A CROWN OF LAUREL part 2
MCA/UNIVERSAL/RENAISSANCE owns Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo (poor baby needs a better agent, she's getting paid only in apples and oats) and others from X:WP. All others are a possible hazardous byproduct of the icky gray stuff that is stuck inside the boney thingy on my shoulders.
This story is written without wanting to infringe on the above companies rights. (If I do they'd sic the "Amazon Collection Agency" or ACA on me, and they always get their prey.) This story is also non-profit and any reproduction or use of this story without my permission will make me call the ACA on your bootie.
Violence is present in this story, and some of it is very graphic. This is Xena after all. If you don't approve please just read something you find more appropriate.
Special thanks go out to Perager for helping me edit this Part.
Oh gods...that gray stuff is bubbling outta my ears again, perhaps I should just get on with the story before it's all gone?
Callisto materialized with a shower of light in a large sumptuous bedroom. Silks and other precious fabrics decorated the walls and columns in flowing designs. Scrolls littered several tables and food and drink sat uneaten on a silver tray. A huge circular bed took up much of the space, draped on all sides by sheer silks.
The warrior goddess pursed her lips together and grinned impishly when she realized that the bed was occupied by two people.
"Oh my..am I interrupting anything?" Callisto asked as she slid onto the bed, startling the two occupants. The goddess reached out a slim hand and cupped the woman s chin. "Having fun? I hope I'm not spoiling the mood." She smiled, her eyelids half drooping.
The man stood and wrapped himself in a heavy robe, then dismissed his bedmate with a casual wave of his hand. The young girl gathered up her clothes and veritably ran out the doors. The guards stationed
outside stuck their heads in, but at a silent signal from their ruler, they closed the doors, leaving Callisto and the man alone.
The blond goddess stretched seductively across the bed, grinning at the man she had come to see. "Join me?" She asked, though her tone made it more of a command. The man complied, easing himself to lay next to her, but not touching her.
"What do I owe for the honor of this visit?" He asked, his eyes hooded, his face expressionless.
Callisto threw back her head and squealed in delight, then turned her bright eyes onto his. "No. No. It's all my pleasure, I assure you." She ran a long finger down his arm. "In fact...though it's not here yet, I ve brought you a present."
The mans eyes grew flinty. "How close is she?"
"Tomorrow morning I want you to get on your fastest ship and head east. We will find you after that. It should only be a day or two." Callisto answered, than ran her fingers through his hair roughly.
"You are sure she is..." He started, but was interrupted by his hair being grasped firmly and his head being yanked back. Callisto leaned close, her eyes deadly serious in contrast to the sweet smile on her lips.
"Do not question me. Ever. I have this all planned out, and it's right on schedule," she admonished. Giving him a quick peck on the lips, she released him and leapt off the bed. Turning back she gazed down at him, her hands resting lightly on her hips.
"Fastest ship. Bring your best men. And chains...don't forget the chains." She giggled a moment. "Don't be too late, you don't want to spoil our fun," Callisto advised, waggling a finger at the still man.
"I will do as you say," he said simply.
"Good." She waved and disappeared in a flash.
The man stood and pondered the situation. To get Xena he was having to pander to this strange unknown goddess, and he didn't like it. But to have Xena in his hands again...he would do almost anything.
I will play your game...for now. He thought silently, then called for the girl to be returned to his bed.
* * * * *
Xena ran down the passageway banging on cabin doors with enough force to wake the dead. As she tried to wake the captain, Gabrielle was the first one out, ready with her staff. Seconds later the merchant and the captain opened their doors and the crew awoke at her alarm.
"What in Poseidon s name is going on here?!" Captain Fenal bellowed, looking very tired and silly in his nightclothes.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked in concern.
"No time!! Everyone hang on!!!" Xena yelled at the top of her voice then turned and slammed into the bard, sending them both into their cabin. As she shoved her friend toward the hammock, the Jade Dolphin suddenly heaved, as if it had been given life and was taking its first breath. With Gabrielle held close in one arm, Xena tucked up her legs and sprung across the cabin, aiming for the hammock. The ship's now violent chaotic movement impeded her abilities but the warrior's determination to get them
both to the hammock, so that they wouldn't die from being slammed time and time again into a wall or the floor, got her close enough to their destination that she easily shoved her terrified companion
into the hammock. Pulling herself into the contraption with her, Xena trapped Gabrielle in her arms and held on with all her strength.
"Xena....what..what's happening?" Gabrielle moaned, very afraid. I hate the sea. I hate the sea. I hate the sea, was her silent mantra.
"Poseidon is my guess." The warrior muttered, listening to the ship's sounds carefully for signs of impending flooding. She could hear the screams of sailors and hear the low toned *thumps* as some collided with unyielding objects. Xena smiled tightly for a split moment as the loud roar of one of the crew was heard cursing the name of Poseidon to Tartarus and back again. On and on the duo swayed and rocked violently in their berth, both anxiously waiting for the end to come.
Abruptly the ship's movement stopped leaving an almost supernatural silence. Letting go the sides of the hammock that kept them in, Xena tumbled out and raced out the cabin door grabbing her healing kit and throwing Gabrielle the extra one out of the chest on the way. She needed to look for wounded and to assess the damage to the ship. Gabrielle followed close behind, knowing her skills would also be needed. The bard had learned and helped Xena many times with wounded people and had gotten quite proficient at it.
"Gabrielle, check the cabins! I'll go on deck with the sailors!" Xena shouted as she ran up the passageway ladder.
"Right." The bard stated immediately going for the nearest door, the merchant Marlius . Not bothering to knock she rushed in and took in the situation.
His cabin was bigger than their own and filled with loose objects that could have become deadly. Gabrielle thanked the gods that all of their own few possessions had been packed safely away. Spotting the large rotund man under a pile of clothes and pottery the woman hurried forward. She threw items off him left and right, uncovering the man. Gabrielle groaned with dismay at seeing blood on his scalp, but with a closer examination she saw it was a minor wound and that he would be unconscious for only a little while longer. The man might wake up with a headache, but it wouldn't kill him.
Quickly she wiped up the blood, smeared some healing salve on it and applied a cloth bandage. Finished, she hurried out of the room to the next, which was Alexis room, Marlius daughter. Once again she barged her way through, but quickly saw no one was inside and left, heading for the captain's cabin.
The bard started her way through the door as before, but her progress was halted by an obstacle just behind the door. Feeling the object give a little, Gabrielle put her shoulder against the door and slowly pushed her way through. When she had enough room she poked her head in and was startled to see it was the captain that had been lying behind the door, completely unconscious and looking badly wounded. The slim woman made her way past the door and started working on Fenal.
A large piece of wood, that looked to her like a chair leg, had been plunged deep into his chest. It bled out slowly, but the bard could tell most of the blood was staying in the body cavity due to the discoloration of the skin. Gabrielle felt for a pulse and sighed. His skin was ice cold, clammy, and she could barely feel a pulse. Her eyes watering, the bard dragged Captain Fenal away from the door.
"Can I help?" asked a small man that stood in the doorway. Gabrielle recognized him as the ship's cook. "Your friend, Xena, told me to come down and give you a hand since I didn't get hurt much. Just some bruises." He walked over and looked down at his captain sadly.
"Bad is it?" He quietly asked. Gabrielle just nodded and patted him on the arm.
"Would you do me a favor? Stay with him. I don't think he has much longer and I need to go help Xena." The woman asked, wanting someone to be with Fenal till the end, just in case he woke up.
The cook knelt down and took Fenal's hand. "I'll do it..and gladly. He is ...is a good man."
Gabrielle lowered her head and quickly left the room, making for the deck above.
What she saw dismayed her. Usually the sailors slept up on deck, except for in bad weather which drove them into the hold, which was not unusual on a ship this size. Where there had been ten sailors, now lay only three, with Xena tending their wounds feverishly. Rope line, wood splinters from the mast, water and seaweed lay everywhere, and the bard had to be very careful of her step.
As she reached Xena's side, the warrior reached up without looking and grabbed her hand dragging her down and placing it on a sailor's thigh. "Hold it right there. Tightly. No. Tighter, Gabrielle." She commanded, trying to stop the heavy bleeding from the sailor's mangled leg. She grabbed a length of rope, deftly split it into thinner pieces and used one as a tourniquet.
"Ok. You can let go now. How is everyone down below?" asked the warrior, taking a quick glance at her friend to make sure she was all right. Her eyes narrowed when she saw something in the bard's face that worried her.
"The merchant is fine I think. Just a bump on the head. He should wake up with a slight headache," Gabrielle said softly.
"Uh huh. And the others?" Xena asked as she washed out the man s wound of foreign matter before packing it with herbs.
Gabrielle handed Xena a clean bandage when she was ready for it, then sighed. "Was his daughter up here?" She quietly asked.
Xena looked up at the bard but kept her hands busy, they knew their job almost automatically. "No. I take it she wasn't down there."
"I'll go check the hold...someone ought to anyway, in case we are leaking," the woman offered, dreading the notion of finding the ship sinking under them.
"That would be helpful, Gabrielle, thank you. How's Captain Fenal?" the warrior asked, tying off the end of the bandage tightly.
"He's dying. I had the cook stay with him, in case he woke up," Gabrielle whispered, then told her friend the cause.
Xena nodded. "I trust your judgment. Damn!" She swore quietly, then looked back up to the bard. "Have you looked overboard yet?"
"No. Should I?" the woman asked, concerned at her friend's tone.
"Be prepared, Gabrielle. This isn't over yet," Xena stated. Her sudden calmness steadied her friend. Her tranquillity is like a force of nature sometimes. It overwhelms you, leaving you no choice but to follow it. Scary, Gabrielle thought in wonder. I'm one of the few people that sees that that calmness hides a storn of uncertainty.
Taking a deep, calming breath she stood and looked over the side of the Jade Dolphin, and almost crumpled in shock and surprise.
"Be careful, Gabrielle," came the concerned voice.
"I'll be ok. I can handle this. I can...I know I can because you're here with me." She started to babble a little, her voice soft, barely a whisper.
The Jade Dolphin rode, instead of the sea waves that she was built for, a giant outstretched hand of water that raced across the sea faster than any ship, faster than any dolphin, and faster than any wind.
"Poseidon." Gabrielle winced. She knew that the God of the Sea, named "Earthshaker," was a long-standing foe of Xena's. The warrior had never told her when the two had first crossed paths and why they didn't get along, but Gabrielle had seen for herself the animosity of Poseidon for the warrior.Cecrops himself had been offered his freedom if he had thrown Xena overboard. He had tried to discourage the warrior from helping Ulysses also and had gotten furious when she had bluntly told him she was helping the king to reach his home.
And now it seemed that the sea god was taking a more personal hand, so to speak, in Xena's future. There was no doubt in her mind it was Poseidon either. No one had the power of the natural force of the water like him.
"Where is he taking us?" Gabrielle said aloud to her friend.
"I don't know, but for now we are moving south very quickly." The warrior replied from just over her shoulder. The bard turned and looked up at her companion with worry.
"Will they be ok?" she asked, looking momentarily at the hurt sailors a few feet away.
"They'll be fine. The one with the leg wound was the worst. If I can keep out the infection he will live, with his leg too if I have anything to say about it." The warriors voice was firm and steady. The ship had lost a large part of the crew and would lose its captain, if he wasn't dead already, and damned if she would let Hades have another soul.
"Go below and see if you can find the girl. Be careful though, and if there's a leak come up here immediately and tell me. OK?" Xena asked, touching Gabrielle's arm to reassure her for a moment.
Turning back to the ship she proceded to clean off the deck, throwing overboard what was no longer needed, and keeping that which they could still use.
Gabrielle backed away from the railing and walked careful down the passageway again. Amazingly enough, since Poseidon had taken them, the ship was still and barely rocked at all, which made the bard's passage more easy.
For a brief moment she popped her head into the captain's cabin. "Is he...?" She started to ask the cook, but she didn't know whether to be happy or sad that he hadn't died yet. Happy in a small way that Hades hadn't gotten him, the bard didn't like Hades much having had a couple of bad experiences. And also sad,
for the captain to live on would only mean his continued suffering.
The woman nodded slightly, thanking the cook, then went to go open the hatch to the hold below. Grabbing a lit lantern she hovered low over the hole and peered down into its depths. Looking closely
she was glad to see no water in the hold so far. She stepped down unto the ladder and slowly made her way below.
"Hello?" Gabrielle called. She didn't see anyone yet, but that didn't mean that there wasn't an unconscious person down here.
Reaching the bottom, she gingerly made her way around crates and bundles, very glad to see that most of it had been tied down securely and so very little had broken free, causing damage or blocking the way. What had been damaged was easily navigated and Gabrielle had soon searched the entire hold, not finding a soul.
The sensitive bard shivered at having to tell Marlius that his daughter was no longer on board. Though she herself didn't get along with her parents, she couldn't imagine telling Cyrene her daughter had died, let alone Xena having to tell her parents what had happened to their wayward daughter. But Gabrielle would tell him, knowing that Xena would feel more uncomfortable and that it would be best. I doubt if I can help him, but I can try. I can't imagine how...yes..yes I can. Thought Gabrielle silently, having forgotten about Perdicus. He didn't come to her thoughts as much anymore, but he was still in her heart. She had loved him in her way, but not enough, as she knew she should have. She still hadn't thought through all of her feeling about Perdicus and his death yet.
Shaking her head to clear the dangerous thoughts, she started back down the aisle to the ladder. Unexpectedly a sound from behind her caught her attention. "Eww...rats?" She cringed at the thought .
She glimpsed a brief flash of color out of the corner of her eye and turned with the lantern to get a better look. Seeing nothing she walked over carefully, not wanting to step on an errant rat if there was one.
>From behind a large bale peeked a small slippered foot and the bard rushed forward in relief. Seeing the veiled figure laying peacefully on a pile of carpets Gabrielle smiled, glad that she didn't have anymore bad news to give out today. Seeing no blood she reached and picked up the girls...No..a woman s hand, she observed and patted it gently to wake her up. The woman's entire head was veiled so that only the barest hint of her eyes could be seen through the cloth. In curiosity Gabrielle started to reach up and peek past the veil, when the woman s hand twitched and her eyes opened.
"Ah...your awake. Good. How are you feeling?" The bard asked, slightly embarrassed, hoping the woman hadn't seen her hand almost touching the veil.
The woman sat up slowly then turned to Gabrielle and cocked her head to the side. Then cautiously she nodded her head and withdrew her hand from the other woman's.
"Does anything hurt?" Gabrielle asked, still concerned. Why doesn't the woman answer? Unless...hmm..it would explain why she likes her privacy, she mused.
The woman shook her head and stood up slowly.
"Oh..umm..you can't speak?" The bard asked carefully, hoping she didn't offend her.
Again the head shake, then a little shrug.
"Well, that's ok. Let's get you to your father, shall we? He hurt his head a little bit, but he'll be fine." Gabrielle smiled reassuringly and led the way out. She held the lantern as the veiled woman quickly went up the ladder. Taking a last look around the hold, she thanked the gods that they weren't sinking and that she had found Alexis. Gabrielle frowned, as she watched the hypnotic flickering shadows from the lantern on the crates and ships hull for a moment, forgetting the turmoil around her. A sense a unease crept into her as she looked toward the area where she had found the woman.
I swear I had looked there. The bard frowned deeply.
"Gabrielle?" Came Xena's call.
Coming!" Cried Gabrielle, as she hurried up the ladder, her thought forgotten.
* * * * *
The remaining passengers and crew of the Jade Dolphin slept listlessly through the night. Only a lone figure paced the wooden deck watching the wounded and gazing out into the still darkness. Candlemarks
passed and the sun rose, its rays showing more clearly the supernatural position they were in. But nothing could be done when the mast was broken in two and the tiller had been ripped off. So the Jade Dolphin rode Poseidon's hand off to the west now, swifter than the wind.
Far away a man readied himself and his guard for a sea voyage to the east and to the woman he had left long ago.
He climbed swiftly onto his fleet's fastest vessel, his best friend close behind him. Both of them were ready for battle, in bright armor and leather. Nodding to the captain, the ship's sail was set and the rowers put their backs to their oars. Extra rowing slaves had been brought along for the journey, so that the pace
would not falter.
Soon Xena. Soon you will see my face again and shiver. Came the silent thought as the man gazed intently towards the rising sun.
* * * * *
Xena and Drenarious, the cook, heaved the plank's end up over their shoulders, then lowered it to the deck as the shrouded body slipped off into the water.
Solemnly Xena took a deep breath, then sang Fenal's funeral dirge. They could not light a pyre since they were at sea, so they laid him to his rest in the depths of the sea that he had sailed over for so many years.
Gabrielle's eyes glistened as she watched and listened to her best friend sing Fenal's soul to Hade's realm. She had heard it before, this song sung with such depth and feeling that the bard knew the gods themselves would cry if they listened. Once for Marcus. Another sad time for when Hercules' wife, Serena, had died. And the last time...when Perdicus had died. Her heart pounded as the words rang soft but sure out into the new day's light, sending a soul out from Helio's rays into the never-ending light
and bliss of the Elyssian Fields. Gabrielle didn't know the man well of course, but she could see good in people, and Fenal was bound to only one place in her opinion.
And still the song was sung on, caressing the listeners, sailors and Gabrielle alike, in its deep sadness and its words of farewell and hope. Then with a long drawn out note it was ended and Xena took a step forward to the railing. The bard knew what the warrior was planning and stood beside her to watch.
"POSEIDON!" Xena cried, her voice now no longer filled with sorrow but anger.
Gabrielle looked over the railing and into the monstrous watery hand that carried them through the waters so swiftly.
"Look, Xena." The bard pointed just overboard to where bright lights flashed in turmoil.
"Xena." Came a deep voice from seemingly below and all around them at once. Silence for a moment then laughter roared around them.
"Enjoying the ride, Warrior Princess?" The sea god asked.
"What do you want with us, Poseidon?" Xena ignored the question, asking instead one of her own. She would give the god no satisfaction if she could.
"Xena. You wound me. No pleasant conversation?" said the god, sounding anything but wounded, instead he seemed amused.
"I wish I could wound you." Xena muttered, barely under her breath. Gabrielle put out a hand to her. It wouldn't help them any if the warrior lost her temper.
"Are you after the ship or me?" Xena demanded.
"Hmm...I'm not really after either. I'm just completing a small deal to deliver you and the ship. It's too bad really..if the deal hadn't gone through I would have taken this ship to my destination instead and had fun. But ...a deal is a deal."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other a moment in bewilderment.
"Who?" Gabrielle spoke up before Xena. The warrior glared at her a moment then shrugged when she saw the bard's determination.
"Ah..the bard. I could give you a choice. Yes...yes I think I'll do that." Poseidon's voice paused a moment. "Entertain me bard, and I will let you go free. The bargain only included Xena." A deep chuckle could be heard from the sea depths.
Gabrielle frowned. Poseidon knows nothing about me if he thinks I would...Her thought was interrupted as Xena took her by the shoulders.
"Do it, Gabrielle," Xena ordered. The warrior's stomach was knotted up with uncertainty, but if she could get her friend to safety, she knew she could better face whatever was to come.
Gabrielle's face grew dark with anger. Shrugging Xena's hands away, she leaned close to her friend and spoke earnestly. "I have told you time and time again Xena. I will not leave. His offer is unacceptable. I couldn't just tell him stories to entertain him for my freedom and not yours."
Xena looked into Gabrielle s eyes deeply, searching for something to tell her what she should do. Finally she smiled a little at her friend and turned back to the sea.. Gabrielle let out a little sigh of relief. Xena is just too stubborn sometimes about my safety. But I can be just as stubborn too. At least she gave in this time. Gabrielle stole a look at her friend's face.
"No deal, Poseidon. I have a prior engagement." Gabrielle replied, her voice sure.
The lights swirled more chaotically for a moment, as if in anger, then slowed.
"Then your fate and the fate of Xena is sealed. You shall be delivered." The sea god responded.
"What about us?" Came a voice behind them.
"Your lives I could care less about. Stay on the ship or swim back to land. I care not."
"NO!!" Xena and Gabrielle spun around towards the voice of the angry merchant. "You have no right to decide for the rest of us!! My daughter! What about my daughter?"
Gabrielle felt for the man, but didn't know what to say. Xena however wasn't speechless at all. "I rather doubt it's only just your daughter you're worried about." She said without expression, her arms crossed in front of her.
"So what if it is? The captain is dead, so is most of the crew. The rest of them are injured, and I've been given a bad head wound." Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the last. "And my poor Alexis. What's to become of her? Poseidon only wants you! I say we give you to him if he will let us go free!" The man's arms flailed and pointed at the warrior as he spoke to the hurt sailors and the cook.
But each of the sailors had reason to thank Xena for their very lives and didn't appreciate Marlius's cowardice.
Drenarious, his small body shaking with anger, stepped forward and drove his fist into the man's face. The merchant's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed onto the deck, unconscious. The cook shook his fist, trying to rid it of the pain. He glanced sheepishly over to the two women and blushed. Gabrielle tried not to chuckle as she saw the amused expression on Xena's face, but wasn't having much luck. The cook's fellow sailors didn't hold back either, instead hooting at him in glee, which just made
him blush more.
"Thank you. But he had a point. This doesn't involve you." Xena stated firmly.
"Beggin' your pard' n warrior, but it does. Poseidon took our capt' n and fellows." One of the men replied adamantly.
"Xena." Poseidon s voice came again.
The warrior ignored it for a moment, instead looking at the sailors gauging their reactions. Satisfied with what she saw she turned back to the sea god.
"Except for one, maybe two, there isn't anyone on this ship that will stand with you. I don't know if that makes them braveor stupid." She spared a quick smile to the group over her shoulder. They chuckled appreciatively. "As for the merchant and his daughter..."
Poseidon interrupted her. "I could care less. Like I said Xena, they can either swim or stay aboard."
Xena frowned. More blood on my hands? More souls to be responsible for?
"I give my life to you in exchange for everyone's safety."The warrior replied quickly. Gabrielle gasped in shock and sounds of disagreement came from the crew.
"NO!" The bard yelled, but Xena ignored her.
"As much as I appreciate the offer Xena, I can't take it. You're...wanted elsewhere. But I'll remember your offer for the next time we meet." Gabrielle was please to hear the words and even heard a tone of unhappiness in his voice that he couldn't take the warrior up on her offer.
"Tell me, Poseidon. Who are you dealing with?" Xena commanded the god. She had never had patience for the gods' conniving, manipulative ways and was not afraid to show it.
"Hmm...should I spoil the surprise? No...I think not. Don't worry Xena, in one or two days you'll get your answers." The voice drifted off and the unwilling prisoners of the Jade Dolphin watched as the lights dissipated in the waters. But all of them knew Poseidon's presence was still with them, embodied in the huge hand that help them captive.
"You would think they would have better things to do besides try and torment us." Xena growled as she slammed her fist unto the railing. The men quietly let the two alone, taking the merchant to his cabin and informing his daughter of his state.
"Perhaps. But where's the story in that?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena glanced over at the bard and raised an eyebrow. "You think this is funny?"
"No." Gabrielle shook her head. "But he does. They legends tell us in a few stories of how we mortals
were made. All of them say a god created us. They created everything and now they are bored, in my opinion."
"In some ways, a lot really, they are like children. They need constant attention, and they need to play to be happy...to be amused." The bard continued. "They have taken the older gods' places and duties, but have nothing to keep them occupied. Except for us, their toys."
Xena thought for a moment. "Yes. But it doesn't make it right. I'm not some puppet to be pulled by its strings."
"Not in our opinion, Xena. But in theirs? In their view we are here for them. Not the other way around." The bard shrugged. "At least that is what I think I see through their eyes." She was silent a moment as she considered whether to bring up another validating point or not. She knew this reminder might upset her friend. After considering she rushed on.
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