THE CURSE part 6


by Anita Louise

copyright 09/98

Chapter Thirty three


"If ya ain't some sight!"

Nodding off, Sea jerked upright, blinking her eyes as she frowned at the
woman in the next cell. She had no idea how long they had been there, she
just knew it was a long time. Asterea was feeling better each day. Though
Asterea attempted to yell at her, she now knew things about this callused
woman she felt no one else ever did. Glaring at the woman in the next cell,
"Haven't you got anything else to do except bothering me with your constant
drivel?" Her emerald green's connected with the woman's eyes and it was
apparent she had just about enough of her goading,

Grasping the bars of her cell, the woman smiled toward Sea, "Ya don't scare
me with all that brave talk. The stories I have heard about Sea Troll were
just that, stories. The way you have been coddling the bitch is disgusting."

Slowly getting to her feet, Sea stepped to the bars that divided them, her
hands were on her hips as she watched the woman step back.

"I ain't afraid of you, anyone that would tend to the likes of her, would
never draw a blow against a defenseless old woman."

Throwing her head back, Sea laughed, then she brought her gaze back toward
the woman, "Your mouth is worse than any weapon I have ever come across, and
if you don't start minding your own business, I will rip it off when you are
asleep." Her words were low but with each one it was apparent Sea meant what
she was saying. The woman started to back up and tripped over a small wooden
stool, this sent her sprawling to the floor. When she looked up, Sea's hands
were grasping the bars and the woman's knuckles were white. "Did I make
myself clear this time?!" Ann's eyes were honed in on the woman's.

Stumbling to her feet the woman answered, "I still ain't afraid of ya. what
ya going to do turn into a rodent in order to make it in here and silence

Grinning, Sea replied, "Keep mouthing off and you will find out."

The woman turned her back on Sea and walked toward a pallet and laid down.
The only sound she could hear was Asterea as she slept. Turning she walked
toward the woman and sat beside her.

She hated to admit it but the woman in the cell was right, Asterea was
improving and the day would come when she would probably have to fight her
once more. Sea had been in constant turmoil at the thought. She was brought
out of her reflections by the incoherent rambling of the woman once more.
Asterea was shaking and in her sleep she cried, "No, father, no, please not
that..." Placing her hand on the woman's forehead, Sea whispered, "It's all
right, you will be all right."

Sensing words to fly toward her again from the next cell, she glared in the
direction, relieved to see the woman had fallen asleep. Her thoughts went
back to the woman she was consoling.

They had spent days alone together in the cell, no one else except for the
rambling's of the old woman in the next cell and Sea was not sure she wasn't
a spy sent by Caesar. She tended to Asterea's wounds and when the woman was
incoherent, she listened to the frightful words. Ann was always protected by
her mother, her life was so unlike Asterea's. Gazing down upon the woman,
she felt herself sigh. Asterea had been so cruel to her and to others, yet,
she found herself feeling sympathy for the woman.


The young girl had been helping her mother with the chores. They had moved
to this area recently and she was having a hard time making new friends. As
she walked she skipped, for some reason she had been invited to Kara's and
Asterea was delighted. Kara was the most popular girl in the area and all
the children looked toward her. This was a big step, soon she would have all
the friends she wanted, maybe this move wasn't so bad after all.

The pail she carried in her right hand swung as she made her way to the
corral. Her mother had given her instructions to feed the horse, milk the
cow and gather eggs. She didn't care how much work she had to do, because
when she was through, she was going to go to Kara's. Asterea wanted to be
beautiful when she grew up, she hoped to have men waiting on her hand and
foot. Smiling at her foolish thoughts, she opened the door to the barn,
oblivious to anything or anyone.

A large hand reached out and covered her mouth and the foul stench of ale,
cut through her nostrils. "I've been waiting for this day." The man's voice
was raspy and seemed to be in distress. Her eyes widened as she recognized
her father's voice. Struggling against the man's grip, she managed to bite
one of his fingers and stomp her foot on the man's boot. He released his
hold long enough to curse her. Her heart was beating loudly in her chest and
she grabbed the opportunity to make a run for the door. Her hand grasped it
at the same time the man reached out and grasped her shoulders. His large
body pushed her smaller one roughly against the door.

She cried out, "Father! Stop! What have I done to displease you?"

He laughed, "Strutting around the house, you knew each movement was teasing

Trying to move against the man's weight she pleaded, "No, I never meant to
tease you, what are you talking about?!"

His hot breath was on her neck as he said, "You are just like all the
others, prance around until a man can't stand it anymore than cry, ' what
are you talking about.'" Holding her against the door, Asterea tried to
breathe, her face felt it had been cut by the jagged pieces of wood that
made up the door. She couldn't move and prayed the man would come to his
senses and release her. Instead, she felt his rough hands grab at her dress,
pushing it up and at the same time, ripping her undergarment off. "Father!

"Bastard." Ann Bounty gazed at the woman, shivering and frightened near her.
Gods what a horrible thing to happen to a child. She heard bits and pieces
of the woman's life in her delirium. Her father sodomized and beat her and
when the girl went to her mother for help, she was sent to her room for
lying. Nothing to eat and from that day on, she was not allowed to play with
the other children. Whenever her mother would leave the house, the man would
seek the girl out and have his way with her. Asterea's mother died from
mysterious circumstances and she was not allowed to mention the woman ever
again. She tried to run away from home several times only to be brought back
by her fathers friends, for this she was beaten. As she became older, it was
apparent the woman was a beauty and her father began to invite his friends
to the house to bed her. They paid him well for this, Asterea felt lost,
there was no one she could turn to for help. Her days became torment, the
nights, hell.

It was before her fifteenth birthing day, a village elder paid to have the
young woman. He forced her to do things she never knew existed, he enjoyed,
beating her and when she could not fight him anymore, he took her. The man
stayed most of the night, and when he left, she lay on the floor, her face
bloodied where his fists had struck, her lovely form bore cuts that trickled
trails of blood.

She was trying to get up when the bedroom door opened and as she looked up,
her father entered the room. He walked toward a table and looked at the
dinars the man had left, picking them up he smiled, "Good nights work, keep
this up and I can retire."

Asterea managed to get to her feet and was stumbling toward her clothes as
he turned and said, "You don't need those, after listening to you and Heiman
carrying on in here like two dogs in heat, I have urges that need to be
taken care of."

She stopped, her gaze frozen on the man, "I'm hurt, please father..."

The man laughed and started toward her, "Please, I like that, I want you to
please me daughter. Come here."

He reached for her and she sidestepped him, he cursed and made another
attempt. She surprised herself, because she was able to elude his grasp once
more. His face turned to stone, his eyes looked as if they would pop from
their sockets as he reached for his belt and began to remove it. Her eyes
widened as she backed up. The brown leather began to crack through the air
as the man flung it out. "Stand still, by the Gods, I am going to whip you
this night!"

She could tell by the look on his face, he had been drinking and this time
she stood straight, "No! I will never let you or any of your friends ever
lay a hand on me again!"

He stopped and stared at the battered young woman, he was startled by her
sudden attitude. "You will! When this night is over, you will regret ever
talking to me like that!"

He struck out at her and she ducked, this caused him to lose his balance and
he fell, his head hit the edge of the hardwood table as he crashed to the
floor. Asterea seemed in shock as she waited for the man to get up, he
didn't, "Father?" There was no answer and she grasped this time to dress,
she had just pulled on her boots and sat staring at the man, there was a
trickle of blood at his temple and she called his name once more. Getting to
her feet, she touched him with her right foot, ready at any moment to run.
Dropping to her knees she removed the dagger the man kept in his left boot.
Getting to her feet, she walked toward the money, taking a leather pouch,
she put the money into it, turned and started toward the door. It was at
this time, a hand reached out grasping her right boot, throwing her off
balance, she fell hitting her head on the door. She was between light and
darkness when she looked up to see her father straddling her, his breathing
was erratic as he said, "Got you now!" His left hand grabbed a breast as the
other went to remove the blouse she wore. In a moment, she ran the dagger
into the man's heart, his eyes grew wide in amazement as he tumbled off her.
She got to her feet and left that night. Asterea had been on her own since a
young age.

Gods, the woman had been through so much. Sea now knew many of the reasons
the woman was like she was. Astereas, trembling worsened and Sea tucked the
blanket in around the woman, "Try to rest," she whispered. Sighing, she drew
her knees to her chest, her eyes gazing at the cell door. She knew any day,
Caesar would probably make his threat a reality and she wondered why she was
even trying to tend to Asterea because in the long run they would both be


Chapter Thirty four

The woman sat in a darkened corner of the room, a flickering candle nearby.
She stared at the tankard of ale in between her hands. She had been moving
it back and forth on the table, stopping to watch as it almost sloshed over.
Heaving a heavy sigh, she leaned back in the chair as if she carried the
weight of the world on her shoulders.

She had been sitting there for sometime, mulling over what had happened.
Each time she took a drink, she prayed it was all a dream. Each time she
opened her eyes, Ann was not there. Taking a long drink, she felt any moment
she would give in to tears once more. Catching herself she finished the
drink. It was at this time, she saw three men walk into the taverna, they
approached the counter and talked to the keeper for a few seconds then
turned and left the building.

Waiting until they were out of sight, then getting to her feet, she casually
walked from the room. Keeping to the shadows she followed them to the
stable. Once they entered, she hurried to the back, somersaulting through
the air, she landed on a low roof and made her way to an open window. Making
her way inside, she crept along the boards, listening for the men. It seemed
they were checking on their horses. Mary smiled as she lowered herself to
the ground floor. Once down, she drew two daggers and with the speed of
Zeus's lightening bolts, she cut down two of the men. As they fell, Amir
turned, his face ashen, he stammered, "Mary Ready, what? Why did you do

She gazed at the man, her blue eyes a pool of ice and it was apparent the
man felt fear as he began to back away, "What? Do you want my money?"

Shaking her head, she stepped toward him, each step menacing, "No, I want
your life."

His eyes darted around the room as he pleaded, "My life is nothing, take my
money, my animals. Please do not kill me!"

Her steps were quick and before the man knew what was happening she was on
him, her right hand around his throat as she roughly pushed his body against
a corral gate. "You sniveling bastard! You had no mercy for Gina, Will,
Saxton or any of the party, why should I have any for you?"

His body trembled as he cried, "I just did my job, that's all. You will have
them back with you soon."

Swallowing with difficulty, Mary growled, "Maybe so, but not Ann Bounty."

He tried to smile, "But, but, that was your doing, I had nothing to do with
it. You got your friend captured, not me."

Her fingers tightened around the man's throat as she whispered, "If you
hadn't captured, Gina and the others, Sea would not be in danger now."

"Take your wrath out on Asterea, she is the one that paid to have this done,
the woman seems to have no mind where Ann Bounty is concerned. You are worse
than I will ever be, you have turned on your friend. A curse upon you, a
thousand times over!" He spat in her face, tears run freely down her cheeks,
her face was twisted into a mass of hurt, as she slowly strangled the life
from the man. Hearing the sounds of someone approaching the building, she
let him drop to the floor, turned and left.

Now, sitting on a roof top, she stared down at the commotion as guards made
their way into the stable. The man had hit home with his words. Each day she
lived with what she had done and each day she wished she were dead. Mary
Ready loved her friend, Ann had nurtured her back to health, taken her back
into her fold and she betrayed her once more. Would Ann ever understand she
did it because she felt she would be saving her life.

Reaching up to wipe back tears from her cheeks, she softly answered, "No."
She knew Ann would never forgive her for this, she couldn't forgive herself.
Mary had convinced herself that doing this would save Ann's life and give
her the opportunity to get help for them. She wanted to stand beside the
woman, she wanted to be there for her, yet she knew, if she were killed or
captured, there would never be a chance for any of them. Asterea had made
her demands clear. She wanted to kill Asterea but what she said made a lot
of sense. The fact she had turned on Sea once before made it easy to go
along with Astera's plan. Each day and night after, Mary cursed herself,
"You love her, you would give your life for her, damn you Ready, why didn't


Sea had just finished helping Asterea finish her meal, the woman refused at
first but after listening to Sea's urging, she tried. Taking a final mouth
full of the gruel, Asterea pushed Ann's hand away, "Go eat some of this
yourself, quit pandering to me."

Sea's eyes glimmered at the woman as she said, "It has paid off, you are
getting better."

Pulling away from the woman, Asterea scoffed, "You should have listened to
the old woman, first chance I get..."

Sea cut her off, "First chance you get, you will close those eyes and rest.
Think about other things... later."

She crawled away from the woman and sat staring at the bowl of gruel in her
hands. It was all she could do to bring the wooden spoon to her mouth. At
this time, voices could be heard and she looked up to see light entering the
passageway. A skitter of fear ran rampant through her body, she watched as
the light grew brighter. Ann Bounty was not afraid to die, her fear was at
never knowing what happened to Gina and would the woman be all right.
Sitting the bowl down, she stood and waited. Her eyes darted to Asterea who
had fallen asleep once more. Taking a deep breath she waited for what she
felt was her executioner. Caesar had waited, and now had decided the time
had come.

Her eyes widened when the first person she saw was Cleopatra, the woman
looked more beautiful now than she did before. Thinking to herself, that
somehow the woman had found the secret to youth and beauty.

A guard unlocked the door as Cleopatra entered followed by two heavily armed
men. Sea stood, her stance did not change, her gaze was fixed directly on
the woman as she asked, "Come to do Caesar's biddin? The least you could do
is tell me how my friend Gina is?" She took two steps toward the woman and
her men drew their cutlass's only to be stopped by the Queen. Cleopatra
stepped closer, her eyes taking the woman into them before she replied, "We
have never been intimate, I will always rue the day, you turned down my
offer. Seems you preferred to sleep with a serpent."

Sea's jaw line was tense as she said, "I will probably have similar thoughts
at one time in my life."

Reaching out her right hand the woman placed it on Sea's left cheek, softly
caressing it as she said, "Ann Bounty, I have heard stories of you for a
long time, your beauty, intelligence and zest for battle are spoken of. You
are admired, I am saddened by what has happened."

Ann reached up and grasped the queen's hand and at the same time their eyes
locked. "You may never believe me, but, I had nothing to do with what
happened to your ship or crew. I merely found it floating in the midst of a
fog, all were dead aboard and my men took what was in the hold. It is a
pirates way, you know."

Cleopatra's fingers glided over Sea's hand as she replied, "There is nothing
I can do, you have been charged and Caesar has asked for your execution."

Swallowing with difficulty, Sea said, "When? How much time do I have?"

Cleopatra gazed at the sleeping form of Asterea then brought her attention
back toward the beautiful red head that gazed at her. "It should have
already been," she bit at her lower lip and softly murmured, "something
about you, caught my eye and I could never live with myself sending you to
Tartarus. So, I am having the two of you removed from here tonight, you will
be taken to another place of imprisonment for the time being."

Never giving an inch, Sea stood her ground, it took her a few moments before
she said, "You think this will make me happy? Gods, my life is on the ocean.
Gina...How can I be expected to accept this?"

Managing a smile, Cleopatra replied, "Because you have no choice. I have
enough men to overpower you, I understand you have been taking care of
Asterea, the woman will not be grateful. Still, I ask you wake her and help
her out of here. No questions, just go with my men."

Feeling a tinge of loss in the pit of her stomach, Sea asked, "Please,
somehow get a message to Gina, tell her I...," Cleopatra looked at her
questioningly as the words though shaky were spoken with great caring, "Tell
her I love her, never doubt that."

Smiling, Cleopatra turned to walk away, "I will, take care of yourself Ann
Bounty, until we meet again."

Sea walked toward Asterea, bent down and said, "Caesar? Won't he be mad?"

The woman's words rang back to her, "He will never know, not everyone does
Caesar's bidding. Help Asterea up, my men will escort the two of you from
here. I wish you a safe trip."

The woman was gone as Sea went to wake Asterea and help her from the cell.


Standing at the helm, her eyes seemed a million miles away. Sounds of sea
gulls overhead and water softly lapping at the hull was enough to ease most
people's tensions. Cursing, she began to walk toward the center of the ship.
Stopping as her eyes gazed upward and it was as if it were yesterday. Ann
Bounty was standing in the crow's nest, her eyes sparkling down at Mary
Ready as she called down, "Looking for someone?"

Smiling, she beamed, "Looking for a woman that can make all my hopes and
dreams a reality."

Grabbing a line, Ann Bounty slid downward stopping as her feet landed in
front of the woman. A smile danced across her face, green eyes that were the
color of the most beautiful emerald reached out and stroked Mary. "Look no
further, I am here to do your bidden, Love."

A crew member dropped something and it brought Mary Ready back to the
present as she turned to gaze at the man. He gave her a look of despair and
disappeared below. Walking toward the railing, Mary placed her hands on it
and gazed at the crystal blue of the water. Taking a deep breath she
whispered, "Damn you Ready, you should have let them kill you. because the
minute, Xena, Gabrielle, Saxton and Will find out what happened they will
probably do the deed."

"Captain! Look alive, we got passengers nearing!"

Mary turned to gaze toward the shoreline and it was then she spotted the
longboat making its way toward the ship. "It's either sink or swim." She
spoke to the gentle breeze and turned to go greet them.

Gabrielle's eyes lit up when she spied Mary Ready, waving as she called out,
"Yo Ready, we came as fast as we could!"

Mary smiled and watched as the boat was tied off then she reached down to
help Gabrielle up the rope ladder. The others followed. Xena stood back and
watched the two women exchange hugs. A smile played across her lips but her
mind was mulling over many things. She had become amazed at the friends
Gabrielle had and the other life the woman led.

Saxton and Will made it on deck and turned to greet Mary. Once the hello's
were done, she invited them all below to the captain's cabin to relax and
have a drink. Saxton and Will were both asking where Gina and Sea were and
at the same time, Gabrielle was trying to get a word in concerning Sea. Once
they were all below and seated, drinks were served. Mary watched as each
person seemed to fall into their chairs and wondered just how she was going
to tell them what had happened. She didn't have to wait for long because
Will jumped to his feet and asked, "When is Gina coming aboard? I can see
the ship is fit, is Sea here?"

Gabrielle took the next step, "They don't know?" Her blue green eyes seemed
to plead with Mary.

Shaking her head Mary Ready stood, she stepped toward the porthole, then
turned and gazed at the curious faces. The room suddenly became quiet and
Mary gazed at each person before she said, "I have something to tell you and
I only ask you hear me out before you do anything."

Saxton and Will exchanged worried glances as Gabrielle said, "Tell us, we
came a long way to help."

Jumping to his feet, Will stammered, "Help! Gods, something has happened to

Saxton was standing now and his eyes seemed to burn a hole in the woman as
he said, "Anne, she's not here is she?"

Taking a deep breath, Mary answered, "No."

He stepped toward the woman and Xena stood between the two, her voice low
and deliberate, "Hear the woman out before you go off half cocked."

He nodded and sat back down, followed by Will. Mary took a long drink of the
port then said, "Gina has been sold on the auction block."

Before she finished getting the words out, Will was on his feet once more,
the man began to pace the room, "How? How could this have happened? We were
supposed to have been sold but we were given a reprieve, what happened?"

Mary told them how Captain Silver had purchased the woman more than a moon
before they arrived. The news did not set will with anyone in the room and
Saxton stood, his voice shaky, "Anne, did they sell her too?"

Glancing away then bringing her gaze back to the man, Mary replied, "No, she
was captured and is in prison somewhere."

Gabrielle stood and walked toward the porthole, she was quiet, and sullen.
Xena stood and walked over to the woman, placing a hand on Gabrielle's right
shoulder she whispered, "It will be all right, we will find her."

Turning, she gazed at Xena then walked up to Mary, her eyes seemed to be
readying for a storm as she asked, "With everyone either sold or in prison,
how did you become so lucky? Why aren't you in some prison or worse?"

Biting her lower lip, Mary answered, Because I.. Let me tell you what


Chapter Thirty five

Mary was on her way to meet Sea at the taverna, her step was heavy as she
mulled over the day's happenings. Try as hard as she could, the woman was
not going to be deterred from trying to break Gina out of the temple. Mary
knew there were too many guards but she would go along with the woman, maybe
they would get lucky.

She saw the elderly woman ambling toward her and as the woman approached,
Mary smiled and said, "Good day." She had barely passed when the woman
called out, "You be the one called Mary Ready?"

Stopping, Mary answered, "I am, who wants to know?"

"Got a message for you from the one called Sea."

Mary's eyebrows raised questioningly as she said, "Message for me from Sea,
what is it?"

The woman held out a scrawny hand and said, "It ain't free."

Quickly finding a dinar, Mary placed it in the woman's palm and said,
"There, now tell me."

It seemed Ann wanted to meet her behind the temple and all Mary could assume
was the woman had already decided upon a plan. She hurriedly made it to the
area and once she stepped behind the building, she found herself surrounded
by Asterea and her men. Mary had drawn her sword, she was prepared to fight
off as many as she could when the woman said, "Don't, we can talk."

Gazing at the guards, Mary shrugged her shoulders and said, "Talk, there is
nothing the likes of you and I could talk about that would interest me."

Laughing, Asterea replied, "Not even Ann Bounty?"

The woman had her full attention as she asked, "What can you tell me about
her, that I would even believe?"

"Well for starters, I know she is going to attempt to rescue Gina. She will
not succeed but the woman has no will power when it comes to her heart. I
will capture or kill her when she tries. You can assist me in this."

Scowling at the woman, Mary scoffed, "Never, I would never do such a thing."

"You will, if you want to see the woman live. I know you have betrayed her
before and that is why I am giving you the opportunity to save yourself. I
can also make it worth your while, the ship, "The Bounty," your brother,
Saxton, all will be turned over to you once the deed is done."

Mary turned to walk away, her words trailing back to the woman, "Get
yourself another traitor, I will not betray my friend."

"You will, because there is no hope for her any other way. You can die
beside her or you can be the reason she lives."

Turning to stare at the woman's cold eyes, Mary said, "Yeah, and always know
I was the one that put her into your hands. Gods! You almost killed the
woman, leave her alone!"

"Can't, it is not in the stars. Think about it, after all you have done this
before, it will not be a first time. The life of your brother, and the
others, weight them and then let me know what you plan, either way, Ann
Bounty will be mine this day."

Mary had spat on the ground and walked away from the woman's cruel laughter.
She went to the taverna to meet with Sea. The woman had not returned yet and
so she passed the time drinking. Asterea's words kept taunting her. Try as
hard as she could to rid the woman from her mind, she was there. She would
rather give her life than the life of her friend but the woman made some
sense. Sea was hard headed, she was going to make the attempt and probably
get caught or worse. Gina would be sold, as would the rest. This was a lot
to put on her shoulders, the weight was almost unbearable. She wanted to
stand beside the woman she loved, but, once she was caught or worse, there
would be no one to help the others. So after many drinks and soul searching,
Mary decided to accept Asterea's offer. She hated herself for doing it but
she knew it would be the only way to save everyone.


The two men along with Gabrielle were advancing toward Mary. Their looks
were menacing and it was then Xena stepped in front of Mary. "The woman is
here, she had the nerve to meet with us and tell us what happened. I for one
think we should give Mary Ready a chance."

Gabrielle stared up at Xena, she held a surprised look and questioned, "You
stand in front of us, how could you Xena? Mary has done the worst possible
thing imaginable!"

Xena's crystal blue eyes, held the woman in them as she replied, "No, the
worst possible thing would have been to send them all to Tartarus.

Huffing, Gabrielle turned, her hands on her hips, "Sea trusted Mary and she
turned on her."

Mary brushed past Xena, she approached Gabrielle, "Gabrielle, I never meant
to harm her, I wanted to save her life, the lives of the others. The Gods
know, I would die..."

Whirling, her blue green eyes sending sparks toward Mary, Gabrielle said,
"You should have, if you care as much as you say, you would have told Sea
what Asterea was up to, you could have worked with her to prevent what

Saxton's right hand was on the hilt of his sword, Will stared at his sister,
bewilderment on his face.

Walking toward the desk, Mary picked up a dagger, retracing her steps she
approached Gabrielle. "Gabrielle?"

Slowing turning, Gabrielle stared at Mary, "What's this? I thought I knew
you better."

Holding the dagger in her right hand, Mary held it toward Gabrielle, "I
swear by all that I am, I would rather die than see it happen to Ann. I have
told you the truth. Don't you think I have cursed myself over and over for
what I did. Gods, I wanted to do the right thing, I really thought I would
be able to get Ann out of there. I had been promised the release of all of
you. Someone had to be on the outside."

Blue green eyes gazed at the hand that offered her the gleaming dagger.
"Scoffing, Gabrielle replied, "Yeah, right! With a friend like you, Sea
doesn't need any enemies."

Her face sullen, the woman stood her ground, "Then end it, here and now,
take my life."

Gabrielle took the dagger, her eyes gazing at it. The silence in the room
was almost too much to bear and it was then Xena stepped forward grabbing
the dagger from Gabrielle. It didn't take her long to send it deep into the
wooden hull. Turning her attention to Gabrielle, she said, "You wouldn't
have done it anyway," her left hand was on Gabrielle's shoulder as she
turned to face Mary, "All right, you might have made a mistake but if you
had not done this, where would you be," she glanced at Will and Saxton,
"where would the two of you be?"

They shrugged their shoulders and Will muttered, "Probably dead or sold on
the auction block."

Sighing, Xena said, "I for one, am glad you are here, Mary Ready, now let's
quit this blame thing and set upon plans to get Sea out of this place."

Saxton nodded as he said, "Anne will be real upset when she finds out Gina
is no longer here."

Translucent blue's reached out to the man as Xena said, "We'll face this
when the time comes, now, we need to form some sort of strategy."

Mary took a deep breath and headed for the door only to be stopped by Xena,
"Where do you think you are going"

The two women's eyes locked and for an instant it looked like Xena was
having a discussion with herself. The two men as well as Gabrielle noticed
how much the two resembled one another. Mary answered, "Topside, I think you
will all feel better if I am not privy to your conversations."

Throwing back her head, the tall woman's boisterous laugh reverberated the
room, "Gabrielle and I have just undertaken a long journey, we are not about
to let you walk away so easily. No, we will all discuss this, I trust you."
She held out her right arm in friendship, hesitating for a moment, Mary
grasped it. Turning toward the others, Xena said, "Now that is settled,
let's drink to what's to come."

The mood had lightened in the room. As Mary brought out the bottles of port,
they sat and began to formulate a plan.


Rolling over in bed, her left arm outstretched the strawberry blond sighed
in ecstasy. A smile played across her lips and her hand began to caress the
bedding. Before long, one eye opened and soon her blue green eyes stared at
the vacant spot. Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes and glanced around the
room. "Xena, where are you?"

All she could hear was the swishing of the water as it lapped the ships
hull. Quickly making it to the floor, she stood and called once more, still
no answer. A shiver of fear ran up and down her spine, she quickly dressed,
pulling her right boot on as she hopped from the cabin. At the same time she
collided with Will. The young man had been making his way toward the cabin
and as the two hit, he lost his balance and she fell on top of him.

Gabrielle held a surprised look on her face as she mumbled something he
could not make out. They lay like that for a few minutes each staring into
one another's eyes. It was Will that finally spoke, "Guess you were in a
hurry huh?"

Color creeping into her face as she realized she was sprawled on top of the
man, she stuttered, "L...oo..king for Xena."

Will helped the woman to her feet as he said, "I wish I could get someone to
care for me like that."

Removing her hand from his, she replied, "I woke and she was gone, I became
worried, that's all."

His eyes sparkled as a dazzling smile played across his face, "It is her
loss and my gain. When I woke this morning, I had no idea before the morning
was over I would have such a beautiful woman falling for me."

Wrinkling her nose at the man Gabrielle said, "You wish. Now, tell me, do
you know where Xena is?"

He shook his head, "No, but I bet Saxton does. Come, we'll go have a chat
with the man."

She nodded and as they walked away she thought she heard Will muttering
under his breath, "What is wrong with me?"

Reaching out, she grasped him by his right shoulder, "Will? He turned a
questioning look on his face as she continued, "There is nothing wrong with
you, you are a dashing young man. Maybe you just have not met the right
woman yet."

He patted her hand and said, "Have, for me anyway. Come on let's go

The minute their feet landed on the deck they spotted the man at the helm.
It didn't take long before they were close enough for Will to bid the man
good morning and ask, "Have you seen Xena?"

His eyes went from Will to Gabrielle before he replied, "Went to see the

"What!" The surprise was evident in the woman's face as she tried to regain
her composure. "She didn't tell me she was going to do this, why didn't
someone wake me?"

He gazed toward the sky and said, "She left orders not to disturb you."

With hands on her hips, the woman began to pace as the two men seemed to be
enjoying her mood. Finally she stopped, her eyes steadfast with Saxton's she
said, "I will be leaving now, I suppose one of the men could row me ashore."

He shook his head, "To many duties, can't spare them."

She had turned her attention on Will, "And you, are you going to tell me,
you can't leave the ship also?"

He glanced at Saxton and shrugged his shoulders.

"Fine, I can row myself." She started toward the railing and it was then,
Saxton stepped in front of her, "Can't let you do this, Xena will be back,
if she wanted you to go, she would have roused you."

Realizing she would have a fight on her hands, she fumed, "I suppose, Mary
Ready is still in her cabin?"

The men glanced at one another before Saxton said, "Nope, she went with

"Damn!" Gabrielle said as she walked away from them, "Damn them and damn


The two women crouched low as they peeked out from behind a massive bush.
Xena whispered, "Are you sure she comes here?"

Nodding, Mary replied, "Yes, she takes a walk in the garden every day."

A look of dismay on her face, Xena said, "I don't even know if she will
remember me."

Smiling, Mary said, "Even if she doesn't and that would be hard to do, she
will have heard of your exploits."

Patting the woman's right hand Xena replied, "I am not sure this gives me
great confidence. She heard of Ann and look where it got her."

It was at this time they could hear voices and before long, Cleopatra walked
into the clearing. There were several hand maidens following, giggling among

Mary whispered, "Probably talking about a conquest they had last evening."

Xena's voice was low as it came from deep in her throat, "Yeh sure."

Before Mary knew what was happening, Xena had stepped onto the path and was
now blocking the Queens way.

Cleopatra seemed surprised at first but this soon gave way to a light smile
as her eyes took in the tall woman's form. Her hand maidens had begun to
shriek and she raised her hand and ordered, "Cease, this is a friend. Go,
cut me some flowers." They seemed surprised but hurried off.

Squaring her shoulders, Xena gazed at the woman, for a few minutes they both
seemed to be engaged in examining the other and finally Cleopatra spoke,
"What brings you here, Xena?"

The woman's light blue's seemed to reach into Cleopatra's as she said, "A

"If you are speaking of your Amazon friend, I have not set eyes on her since
that time."

Shaking her head, Xena answered, "No, Ann Bounty."

Taking several steps back, Cleopatra queried, "You and the pirate? Your
taste certainly has changed."

"Like I said, she is a friend, a good friend. I need to know what has become
of her?"

Cleopatra turned her attention on a flowering bush, her hands gently
touching the petals as she replied, "She is not dead if that is what you
want to know. Though Caesar thinks she is."

Xena walked up to the woman, "Where is she?"

The Queen turned to gaze at her, "I can't tell you. Isn't it enough to know
I spared the treacherous woman's life and the life of her so called enemy."

Now Xena was surprised, her eyes widening as she asked, "So called enemy?
The Ann Bounty I know is not treacherous, if anything she is too chialrous."

Cleopatra's laugh spread throughout the garden as she said, "She took my
ship, stole my goods, made sure my men were dead and she is chivalrous? No,
Ann Bounty has been convicted and sentenced, you cannot help the woman."

Biting at her lower lip, Xena said, "Seems she has gotten under you skin.
The woman I remember had empathy for others."

It was evident Xena had struck a chord as the woman's facial features
hardened. "As well you probably already know, she is beautiful and yes, I
would loved to have her in my bed. Instead she chose to stay with that snake
that turned on her, Mary Ready."

Xena's eyes glanced toward the bush and she hoped Mary stayed put. "I hoped,
I could reason with you, I must find Ann Bounty."

The woman's eyes seemed to snap at her as she said, "Where is your lovely
Amazon friend?"

Raising her eyebrows, Xena replied, "Home," it was apparent the direction
the woman was taking as Xena quickly added, "with her mate."

A look of surprise enveloped the queen's face as she said, "The way the two
of you were, I would have thought this was a coupling forged for eternity."

Shrugging her shoulders Xena said, "Things happen, people change, life
changes them." It was apparent she still held feelings for the woman, her
face showed all the signs.

Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Cleopatra said, "Come, have a drink with
me, maybe eat something and we can talk."

Starting to follow the woman then stopping, Xena asked, "I remember all to
well the last time, is this going to be a reoccurrence?"

A smile played on the woman's lips, her eyes held many enticing features as
she murmured, "Follow me and find out, surely the great Warrior princess is
not afraid of me?"

Quickly following her, Xena said, "A drink, that's all."

The last sounds Mary heard were the Queen's, "Something to eat and talk."

Standing, Mary began to move away from the garden area, she hoped Xena was
careful the last thing she didn't need was for the woman to get thrown in a
cell. She seemed surprised to find out that Xena knew Cleopatra, there was a
lot to this woman, she felt she would never know.

Will was standing near the helm when he heard a splashing sound. Quickly
stepping toward the railing, his eyes grew wide when he saw Gabrielle
swimming away from the ship. Turning to look for Saxton but not seeing the
man, he quickly made it down the rope ladder to a boat. It didn't take long
to release it and begin rowing toward the woman. He had to admire the
woman's spirit, though he was afraid it would someday get her harmed if not

She seemed to glide through the water as if she were born to it and didn't
even hear the boat until it was almost upon her. "Nice day for a swim?"

Glancing toward the sound, she could see Will grinning at her. "Go away!"
she shouted and continued her trek.

The sound of the oars as the man pulled along side her and his teasing
manner made her swim faster. Though she tried to get away from him, it was
not going to happen, he was strong and he pulled the oars through the water
with ease. "Whenever you want to stop, I'll pull you on board."

Stopping to tred water, her blue green eyes shot sparks at the young man as
she said, "Go back, I am going to go look for Xena since no one else seems
to be worried about her."

He leaned toward her and extended his right hand, "Take my hand, let me get
you out of there, and just who said we didn't care. If we went against her
orders, we both know the wrath of Xena."

Bobbing up and down, Gabrielle said, "Yeah, will it seems you are afraid of
her, her bark is worse than her bite."

Swallowing as he tried to keep a chuckle in he said, "I sure hope it's
lighter than that shark that is heading toward you."

Fear shown on the woman's face as she glanced back and saw the fin edging
it's way toward her. It didn't take long to grasp Will's hand as she urged,
"Well, hurry, Gods can this day get any worse!"

He was still grinning as she landed in the boat. Scrambling to her feet and
wiping water from her face she said, "What are you smiling at, haven't you
ever seen anyone wet before?"

His eyes never left hers as he replied, "Sure I have, just never anyone

It was at this time she realized the light colored blouse she wore was
clinging to her heaving breasts and her nipples were standing at attention.
Quickly crossing her arms she tried to cover them, "If you were a gentleman,
you would give me your shirt."

He shrugged his shoulders, "You are just so beautiful."

They heard Saxton bellowing out to them and looked toward the ship, it was
apparent the man wanted them to return. Turning the boat, Will began to row
back. Gabrielle spat out, "Sure take the easy way out, you could have rowed
me ashore."

Will grinned as his strong arms pulled the boat through the water, "I could
but you running around loose like that could start a war."

Scoffing at the man she said, "Funny, ha, ha."

He stopped rowing and removed his shirt, "Here, put this on, can't have all
the men on the ship viewing your..."

"I get the picture, thanks," she mumbled and took the shirt.

The woman's right hand was swiping at a flying insect that had been buzzing
about her head. She was lying on her stomach, legs spread apart and her face
hanging off the huge bed. A thin cover lay on her, leaving little to one's
imagination. It was the last swipe that missed the insect but connected with
the woman's face that caused her to open her eyes. Groaning as she moved her
head, Xena tried to move and it was then she realized her clothes were gone.
Sitting up as she gripped her head, she groaned. The last thing she
remembered was having a few drinks with the Queen. It was obvious from the
way she felt, one of the drinks had been laced. Falling back on the bed, her
eyes gazed up at the ornate ceiling. "Gods, you've gone and done it now
Xena, Gabrielle will have your head for this."

The coolness of the muslin cover felt good against her hot body. It was then
the door to the chamber opened and several hand maidens entered. Pulling the
cover to her, she asked, "What are you doing here? Why am I here and where
is your Queen?"

One stepped forward, "I have brought you your clothes, they have been
cleaned. The others, have already bathed you."

Xena was now reaching the boiling point as she said, "Bathed me? Why in Gods
would you do that?"

They gazed at one another and smiled then turned and hurried off leaving
Xena's questions behind. Slowing getting out of bed, she reached for her
clothes. It was a struggle but she managed to finally get dressed. Sitting
back down on the bed, she muttered, "One of these days you will learn."

It was then the door opened and a man entered the room, he looked at her and
said, "The queen requests your presence at the morning meal."

Standing, Xena said, "And I want to see the Queen, lead on."

Cleopatra was drinking from a chalice when she entered the room, she smiled
at the woman, "Come sit down and have something to eat, drink."

Walking up to her and sitting, she gazed at the woman, "No thanks, I did
that yesterday and ended up in your bed, no clothes. I can't believe you did

Handing Xena a chalice she said, "I did nothing, you drank too much, I
merely had my handmaidens put you to bed."

Ignoring the offered chalice, Xena said, "Yeah and if I were to believe that
then I guess I would believe just about anything. They cleaned my clothes,
bathed me while I slept, I hate to think what else happened."

Leaning back on her luxurious pillows, the queen said, "Am I really that
hard to take? The thought the two of us did something together make you

"It's not that, it's, I am with someone and I would never do anything to
cause them to doubt me."

Smiling as she took a sip fron her chalice Cleopatra said, "Then don't,
nothing happened between us, we talked, you just had too much to drink.
Before I forget, here." She extended her hand and as Xena reached for it she
asked, "What's this?"

The woman's eyes lowered to Xena's cleavage as she said, "You wanted to know
where Ann Bounty is, I think you have earned it."

Taking the parchment and glancing at her she said, "You have given Ann
clemency. I don't know how to repay you."

Standing, Cleopatra answered, "There's no need. Now go, get your friend and
leave this island before I change my mind."

Getting to her feet, Xena replied, "I will go for now but one day Cleopatra,
you and I will have a long talk."

It didn't take Xena long to make her way from the Royal Palace and onto the
streets and it was as she neared the taverna a familiar voice rang out,
"Well, you certainly don't look any worse for wear."

Turning, her gaze cold and her jaws clenched she spout, "Don't go get any
ideas, Mary Ready. Come on let's go, I know where Sea is."

Amazement shown on Mary's face, as she hurried to catch up with the
statuesque woman. Xena was heading toward the wharf and a dingy they left
tied up there. She wondered how the dark haired woman was going to explain
the red mark on her neck. Grinning as she stepped into the boat, she tried
to keep from staring at it.


Chapter Thirty Six

The two women walked into the oval mud hut, within seconds, they dropped to
the dirt floor. Asterea crawled toward a pail of water, dipping the ladle
into the liquid she brought it to her mouth, savoring each drop.

Ann, sat, her eyes taking in the woman, Asterea had recuperated and she was
amazed the two of them had managed to keep from killing each other. Staring
at the walls of mud and the thatch roof, she sighed. The trip had been long
and Sea had no idea where they were. The two women had been made to help
plant fields of grain, emmer, barley, a few vegetables and flax. The hot
Egyptian Sun had taken it's toll on their bodies, and the long days work
left then little energy when they were returned to their hut.

Feeling Sea's eyes on her, Asterea asked, "Thirsty?"

"What do you think?" Sea glanced toward the woman who was holding the
dripping full ladle toward her. "When you get through, I'll have a drink."

Asterea glanced at the ladle then said, "Don't want to drink after me? You
still think you are too good for me don't you Ann Bounty?"

Getting to her feet, Sea stepped toward the woman, stopping, she gazed down
at her, "You never stop, there are more important things in life than you."
She haunched down, their eyes meeting as she grasped the ladle and brought
the liquid to her mouth. Taking a long drink, and when finished, she said,
"Drinking after you does not bother me." Raising to her feet she added, "We
may not like one another, but, we need to figure out a way out of this hell

Dropping the ladle in the pail, Asterea sat, her eyes fixed on the woman, "I
never said I didn't like you. I just can't seem to get you to see things my

Smiling, Sea walked toward a pallet and laid down, staring up at the roof,
she said, "You never will."

Asterea crawled toward the woman, stopping as she neared, "If I never said
it before, thanks for taking care of me."

Turning her head, Sea gazed at the woman, "I would have done the same for a
wounded animal."

Asterea smiled, "Maybe. You might never admit it Ann Bounty but you felt
something for me."

Turning onto her side, her back to the woman, Ann replied, "I *did,* now get
some rest, when the moon peaks tonight they will come for us to help with
the irrigation."

Asterea reached out and placed her right hand on Sea's shoulder, "We are all
we have, face it, the others are either dead or sold. What you had is no

Quickly turning, Sea scowled at the woman, "Never, the Gods would not have
taken me on so many journeys only to have it end like this. If the intent
was to punish me, then it is succeeding, being confined with you is worse
than Tartarus could ever be."

Smiling, Asterea moved toward her pallet, her words drifting back to Sea,
"Your remarks are meant to cut me, they don't. I have seen a different side
of the famous Ann Bounty. If this is to be Tartarus or worse, you and I can
make each day better."

Sea grumbled, "In your dreams, Asterea, in your dreams."


The moon was enormous this night, it's rays lit up the area for miles. Sea
and Asterea stared in disbelief as they watched the people drop to their
knees and pay homage to it. Asterea grinned, "I can think of a lot of things
a beautiful moon such as that would be good for and what they are doing is
not even one of them."

Sea whispered, "Nevertheless, we had better follow suit before one of the
guards decides to sacrifice us to Thoth, their moon-god."

Glancing around, Asterea dropped to her knees, "They seem to have a God for

Sea followed and said, "Names are changed but the similarity is much the
same as our Gods."

Several guards were making their way toward the women and they bowed their
heads as Asterea began chanting, "To my bed, to my bed."

Grinning, Sea listened to Asterea's soft laments. Noticing the men had
changed directions, she glanced toward the woman and asked, "To your bed?
Gods woman, what are you babbling about?"

Sitting up, Asterea looked at Sea and replied, "They pray for what they
want, I pray for what I want."

Sea shook her head and muttered, "A bed?"

Standing, Asterea replied, "Yes, but with you in it."

Throwing her hands into the air, Sea shot back, "One track mind, I think I
preferred you helpless."

Mulling over the woman's words, Asterea said, "Actually, if it wasn't so
painful, I might want that also. I did have your attention."

A man approached and handed each woman a wooden hoe and after he walked
away, Sea said, "I cared for you, you would have done the same," she noticed
the look on Asterea's face, smiled and said, "don't deny it, you would have,
if for no other reason than to have me beholden to you."

Grasping the wooden hoe, Asterea started to walk toward a line of people,
stopping she said, "A person never knows what they will do until they are
faced with it. Think about what I have said Ann Bounty, you are a vibrant
woman. I would think your body is craving a little joy."

Calling out, Sea said, "Go dig a dam or something." She watched the woman
begin to work with the others, her eyes dropping to the tight grip she had
on the wooden hoe. Asterea was right, each day, she missed Gina more, each
day she cursed herself anew as the words escaped her, "Damn woman, you think
you have it all figured out." Sea's soft words dissipated in the night air.

The guards had been relentless and worked the people till their God, Ra
began to appear. They were loaded onto wagons and brought back to the
settlement. Both women were covered in mud. Asterea looked at a guard and
queried, "We need to clean up, is there a place we can do this?"

The man stared at the women, his eyes aparantly enjoying the distress they
were in. As the last person was unloaded he turned to Asterea and said, "Get
whatever you need, I will take you to the river."

Sea's mouth felt like cotton and all she wanted was a drink, turning she
started toward the hut. Asterea followed and after catching up to the woman
she said, "You're going aren't you?"

Stepping into the hut, Sea turned, "I am too tired. All I want is a drink of

Stepping in behind her, Asterea walked toward a towel, soda and perfumed
oil, "It will do us both good, besides, the smell in here is not getting any

Taking a long drink, Sea stared at the woman, "Maybe you are right, we have
a few hours, why not clean up, seems useless though, so we can get dirty all
over again. I'll get my things."

Asterea walked toward the pail of water and took a drink, her eyes watching
the woman move around the small area. Sea had gathered a change of clothes
and stood at the doorway. Asterea picked up her things and said, "Let's go."

Sitting in the full wagon, Sea looked at Asterea and said,"Looks like more
than us wanted to clean up."

Nodding, the woman whispered, "Maybe he will be distracted by so many, we
can slip off."

Brushing at the air, Sea tried to ward off the dust that was making it's way
toward them. "It won't happen, the man is to well armed and he has company.
I am too tired and with our luck the others would help him aprehend us.
Then, we would face some other kind of horror. No, not tonight."

Leaning back, Asterea gazed at the woman, "You know, even with speckles of
mud on your face, you are beautiful."

Looking at the woman, Sea whispered, "Don't get any ideas, I have plenty of
fight left, I have saved it just for you."

Sighing, Asterea said, "All I said was you are beautiful."

The sound of the horses and the creaking of the wagon was all that could be
heard as they approaced the inlet. Once down, Sea said, "Looks like first
one in gets the best spot." They watched as people dashed to the water. Some
flinging off clothes and others going in fully clothed. The two women walked
the bank until they saw an opening and Asterea said, "Looks like a good
spot, come on."

Sea dropped the change of clothes she had been carrying and gazed at the
water. It didn't take Asterea long to shed her clothes and jump in. "Come on
in, it is refreshing."

Glancing around, Sea slipped off her mud caked clothes and walked toward the
water. Asterea had been rubbing herself with soda and was completely in her
own world when she heard Ann enter the water. Looking up, her mouth fell
open and as Sea swam past her she whispered, "Better close your mouth,
before some flying thing thinks it has found a home."

The sounds of the others, were now making their way to the two women.
Asterea was trying to dab soda on her back without succeeding. Ann had gone
under water several times, each time coming up, she felt revived. "Through
with that yet?" Ann's words reached out to the woman that was now putting
more soda in the water than onto herself.

Turning, she gazed at Ann, "Sure you want some of this?"

Nodding, Ann waited for the woman to toss it to her, instead, Asterea said,
"I'll let you have it, if I get to put it on your body." Frowning at the
woman, Ann swam past her and stepped from the water. It didn't take long to
dress and then turn to gaze at Asterea in the water. Asterea was smiling
toward her, as Ann leaned over, picked up her muddied clothes and walked
toward the edge of the water. Kneeling down she began to wash the clothes,
ignoring Asterea.

Asterea walked from the water, stopping as she approached Sea, she gazed
down at the woman, trickles of water running off her body. Never looking up,
Sea continued washing the clothes. Asterea walked past her and dressed. She
stepped a few feet away and began to wash the clothes she had worn. Sea now
glanced at the other women and many were now out of the water, the guards
watching each one carefully.

"You cut quite a form in the water."

Turning her attention toward Asterea, Sea replied, "If I could have cleaned
up anywhere else I would have, don't go getting any ideas."

Grinning, the woman replied, "Don't have to get any, I already have many."

One of the men approached them, "Time to go, get your things!"

Both women, wrung as much water from their clothes as they could, then stood
and walked back toward the wagon. As they neared, they heard the screams of
a young woman. It was then, Sea spied one of the men, trying to drag the
woman into the bushes. She started to walk faster as Asterea reached out
grasping her right shoulder, "Stop right there, if you are thinking of doing
something heroic, there are too many of them, remember what you told me."

Turning, Sea placed her washed clothes on top of Asterea's and said, "See
these get back to the hut."

Before the woman could reply, Ann's lengthy legs carried her toward the man
and woman. He had struck the young woman several times and as he raised his
fist to send another blow down upon her, Ann's right hand grasped his wrist
stopping it in mid air. He was startled for a minute and this was all it
took for her to send him face down onto the ground. His screams brought
several men dashing toward Ann, each one yelling. The woman's long legs shot
forward and back with such speed, they never even saw the blows until they
connected sending them plummeting to the ground. The woman's fists made
contact with lightening speed, and each man felt the wrath of the flaming
redhead this night. The women were all chattering to one another in
amazement as Sea reached down to help the young woman up, "Are you all

She nodded, her eyes full of fear as she stared at the fallen men, "Yes, but
they will kill me now as well as you."

Shaking her head, Sea replied, "Run, get out of here, now!"

Instead of moving the women stared and it was at this time a man's voice
echoed the area, "Stop! If you do not, I will slice your friend's throat!"

A cold look covered her face as she turned to see the man was holding a
knife to Asterea's throat. Placing her hands on her hips she started at the
woman, "You could have done something?"

Asterea seemed to be in a daze as the man said, "Now! Do I slit her throat?"

For an instant it looked like Sea was going to walk away then she said, "All
right, don't hurt her." She raised her hands as a man walked up behind her.
The last thing she remembered was a sharp pain in the back of her head and

Opening her eyes, she tried to move and knew she was tied, her hands were
bound above her head. A low moan escaped her throat as she tried to stand.
Her wrists were raw and bleeding from the tightness of the rope that secured

The voice was low, "Fool woman! Will you ever learn, now look where you have
ended up."

Turning her head, the throbbing almost causing her to black out once more.
And as her eyes focused she could see Asterea, the woman was tied several
feet from her.

"Is that the thanks I get for saving your ornery hide?"

Spitting, Asterea said, "I like you Ann Bounty but I have do desire to feed
my carcass to any flying bird or animal. Why didn't you stay out of it?"

Trying to see the woman, Ann replied, "Would you have him rape her, or

Struggling at her ties, Asterea answered, "No, no one should have to endure
anything like that but there were too many of them."

"Everything would have been fine if you had done your part, how did you let
the man creep up on you like that?"

Groaning , she realized she was not able to loosen the ties, only tighten
them, she stared at Sea, "It happened so fast and before I knew it, his
knife was at my throat. I am afraid I had other things on my mind."

This time Sea managed to stand tall, "If you would ever get your head out of
the bedroom, you might accomplish something."

"Ahh but the bedroom can be so nice," the woman's eyes softened as she said,
"thanks, you saved my life back there and you didn't have to. I have done so
much to you, it wouldn't have surprised me to see you walk away."

"Then you really don't know me. I wouldn't even let the likes of you die
like that, at least not because of something I have done. The day will
probably come when we will face one another again."

"You talk as if we will get out of this, in case you forget, they have us
strung up to these tree branches like animals. If the lack of water and food
doesn't do us in the heat from the Sun will do it soon."

Sea set her jaw and said, "Then we have to get out of here."

Asterea frowned, "Yeah, like a Genie will appear and send us on our way."

Sea had been moving her legs up and down as if marching, as she replied,
"Nope, just you and I, and I don't know about you, but I am not going to die
in this land."

Asterea watched as the tall women began to pick her legs up higher and grasp
the rope that held her wrist together. It took several attempts before she
was able to run and swing herself up onto the tree branch. Asterea's eyes
grew wide as she watched the woman straddle the branch and begin to pick at
the rope with her teeth.

"Are you out of your mind, they come out here and find you up there, they
will kill you."

With a mouthful of hemp, Sea mumbled, "Better this way than to just let it

Shrugging her shoulders, Asterea copied Sea's example and soon sit on her
branch. It was evident when they were tied the men felt neither woman would
get loose. They had been sloppy and before long both had loosened their ties
enough to slip their hands free. Dropping to the ground, Asterea asked,
"What now?"

Placing her hand on the woman's right shoulder Sea whispered, "We get out of

They crept into their hut, secured several water skins, and crawled from the


Chapter Thirty Seven

Saxton's eyes were set on the two as they came aboard. It was evident he was
trying to hold back a grin. The woman was drenched and from the look on her
face she was not very happy. Glancing at the young man as his feet touched
the deck, Saxton inquired, "Seems one of you went for a swim, care to tell
me what this is all about?"

Gabrielle gave Will a scathing look as she said, "Nothing, it was a nice day
for a swim, that's all. Now if the two of you would excuse me, I need to
change clothes."

The two men watched her slosh across the deck, each holding back laughter
and when she had vanished below, Saxton said, "Seems our young lady, got a
hankering for land."

Nodding, Will replied, "Yes, she was going to swim to land and find Xena."

Walking away, Saxton fumed, "Fool thing to do, these waters are shark

Watching the man walk away, Will called out, "Maybe next time someone should
tell her about that."

Turning to gaze at Will, Saxton replied, "Someone with a will like that one
would neer believe it. It is good you pulled her out, because if something
had happened to her we would both be facing Xena's anger."


Will was coiling hemp when Gabrielle approached him the next day.

"It looks like a lovely morning," her words caught him off guard. He jumped,
dropped the hemp and turned to stare into her beautiful ocean green eyes.
"Ga...Gabrielle, I wasn't expecting you," his eyes darted to the hands she
held behind her back as he stammered, "surely, you are not so mad at me as
to conceive my demise?"

Throwing her head back the woman laughed, "Hardly, I just wanted to thank
you for saving my life. If you had not come along..."

He smiled, bent over and retrieved the hemp, "I was glad to be of
assistance. Then... then you are not mad at me?"

Walking toward the rail, her voice echoed back, "I didn't say that, I am
upset you did not row me ashore. Xena still hasn't come back, I am worried,
even if you and Saxton think what I did was foolish."

Forgetting about rolling hemp, Will ambled toward her, "You have lived with
Xena, you know her better than anyone."

She turned to gaze toward him and said, "So? What's your point?"

He was standing beside her now, his hands on the railing, "So, if you do
something she has asked you not do, does it make her happy?"

Turning her attention to the ocean, Gabrielle said, "No, actually she gets
pretty angry."

"There, see what I mean, had you succeeded, she would have been upset at you
and also Saxton, me and anyone else she felt was to blame for letting you
off the ship."

Heaving a sigh, Gabrielle said, "I suppose you are right, but I always seem
to be able to take her mind to other things."

Will's face reddened as he mumbled, "Other things, Gods, woman, what is
happening is serious."

She leaned over the rail, her head hanging down, "Suddenly I feel sick."

Will reached for her, "Gabrielle!" It was evident he was concerned and it
was then, she reached out grabbed his arm, easily tossing the man overboard,
shouting, "There, now we are even!"

Will hit the water with a resounding splash and when he surfaced, he smiled
up at the mischievous look on Gabrielle's face, "All right, now will you
toss me a line before I become some passing shark's catch of the day."

Quickly tossing out a roll of hemp, she said, "Grab this."

His right hand grasped the rope before it hit the water and he bid, "Pull me

Tying it to the railing, she answered, "Climb up, I couldn't pull you up."
Will watched as she walked away. And as he climbed up the rope, he prayed it
would not break or come loose from the railing. Once he was back on deck, he
lay there, his breath ragged and though he wanted to curse the woman, all he
could do was smile, this Gabrielle, she had spunk.

It was mid afternoon when Saxton spied the longboat approaching. He waved at
the two women who were rowing it toward the ship. "Ahoy there!" He called
out, as he headed for the rope ladder to offer his assistance.

The minute Mary's feet landed on the deck she looked back at Xena. "Looks
like everyone else is below deck, I am going to go get something to eat."

Xena was now on board and she reached out, grasped the woman's right
shoulder and said, "Uh-uh, you are not going below and leaving me to face
Gabrielle alone."

Mary's blue eyes sparkled as she replied, "I think this one needs to be a
one on one thing. Gabrielle is probably not happy I accompanied you and you
left her behind. They call you the "Warrior Princess," surely you can face a
young woman like Gabrielle without fear."

Smiling, Xena watched the woman walk away, "You know they always say
eruptions come in small packages. Go ahead, run away you coward."

Mary kept walking and soon was out of sight. Xena turned to Saxton and
asked, "Where is Gabrielle?"

He smiled, lowered his eyes and said, "Probably in the cabin. In case you
are wondering, she is not happy."

Shrugging her shoulders, Xena said, "I was afraid this would happen, the
woman is so headstrong."

Running his right hand through his hair, Saxton said, "It must be some
relationship, the two of you both being this way."

Walking away from the man, Xena said, "In case you are wondering, I got the

Running to catch up to her, Saxton asked, "You know where Ann is? We must go
to her."

Smiling toward the man, Xena said, "We will, first, I need to talk to
Gabrielle. It will take a few days travel, pack some supplies, we can leave
as soon as you are ready."

He watched as she headed for the steps leading below and said, "When you are
ready, we will be."

As she approached the cabin door, Xena took a deep breath and slowly opened
it, the minute her eyes caught sight of Gabrielle laying on her left side
sleeping, she started to close the door, it creaked and immediately
Gabrielle called out, "Xena! Is that you?" Biting her lower lip she opened
the door, managed a brilliant smile and answered, "Yes, I thought you were
asleep, didn't want to disturb you."

Gabrielle was standing now, she approached the woman, her eyes taking in
every curve as she said, "You left me."

Xena could tell by the look on the woman's face she was seething as she
replied, "I didn't want anything to happen to you. I had no idea what type
of welcome I would receive."

Gabrielle was very close to her as she uttered, "I trust you were able to
accomplish your mission."

Walking toward the wooden table, Xena reached for a bottle of port as she
answered, "Yes, I know where Ann Bounty is being held. I have given Saxton
orders to prepare two days traveling provisions."

It didn't take Gabrielle long to catch up to the woman, her hand reached out
and grasped Xena's, "I want to know what happened? Do you all think the same
way?" She reached out and took the bottle from Xena and placed it on the
table, never releasing the woman's hand.

Translucent blue's gazed into Gabrielle's face and it was apparent by the
woman's reaction, Xena was nervous. "Ga...Gabrielle, I could use a drink,
what do you mean, 'do we all think the same way?'"

Shaking her head Gabrielle replied, "It seems you have already had your
share of drink," her eyes had found the mark on Xena's neck as she conveyed,
"and then some. I mean it seems people think the bottle is the answer to
most things."

Xena's right left hand shot up to her neck as she said, "Something must have
bit me."

Gabrielle tilted her head to meet Xena's gaze, her voice lower than usual
she muttered, "Or someone, tell me Xena?"

Pulling her hand from Gabrielle's, Xena walked toward the bed and sat, for
an instant the beautiful woman looked beat.

Pulling out a wooden chair by the desk, Gabrielle sat and said, "You took
Mary and you left me behind, you didn't even have the decency of telling me
you were going. If I had done this to you, would you have overlooked it?"

The woman's tongue seemed to be traveling the inside of her cheeks and it
was a few minutes before Xena squared her shoulders and answered, "Hades at
Mount Olympus, no!"

Feeling the woman's piercing blue eyes clear to her bones, Gabrielle tried
to appear it had no effect as she said, "Then don't begrudge me, worrying
about you and wondering why you didn't at least tell me."

Xena laid back on the bed, staring upward she said, "I worry about you also,
I told you I did not want to see any harm come to you."

Managing to smile, Gabrielle spoke softly, "I am my own woman, you know
this, I can take care of myself, I do not need you looking out for me." She
barely got the words out before Xena jumped to her feet and started for the
cabin door.

Moving quickly, Gabrielle managed to step between the woman and the door as
she said, "You can't just walk away like this, Xena. You always do this and
leave a lot of things simmering." It was then she noticed the tears forming
in the woman's eyes. Gabrielle felt she was a strong person but whenever
Xena would shed a tear, she became all warm and tingly toward her. Reaching
up, her left hand touched the woman's face, her voice, shaky, "Xena, if I
said something to upset you, I, I'm sorry."

Xena pulled away from Gabrielle's touch, turned and walked toward the
porthole. "Damn it woman, I love you, the thought of something happening to
you is unbearable," hearing Gabrielle's footsteps behind her, she turned
around, blue eyes melting into ocean green's, "I, more than anyone know you
can stand on your own and you don't need me."

Biting her lower lip, Gabrielle said, "Gods! That's it, you think I meant I
don't need you," Xena had squared her jaw as if bracing for a final blow as
Gabrielle reached up and caressed the tall woman's left cheek, "I need you,
I want you, I will always need you. Xena, I would die if you left me."

The woman reached up and grasped Gabrielle's hand, she held it for a second
then said, "We both know better, you would be just fine, you have another
life, a life I am not really part of."

Staring at Xena's hand on hers, Gabrielle replied, "You are, you are the
other half of my soul, together we are one. You had a life before me and
each day something from that life seems to pop up. Does this mean because I
was not part of your life then, that I cannot be part of it now?"

Managing a smile, Xena whispered, "You are a part of my life, the most
important part."

Gripping the woman's hand, Gabrielle said, "As I am a part of yours, you are
a part of mine. I love you Xena."

"Then can we call a truce, I hate to argue with you."

Nodding, Gabrielle said, "Truce, but I will not forget to bring up the
subject of that bite again."

Grinning, the woman said, "We have been apart for a night, I missed you,
before Saxton knocks on the door and says they are ready," her eyes were now
gazing at the bed, her voice soft, "we can lay together."

A radiant smile crossed Gabrielle's face, her eyes seemed to dance as she
replied, "Lay together? I think we can do better than that, I look forward
to giving you a bite on the other side of your neck, and I guarantee you
will know what bit you."

"Ummmm," Xena's voice seemed to melt as she finished, "This is one bite I
look forward to."


Continued in Chapter thirty eight

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