last seen Asterea fall. She was gone and Xena said, "This is not good. Let's go see if we can find Sea"
When the explosions and fires broke out, Calico managed to grab the opportunity to escape to his office. He had been gathering up a few things when Sea found the man. "Packing light or just packing?"
He turned to see the woman standing in the doorway. Reaching for his cutlass he said, "You just don't quit, do you?"
Sea stepped into the room, her eyes darting around the area. "Where you are concerned, no. I owe you and Asterea for making my life a living hell. Most of all for dragging my mother into your sordid games. Where is the woman by the way?"
He shook his head and said, "Your guess would be as good as mine. She never did like to hang around when things were not going well."
She watched as the man stepped into the center of the room. The sword in his hand moving cautiously. She was way ahead of the man as he lunged toward her left leg. Bringing her sword up to stop his as the metal of both glided in circles. He flipped backwards, and within seconds she had followed. Their swords, clashing in a violent conflict of supremacy. Calico had lunged then took the weapon in a circle, his objective was her ankles. Sea smiled as she vaulted his attacks.
They were both standing near the doorway when he lashed out and severed the rope that held a huge candelabra. It came crashing down and Sea barely somersaulted out of the way. Standing, she glanced around, the man was gone. Jumping over the fallen candelabra, she ran into the large ballroom.
Calico was starting up the staircase, when she spied the man. She untied a rope, and held the cutlass between her teeth, as she swung careening through the air, landing at the top of the stairs in front of the man.
He looked at her in amazement as she stepped toward him, her sword feigning to the right and then the left. He slowly backed down the steps as he said, "How, you had no food, how can you still be standing?"
Sea watched the man and when his feet were back on the bottom floor, she sat on the banister and slid down. Calico met her with a lunge as their swords clashed once more. He was trying to get her to lose the grip on hers and their weapons were locked as the two walked a close circle. Eyes staring into one another, neither giving an inch.
He glowered at the woman and snarled, "How, you have been starved?"
Sea set her jaw, her lips curving up as she said, "You might not have fed me, but the cell holds all sorts of bugs. Not the best thing to eat, but it did help me keep some strength."
Calico spit in her eyes as she jumped back trying to clear her vision. He saw his opportunity and it was then his right fist slammed into her face, knocking her backward into the banister. Sea looked up to see him thrust once more as the weapon headed for her head. She rolled to the left and soon was on her feet. Shaking her head, she said, "You don't play fair but then you never did."
He smiled, as he lunged toward her again. She dodged each thrust and met all of his with one of her own. They were standing in the dining area now, Calico was on one side of the table as Sea stood and watched the man. Her eyes taking in the room as she said, "Very nice, some poor soul paid dearly so you could have this."
He grabbed a pitcher from a table and sent it flying at the woman as he hollered, "Damn you!"
Sea moved to the right as the pitcher flew past her and crashed into the wall. She slowly walked around the table, her sword ready. He moved back trying to keep out of her reach. She somersaulted and landed behind him, reaching out, she tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around, her right fist met his face.
He staggered backwards, falling into a chair. Regaining his balance, Calico jumped onto the table and she followed him. It was a long wooden table and the way they parried with one another, it was as if their swords were dancing to a slow then lively tune. The blades sending sparks into the air as they collided.
Calico dropped to his knees as he struck out at Sea's legs once more, again she jumped his strikes. Finally somersaulting over his head and landing behind the man.
As the two reached the end of the table, they encountered a candelabra, the two candles that adorned it seemed to be setting as if waiting for someone to light them. Calico jumped to the floor an evil smile played on the man's face as he lashed out and quickly cut through one candle sending it in two pieces to the floor. Tipping his sword at Sea he smiled.
She moved quickly, her sword a blur as it whirled through the air at the candle still setting in the candelabra, then she dropped to her knees.
Laughing, he stared at the candle, it was still standing as he said, "Not as good as you think you are."
Leaning forward, Sea blew on the candle as the top piece fell off. Her slice had been so quick, the candle had not moved. He screamed and charged her once more, this time, he tossed the sword and as she stuck out to ward it off, he dove onto her stomach. Sending them both crashing from the table onto the floor.
Sea was trying to keep the man's wild punches from making contact when she looked up to see Asterea standing over them. Her face was bloody, the woman's right eye was almost closed and had already gathered a puffiness about it. Her nose looked more crooked than before and the woman looked like she had been hit in the face with a door, going the wrong way. The woman held a cutlass in her right hand and was holding it close to Sea's neck as she said, "Enough!"
Sea didn't move, she waited for the woman to run her through. She didn't as Calico got to his feet and said, "Bout time." She scowled at the man as she said, "You could say thank you, the woman almost had you beaten."
He glared at her as he reached down and pulled Sea to her feet. His eyes darting to Asterea he said, "Woman's been eating bugs, next time make sure there are no bugs."
Asterea stepped close as she said, "Bugs, might have known, no one could have gone through what we put you through and still come out with the strength you had."
He glanced at her and said, "We have to get out of here, her friends will be showing up soon."
Asterea growled as she said, "I owe that little blond but since I can't give it to her right now, you will do." Her eyes turned toward Sea, the look she gave the woman was deadly. The force of the blow, slammed Sea against the stone wall. The woman was upon her before she could regain her footing. Asterea's second blow was a brisk slap to the face, followed by a punch to the center of her stomach. Sea fell into blackness as she felt her body hitting the wall and sliding down to the floor.
Asterea reached out and grasped her left arm pulling the woman to her feet as she slapped her face. Sea opened her eyes as the woman spoke harshly into her right ear, her fingers buried in the woman's red hair, as she pushed her against the wall, "Did you think I was going to let you get away with this? Your little friend, Gina, thank her for what's to come."
Sea felt tears of anguish start to flood her eyes as the woman whispered, "Ann Bounty, a legend on the ocean. Beautiful, charismatic, passionate and a friend to the poor and down trodden, that is what they say isn't it? Do you think all those high and mighty clothes you wear make you any different from me?" She shoved her elbow into the softness of Ann's breasts. "That look, those eyes, you know just how to squeeze this body into a tight pair of breeches, don't you? You love to tease and tantalize, I can't believe you never expected to pay the price."
Sea tried to get out of the woman's grasp but by this time she was too weak. Asterea glowered at her as she slapped her hard, and saw blood well up at the corners of her mouth. A sadistic grin curled her lips as she placed her left foot behind Sea's right leg pulling it out from under her. And as she fell, Asterea followed her. Sea lay, her fight was gone and the woman reveled in it as her eyes searched the woman's body.
Calico yelled at her, "You've had your little fun, let's get out of here!"
She looked up at the man, then stared into Sea's eyes. "Not yet, I want the woman to know I have won."
He was pacing now as he said, "Look at her that is pretty obvious, now, let's go."
Reaching out, she placed her right hand on Sea's face and traced it with her fingers, stopping as she ran her thumb over the woman's lips. Sea tried to move as Asterea said, "Good, you still have a little fight left, feel this and remember it." She laughed as she forced Sea's legs apart with her left knee, then roughly brought her knee up between Sea's legs and rested it. Calico turned away as he said, "If you are going to do it, do it! We haven't got all day."
Ignoring the man, she leaned over and placed her lips close to Sea's face and whispered, "I could have had you, think about that till next time." Her right fist slammed across Sea's chin snapping her head to the side as she stood and said, "I'm ready."
Xena and Gabrielle had just come running into the room. They had been surveying the damage as they walked. Someone had been in a fight and it looked like the furniture and curtains received most of the damage. As they reached the dining area, their eyes surveyed all the broken dishes and furniture. It was then Gabrielle spied the woman. She ran to her as she cried, "It's Sea!"
Xena dropped to her knees as she gazed at Gabrielle. "Looks bad, someone did a number on her."
Gabrielle held back the tears as she said, "Xena, she can't die."
Xena reached down and picked the woman up, cradling her in her arms, she said, "Let's get her out of here, Calico and Asterea are long gone and the sooner we are the better."
Chapter Thirty Four
The ship had been sailing for days, Tunis was far behind them.
Kiera and Alexia had been tending to Ann. The woman had lapsed into a deep sleep and they all prayed, she would soon wake. They all took their turn at Ann's bedside, watching and hoping the woman would open those beautiful emerald green eyes.
Gabrielle had just stepped topside as her eyes took in the area. She was trying to find Gina, the woman had been devastated at Ann's condition. She spotted Saxton and the man smiled toward her as he pointed aft, she nodded and started walking in the direction.
She saw Gina before the woman spied her. She was siting on a barrel, a far off look in her eyes. "There you are." Gabrielle's warm words reached out to the woman.
She turned and waved at her as she said, "Has Ann opened her eyes?"
Shaking her head, Gabrielle stepped up to her and sat beside Gina as she answered, "No, there has been no change. Gina, you need to take care of yourself, Ann would be hurt if she knew how badly you have been tending to your own needs."
Chewing on her lower lip, Gina spoke, "No need, it is my fault she is in the condition she is in."
Frowning, Gabrielle said, "If you are talking about that confounded pigeon and the message from Asterea, don't be. The woman is just trying to reach out and hurt you. She knows, I am sure, how Sea feels about you. The woman seems to want to destroy everything Sea holds dear, including her life." Her blue green eyes searched Gina's brown ones as she said, "Don't let that happen, Sea needs you, don't let Asterea win."
Gina's eyes moved back and forth as she said, "I, I only want to see Ann be all right. If my being out of her life will accomplish this, then that is what I must do."
Reaching out Gabrielle touched Gina's right arm and said, "I know Sea, I also know she loves you. Consider what you are feeling, right now, we all need to be there for her, she has always been there for us. Think about what I have said?"
Gina nodded as she said, "She is fortunate."
Standing, Gabrielle asked, "'Fortunate?'"
"Yes, to have someone like you in her life."
Before she walked away, Gabrielle replied, "You might not believe this at this moment but she is the fortunate one. The day you entered Sea's life was, and is, a day of wonder for her. Never count the woman out, she is strong and sometimes, love is the thread that will bring a person back."
Gina watched the woman walk away, she knew Gabrielle was only trying to make her feel better but she also knew things would never be the same. Raising her head, she stared at the sky and whispered, "Please, let Sea live. I will do whatever it will take to insure this. If the fates wish it, I will be gone."
Kiera was sitting beside her daughter, her right hand caressed the woman's face. "From the minute I saw you, heard your cries, my love for you began. He might be your father, but you are my daughter." Her fingers, stroked the lustrous red hair as she continued, "All I ever wanted was a good life for you. I have tried to reason with myself and know whatever makes you happy is all I desire." Her voice caught in her throat as she gazed at the pale features of this once lively face. "The woman, Gina, you would have been proud of her, she fought as well as any warrior. Gabrielle taught her well. Xena and Gabrielle have been here, they sit with you day and night. You are gifted to have such wonderful friends. Ann, please come back, we miss you." She brought her head down and placed a gentle kiss on the woman's forehead, then said, "Rest, when you are ready to come back, we will be here." She stood and left the room. Alexia was waiting as she stepped out. Noticing the pain on the woman's face, she reached out and hugged Kiera, as she said, "It will be all right, Ann has a lot of spirit, she has been through a lot, it will take her body time to heal."
Kiera lay her head on the woman's shoulder as she cried, "I pray you are right."
Gabrielle tossed a stick toward the incoming water as she ran along the sand. Xena had been walking, enjoying the feel of the warm sand on her feet. Both women had discarded their boots quite away down the beach. They had been at Spoon Island for half a moon and it was Kiera that talked the two into taking some quiet time on the island.
Ann's condition had not changed, she was still unconscious and each day, the hopes of her ever returning seemed to wain.
Saxton and the crew had put up residence on the island, and things seemed to be the same, except for the ravishing red head they had all grown to know.
Gina had just left the kitchen area and was now standing at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes looking up as she glanced
around and took the stairs two steps at a time. Approaching the door to Sea's bedroom she paused, then opened the door.
Peeking in, her eyes rested on the woman. Even in her state, the woman was breathtaking. She drew a deep breath and
quietly walked toward the bed. Dropping to her knees, she gazed at the even breathing of the woman. As she gazed at
Sea, she knew she would always look at the woman with wonder and love in her heart. Placing her right hand on Sea's shoulder, she fought the tears that were trying to seek their way to the top of her emotional release. Slowly her fingers
caressed the woman's neck as they traveled up to her cheek. She could feel the coolness of Sea's skin against her warm
palm as she uttered, "Sea, please . . . "
Seeing no reaction, she laid her head against the side of Sea's face as she said, "You have given me the courage to do what I must. I must leave but before I go I want you to know . . . " Her voice cracked as she tried to control the words, "Pirate, you have given me your friendship, I will always love you." She raised her head as her lips traveled to Sea's lips. Slowly she caressed them and when through she whispered, "You are the best thing to ever happen to me. Be well." She stood and left the room.
Kiera tried to argue with the woman but Gina was bullheaded like she remembered her daughter to be. She asked Saxton to see the woman was taken to her village. The day Gina left she stood and watched until they were out of sight and when she turned to gaze at Alexia she said, "The woman blames herself for Sea's condition. We all know that isn't so."
Alexia held a compassionate look as she said, "She is doing what she feels is best. Everyone must do what they feel is right. Maybe it is good, the woman goes back and finds out what happened to her mother and father. Sea will be here when she realizes the truth."
Kiera's eyes widened as she asked "'Truth?' What do you mean?"
Smiling, Alexia replied, "That no matter where she goes, she will discover, the family she is seeking is here."
Xena noticed a fallen tree and walked toward it. Sitting, she yelled at the woman, "When I see you like that, I see a child enjoying the thrill of wonderment."
Turning to gaze at the woman, Gabrielle started back, her step lively. Xena smiled up as the woman neared. Gabrielle's blue green eyes, sending out radiant sparkles as the smile on her face turned Xena into a mixture of warmth and affection. The more she came to know this woman, the more she became enthralled at Gabrielle's little nuances. A Warrior, she was that but in the woman's hands, she was pure putty and Gabrielle could shape her into anything she wanted. Sighing, Xena knew, it was the woman, she had stolen her heart and would always. The love between the two had taken many roads but the one thing she knew now, they would always be together. As she looked at the bubbly personality of the woman, she knew Gabrielle had done what few could accomplish. Xena would do anything the woman desired, she loved her, it was that simple.
Sitting beside Xena, Gabrielle teased, "See your eyes wandering, anyone I know?"
Turning to gaze at the woman, Xena's bottomless blues touched the woman with rhythms of love as she whispered, "Only you."
Taking a deep breath Gabrielle smiled, "I think I am going to like this new you. Finally you are not afraid to say what is in your heart."
Grasping Gabrielle's left hand in hers, Xena said, "It had to have been hard on you. Ann and what happened there."
Her eyes looking away for a minute, Gabrielle replied, "You know, don't you?"
Nodding, Xena said, "One only has to look at the two of you, it is there, your face, the expression in your eyes." Before Gabrielle could say anything the woman continued, "You are a true friend, from all I have seen and what I know, Ann was close to giving it all up. If it took your love to give her a reason to live."
Gabrielle whispered, "I would not see her just die like that. Xena, you know I love her don't you?"
Smiling, Xena answered, "I know. I'm all right with it. If there has to be anyone in the world besides me . . . "
Gabrielle was fidgeting as Xena reached out and cupped the woman's chin in her hand, slowly turning her head she said, "I'm fine with it, let's just not make it a habit."
Gabrielle's eyes misted as she said, "I don't know what I ever did to deserve knowing you, but I am thankful for each day."
Xena lowered her head and placed a soft kiss on the woman's lips, then said, "Have you forgiven me?"
She seemed puzzled as she said, "Nothing to forgive. I know you will never do it again."
Pulling Gabrielle into a warm embrace, Xena whispered, "Things are better between us though there are still a few things I need to work out."
Grinning, Gabrielle said, "I was proud of you back there, though you saw Asterea, you kept it under control."
"Yeah, well maybe I shouldn't have at least Ann would be all right now. That woman deserves to spend eternity in Hades, that still wouldn't be enough." Her eyes grew cold as Gabrielle said, "I have a better understanding, I'm just sorry it has taken me so long. We have passed the most important step."
Standing, Xena looked at her and said, "I think it is time we go home. There are things we need to do, things I need to do."
Getting to her feet, Gabrielle smiled, "I will go with you anywhere, we both need to unwind."
Taking Gabrielle's right hand in hers, Xena said, "I think some time in the springs should rid our bodies of any aches."
Gazing up at the woman, Gabrielle said, "And give them certain yearnings."
Her blue eyes gleaming as a glorious smile traced her face, Xena said, "And a wonderful bed that has been empty too long. When I gaze at you, every inch of my body feels, wants you."
Pulling Xena along, Gabrielle said, "Then let's go, you know when you look at me like that, what it does to me."
As the women retraced their steps, they stopped and the tall woman pulled Gabrielle close as she whispered, "I love you so much, that I don't know where I end and you begin." Their lips met in a kiss of soft warm love.
Kiera had just stepped in from outside, she had been taking care of The Black. The horse seemed to act differently today. Since they had brought Sea home, the horse had been despondent. It had been off its feed and seemed to sleep a lot. This day was different, the animal was running the corral fence, head held high and snorting with each step. She was glad to see the animal feeling better but couldn't help wonder what had caused the complete turn around.
Nearing the stairs, she thought she would check on Ann, there had been no change and each day she was feeling she would never gaze into her daughter's brilliant eyes again.
"Where is everyone?" The words were soft, and when Kiera heard them her heart jumped into her throat. Turning to gaze up, her mouth fell open. Ann Bounty was standing at the top of the stairway, her hands holding onto the railing. Kiera called out, "Ann! Stay right there don't move!" She bounded up the stairs as she hurried to the woman.
The shift the woman wore, didn't detract from her ravishing body. She seemed astounded her mother could move so fast. Kiera's arm wrapped around the woman as she hugged her and cried, "You have come back!"
Leaning into her mother's embrace, Ann said, "'Come back,' you act as if I have been away."
Stepping back the woman's eyes took in her daughter as she said, "You have been unconscious for a long time. Thank the Gods, you have awakened."
The woman's eyes shone at her mother as she said, "I sure am hungry."
Smiling, Kiera said, "I'll have Pagen bring something up."
Her look was steady as she said, "Rather go down and eat." Her eyes darted around as she asked, "Where is Gina? You have met her haven't you?"
Nodding, she answered, "Yes, she is wonderful. Let me help you to the room, a change of clothes and we can go down to the kitchen." Her right arm around Sea's waist she said, "Lean on me. I have my little girl back."
Laying her head on her mothers shoulder as they walked, Sea whispered, "Will you never get over the fact I am not your little girl any longer."
Holding her daughter close, Kiera said, "You will always be that little girl to me. Now, to find some clothes." The sound of the woman's voice disappeared as they entered Sea's room.
A moon had come and gone and the woman had regained her full strength. Ann Bounty's beauty had returned as well as the woman's charismatic manner. She had bid her mother good-by that morning. She was going to take The Black for a run. Kiera's eyes showed worry in them but she smiled and said, "Be careful." Patting the horse she whispered into its left ear, "Take care of her." The animal tossed its head as it nickered. Sea laughed as she said, "If I didn't know better, I'd think the two of you could understand one another." Gazing into her mother's eyes she added, "Won't be long, have some thinking to do." She turned the horse and reined it toward the creek. Within moments the horse reared on its back legs as she cried, "Go!" The animal galloped from the area and soon Kiera could see the horse in full gallop. Sea's cries of joy echoed back as she and the horse cleared everything in their path. Alexia walked up to Kiera and said, "Looks like we have Ann back."
Turning to look at the woman, Kiera answered, "We do but I can see it in her eyes, the woman Gina, Sea is searching her heart over this one."
Nodding, Alexia said, "Let's go have some tea, Ann will think things out and she will do what she feels is right." They walked into the house as Ann Bounty's cries of elation still reverberated the area.
Ann had run the horse until they were both tired. She loved the feeling of the wind against her face as the horse leaped obstacles in their path. It gave her a feeling of being alive and she reveled in this. Her mother had told her what she knew of the injuries Sea had sustained and after talking with Saxton, as well as Alexia and her mother, she knew she was lucky to be alive. The woman Asterea had made it a point to send the pigeon with the message and she knew the woman's whole purpose had been to strike out at Gina. Asterea wanted Ann to be left without a love in her life, that is, if she even lived. Dismounting, she tied the reins to a bush and walked toward the creek. Finding a flat rock, she sat. The day was pleasant and she was enjoying everything. Sitting, she leaned back and gazed at the water, seemed the easy flow always relaxed her. Taking in a deep breath, she smiled. Things she had taken for granted before, now seemed priceless. As her eyes scanned the area, she reveled in the beauty.
Sea was still having a hard time recalling everything that happened. Her mother was thankful but she knew in time it would all come back. She felt her body shiver as she sat up, she would have moments like this but mostly it happened at night when she lay down to sleep or even during sleep. Sea could fully understand Xena's actions. The woman Asterea even seemed to haunt her when she slept.
Kiera had been her life force, the woman was always there for Sea. But, her thoughts of late seemed to be on the woman Gina. Things she had done at Tunis, the way the woman cared for her. Sea would not forget this. The more she turned this over in her head the more she began to believe Gina left because she thought it was her fault Sea was in the condition she had been.
Finding herself tensing up, she tried to relax. Asterea had made her mark on the woman and it took all she had to try and fight off the fear the woman had so apply planted. Closing her eyes, she tried to shut out the many beatings she had received at Asterea's hands. She folded her arms across her chest as she grasped her forearms. Sea had never been put in the position of not being able to protect herself. The woman had taken her there with such enjoyment. The horse whinnied and she was happy to be brought out of her thoughts. She looked up to see if it was all right.
A lone tear had found its way down her cheek as she reached up to brush it away. She had decided she would spend the day taking in the wonders of the island, here everything was beautiful.
Gina had been sitting on the high hill, her eyes staring out at the vastness of the ocean. She was gazing at all the ships bobbing in the water. It hurt to leave Spoon Island but she felt she had done the right thing. There had been no word on Ann Bounty's condition and in a way, she was thankful. If she didn't hear the words the woman had passed, Sea would always live.
Things were as she feared when she arrived home, the family dwelling was no longer her home. Another family was there now and there had been no word of her parents. Friends had seen to her sister's funeral pyre. The look in her eyes was sad but there were no tears, she had vowed to never shed another. The man Olgien had given her a job at the tavern and she had resigned herself to this. The men and their raucous remarks, their searching hands, she had managed to handle all of it. Gina had grown up a lot since leaving her home. Olgien liked to have her work at the tavern, since she started, his business was booming. The man had given her the day to sort out her thoughts.
Pulling her knees to her chest, she closed her eyes as the vision of Ann grinning at her was coming into view. She was so beautiful, so loving. Sighing Gina felt grateful to have been given the privilege of knowing the woman. Her life was different and she missed the adventure of Sea's life but she also knew even if the woman survived she would never want to look at her again. Gina had been skipping meals, not taking care of herself and felt each day there was no reason to breathe anymore.
A slight breeze was moving her blond hair as if a pair of hands dancing with the golden strands.
"Looking for a good mate, lost three crew members thought you might be interested?" The words were warm, and carried a softness to them.
Gina froze, her pulse quickened. Was it real, or had she finally lost all reality? Afraid to turn around, she squeezed her eyes shut and hugged her knees tighter.
"Kind of puny but with the right teacher . . . "
A gasp rumbled through her as she slowly turned. Opening her eyes as she waited to see it was her mind playing tricks. The ocean, as a backdrop, Ann Bounty stood tall, her hands on her hips, legs spread and her right boot, digging into the ground. Black pants that fit the woman to perfection and a leather shirt that was laced up the front. The woman's face shone as it reached out and took Gina to heaven, with a smile that brought the woman back. Her emerald green eyes danced as they gazed at the woman.
Gina stood, her mouth agape, she closed her eyes and when she opened them she knew the vision would be gone. The woman's red hair was tossing about her head as the wind caught it and at this time Gina could feel her knees weaken.
Stepping toward the woman, a twinkle in her eyes, Ann Said, "We almost have that part right. About my offer?"
Gina's eyes darted past the woman to the ocean below, then settled on the woman. "You are all right. Thank the Gods."
Sea bit at her lower lip and said, "You are as lovely as I remembered."
Gina felt euphoric as she asked, "Mate? You really think I can handle it?"
Stepping close to the woman, Sea placed her hands on Gina's shoulders and said, "And then some. I don't care what prompted you to leave, I only know I want you in my life."
Gina felt her voice going as she said, "Still after everything, it was my fault."
Shaking her head, Sea whispered, "No." Her eyes were locked with Gina's as she said, "I may not be quite the same as before but there is room on The Bounty." Her eyes searching Gina's, "I'm not the same person you knew, things have happened." Sea's voice failed her as she took a deep breath and continued, "Maybe you don't want to be around me anymore, I will understand." Her emerald green's carried a lost look as she whispered, "This was a mistake."
Gina reached out and placed her right hand on Sea's as she said, "You are the same woman to me. There will never be anyone like you." Her light brown eyes seemed to caress the woman as she added, "I thought you wouldn't want to see me anymore."
A radiant glow filled Sea's face as she said, "Hang it woman, I've been trying to tell you, I want you in my life." She reached out and embraced Gina pulling her close. Gina felt all the tensions and fear she had been fighting disappear as she lay her head on Sea's chest and said, "If this is a dream, I don't want to wake."
Sea's hands caressed the woman as she said, "The job is open, think you could stand to be around an old pirate again?"
Raising her head, she stared into Sea's bright eyes and said, "Old you are not and there is nothing in the world I would ever want to do but be around you."
Sea stepped back, as she said, "Then it is settled, you are signing on?"
Smiling, Gina stood on her toes, placed a tender kiss on the woman's lips and whispered, "As long as you promise not to have me shackled down in the hold again."
Sea nodded, as a smile that would light up the skies crossed her face she said, "Promise." Her eyes gleaming
she added, "Guess you know, you have signed on for the long voyage."
Their arms around one another, they started down the path, leaving traces of their laugher behind.
Continued in The Curse
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