A Time for Reckoning

Part 1

By Anita Louise

copyright 1997

This takes place after A Past Remembered.

After a long duration, the two make it back home. Their love is consummated and all seems right in their world. A Visitor changes all this and due to unforeseen circumstances their love is once more challenged.

Hurt/Comfort Warning Disclaimer:

This story may be best classified as a Hurt/Comfort Story involving the characters of Xena Warrior Princess. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex/ Disclaimer. This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are less than 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

The television series: Xena Warrior Princess belongs to MCA/Universal . . . This is merely one fan's story. The Characters of Sea Troll and all characters connected with her are figments of my very vivid imagination.

Calico Jack was a real pirate.

Chapter One

The Talisman

The woman woke to the sweet smell of flowers as she nestled her face deeper into the strawberry blond hair now tickling her nostrils. Sighing, she placed her left arm around the woman's waist and pulled her close. Xena could feel the warmth of Gabrielle's skin as it touched her body. She sighed thinking she had passed over and for some reason was lucky enough to now be in the Elysian Fields.

Xena pulled her head back as the Bard moaned. The Warrior opened her eyes slowly.  The fear she had been dreaming was playing on her mind. Did it really happen? As her eyes fell on the tan back her breasts were now touching, she felt her breath being taken away. She caught herself drawing her legs in close to the woman as she whispered, "Gabrielle."

The Bard moaned and shivered but didn't answer. She carefully lifted the Bard's hair off her shoulder and slowly brought her head down. Warmth invaded her body as her lips pressed a soft kiss. She could feel the Bard's body move and Xena smiled.

Her soft lips began their dance as they glided across the woman's shoulders. She could sense the Bard was enjoying this by the way her body was now pushing against her. The woman stopped as her eyes fell upon the scars that crossed Gabrielle's back. She thought back to the first time she had seem them.

A month had past and the two women were still in no hurry to leave the cave. When Xena and Gabrielle finally made it home they were exhausted. After entering the cave, they set about making a few changes. The first thing Xena did was chop up one bed and make kindling of it. Gabrielle had watched the woman with wonder on her face. When Xena had finished, she turned to her and asked, "You didn't have any problems with that, did you?"

Gabrielle replied,  "No."

Xena smiled and said, "Let's go freshen up."

Gabrielle extended her left hand. "I might even let you wash my back."

Xena smiled as she grasped the woman's hand in hers. "Something I look forward, too."

The glow that was on their faces appeared to be brighter than the glow of the cavern. Argo nickered as she munched on some dried grass. The horse had been watching the two women with a careful eye. She was sure now that something was going on. She had watched Gabrielle and Xena exchanging expressions and the horse nodded her head as she thought, I could have told them, looks like the two have finally figured it out for themselves. The sounds of the women laughing, was echoing back to the horse as she closed her eyes, content to chew the grass.

The two women had been enjoying the warmth of the hot springs. She had watched the Bard bobbing up and down in the water. Xena lay on a smooth rock ledge that was setting in the water. "If you come over here, I'll take some of those knots out for you. I have noticed how you have been moving." Gabrielle smiled and waved as she swam over to Xena. Her eyes danced as she turned and sat back against the woman. Xena smiled as she reached down to move the long strawberry blond hair that was now clinging to the woman's back. It was as she lifted the hair that she first saw the scars. "Gabrielle, what is this? How did you get these marks?"

Gabrielle reached back with her right hand and touched the woman's as she said, "It's something I will always carry with me, a remembrance of the sea and a time when I should have kept my mouth shut."

Xena lowered her head and placed soft kisses on the scars then asked,  "My gentle Gabrielle, you were beaten? Why? Who did this?"

Gabrielle replied, "It's not important now, they are all healed, all I have now are the scars and I had even forgotten about them."

Xena gently traced the marks with her tongue then said,  "If I knew, I would . . . "

Gabrielle replied, "You would do nothing. Like I said, I spoke when I shouldn't. The rules of the sea are not anything like the ones on land."

Gabrielle had leaned her head forward as Xena placed her slender fingers on the Bard's neck. Gently she began to press into the Bard's skin. Rotating then rubbing, she massaged her neck muscles and was now slowly easing her fingers down the Bard's back. Gabrielle had closed her eyes as she moaned, "Feels so good." Xena's fingers seemed to work magic, her back was feeling so much better.  The headache she had was now gone and in its place, she was experiencing the most delightful spasms.

"Do you feel any better?"  Xena's voice caressed her right ear as Gabrielle nodded and said, "Feels wonderful. How come I never knew of this skill Xena?"

Xena smiled and replied, "Because had I tried to do this before, you might have mistaken it." Gabrielle reached back and grasped Xena's right hand as she brought it around placing the woman's hand on her right breast. The Bard said, "I would always have known what you had in mind, the only difference is now you needn't think about it, do it."

Xena's fingers held the Bard's breast in her hand as she slowly massaged, gently gliding the fingers as they rubbed a very erect nipple. Gabrielle laid back against her and said, "I always knew your touch would send chills up and down my body."

It was a night of wonder for the two of them. Gabrielle never knew Xena could be so tender and loving. And she enjoyed every second of it. Xena also had a few thoughts about Gabrielle that were put to rest. The woman had been traveling with her for the past years and this night she felt she knew her for the first time. Not only could the Bard scribe a good story, she made the woman feel things she never knew existed. The love, Xena and Gabrielle shared on this special night gave them both the warm glow of happiness

Xena's thoughts vanished as she was brought back to the very lovely form of her friend. She never would have thought that she would get such enjoyment in waking the Bard. Her tongue began to glide in circles, then in figure eights. The left hand which had been laying over the Bard's waist was now caressing the woman. Her long slender fingers had fondled Gabrielle's tanned skin and were now gliding over her right breast. Xena felt a warmth flooding between her own legs and the woman softly cried in rapture. Her hand now held the ample breast as she softly pressed then let her fingers glide over the woman's nipple. Gabrielle's nipples were erect and hard as her fingers felt each one. She softly whispered, "Gods woman, I can't take much more of this."

Gabrielle rolled onto her back as she gazed up at the desirous face of her friend. The Bard smiled. "You really know how to wake a person."

Xena stared questioningly as she asked, "Are you all right?"

Gabrielle raised her left arm and placed her hand on Xena's cheek as she answered, "I've never been better. I love you Xena."

Xena brought her head down and placed a gentle kiss on Gabrielle's lips. She started to pull back but Gabrielle had placed her arm behind Xena's neck and was holding the woman in place. The Bard met Xena with a long caress, her tongue nimbly glided back and forth then pushed into the woman's welcoming mouth. Xena moaned permitting her lips to press hard as her tongue sought the Bard's. The two women lay together, their lips playing with one another as in a seductive dance. When Xena finally pulled her head back, she uttered, "Gabrielle . . . "

The Bard gazed up at her, desire heavy on her face and asked, "What?"

Xena replied, "Your lips, they are bruised."

Gabrielle reached up and touched Xena's with her left hand. "Then we match."

The Warrior smiled and said, "I never knew loving someone could be so fulfilling."

The Bard sat up and smiled. "Not just anyone Xena."

Xena now sat up and said, "That's not what I meant, you are the one who knows how to say words, I try. I never knew when I looked at you, with eyes that were longing, that my body would be in such bliss at loving you. I know that my life was not complete until you. I curse myself for taking so long to let you know."

Gabrielle reached out, touched Xena's right hand. "I'm just glad you finally said it. I was beginning to think I wasn't that important in your life. When I told you Perdicus had asked me to marry him, I was giving you the chance to tell me how important in your life I was. When you wished me well, I felt it was for the best because you obviously didn't want me."

Xena's eyes filled with tears as she gazed into Gabrielle's. "I thought it was what you wanted and I wanted for you to be happy. Gods woman, it tore me into pieces when you told me. I felt as if my body would die. A life without you in it was not one I was looking forward to."

Gabrielle pressed her lips to the back of Xena's right hand then gazed into the woman's face and said, "Well, you have me now, Life with you has been wonderful, life with you now is also remarkable. Don't ever change Xena, I love you just like you are."

Xena smiled as she said, "Even if I desire your body at times that might not be seen as proper."

Gabrielle smiled and replied, "As long as it is my body, you can desire it anytime you wish. Besides, this desire thing isn't all one way you know. I desire your touch every minute of the night and day, even in my dreams."

Xena reached over and gently placed her left arm around the woman, pulling her back down on the pallet with her.

Xena walked into the cavern, and as she neared the campfire, she glanced around for the Bard. Setting down the wood she was carrying in her arms, she walked toward the back of the cavern and called, "Gabrielle, are you back here?" She heard the lovely humming of her friend as the woman walked into sight. Gabrielle walked up to her and said, "You look like you might be looking for something, is anything wrong?"

Xena smiled as she answered, "Thought you had disappeared. You know I can't stand it when you are not here."

Gabrielle stepped close to the woman as she lightly placed a kiss on her cheek, then walked toward the crackling fire. "Better get used to it woman, and I'm never going to be but a heartbeat away. How is the weather?"

Xena turned and following the woman said, "It's getting colder, and from the looks of things, I would say that the Winter Solstice will be coming up soon. Would you like to go this time?"

Gabrielle sat, crossed her legs and replied, "I don't know if I can share you with anyone just yet."

Xena sat beside her and said, "We could be in a village of people, and you will be the only one I would see. If you don't know it by now, my heart belongs to you and you alone." She placed her right arm around Gabrielle's waist and continued, "I think the Solstice will be fun. You still carry the wonderment of the Season. If you want to go, we will."

Gabrielle replied, "There is so much more to be grateful for this season, I have you back in my life, we have each other . . . "

Xena softly replied, "And Sea is alive."

Gabrielle stared at her friend and said, "And Sea is alive, I hope she is well."

Xena gazed deep into the Bard's eyes and could see a glimmer of sadness as she said,  "It's ok. I know how much she meant to you and evidently still does. Maybe we will even make a trip to see her, would you like that?"

Gabrielle stood and walked away. "No, that is in my past, I can't see her, ever again."

Xena followed and muttered, "Gabrielle, you are still holding feelings for this woman, although you don't deny me anything and I know you love me. You need to face your feelings once and for all. Try to deny it all you want, but, you left part of your heart on the Bounty."

Gabrielle replied, "That's just a little dangerous, don't you think? After all, I certainly don't want you facing any more feelings with Ephiny."

Xena chewed at her lower lip."I wondered just when you were going to bring that up."

Gabrielle shrugged. "I asked Epinon you know, but she wouldn't tell me anything. Said I should ask you or wait till you decided to talk to me about it."

"Epinon told you to ask me?"

Gabrielle began to pace as she said, "Well, she said if you never tell me I should just let it go. You know me Xena, and I never let anything go."

Xena frowned as she replied, "I know. Gabrielle, what was between Ephiny and me, existed in the past, can't you leave it there?"

Gabrielle sat on the ground as she stared up at the woman and said, "Not if it still means something to you.'"

Xena followed suit and was now sitting beside Gabrielle. She stared long and hard at the woman and said, "Gabrielle, Ephiny will always mean something to me. Sea will always mean something to you. If you want me to tell you about things in my past, we will be here till we are both old and gray if we are fortunate enough to live that long."

Gabrielle grinned. "That many huh Xena?"

Xena threw her head back and laughed. "Well . . . there have been a few."

Gabrielle reached out and grasped Xena's right-hand. "Of the few, I'll bet there were some that stood out. I want to know about you and Ephiny."

Xena answered, "What good will it do? That was a long time ago. Ephiny is with Epinon and you are with me. Why bring up something that may cause hurt feelings?"

"I am secure in our love, it's just you went out of your way for her and I need to know."  Gabrielle had a look of determination on her face.

Xena thought for a second and said, "All right, I'll tell you about Ephiny and me, but then you tell me about Sea and you and don't leave anything out. I know that you have gone out of your way for this woman also."

The Bard pondered her words then said, "You know Xena, it was so long ago, I really don't need to know."

Xena laid back on the ground and stared at the rock ceiling. Gabrielle turned and looked down at the woman asking, "Xena, you're not mad at me are you?"

Xena closed her eyes. "I could never be mad at you, even if I knew that you and Sea had been together. Now, Sea I would kill."

Gabrielle's eyes widened as she stammered, "You don't mean it do you? It always takes two, especially for what you are talking about."

Xena sat up and gazed at her friend as she said, "Guess that means if I find out, you both will be goners."

Gabrielle's voice was shaky as she said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have pressed you about Ephiny."

Xena laughed and said, "I'm just kidding, whatever happened between you two was, and is, in the past it can't come between us now, unless you let it."

Gabrielle replied, "Never."

Xena had walked over to a saddlebag and picked it up. She placed her left hand into it and brought out a wrapped piece of nut bread. As she went to set the bag down, it slipped and fell to the floor, and some of its contents fell out. Xena knelt and began to pick up the articles. The woman stopped as her gaze fell on a beautiful Talisman. She picked it up and turned it over in her hand, the back was engraved with a ship. Xena wrapped it and placed it back in the bag, then stood and walked over to where Gabrielle lay. Xena pursed her lips. Why was Gabrielle keeping this Talisman? And where did sheget it?

A Visitor

Chapter Two

The two women had just finished one of Gabrielle's gourmet meals, when Argo perked up her ears and nickered. Xena raised her left hand and mouthed the words, "Quiet." She rose to her feet and picked up a frying pan. Gabrielle sent a scowling glance at the woman, then she got to her feet and grabbed her staff.  Xena crept stealthily toward the cavern opening. She stood with her back to the wall all the time eyeing Gabrielle. The Bard was standing in position, she was ready for whatever they heard.

Argo began to move about. She was becoming nervous. Within an instant a lone figure walked into the room. Xena stepped behind the person and landed a solid blow to the back of the person's head. She reached out grabbing the right arm flipping the person to the floor. She stood above the figure holding her foot at the person's throat. The fallen form gasped as her eyes fell back she uttered, "Xena. It's . . . me."

Xena stared down at the dark figure as her eyes widened she exclaimed, "Ephiny! What are you doing here?"

Gabrielle had approached the two, as Xena reached down and picked the woman up and carried her over by the fire, gently laying her down. Gabrielle made a humm sound as she sat staring at the two women.

Xena propped Ephiny up and was attempting to dabble water on the woman's face. Ephiny opened her eyes and stared into Xena's.  She sputtered, "I'm awake. You two sure know how to welcome your company. It's a wonder if you don't get much. If you remember, you invited us to come out and see you."

Gabrielle remarked, "As I remember the invitation was to the two of you."

Xena glared at the woman then gazed at Ephiny. "I'm sorry about the hit. You are most welcome. Guess I will have to get used to having visitors. Where is Epinon?"

Ephiny sat up while clutching her head, "She is in a nearby village. Should be here in a day or two."
She smiled toward Gabrielle and said, "You are looking well Gabrielle. Guess the two of you have been doing more than just talking."

Gabrielle stood and said, "Much more. If you will excuse me Xena, I have something to do."

Xena stared after her friend as she walked toward the cave's opening. Ephiny reached out and touched the woman with her left hand and asked, "She knows?"

Xena sat by her and said, "She knows there was something. Gabrielle is not like most people. She takes things so personally. I have tried to tell her it was in the past."

Ephiny replied, "Besides a splitting headache, I am famished. I guess it's hard when the past shows up at your door."

Xena crawled over to the fire. "I'm not much of a hostess, let me get you some of this." Ephiny was sitting up as Xena placed a plate of food in the woman's lap. She handed her a mug and said, "It's tea. Special blend of herbs, makes one feel good."

Ephiny enjoyed the meal and when finished she smiled. "Very good. Feel better already."

Xena replied, "Tell Gabrielle, she cooked it."

The Amazon glanced around then asked, "Where is Gabrielle?"

"She left, probably had some thinking to do, she will be back."

As Ephiny went to move she groaned and her hands flew to her head as she said, "Remind me to send you word of our arrival the next time."

Xena told Ephiny about the hot springs and showed the woman where it was. Then she went back to the campfire. It was getting late and the Bard hadn't returned. Xena stepped outside and called her name but when she didn't answer, the woman walked back into the cave. Xena had removed her boots and was pacing the room. She wondered how Ephiny was doing. She had really hit her and was worried she might have caused the woman problems.

As Xena neared the crop of rocks, she heard a familiar song. The woman closed her eyes for a moment. She remembered the young Amazon woman in that cave so long ago singing this song to her. Xena sighed and stepped into the open. Her eyes were transfixed on this beautiful woman, floating on the water. Xena went to turn away when Ephiny heard her and called, "Xena, is that you?"

Xena stepped back as she smiled toward Ephiny and answered, "It's me. How are you doing?"

Ephiny swam toward her. "It's wonderful, I'd be fine if I could just get over this aching in my neck."

Xena thought for a minute then she said, "I could massage it for you."

Ephiny's light brown eyes gleamed up at the woman as she smiled. "If it will make this pain go away. Please do what you can."

Xena walked to a sloping rock and sat. She had draped her feet over into the water but wore all her clothes. Ephiny swam to her and asked, "Where do you want me?"

Xena replied, "Sit up here."

As the woman raised herself out of the water, Xena's mouth fell open, she gazed at the beauty of the woman. Her full breasts were taunting as the water dripped from her nipples. Xena had forgotten how lovely this woman was, time had only endowed her more. Ephiny grinned at Xena, then turned away. She soon found herself sitting in front of the woman. Tilting her head forward she asked, "Gabrielle won't be mad, will she?"

Xena answered, "Probably. Since I hurt you, the least I can do is help relieve the discomfort. Now, close your eyes and let my fingers do the talking."

Ephiny softly sighed as the woman's fingers began to work their magic on her neck, as they eased down onto her shoulders. Ephiny warmly said, "You haven't lost your touch."

Xena found herself drawn to this woman as she edged her body closer and said, "You may never believe this Ephiny, but the day you disappeared, you left a dark hole in my heart. I am trying to piece it together again."

Ephiny reached up and touched Xena's right hand. "I'm so sorry."

As her fingers began to trace the scars that were on the woman's back Xena replied, "I'm sorry about this."

Ephiny shivered as she said, "I'd do it again. I told you once, there isn't anything I won't do for you."

Xena had been listening to the woman, when Ephiny suddenly jumped into the water grabbing Xena's right hand she pulled her in with her. Xena went under, but within seconds she had surfaced. She stared into the very mischievous eyes of her friend and asked, "My leathers, why?"

Ephiny swam close to her and said, "That dark hole, you don't need to repair it." Before Xena could say anything, the Amazon had placed a long seductive kiss on her wet lips. Xena faltered for a minute then she allowed her lips to seek the Amazon's. Suddenly Xena pulled back and said, "We can't do this. I'm going back. When you are finished, I'll be at the camp fire." Xena stepped out of the water, her clothes dripping. She stared back at Ephiny and ran from the room.

Arriving at the campfire, Xena shed the wet leathers. She found a towel and dried off. Walking over to the saddlebag she found a shift and pulled it on over her head. "I apologize, but you can't blame a girl for taking advantage of the moment." Xena glanced up to see Ephiny walking toward her. She picked up the wet clothes and hung them over a rock. Walked over to the fire and poured a cup of tea, then sat on a blanket and took a sip.

Ephiny sat by her and said, "Come on Xena, nothing happened."

Xena glanced at her and said, "Nothing happened because I left. You and I have a history, there are so many things we left undone. But the time is past, you are with Epinon and I am with Gabrielle."

Ephiny reached out and poured herself a mug of tea then replied, "I just want you to know, that I will always be here for you. I guess I thought when Gabrielle left, she was . . . "

Xena laughed, "Not Gabrielle. She'd be more likely to yell at you or strike out but never turn her head and say you two have my blessing."

Ephiny replied, "I will apologize to her."

Xena raised her left hand and said, "No, let it go."

The woman shrugged and said, "I'm tired, if it will be all right with you, I'll just turn in."

Xena held the mug in her left hand, she stared into the mug and said, "Good night."

Gabrielle had not returned and the woman was now becoming anxious. She paced the cave and finally went back outside. She called the Bard's name over and over but she didn't answer. Xena walked back into the cave and walked over to Argo. She threw out a blanket and laid down.

"Xena, wake up." Xena turned onto her back and looked up into the brown eyes of Ephiny. The woman knelt and handed her a steaming mug as she said, "Here, I made it myself, probably not as good as Gabrielle's but she's not back yet."

Xena took the mug and rose to her feet. She walked over to the cheery fire that Ephiny had started and said, "You did say, Gabrielle is not back."

Ephiny nodded as she walked over and sat.

Xena blew on the tea, then said, "I'm going to go look for her, something is wrong, she wouldn't just disappear like that."

Ephiny stood and said, "I'll help."

Gabrielle had walked quite a way when she suddenly stopped and said to herself, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" She turned and looked back toward the cave as she thought, this is the dumbest thing yet, Gabrielle. Leaving Ephiny and Xena alone. What were you thinking? She began to quicken her pace as she hurried back to the cave. When she entered the main room, her eyes darted around looking for Xena and Ephiny. Neither were in sight, so she decided to walk toward the back of the cavern.

It was as she was nearing the hot springs that she heard voices. Gabrielle walked toward the sounds cautiously. She started to step out from behind a huge rock when she heard laughing. The woman peeked around the rock and stood in shock. There before her eyes were Xena and Ephiny, in the water. The two women were kissing. Gabrielle turned and ran from the area. She hurried from the cave, tears running down her face. It was pitch black out and she was not watching where she was going. The woman had begun to travel downward and her feet had picked up momentum. Before Gabrielle knew what was happening, she lost her balance and fell forward. The fall was carrying her straight down a steep incline. The woman screamed as her body propelled over the edge.

Xena and Ephiny had been searching for Gabrielle all morning and had stopped to take a rest. The two women sat, as they each took sips of the water Ephiny was carrying.  Ephiny looked at Xena and asked, "Is this like Gabrielle?"

Xena shook her head. "No, she wouldn't just run off like that."

Ephiny replied, "What if she accidentally saw us?"

Xena scowled and said, "Then she probably would have. Gods, she must have come back and saw what happened. If she had only stayed.  I don't know what I will do if I can't find her."

Ephiny stood and said, "We've almost covered all the land within walking distance of the cave. All we have left is that incline over there. She wouldn't have gone that direction. It's a sure drop off."

Xena stood and said, "Maybe we missed something and should backtrack." The two women turned to start back when they heard rocks falling behind them. Xena glanced toward the incline and said, "You go back, I'm going to go take a look."

Ephiny shook her head. "I'm coming with you."

Xena stood on the edge as she leaned over and glanced down. She uttered a gasp and cried out, "Gods, it's Gabrielle!"

Ephiny approached and looked down as she said, "She must have fallen in the night, Xena, she's not moving."

Xena looked at the woman. "Eph, go back to the cave, get Argo, make sure you bring some hemp. I'm going to climb down there."

Ephiny left the woman yelling down at Gabrielle as she ran and got Argo. It didn't take her long to return with the horse. Xena took the coil of hemp and tied one end to the saddle horn and the other around her waist. She gave Ephiny instructions as she slowly began her descent to the bottom. As her feet touched solid ground, she untied the rope. Xena rushed to the still form of the woman. Gabrielle was in a fetal position, and there was dried blood down the left side of her head. Xena reached out and touched her. The pulse was slow, and the woman's skin was cold. Xena softly asked, "Gabrielle, can you hear me?'"

There was no answer and she yelled up to Ephiny, "I'm going to tie the rope around my waist and hold Gabrielle against my body, Have Argo pull us up."

Ephiny called down, "How is she?"

Xena replied, "She is unconscious. Hit her head, and has lost a lot of blood. Got to get her back to the cave and some warmth."

It didn't take Argo long to pull them up.  Ephiny helped Xena by grabbing hold of Gabrielle and pulling her up. Xena followed. She took the rope from her waist and said, "I'm going to carry her back to the cave. Take Argo, and make a place for her near the fire."

Ephiny jumped on Argo and left. Xena knelt by Gabrielle and said, "I'm sorry. If you did see us, nothing happened. I love you, you have to be all right." She reached down and picked the woman up in her arms, rose to her feet and headed for the cave. Entering, she saw Ephiny standing by the fire and could see the bed the Amazon had prepared. She walked over and gently laid Gabrielle down.

Xena had cleaned the blood from Gabrielle's head and face. She had placed compresses on the woman's head. Blankets had been placed over her. Xena tucked them in around the woman's body and said, "Have to keep you warm."

It had been a full turn of the sand glass and the woman had not regained consciousness. Ephiny walked up to Xena, who sat staring at Gabrielle, and said, "Xena get some rest. You will do Gabrielle no good like you are"

"Can't, she might need me."

Ephiny replied, "Her body needs rest and from the looks of her head, she has swelling inside. That has to go down before she wakes."

Xena sighed and said, "You are right, but I will not leave her side."

Toward morning Xena had drifted off but was awakened by Gabrielle. The woman was delirious and she was asking for a Talisman. Xena walked to the saddle bag and got the Talisman. She walked back over to Gabrielle and knelt down by her. Xena took Gabrielle's right hand and placed the Talisman in it as she said, "Gabrielle, the Talisman is in your hand."

The woman mumbled, "Sea, you've come to tell me good-by." The woman's hand closed tightly on the Talisman as her body shook then became still.

Xena's eyes widened as she cried, "Gabrielle! wake up!"

Ephiny walked over and knelt by her as she said, "She's just sleeping, Xena, it is a deep one but she is just sleeping."

Xena began to cry as she said, "I can't lose her again, I can't."

Ephiny reached out and pulled the woman close. "It will be ok, go ahead cry.  Xena, Gabrielle will be all right, the love you two have would not end like this." She rocked the woman in her arms and tried to comfort her. Ephiny glanced at Gabrielle and could see the woman was in a fight for her life.  She prayed she would win.


Chapter Three

The woman sat braiding hemp. Saxton had been eyeing her as he walked up and sat down. Gabrielle looked up as she continued with the braiding. He smiled and said, "It's good to see you up on deck. I hope you are feeling better."

She gazed at him and answered, "I'm fine. We both know it's thanks to Sea. Tell me Saxton, what do you know about her?"

He glanced toward the Helm, "That she is a good Captain and a damn good woman."

Gabrielle's eyes sparkled as she gazed at the man. "You really love her don't you?"

He softly answered, "She saved my life once. She has always been there for me and I now have a home. Yes, I care for her. So do you."

She set the roll of hemp on a barrel as she replied, "I . . . I have feelings for her. You are right. She is a good person. Through all that tough exterior, she has a softness."

He stood and said, "Speaking of the Captain, she is approaching, better look alive."

Gabrielle watched the man walk away then she turned her eyes toward the tall woman that was approaching. Sea smiled at the woman as she sat down on a barrel. Gabrielle replied, "I'm learning, I just braided a whole one." Sea stared at the rolled hemp then she turned her gaze toward the Bard.  The woman leaned back, her eyes never leaving Gabrielle. Gabrielle asked, "What is the matter?"

The woman replied, "Nothing, I just can't seem to get enough of you. Even in my sleep, you invade my dreams."

Gabrielle reached over and placed a hand on the woman's flowing red hair. Sea reached up and held it as she said, "It's just hair."

Gabrielle answered, "It's yours, it's beautiful, like you."

Sea seemed to blush as she replied, "You do say the darndest things, just when I think I have you pegged, you throw something like that at me. Like I said, it's just hair and I am just a woman."

Gabrielle slid down to the deck of the ship as she stared up at the woman and replied, "Is there a Mount Olympus? Well, it's not just another hill. There are all kinds of people, I know in a crowd of thousands, you would stand out. I'm giving you a compliment woman, just accept it."

Sea laughed as she followed and now sat by Gabrielle. She reached out and cupped the woman's chin in her left hand. "You, you are beautiful. I thank each day that you are now in my life."

Gabrielle looked up toward the sky and said, "It's changing, is there something I should know."

Sea replied, "It's getting later in the season. The landlubbers will soon be celebrating their Winter Solstice."

Gabrielle's eyes showed a hint of sadness as Sea asked, "What's the matter?"

"I spent the last Solstice with Xena. She gave me the  best gift."

"What did you give her?"

The Bard looked down and said, "Nothing, so much had happened, I forgot. Xena seemed to be fine with it. She said she was just happy I was in her life. I hope the Solstice is kind to her."

Sea reached out and drew the woman into her arms, she held her close stroking Gabrielle's  long strawberry blond hair. "It will be ok, Xena will be fine and so will you."

The two had sat on the deck for sometime, enjoying the sound of the water hitting up against the side of the ship. Feeling the ocean spray on their face as it passed over in a mist. Gabrielle sighed and asked, "Would you tell me what your name is?"

The woman answered, "You already know."

Gabrielle replied, "No, the name you were born with. Do you trust me enough to tell me?"

Sea smiled as she gazed into the woman's eyes. "I have trusted you with my life, a name is not much after that. It's Ann, Sea is a much prettier name and so much easier to remember besides, you ever hear of anyone named Ann?"

Gabrielle laid her head on the woman's shoulder and replied, "Ann, it's beautiful, just like you. And yes I've heard the name before"

The voice of Saxton was booming toward them as he called out, "Land ho, Captain shall we drop anchor?"

Sea glanced at Gabrielle as she stood and walked over to the man, she replied, "Drop anchor. There are a few things I need to do on this island."

Gabrielle had walked up to her and asked, "What are you going to do?"

Sea turned, looked down at the woman and said, "There is something I need to do." The woman walked toward the helm.

Gabrielle stared at Saxton and the man just shrugged. She walked over to a railing and stared out at the vast expanse of water.
She watched them lower the longboat and walked up to Sea saying, "I want to go with you this time. I couldn't stand it if you were gone for a long time like once."

Sea smiled down at her and said, "I won't be long. Saxton can keep you busy."

Gabrielle reached out and grabbed the woman's right arm. "No! This time I'm either going with you in the boat or I'll swim ashore."

Sea glanced around at her men then said, "All right, I could use another mate. Get on board."

Gabrielle climbed down to the boat, her eyes staring up as she watched Sea follow. The moment Sea's feet touched the boat, Gabrielle reached out to help the woman. Sea thanked her then turned to her men and said, "Cast off, I want to get to the island and back before dark." Gabrielle sat back in the boat. She watched the men pull their oars in and out of the water as the boat sped toward land.

As they stepped onto the beach, Gabrielle turned to Sea. "It looks very desolate. What kind of business do you have here?"

Sea smiled as she turned to her men and said, "Go back to the ship, I'll signal you to come get us when I am ready." She reached into the boat and took out a leather pack. She threw it over her left shoulder and said, "Come on, we have a ways to go."

Gabrielle walked up to her and asked, "You're going to walk?"

"Yes, it won't take long. Do you good to stretch those lovely legs. Let's go." She had started toward the heavy foliage and Gabrielle ran to keep up.

Gabrielle dodged branches and jumped over shrubs as she hurried after the woman. "Wait up!" the Bard's words rang out and Sea stopped and turned to watch the woman hurrying after her. As Gabrielle neared the woman, Sea held out a skin of water and said, "Drink, from the looks of your face, you need it."

Gabrielle accepted the water then handed the skin back to the woman. She was breathing heavily as she asked, "How much farther?"

Sea reached out, pulled back some thick branches and said, "There it is."

Gabrielle walked closer as she stared down at the beautiful house. It was setting in the middle of a field of green grass. There were  corrals, horses, stables and workers scurrying about. In the background a running creek, and a forest of trees and foliage seeming endless. Gabrielle asked, "Do you know the people there? Sea, it's beautiful,"

Sea took a drink of water then replied, "I should, I grew up there."

The woman started her descent and Gabrielle followed. Her head was full of questions but she could tell by the way Sea was moving she didn't want to talk. The Bard wondered, just what was in that house and why did Sea pick this time to go there?

Approaching the front door, Sea said, "I'm going to go in first. Then I will come out and get you. Don't want to overwhelm her."

Gabrielle asked, "Overwhelm her? Sea what in Hades are you mumbling about?"  She had already opened the door and gone in. Gabrielle walked up to the door as it shut in her face. She stood on the porch staring around the area. It was magnificent. From the beach to where she was now standing, one would never have known this place was even here. Sea told her she grew up here. Who were her parents, and why did she leave?

Gabrielle had sat on the porch steps. She was feeling tired and hoped Sea would soon return. The Bard closed her eyes and was listening to the chirping sounds of birds nearby when the door opened. She got to her feet, turned and looked into the face of Sea. Behind her in the darkened room stood a woman, who looked so much like her friend that Gabrielle's mouth fell open. Sea stepped forward and said, "Close your mouth Gabrielle. Gabrielle, this is my mother. Mother, this is my very dear friend Gabrielle."

The woman stayed in the shadows as the Bard clasped the woman's arm and said, "Pardon my staring, it's just you two look so much alike. It's good to meet you." She gave Sea a scowl and said, "You could have told me."

As she entered the house, Sea reached out and touched her right shoulder. "Sorry, I am so used to the resemblance I forget other people aren't."

As the women walked toward a larger room, Gabrielle stared at Sea's mother. She looked so much like Sea it was uncanny. The woman was showing signs of gray in her hair but other than that she looked a lot like her daughter. Sea motioned for Gabrielle to sit as she helped her mother to a chair. The light from one of the windows was shining through on them and it was then that Gabrielle could see the disfigurement on the right side of the woman's face. Sea walked over and sat by Gabrielle as she said, "Don't be alarmed, mother handles her looks well. I'm happy to be able to have the two most important people in my life meet."

Gabrielle smiled and gazed at Sea's mother. "Your daughter is a wonderful person and I can now see where she gets her . . . "

Sea's mother added, "Looks. It's all right. I have carried these scars for so many years. I tend to forget that they are there. I have but to look at my beautiful daughter to see what I used to look like. You two will spend the night?"

Sea looked at Gabrielle and said, "If Gabrielle doesn't mind."

Gabrielle nodded and smiled. "After that long, brisk walk, I am tired. I would be happy to spend the night."

They visited for sometime. Her mother had drinks brought into them. The servants cared for their every whim. When the servants left the room including Sea's mother, Gabrielle turned to the woman asking, "Sea, what happened to your mother?"

Sea seemed to be deep in thought as she whispered, "It was him."

Gabrielle inquired, "Him? What are you talking about?"

"Julius Caesar."

Gabrielle stood up and walked over to the window. "Your mother knows Caesar?"

Sea walked to her and said, "He is my father."

Gabrielle turned to look at her. "Your father? How could that be?"

Sea laughed and said, "Surely you know how you were conceived?"

Color began to creep up the Bard's neck as she stuttered, "Of course. It's just, he is so mean."

Sea grasped Gabrielle's left hand and led her to a chair. "Sit. I'll tell you how I came about."

Gabrielle leaned back in the chair as Sea knelt down at her feet. She continued, "My mother was young and working in a Tavern in Gaul. Soldiers frequented the place nightly. It was here, she met a very young man. To my mother he was just a nice young soldier. They hit it off and he came to visit her often. She was enamored with this handsome soldier. Young and naive she let herself be seduced by him.

She soon found she was carrying his child and when she told him, he grew angry. He beat her and held the right side of her face to some hot coals. He left her for dead. She was lucky a friend found her and took her home. She was cared for and later sent to Athens. Mother had me and named me Ann. Caesar found out about the baby and wanted to destroy any paternity he might have. So mother took me into hiding.

When I was old enough, I did what I could to insure our survival. I met an old Sea captain by the name of Posiden. He was getting ready to retire from the sea. Although gruff on the outside, he was pure mush on the inside. He seemed to take a liking to the young woman with fire in her hair, and taught me all there was to know about ships and the sea. He even let me go along with him on a few junkets. It didn't take long for the open air of the sea and the feeling of bliss I got every time I set sail with him to win me over. He nicknamed me Sea and it stuck."

Gabrielle looked at her and mumbled, "But, you told me your father . . . "

Sea answered, "I didn't know you that well and so I said that. Now you know the truth. Mother was not fond of my going to sea but in the end, she gave me her blessings. It was at a time in my life things happened that could not be changed. Due to unforseen circumstances Captain Posiden passed over. His last words were for me to take the ship. I have been sailing ever since. Mother does not know what I do. She believes I run a merchant ship."

Gabrielle gazed around the room. "This magnificent house and servants, you pay for this?"

Sea nodded and said, "Yes, I would give my mother anything she desires . . . "

The Bard looked at her questioningly and asked, "Except?"

Sea faltered then said, "Him, I have not been able to wipe that man from the face of the earth, yet. For what he did to her, he will pay."

Gabrielle replied, "A lot harder than you might think, or not. He tried to kill Xena some time ago. It was before I knew her."

Sea scowled. "I know he has only one use for women. He is a scourge that needs to be silenced." She looked into the concerned face of her friend. "Gabrielle, I have had no consideration for you, you must be tired. Let me take you to the bath, you can clean up and get ready for bed."

Gabrielle stood as Sea rose and said, "I am tired."

Entering the dimly lit room, they were hit with the warmth from the steam that was curling through the air. Gabrielle was amazed. "Bath? Are you telling me you have a hot bath in here?"

Sea grinned and replied, "Took a lot of work, yes. It will relax you and you can bathe." The woman walked over to the beautiful ceramic sides. She turned to Gabrielle. "The candles give the room an aura don't you think?"

Gabrielle replied, "It's nice."

Sea gazed down at her and said, "Go ahead, take your time. I'll check back when you are through."

Gabrielle asked, "How about you?"

"I'm giving you your own space. Seems on the ship there isn't much of that."

Gabrielle had begun to remove the ties on her shirt as she said, "And if I don't want you to go."

Sea smiled and answered, "I will be happy to do your biding."

Gabrielle let her clothes drop to the floor as she turned, looked up at Sea and said, "I never did like to bathe alone."
The woman smiled as she watched the Bard step into the warm water. Gabrielle sat feeling the warmth of the water massage her body. Her eyes never leaving the form of her friend, who had now begun to shed her clothes. Within moments the woman stepped into the water and eased over toward Gabrielle. "Well, I guess you could say, bathing together saves time. Except in our case, it may take longer." She handed Gabrielle a sponge. "Wash my back woman." Gabrielle laughed as she moved closer and began to gently rub the sensuous back of this lovely woman.

They lingered in the warmth of the water for a long time. Sea finally glanced toward Gabrielle and said, "If you are ready, I will call someone to come in and give you a massage. There is nothing like the feel of scented oil on your skin as their fingers glide over your body. It rids your body of all the stress and kinks of the day. After a good massage you will sleep like a baby."

Gabrielle stood and said, "I've had enough, my skin is already crying enough." She stepped out of the hot bath and walked over to a table. She picked up a towel and began to dry off. Gabrielle heard the sounds of the water swishing as Sea stepped from it. She turned to see the woman standing behind her. Gabrielle picked up a towel and handed it to her as she said, "Dry off, I don't need you to call a servant to give me a massage. I feel rested."

Sea had toweled off and walked over to an armoire, took out a shift and put it on. She walked back toward Gabrielle and said, "My sweet Gabrielle, you are still modest. It has taken time, but you have gotten used to me. If you lay on your stomach on the pallet on the table, I will give you the massage."

Gabrielle stepped back and said, "No, that's all right."

Sea reached out and touched the Bard's right shoulder. "I promise, I will just give you a massage. If you don't like it, just tell me to stop."

Gabrielle smiled and answered, "All right, let's get this over with. I'm feeling very tired."

Sea's fingers traveled up Gabrielle's shoulder. "You feel to me like you are in knots. Come on over, and lay down."

Gabrielle laid on the pallet and said, "You don't have to take much time, I'm already weary."

Sea answered, "Shhh, just close your eyes and enjoy the feel. If you go to sleep, I'll put you in bed."  When the first drops fell on the Bard's back she cringed. Sea replied, "It will feel cool at first, but when my hands start moving, you will warm up quickly."

Gabrielle moaned in delight as the woman's fingers began to knead away the knots of the day. Her fingers were reaching deep into the Bard's muscles and leaving them with no recourse but to submit to her touch. The feel of the scented oil along with Sea's caressing hands was making Gabrielle warm all over. She sighed, "I never knew a massage could feel so wonderful."

Sea smiled as her fingers glided over the woman's back and said, "I take it, I have the job?"

Gabrielle answered, "Job? If you mean massaging my back, anytime."

Sea's hands began their descent. "There's more to a massage than the back." As she spoke the last words, her fingers had found the Bard's derriere. Gabrielle softly moaned and Sea whispered, "Just enjoy." Gabrielle felt every part of her body writhing with each touch of this woman's fingers. She sensed a hand begin to gently knead the muscles of her derriere. The other hand sending spasms throughout her body as the woman's fingers glided over the soft skin. Sea replied, "It's all right, I told you I wouldn't do anything. Spread your legs a little, I want to make sure I get the inner thighs."

Gabrielle obliged as she sighed, "It's too wonderful, my body is crying in rapture."

Sea began to massage each leg taking special care with each one. When she was finished, she said, "Turn over, let me do the front."

Gabrielle got to her side and rolled onto her back. She stared up into Sea's face and said, "From the look on your face, I'd say, you have been having a hard time."

Sea smiled and said, "This is my pleasure, not a hard time at all. Are you ok?"

Gabrielle's eyes seemed to glow as she said, "Never been better."

Sea dropped some of the scented oil onto Gabrielle's breasts then she gently placed her hands on them and began to glide the oil onto the woman's skin. Her hands gently touched, slithered, and caressed each breast. Gabrielle watched as Sea's fingers glided over her nipples as if playing with them. She never took her eyes off the woman and her magical hands. Sea massaged the Bard's stomach, then the front of her legs. She even massaged Gabrielle's feet and when she was finished the Bard sat up and said, "I would like to do something for you. From the looks of you, I'd say you are very tense, let me give you a massage."

Sea stepped back and said, "Gods, woman! I can only take so much. To touch you like I have, to feel you respond, the only thing I want now is to make love to you. I know that is impossible so I will leave you for now. Our room is in the main house. It is the first one at the top of the stairs. I have something to do. Go ahead and retire. I'll see you later." She walked up to Gabrielle and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, turned and left the room.

Gabrielle stared after the woman. She felt wonderful, her body was so full of warm feelings, she didn't think she could stand it. Stepping to the floor, she sighed, the one feeling she still had was now gnawing at her, she felt like she was going to explode. She sighed and said, "You didn't have to leave Sea, I was definitely ready." She put on a shift and headed for the main house and their room.

A Glorious Sojourn

Chapter Four

The warmth of the sun was sifting into the room. Gabrielle smiled as she turned over in bed. Her left hand flew out as if expecting to find something or someone. As her hand touched the bed her eyes flew open. She glanced in the direction. Sea was not there and it didn't look like she had been. Gabrielle sat up in the bed and ran her right hand through the long lustrous strands of hair on her head.

Hearing the sound of the door opening, her eyes darted up. Sea walked into the room, she was carrying a tray and it was loaded with wonderful smelling food. As the woman approached the bed she said, "Good morning, Luv, Did you sleep well? And I hope you are hungry."

Gabrielle stared at the woman, she was dressed in a pair of black leather pants that clung to her like a second skin, her oversized white silken blouse was tucked well inside the waist of her pants. Sea bent over and placed the tray on Gabrielle's lap. She started to stand up when the Bard reached out and grabbed her right arm. Sea stared into Gabrielle's sparkling eyes and asked, "Yes?" The Bard's eyes had fallen and were now staring at the laced front of Sea's blouse. It was laced up just past the rise of the woman's breasts. Sea raised her left hand and caressed Gabrielle's face and asked, "You like what you see?"

The woman smiled as she leaned back against the headboard and replied, "I like the way your blouse is laced."

Sea grinned. "Or not, I never did like to be confined. Mother has already given me a lecture on lacing up the front."

Gabrielle took a bite of bread then said, "Oh I would disagree with your mother, you look perfect just like that."

"If I didn't know you better, I might think you were actually saying you like the way my breasts are straining at the lace."

"Maybe you don't know me as well as you think."

Sea sat on the bed as Gabrielle said, "The breakfast looks good, better have some."

Gabrielle started to speak as Sea offered, "I've already eaten, I ate with mother earlier."

Gabrielle sighed as she said, "I so feel rested. Where were you? I woke up and you weren't here."

"I had a few things to take care of and I was too much on edge to come to bed and sleep."

Gabrielle buttered a piece of bread and as she handed it to the woman she said, "Here, I don't like to eat alone. And if you think you were aroused, how do you think I felt? I was awake for a long time, I waited for you but toward morning sleep finally over took me. I'm not without feelings you know."

Sea took a bite of the bread, her eyes never leaving Gabrielle. "You mean if I had come to bed . . . "

Gabrielle's eyes twinkled at the woman as she said, "Never know, you get two combustible forces together and anything could happen. Now you will never know." She took a bite of the bread and smiled. "It's delicious, let's eat, then I want you to show me the rest of this marvelous place."

Sea leaned back, handed Gabrielle a mug of juice and said, "Drink. I squeezed it with my own hands."

Gabrielle took the mug then asked, "Your mother has oranges grown here?"

"There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the area. I have never seen any to match those grown here. Though I didn't say it was orange juice."

Gabrielle just finished her morning meal when there was a knock at the door. Sea walked over and opened it, a woman stood holding some clothes in her arms. Sea took them and thanked her, then she closed the door and walked over to Gabrielle. She placed a pair of brown leather pants on the bed followed by a white silk blouse similar to the one she was wearing. Gabrielle stared at her asking, "I take it, these are for me?"

Sea smiled and said, "You take it right, I hope you don't mind, I took it on myself to have these made for you. Sure hope I got the measurements right."

Gabrielle stepped from the bed and said, "I don't mind, I guess if anyone knows my measurements, it would be you."

Her eyes suddenly seemed to be so far away and Sea whispered, "It's all right, you can say Xena."

She smiled and said, "You are so thoughtful, I hope your mother doesn't mind our dressing so much alike."

"Mom probably won't even notice, besides, she won't care. I just hope they fit and you like them." Gabrielle reached down and pulled the shift she was wearing off. Sea stepped back, turned and walked over to the window. Gabrielle dressed and when she had finished she said, "I'm ready, except I need to go get my boots."

Sea turned to look at her and sighed, "Gods, woman! Every time I gaze at your beauty, it is as if it was the first time. You even take my breath away."

Gabrielle walked to her and grinned, "I take it, you like."

"You take it right, guess I did all right in the size department."

Gabrielle danced around the room."Perfect, though the pants feel a little tight."

Sea walked over to her and said, "They were meant to be. Leather will form to your body and it will breathe and move with every movement. Take it from me, you look lovely. Let's go down and get your boots." She reached up and loosened the lace that was crisscrossing the front of the blouse, she released the laced tie and let the shirt fall open above Gabrielle's breasts. Gabrielle had watched in awe. "What if I don't want my breasts tantalizing everyone that happens to look my way?"

Sea bowed and said, "You look lovely but if you would rather be all closed up and stifled, I can tie it back."

The woman smiled and replied, "No, I wanted to do it anyway but didn't want you saying, I was copying you. Shall we go?"

Sea laughed as she followed Gabrielle from the room. She turned to close the door and stared at the ruffled bed, whispering to herself, "Dumb, Sea dumb. " Gabrielle stood at the stairway waiting for her to catch up. The two women walked down together and reaching the bottom both women were met by Sea's mother. She was leaning on a makeshift cane as she looked up into their faces. "It is really good to see my daughter happy again. Gabrielle, I don't know what it is but I have never seen Ann this glorious."

Sea smiled as Gabrielle walked up to her mother and said, "Good morning, and I might say you look exceptional yourself this wonderful day."

Sea approached them and said, "You go ahead and visit with mother, I'll go get your boots." She winked at Gabrielle then turned and left the room.

Sea's mother pointed and said, "Let's go in the drawing room, it's quieter, I really would like to get to know you." Gabrielle followed the woman into yet another room in this enormous dwelling. After the woman found a chair and sat, Gabrielle followed and sit in a chair close by. The woman had been staring at Gabrielle for some time before she finally said, "I can tell that my daughter has had something to do with the way you are dressed. You two really must take to lacing up your blouses better."

Gabrielle felt a grin start to travel across her face as she raised her right hand and covered her mouth saying, "I'm sure we will take what you are saying into consideration. Tell me about your daughter?"

The woman leaned back against the chair. "I would much rather hear about you. Where are you from and how long have you known Ann?"

"She's known me sometime. And before you ask mother, if I knew Gabrielle a lifetime, it would not be long enough." The two women looked up as Sea walked into the room. She was carrying a pair of brown boots that she handed to Gabrielle. She then sat on the floor at the woman's feet. Gabrielle noticed Sea was now wearing something around her neck, it looked lovely resting between her bountiful breasts.

Sea's mother had been taking all this in as she said, "Let me guess, Ann, you are telling me you are in love with Gabrielle? And Gabrielle, how do you feel about my daughter?"

Sea smiled up at Gabrielle as Gabrielle's eyes met hers, then darted across to her mother's as she replied, "You seem to take the fact that we could be in love rather well. I don't know how your daughter feels about me except I know she cares for me. I have a few unresolved feelings I have to work out but I can tell you, I care very much for Sea. She is a marvelous, fascinating woman and I am proud to call her friend."

Sea's eyes began to tear up as her mother stated, "No need to say the words, I can just look at the way the two of you take one another into your eyes and I know the answer. You will not get any grievances from me. Life is too short as it is and sometimes taken away at the least expected time. If my daughter has found someone that makes her eyes light up like that, you two have my blessings in whatever you do."

Sea reached up and grasped Gabrielle's right hand giving it a squeeze. Gabrielle smiled and said, "Well, I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Sea has promised to show me around if that is all right?"

The woman replied, "Yes, enjoy the tour. You two have a good time."

Sea was already standing as Gabrielle rose to her feet. Gabrielle and the woman walked from the room their eyes seeming to be fixed on one another. Sea's mother nodded her head and whispered, "Thank you, whoever put Gabrielle into my daughters life."

Walking outside, Gabrielle took a deep breath of air and said, "Wonderful, your mother's place is just wonderful."

"Glad you like it, I spend quite a bit of time here. Sometimes I have to put into a port because of the weather. I have asked one of the servants to saddle two horses for us, and I thought we could see more of the island this way. You do ride?"

Gabrielle laughed as she replied, "I guess you would call it that. I was never crazy about riding but Xena and Argo have shown me it's not that bad."

"Then this should be a breeze come on."

The two headed toward the stable. A stable hand saw them approaching and walked up to  them and said, "Good day to you two, your mounts await. Have a pleasant ride."

Sea walked to the corral and untied the reins of a beautiful palomino. She led the horse over to Gabrielle said, "Here, you can ride Jezebel. She has a lot of spirit like you."

Gabrielle took the reins in her right hand as she stared up at this magnificent animal. She gazed at Sea and uttered, "I'm not a horse person and they scare me."

Sea whispered in her ear, "Don't let Jez know it, treat her like you treat me. You'll have her under your spell."

Sea quickly flipped into the saddle of the magnificent black stallion she had led from the corral. Gabrielle put her left foot into the stirrup and pulled herself up onto the saddle. As the horse threw its head up, she could see its muscles begin to ripple as it moved. Sea yelled, "Follow me." As her horse galloped from the area. Gabrielle didn't have to urge her horse on because when it saw the black take off so did Jezebel. Gabrielle yelled, "Wai . . . "

It didn't take the palomino long to catch up with Sea's horse as she reined it to a trot along side the big black. Sea smiled over at her and said, "You ride well, let's go down by the water." She pointed with her left hand and reined her horse in the direction. Gabrielle followed closely never letting the woman get too far out of her sight.

As the two horses began to trot across the white sandy beach the two women on them were oblivious to anything else except each other. Sea reined her horse to a stop as she jumped down. Gabrielle halted Jez and asked, "Why are you stopping?"

Sea smiled and replied, "Thought we could use a break and also the horses. We have been running them for sometime."

Gabrielle slid to the ground and glanced at the endless miles of beach. Walking up to the woman she said, "It's so beautiful."

Sea smiled and said, "Yes, the ocean can be so deadly but when it's calm, there is nothing more stunning. Come, we will let the horses graze and we can sit." She reached up and removed a leather pack that was tied to the back of the saddle. She walked over to Gabrielle. "Follow me, let's climb up to the top of that cliff. There is a nice place to relax and we can eat the lunch mother packed for us."

Gabrielle followed the woman and said, "Your mother amazes me, she thinks of everything."

Gabrielle followed Sea as she stepped carefully into crevices in the rock, pulling her way toward the top. Halfway up Gabrielle yelled at her, "Sea, I hope this is a really fantastic view. I told you I was afraid of horses well, I forgot to tell you I'm more afraid of heights."

Sea called back, "Now you tell me. Just take it slowly, A foot and hand hold is there, just find them. I have confidence in you." Gabrielle bit her lower lip as she continued to climb the steep wall of rock. She never realized it was so high. As she neared the top, Sea reached down and grasped her hands pulling her up. Gabrielle stayed on her knees for several seconds before she stood. The first thing she saw was the green eyes of her friend shining at her. But as her eyes ventured past the woman's shoulders Gabrielle's mouth fell open as she marveled, "It . . . It's too much for words. Gods, it feels like we are in celestial heaven."

Sea walked over to her and said, "Sit with me, we will see what mother prepared for us. I'm glad you like the view, I come up here as often as I can just to think and clear my mind."

Gabrielle walked by the woman and when Sea sat, she followed. Sea opened the pack and laid the food on a flat rock. Gabrielle smiled, "Chicken, I had mentioned to your mother that I thought it was a delicacy."

Sea handed a piece to her. "Mother is like that, she will do all she can to make you happy."

Gabrielle took a bite of the meat and said, "Sounds a lot like her daughter." The two enjoyed the meal which consisted of, chicken, cheese, bread and grapes. Sea opened a bottle of port and said, "We only have the bottle, so guess we will have to take turns."

Gabrielle leaned back on her elbows and gazed at Sea. "Sounds like an idea to me. The meal was so good, I must remember to thank your mother." Sea handed the bottle to Gabrielle, she took a sip then handed it back. Sea sat the bottle down and noticed that Gabrielle had laid back and now had her eyes closed. She walked over and got a handful of grapes then crawled over to Gabrielle. Sea lightly ran the grape down the left side of  Gabrielle's face, She opened her eyes and gazed up at the woman. "Thought you might like one?" Sea pressed it to the woman's lips. Gabrielle opened her mouth and Sea dropped the grape in.

Gabrielle sat up and ran her tongue over her lips. "It's delicious, never tasted better. Now, it's  my turn."  She reached out and took one from Sea's hand. Sea watched her closely as Gabrielle brought it up to the woman's red lips and teased, "Taste, it's good."

Sea smiled, slightly opened her mouth making it difficult for Gabrielle to drop the grape. Gabrielle's eyes were now fixed on Sea as she placed the grape in between her lips and at the same time Sea closed her lips on the Bard's fingers. Gabrielle's eyes grew wider as she withdrew. Sea reached up and placed a kiss on them then said,  "You can feed me grapes anytime."

Gabrielle stared at her fingers.  "Sometimes, I wonder about you."

Sea popped a grape in her own mouth and said, "Can't say it's dull being around me."

Gabrielle replied, "That is for sure. It is so breathtaking sitting way up here. You can see the ocean and it seems to be never ending. Then if you look back this way, the island with its greenery. What a marvelous place."

Sea nodded as she gazed at the woman. "There is always something to catch a person's  fancy."  She reached out and grasped Gabrielle's right hand.   "It won't be long and everyone will be celebrating Solstice. I have something I want you to have."

Gabrielle gazed at the horizon. "But it's not Solstice yet."

Sea reached up and took a talisman from around her neck. "I want you to have this, it will keep you safe. If you are ever in danger, I will know." Gabrielle stared at her as Sea reached out and placed it around the woman's neck. Gabrielle reached up, touched it with her left hand and said, "I can't accept this, I have nothing for you."

Sea's eyes glimmered as she said, "You have given me the greatest gift of all, your friendship."

Gabrielle looked away then her eyes came back to Sea. "Thank you, I will treasure it."

The two women spend the rest of the day visiting, enjoying the solitude. Toward dusk Sea said, "I think we had better get down from here before we have to spend the night. I'll go first and you follow close. If you are having any trouble I can reach up and help."

It didn't take them long to make it back to the bottom. After locating the horses they headed back to the house. The sound of the horses hoofs pounding the surf was all that could be heard as they galloped toward home.

Reining their horses in, they stopped at the stable. Sea jumped down and grabbed the reins of Gabrielle's horse as she dismounted. A man walked from the building and took the horses. Sea smiled at Gabrielle and said, "It's been a full day, let's go in." They walked toward the main house Gabrielle still seemed to be in awe of the place. Entering the building, they walked toward the stairs.

"Glad to see you two made it back before dark, I was beginning to think I was going to have to send out a search party."

They turned to eye Sea's mother walking toward them. Sea greeted her followed by Gabrielle. Sea replied, "We were fine. The lunch you packed was a nice gesture."

Gabrielle walked up to her and said, "Thank you for the chicken, it was a surprise."

The woman seemed to be delighted as she said, "You are most welcome, now, you two go clean up then come back down and we will have our evening meal."

"You haven't eaten yet?"

She looked at her daughter and said, "If you hadn't shown up now, we were going to. Now up with you and hurry back down."

The two women smiled at one another and started up the stairs leaving the woman staring up at the two of them.

During their evening meal one of the servants entered the room and walked over to Sea. He whispered something into her ear then left. Sea glanced at her mother and said, "Mother I hope that you and Gabrielle will excuse me. I just received a message from my first mate, Saxton. He wants to meet with me and I must go." Her mother nodded at the woman. Sea stood and walked to Gabrielle who was already getting to her feet and said, "No, you stay here, keep mother company. I will return as soon as I can." She turned to face her mother and said, "You two keep each other company, I won't be long."

Gabrielle watched the woman leave the room. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she sat back down and stared at the plate of food in front of her. Suddenly she had lost her appetite.

Sea's mother smiled and said, "No need to worry child, this happens quite frequently when Ann is here. It's not easy keeping a crew satisfied on the most feared pirate ship in the ocean."

Gabrielle's eyes widened as she said, "You, you know?"

The woman laughed and said, "Of course, I'm no cretin. I knew what Posiden did for a living, so when Ann took over his ship I knew. She is good but pirating is not a task for a woman."

Gabrielle stared at Ann's mother and said, "Sea thinks you believe she sails a merchant ship. Why don't you tell her you know?"

The woman leaned back in her chair. "She would worry. If she thinks I believe she isn't in too much danger it will ease her mind. We all have secrets don't we Gabrielle?"

The woman tilted her head to one side and asked, "Secrets, me?"

"Surely there is something you are not telling me. Can you look me straight in the eyes and tell me you carry with you no secrets?"

Gabrielle reached out and took a drink from the goblet setting in front of her.  "You are probably right, but what may be a secret to one may not be to someone else. I am worried about your daughter."

She gazed at the Bard and said, "Your concern is real, and I also know when you tell me you care for my daughter you are telling the truth. Maybe you will tell me how you come to know her."

"I would rather not."

"Then there is a secret. Oh my dear, Sea is not keeping you against your will is she?"

Gabrielle was suddenly feeling uneasy.  "I came here willingly, I care for your daughter, there is nothing more to know. If you will excuse me, I am tired and would like to go up to the room."

The woman stood and walked over to Gabrielle replying, "Yes, my dear, retire. Sea may be very late. Thank you for telling me. I know the two of you will have to leave soon. I just want you to know, that seeing the light in your eyes for each other has warmed an old heart. The place my daughter took you to today, she has never taken anyone. And try to excuse the curiosity of an old woman." She turned and walked from the room.

Gabrielle sat for some time staring after her. Sea was so sure she knew nothing about her pirating and the woman seemed to know it all. She couldn't have told her how she was shanghaied. It would have hurt the woman deeply. Pushing her self away from the table, she started for the stairs. Nearing them she heard the prettiest melody and without knowing she was doing it, she followed the sounds.

From the turns she had taken and the downward direction she was now heading, she could surmise the sounds were coming from the basement. The melody was beautiful, like a chime but more rhythmic. She walked up to a doorway and glanced in. There was one of the servants she had seen before, and he was sitting at a bench working on some metal. She knocked on the door and said, "Pardon me, I hope you don't mind, but that is beautiful."

He turned, surprised to see her and offered, "Mademoiselle Gabrielle, come in. You like my music?"

She walked over to the bench and replied, "It's lovely. How do you do it?"

He explained his technique to her and when he was finished she asked, "If someone could hum a tune to you, could you make a small box like this that would play it?"

He smiled.  "They would only have to hum it once." She sat and began to wind up one of the delicate ivory boxes. When she was finished, he reached out and opened the lid as the music filled the room. Gabrielle was so enthralled with this man and his work, she forgot she was tired. She stayed in the room with him for several hours before finally giving in to the weary feeling she was having. She bid the man good night and climbed the stairs back to the main floor. It took her several wrong turns before she found the right stair casing and walked up to their room. When she entered, she hoped to see her friend but she was not back yet.

It was toward morning the door to their room slowly opened and Sea stepped into the room. She closed it very carefully then turned and walked to the bed. Sitting gently on the bed, she proceeded to remove her boots. As she set the last one on the floor she heard the words, "No need to be so quiet, I have been waiting for you." She turned to see Gabrielle laying on her left side. The Bard's blue green eyes seemed to sparkle at her even in the candle light.

She pulled her shirt from the waist of her pants and asked, "You missed me?"

Gabrielle replied, "Without the sun, there would not be day."

Sea laid back on the bed.  "Must you always put things into such conundrums?"

Gabrielle replied, "Only for you. Yes, I missed you. What happened, Is everything all right?"

"I'll tell you about it tomorrow." She sat up and took her blouse off, then stood and removed the leather pants one leg at a time. When she was finished she walked to the armoire and took out a shift. Pulling it over her head she walked back toward the bed. She glanced down and could see Gabrielle still gazing at her and said, "You actually watched me, you have really changed woman."

Gabrielle replied,  "You seem to attract me like a flying insect to a flame. I am just happy to be able to share what life I can with you. In case no one has ever told you, and I doubt that ever being a possibility, you are a beautiful woman."

Sea sat and pulled the bed covers back. Stretching, she brought her feet off the floor and let them slide under the covers as she lay down. Her left arm stretched out as she gazed up at the Bard's warm smile. "I seem to be having this empty feeling and sure could use your company." She barely got the last words out as Gabrielle flitted close laying her head on the woman's shoulder. Sea brought her left arm up and encircled the Bard.

Gabrielle sighed as she said, "I felt lost when you left. I'm so happy you are back."

Sea smiled as she replied, "I will rest like a baby having you in my arms. For now, let's get some sleep."

Gabrielle relished the warmth of Sea's skin on her cheek as she whispered, "Good night."

A Solstice Gift

Chapter Five

"Rise and shine sleepy head."

Gabrielle smiled as she snuggled against the woman. Sea placed a soft kiss on the Bard's forehead whispering, "Gabrielle, it's daybreak."

Gabrielle nestled her head against Sea's left breast and murmured, "Can't, don't want to move." Sea glanced down, as her stomach sent a feeling of bliss throughout her body. She smiled and gazed at the beautiful woman who was so content. The thought that Gabrielle would even want to be in the same room with her was one thing but to want to share her life with Sea was beyond all she had ever hoped. She hated to wake her because having Gabrielle this close was rapture to the woman. She gently shook the Bard's shoulder and said, "Time to get up."

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and raised her head to gaze into Sea's. She smiled. "Good morning. Do I really have to move? I don't find you in bed with me very often anymore when I wake. I would love to keep you just like this."

"And I you. If you want, we can stay a little longer. Alexia has already knocked at the door and said that mother is waiting breakfast on us. I told her to tell mother to go ahead and eat. We must go down sometime."

Gabrielle placed her left hand the woman's right breast and let it come to rest as she said, "I will never get enough of you."

Sea softly kissed her forehead and reached down moving the Bard's hand. "You know what your touch does to me and I love it, but, each time you touch me or I you, My body wants more. I know, you still have unresolved feelings."  She brought Gabrielle's hand to her lips and placed several kisses as she continued, "Have I ever told you how beautiful you are in the morning?"

"Numerous times, but I never tire of hearing it." Sea rolled over and as she did Gabrielle found herself underneath the woman. She stared into Sea's desirous face and said, "Any beauty I might have is but a shadow to yours."   Sea lowered her head and gently placed a kiss on the Bard's lips. Gabrielle touched Sea’s cheek with her right hand as her lips traced a path of intrigue. She suddenly pulled away and said, "I . . . "

Sea cut in, "Talk later." She pressed her lips against the woman's softly then harder as the two became wrapped in a most passionate embrace. A loud knock on the door followed by several more and the words, "Ann, Gabrielle? Are you two all right?  I am coming in." The two women stared at one another as they broke apart and Sea said, "That's mother, she can't find us like this. Well she could but I don't know if her heart could take it. Pull the covers up." She sat up against the headboard and said, "Come in mother."

Gabrielle smiled toward her. "Wow, I'm wide awake now."

Sea reached over and brushed the Bard's hair back off her forehead as she said, "Sorry."

Gabrielle grasped the woman's hand and placed a kiss in the palm.  "No need to be sorry, I loved every minute of it."

At that time the door swung open and the worried face of Sea's mother was the first thing the two women saw. Her mother barged into the room as Sea called out, "Mother, we are all right." Her mother stopped just short of the bed, her eyes darted from one woman to the other. She proceeded to sit on the bed as she said, "It has been a long time, I forgot how good it was to cuddle in the morning."

The woman's remark threw the two off balance. Gabrielle's face began to turn red and Sea stuttered, "Mo . . .  mother."

She fixed her gaze on Gabrielle and said, "I can see that my daughter has given you some color, it looks good on you. Now, breakfast awaits and you two can do this another time. Right now, I expect to see you both at the table." She got to her feet turned and left the room.

Sea swung her feet from the bed as she said, "Mother never was very subtle. She is right though, color looks good on you."

Gabrielle followed the woman from the bed.  "And on you, never knew you to be at a loss for words. " They smiled and began to laugh, each searching for their clothes.

After breakfast Sea and her mother took a walk in the gardens. Gabrielle excused herself and went to find the man she had talked with the night before. Making her way down to the basement, she was surprised that he was not there. She glanced around the room at the man's tools and inventions. Finally she left and hurried back up the stairs.

She left the house and walked over to the stables. Nearing the corral she spied the beautiful palomino she had ridden and walked to the fence. Leaning against the wooden fence she admired the stamina of this mighty animal. The horse seemed to sense she was there as it trotted over to the fence and nuzzled her hand with its soft nose. She laughed and reached up to pet the animal.

Before her was a vision of Xena, she was sitting on Argo and staring down at Gabrielle. The woman smiled and said, "You have to get over your fear of horses. You got over your fear of me didn't you?"

Gabrielle laughed and said, "Yeah, but you don't have four legs among other things."

Xena extended her left hand. "Trust me, take my hand, come up here, you will enjoy it."

The horse whinnied and she was brought back to the present as she softly kissed the animal, turned and walked back toward the house. So many things were going around in her mind and now she wondered, what the vision of Xena meant and why now?

As she neared the gardens Gabrielle stopped when she heard voices, it sounded like Sea and her mother. She knew she shouldn't have but she moved closer and listened. Sea's voice sounded far off as the woman said, "You know how I hate to leave you mother, but, I have things I need to do. I will be back."

Her mother replied, "It saddens me to see you and Gabrielle leave. Why can't you stay?"

"If I stay, there will not be the money to keep you here, much less what you have grown accustomed to."

Her mother's voice rang out, "I would give all this up to know that my daughter is safe and happy."

Sea's lively voice rebounded as she replied, "Then you should be happy, I am safe and I am happier than I have ever been."

"This woman, Gabrielle really is the one, isn't she?"

Sea's voice was softer as she replied, "Yes, at least you can feel satisfied I have quit my philandering ways. I would never have felt anyone would make me feel anew each day but she does. Mother, I would never tell Gabrielle this but knowing her has given me a new outlook on life. I greet each day looking forward to seeing and being with her, I am so thankful to have her with me."

Her mother asked, "Are you telling me that Gabrielle is leaving?"

"No, I'm trying to say I don't know what I will do if she ever does. The time could come, I'm not blind."

Her mother softly replied, "Ann, this is your mother speaking and you listen, I am telling you that Gabrielle is so taken with you, she would not leave unless you go and do something foolhardy. Now, hadn't we better get back to the house before Gabrielle sends out a search party of her own."

Sea answered, "Never, I would never do that. She's a lot like you mother, once she gets under a person's skin, she will always be there."  The two women  laughed as Gabrielle turned and headed for the house.

Gabrielle had just dashed in the back door and made it to the kitchen area when she heard Sea calling out her name. She took a few deep breaths, walked out into the hallway and called, "I'm back here."

It didn't take Sea long to find her.  Upon seeing Gabrielle she asked, "Where have you been? I couldn't find you."

Gabrielle walked up to her and grinned. "It's all right, I haven't left."

Sea stepped back, surveyed the woman and asked, "Haven't left, what are you talking about?"

Gabrielle replied, "You just had the look about you. Like you thought, I was gone."

Sea reached out and touched her right shoulder as she said, "You are so clever, thank the Gods, you are ok."

"Where is your mother? I really would like to visit with her."

"She has gone down for her nap. When she wakes, I'll be sure you get a chance to visit. We have to leave this evening."

Gabrielle turned to gaze at her and asked, "Leave? Why this evening?"

"Because it is the best time and I couldn't leave mother this morning."

"Then do you think we could go riding once more. I would love to feel the wind on my face and the mist from the ocean again. "

Sea smiled as she said, "Let's go get the horses. It may be a long time before we get a chance like this again."

The two women stared back at the island as it slowly began to fade from view. Gabrielle looked up at Sea and said, "You will be back. Your mother understands."

Sea looked forlorn.  "I hope so, I do miss her."

"Well, I'll never let you get lonely. Where are we going?"

Sea replied, "Saxton was telling me about a fat merchant ship that will be sailing into these waters by tomorrow and I plan on welcoming it."

"Do you ever think you will give this up?"

Sea laughed as she said, "Give it up, are you kidding? I would miss the excitement and the bounty, I think not."

Gabrielle murmured, "She knows."

Sea stared at her perplexed.  "She knows? Who knows and what?"

Gabrielle replied, "Your mother, she knows you are a pirate."

Sea's jaw squared as she asked, "You told her?"

"No, she told me. She wants so badly for you to come home and settle down. She is afraid you will be captured and tried."

Sea shrugged.  "As long as you are not, I can take what may come."

Gabrielle turned and started to walk away as the woman asked, "Where are you going?"

"To the cabin, I suddenly feel tired."

Sea watched her leave and knew she could never tell the woman what she really wanted to hear. She knew that Gabrielle, as well as her mother, wanted her to give up her pirating ways.

The next day Gabrielle preferred to stay in the cabin as Sea and the men of the Bounty prepared for their attack. Although she was drawn to Sea, she still had a hard time understanding the pillaging of the merchant ships. Her one comforting thought was at least now Sea released the prisoners.

When the battle had begun, Gabrielle, put her fingers in her ears trying to shut out the deafening sounds. Try as hard as she could, she still could hear the sounds of people screaming and the loud noise of metal on metal. She squinched her eyes and tried to think of something else. When it was over the sounds had ebbed and Gabrielle closed her eyes.

Sea walked into the cabin to see the Bard huddled on the bed. She had her fingers in her ears and her eyes were closed. She walked to her and said, "It's over, you can relax."

Gabrielle opened her eyes and stared at the woman. She had a few slits on her blouse and there were black smudges on her face but other than that, she looked fine. "You're all right?"

Sea walked over to a vase and poured some water into a basin. She splashed the water onto her face then said, "Fine. You never act like this, what is the matter?"

Gabrielle got off the bed and walked over to the port hole as she stared out at the water. "The more I know you, the more I am afraid of losing you. What you are doing is dangerous."

Sea dried her face and walked over to Gabrielle. "In this world, everything one does is dangerous. It's how you live your life that counts. You can't keep worrying that I might be hurt. Think positive. Besides if I do, I know I have a real good
healer." She laughed.

Gabrielle turned to stare at the woman and said, "It's not funny, I am serious."

Sea sat on the bed and said, "Gabrielle, for you if you ask, I will give it all up. I don't know how I would live but I will do it."

Gabrielle walked over and sat by the woman. "I could never ask you to do that. You have to make the decision to quit on your own."

"In that case, I couldn't. I would not give up all this for something that might not be." She leaned over and kissed the woman, stood and left the cabin.

Gabrielle sighed as she said, "I cannot ask you to give up what you love."

The days had passed and the weather was getting colder. Gabrielle had gotten over her doubts and had taken her place along side Sea. She had even joined in several plunders. Saxton had smiled at the two women and knew that Gabrielle was every bit a pirate as any of them. She could fight with the best. He shook his head as he whispered, "I worry for your life, though you will fight, you still will not take a life. This could get you killed. I hope you will soon realize this is something that must be done." He went back to what he was doing.

Sea ordered they drop anchor and now approached Gabrielle. "I'll be back in a short time. You stay."  The woman started to say something and Sea whispered, "Gods woman, you seem to have your way with me as it is, give me this one thing."

Gabrielle smiled and said, "Be careful." She waved at them as their longboat moved toward shore.

Gabrielle had retired for the evening. Sea had not returned but she had learned not to become overly concerned. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the water splashing up against the ship until she drifted off. The next morning after dressing, she went top side to see if her friend had returned. As she neared the helm, she could see several men talking, she approached them and asked, "Has the Captain returned?"

They turned to look at her and replied, "Aye, early this morning. She is below in the cargo hold with Saxton."

Gabrielle thanked them and started to walk toward the stairs that led to the cargo hold. As she reached the stairs, she ran into Sea and Saxton who were on their way up. She backed out and waited as Sea stepped out into the open air. Sea smiled at her. "I told you I wouldn't take very  long."

Gabrielle watched Saxton as he walked by with a big grin on his face. She said, "Want to tell me what you were up to?"

"Not at this time. You'll just have to trust me."

Gabrielle's eyes held Sea's for several minutes then she said, "All right, I will find out soon enough anyway. Saxton can never keep anything from me."

Sea grinned as she replied, "Oh, I think he will this." She turned and walked back to the helm. Gabrielle watched the woman give out orders as the men scurried to obey them. She shook her head and whispered, "You may not know me as well as you think, my Captain."

Several more days had passed and Gabrielle had not been able to find out anything from Saxton. One never to give up she had attempted to get into the cargo hold and was stopped by several guards. Fuming she went to look for Saxton and found him making notches in his calendar. Sitting down by him she asked, "How can you keep track of the days like that?"

He answered, "I make a notch each day. It is never wrong."

She smiled.  "Come on Saxton, tell me what Sea is hiding from me in the cargo hold?"

He stood up and said, "I don't know what you are talking about. I have to go tend to some rigging."  He walked away as Gabrielle kicked at a barrel that was setting near by.

"My, my, could that be a bit of temper I just saw?"

She turned to see Ann approaching and said, "Better be thankful it wasn't your shin."

Sea sat on the barrel. "Are you telling me that you would kick me because I won't share my secret with you?"

Gabrielle laughed and winked.  "Well nothing else seems to work. Not even my wily charms."

Sea's eyes reached out and spoke volumes as the woman replied, "Oh, your wiles have worked just fine. I find I have been taking more moonlit swims than I ever did."

Saxton walked up to them and said, "I have dropped anchor and the boat is waiting to take you two ashore."

Gabrielle stared at him and then at Sea. "Go ashore? What is going on?"

Sea replied, "I have to go ashore and get something. Thought you might like to go."

"Oh thanks, now I can go. All right."

Saxton watched the boat rowing away, he turned and signaled several men.

Gabrielle trudged behind Sea and her men as they made their way through the thick brush. As they reached a clearing Sea pointed toward several trees and said, "Get the ones that are closest to the top." They watched the men climb the trees and throw down the coconuts. Gabrielle said, "Coconuts, this is a surprise all the time I've known you, you never have had any."

"Well, I can change can't I?"

"Definitely, and I might say you have."

Sea reached out and grabbed her by the right hand. "Come, sit with me."

Gabrielle followed the woman and sat next to her on the ground. Sea was staring straight ahead as she said, "You know, I tried to get us to a port before it happened but didn't make it. So I want to say I'm sorry."

Gabrielle looked questioningly.  "Sorry, what are you talking about?"

Sea turned and gazed toward Gabrielle. "The Winter Solstice, I wanted to get to a port so you could celebrate it."

Gabrielle answered, "I hadn't noticed it was that time." She reached out and held Sea's left hand. "I don't need all the celebrations, I know in my heart what it means to me. I can't think of any place I would rather be . . . "

Sea replied, "There's that X word again. I feel it coming."

She smiled and said, "I will be happy to spend some quiet time with you, no looting, just us. Do you think you can manage that?"

Sea grinned and said, "Oh I think so."

When the men were through with their harvesting, they headed back to the ship. Once aboard Sea reached down to help the Bard. As Gabrielle's feet landed firmly on the deck, Sea placed her hands over her eyes and said, "I'm going to turn you around and when I am finished I will uncover your eyes."

Gabrielle smiled and asked, "Is this some new game?"

As Sea removed her hands, the Bard stared into the faces of the crew. They were all smiling. And each was wearing their best clothes. She gazed around the ship as her mouth fell open. Everywhere she looked there were beautiful flowers and greenery. She surveyed all the floral arrangements that abounded everywhere. The ship was decorated prettier than any tree she had ever seen.

"You like?" Sea asked.

Gabrielle turned to stare at Sea. "I like. When?"

She answered, "Have had the hardest time keeping you out of the cargo hold. Happy Solstice."

Gabrielle's look was so deep that Sea thought she would lose her own balance at the sensation she was experiencing. Then the Bard said, "Thank you, all of you. You have made this Solstice one I will never forget."

They all came forward and presented her with a ship-made gift and wished her and the Captain a long and happy life. When the men had walked away Gabrielle turned to Sea and asked, "The cabin? Did you have it decorated also?"

The woman smiled and said, "Let's go take a look."

Sea let Gabrielle enter the cabin first as she walked in behind her. After closing the door she gazed at the look on the woman's face. It was obvious, the beautiful decorations had touched her. Gabrielle stared at the lit candles and the beautiful adornments. She noticed the bed was turned down and flower petals were now gracing the bed. She turned and said, "It's breathtaking."

Sea whispered in her right ear, "Not as breathtaking as you. I'm happy you like it."

Gabrielle walked over to the bed and bent down as she pulled out a small wrapped package. She stood up and walked over to the woman. "I hope you like it. Happy Solstice."

Sea hesitated then she accepted the package as she said, "For me? No one has ever given me a Solstice gift."

"Then it is time. Come sit down on the bed and open it."

They walked arm in arm to the bed and both sat at the same time. Sea gazed at the wrapping and said, "I don't know what to say."

Gabrielle nudged her and said, "Don't say anything, just open it."

As the woman's long delicate fingers unwrapped the package, she stared at the beautiful music box that set before her. She ran her fingers over the fine ivory and said, "It's beautiful. Thank you."

Gabrielle replied, "The best is yet to come, lift the lid."

As the woman carefully lifted the lid, the beautiful melody of the song Gabrielle was always humming to her filled the room. She was amazed and touched as tears ran down her face. Gabrielle reached up and tried to brush them away. "It was supposed to make you happy not sad."

Sea replied, "I've never been happier." She set the box on the bed and stood up. Extending her right hand toward the Bard she said, "May I have this dance?"

Gabrielle stood and said, "I'm not much of a dancer. That is unless you want it to rain or something."

Sea smiled as her eyes glimmered at the woman. She grasped Gabrielle's hand and said, "It's just the two of us, if it decides to rain let it. I need to hold you in my arms at this moment and time." She picked up the box and wound it, then set it back down. Sea stood her eyes never leaving the Bard. She now held both of her arms out and within seconds Gabrielle found her way into them.

The two women held each other close as the music played. They glided with the tune and their bodies found bliss in the touch of the other. Sea kissed Gabrielle's left ear and said, "Thank you, if my life were to end now, it is fulfilled. In case you haven't realized it, I love you." Gabrielle brought her head up as their lips met in a warm yet passionate kiss. Their bodies so full of rapture, the sounds of the men laughing on deck and the lapping water was oblivious to them.

The Guile

Chapter Six

The crew of the Bounty had celebrated a grand Winter Solstice and were now preparing to catch up with the merchant ship, Adeau. It was well known as having a storage hold that was abundant in hard to get items. Silk was one of the items Sea wanted to get her hands on. Gabrielle had just shook her head and asked the woman why she just didn't go to Gaul and purchase it?

The word Caesar always seemed to come up and the conversation would be turned in a different direction. The flag they flew now was a beautiful red banner and it was hoisted just before they would engage in battle. People now knew the red was a depiction of the Captain's hair and the blood that would flow if they resisted. Sea was right, from everything Gabrielle had heard, the Bounty was the most feared pirate ship on the sea and a big price was now on the woman's head.

The woman stood, staring off at the distant waters a small glimmer in her eyes as she recalled that special night. The music box and the decorations were something she would always cherish but the night the two spent wrapped in each others embrace was a time she would keep in her heart for all eternity. It was as if there really was a supreme being that felt it was time Ann Bounty finally experienced the joy of this special holiday.

"There you are."

She turned to see Gabrielle walking toward her. "Gabrielle, I thought you would still be asleep."

"Hard to sleep when I know you are not there. Besides, I know what you are planning to do tomorrow and the worry has kept me awake. I know from the look in your eyes that you don't like me to discuss it but this is not just any ship."

Sea heaved a sigh and replied, "I know, it is a big challenge and that is why I am putting you off at the next port. I don't want to take any chances on your getting hurt or caught."

"After all this time, you still try to treat me like a child, I can fight as good, or nearly as good, as you or any of your men. I hold my own in battle and elsewhere."

Sea's complexion began to redden as she said, "You fight with the best. I am proud to have you by my side in battle and elsewhere." She smiled down at the woman as she reached out and placed her left hand on Gabrielle's cheek.

Saxton approached them and said, "Captain, the Scavenger is within sight." She thanked him and he left. Gabrielle had been gazing at the woman as she said, "What is the Scavenger and why do I seem to detect something?"

Sea walked over and took the spy glass from one of the men. She held it to her right eye and said, "It's the Scavenger, drop anchor and prepare for boarding." She handed the round cylinder back to the man, then walked away. Gabrielle ran to keep up with the woman. She watched every movement Sea was making and could not understand what was going on. "Sea, what is happening?"

Sea stared down at her and asked,  "Have you ever heard of Mary Ready?"

Gabrielle shook her head and Sea continued, "She is the only other woman pirate on the Ocean.  Well the only one with a price on her head too."

"You mean there is another? Surely no match for you?"

Sea seemed to smile as she answered, "Oh, Mary is quite a match. She will be coming aboard."

Gabrielle stared and her eyes seemed to ask questions. Sea looked toward the oncoming ship and said, "I've known her for a long time. We have been on many preys."

Gabrielle asked, "Preys? What are they?"

"In pirate talk, the rule is no prey no pay. It just means if you don't plunder and take what you can, you don't survive. The men have to be paid for risking their lives"

The Bard shrugged and asked, "Couldn't they just go out and get honest jobs?"

Sea answered, "My dear Gabrielle, things cannot be what you would wish. I know if it was up to you there would be no thieving or killing. The crew of a pirate ship cannot go out and get honest jobs. When Mary comes onboard, I want you to go below. You won't like some of the discussions we might have."

"No! I will not be treated like a child. If this Mary is someone from your past, I want to meet her."

Sea's eyes twinkled down at the Bard as she said, "I could have you taken to the hold but then I'd never be able to live with you after that. It's not so much you as maybe I don't want to share you with the likes of the crew of The Scavenger." Gabrielle's eyes were shooting sparks at the woman as she continued, "All right, but don't say I didn't give you fair warning. Mary and the crew of The Scavenger are not anything like Saxton and the men on the Bounty. I want you to promise me you will not go off with any of them especially Mary."

Gabrielle replied, "I promise. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Saxton yelled, "Come about!" Gabrielle turned to see a ship the size of the Bounty pulling up along side. As it touched, she could see ropes being thrown over to crew members of  the Bounty. The men tied them off and now were placing a large plank connecting the two ships. Sea walked toward the center of the deck and stood in her usual stance. Her arms were crossed and her eyes were fixed on the men that were now standing close to the bulwark.

Gabrielle stepped forward and now stood beside Sea as she said, "It's certainly not as beautiful as the Bounty." Sea ignored her remark as her eyes caught sight of the woman that was now walking across the plank. As Mary Ready's feet landed solidly on the deck, she spied her friend and started toward her. Gabrielle had been watching the two women with curiosity and now with wonder.

"Ann, you are as beautiful as the last time we met! Good to see you mate!"

Sea threw open her arms and the two women went into a warm embrace. Sea replied, "Ready, you braggart, still doing that old Pirate's bidden?"

The two women laughed. As Mary Ready stepped back, she glanced toward Gabrielle and asked, "Tell me Ann, you taking to young things now?"

Gabrielle doubled her fist as Sea reached out and grabbed it. "Mary, this is my very good friend Gabrielle."

The woman approached her, surveying every inch of the Bard. Then slowly walked around her and said, "I know you Ann, I would say this one is a little more than just a friend." She had made a full circle and was now standing in front of Gabrielle as she said, "Any friend of Annie is a friend of mine."

Gabrielle snorted, "Yeah, well maybe this friend might have something to say about that."

Sea stepped between them, gazed at Mary and asked,  "What brings you this far out?"

The woman glanced at Sea replying, "There is talking we need to do."

Sea glanced around and called Saxton. As the man approached, she said, "Saxton, keep Gabrielle company. Mary and I are going to the cabin. We need  to discuss business."

Gabrielle replied, "I am standing right here, so don't talk about me like I am not here. Are you sure about this?"

Sea smiled and said, "Yes. Saxton have some port sent to the cabin."  The two women turned and walked off.

Saxton reached out and placed his left hand on Gabrielle's shoulder as he said, "It will be all right, they are old friends. And if it is business they will be discussing you don't want to be anywhere near it."

Gabrielle turned to look at him. "She's beautiful, this Mary Ready. What can you tell me about her and Sea?"

He laughed and said, "Nothing, if I want to keep my head. I think that the captain will tell you if you ask. Now, come help me with the rigging."

As the two women entered the cabin Sea walked over to the desk. Mary closed the door then approached the woman. As she brought her body close to Sea's back she wrapped her arms around the woman's waist and said, "I've certainly missed you."

Sea pulled away then turned and gazed at the woman. "I'm not like that anymore."

Mary pulled the chair that was setting by the desk around and sat as she stared up at Sea.

Sea paced the room and finally turned and said, "I'm only human. When you left to go with Rackham it destroyed me."

The woman answered, "Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures."

"No, you thought you could have me and him and all his promises and the two of us would never meet. Well it did and we did. I will never forgive you for that, but you will always be my friend. I just can never trust you again."

Mary threw her head back and in an uproarish laugh she said, "Its got to be this Gabrielle. She doesn't even look like a pirate. Or could it just be she keeps your bed warm on these cold nights?"

Sea lashed out at the woman knocking her from the chair. Mary lay on her back glaring up at Sea. She held her right hand to her jaw and said, "Must have hit a chord. Didn't have to hit me, a yes or no would have done nicely." She reached up as Sea reached down and pulled the woman to her feet. Mary quickly turned the tables on the woman as she twisted Sea's right hand behind her and brought pressure to bare on it. Sea grimaced as she growled, "This is not funny!"

Mary smiled at the woman as she brought her lips crushing down on Seas. In an instant she bit the woman's lip. Sea brought her right knee up into Mary's stomach as she doubled over. Sea made a quick turn and was now holding Mary's arm behind her as she held her other arm around the woman's neck she whispered in her left ear, "Never do that again. Next time I will kill you."

Mary laughed. "Promise, no more. Now let me go."

Sea released her and stepped back. Mary walked around the room shaking her arm. There was a knock on the door, Saxton entered and handed Sea a bottle of port. He glanced at the two women and raised an eyebrow as he took in the cut on Sea's lip. She thanked him and said, "Don't mention this to Gabrielle." He smiled and left. Sea walked over and said, "Let's drink to friendship for that is all we have now."

Mary sat and replied, "I could use a drink. I had all these wonderful thoughts going through my head all night. You have dashed them in an instant."

Sea took a drink then reached up and wiped the blood from her lip and said, "What we had was in the past. What did you think? Your kiss would take me to my knees?"

Mary smiled at her and said, "I can remember times when we made love and we were not the gentlest. Made the moment more pleasurable."

"Well, we didn't know what love was, I would never do anything to destroy the confidence Gabrielle has in me."

Are you telling me that you think this woman would be true to you? Think again, the first chance she gets she will bid you adieu. If that ever happens, don't come crying to me."

Sea tossed the bottle to the woman and said, "She would never do that. If she did I certainly wouldn't go to you crying."

Mary took a long drink and said, "Looks like you have it all at the moment, but, things never do stay the same. I have actually come to tell you that Calico Jack wants to take the merchant ship and he doesn't want any problems with you."

"I planned on boarding the ship tomorrow."

Mary said, "Not anymore. We have several ships working with us on this and if you get in the way, we will take you down with them."

Sea thought for a second then said, "I'm not afraid of that sniveling coward. But I will respect the fact that he has evidently been planning this. So, l will not get in the way this time but you take a message to him for me. Tell him I will not do this again and next time if our swords meet they meet."

She nodded and leaned back in the chair as she said, "I really am sorry for all that happened. I cared for you. In my way, you will always be special." She tipped the bottle and took another long drink, then set the bottle on the desk as she stood and said, "Well I had better go. Take care of yourself and Gabrielle." Sea walked her back on deck and waved good-by as their ship moved away.

Gabrielle walked up and asked, "How did it go?"

Sea turned to look at her and said, "Before you ask, follow me to the cabin."

Saxton watched them walk away and shook his head then went back to work on a  coil of hemp. As they entered the cabin Gabrielle glanced around the room and spied the bottle of port half empty setting on the desk. Sea closed the door walked over to the bed and sat as she patted it with her left hand. "Will you come sit here by me?"

Gabrielle walked over and sat as she waited. Sea said, "I suppose you have already surmised that Mary and I were more than friends. If not let me just tell you that there was a time in my life when I was pretty wild. I would think nothing of laying with someone just for the pleasure and excitement of it. Mary and I though friends became lovers."

Gabrielle stood up as Sea grabbed her right hand and said, "Don't, it was a long time ago. I'm sure you have had encounters in your past." Gabrielle sat back down and stared into Sea's eyes as the woman fought for the words. "I have not always been nice, the rougher the better. I would kill if someone looked at me the wrong way. We both know I'm not like that anymore. While we were in here Mary tried to get reacquainted and we had a disagreement. I have a cut on my lip and I'm sure she will be sore tonight. I just want you to know there is no one else for me and I would not go behind your back."

Gabrielle reached up and touched the woman's lip as she said, "Let me put something on this?"

Sea shook her head. "No, it will be fine. Just tell me you forgive me."

The woman tipped her head to the side and said, "Forgive? I have no need to forgive you. I trust you with my life. I will admit when I laid eyes on your friend, I felt a hint of jealousy."

Sea laughed and posed, "Just a hint?"

"Well all right, I wanted to take the woman's head off. I thought after you spent time with her again, you would not feel the same about me. She is an attractive woman."

Sea reached out and wrapped her left arm around Gabrielle's waist as she said, "Nothing will ever change the way I feel about you. You should know it by now. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever, or will ever, want to be with." Sea placed a soft kiss on Gabrielle's head. "I won't be going after the ship tomorrow, that should make you happy."

Gabrielle smiled and said, "Yes, but why?"

"Because Mary and Calico Jack and another ship will be attacking and I was told to stay away."

Gabrielle sat back and stared at the woman in amazement. "Since when do you take orders from the likes of them?"

"I don't, but the rules of the sea will win out. Seems they have had their sights on the ship and I don't wish to go up against their three armed ships. I will bide my time and somewhere along the way I will get even." Gabrielle sighed as Sea quickly added, "Not even, I will get another ship. I noticed the water is very calm. Want to go take a dip?"

Gabrielle smiled and said, "I'd rather we just sit here and you relax."

"Always the thoughtful one. All right, lets kill off the rest of this bottle.  When it is gone we'll get another."

The two women had spent the rest of the day in the cabin and toward dusk Sea stepped from the cabin onto the deck. She walked over to Saxton and told him to set sail. They stood and talked for some time then she turned and walked back to the cabin. Entering the room, she smiled at the form of her friend who was sleeping comfortably. Every time Gabrielle tried to out drink the woman she would get sick and this time Sea was just glad the Bard had passed out. She pulled the bed cover up over the woman and walked over to pick up her sword. She turned and left the room.

Sea stood at the helm as the ship's sail caught the wind seeming to propel it ahead faster than usual. She could now see the outline of a ship looming in the distance and knew the way they were moving it wouldn't be long before she would be in the same waters. The woman grinned as she softly whispered, "Mary, did you really think you and Calico were going to keep me away."

Saxton approached, a worried look on his face. "Captain, is Gabrielle all right?"

She glanced at him and said, "Bet you never thought the first time you set eyes on her you would grow to care so much did you? To answer your question, she is sleeping the port off. She still can't drink me under the table."

He shook his head and said, "I will agree with you on that, the first time I set eyes on her I didn't think she would be long for this world. Now, I can't see a day without the two of you in it."

"Nor I you, there isn't a day I am not thankful you my friend are by my side.  And for Gabrielle, I must have done something right in my life to have such a  lovely woman in it." She raised her right hand and pointed ahead. "If things go as I plan, we will get everything done and Gabrielle will never know."

He looked at her and said, "If she finds out, she will be upset."

"I know, that is why I don't want her to know. Now get the men ready."

Sea had brought the Bounty in as close to shore as she could. When she dropped Anchor and told her men to wait, they looked at her with skepticism on their faces. They watched the three ships close in on the merchant ship. Saxton stood by her side and said, "Won't be long they will take her."

Sea answered, "They didn't have a chance against us much less three ships. We'll wait then we will set my plan in motion." He smiled and walked off.

Sea had given her crew the orders to be quiet and they seemed to understand. Each stood waiting for the battle to cease. Sea approached Saxton and said, "Now, my bet is the ship that will carry the bounty away will be The Scavenger. And when the ships break away, we will set sail for her."

He nodded. "Thought I heard a sound below a few minutes ago."

She turned heading toward the cabin. It didn't take the woman long to enter the room. She walked over to the bed and sat as she whispered, "Gabrielle, can you hear me?"

The Bard smiled as she reached out and felt the bed. Sea laid down and grasped her hand. "I'm here, sleep." She was laying on the bed with Gabrielle's arms wrapped around her when Saxton taped at the door and opened it, he spoke softly.  "It's time." She moved Gabrielle's arms and let them rest on the bed as she quietly got up. Reaching the door, she looked back then left the room.

Saxton already had raised the sails and they were now heading toward the lone ship that was heading their way. As it neared The Scavenger seemed to slow and Sea stood on the deck waving her arms in the air. It wasn't long before Mary Ready was standing on the deck of her ship and was now waving at the woman. The ships were now within touching distance as her crew threw ropes over to The Scavenger. Mary's crew secured the ties and had placed a large plank and the woman gestured for Sea to come onboard. Sea smiled as she winked at Saxton and began to walk toward this woman and her ship's deck.

Mary reached up to help Sea step down as she said, "Had a change of heart I see. I knew Gabrielle couldn't satisfy your whims."

Sea stepped close to the woman, her eyes sparkling as she whispered, "You left me with a burning desire, I had to come see if you could still put out the fire."

Mary pushed her body up against Sea's as she said, "You will beg for mercy before I do. And I will love it." She raised her head to kiss the woman and Sea met her lips with a passionate caress. Immediately grabbing  the woman's right arm she twisted it behind her back and now held a dagger to Mary's throat. The woman cried, "What are you doing?!"

"Taking your ship as well as your bounty. Tell your men to back off or I'll slit your throat."

The woman yelled at them and they dropped their weapons as the crew of  the Bounty overran the ship. It didn't take them long to confiscate all the weapons and the bounty they recently took. Transferred everything onto the deck of  the Bounty. Sea had her men take the sails down from the Scavenger then said, "let's go."

Mary called out to her, "He will think I betrayed him. Don't you even care he might kill me?"

Sea looked at her and said, "He won't but I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when he discovers what happened. I would sail far away."

The woman replied, "That is hard to do when you have taken our sails. Try as hard as you can, I know you still have feelings for me and one day I will prove it."

"You are dreaming. Since you don't have any sails, then you will drift with the tide and when you make land be thankful it was I, not some other pirate because you would be dead. Don't take this personally, I would do the same to any other ship that got in my way." She tipped her sword and said, "Adieu." Swung from The Scavenger onto the deck of the Bounty and said, "Let's get out of here."

Saxton had removed all the bounty and had it taken to the cargo hold. He placed several men in front of the door. He then headed topside and looked for Sea. He spotted the woman standing at the helm she was staring at the ship they were leaving far behind. "Still hurts doesn't it captain?"

She turned her attention to the man and said, "We have shared a lot and to do this to Mary was hard. I could not let Calico win and he thought that by using her he would scare me off. I'm sorry it had to happen but I would do it again."

The man walked up to the helm. "You look tired, why don't you go below and get some sleep. Everything has been stowed and no one will say anything to Gabrielle."

She thanked him and walked away, heading toward the cabin. Entering the room she could see Gabrielle was still sleeping. She laid down on the bed and closed her eyes. The look on Mary's face haunted her as she turned her head hoping to shake the vision, but, it seemed to follow. The woman was devastated at what she had done but it wasn't any worse than what Mary Ready had previously done to her. Was she paying the woman back, or, trying to show Mary that she should have stayed with her? Calico Jack would be furious and he would not forgive Sea anytime soon.


She opened her eyes and gazed at Gabrielle. "I'm right here." Gabrielle found her way over to the woman and laid close. Sea stared at her and whispered, "Not only have I hurt Mary, I have lied to you. Maybe you will never find out." She turned onto her side and closed her eyes.

A Hard Lesson

Chapter Seven

A full moon had passed and Sea was now getting ready to visit her mother till the season began to change. She had left Gabrielle with her mother while she and some of her men went to Sparta to get supplies. Gabrielle was happy to stay and visit with Kiera, the woman was like a mother to her and had taken the Bard into her home as one of her own. Gabrielle never tired of hearing the tales the woman would spin and she loved to jot them down for her own times of story telling. She was happy that Sea was going to stay awhile and there would be no more preying on unsuspecting ships, at least for a while.

Sea and Saxton were now ashore and her men had followed as they made their way into the city of Sparta. She hoped they could get what supplies they needed and still be back at the island before too long. She felt bad that she never told Gabrielle what she had done to Mary Ready. Though she knew the Bard would not have understood her methods it still pained her to know she had lied. Word from other ships and their crew members had reached the woman. She now knew that Calico Jack had put out a bounty on her. She seemed to laugh it off but it still bothered the woman.

From what she had heard, he was furious with Mary and had beat the woman within an inch of her life. Then he demoted and relieved her of  the duty as Captain of  The Scavenger. He made the woman now work as a crew member on his ship. She felt bad for Mary, even she didn't deserve to be treated like this.

As they walked into a shop Saxton stared at the woman and asked, "What seems to be the matter?"

She answered, "Nothing, just thinking we need to get what things we have come for and get back. I hate to leave Gabrielle for too long."

He nodded and went to talk with some of his crew. Sea stared around the shop. She walked down one aisle and then back again. The woman didn't really know what she was looking for until she saw it. On a shelf was a wood carving of a beautiful palomino. She picked it up and began to survey the work.

"It was done by one of our young men. Do you like it?" She turned to see the store keeper standing behind her. He was smiling as his eyes darted around the room. Sea answered, "It is lovely, how much do you want for it?"

He replied, "Ten Dinars or I will trade."

She called to Saxton and said, "Give the man seven Dinars."  As Saxton laid the money in the man's hands he said, "I hope you enjoy it."

Saxton stared at the carving and said, "She will love it."

"I know, she has grown so fond of Jezebel. Have we got everything? We need to go."

It didn't take them long to get the supplies out to the longboat, and then row out to the Bounty. As sea's feet landed on the deck she turned to Saxton and said, "Let's set sail, I want to get back to the island as soon as possible." She left the men and walked down to the cabin. Entering the room she stopped as her eyes took in the changes. She never cared much for frills, but the Bard had left her touch on everything. The room had gone from being very drab to actually cheery.

She walked over to the desk and set the wooden horse down. She knew Gabrielle would like it. It was always fun to find something to take back to the woman. Sea relished the looks of anticipation Gabrielle would get on her face when she opened the gifts. She walked over and sat on the bed. Her left hand reached out and caressed the bedding as her thoughts lingered on Gabrielle.

Saxton knocked on the cabin door and said, "Captain, we are nearing and will drop anchor soon. You wanted me to let you know."

She called out, "Thank you Saxton, after you drop anchor, I'll be up." Sea walked to the desk, reached down and picked up the delicate music box, winding it she sat down on the chair and closed her eyes.

Gabrielle had been out feeding Jezebel and was returning to the house. She walked through the back door and was heading toward the kitchen when she heard a noise in the drawing room. She turned and headed in that direction. Nearing the door she called out, "Kiera, is everything all right?" There wasn't any answer and then she heard the woman's voice calling to her, "Gabrielle, is that you, could you come in here and help me?" Gabrielle hurried into the room only to be met by the sight of a man holding a knife to the woman's throat. She started toward him. "What are you doing? Let her go!"

At this time Mary Ready stepped in front of her and said, "Oh no, I think not. Don't try to fight, it won't do you any good. Ann's mother and you are going on a trip. There is someone who is very anxious to talk to you." Gabrielle stared at the woman, she had a bad scar on her left cheek but she was still as beautiful as the first time she had laid eyes on her. She glowered at her and said, "I thought you and Sea were friends? This will make her mad and I mean real mad."

The woman laughed. "I hope so, that is the plan, she must chase after the two of you. Then Ann Bounty will be in our hands."

Gabrielle replied, "Our? What are you talking about and what kind of friend are you?"

"The same kind I have always been. You and Ann certainly didn't think I would accept your act of treachery and turn the other cheek did you?"

Gabrielle replied, "Act of Treachery? What are you talking about?"

Mary walked closer, she held a sword in her right hand as she smirked, "You know what I am talking about. Now let's get back to The Scavenger, tie the old woman and I'll take care of this one."

Gabrielle stepped back concern for Kiera on her face. "Don't! Leave Sea's mother alone! If it's just that you want Sea to chase you, take me. She will come after me, take my word for it."

Mary glanced at the older woman and asked, "Is she telling the truth, if we leave you, will your daughter come after this one?"

Kiera glanced at Gabrielle. "Yes, my daughter will go after her. Tell me what has Ann done to you? Isn't there anything that can be done to change your mind? She is all the family I have."

Mary laughed and said, "I remember how close the two of you are. I came here several times with her if you remember. It's time your daughter paid the price, I hope the two of you said your fond goodbys already because she won't be coming back. "

Kiera seemed to crumble as she fainted. Gabrielle dashed past Mary and grabbed the woman. The man standing behind her stepped back as Gabrielle helped the woman to the floor. She reached out and touched Kiera's face. "She has just blacked out. You frightened her, why don't you just leave."

Mary walked up behind the woman and ordered, "I suggest you stand up, now!" She touched the tip of the sword to Gabrielle's back, she had been kneeling by Kiera as the woman got to her feet. Though she could feel the tip of the blade against her back she still proceeded to turn around and stare up at the woman. "I don't understand it, Sea speaks of you as a friend and now you are doing this. You talk about treachery at least tell me what you are talking  about?"

"There will be time for that later. Now if you don't want your dear friend to arrive home and find her mother dead, I suggest you come along with us quietly."

Gabrielle answered, "You will regret this."

Mary reached out and grabbed the woman's left arm as she twisted it behind her and pushed Gabrielle forward. She called out to the man behind her, Come on, we have to leave before anyone discovers we have been here. I definitely don't want to run into Ann, not here."

Sea was relieved when she saw the dim lights reaching out to her as she made her way through the shrubbery. The nearer she got her feet picked up speed and she now found herself running. She really hadn't been gone that long but she couldn't wait to see Gabrielle's radiant face. The woman took two steps at a time as she approached the door and opened it. Entering the house she heard sounds of sobbing and hurried in the direction. Entering the drawing room she could see several of the servants, they seemed distraught. Sea's heart leaped into her throat as chills traveled her body, she approached them and asked, "What's the matter?"

Alexia saw her and said, "It's your mother."

Sea pushed by the people as she saw the still form of her mother laying on the floor. She knelt by the woman. "Mother, what happened?"  The woman didn't stir and Sea looked up at the people and asked, "Where is Gabrielle?"

Alexia replied, "She is gone with that one."

Sea jumped to her feet and grabbed the woman. "Make sense Alexia! Gabrielle is gone with who?"

Alexia started to cry and Sea released the rough hold she had on her and said, "I'm sorry, please tell me what has happened." She knelt back down and touched her mother's face. "Mother, wake up. Tell me what has happened."

The woman's eyes slowly opened as a faint smile traveled the woman's face she murmured, "Thank the Gods, you are safe."

Sea gazed and asked, "Where is Gabrielle?"

The woman closed her eyes as she said, "If she is not here then Mary took her."

Sea looked away then back on the woman as she rose to her feet. She bent over and picked her mother up. "I'm taking mother to her room, Alexia see that she is taken care of."  The woman followed them up the stairs and after Sea laid her mother down on the bed, she turned to the woman and said, "Make sure nothing happens to her."

The woman asked, "When she is fully awake and asks about you, what shall I tell her?"

Sea bent over and placed a soft kiss on her mother's forehead then stood and said, "I'm going after Gabrielle."

Her mother stirred as the woman said, "No, mustn't go. It is a trap. Mary seemed to think Gabrielle and I knew something about an act of treachery." Sea went to ask the woman a question but she had passed out once more. She turned to Alexia. "I'm leaving now, take care of mother."

It didn't take the woman long to make it back to the shore and give Saxton and the men on the Bounty the signal to return to the island. She set the torch she had lit sinking the other end of it into the wet sand. The flame was the only thing that could now be seen.

It didn't take Saxton long to return to the island and pick up Sea. The man was shocked at what had occurred. He reached out to help the woman into the longboat but her long legs bounded in so fast he said, "I can see you don't need any of my help. I'm sorry to hear of your troubles."

As the men rowed the longboat, Sea screamed at them, "Faster! Faster!"

Saxton replied, "The men are rowing the best they can, there is no need to yell at them, they can't do it any faster. Try to calm down, getting this upset will not help you or Gabrielle."

Sea scowled at the man but she did quiet down as her eyes drifted off into the darkness of the ocean. Except for a small amount of light from the moon, that the clouds were letting sift through, everything was dark. The thought ran through Sea's mind, not only was the ocean dark but it seemed her life had now taken a turn toward a dark and unknown journey. The woman buried her head in her hands as she sobbed.

Saxton walked back and sat by her. "Captain, try to calm down, it will not be good for the men to see you failing like this."

She gazed at the man and said, "You are right as always, I'm sorry."

He replied, "No need to be sorry, if it wasn't for your strength and these men, I'd be joining you, I also fear for Gabrielle."

As the longboat pulled up to the Bounty, Sea hurried onto the ship. She watched the other men come onboard and when they were done with their chores she called the entire crew topside. The woman stood in front of her men, she took several steps then said, "You are the best crew I have ever sailed with and I need to tell you what has taken place."

The men stood with crossed arms, listening to this woman telling them of Mary Ready's abduction of Gabrielle. She told them about her mother's condition and finished with the words, "I will not tell you what I plan will be easy and odds are, some of us will not return. Calico Jack is angry about the merchant ship and the bounty we took from The Scavenger. He is really after me. But since my crew stood by my side you are not high on his list of friends. I am setting sail for Cilicia, I feel this is where they are taking Gabrielle. If any of you do not wish to go, I will have Saxton drop you off at the nearest port."

The men seemed to talk among themselves and motioned for Saxton as the man walked over to them. When he was finished listening to what they had to say he returned to Sea's side and said, "Your crew awaits your order's captain. They care for her too."

Sea smiled down at the crew as she raised her right fist in the air and exclaimed, "They will pay!" The men echoed her words. She turned to Saxton. "I'm going below, if you need me come and get me."

He reached out and touched her right arm. "I won't. Try to get some rest. It will be a long trip and what lies ahead will be troublesome."

She turned and walked slowly away. Entering the seemingly silent cabin she walked to the desk and sat. The tears she had been holding back now poured forth as she cried, "What have I done? Gabrielle, I should have given you the chance to make up your own mind. If this is a lesson in life, it is a hard lesson to learn, I'm so sorry."


Chapter Eight

Mary's men had pushed the woman up the ladder to the bulwark. As Gabrielle's feet landed on the deck of  The Scavenger, she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. The appearance of the ship, as well as the scruffy looking men that stood on the deck made her ill at ease. Two men had already grabbed her by her arms, she grimaced as they sank their fingers into her flesh. She heard Mary Ready's feet as they landed on the deck. Gabrielle stared at the woman and said, "You're making a big mistake. It's not too late, let me go."

The woman smiled as she said, "Take her to my cabin and make sure she is secure, then I won't have any more need of you tonight." The woman laughed as she watched her men force Gabrielle down toward her cabin.

The men were rough and they didn't care if they hurt her or not. She was forced into a small cabin and dragged over to a wall where they tied her wrists above her head then turned and left. Gabrielle strained at the ropes but all she was succeeding in doing was making her wrists raw. Thoughts were going through her head, Gods, what had Sea done to this woman? Better yet, where was Sea? If she ever needed her, it was now. She finally quit straining on the ropes and laid back against the damp wall. It sent shivers up and down her body. Her eyes gazed around the small room, she was disgusted at the filth that abounded. There was a tray of half-eaten food laying on the floor and a few flies having a meal of it. Several empty bottles of port lay there too. The small bed was in such disarray Gabrielle felt it probably had never been washed or made up.

Tears began to form in her eyes as she shook her head. "Shape up Gabrielle, you have been in worse spots before. You will never help yourself if you lose it." She closed her eyes hoping to shut out the impending nightmare. The thought that she had never been alone was frightening to her. She hoped she would have the strength to see what was coming and be able to handle it. She felt now, she would never be able to tell the woman she loved how much she really cared. Her voice quivered as she spoke, "I pray you will remember me after I am gone. I will try my best to be strong though I am weak."

"My how touching, we shall see just how weak you really are." Mary Ready had been standing in the doorway and was now walking into the room. She applauded and said, "I can see that Ann still has not lost her touch." Gabrielle stared at the woman, she never said a word. Mary walked over and turned up the lamp that was on the small table by the bed. She laid her sword down then turned to look at the woman who was glaring at her. She walked up to Gabrielle and said, "Such fire in those eyes, if I didn't know better, I would think you were wishing me dead."

Gabrielle replied, "I just want to go back. I can't help you."

The woman laughed and said, "Oh but you can, you are the bait. As long as I have you, your  Love with come for you."

"She's not my . . . "

The woman reached out and cupped Gabrielle's chin in the palm of her right hand as she said, "Don't even try to deny it. It's obvious besides, Sea has already told me how important you are to her. Now, I need you to tell me where the bounty is?"

Gabrielle tried to pull away from the woman's grip but it was useless as she said, "I don't know where the ship is."

Mary released her hold on the woman's chin as she struck out and backhanded Gabrielle across the face. The blow knocked her head to one side and Gabrielle closed her eyes waiting for another. Mary smiled and said, "Oh no, when I hit you, I want those eyes open. I want you to see it coming." She reached out and turned Gabrielle's head. "That's better, now you look at me and tell me where is the merchandise that was stolen from The Scavenger?"

Gabrielle replied, "I don't know." This time the woman's right fist made contact with the Bard's stomach slamming her into the wall. Gabrielle groaned and Mary lashed out again as her left fist made solid contact with Gabrielle's face. The Bard was now hanging limply, her wrists straining against the ropes that held her. Mary reached down and grabbed her by the throat as she raised her to a standing position. "This is just a sample of what's to come. You can make it easy on yourself if you tell me where the bounty is?"

Gabrielle tried to open her eyes as she whispered, "I don't know what you are talking about."

"That's really too bad, I'm tired and I hate to have to stay up torturing you. But if I have to I will."

Gabrielle tried to speak but sharp pains shot through her face. Mary reached out and caressed the woman's face as she said, "You're bleeding, I never hit you that hard, must be the soft life you are leading with Ann."

Gabrielle gazed at the woman, as she tried to focus. "You can kill me, I don't know what you're talking about. At least let me die knowing what it is I am supposed to know."

Mary laughed as she said, "All right, I can play your little game. I suppose you don't know about Sea and the crew of  the Bounty taking my ship and the spoils that Calico Jack and his other ships took from the merchant ship."

Gabrielle spoke in rasps as she said, "No, don't know anything about it."

Mary walked over to the table, picked up the lamp and carried it to where Gabrielle was bound. She held the light in front of the Bard's eyes and said, "I believe you might be telling me the truth. Seems like Ann not only deceived me she did the same to you."

The woman reached out to touch Gabrielle as she cringed and Mary said, "I'm not going to hit you." She reached up and cut the ropes lose and as Gabrielle fell the woman caught her. She helped the woman to the floor then she replied, "Rest, I'm going topside. Don't try anything because if you do, what I just gave you will seem like a gift compared to what you will receive." She got to her feet and left the room.

Gabrielle fell onto her left side as she drew her knees in, her body was now in the fetal position, crossing her arms she lay sobbing.

Ephiny had been watching the woman pacing the room. Her eyes darted back to the still form of Gabrielle then back to Xena. She had never seen Xena in the confused state she was in now. The woman was so distraught over Gabrielle she wouldn't even eat. Ephiny had done all she could for her. Gabrielle moaned and Xena was by her side in an instant as Ephiny hurried over to join her. Xena reached out and caressed the woman's face as she whispered, "Gabrielle, wake up, it's all right you are home."

Ephiny watched the woman's gentle touches and said, "She must know you are here."

Xena replied, "If she doesn't make it, it will be my fault."

Ephiny replied, "No, Xena, the state Gabrielle is in now, is her doing. If she accidentally saw us, she should have said something. But running off in the middle of the night, she was asking for something to happen." The woman barely got the words out when she felt her body being hit by the Warrior Princess. She hit the ground with an impact and flung up her hands to stop Xena's from descending down on her face.

"Sea, Sea, where are you I . . . "

The two women stopped what they were doing as Xena crawled over to the Bard. She looked at Ephiny and said, "She is calling for Sea. You must go and get her."

Ephiny replied, "I'm not much of a seafarer but if that is what you want, I will go. Xena, please try to eat something and get some rest. You will do Gabrielle no good like this. I'll return and I will bring Sea." She walked over and picked up a pack turned and left the cave.

Xena sat staring at her friend. "We had it all, and now it's lost, I'm so sorry . . . "  Her tears fell like a gentle rain and she didn't even seem to know it as she reached out and caressed the Bard's face.

Gabrielle had found the darkest spot in the room. She was sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest. Her arms were wrapped around them and she was rocking back and forth. The woman hummed softly, she was trying to drown out the creaking of the ship and the lost feeling that had begun to overtake her. Being held captive was nothing new but this ship, woman and crew were.

She had stood by Xena many times as they came up against evil, in many forms. They had met each and every one head on. Even when hope might have been lost, they always had each others strength to see them through. But, at this moment and time, she was alone, it was the most devastating feeling she ever had.

Her head jerked as if she could still feel the blows across her face. The sight of the woman as she struck was flashing before her eyes, she now feared for her life.

The sound of the cabin door opening caused Gabrielle to sit up straight, her eyes gazing at the doorway. Within seconds the form of Mary Ready stepped into the room. She closed the door behind her and walked toward the table by her bed. Her right hand reached out and turned up the lamp. She held it high and surveyed the quarter. She had slightly turned when she spotted the woman huddled against the wall. Mary walked toward her. She stared down at Gabrielle and said, "Get to your feet. I never did like looking down."

Gabrielle pushed her back against the wall as her feet slowly pushed her up. She stared at Mary but didn't move. Mary laughed as she said, "Did you really think, hiding in a dark place would keep me away. Hardly, I've a need to talk, come over here and sit on the bed."

Gabrielle didn't move and the woman bellowed, "That's not a request, It's an order, now get over here!"

Gabrielle limped toward the woman and as she neared, Mary barked at her and as Gabrielle cringed the woman turned away laughing. Gabrielle approached the bed and sat. Her body was rigid as her eyes followed every move that Mary Ready made.

The woman set the lamp down, then walked over to the bed and plopped down. She leaned back on her elbows and said, "Don't just sit there, take my boots off."

Gabrielle stood and walked to the middle of the room then turned and said, "Why don't you just kill me? Or do you just get enjoyment in terror?"

The woman sat up and stared at Gabrielle. She smiled and replied, "Actually I get a big thrill out of running people through with my cutlass. But second to that, I love to scare my prey."

Gabrielle walked over and bent down as she removed the woman's boots. She stared at Mary and asked, "Why are you doing this? Please, let me go."

The woman patted the bed with her left hand and said, "I have a place right here for you, come sit." Gabrielle sat down as she looked away from the woman. Mary softly said, "You could sit a little closer. I promise I won't bite. To answer your question, I am doing Calico Jack's bidden. And he would kill me if I let you go."

Gabrielle turned to face the woman. "I don't know who he is, but it is evident he has a lot of power. What does he want with me?"

She laughed and said, "I'm sure several things but mainly he wants to get back at Ann. She really did a no, no when she went behind our backs and robbed the plunder we ravaged from the merchant ship. She told me she wouldn't do it and then she did. I can tell from the look on your face this is all new to you. It really is a shame. Deceit is a deadly thing to have to be dealt."

Gabrielle replied, "I had no idea, she told me she wasn't going to go after the merchant ship." Mary got up, walked to a small table and retrieved a bottle of port. She took a sip then walked back over to the bed and sat by Gabrielle. The woman offered the bottle to her as Gabrielle shook her head and said, "No thanks."

Mary shrugged took another long drink then said, "Actually, Sea didn't lie to you, she didn't go after the merchant ship, she lay in wait then took my ship. She used her womanly wiles and made me think she wanted my body and all the time she wanted my booty. Mad, angry, yes I have never been so angry in my life. I killed five men today and still felt the need to vent my anger so the few blows I dealt out to you were mild compared to what they received."

Gabrielle's face showed surprise as she said, "She used her wiles, I can't believe she never told me."

"Oh believe it, our Annie is not the precious person she has you believing. I could tell you of a few nights."

"I'd soon not know. I'm sorry for what happened to you and this Calico  Jack but I had nothing to do with it. Where is your honor? Surely you  can see this is a mistake, let me go."

Mary reached out and brushed her left hand against Gabrielle's cheek as she said, "Can't, but as I touch your soft skin I think I know why Ann has such feelings for you."

Gabrielle's jaw was rigid as she said, "Don't."

Mary laughed and reached out cupping Gabrielle's chin in her hand she turned the Bard's face toward her and said, "Do you really think that by telling me don't, it will make me stop?" Her eyes were set on Gabrielle's as she continued, "Tell me, has Ann changed in her love making? She was always so rough but then so gentle."

Gabrielle jerked her head away from the woman. "It's not like that."

Mary set the bottle of port on the floor then reached over and grabbed the woman by her shoulders pushing her back on the bed. Gabrielle, threw her right hand up and hit the woman solidly on her chin. Mary faltered as she said, "Blimey, you carry a wallop." The woman now had her body crushing down on Gabrielle's. The Bard raised her left leg and grasped Mary across her shoulder and under her neck as she threw the woman backwards and Mary lost her balance hitting the floor. Gabrielle sprang to her feet and now stared down at the woman, she should have been angry but instead Mary sat up laughing.

Gabrielle was prepared for battle but this woman just sat and laughed. It was making the Bard furious as she asked, "What's so funny?"

Mary reached over and found the bottle of port as she downed the last drop then got to her feet. She walked over to the bed and sat. Gabrielle stared and then walked over and sat down. she was breathing hard. "Why did you do that?"

"Had to see just what Ann sees in you and I found out. Not only are you beautiful but you fight well also. I would bet, you would give a person as good as you get. Fighting like that with the disposition you have, only makes me want to take you to bed and make mad passionate love."

"Yeah, well don't get any idea's, I don't make mad passionate love with just anyone."

Mary replied, "If I wasn't so afraid of Calico, I'd show you a thing or two. I wouldn't mind doing battle with you because in the end I would win. Even if you were to beat me, highly impossible, you would never get off this ship and if my men caught you, well you would wish you had stayed with me. I hope I have gotten my message across to you."

Gabrielle nodded and said, "I know how dangerous my situation is. Xena has always told me to face things head on. Sometimes I do before I think. I only struck out at you because I was afraid."

Mary laid back on the bed as she said, "I have known a lot that were afraid but none that would ever challenge me. You do have spunk, a pirate needs that. Now you mentioned Xena, would this be the woman from Amphibolis?"

Gabrielle replied, "Yes, she is a good friend."

Mary closed her eyes. "As I recall, Xena has led a very dark life. How do you know her?"

Gabrielle answered, "I just do. Would you at least tell me what is in store for me? Since I can't seem to get you to release me, at least let me prepare myself for what is coming."

Mary sat back up as she said, "If you really must know ahead of time, there will be a trial, you will be found guilty and probably sentenced to death."

"Then why a trial?"

"Because it is the pirate way. I hope all this courage you have will help you through what lies ahead, I have felt the coldness of Calico Jack but his ruthlessness will be unbearable."

Gabrielle swallowed hard as she said, "Thank you for being truthful with me."

Mary got to her feet and said, "I'm tired and need to get some sleep, I can't trust you won't try something so I am going to tie you up." She reached into her belt and pulled out some strips of leather. Walking over to Gabrielle she reached out and wrapped the strips around the Bard's wrists. Then she said, "Now, get up and walk over to the far wall." Gabrielle did as the woman ordered and as she approached the wall Mary said, "Sit." Gabrielle slowly sat down and the woman tied her wrists to a chain that was hanging from the wall. She stared down at the woman and said, "Try to get some sleep." She turned and walked over to the bed and collapsed on it.

The striking blond Amazon walked along the boardwalk. She had been staring at all the goings on. People were scurrying everywhere. The sounds of people talking and the sounds of boats docking, were noises Ephiny was not used to hearing. The people that were busily going about their business took time out to gaze at this woman as she strolled along the boardwalk. They were not accustomed to seeing a woman dressed as this one. Ephiny walked up to a man as he yelled orders to several men lifting a large wooden box. "If you have a minute, I need to ask a question."

The man ignored her and continued with his tirade. That is until she placed a dagger between his rib cage. His eyes grew large as he glanced down at the lovely hand that was holding the blade. He stuttered, "What do you want?"

The woman smiled as she said, "That's more like it, now that I have your attention. I need to ask you if you have seen anyone recently connected with Sea Troll or her ship, The Bounty?"

The man's eyes darted around then came back to her and he said, "Sea Troll, I don't know what you are talking about."

She brought her face closer to his and said, "In case I haven't made myself clear, this is a knife and I will kill you, if you don't answer my question to my satisfaction."

He cleared his throat and said, "Sea Troll? Yes, seems a mate from the Bounty is at the end of the walk."

"That's good but how will I know him?"

The man said, "His name is Saxton . . . "  Before he finished his sentence the woman had hurried off.  He sighed then went back to work.

Ephiny was approaching the end of the boardwalk and could now see a man leaning over into a longboat. She hurried toward him, nearing the man she called out, "Are you Saxton?"

Immediately the man stood erect turned and drew his cutlass. "Who wants to know?"

Ephiny raised her right hand. "I am not here to cause trouble. If you are Saxton, I have a message to Ann Bounty from Xena."

The man was giving her the once over as he said, "What's Xena got to do with Sea?"

Ephiny replied, "I need to speak to Sea, it's about Gabrielle."

Immediately the man's demeanor changed and Ephiny thought she could even detect a glimmer in the man's eyes as he asked, "Gabrielle, you have word of her? Sea will be anxious to hear it. Is she all right?"

Ephiny never took her gaze from the man as she said, "I need to speak to Sea."

He put his cutlass back into its sheath and said, "Get in the boat. I'll row you out to the ship."

Ephiny thought for a second then said, "Not real fond of this much water."

He laughed and said, "Think of it as soft land, it won't hurt you unless you do something careless." He held out his right hand to help the woman into the boat but Ephiny had already jumped down into it. The man shook his head and said, "You must know Gabrielle, you are as stubborn as she ever was. Just sit and I'll have you out to the ship in no time."

Ephiny could feel the water lapping against the boat as the man rowed. She stared out at the great mass of water and thought that anyone who wanted to spend their life on it was out of their mind. She was relieved when the huge ship appeared within sight. She gazed at the men walking on the deck and at the amazing woman that was leaning on the bulwark watching the boat she was in near The Bounty.

Ephiny remembered Xena telling her about Sea, but it looked like her friend had left out a very large detail, the beauty of this woman would put Aphrodite to shame. Ephiny had seen many women but none with hair the color of fire and this woman looked every bit the person who could stand toe to toe to Xena. It was a wonder Gabrielle ever returned and now she could see why the Bard was calling out for her. She felt there was something missing in Xena's interpretation about what must have been between Gabrielle and the Captain of the Bounty.

Saxton tied the rowboat and called up to the woman, "Got a visitor, she has word from Xena, it's about Gabrielle."

The woman's eyes seemed to widen as she called down, "Come onboard, I want to hear all concerning Gabrielle."

Ephiny climbed the rope ladder and Saxton followed. Sea reached out to help Ephiny as the woman's feet touched the deck. The men on the boat stared but went on with their business. The two women gazed at one another then Sea spoke, "Saxton says you have word of Gabrielle. What is it?"

Ephiny replied, "She had an accident . . . "

Ephiny suddenly found the woman's fingers wrapped around her throat as Sea asked, "Gabrielle is dead?"

Ephiny reached up and grabbed the woman's arms and muttered. "No!"

Sea released her hold and stepped back then said, "All right then tell me what has happened."

Ephiny rubbed her throat with her left hand as she said, " She fell over a high precipice and is in a deep sleep. Xena fears she may not make it. Gabrielle is calling for you."

Sea reached out her left hand and said, "I'm sorry, I tend to get a little carried away where Gabrielle is concerned. Come we will go to my cabin and talk. I want to hear all about this." Ephiny grasped the woman's arm in friendship then followed her below deck. As they entered the cabin, she stared at the room.

Sea walked to a desk and opened a bottle of port. She poured some in a goblet then handed it to the woman. She noticed the woman was taking in all of the quarter as she said, "Here, you look like you might be thirsty. Come sit here at the desk."

Ephiny walked over and sat on a chair as Sea sat on the bed the two women stared at one another. Ephiny finally broke the silence and said, "My apologizes for not being at the Amazon Village when you brought the women back. It was a wonderful thing that you did and I thank you." Her eyes darted around the room as she continued saying, "I never would have expected to see a pirate ship look so . . . "

Sea cut in and said, "It's all Gabrielle's work. She took this old ship from something drab to what you have seen. Her touches are everywhere, even on my crew. They are not the scruffy group they once were. And you are most welcome."

Ephiny took a drink then said, "I can see the way your eyes light up when you speak of her, you and Gabrielle share a lot more than friendship."

Sea smiled and said, "I could get riled up but, you are right and I will not deny that. She carries with her the spark that ignites my fire. She has given me a new outlook on life and a new meaning of love. I might ask who you are and just where do you fit in this relationship?"

Ephiny leaned back in the chair and told Sea how she come to know Xena and Gabrielle. When the woman was finished she said, "We really need to go, it is quite a ways and on land."

Sea was deep in thought as she mumbled, "You finish your drink, I'll go get Saxton to pack some supplies and then we can leave." Sea rose to her feet and left the cabin.

Ephiny stared at the lovely room and was drawn to a very delicate music box. She couldn't resist raising the lid and as the soothing music filled the room she closed her eyes, she was tired.

Continue to Part Two

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it is quite a ways and on land."

Sea was deep in thought as she mumbled, "You finish your drink, I'll go get Saxton to pack some supplies and then we can leave." Sea rose to her feet and left the cabin.

Ephiny stared at the lovely room and was drawn to a very delicate music box. She couldn't resist raising the lid and as the soothing music filled the room she closed her eyes, she was tired.

Continue to Part Two

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