by Anita Louise

copyright 09/98


Chapter Fifty Seven

The ship cut through the water like hot sun on ice. They had made good time and within a turn of the sand-glass, the island would be in view. Gina walked toward the tall woman who was standing aft. She was a vision to behold. The wind seemed to be having a play day dancing through her dark hair, tossing it back and forth. The blouse and breeches she wore, clung to her as if a second skin. Mary Ready was striking.

Throwing her head back, the woman reveled as the ocean spray rained down upon her face. She was so wrapped up in the sensation, she did not hear Gina until the woman was within inches. "Mar...Mary?" she mumbled."

Whirling, her hand already drawing the cutlass from its sheath, she snarled, "Who wants to know!" Upon seeing the smaller woman, and how ridiculous she must have looked standing there cutlass in hand, she sheepishly apologized, "Sorry," sliding the cutlass back into its warm cocoon, her eyes darted back and forth, "thought you might be someone else."

"Who on this ship would dare threaten you? I can't think of anyone," her light brown eyes widened, "surely not me. A person would have to be a fool to attempt such a thing, either that or want to meet an early death."

Reaching up to brush moisture from her face, Mary replied, "After all that has happened, I am jumpy. Never know when someone who has devious plans might stow away. Never know when the crew might become dissatisfied and mutiny." Tilting her head to the right, she found herself lost in the dimples that were beaming toward her.

"Mary? Are you all right?"

Straightening, she crossed her arms, drawing them to her chest, cleared her throat several times then asked, "Anyone ever tell you those can be mesmerizing?"

Thinking, Gina stared at the woman, finally chuckling as she said, "Oh, these," pointing to the indentations that held Mary in their grip, "I was born with them and never even think about it."

Quickly changing the subject, Mary asked, "What do you want? You must be looking for me, what is it?"

"I just wanted to talk. Since we left Gabrielle and Xena within easy distance of their home, I have been lost for company," pursing her lips she inquired, "do you think they will have any luck looking for Ann there?"

Shrugging, Mary replied, "Who knows. Woman could be anywhere. We haven't run into her or even heard a word. It is as if the two women have fallen into a crack somewhere."

"I fixed something to eat, thought you might be hungry."

Shaking her head, Mary said, "No, if anything my stomach is a bundle of nerves. I will not rest until Ann is back with you, safe and happy."

Realizing what it took for the woman to say those words, Gina said, "I'm so sorry for all that has happened. I know you did what you thought was best. But..."

Mary cut in, "But, I should have talked to Sea, I know this now," her jaw hardened, "can't go back, but I can do all in my power to rectify things."

"I know some of what you and Sea have been through, and what the two of you had," biting at her lower lip she paused, "have, I know given time, she will be all right with it."

Walking past the woman, Mary declared, "Sure, and Zeus is not a God."

Not to let the woman get far, Gina hurried to catch up, "Wait! We need to talk if nothing else."

Mary turned so quickly, Gina ran into her. "Laughing, she tried to keep her balance and hold onto the blond that was sputtering as she fell. "There are much better ways to feel my arms around you. Running into me is not one of them."

Gina had caught her balance and was pushing away as she said, "That wasn't my intention and you know it. The light in your eyes as well as your laughter give you away. Sorry about that. You should at least warn people you can spin on a whim."

"Comes in handy, when you are in battle. The quicker you are, the more likely you will still be breathing once the smoke clears."

Gina smiled, "Come below with me. At least you can sit, relax and have a drink. I'll eat. I really am lonely and would love to have your company."

Mary nodded, "All right, I'll go below, sit a spell, have a drink or two and talk, if that is what you are wanting."

"It is." As they disappeared below, Gina beamed. "I promise not to talk your ear off."

Once below and seated at a wooden table in the galley, Mary sipped her port while Gina picked at her meal. After several seconds, Mary reached over and grasped the young woman's hand. "Can't take anymore of your confounded picking, either eat the blame thing or toss it."

"I'm not really hungry," Gina confided, "just wanted a reason to get you to come down off the deck and be real for a change."

Releasing her hand, Mary sit back, her eyes meeting Gina's. "Let me get this straight, you came up on deck with the sole purpose of getting me to come down here?"

Gina nodded.

"Get real. . .," the woman mumbled, "are you daft? I am as real as it gets. You have to know by now I have been going out of my way to stay away from you."

Gina dropped her eating utensil, leaned back and said, "I have noticed, and it has hurt me. Why? What have I done to you?

Finishing her drink, she answered, "Nothing."

"Then tell me what is going on? I don't bite you know."

Getting up, Mary walked over, picked up a bottle of port and headed back to the table. Sitting, she removed the cork and poured some into her goblet. Gina watched the woman, her eyes never leaving her for a moment. "I have never understood what kind of strength or power you all seem to get from that?"

Mary was quite comfortable now, she had removed her cutlass and laid it on the table, placed her left leg on a wooden chair and leaned back. "Strength? There is no strength in this. It dulls my mind. Power? Anyone who thinks they have power after drinking is asking to go to Hades a lot sooner than they might want."

"If it is that bad then why do you drink so much of it?"

Leaning forward, her nose within inches of the woman's she said, "Because, I like the taste of it. I enjoy the feeling it gives me. You're beautiful, fascinating, charming, a woman I am proud to know. But, you and Ann are. . ."

She grinned, "Yes, Ann and I are. . . Whatever you were going to say." Looking around, Gina inquired, "The others, you sent on ahead, was Will one of them?"

"Last time I saw him, he was with Saxton, they had their heads together." Leaning back, Mary looked at Gina, a teasing smile crossed her lips. "How the two of you don't happen to meet is a miracle all in itself."

Taking the woman's cue, Gina tilted her head to the left and asked, "Why?"

"Cause, he is looking for you and you are looking for him. Seems the two of you could just stand still and run into one another."

Grinning, Gina gazed into Mary's blue eyes. "Your eyes give you away, they twinkle much more than any star I have ever gazed upon. Is there some sort of course a pirate must take?"

This time Mary looked at Gina, a perplexed look on her face. "Course? You speak in riddles."

Reveling in her position at that moment, Gina leaned across the table. "Don't play coy with me. I have come to know a few pirates and the ones I have known sometimes say one thing and mean another."

Mary was surprised at the woman's move, it placed Gina in a position so close that Mary was trying to move back. Her chair would not oblige and so she sit, as Gina slithered toward her. The woman's scoop necked blouse, trying to keep breasts from getting out and failing in every way. Mary's eyes darted down toward the two full bosoms that looked delighted to be almost free of their confines. Quickly brought around by Gina's words, "Come now, Mary. . . I have never known anyone to get so flustered." Her nose was within inches of Mary's. Gina's light brown eyes were falling into the the woman's welcoming pools of blue.

"Wha. . ." Realizing Gina had turned the tables on her, Mary Ready was feeling waves of warmth taking control of her body. Closing her eyes she murmured, "You win. I was going to tease you about Will." Opening her eyes, swallowing hard and almost choking, she stuttered, "I must be out of practice."

Gina dropped a kiss on the woman's forehead then scooted back to her own chair. Sitting up very straight, she beamed. "You and Sea are so much alike. As far as Will is concerned, he is a nice young man. I have no other feelings for him. The minute I set eyes on Ann Bounty I was mesmerized." Dimples beckoned toward Mary. "I'm sorry, I was overcome with the spirit of being frivolous and couldn't resist. You're not mad at me are you?"

Standing, Mary walked toward the cupboard, each step harder than the first. After rifling through things she found a new bottle of port, uncorked the top and took a long agonizing drink. Gina had watched every movement of the woman, it was obvious her fun had affected Mary Ready in more ways than one. Realizing what she had done, Gina quickly began to eat the cold food that was on her plate. "Better have something to eat, this is delicious."

Turning to gaze at the woman as she tackled the food, Mary, took another drink. "Thanks, not hungry. If you will excuse me, I have to check on the crew."

Gina sit back, then stood. Walking slowly she approached the woman. "I went too far. I'm so sorry."

Bottle in one hand, Mary gazed at the woman. "It was not you, it was me. I knew you were teasing, yet my body. . ." She took another drink, and with her other hand, reached out, softly caressing Gina's face. "I am not mad, I started it. I see every day why Ann has fallen in love with you. Woman, you are enchanting. I must go now." She turned and left the room.

Gina stared for a long time after. . .


Chapter Fifty Eight

It was early morning, a mist was settling upon the area. . . An eerie silence had fallen upon the town square, most carts had been boarded up, wares put away. Except for the occasional dog chasing an unsuspecting feline, the place looked deserted.

The scent of salt and sea air carried in on the gentle breeze filtered through the area. Though the mist was not heavy, it gave the buildings mystical appearances. And the light mist that seemed to wrap her body with its many tentacles gave the woman cause to shiver.

She had been standing in the same place since she watched the statuesque, raven haired woman, mount Argo and ride away. At that time the mist was just beginning to drift inland.

They had arrived in port two suns ago, it had been a long voyage. Both women, disheartened they had not found Ann Bounty.

Gabrielle wanted to make sure her friend was all right and at the same time try to patch things up between Sea and Mary Ready.

Xena had promised the woman they would head for home. But at first they would take a few days to rest and get rid of their sea legs. Plus, Gabrielle was happy to be alone with Xena once more. The trip might have been more enjoyable if it was just the two of them taking a voyage, going on an adventure together. But this had been very stressful, and still after all this time, they were no closer to finding Ann Bounty or Asterea.

Heaving a deep sigh, Gabrielle could still see the two of them relaxing in the hot springs; both enjoying the warmth and comfort the water gave their aching bodies. Smiling, she thought of how the springs also gave the two of them a chance to comfort each other.

Everything had been wonderful until the messenger found them. He handed Xena a message and after he left, the woman quickly scanned the parchment, then handed it to Gabrielle. "Got to go."

Quickly reading the words, Gabrielle turned to her. "Xena, this says your mother is not well, and she needs you."

It wasn't long before they were out, dressed and on their way to the tavern and the room they had spend the last two nights in.

As they walked toward the building, Xena stopped, turned, reached out placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "You don't need to come with me. I know that you want to look for Ann. We were both going to do this. I will go ahead, check on mother and meet up with you. Either on the road or at the caves."

Blue green eyes studied the woman for a few seconds before she said, "Xena, I want to go with you. Mary and the others are looking, and if they don't find Sea, we can still do this--later."

Shaking her head the woman replied, "No." Cyrstal blue's gazed into Gabrielle's. "I can handle this and I know you will not rest until everything has been done."

Turning to gaze at the area, Gabrielle started toward the tavern. Words, floating endlessly in her psyche, words she found herself mouthing, "Why did you let her go alone. . ."


As the horse loped along the pathway, Xena's mind was mulling over many things, time and again her thoughts would drift to Ann Bounty and Gabrielle. When the two went to help find Ann, Xena wanted to make Gabrielle happy and at the same time unite Ann Bounty with someone that would take her a long way from the two of them. She liked Ann, she was a woman like no other. Almost as tall as her if not a little taller and to this Xena would never admit. The woman's hair the color of a glorious sunset, bright, and flaming red, as if to dare anyone to try and put out the fire that burned within. Her eyes had the appearance of the most precious emeralds, and when the light hit them just right, it was as if Ann Bounty could reach right into a person's very soul.

If that wasn't enough, the Gods had gifted the woman with a figure that would even put Aphrodite to shame. With all of these features, what does the woman do? More of an argument within herself than a question, Xena pondered. She chooses to wear black leather trousers, that must have been dipped in a tub of water and hung out in the sun. They clung to the woman's shapely legs as if a second skin. The leather blouse held together in front with leather ties that crisscrossed the woman's chest, did not accomplish the task of keeping her bosomy breasts confined.

"No wonder she captures people's hearts and attention." She muttered, urging Argo on. The horse had been moving ears forward and back, Argo was perplexed at Xena's rambling's. For the horse knew there was no one else besides the two of them on the road at that moment. As she reined the horse around a bend, she saw what looked like smoke ahead. "Whoa." Placing a hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun, she tried to make out what was making the smoke.

Urging the mighty palomino on, she leaned forward leaving a trail of dust behind. It didn't take long to near the area. Pulling back on the reins, she gazed at the charred remains of what once was a building. Standing in the stirrups she gazed around the area. Keen senses, alert to any sound or movement. "Hello! Anyone here?!" There was no answer, so she urged Argo closer.

Within seconds, the tall women left the saddle and landed on the ground. Her feet planted firmly, she drew her sword, and turned slowly. "I know someone is here. Might as well step out now or wait till I pull you out."

She waited, knowing at any minute she would be faced with the unknowing.

"Please don't hurt me." Words filled with fear, pleaded with her. Stopping, Xena tried to pinpoint the location of the voice. "You have nothing to fear from me, that is, unless you started this fire. Come out, I promise I will not harm you."

The bushes rustled and before long, a lone child stepped into the open. She stood, legs spread, one behind the other as if getting read to sprint away at any second. With hair the color of straw, eyes that were dark and filled with deep recesses of tears. Telltale streaks running down the young girls cheeks, gave notice she had been crying for sometime. Her clothes were of peasant wear. The dress looked more like a sack than something a young girl would wear. Xena recalled her mother storing potatoes in a brown sack that looked very much like that. The girl wore no shoes, she was covered with ash and soot.

"Is there anyone else hiding?"

The girl shook her head. "Did you come back to finish what the others started?"

Holstering her sword, Xena shook her head, "No. My name is Xena. I was on the way to my. . . And you are?"

One finger nervously edged close to the girls mouth. "Desidrea. I have heard of a brave woman named Xena, do you know her?"

Though the situation was bad, Xena managed a fleeting smile. "Yes, I know her well. " Glancing toward the charred rubble, she asked, "Is this your home?"

The girl nodded.

Tell me what happened? Where are your parents?

She pointed to the burnt rubble. . . "There."

Xena threw all caution aside, quickly covering the ground between the girl and her. Dropping to one knee, she reached out, drew Desidrea close. "I'm so sorry, you poor child." Argo pawed the ground, eyes gazing at the two. The horse had seen many changes in the warrior woman. This looked like another page in a story the horse was having a hard time considering. But, there she was, haunched down on one knee, consoling a frightened child. Nickering, she trotted toward them. Soft muzzle, caressed the side of Xena's face. She gazed up at the horse. "Argo, you are also worried aren't you?

The horse tossed it's head up and down, nickered. "The girl tried to move away as Xena said, "It's all right, this is Argo, my horse. Come with me, I'll take you to my mothers. We need to get away from here before someone does happen to come back.


Chapter Fifty Nine

She had been searching for days, having lost count of just how many. And on this particular day Gabrielle sought rest in Osara. She was surprised it had not changed. Upon entering the village her eyes scanned the area, spotting the structure, she headed toward the building. Walking into a dimly lit tavern she made her way to the counter. All she wanted was a chance to get off her feet, have a drink or two and try to recharge.

Finding a table toward the back door, she pulled out a chair and sat. A sigh of relief escaped her lips. Holding the bottle of port she purchased at the counter, she took a long drink, basking in the feeling it gave her.

"Looks like you have been rode hard. . . Running from something?"

Quickly sitting up, the bottle now on the table, she looked up to see who had spoken. A tall heavyset man with gray hair and ruddy complexion stared down at her. His eyes bantam black and bulging. A flat nose that seemed to be almost hidden by the unkempt mustache and beard that adorned his face. The way his eyes darted back and forth she had a quick vision of a scavenger looking for it's prey. "I want to be left alone."

He shifted his head to the right, his eyes traveling her body.

Standing, her hand on the hilt of the cutlass that hung from a sheath at her waist, Gabrielle warned, "If it is trouble you want, I am tired, irritable and just as soon give you what you ask for, if only to get you out of my sight."

He stroked his beard, took several steps back and said, "You look like you have done some traveling." He dropped his gaze to the brown leather trousers she wore. They were more dusky brown then the color they were meant to be. Pursing her lips she replied, "Cause I happen to be a might covered in dust, does not give you reason to enter my space."

Holding up one hand, he took several more steps back. "This all right with you?"

"Tell me what you want? And leave me be. I came in here to rest."

He smiled, "We don't' get many women the looks of you in here. . . Actually in town. So to see someone as beautiful as you, dressed in men's garments, gives a person cause to wonder."

Glancing around the room, she could see several men seated at a table, drinks set in front of them. And from all she could tell they seemed to be playing a game of cards. Though at the moment it seemed all eyes in the room were on her and this stranger. "Look, I didn't come in here looking for trouble. So if that is all you have to say, then be gone with you."

He was a large man and from deep within a rumble surged forth, low at first, the man guffawed. "Ain't you something. Just cause you wear a man's pants does not mean you can defeat a man." With those words, he leaped toward her, both arms outstretched.

Easily sidestepping, she threw out her right foot catching him at this ankles. Losing his balance he tumbled crashing to the floor. Before he could move, she was on him like a cat capturing it's prey. Straddling his back, in an instant her dagger was at the man's throat. "Now. . ." She leaned close to her left ear. "What's that you say about defeat a man?"

He didn't move. "Take that thing from my throat. " He gasped, his breathing becoming labored.

She looked up at all the startled faces that were staring at her. Shaking her head, Gabrielle ordered, "Not until I hear you say, "You have been defeated by a woman. You do call yourself a man don't you?"

He hesitated then whispered, "Move the knife from my throat and I will. "

"Nope. You say it, and I mean loud."

"I have been defeated by a wo--woman. There are you happy?"

She grinned, "I let you go, will you go about your business and leave me to mine?"

"Yes," he conceded.

Removing the dagger, she stood up and slipped it into the small sheath in her right boot. It was as she was bending over to do this the man had gotten to his feet and once again made a run for her. Without batting an eye, she struck back with her left leg, hitting him square in the stomach. A sound as if the air had been released from a dark cloud before an impending storm echoed the room, his face went from red to white, this time when he hit the floor, he did not move. Several men came running toward the man. Dropping to their knees. Confusion ran amok as a younger man stood, walked toward her and said, "Elizah is dead. You killed him. You will pay for what you have done."

Seeming quite amazed at the man's words, she stared at him in disbelief. " Pay? He tried to harm me not once but twice. What kind of town do you have here? A person cannot sit by themselves without becoming accosted. And now you are blaming me." She watched them carry the man from the room. "Go away, leave me to my drink and rest. Ill be out of your town before the sun sets."

She had started toward her table as he reached out, his left hand digging into her right shoulder. "Oh no you don't."

Turning in his grip, she grabbed the hand, and instantly flipped the man. He lay on his back, more surprised than anything to find the floor beneath him. Dazed for a second, he shook his head trying to clear away the cobwebs. Amazement shown upon his face as he sputtered, "Who are you? Is this some new test the Gods have decided to place upon us mortals?"

Her right boot was planted firmly on his chest and the grip she had on his arm kept him from moving. "No, not a God. A mortal who wanted to be left alone. Seems that is impossible. So I will take my drink and leave."

"Not so fast!"

Gabrielle stared toward the doorway. Five men had entered, each brandishing swords. The lanky blond, in front, gazed at her and then at the man on the floor. "Cyril, you let a woman put you down like that."

The man looked up at Gabrielle before he called out, "This one is crafty, she must be filled with witchcraft!"

Striking out, her boot caught the man alongside his head, knocking him unconscious. Standing upright, she released Cyril's arm. "He is alive. Had I known all this trouble would happen, I would have avoided this town all together. If you will step aside, I will take my bottle and be on my way."

They stood closer, barring the door. "You are under arrest, for the murder of our good citizen Elizah. Drop your weapons and come with us."

"Tossing her head back, she replied, "And let you take my life. No. If I am to die, I will do so, defending myself."

"Take her!"

People scurried to get out of the way of the oncoming men. Retrieving the dagger from her boot, she drew her cutlass, feet spread, she waited, left hand holding the dagger and her right, the cutlass she had come to know so well.

The woman was like lightening, she flipped, she jumped, evading their thrusts and making contact of her own every time. Never had they seen anyone handle two weapons with such skill. They were not able to touch this she devil. "Stand still!" Was chorused and echoed throughout the room. But Gabrielle did not linger long enough for any of them to settle upon her. They were strong, and it took all she had to be able to thrust, and thwart their streaking silver blades. Several of the men were now looking at empty hands. High kicks, and sharp parries, had left them without weapons. several quick twirls and her boots found their targets. The men crumpled to the floor.

A woman standing in the shadows, watched the goings on with sparkling green eyes.

Gabrielle had defeated four but the fifth was still standing, the lanky blond. The sword he held, cut through the air leaving menacing sounds in it's wake. Perspiration beaded on her forehead, her blouse damp. She wriggled in her clothes, hating the feeling this gave her.

"My name is Bren, I would like to know who the woman is that has fought with the skills of a God"

Walking toward her table, she reached down, picked up the bottle of port and took a big swallow. Setting it back on the table she answered, "Gabrielle. My name is Gabrielle. Now, if you will permit me, I will leave."

He smiled, "A woman like none I have ever seen before. I must ask myself, are you this good in bed, without the weapons?"

She smiled, batted her eyelashes, and answered, "That is something you will never know. Now do you step aside, or do I have to finish this?"

He shrugged, "I have no desire to wind up at the end of your weapons." His eyes traveled her body as if he was taking her into them. "Or your lightening feet." he stepped back, dropped the sword in his hand, bowed and said, "Go, I will give you a head start. It is the least I can do for someone as you. But, we will meet again and next time, it will be till the death. . . Either that or until you. . ."

As she walked past him, bottle in one hand, cutlass in the other, she stopped, her nose almost touching his, eyes glued to the man's steel grays. "Not in a heartbeat." Her lips pressed against his, rendering him totally confused and as she stepped back, the hilt of her cutlass crashed across his chin. As he fell, he had a most heavenly look on his face. She stopped gazed back into the room, turned and left. Once outside, she looked for a way to escape. Seeing a sorrel tied near a water trough, she ran, leaped into the saddle, and galloped from the area.

The woman who had been in the shadows, stepped carefully through the shambles, the fallen men, the upturned tables, and chairs. From what anyone might see, it looked like a small hurricane had hit the room. Smiling as she stepped onto the street, the woman murmured, "Small and packing dynamite." It took her but several strides to find the black that was tied to the back of the building. Quickly mounting the horse, she headed out of town following the dust that was still lingering.


Continued in Chapter sixty

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