A Time for Reckoning

Part 2

By Anita Louise






See Part 1 for disclaimers.


Cilicia

Chapter Nine

Xena was soaking in the warm water of the hot springs. She dunked her head under the water and brought it back up. The woman tossed her head, reached up and brushed clinging hair off her forehead. Xena's hair had grown some but it still was not the length it had been before it was cut. She relished the feel of the water on her body.

At least with the warm water massaging her she felt something. Ever since Gabrielle's accident she hadn't felt much. Even the hunger pains weren't as frequent. She had lost her desire to eat and ate just enough to keep going. Gabrielle had always been teased about her eating but Xena could always hold her own, especially when it came to Gabrielle's dumplings with the red stuff in them. The Bard never would tell her what she used but whatever it was they were delicious.

She swam to the edge of the Springs as the thought went through her head that she might never taste the dumplings again. Although this was a thought, the deepest feeling she was having was that she might lose the Bard. A life without Gabrielle would be no life at all and she didn't think she could survive without her. She sprang out of the water and picked up a towel beginning to dry off. She was drying her hair as she walked into the living chambers.

"Where have you been, I was worried?"

Xena stopped in her tracks, she raised her head and stared into the lively face of Gabrielle. "Gabrielle!"

She ran to where the woman sat staring at her. Xena fell to her knees as she reached out and hugged her. Gabrielle replied, "Xena, you're still damp and you are getting me wet. What is the matter with you? You act like you have seen a spirit or something."

Tears were flowing down her face as she reached up and held the woman's face between the palms her hands. Gabrielle gazed at her as Xena replied, "I thought I had lost you, God's, I love you." She pressed her lips to the woman's. Xena thought she would die when Gabrielle reciprocated, her lips moved gently beneath hers. Xena kissed the woman's face, her eyes, nose, cheek, forehead she didn't miss a spot and when she raised her head she said, "I have missed you so much, words cannot even explain." Gabrielle started to move and Xena said, "No, you had a bad fall and I don't want you doing anything that will set your recovery back." Her right-hand caressed the Bard's face with gentle movements. Her thumb glided across the woman's lips as Gabrielle placed a soft kiss on it.

Gabrielle smiled. "You had better put some clothes on. You might catch your death like that. Although, you look marvelous."

Xena realized she didn't have anything on and said, "You stay right there, don't go anywhere, I'll be right back."

Gabrielle called after her, "I wouldn't go anywhere without you. Hurry back."

Xena's voice rang out, "In a heartbeat."

Gabrielle replied, "Promise?"

Xena took a shift from the saddle bag pulling it on over her head she turned to hurry back to Gabrielle saying, "I promise never to hurt you again, and you promise me you will stay around and find out what happened before you go running off in the night."

Gabrielle answered, "Running off in the night, what are you talking about?"

Xena sat by the woman and said, "You have no memory of the cave and running away in the middle of the night?"

Gabrielle shook her head as she groaned and raised her hand to the side of her head. "You'd think I would remember something that hurts this bad. I don't know what you are talking about. What happened in the cave? Why did I run away? Doesn't sound like me, something terrible must have happened. From the look on your face you seem to think you might be responsible. I can never see you hurting me, Xena, never."

Xena reached out and held the woman close as she whispered, "It's not important, at this moment, you need to get better then we can face what happened together."

Gabrielle's body succumbed to the woman's caresses as she lay her head on Xena's shoulder and said, "It seems like we have never been together, have we? I don't ever remember your being so affectionate, did something happen?"

Xena placed a kiss on the woman's head as she said, "We happened, and before you ask, it was more than I would ever have hoped. You are my night and day, without you, I lost the light that guides my way. Don't ever leave me again, I cannot stand the sorrow and pain."

Gabrielle raised her head as she gazed up at the woman and said, "I know I love you, I certainly hope my recollection gets better. It would be a shame not to remember the bliss that shows on your face."

Xena smiled down at Gabrielle and said, "Promise me you will never go away again."

Gabrielle's face grew somber as she said, "One cannot promise what they cannot control but if there is anyway I can, I will be with you always."
 

Xena felt a cold chill travel her body as the woman reached out her left hand. It didn't take long to realize she was alone. Xena opened her eyes, sat up and stared around the room. She saw Gabrielle laying on the bed that Ephiny had prepared for her.

The woman got to her feet and rushed to the form of her friend. Xena fell to her knees as she reached out and touched Gabrielle's face. "Gabrielle, can you hear me?" The woman didn't move. Xena bent over and placed a soft kiss on the cool lips of the Bard. She sat and said, "It didn't happen, you didn't come back, I must have dreamed it."

She reached out to touch the Bard's hand and felt the Talisman she had placed there. The Gabrielle in her dream didn't have the Talisman. Was it possible she crossed a plane and came to her in the dream to tell her good-by? Xena sit by the still form of her friend for the rest of the day and toward evening she was feeling the pains of  loneliness.

She stood and walked over to the box where Gabrielle kept her parchments. She reached in and took several out. "If I can't have you with me, I will have your words." She walked over by her friend, sat and proceeded to read the parchments. Xena was enjoying the Bard's scribing until she found the parchment she had been staring at. The scribing was Gabrielle's but the words were a strangers.

With hair like fire, she excites my desire. With eyes so green, as I have never seen. They put the brightest emerald to shame. For she has now come to stake her claim. A smile that lights my day, and tells me all is ok. Her skin is bronzed by the blazing sun. Her pursuit of fame seems never to be done. She lives off the sea with its bounty galore. And each day she seems to cherish me more. Fate played the Ace, when we met face to face. This woman is ruthless but, loving to me, She's my tower of life and yes, her name is Sea.

Xena stared at the parchment for a long time. She finally rolled it up and walked to the box and placed it back inside. Her face showed signs of hurt as she walked over to the campfire and poured a cup of tea. The woman sat staring at the leaping flames, taking an occasional sip of tea. Her face now showed the pain she carried, she wanted to confront the Bard but there was no way. What a fool she had been, sending Ephiny to get Sea. All she felt now was betrayal and anger. She didn't know what she would do when she faced Ann Bounty again. How could Gabrielle have done this to her?
 

The sounds of loud footsteps and people talking brought the woman to her feet. Gabrielle stood watching the cabin door. She felt a chill as she doubled over, grabbing her stomach. Within seconds the cabin door opened and the form of Mary Ready entered. She glanced in the Bard's direction and walked toward her. She reached up and untied the leather from the chain and said, "We have arrived, and Calico Jack awaits your presence."

Gabrielle replied, "Why don't you just kill me and get it over with."

The woman smiled and said, "Because then he would kill me and I don't cotton to that. Now come on let's go." She held the strip of the leather that bound the woman's hands and pulled her as they walked from the cabin.

The smell of fresh air penetrated the Bard's nostrils as she took in a deep breath. She had observed the men standing outside the cabin door as they followed the two women topside. Mary walked in front and pulled the woman behind her. Gabrielle's wrists were stinging as she tried to keep up with the woman. Once on deck her eyes glanced around and she could now see there were new men among Mary's crew.

As they neared, the bulwark a tall man walked toward them. He was wearing striped trousers and an open front blouse. His black boots looked like they had seen hard wear. As he approached the two women, she could see he had jet black hair, and a lopsided mustache that seemed to move as the man approached. He also wore an earring in both ears. "Well Mary, it's good to see you can take orders."

Mary Ready jerked the leather and as she pulled Gabrielle forward the woman said, "I did as you asked. One thing you must know, and that is that Gabrielle had nothing to do with the treachery of Sea. She knows nothing about the spoils that were taken from the Scavenger."

The man was now giving Gabrielle the once over as he circled the two women. He stopped in front of Gabrielle. "From the looks of this one's face I would say you dealt out a little punishment yourself."

Mary answered, "When I questioned her, she told me she knew nothing about the bounty. I thought she was lying, come to find out she knows nothing."

Gabrielle watched the two as her knees buckled under her and she fell to the deck. Mary turned to stare at her then reached down and grabbed Gabrielle helping her up. She asked, "What happened to you?"

Gabrielle replied, "My knees just went."

Mary smiled and said, "It's the fear of what's to come. Your body is just telling you it is frightened and take warning at that."

Calico reached out and touched Gabrielle's face and she pulled her head back. He said, "Still see a little spirit here Mary, I would have thought you would have taken it all out of her. Why don't you take her down to the jail and lock her up. I am making you her mentor, you will be responsible for this woman. I want to see her at trial and I want all the information I can get regarding Sea and her ship. Use whatever you feel necessary but get the job done."

Gabrielle found her voice, "I haven't done anything to you, why do you feel the need to hurt me?"

He turned to look at her and said, "Because you had the sorry misfortune of being in Sea Troll's life. Now you hold pertinent information and I want it."

"I don't know anything about Sea, she never told me anything that would help the likes of you. I just want to go home."

He laughed as he said, "Don't we all but some of us never will. Now, Mary take her away."

Mary Ready looked at Gabrielle and said, "Don't give me any trouble, let's go." Gabrielle climbed down the rope ladder to the longboat followed by Mary, as the woman's feet touched the boat, she reached out and grabbed Gabrielle's bound hands and ordered, "To the back of the boat and sit."

The men that were sitting in the boat stared at the two women.  One of them looked at Mary and said, "If you want to take a spell off, I would be happy to keep your prisoner company."

Mary glared at the man and said, "Forget it, this one is mine." She sat and Gabrielle followed. Gabrielle gazed at the backs of the men, then her eyes glanced toward the inlet. The dock and distant buildings were now looming closer and she got her first glimpse of the pirate's capital. The men had landed the longboat and pulled it on shore as Mary stepped from the boat followed by Gabrielle. She looked at the woman and said, "From here on out, don't open your mouth unless I ask."

Gabrielle nodded and followed Mary Ready down the long boardwalk. Men and women were busily working doing their daily chores as they walked past. Gabrielle had never heard so many disgusting words come out of people's mouths before and she hurried to stay behind this woman. Reaching the entrance to the main part of the city, Mary said, "Stay close and ignore the comments."

The two women now started to walk through the main square, Mary in front pulling on the leather ties around Gabrielle's wrists. Gabrielle gazed up at the buildings. The houses were almost on top of one another. They seemed to be made of stone, wood and brick. There were many different colored flags flying from them. People were now lining the street as they yelled and chided the woman.

"Kill the bitch! She and her accomplice Ann Bounty stole what was ours!"

Gabrielle felt something hit her back. She turned her head to see they were now throwing things at her. Fruits and vegetables found their target as she tried to avoid them. Mary stopped, turned, stared at the people and said, "Stop! She will get a trial. Calico will not appreciate it if you harm her before!" The people made gestures but they turned away. She turned and wiped tomato from the woman's hair. "Sometimes they act like a bunch of savages. Let's get you locked up."

Nearing a large wooden door a guard reached out and opened it as the two women stepped inside. Mary stepped behind the woman and placed her left hand on the Bard's left shoulder and said, "Just follow the steps, I'll be right behind you."

Gabrielle's eyes glanced around the room until they came upon what looked like another doorway and she walked toward it. Nearing she asked, "Where are you taking me?"

Mary replied, "To the dungeon, now keep walking."

Each step that Gabrielle took seemed to take the two further downward. Finally they stepped onto a level floor and Mary said, "Straight ahead." The woman's hand gave the Bard a push. Gabrielle's eyes grew wide as she observed the many instruments in the room. She was appalled at the sight of men chained to the walls, some with heavy whip marks across their backs and some whose bodies were burned so badly they were barely clinging to life. Their cries sent shivers through the woman. As Gabrielle started to walk past a man that was stretched out on a wheel his voice came to her in rasps, "Please, help me."

She stopped to stare at him and said, "I'm sorry, I can't help myself."

Mary urged, "Get on with it, there is nothing either of us can do for him." She pushed Gabrielle. "Take a right turn at the doorway that is coming up, then stop in front of the large iron door."

Gabrielle stopped in front of the large door as a man took out a key and unlocked it. Mary pushed Gabrielle into the room. She then reached down with her dagger and cut the leather from the woman's wrists. Gabrielle's hands grabbed her swollen wrists as she said, "Thank you."

Mary replied, "Thank me, for what? It is I that have placed you in this den of pain."

Gabrielle replied, "The man, what is wrong with him?"

Mary replied, "He is being treated to Calico Jacks favorite amusement, it is called the rack. If a person is stretched enough, it will pull your body limb from limb. The pain is unbearable. Anymore questions?" Gabrielle shook her head as she walked over to a wooden bench and sat. Mary replied, "Try to rest, I will be back." She turned and left the room. As the door slammed shut, Gabrielle could hear the key turn in the lock.

Staring around the empty room and all its filth, she was somber. And she didn't know if it was  because the room was dismal or if it was because her body had become so fearful it had grown cold. She brushed the bench with her hand then laid on it. A lone tear trickled down her face she whispered, "Sea, where are you?"
 

Sea and her crew had landed ashore in several longboats. They were camouflaging the boats as Saxton walked up to the woman and said, "Have you  thought of a plan yet Captain?"

She shook her head and replied, "The only thing I know right now is, we need to go the rest of the way in on foot. We will stop in the village and confiscate a few horses, it will make the traveling easier but we mustn't get caught. It is quite a way to the compound and it will be well guarded. I know that Calico Jack's main reason for doing this is to capture me. Well, he will be in for the fight of his life because I don't surrender that easy. He made a big mistake when he took Gabrielle. I only hope that she is all right. Gods I hope she will forgive me."

He smiled reassuringly and said, "The Gabrielle I know will never blame you. She is alive, that much I feel. We must get to her soon Captain or all hope will be lost for the little one."
 
 

A Friend

Chapter Ten

Gabrielle had been pacing the floor, her body ached. The forlorn feeling she had was now consuming her. She shed many tears and now accepted her fate. Never the strong one, the woman knew that she must face these pirates with the initiative she always had. She had removed the leather ties from her wrists. And could now see they were red and swollen.

She pondered the woman Mary Ready in her mind. At first she thought she was a cruel and ruthless woman and she was that, but, she had also shown an almost human side. Finding out that Sea and the woman were once very close seemed to bother Gabrielle at first. The two women seemed so different yet she had seen a side of Ann Bounty that was also ruthless. The man they called Calico Jack was a man to be feared, she knew from their first meeting, he was the one giving the orders.

The sound of the key turning in the door brought her to a stand still as she stared at it. It didn't take long for the door to open and the sight of Mary Ready as she walked into the room sent chills through her body. The woman was carrying a blanket over her right shoulder and holding a bowl in her right hand. Whatever was in it was steaming but it was the coiled whip that adorned her left side that brought about Gabrielle's shivers.

"Thought you might be hungry, I've brought you some porridge."

Gabrielle watched the woman approach and said, "I am hungry." She accepted the bowl as Mary replied, "Go sit down and eat. I've also brought you a blanket, it gets cold in here."

She followed Gabrielle and sat beside her on the bench. She reached out and draped the blanket over the woman's shoulders. "There, it might take off part of the chill." Gabrielle thanked her but her eyes never left the woman's hip.

Mary reached down and touched the whip she said, "Calico has given me half a moon to get the information he wants from you. I am to use any means I feel necessary as long as you are still alive and able to stand trial. The whip will not be used on you if that is what you are thinking. But, I have to make them think I am using it. The guards on the other side of the door will be listening to the sounds and we must make them think I am beating you."

Gabrielle's body seemed to relax as she said, "You knew what I was thinking?"

Mary smiled as she said, "Your eyes told me. Now, eat before it gets cold." Gabrielle turned her attention to the porridge and began to eat. Mary had sat and watched the woman and when Gabrielle was finished she took the bowl and set it on the floor.

Gabrielle pulled the blanket around her tighter and said, "Thank you, the porridge was filling. I'm not a player and I don't know anything about pretense."

Mary stood as she said, "You will, if you never want to feel this on your skin."

"I'll try, what do you want me to do?"  Gabrielle stood, not sure of herself.

The woman explained what she was going to do. The two put on a show that would have even impressed Xena. When the guards on the other side of the door heard the woman's screams and the loud pops of the whip, they smiled. It seemed that Calico Jack had taught Mary Ready well and she was now passing this on to the prisoner.

Mary held her finger to her lips. "Come sit down, I think that is enough for now. You did well, your screams of pain I'm sure convinced the guards. I just hope Calico never feels the need to check your back for marks."

Gabrielle replied, "No need to fret about that, I have a few."

Mary raised an eyebrow and asked, "A few? How did you get them?"

She shook her head and said, "Something I don't want to talk about. I have a question for you, how are you going to get Calico Jack the information he wants?"

Mary smiled and replied, "I was with Ann for a while. I know all about her ship and crew. I know her travels and can pretty much figure where she will be and when. The only thing I don't know is where she keeps the spoils she gets from the merchant ships. I assume that the spoils she took from The Scavenger are in the same place. You tell me you have no idea and that may pose a problem as Calico wants this badly. He will wait until he feels Ann is on her way before he starts your trial. He will be waiting for her to try to free you and is hoping to catch her. The man will not stop until he gets the spoils back and has punished her for what she did."

Gabrielle listened, then said, "He is hoping, you sound as if you have confidence in   Sea. Aren't you taking an awful chance?"

"No, I have already told him you know nothing of the bounty that was taken from The Scavenger. He knows you are nothing but a pawn in his little game. Even if people are no longer together, I still admire the woman, and I know she can be very cunning."

"You speak of the man in detest."

Mary replied, "Aye, that I do, he beat me, took my ship The Scavenger from me and I am nothing  now but a person who jumps at his every whim. Yes, I detest the man."

The nights had passed slowly for the Bard and she found she was looking forward to the visits by Mary Ready. There was something about the woman that touched a certain spot in her heart but she had not been able to figure out what it was or why. She had been standing near the far wall of the room scratching another day off on the rock wall. She started to count the marks and stopped when she realized that this day was the fourteenth and in one more day her mock trail would start. There had  been no word about Ann or her men and had no idea if she was coming for her or if she even knew she had been taken.

The large door creaked as it swung open and Mary Ready walked into the room. She saw Gabrielle and walked toward her. Nearing she said, "I see you have been keeping a calendar. It is right, your trial will start at midday on the morrow." Gabrielle's face seemed to fall and Mary said, "It's time."

Gabrielle stepped to the side and asked, "Time? You said tomorrow. "

Mary reached out and tied Gabrielle's wrists with a leather tie and said, "Time to go with me."

Gabrielle looked at the woman in amazement as she said, "I didn't think you were going to harm me. You said you wouldn't."

Mary gazed down at her and said, "I'm not, but I have to take you from here like this, and if I get rough, it's just show. Let's go." Gabrielle followed her from the room and up the stairs. She heaved a sigh of relief as her feet touched the ground outside the building. Mary turned to look at her and said, "No time for that now, come on." She jerked the leather tie she was holding in her hand and Gabrielle fell forward. Mary reached out and caught her as she said, "Sorry about that, don't know my own strength sometimes."

The women had walked toward the end of the square and when they turned a corner Gabrielle could see two beautiful sorrel horses tied to a hitching post. Mary stopped and turned as she said, "I assume you ride?" Gabrielle nodded and the woman continued, "The horse on the left is yours, mount up, I'm going to show you some of the country side around here. Do you good to get out of that dreary room."

Gabrielle placed her hands on the saddle horn and one foot in the stirrup as she pulled herself up into the saddle. Mary was now on her horse as she reached over and untied the leather from Gabrielle's wrist she said, "We will go out this alley and then into the forest. You go first and I will follow."

Gabrielle grabbed the reins and turned the horse around, followed by Mary on her horse. She was happy to be able to ride again, the feel of the wind on her face and the joy of freedom was an emotion she relished. Mary pulled her horse along side the woman and motioned toward a lone tree as she reined the horse in the direction. The two horses stopped side by side and Mary quickly dismounted and walked over to assist Gabrielle who was already sliding to the ground. Gabrielle reached up to pat the animal and said, "This is wonderful, but how did you manage it?"

Mary walked over and sat on a flat rock as she said, "Didn't, but I felt since your trial is going to start, it will all be downhill from there, you deserved to remember what it is like to be free."

Gabrielle walked over and sat by the woman. "I never really thought this day would come. But I thank you for caring for me. I know if it had been any of the others I probably would just be clinging to life at the moment."

Mary looked away as she said, "It has taken me time but I do realize what Ann sees in you. I also believe you when you tell me that the two of you haven't been together. I hope that you will enjoy the day. Calico has gone to the border, he is checking on his traps. I felt it would be a good time to get you out of that place even for a little while."

Gabrielle leaned back and said, "Too bad, there isn't a spring, I could take a bath. Have to admit that I don't smell the best."

Mary smiled as she stood and said, "If it's a bath you want, let's go. There is a spring not far from here and you can clean up there."

They mounted the horses as Gabrielle urged her horse to catch up with Mary. The woman's horse had galloped from the area. Before long they stopped the horses and Mary said, "Down there, it's hidden behind that crop of rocks. I will stay up here and stand guard, take all the time you need." As Gabrielle started to walk away Mary reached out and grabbed her right arm and said, "Don't get any ideas about running away, it won't happen."

Gabrielle stared up at the woman. In the light of the sun Mary's light blue eyes seemed to glisten. She answered, "I won't, I know I wouldn't get far. In the first place I would get lost and in the second you would find me in a beat. I won't be long."

Mary smiled and said, "Take your time, I'm going to lie back and rest."
 

The woman had been gone for awhile and Mary was beginning to get nervous. If Gabrielle had taken off, it would be her head that Calico would remove. She got to her feet and hurried down to the crop of rocks. The woman just started to walk into the clearing where the springs were when she heard the lovely humming. She leaned out and looked. She was transfixed at the beautiful woman that stood on the bank. She was gathering her clothes.

Mary stepped back and leaned against the rock. The woman started back up the hill as she muttered to herself, "What is the matter with you Mary Ready? She is not the first woman you have ever seen naked." She walked up to her horse and removed a water skin. Tipping it she took a long drink then let the water run down her face.

"What's the matter? Are you hot?"

Mary turned to see the smiling face of The Bard and she said, "Yes, needed to put out a fire of sorts. You look refreshed." She handed the water skin to the woman.

Gabrielle nodded and replied, "I am. Thank you for taking the time to  let me bathe."

Mary hung the water skin over the saddle horn and replied, "Believe me, it was my pleasure. Come, I want to show you a strange rock formation." Gabrielle mounted the horse again and they began to travel uphill. She marveled at the different landscapes.

Mary reined her horse in and said, "We can walk from here. The two women started to climb and when they reached the plateau Gabrielle stared at the hanging rocks. They were setting in a large square. Many looked like chimneys. Setting on the tip of each huge rock was a flat rock that looked like a table top. These were all over, she walked around, studying each one. "They are unusual, how did they get to be like this?"

Mary shook her head.  "Don't know, I guess the Gods decided to place them here. The locals call them, The Fairy Chimneys and some call them the Goddesses of Fate."

Gabrielle asked, "Goddesses of Fate, why?"

"Because people believe if you go and ask for blessings, your fate will then be in their hands."

Gabrielle looked at the woman. "Do you believe it?" she asked.

Mary shrugged.  "I have no reason not to."

Gabrielle replied, "Would you mind if I spent a little time?"

"No, take all the time you need, make peace with yourself and with what's to come."

Gabrielle walked into the middle of the area and stared at the strange formations. She stepped over to an altar knelt, closed  her eyes and said, "I am not afraid to die. I am fearful of the things that will come before. If it is at all possible please let Xena know that all will be ok. Take care of her and try to help her find someone who will help her find the light. I love her and always will. I don't come to you and ask for  myself but I ask for Xena and also, please if it is possible help Sea. Thank you for listening to me." She rose and walked toward Mary who was standing waiting for her.

Mary smiled and said, "Whatever you asked, I hope your pleas are answered."

Gabrielle managed to smile. "Can we sit for a few minutes?"

Mary replied, "Yes, then we have to get back."

Gabrielle looked up at the woman and said, "Odds are I will not see many more tomorrows. Would you tell me about yourself?  How did you come to know Sea and where are you from?"

Mary sat by the woman and said, "I was born in Thrace. My mother was a tavern keeper. She met a soldier who was on his way back from the wars. He had not seen his wife in a year and they slept together. The result is what you see before you. I met Sea on one of her many visits to Athens. She convinced me that my ire would be well suited on the sea. I went along at first just for the thrill of it but I have to admit the smell of the ocean and the rush of the plunders got under my skin. It didn't take long to fall under the spell of Ann Bounty and we became a pair."

"Then what happened?"  Gabrielle asked.

The woman sighed and said, "My stupidity. I had met Calico Jack and he promised me worldly things I felt I wanted and I betrayed Sea. She has never forgiven me for it. I hope that answers your question."

"Yes, thanks for telling me. I will never be ready to go back to that dark place."

Mary stood and said, "I know but we should leave. I will get you back before Calico returns. Get some rest, you will need it."

The two women mounted the horses and headed them toward Cilicia. Gabrielle stared back at the formations then urged her horse on at a gallop.
 

Once they were back in the alley and had dismounted the horses Mary bound Gabrielle's wrists once more and took her back to the prison. When the woman was back in her cell she untied the leather and said, "Try to get some rest, I'll see you in the morning."
 

Ephiny sat staring across the campfire at the woman who was busily going through her leather pack. She finally asked, "What are you looking for?"

Ann looked up and said, "I know I brought that parchment with me, I just don't know what I wrapped it in."

"Parchment? Are you planning on doing some scribing?"

The woman smiled and answered, "No, I thought maybe Xena might want it. It is something Gabrielle wrote. She never expected either one of us to ever see it. I found it after the incident with Calico Jack."

Ephiny looked skeptical and puzzled. "Calico Jack? What in blazes are you talking about?"

Sea set the pack down and turned her concentration toward the blond woman as she said, "It was a time of anxiety." She looked at Ephiny and asked if she knew anything of the pirate Calico Jack. Ephiny shook her head as Ann reached for a mug of warm tea and said, "It's one way to kill an evening. I'll tell you what I know."

Gabrielle couldn't sleep at all that night, she paced the floor until she fell in a heap. She was tired, but her body still would not let her succumb to the sleep she yearned. Her mind wandered to Thrace and the lovely woman she felt she would never see again. The Bard talked to herself most of the night.

She tried to keep away the evil faces that kept trying to creep into the room. Her eyes ached as did her head, but she was well aware of the footsteps and the heavy door opening. She rose to her feet and dropped the blanket she had wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes fixed on the door, she squared her shoulders and waited.

Mary stepped into the room, she was carrying manacles in her hands as she approached the woman. "Need to put these on, hold out your hands."

Gabrielle obliged as she felt the coldness of the metal grasp her wrists. Mary knelt and placed them around the woman's ankles. Gabrielle stared into the woman's eyes as she stood up and asked, "What do you think I was going to do, try to run away?"

Mary replied, "It's not my idea, it's his." The woman raised her right hand and placed it on Gabrielle's cheek.  "It's time, let's go."

She followed the woman from the cell. Walking was not easy and she found if she kind of slid her feet she could move easier.

Her main problem came when she had to climb the stairs. Mary reached out and helped the Bard. Walking out into the square Gabrielle implored, "Tell me, will it all be over today?"

Mary stopped, turned and stared down at the woman as she said, "It's hard to tell with him, but I doubt it. He will want to prolong the trial as long as he can. He wants Ann to make her attempt to free you." She turned back around adding, "Now, let's go, they will be waiting."

Approaching a large wooden building and a darkened doorway two men stepped back as Mary and her prisoner entered. Mary led the woman onto the middle of the floor. Gabrielle stared around the room, she could see Calico Jack sitting behind a large wooden table. He had a flask setting in front of him along with a coiled whip and a dagger. There were men sitting in chairs on one side of the room. The room was brimming with men and women all chanting at her. Fear was overtaking her once again, and she stared up at the face of the man who had brought all this down upon her.

Calico Jack took a drink from the flask then stared down at her and said, "You! Gabrielle of Potadia, are being brought before our tribunal for treason on the high sea."

He stared at Mary and ordered, "See that the prisoner is bound to the post in the center of the room."

Mary reached out and said, "It will be easier if I do it."

Gabrielle watched the woman attach the chain that was hanging between her wrist's to the metal loop on the wooden pole. When she was securely bound Mary stepped back. The man asked, "How do you plead?"

The room had become quiet as all eyes fell on her. She glared up at the man and said, "I am not guilty and you know it."

He laughed then replied, "The prisoner has spoken." He glanced toward the men who were sitting in the twelve chairs as he said, "The prisoner declares her innocence. You will listen to the proceedings then you will pass judgment." They nodded their heads but their eyes never left the lovely woman that was defiantly staring at their leader.

He held up several parchments and said, "It is good that Mary Ready was able to obtain this information from you. It will help me in my capture of your friend. You will not deny the court you know Ann Bounty will you?"

Gabrielle replied, "I know Ann Bounty, but what does this have to do . . . "

He interrupted and growled, "Answer the questions! Do not add anything unless you are asked, is that clear?"

She nodded and replied,  "Yes."

He turned his head and looked at Mary. "As her mentor, I hope you are prepared to plead the woman's case."

Mary stepped forward and answered, "I will do the best I can, although, I think Gabrielle would do the best at this."

He scowled and said, "No! You will plead her case."  He looked at Gabrielle and asked, "Does this meet with your approval?"  She glanced at Mary but didn't answer. He stood and said, "Are you defying me?"

She quickly replied, "Mary is fine."

He sat back down and said, "Socetea, I will hear from you."

A woman of average build stepped forward. She turned to look at Gabrielle. As the Bards eyes met Socetea she took in the woman's features. Her hair was brown and tangled, It looked like it hadn't seen a comb in sometime. She wore lose fitting pants with a pull over blouse. The black boots that adorned her feet were spotless as she stepped closer to the prisoner. Gabrielle thought what a contrast it was. The woman's brown eyes seemed to be looking for something as she asked, "Have you sailed with Ann Bounty on her ship?"

Gabrielle answered. "Yes."

"Have you seen the crew of the Bounty, pillage any ship?"

Gabrielle nodded her head and said, "Yes, but . . . "

The woman scowled, "Have you ever used a cutlass while on the ship?"

The Bard nodded again replying, "Yes."

"I have heard, that you have stood next to Ann Bounty and fought beside her, is that true?"

"Yes."

Socetea had been pacing the room and turned as she pointed a finger at the Bard. "Yet, you try to tell us you have not committed treason on the sea".

Gabrielle stared at her and said, "If my being on the ship and defending myself is treason."

The woman walked up to Calico and said, "It has been proven and she has admitted that she is a friend of Ann Bounty, that she sailed with Ann Bounty and that she has been on the ship when it has plundered others. She has used a cutlass and has fought next to The Sea Troll. What else does this court need to hear?"

Calico replied, "It seems the court has proven you have committed treason. We will give Mary Ready the opportunity to plead your case. But, before this there are several women who have grievances against Ann Bounty and her crew." He waved his hand and Socetea sat down. Gabrielle turned to look to the left and could see several women standing. Each one was holding what looked like a long cord of some kind. The first woman stepped into the circle and said, "My name is Elena, my man was killed by one of Ann Bounty's pillages in the past moon."

He answered, "Since Ann is not here, you may continue."

She stepped up and glared into Gabrielle's eyes and said, "I hope this is just the beginning of your throe."

Gabrielle now knew it was knotted cloth the woman held in her hand. She could see the liquid dripping from it and knew immediately what was going to happen. She placed her hands on the post and stared directly into Calico Jack's eyes. As the woman stepped behind her, she instantly lashed out. The knotted cord, sending a sharp pang of spasms across her back. Gabrielle's eyes showed no emotion.

Another woman stepped forth and said, "Sarina. I lost my brother because of The Sea Troll." Calico Jack waved her on, and as the woman approached Gabrielle. She said, "I spit on you and Ann bounty!" She stepped to the side of the woman. As she drew her hand back the wet cord careened onto the Bard's back, knocking her to her knees as she hit the floor. She pushed her body against the post and forced herself to stand. The woman scoffed as she walked away.

Another woman started to walk into the center of the room and Mary Ready stepped forward pushing her back. She walked up to Calico Jack and said, "What kind of trial is this, you have condemned her before the tribunal. She will not be in any shape to receive the sentence if you keep this up."

He smiled and said, "All right, for today there will be no more. But we will continue tomorrow. I suggest you talk to your prisoner. I want to hear her side and it had better be a good defense. This court is ended for today, drinks all around. Take the prisoner back."

Mary walked to Gabrielle, she released her from the post and said, "Let me get you out of here."

Gabrielle walked beside the woman as they passed the people in the room. Once they were outside Mary said, "I didn't know he was going to do that. I'm sorry." Gabrielle didn't say anything, but her eyes met Mary's. And seeing the pain that was showing in them Mary said, "Ann should have received those not you."

Once they were back inside the cell, Mary took off  the manacles. "Remove the blouse and place it over the bench. It will dry there. She was holding the blanket as she said, "I'll wrap thisaround your shoulders, it will keep you warm."

Gabrielle turned, and pulled the blouse over her head. Mary stared at the woman's back, it pained her to see the red welts that crossed it. Watching Gabrielle place the blouse on the bench she could see the woman's body flinch as she moved. Mary stepped up to her and placed the blanket over her shoulders. Gabrielle reached up, grasped it then turned and sat on the bench. Gabrielle said, "Thank you, for stopping them."

"You are welcome. I'm just sorry it happened. If it's any consolation, your back is not cut up. That's why they used the wet cloth. It stings, but it doesn't cut."

The Bard smirked, "If that is supposed to make me feel better it doesn't."

Mary bit at her lower lip. "We must prepare a defense for tomorrow."

"Why? It won't do any good. They are going to do what they want regardless. It seems to be a game for them."

The woman answered. "To Calico it is, he is mainly after Ann and if he has to kill you to get to her, he will."

Gabrielle took a deep breath and said, "Then why prepare a defense? Just let it happen and the sooner the better."

Mary stared at her.  "You don't mean that. These people have never seen anyone stand up to Calico like you. There has never been anyone who took a beating like you did today who didn't cry for mercy. You showed none of it, so don't tell me you just give up. Where there is life, there is hope. I'll leave you for now, try to get some rest if that is at all possible." She turned and left the room.
 
 

Tribunal

Chapter Eleven

Ephiny sat back as she said, "I would never have imagined. I never thought Gabrielle had much spunk, except where Xena is concerned. I know she can fight but I never knew she had been subjected to anything like that."

Ann replied, "You underestimate her then, she has more strength and courage than anyone I know. I will never forgive myself for what she was put through."

Ephiny tossed a piece of wood on the fire and urged, "After that, I can't sleep, tell me more."

Ann gazed at her, nodded and said, "I know she had a terrible time the rest of the day and into the night. She was in agony. She had not received any word from me and I'm sure felt abandoned. I do thank Mary for being there and for not making it worse on Gabrielle. The next day she was led back to the tribunal and bound to the post again. She held her head high and glared at the people in the room. I think by this time she had resigned herself to what was inevitable. Calico had entered the room and approached her. He asked, "How are you feeling today?" All the while knowing she was in pain.

She stared but didn't answer. He stepped behind her, reached out placing the palm of his right hand on her back, pressing  as he moved it slowly. Gabrielle cried at the pain this caused. Smiling he turned and walked away. The man stepped up on the platform then sat in a chair behind the table. Staring down at the woman he snarled, "I have met people like you, thinking  you are too good for the likes of us. But you all feel pain, even if you don't want to admit it. Tell me, does your back hurt?"

Gabrielle glared at him and said, "What do you think?"

He threw his head back and laughed, "What spunk, you will probably still be the same way, at your death."

He glanced toward Mary and asked, "Are you prepared to tell the tribunal of Gabrielle's defense?"

Mary stood and walked into the center of the room. She glanced at Gabrielle and said, "You are charging Gabrielle with treason, treason that is tied in with Ann Bounty. I am here to tell you that this woman is not a pirate. She had nothing to do with Ann Bounty's plunder of the ship, she knew nothing about it."

Calico's eyes burned into Marys as he snapped, "Are we supposed to take your word for this or do you have proof?'

Mary replied, "You have but my word and Gabrielle's. When I asked her she said she knew nothing about it. I didn't believe her, so I beat her but she still denied it. I believe she is telling the truth."

Mary stepped near Gabrielle, stared around the room and said, "Take a look at yourselves, then look at this woman, she is a villager, she does not have the look of a pirate. I know for sure that she was shanghaied aboard The Bounty. She was a prisoner and did what she had to survive. There isn't one here that would not have done the same. If anyone is to blame for treason and for the pillage of The Scavenger, it is not this woman, it is Ann Bounty. "

The man took a drink from his flask and said, "That is all well and good. It still does not explain the closeness the two women share. The need to fight by the side of the other. She may have been shanghaied but it is evident she no longer is a prisoner of Ann Bounty. He laughed then replied, "Unless itis a prisoner of love. Tell me Gabrielle, do you love this woman?"

Mary looked at Gabrielle, her eyes seemed to be darting from side to side. She had the look of someone who wanted her to watch what she said. Gabrielle stared at the man and said, "I love many people, including my mother and father."

He bellowed, "That is not what I am asking, do you have feelings for Ann Bounty?"

Gabrielle stared directly at the man and said, "I will not lie, I care for her."

He stood, pointed a finger at her and said, "You care for her! You have just sabotaged your counsel's defense of you!" He turned to Mary and said, "I suggest you come up with a different defense and quick!"

Mary gave Gabrielle a scowl as she said, "If it would please the court, could I have a few minutes with the prisoner?"

He answered, "Go ahead."

She approached the woman and whispered, "Are you crazy? Why don't you just put a knife to your throat."

Gabrielle answered, "I will not lie."

"Not even to save yourself?"

She shook her head and replied, "No. Just tell him you quit."

Mary frowned as she said, "Oh no, I don't give up that easily and neither do you. I'll think of something. You look a little pale, are you all right?" Before Gabrielle could answer, the woman said, "What is the matter with me, of course you are not all right. Sounds like he is ready to start again." She turned to see Calico Jack flipping a dagger into the air as he watched it land on the table. Mary walked up to him and said, "We are ready to continue."

He motioned with his left hand and asked, "Then what is your defense?"

She said, "I know Ann Bounty, I know what kind of a person she is. I also know what she can use if she wants something badly enough. I have seen her put a special powder into a person's drink. It will turn a person who is aggressive into one who is passive."

He leaned forward and said, "Are you telling me that this is what she used on Gabrielle?"

Mary continued, "It is a possibility. She is a prisoner. She either does what Ann wants or is murdered. If she wants something or someone bad enough she will slip the powder into their drink and they will never remember. But, they will do whatever she wants. I think this is what happened to Gabrielle. She is just as much a victim to Ann Bounty as the ship The Scavenger and its plunder."

Gabrielle stared at the woman, her mouth agape she couldn't believe what Mary Ready was saying. Calico stared down at her and said, "If what Mary Ready is stating is true, the tribunal will take this into consideration. Now, you tell me to your knowledge did Ann Bounty ever slip anything into your drink? Were you under some influence?"

She glared at Mary and then at Calico Jack as she said, "I was shanghaied. I was terrified. I fought Ann but she won. I soon learned about the law of the sea and I felt all hope was gone. I grew to depend on this woman you call Ann Bounty. She was good to me. She is not the evil person you all seem to think. I know this, I have been privilidged to see into her world. I do not agree with the plundering she does. But, she is not the evil person you all think."

He leaned back in his chair and said, "That is all well and good but it doesn't answer my question. Did she drug you? Your being with her, were you forced to stay after she grew to know you and you her?"

Gabrielle stood tall and answered, "No, it was as much my choice as hers that I stay on the ship. She never gave me anything to make me stay. I was very capable of my own feelings. I am proud to call her friend."

He glowered toward Mary then he said, "That is it, this tribunal is over." He glanced at the twelve men and said, "How do you vote?"

Each man stood and each said, "Guilty."

He turned his attention to Gabrielle and said, "You have been found guilty of treason and are this day sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. Your sentence will be carried out in two days."

Gabrielle pulled at the chains that held her to the post as she said, "Release me, at least let me have a fighting chance."

He watched her struggle at the chains then said, "Mary, take the prisoner back to her cell."

As Mary led her from the room, the people were yelling at them. One of the women that had struck her the day before walked up to her and said, "Now you will get yours and that sweet thing you lay next to will be seeing you real soon."

Gabrielle tried to raise her fists and strike out at the woman. But the manacles kept her from doing this. So she ran her head into the woman's stomach, sending her plummeting to the floor. Gabrielle was on her knees in an instant, flinging her fists onto the woman's face. She felt the blow to the back of her head as darkness surrounded her, she fell. Mary reached down and picked her up. She held Gabrielle in her arms as she turned and walked from the room.

Calico Jack walked up to the woman on the floor and said, "Get up. Too bad that one is so enamored of Ann. I could use someone like that on my side."

The woman said, "Let me alone with that she witch for a few minutes. I'll . . . "

He laughed and said, "You'll what, looks like she is the one that did all the beating. Be thankful Mary stopped her, she might have killed you and I would have let her."

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and gazed up into the blue eyes of Mary Ready. The woman smiled down at her and asked, "How are you feeling?"

Gabrielle started to sit up as Mary reached out helping her. Holding the back of her head she asked, "Who hit me?"

Mary answered, "I did. It was either that or one of the others in the room would probably have run you through with a cutlass."

She frowned at the woman and said, "Well thanks a lot. My head feels like it was hit by a flying hydra."

Mary answered, "Didn't want to do it but it was the only thing to do. You charged the woman so un expectantly."

"Well, I hope she remembers me."

Mary reached over and patted her right hand. "Oh, I'm sure she will as will all the others that were in the room."

Gabrielle focused her attention on the woman and asked, "I take it you brought me back here, removed the manacles and placed me on the bench?"

Mary smiled as she said, "Yes."

"At least your lap was a soft place for my head to lay."

Mary answered, "It was the least I could do, since I knocked you out."

Gabrielle stood then turned and looked down at the woman. "What was all that drivel about Sea slipping something into my drink?"

She shrugged and answered, "Had to think of something. Calico was buying it until you felt you had to speak your mind."

"We both know, she didn't slip me anything that made me passive. Anyone in the room could see I am not a passive person. Surely you were stretching things about the powder."

Mary stood as she said, "It's not important. Trying to save your life was. You have left the tribunal no choice but to condemn you."

"Oh, there was a choice. Release me and forget this farce of a trial. You still can."

"I would love to have the courage to be able to do that. I don't know if I could. I have never really put anyone before myself and don't know if I can."

She gazed at the woman and asked, "Then you will stand and watch me take my last breath. Will it make you any more a warrior or a woman?"

Mary answered, "Warrior? I don't consider myself that but a pirate yes. As for woman, I am every bit that and then some. It will not make me feel any different either way. I will feel bad for your family but never for Ann Bounty."

"You speak of me as if I am not here."

She fixed her blue eyes on the Bard's and said, "All right, I do not want to see you die, you have been able to reach a place in my heart no one has. I will hurt when your life is taken. I am not as brave as Ann and I will not risk my life. I'm sorry if it is not what you wanted to hear."

Gabrielle walked back to the bench and sat as she said, "Nothing matters anymore to me. Would you mind if I lay down and try to get some sleep. I suddenly feel so tired."

"No, get some rest. I will see you later"  She watched the woman lay on her side then  turned and left the room.
 

Ann tossed a stick on the fire and said, "Let's try to get a little rest. We must leave early in the morning. I hope to reach Xena and Gabrielle tomorrow."

Ephiny nodded as she laid down. The story that Ann Bounty had told her was running through her mind. She felt that Xena didn't know and if she did, what would the woman think? The thought was still on her mind when she finally drifted off to sleep.

The next day the two women picked up camp and mounted their horses, starting the final trek to the cave. Ephiny urged her horse at a greater speed as she tried to keep up with the woman. This Ann Bounty seemed to be able to do everything. She knew how to run a ship. Her knowledge of the ocean was stupendous. She also was well educated, something that was uncommon for most pirates. Of couse Ann Bounty definitely was not common. One would just have to look at the woman to know that.

Ephiny shook her head as she thought, there were a lot of women in the village. She had encountered many and only Xena could hold a candle to this one. She could see how Gabrielle could have become infatuated with the woman. She was a prisoner, probably frightened and had no recourse but to trust and depend on her. The woman Ephiny had grown to know on this trek was a warm, compassionate, caring person.

When they purchased the horses she thought that this would be one area she would be able to out do Ann Bounty in. The woman rode a horse like she always had. Ephiny found herself admiring Ann. Something she didn't do very often. They reined the horses to a stop as Ann turned to her asking, "How close are we?"

Ephiny pointed down into a field and said, "The mountain on the other side. The cave is there."

Ann took a drink from the water skin and said, "I don't know about you but I need to get down for a few minutes. Stretch my legs."

Ephiny sighed and said, "Thank the Gods. I wanted to, but didn't want you to think I couldn't keep up."

As Sea's feet hit the ground she looked up at Ephiny and said, "I don't think anyone in their right mind would think that about you."

Ephiny felt a warmth radiate from the woman's eyes as she dismounted and said, "Thanks, I think."

Ann walked over to a tree stump and sat. She watched Ephiny walk toward her and said, "If you are wondering, it's a compliment."

As Ephiny sat, she asked, "You read minds also?"

"No, just expressions. I hope Gabrielle is . . . "

Ephiny replied, "She is, I would know if anything happened. Besides those two have been to the gates about to pass over and neither would let the other go. They have gone to great depths and sacrifice to be with one another. A fall will not end this extraordinary relationship."

Sea looked at the woman and said, "Don't look at me like that. Gabrielle and I have said our good-bys. I know she is in love with Xena. I am happy she shared a part of my life for a while. She still is my friend and . . . "

Ephiny stood and said, "Like me, if something happened to one of them, one of us would be there to try and pick up the pieces."

Ann smiled and said, "Let's hope it never does. I think it would be a puzzle we would never be able to put back together again."

Ephiny walked toward the horses as she said, "You are probably right. But everyone needs to have someone who will be there for them. What you told me last night about Gabrielle's ordeal with Calico Jack was chilling. A bad situation is frightening but one in which you are alone can cut much deeper. I wonder why Gabrielle has never told anyone of this?"

Sea rose and walked up to the woman as she replied, "Perhaps she didn't think Xena would understand. Better yet, she probably didn't want the woman trying to take my head off."

Ephiny laughed as she said, "Not laughing about your head being loped off. Laughing at Xena, yeah, you are right. She would not have taken it well. Probably struck before she even found out what happened. She treats Gabrielle like she is some sort of precious stone. We all know that even precious stones can be broken."

Ann replied, "Yes, even precious stones. Shall we go?"

They mounted and started the horses down the plateau. As the horses trotted along the lengthy road Ephiny said, "This field, in the Summer, contains the most beautiful flowers. In the warm season, their cave smells of beautiful scents that filter in."

Ann gazed at the field and said, "It would be a wonderful environment."

Reining the horse to a stop Ephiny said, "It's back there, in that crop of trees."

Sea jumped down and said, "Good."

Ephiny stepped up to the woman and placed her right hand on Ann's left arm as she said, "I can see by your face that you are anxious. Try to be calm."

Sea smiled at the woman. "I'm all right. Let's go."

Ephiny watched the woman take the leather pack from the horse and carry it over her right shoulder. She led the way, and  Sea was right behind the woman. Nearing the cave opening Ephiny called out, "Xena, it's me Ephiny. I have Sea with me. We are coming in." They walked into the chamber as Sea stared at the marvelous room. She gazed at the ceiling of the cave and then glanced toward the ground. She saw the form of Gabrielle laying on a pallet. Pushing Ephiny out of the way she rushed past her and fell on her knees by the woman.

Ephiny scowled as she hurried toward the woman. She had been looking around the room for Xena but hadn't spotted her. Sea had reached out touching  one of Gabrielle's hands. "Gabrielle, it's Sea. Can you hear me?"

She was aware of the footsteps before she saw the boots that appeared before her. She looked up and said, "Xena, I came as quickly as I could."

Xena stared down at the woman and ordered, "Get to your feet!"

Sea stood and stared into the woman's eyes. "What is the problem?"

Xena answered, "We need to talk."

"Ok, let's talk." Xena walked past her toward the campfire and sat. Sea approached and sat opposite the woman. Ephiny stayed by Gabrielle but her eyes were watching the two. Xena seemed to be down as she said, "Gabrielle has been calling out your name. I'm glad you came."

Sea had been watching the woman. "I don't understand what it is you are trying to say."

Xena replied, "Any other time I would challenge you to the death. But for Gabrielle, I will sit back. It is obvious, she is in love with you. You might be the one to get through."

Sea smiled as she said, "Don't get me wrong, I love Gabrielle but she loves you. She has told me that in no uncertain terms. We are friends, close, but friends."

Xena laughed. "Yeah, that's what she said. I know better."

"Then it is something I don't know. Tell me how this revelation has appeared to you?"

Xena rose and walked over to a box. She took out a parchment then turned and walked back to the fire. Sitting back down she handed the parchment to the woman and said, "In her own words."

Sea took the parchment as she read the Bard's words. When she was finished she said, "You know how she loves to scribe. Because she scribes something does not mean it the way you might think. Gabrielle was always taken with the color of my hair. It does not mean she loves me. Desire? If anyone had desire it was me but she shot me down every time. My eyes are green. I have staked a claim all along the sea. I am happy to know she thought my smile lit her day. Through some very hard times I tried to tell her everything would be ok. My skin is bronzed and though I don't ask for it, fame is the name now given to Ann Bounty.

I live off the sea with its bounty galore. And each day I do cherish her more. Fate played the ace when we met face to face. I think she was just happy it was me and not someone like Calico Jack that shanghaied her. I can be ruthless but to Gabrielle I tried to be loving. At a time in her life in her life I was her tower of life and my name is Sea."

She gazed at Xena it was obvious, the woman was hurting."This is not Gabrielle pouring out her heartfelt feelings for a lover or a love. Xena, she loves you, if she didn't, she would not have left with you. I will not deny I tried everything to get her to stay with me. She never stopped thinking or talking about you. Believe me."

Xena scoffed, "Why should I believe you. You have just admitted your love for her."

"Yes, my love for her. She loves me as a friend."

Xena replied, "How do I know that?"

"Take my word for it and ask Gabrielle."

She gazed toward the Bard then said, "I might, but, at the moment it is impossible."

Sea tossed her leather pouch toward the woman and said, "Gabrielle left something behind in the ship. I think you should read it."

Xena caught it and dumped the contents onto the ground. Her hands rummaged through the items until they found the parchment. She picked it up reading the words. When she was finished Ann said, "Those are Gabrielle's expressions. It is not me she is talking about."

Xena stared at the parchment as Ephiny walked over and took the parchment from the woman's hands. She began to read it out loud, "The first time I gazed into those bottomless blues, I knew my life was to begin anew. Though you seemed angry at first, you did give me something to quench my thirst. You said you would send me home again and I said I would not go back where I have been. I knew when you smiled at me, good friends we were meant to be. Though we have traveled both near and far, our friendship is brighter than a million stars. You have grown to depend on me as I have you, and each day we begin our life anew. As I gaze at your beauty I only know, it has taken sometime but I love you so.

No demon or god could ever change our course, and you have even shown me I could love your horse. We have been each others rock and we both have taken a lot of hard knocks. Each day I wake to see your face and tremble at your very touch. Warrior Princess, you may never know just how much. Fate played a hand when you beat up that warlords band. And I thank each day you are here to be my helping hand. You are not only my tower of strength, you are the other half of my soul. It is you, each day I long to hold. Though you may never read this I want you to know I love you Xena and always will."

Ephiny handed the parchment to Xena then sat down beside the woman. She looked at her and said, "Sea is right, Gabrielle cares for Sea, but she loves you. Don't let some scribing detour you from the important thing."

Xena gazed at her and asked, "Yeah, what is that?"

"The love you two have for one another. The love Sea has for her and the love I have for you and for Gabrielle." Xena raised an eyebrow as Ephiny continued. "I admit I wanted you, but this does not mean I don't care for Gabrielle. She is our Amazon Princess and we have been through a few things together. I think with so much love we should be able to reach her. Let Gabrielle know she is loved and we want her to come back."

Xena stood as she said, "Thank you, Ephiny. And thank you Ann. I am going to take a walk. There is food, you two should be hungry, eat. I'll return soon."
 
 

Visitors

Chapter Twelve

Ephiny sat opposite Ann Bounty the two of them had been quiet since Xena left the room. As Ephiny set her mug down she finally asked, "Do you really think Xena bought that?"

Ann looked at her and said, "I don't know why she wouldn't. What are you getting at?"

Ephiny replied, "Come on, we both know that Gabrielle was enamored with you. You remember you recently told me about the Calico Jack incident."

Ann smiled as she said, "The sad truth for me is that we never made love. She accepted me, and we were close but we never did the ultimate act. I longed for her but I would not take advantage. I knew that her first time should be with someone she really loved. I cannot deny I wanted it to be me. She even told me that her husband, Perdicus and she never did. She said he wanted her first time to be right. So they just lay together on their wedding night. They were close but both felt they would have plenty of time to get used to one another. I did think it was decent of the man to be gentle with her and take his time."

Ephiny gazed toward Gabrielle as she said, "I know it almost broke Xena's heart. I hope she is all right."

Ann replied, "If you are worried, why don't you go see if she is."

Ephiny stood and said. "I think I will." She turned and left the cave.

Sea watched the woman leave, then she took her mug of tea and walked over to Gabrielle. Sitting beside the woman, she reached out and held her right hand. "Gabrielle, It's Sea, can you hear me?" It was at this time she thought she felt the woman's fingers move. She wrapped her hand around the Bard's. Feeling something hard she looked at Gabrielle's palm and could see the talisman she had given her.

Feeling a tinge of joy, she brought her head close to the woman's and said, "The talisman, you wanted it. It means a lot to me to know you are still keeping a part of our past." She took a deep breath then said, " I have missed you. Saxton said to tell the little one it is time to come visit. He misses spinning tales and laughing with you." Tears began to form in her green eyes clouding them for a minute, as she reached up and brushed them away.

Sea raised her right hand and gently caressed the woman's face as she whispered, "Gods, woman, I have missed you. I can't have Xena find me hovering over you like this." She brought her lips down and pressed a tender kiss on the Bard's then raised her head and said, "I love you, and I know you don't love me, I understand. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy. I know you were happy on The Bounty. I know you were happy on Spoon Island. Mother misses you as does Jez. You even grew on the palomino."

Gabrielle began to stir, her head moved slightly and her eyelids seemed to flutter.

Sea held her breath as she said, "Gabrielle . . . "

The Bard's voice was weak but the words were strong as she whispered, "Sea, you . . . here?"

Sea held the woman's right hand in hers and replied,  "I'm here."

Gabrielle opened her eyes and stared up into the worried face of Ann Bounty. She softly said, "Love . . .  means many things." Sea could feel the Bard's fingers tighten on her hand as the woman said, "Love, you . . .  Xena where?"

Sea replied, "I know you love me, in your own way. Xena is here, she is outside. She will be very happy to see you are awake."

Gabrielle mumbled, "Mad, Xena mad at me . . . "

Sea shook her head and said, "No, Xena loves you. She would never be mad at you. No one in their right mind could ever be mad at you."

Gabrielle took a deep breath then said, "Ephiny . . .  I am . . .  Don't need me."

Sea gazed down at her and said, "Need you, yes Xena needs and wants you. Ephiny is with Epinon and I have gone on with my life. I know there will never be another Gabrielle. I am comfortable just knowing you are my friend. Get well. There are too many things you and Xena need to see and do. It's not your time. The Gabrielle I know wouldn't let Calico Jack and his followers make her submit, so surely a little hit on the head won't do it. Feel the talisman, take its strength and live, for Xena and a world that needs you in it."

Gabrielle started to move as Sea spoke softly, "No, don't move. I'm going to go get Xena. Don't move." She kissed the woman on the forehead, got to her feet and hurried from the room.

Ephiny had been searching for Xena, when she heard a crackling of a stick and turned in the direction of the sound. Stepping out from a crop of trees she spied the woman sitting on a tree stump. She was breaking sticks and sticks and throwing them to the ground. "Xena, it's me Ephiny. Are you ok?"

Xena looked up and replied, "Fine. Gabrielle's flame is here and she's unconscious. Couldn't be better!"

She walked over and sat by the woman then said, "Sea is here. But you are Gabrielle's love."

Xena scowled at her. "You didn't buy that drivel that she was spouting did you?"

Ephiny shrugged and answered, "Makes sense to me."

Xena looked forlorn as she said, "I always knew the woman meant something to her. Just never knew how much."

Ephiny sighed then said, "You listen to me Xena, Gabrielle loves you. If she didn't she wouldn't be where she is. She evidently saw us and thought something else. No one runs off in the dark like that if they don't care. Sea has told me about the two of them and I know they share a past. Better a past with Sea than her death by some cruel pirate like Calico Jack. Whether you want to admit it, the woman took care of her the best she could."

"Xena!"

They turned to see Ann Bounty heading their way she was breathing hard as the woman joyously said, "Gabrielle, she is awake!"

Xena jumped to her feet and ran past the woman. Ephiny and Sea followed.

As Xena entered the room, she spied Gabrielle laying face first on the ground. She cried out, "Gabrielle!" And ran to where she was. Kneeling down she turned the woman over and asked, "What happened?"

Sea and Ephiny approached.  Sea stared down at the still face of the woman and said, "Gabrielle was fine when I left the room. I told her not to move."

Xena looked at her, bit at her lip and asked, "Did you ever know Gabrielle to do something when you tell her just the opposite of what she wants to do?"

She picked the woman up and placed her back down on the pallet. Sea and Ephiny had knelt down by the two women. Xena was beside herself with worry as she said, "Please, please come back! Gabrielle . . .  I need you!"  She crumbled over the body of the woman and wept. Ephiny reached out to comfort her and she brushed the woman's hand away.

Sea stared at her and said, "She can hear you, let her know how important she is to you ."

Xena raised her head and glowered at the woman. "I take orders from no one. How do I know you didn't do this to her? Why don't you two leave leave me alone."

Sea and Ephiny got to their feet, walked over to the campfire and sat. They stared at the woman who was now pleading with the Bard to come back.
 

Gabrielle had been standing, staring at the calendar she scratched into the stone. She reached out and traced the marks with her right hand. Though it had only been half a moon, she felt it was an eternity. As far as she knew no one was coming to help her. Her only friend had been Mary Ready. One she would never have guessed. But for some reason the woman was afraid of going up against Calico Jack and helping her escape. She was completely resigned to the inevitable and knew that tomorrow her life in this world would be over.

There were so many things she still needed to say, especially to Xena. Would the woman understand? She hoped in time they all would. Her sister Lila whom she loved dearly, would mourn. She also knew Lila would be happy for her knowing that she did in her life what she felt best. Lila had grown very fond of Xena and had accepted the woman into their family. Though her mother and father still had their doubts they treated her with respect

Then there was Sea, the magnificent woman she had grown so fond of. She knew Ann Bounty would be fine. She would mourn her loss but she would be all right. Ann was not a fragile person and she was glad if she had to be shanghaied  it was on her ship.

The sound of the key turning in the door caught her attention. She turned and stared at the large door as it swung open. In the light from the outer hall she could now see four women step into the room. The door shut behind them. Gabrielle recognized the women from the tribunal and asked, "What are you doing here? Didn't it satisfy you enough that I have been condemned?"

The woman she had knocked down stepped forward and said, "You caught me off guard but now I have the upper hand."

Gabrielle stared at the corded material the woman was swinging back and forth. Then she placed her hands on her hips and said, "So, you can swing that, I've seen better." The woman charged and Gabrielle sidestepped.

Catching her balance she turned and glowered at Gabrielle then said, "Think you're smart, don't you? I've seen tortoises move faster than that."

Gabrielle smiled and replied, "It was fast enough for you to miss me." The woman growled and charged at her once more. Gabrielle fell to her knees and brought her right fist up, punching hard. It was as if  all the woman's air had been taken away, she gasped and doubled over from the blow. Gabrielle rolled to the side and leaped to her feet.

Reaching out she tapped the woman on the right shoulder. When she turned, Gabrielle leaped into the air, and in one quick spin she sent her right foot careening across her face. The woman crumbled to the floor. Gabrielle walked over and picked up the corded material. She turned to gaze at the other three woman. They seemed to be amazed at what had just happened.

Gabrielle swung the material in the air then she said, "Have you ever felt one of these across your backs? Doesn't feel very good."

Another woman stepped forward and said, "I know you have, I enjoyed sending you to the floor."

Gabrielle's lip curled toward the right as she said, "Gave you great pleasure I can see. Well, I'm not bound now. Come and get me."

The woman began to circle the room as she watched the Bard swing the material. She lunged for Gabrielle and as she went to move, the woman changed course and her fist made contact with the Bard's face. She fell backwards hitting the wall. Shaking her head trying to focus, Gabrielle stared at the woman.

She had a confident smile as she said, "Felt good. I can't wait to take you down a peg or two."

As the woman talked, Gabrielle leaped into the air and somersaulted over her head, landing on the floor she struck out with the corded material. It wrapped around the woman's throat as she snapped it back throwing her to the floor. The woman fought to grasp the material and loosen the hold it had on her.

Gabrielle walked over to her, leaned down and said, "That's two." Her right fist struck the woman's cheek and she collapsed.

Standing up she stared at the other two. They were now going in opposite directions. Gabrielle assumed one of them was going to try to get her attention, while the other would try to take her down. She was standing near the bench. Her eyes landed on the blanket that was draped over it.

"My name's Rena, I want you to know who is going to make you wish you were never born!"

Gabrielle looked toward the right and could see the large woman nearing. She was swinging two heavy strands of corded material.

Glancing toward the other woman, she approached the bench. "You don't want to do this. Why don't you two just leave."

The woman on her right laughed and gazed at the two fallen women. "Their mistake was trying to take   you one on one. It won't be ours."

Gabrielle suddenly sat on the bench and stared up at the women. They looked at one another each seemed to be stunned by this.  It took several minutes while they surveyed the area before the one on the left said,  "Get the bitch!" They each charged her and as they neared, Gabrielle grabbed the blanket throwing it up over their heads. She stepped out and reached up knocking the two women's heads together as they crumbled to the floor. Reaching down she removed the blanket. Placed it back on the bench then stared around the room at the fallen bodies. Brushing her hands together and squaring her shoulders she said, "I needed that."

She heard voices coming from the other side of the door and braced herself for more of the same. Mary Ready stepped into the room and stopped. Her eyes took in the area then stopped on Gabrielle who was standing with her hands on her hips. "What happened?"

Gabrielle replied, "They seemed to think they could teach me a lesson."

Mary approached the fallen bodies and checked each one for signs of life. Standing up she looked at Gabrielle and asked, "You did all this?"

"I had no choice. I suppose the next group is out in the corridor waiting."

Mary looked at her and replied, "No, just a guard out there. Stand back." She walked to the door and called out, "Get in here!" In a short time the guard poked his head into the room. His eyes widened when he saw the women laying on the floor. Mary stepped up to him and asked, "Did you let them in here?"

He nodded then said, "They said Calico told them they could."

"And you didn't bother to ask him?"

He shook his head. "What could the harm be, she is sentenced to die tomorrow."

Mary glared at the man. "It's not your job to decide what should or shouldn't be. Now get them out of here. And Calico will hear of this."

He began to drag the women from the cell. All the while his eyes darted to Gabrielle as if he expected the woman to take his head off at any minute. When he was finished and the door was closed Mary approached Gabrielle. Her eyes surveyed the woman as she said, "You are such a  . . . "

Gabrielle cut in and said, "If you are going to call me little . . . "

Mary laughed and said, "No, I was going to say that you are more of an amazement to me every day. I can see why Ann and Xena keep you around. You have just defeated four of the best fighting women on this island."

"Who is the best?"

She walked past the Bard and brushed against her as she said, "Me. I think they let their anger get the best of them. I never do."

"Are you telling me I have to go up against you now?"

Mary walked over to the bench and sat as she said, "Oh no, l have no desire to see if you are as good as me. I will tell you, I am impressed."

Gabrielle walked to the bench and sat. She turned her head and stared at Mary Ready as she inquired, "Have you heard anything about Ann?"

"Nothing, but Ann is a sly one. She will not announce her arrival."

Gabrielle sighed.  "That is if she even does show up."

Mary noticed the red welt on Gabrielle's face and remarked, "Looks like one made contact."

Gabrielle raised a hand and felt her face then said, "Yes, I sort of ran into a fist."

Mary smiled and said, "If you weren't such a fighter it could have been worse. I don't think they will be back. But you can expect to see them standing in the front while Calico slips the rope around your neck."

Gabrielle got to her feet and began to pace the cell then said, "It just keeps coming back to that. If I ask you for a knife would you give one to me?"

Mary's eyes widened. "If you are thinking of escaping when you take those last steps, forget it. You will be bound and there won't be any way to get the knife if you have one."

"Do you have to be so depressing? Maybe I will try to escape way before."

Getting to her feet Mary said, "You will never get out of here. Even if you should overpower me. The place is too well guarded."

"I will not just let it happen. I will fight till the end." Glancing around the room she continued, "I have asked you to end my life instead of putting me through the agony that Calico Jack plans for me. You have refused. I have no recourse but to make the attempt myself."

Mary stepped in front of her and said, "If you are talking about taking your own life. I will stop you."

The woman smiled and said, "I meant escape. If I perish doing that, at least I will have tried."

Mary walked away as she said, "I guess your opinion of me at the moment is pretty low." The woman sighed then turned and said, "All right, I will probably regret this but I will help you."

A faint smile crossed Gabrielle's lips as she whispered, "May the God's bless you."

"I hope someone does because if Calico catches us, I will hang beside you."

Gabrielle reached out and grasped the woman's left hand. "Come sit with me, let's talk about it, we both know there isn't much time."
 

The two women sat staring toward the far wall of the cave. Ephiny softly said, "I don't know what to do for her."

Sea replied, "It's as if she has given up. She won't even tend to Gabrielle anymore." The Warrior Princess sat leaning against the rock wall. Her eyes seemed to be transfixed. Sea continued,  "I feel Gabrielle can hear what is going on, why doesn't she come back?"

Ephiny shrugged and said, "I'm going to go over and sit with her for awhile." She stood and walked over to the Bard. Sitting down beside her she said, "Gabrielle, it's me Ephiny, I'm sorry about what happened. It was my fault not Xena's. I don't know how much you might have seen, but, if you had stayed around you would have seen her refuse my advance. The two of you are like day and night. One cannot exist without the other. I know, no one belongs to any one person but, if it is possible, I admit the two of you belong together."

She gazed at the white face of the Bard and continued, "You are strong, it is a different strength than Xena's. I believe you could go on, you have to know, Xena is falling apart. If you don't come back, she might not make it. Gabrielle, please listen to your heart, listen to our words, don't let something as beautiful as what the two of you share end in despair."

Sea approached and said, "I'm going to go out and get some fire wood." Ephiny watched the woman leave the cave, then she looked down at the lovely face of the woman who was in line to be her Queen.

It seemed that Ann had been gone for sometime. So she decided to go to the cave entrance and see if she could spy the woman. It was as she stepped from the cave she saw the glow in the sky. Taking a few steps toward the light she reached a crop of trees. Clearing them she could now see the field below. There were campfires scattered around the area. It was the light from the many fires that was sending the glow into the sky. She could now hear the sounds of people talking and wondered who had put up such a large encampment so close to the cave. Hearing footsteps approaching she darted behind a large tree. It wasn't long before the form of Ann Bounty came into view. She stepped out and asked, "What is going on down there?"

Sea stopped, stared at her and said. "Why don't you scare a person. It is the strangest thing, there are people camped down there. They are Villagers and Amazons. They have all heard of Gabrielle's accident and have come to give her support."

Ephiny replied, "This is wonderful, but, how did they know?"

"News travels fast, even if it is not the best."  Sea replied.

Ephiny reached out to take some of the wood from the woman's arms and said, "Let's get this wood back to the cave."
 
 

A Bargain

Chapter Thirteen

Calico Jack had been sitting, he was going through a couple of parchments when one of his men came running into the tavern. "Calico!"

He looked up from what he was doing, glanced at the man then asked, "What has you in such a dither?"

"It's Ann Bounty! She has sent you a message!"

He got to his feet and walked toward the man. His look was now stern.  "Where is it?"  As he said this, he saw the outstretched parchment and  grasped it. Waving the man on he began to unroll it as his eyes feasted on the scribing. He looked at it several times then called one of his men over and handed the parchment to the man and ordered, "Read what it says!"

The small man took it and read, "Calico, why are you doing this to Gabrielle? It is really me, you want. I will make a deal with you. Release the woman and I will surrender myself to you. You can send word by building a fire in the city square tomorrow. If you light the fire, I will know you accept my terms. When I see Gabrielle ride from the city, I will come in."

Calico reached out and grabbed the parchment as he said, "Does she think I am stupid. I release the woman and she never comes in. Send my men out to scout the surrounding area. Anyone you see tell them I have a message for Ann Bounty. I will release her friend when she walks into the square and gives herself to the tribunal." The man started to move and he grabbed him by his right arm adding, "Make sure she gets this message and I don't care how you do it. If I don't hear from her before the sun rises tomorrow, the sentence will be carried out."

The man hurried from the room. Calico angrily swore, "Damn you Ann Bounty!" He kicked out at the counter hitting it full force. The man hopped up and down from the pain he had inflicted on himself.

Ann had been leaning against a tree as she watched the lights flicker in the pirate den below. Saxton approached and said, "Maybe he will release the little one."

She turned to the man and shook her head. "We both know he won't. He wants me but he wants me to pay. If he only knew how much I have paid just knowing Gabrielleis down there."

Saxton could see fresh tears on the woman's cheeks and said, "We will get her out."

She squared her jaw. "If I have to give my life so she will be freed, it is a small price to pay for what I have caused."

The man reached out and touched the woman's arm. "You are both lucky to have such friendship. But, I don't want to lose either one of you." He turned and walked away.

She stared after him then turned her attention back to the city that lay below. Gabrielle was there somewhere, she hoped she was still alive.

The sound of hoof beats entering the camp brought the men out in readiness. Ann heard the commotion and went to see what was going on. As she stepped into the glow from the campfire she could see the man dismounting. As his feet touched the ground he spied her and ran over to the woman. His breath was raspy as she listened to his words, "Calico got the message. He has sent one of his own. He will not release Gabrielle until you give yourself up. He said if he didn't receive a reply by tomorrow morning, her sentence will be carried out."

She looked down at the man and asked. "Sentence? You mean the trial is over?"

He nodded and replied, "Yes, she will hang tomorrow."

"Then you must take another message down and see he receives it. Go sit, get something to eat and drink while I prepare the message." He nodded and walked toward the campfire. Saxton was by her side in an instant and said, "Doesn't sound too good. What are you going to do?"

She walked over to her pallet and sat. Taking out a piece of parchment she began to scribe. "I will tell him, that I am coming in and if he values his life he will not harm Gabrielle."

The man stared down at her, worry apparent on his face. "You are giving in to him? Captain, if you tell the man how important Gabrielle is to you. He will  use it against you both."

She stopped writing and said,  "He knows that, if he didn't he wouldn't have taken her, he would have taken mother." She gazed up at Saxton's concerned eyes adding, "Besides, I didn't say I would be going in alone. After I scribe this, we need to discuss strategies."

Mary stood up and said, "Here, it's small. You can probably find a place to hide it." The small dagger she was holding out was a welcome sight to the woman. Gabrielle rose to her feet, reached out and took it. "Thank you."

"Just promise me you won't try to harm yourself with it." Walking toward the door Mary turned and added, "I'll be back with your food, we will make  your escape at that time."

Gabrielle smiled toward  the woman and said, "I'll be waiting."  Before Mary walked from the room she winked at the Bard then left.

Calico Jack had been limping around the room cursing under his breath when the second message from Ann bounty arrived. As he read the words he licked his lips and said, "Good, you are about to enter my domain. Send her word, I accept. But she must surrender to me this night." He walked to a chair and sat. Banging a tankard on the table he bellowed, "Bring me some more of this!" After a new tankard was placed in front of the man, he raised it toward the ceiling and said, "To you Ann Bounty and to my revenge."

Gabrielle heard the noises outside the cell and wondered what was going on. It didn't take long for the door to open as two burly men walked into the room. She stepped back and asked, "What are you doing here?"

The tall man in the front answered, "We have orders to take you to Calico Jack. Don't give us any trouble. There are twenty guards out there that will help us if we need it." He stepped up to her, reached out and quickly wrapped a thick string of leather around her wrists. She watched him in shock then stamered, "What is happening? The sentence is not supposed to be carried out till tomorrow."

"All I know is your presence is requested, now let's go."  He pushed her from the room. One of the men walked in front of her and the other behind. She could feel the tip of the man's cutlass on her back as she stepped from the cell. Her mind was going in circles. What was happening? Where was Mary? She knew this could ruin her plans of escape. "Move it!" She felt a large hand shove her from behind as she stumbled.

Calico looked up from his drink when he saw the men bring the woman into the room. He stood as they approached. Gabrielle stared at him and asked, "What is this about? You have already sentenced me. Can't you at least let me spend my last night alone?"

He laughed and replied, "Thought you might like to know something?"

She smirked, "There isn't anything the likes of you could tell me that I would like to hear."

He walked up to her and placed his right hand on her cheek then said, "Not even information of Ann."

She pulled her head away from his touch. "Ann? What do you know of her?"

He guffawed. "I knew you would change your mind. We have struck a deal."

She looked at him with mistrust in her eyes. "Deal? She would never make a deal with the likes of you."

He turned and walked back over to the chair he had been sitting in, turned and said, "Even if it concerns you?"

"If it concerns me, I want to know."

He sat down and said, "Thought you might."

She was becoming extremely apprehensive as the man's lips curled into an evil smile. He took a drink then replied, "She is giving herself up this very evening."

Gabrielle stepped forward and cried, "No! She would never do that, what kind of game are you playing?"

"No game. She thinks she is trading places with you."

One of the guards had grabbed her as she tried to approach the table. Fighting his hold on her she said, "She's not that stupid. She knows you can't be trusted."

He watched as his men succumbed the woman then said, "Ahh, but she cares for you. She will come."

Still struggling at the hold the men had on her she said, "She knows you, she will know it is a ruse. You have no intention of letting me leave."

Leaning back in the chair he answered, "You are right. But she will come anyway. It is the one thing that will get her killed, beneath that tough exterior she lets feelings get in the way. It will be her undoing." Calico looked at one of the men and ordered, "Take her over to the post and see that her hands are bound to it. She will be the bait that catches our elusive SeaTroll."

Gabrielle fought but the men were too strong and soon her wrists were bound to the chain on the post. As they walked away, she glowered at the man who was sitting, smugly smiling down at her.

Her legs were aching from standing for so long and she shifted her weight from foot to foot. The men had done a good job of tying her wrists to the post because she had been trying to break free from it for sometime. She had only succeeded in making her wrists bleed. Calico Jack had been meeting with several of his men and had dispersed them into the square. He had set traps around the room as he waited for Ann Bounty to make an appearance.

The Bard finally went down on her knees. Her mind wandered to Mary Ready, where was she? When the woman went to the cell she would be gone, would Mary come looking for her? This man was evil incarnate. She was not happy to be his captive but extremely happy it was not his ship she had been shanghaied on.

The pain that shot from her wrists was the only thing that was keeping her from struggling. She laid her forehead against the post and hoped it would all be over soon. She prayed that Ann would not be the person Calico thought she was. Gabrielle knew that she had made her bed when she allowed the woman to become a part of her life. Her mind wandered back to spoon Island and Ann's mother. She was so kind and gentle. It was obvious, this was where Ann got the feelings that Calico was now saying would be the end of the woman.

"What is going on in there?" Gabrielle raised her head as the loud voice of Mary Ready was booming into the room. She got to her feet and stared toward the door. It didn't take long for Mary to step into the room. She walked toward Calico and said, "Want to tell me what is going on. I had an appointment with Gabrielle this evening."

He pointed to the woman and said, "There she is, go talk to her."

Mary walked toward her, nearing the woman she glanced down at her wrists. Turning she said, "I thought this was all over. You have condemned the woman, at least let her have peace her last night."

He laughed and replied, "If you are referring to her wrists, that is her doing. She doesn't like to be confined. I have need of her. Ann Bounty is coming in tonight and I needed the woman to be the bait. In case Ann thinks she is going to try something."

Mary looked shocked. "Ann is coming here? Doesn't sound like the person I knew."

He replied, "She has sent a message. Seems she has some deep feelings where the woman is concerned. You are welcome to stay and watch. I know the two of you are not on the best of terms anymore."

Mary smiled and answered, "Oh yes, I will stay. And you are right, I want to see her pay as well as you." She glanced at Gabrielle and said, "Stop trying to get loose, you are just hurting yourself. Seems it is inevitable, you will see your friend once more." The woman turned and walked over to the bar and ordered a flask of drink. Calico had gone back to his carousing with several women. She leaned against the counter, staring into the middle of the room at the woman she was going to help escape. Even in this difficult time she was as brave as any she had ever seen. She watched Calico leave the room and after he was gone she walked back to Gabrielle.

She heard Mary approach and said, "Coming to gloat?"

"No, I don't like this any more than you do. Thought you might be thirsty, here." She held the flask to her mouth and Gabrielle took a drink. "Thanks. Cut me lose."

"Not if I want to live. Bad time."

The woman answered, "Yeah, well don't think there will be a good time."

Calico had walked back into the room and approached the two women. He stared at Mary then at Gabrielle and asked, "There isn't a closeness here is there?"

Mary laughed and said, "Yeah, it's called pain." She grabbed Gabrielle's wrists and pulled as the woman flinched. She turned and walked away. Calico smiled and said, "She doesn't much like you. Your torment will end soon." He walked back to his table.

It was toward morning when the lone woman rode her horse into the square. She hopped to the ground and as her feet touched it, she drew the cutlass that had been hanging by her right side. The horse moved away as she gazed around at the buildings. All the time the sharp piece of metal in her hand was cutting through the air. Several of Calico's men had watched the woman but none would step out and confront her.

"She's here! She's here!" The man came dashing into the room. Calico jumped to his feet sending the woman on his lap in a heap to the floor. He swiftly walked toward the man and asked, "Where?"

The man turned and pointed his finger toward the door. "In the square, her cutlass cuts through the air like one of Zeusí lightning bolts!"

Gabrielle was fully alert and at that moment all the weary feelings she had were gone. Mary glanced toward her and shook her head then walked toward the man. "Let me take her down?"

He shook his head and answered, "I'd love nothing better but, I want to see the woman stand trial. Besides, I want to dish out a little punishment of my own. When I am finished, maybe I will let the two of you go at it."

Gabrielle screamed at the top of her voice, Sea! Get out of here, it's a trap!"

Calico walked over and released her from the post. Leaving her hands tied he said, "You did what I wanted. She now knows you are in here and she will enter." He placed his left arm under her chin and said, "I could cut your breathing if I wanted. I want her to see you alive. Be still and I promise I won't kill her."

Sea stopped swirling her cutlass when she heard Gabrielle's voice. She stared in the direction of the building and started to walk toward it. Stopping at the entrance she took a deep breath and entered the room. Her eyes darted around coming to rest on the form of her friend. She was standing in the middle of the room and Calico was holding her against him. He had a choke hold on the woman. The two women's eyes met seeming to be locked in a moment of connection.

Lefgor stepped forward and asked, "Where is our bounty?"

She gazed at the man then brushed past him as if he wasn't there. Stepping onto the main floor she said, "I am here, now let her go!"

Calico smiled and said, "Drop your cutlass."

She glanced around the room as her eyes met Mary's. Then she glared at him and ordered, "Release her!" Her eyes gave out a softness as she looked at Gabrielle and asked, "Are you all right?"

Gabrielle replied, "Why? Why are you here? He isn't going to let me go and you know that."

Ann answered, "I know, but had to take the chance he might."

Calico put pressure on Gabrielle's throat as he ordered, "Now! Drop the weapon!"

Sea replied, "In front of all your comrades, I need you to tell me you will let me have some time with Gabrielle and I will."

"No problem, you can have a few minutes with the woman after you drop the sword."

Sea let the weapon fall to the floor and said, "Satisfied?"

His men immediately grabbed her and held the woman at knife point. Another man picked up the cutlass. Gabrielle uttered the words, "No . . .  No Sea!"

Calico motioned for two of his men to hold Gabrielle, then he stepped up to Ann. "There are a few things we need to get straight before your little meeting."

Defiantly Ann stared into his cold eyes and asked, "Yes, what's that?"

She never even saw the fist that lashed out at her from the side. Still reeling from the blow, Calico ran his right fist into the woman's stomach.

Gabrielle screamed, "Sea!"

Ann had fallen to her knees as the man said, "Get up, your friend took more than that." In an instant she tackled the man sending him falling backwards onto the floor. Her right fist had made solid contact with the man's face when darkness surrounded her.

Gabrielle sat on the floor by the still woman. Though her wrists were still bound she reached out and touched the woman's face and spoke softly, "Sea . . . " The woman didn't move. "If you are doing this just to get attention, well,  it's working," she added.

The sound of a groan followed by, "What hit me?" brought Gabrielle to her knees as she answered, "Sea, one of Calico's men hit you with a billy club. But not until you got one good blow on Calico's face."

Sea sat up slowly, as Gabrielle said, "It's good to see you."

The woman smiled and said, "Even like this, the sight of you quickens my breathing." She reached out and placed her right hand on the woman's face. "I'm so sorry."

Gabrielle pressed a soft kiss in the palm of the Sea's hand and said, "Nothing to be sorry over. We all make our own bed in this world. Never feel that way. You shouldn't have come."

"Couldn't bear you having all the fun. Besides, I missed you."

Gabrielle replied, "Me too."

Sea felt the back of her head. "I noticed Mary in there. I hope I am able to repay her for what she has done to you."

Gabrielle replied, "There is something you need to know about her." Sea looked questioningly and she told the woman all about Mary Ready and how the woman was going to help her escape. When she finished Sea replied, "I'll give her that, but if she hadn't taken you in the first place neither one of us would be here. She has a lot to account for."

Gabrielle soflty replied, "He will hurt you. I can't stand it. You have to get out of here."

Sea shook her head. "When we go, we go together."

The sound of people approaching the door didn't seem to detour the look they were giving one another. Sea gazed toward the door then said, "I could sail the ocean for the rest of my life and never feel the joy I receive in your smile. You have told me love can be shown in many ways. I only know the feelings I carry in my heart for you, are as precious as the most precious stone.

Gabrielle's eyes misted as she placed her bound hands over her heart and said, "Your words make me cry, not because I am sad, but, because I also carry you in my heart."

The door flew open and Calico Jack stepped into the room. "Time, it's time you, Ann Bounty, received the punishment you deserve, as well as your little friend."
 
 

The Star

Chapter Fourteen

The two woman had been keeping vigil on the Bard and the Warrior Princess. Ephiny looked at Sea and said,"I'm going to go sit by Xena for awhile."

Sea nodded. "See what you can do to bring her out of the depression she is in."

Ephiny walked over to Xena and sat. She looked at the woman and said,  "Xena, thought you might like to know that the field below the cave is full of people. "

Xena turned her head, stared at the woman and asked, "What are they doing there?"

Ephiny answered, "They have heard of Gabrielle's misfortune, and have come to lend their support."

The woman scowled. "Yeah, how can they support her?"

Ephiny replied, "By being here. Xena, this is Solstice night, these people have given up their celebrations to come."

Leaning back against the wall the warrior replied, "Gabrielle was so looking forward to it. It is nice the people have come. I must tell them to go home, be with their families."

Ephiny reached out and touched the woman's right arm. "They have brought their families with them. They are together."

Xena seemed to be at a loss for words and Ephiny said, "It is possible that a miracle might happen, because this night has been known for many."

Xena stood and walked slowly over to Gabrielle. She stared down at her friend and said, "Maybe we have already seen ours."

Ephiny followed the woman. "Don't give up your hope. Gabrielle must know you still care."

Xena stretched and said, "I'm going to go take a look at the encampment." She walked away and soon was out of sight.

Sea walked up to Ephiny and said, "We can aspire. "

"No!"

The strong words brought the two women's attention down toward the form of the Bard. Sea dropped to her knees as she reached out for Gabrielle's left hand. "Gabrielle!"

Ephiny sat down and asked, "She did say that didn't she?"

Sea glanced up as she replied, "Yes, look at her, she is shivering. Ephiny, something is happening!"

Sea tucked the blanket in around the woman as she stared down at Gabrielle's face. Her eye lids were fluttering and the hand she was holding was gripping her's with a vengeance. Ephiny looked at the woman and said, "Pull away."

Ann replied, "No, she is trying to tell us something."

Gabrielle's voice was frantic and sporadic as she moaned, "Calico . . . must . . . save!" The woman was beginning to toss about as Sea reached down and tried to keep her still.

Ephiny asked, "Do you know what she is referring to?"

Sea answered, "The island, Calico Jack. I told you some of it."

Ephiny was confused. "It's in the past, why is she thinking of it?"

"It was a very difficult time and for some reason her mind has taken her back." She reached out and caressed Gabrielle's forehead with her left hand and said, "Gabrielle, I'm here. It's Ann, Calico is in the past, he can't harm either one of us anymore. Do you hear me? He can't harm you anymore, you're all right."

Ephiny got to her feet and said, "I'm going to go find Xena." She hurried from the cave.

Sea sat and whispered, "I never told you this, but I was so proud of you. I am so proud of you. What happened there is over, you are with Xena now."

The Bard spoke, "Mary . . .  where?"

Sea looked away then said, "Mary is fine, she is in Olympia at the moment. Now, it's time. Time you woke up, Solstice is here. I can remember how much you think of The Solstice. I still have the music box and listen to it each twilight before I go to sleep."

Gabrielle mumbled, "Hit . . . you . . . loud!"

Sea whispered, "I have to believe you are coming back to us."  The woman looked away. " Please, let her come back to us. Gods, get her out of this!"

Xena had approached the encampment. She stopped for a few minutes and took in the vastness of it. She gazed at the cheery glow their campfires were making in the sky, then she walked into the main portion of the camp. Men, women and children were busily putting up their homemade decorations. Many were singing. They saw the tall women walk into the camp. The children stopped to stare at her as she walked past. Approaching a large tent she could see the back of a good sized man. "Pardon me."

As he turned her eyes widened and she said, "Senticles! What are you doing here?"

The man smiled at her and said, "I knew they wouldn't be home so I have come to spread some cheer."

Xena gazed around and could see the man had been busy. He smiled and said, "She will be all right."

Xena stepped back and looked at him intently as she asked, "Who will be all right?"

The man answered, "Why, Gabrielle."

"Then you must know something I don't. Last time I looked, she was still unconscious."

He reached down to pick up a sack and as he threw it over his right shoulder he said, "Have hope, good things come to those that wait. Have to leave, things to do and places to go but do tell that sweet lady I said HappySolstice!"

Before Xena could speak, the man had turned and walked into the row of tents. She ran after him but he was not anywhere to be seen.

Xena had stepped the entire encampment. She was surprised, to see so many people she and the Bard had encountered. All had come together to celebrate Solstice and join hands to wish the two of them well. She had met Janna, and some of the women from her village.

Stumbling upon the camp of Marmax caused the woman to take a second look. The man had told her that the Bard had been kind to him. And he could still remember the story she had told him. He wished her good health.

"Hello Xena, it's been awhile."

She turned as she heard the familiar voice. The man was standing, his arms outstretched as she said, "Salmoneus, good to see you." The man walked up and hugged the woman then stepped back and said, "I was as surprised as anyone when I found out Gabrielle was your friend. But, she has grown into a best friend that anyone could ever want. I will never forget when she filled in for you."

Xena answered, "I guess I kind of let it slip to the back of my mind."

He replied, "I will never forget how devastated she was when she thought you had died."

Xena smiled at the man and said, "Seems to me she wasn't the only one."

He answered, "You got me there Xena. I care for both of you and don't think I could ever stand to see one of you without the other."

Xena thanked the man as she turned and walked away.

She had started to travel back toward the cave when she noticed a campfire on the rise. Changing course, she headed in that direction. She didn't recognize the woman who was busily stirring a pot of heavenly smelling food. As her left foot stepped on a twig, and it snapped, the woman stood to see who was approaching. A smile crossed her face as she held out her right hand and said, "Xena! It must be you. I am happy to finally meet you."

Xena stepped closer to the campfire and asked, "Am I supposed to know you?"

The woman shook her head. "No, but you know my husband."

A man's voice echoed from behind, "Xena! How is Gabrielle?"

She turned to see Meleager walking toward her. She glanced back at the woman and replied, "Still the same. I suppose you are here for the same reason everyone else seems to be?"

He clasped her arm in friendship and said, "Yes, the wife and I talked it over. And since I was beside myself with worry when I heard Gabrielle had been injured we decided to make the trek."

Xena muttered, "Wife?"

He held out an arm toward the woman as she hurried over to him. He draped it over her shoulders and said, "This is Delretha, we have been married for several moons."

Xena acknowledged the woman. He invited her to come sit with them and partake in their evening meal. She accepted. It was wonderful to listen to the man talk. It was as if he was an entirely different individual than the one who was prone to getting drunk and carousing. When she walked from their camp that evening she could now see what the Bard had always seen in the man.

Nearing the crop of trees, she knew it wouldn't be long before she would be back to the cave.

"Xena, there you are."

She looked up to see Ephiny walking toward her. The Amazon gazed at her and said, Where have you been? We have been worried."

Xena frowned and asked, "We?"

"Well, I know I have."

Xena turned to stare back down toward the encampment and said, "I've been visiting with some old friends. It's amazing! They have all heard of Gabrielle's injury and are here for support."

Ephiny replied, "That is good, she needs all the good thoughts."

Xena turned her attention to the woman's face. "I hear something in your voice, Is Gabrielle worse?"

Ephiny related the past events to the woman and when she finished she said, "The pirate thing is something you need to know."

Xena replied, "There seems to be quite a few things I should know. Let's get back."

The two women entered the cave as Ephiny grabbed Xena's right arm she said, "Now, don't get riled."

Ann Bounty was sitting close to the woman. She was holding one hand and with the other she was caressing Gabrielle's face. The woman never even heard them approach until they were almost to her. She glanced up and said, "She has been coming in and out for sometime."

Xena knelt down and said, "She seems to be in misery, it's like she is fighting a battle of her own."

Ann replied, "From what I gather, she is in the throes of the Calico Jack incident."

Xena stood and said, "Ephiny will stay with her, I want you to come over by the fire and tell me about this."

Sea glanced down at Gabrielle then her eyes darted to Ephiny and she said, "All right, I'll tell you what I can." Ephiny sat down and watched the two women walk away then her eyes fell back to the woman laying on the pallet. She was shaking violently and tears were now trickling down the woman's cheeks.
 

Gabrielle and Sea got to their feet and turned to stare at the man. He walked up and commanded, "Step into the outer room. You first!" He pointed at Gabrielle and she walked past him. She had just stepped out of the room when the door shut behind her. She turned and screamed, "Sea!" The woman pounded her fists against it. Several men grabbed her and pulled her away. She heard the loud noise and the angry shouting of the man coming from the room.

The Bard struggled with her captors. She now knew that Calico was doing something to Sea. The men held each of her arms and wouldn't release their hold. It was as she struggled, a loud explosion rocked the building. This threw the men off guard and Gabrielle flipped backwards, breaking their hold on her arms. Realizing what had happened, they turned to see where the woman had gone. She swung her left leg around and hit one across his face as he went down.

The other man grinned and said, "Don't fight, we'll just capture you in the end."

She stepped back and said, "Well, then you had better try."

The words were Mary's as the woman called out, "Here!"

Gabrielle glanced toward the bar and saw the bottle heading her way. She reached up and caught it.  The man laughed and said, "Feel a need to take a drink?"

It was her turn to laugh. "No, but it might look good up against your head!" With a quick fling, the bottle careened against the man's temple and he joined his companion on the floor.

Loud noises were filtering in from the square. Mary approached her and said, "You have to get out of here!"

Gabrielle stared up at the woman and replied, "Not without Sea!"

The woman handed her a cutlass and said, "I'll' do what I can out here but you had better get while the timing is right."

Gabrielle nodded toward her then turned her attention to the closed door. She pushed her body against it but nothing happened. Mary had been watching and couldn't help but smile as Gabrielle kept flinging her body against the wood. Finally she walked over and said, "Maybe if we both try?"

Nodding, Gabrielle stepped back. The two women stood side by side as Mary said, "Now!" The crackling of the wood sounded throughout the building as the two went crashing onto the floor. Calico had been standing over the unconscious body of Ann Bounty, a cutlass in his right hand. He turned to stare at the two as they hit the floor. Gabrielle was on her feet in an instant. When her eyes fell on the man, she made a running leap letting her feet land on his face. It threw him backwards and away from Sea. Mary was in the middle of trying to defend herself from several of Calico's men.

Calico got to his feet and stared at the Bard as he said, "Must be something very special for you to attempt such a foolish stunt." He glanced toward Mary and said, "And you too, Mary Ready, you will regret this act of treachery!"

As Mary's cutlass cut the last man down, she turned to scowl at him and said, "I don't think so."

Gabrielle called back, "See if Ann is all right!"

Mary approached the woman as she knelt down and felt for a pulse. Standing up she replied, "He has hurt her, but she is alive."

Sea began to move and Calico said, "Glad to know I didn't kill her, But take my word for it she will die as will the two of you." He looked toward the door and yelled, "Get in here!"

No one came and he was getting angry as he called several more times. Finally Gabrielle said, "Looks like no one is coming, guess that just leaves you and me."

The man began to step backwards as he muttered, "You will be sorry."

Mary stepped up behind her and said, "From the sounds outside, I would say that Ann's men are here. There is no time to waste. We have to get you out of here!" Gabrielle turned to walk away as Calico rushed her, his fists in readiness. She suddenly kicked back with her left leg as it struck a resounding blow to his stomach, the man collapsed.

Sea was trying to get to her feet and kept falling as Mary knelt down and said, "Stop moving, we will get you out of here."

The woman blinked her eyes and said, "Damn you Mary Ready!" She swung out at the woman  and as Mary dodged, Sea collapsed. Mary called out to Gabrielle, "The time is now! Let's get Ann out of here!"

Gabrielle was standing over the man, the cutlass in her hand had been raised. She turned to see Ann and said, "All right, Sea is more important. He will get his if not by me, by someone else." As she knelt and touched the gash above Sea's right eye. Mary reached over and said, "You get hold of one side and I will the other, let's get her to her feet. We've got to get out of here. The minute Calico's people realize there is not an army they will retaliate."

They grabbed Ann under her arms and raised the woman to her feet. Sea moved her head, stared at Gabrielle and said, "Did I get her?"

Patting the woman's hand she answered, "Oh, I think you got her all right." Glancing at the concerned look on Mary's face she said, "Let's go!"

They met Saxton and his men in the square as Mary said, "I'm leaving you here, take Ann get out of here. I have a ship to board." Saxton had grabbed Ann and was now holding the woman. Gabrielle walked up to Mary and said, "Thank you."

Mary smiled at her and in the light from the fires in the city the bluest eyes seemed to sparkle down on the woman as Mary replied, "No, thank you for giving me my life back. Tell Ann, I'm sorry and I hope she will find it in her heart sometime to forgive me."

Gabrielle stood on her toes as she planted a soft kiss on the woman's right cheek. She smiled and said, Take care, and I will tell Ann."  Turning toward Saxton she added,  "Let's get ourselves home."

The man smiled and said, "I've missed you and you may never know how much  the  Captain has."

Gabrielle stared at Sea's beaten face as she reached out, touched the woman and said, "I know."

The man smiled as they turned and left the burning city behind them.

Xena had been staring at Ann for some time. She finally said, "That's definitely caught my attention. I knew Gabrielle cared for you, never knew she held such warm feelings though."

Ann replied, "She has never talked to you about it?"

Xena shook her head answering, "Probably didn't want to cause me worry. After all I was the one that left camp that evening. I thought I could do some scouting and return before she woke. If I had stayed . . . "

Ann cut in and said, "If. Xena is in the past. Grasp the future in your hands, hold it to your heart and never let it go."

Xena reached over and grasped the woman's right arm as she said, "I still am proud to know you. Thank you, Ann Bounty, for caring for Gabrielle."

Sea grasped Xena's arm, stared into the woman's eyes and said, "Even though you know I have feelings for her?"

"Even then." She got to her feet and said, Now, let's see what is happening with our Bard."

Sea smiled and got to her feet as the two women walked toward Gabrielle.

Ephiny stood and said, She seems to be the same, at least she is moving."

Xena and Sea stared down at Gabrielle. Ephiny had walked toward the cave entrance. The women looked toward Ephiny as the beautiful melodious voices came filtering into the cave. Sea and Xena walked over to Ephiny and asked, "What is going on?"

She smiled and said, "The people from the camp. They have come to sing their blessings to Gabrielle."

The sky tonight, is shining bright on Solstice eve on Solstice eve. With a light that guides your way tonight, Solstice night is here. The stars light our Christmas bright on Solstice eve, on Solstice eve. Our song will light the hope of light on this longest night of the year. Joyful wonder, a time for cheer, the greatest time of all. And so we send all the love we have this night to our friend Gabrielle.

The humming was getting closer as Xena stepped out into the night air. Sea touched Ephiny's right arm and said, "Look, it's snowing."

The two women walked out to stand by Xena. Sea replied, "It's wonderful."

Ephiny answered, "Guess it doesn't snow on the ocean."

Xena turned to smile at the two women and said, "Their singing is beautiful. Gabrielle would have loved it."

Sea approached the woman and said, "She can hear it, I'm sure. Look, someone is coming."

Xena turned to glance down at the crop of trees and could see several people trudging their way. She pondered for a second and said, "Can't imagine." As they came into sight the woman said, "King Gregor, King Silvus, and King Saul, what?"

Princess Diana stepped into view followed by Meg, the woman was tugging on a rope. King Gregor asked, "Where is Gabrielle?"

Xena answered, "In the cave, how did you find us?"

He smiled and said, "The star guided us." The man pointed above the cave.

Xena stepped further out and stared up. Her mouth fell open as she said, "I didn't even know it was there."

Ephiny and Sea had joined her and both stared up at the beautiful star. It was bigger than any of the others and was directly over their cave. It was obvious the light from it could have been seen for miles.

Xena could feel the snow as it fell on her face and relished in the feeling. Turning her attention back to the men she asked, "Ephiny, take them to Gabrielle will you?"

Ephiny answered, "Follow me."

Sea watched them disappear into the cave and asked, "Gabrielle knows kings?"

Xena answered, "Yeah. The woman is Princess Diana."

"Move! You dumb ass!"

They glanced down and could see Meg tugging on a lead rope. The donkey was standing its ground and was not moving. Xena put two fingers to her lips and sent a shrill whistle through the air. The donkey threw up its ears and charged forward sending the woman backwards onto the ground. Xena reached out and grabbed the rope. She looked down at the donkey and said, "Tobias, good to see you."

Meg was now on her feet and had approached them. She looked at Xena and said, "A whistle, why didn't they tell me?"

Xena asked, "Why didn't who tell you?"

She answered,  "The man and woman that asked me to bring the animal here." She thought for a minute and said, "You know they had the cutest baby boy."

Xena said, "That is wonderful, Gabrielle will be so happy to . . . "

Sea looked at the woman and said, "She will be happy."

"Hey, what is going on?" The voice rang out from the crop of trees. They glanced down and could see the figure of Epinon approaching. Xena replied, "Looks like everyone is here, except . . . "

Sea replied, "We all have a lot to be thankful for this night."

Ephiny and the three kings were heading toward them as the woman smiled. "Epinon, you made it!" She ran and threw her arms around her.

Sea had noticed the forlorn look on the woman's' face and said, "It will be all right, Xena."

Xena watched the three kings and Diana walk back down the trail as she said, "We are getting wet out here." Pulling on Tobia's rope she said, "Come on, let's get you to your new home."

"Xena." The voice was warm and soft. Xena felt chills travel her body as she turned, Sea also turned toward the sound.

Standing in the glow of the cave entrance was the outlined form of a woman. Xena dropped the rope as she took a step forward.  "Gabrielle? Are you real?"

"I'm as a real as it gets. What am I missing?"

Xena felt her throat tighten, as tears formed in her eyes she ran to the woman. Throwing her arms around her, she rejoiced, "Thank the Gods! You've come back!"

Gabrielle seemed to be amazed as she wrapped her arms around the woman. Xena stepped back and stared at her then placed a hand on either side of the woman's face and asked, "You don't remember?"

She answered, "Remember? I don't know what you are talking about but if it gets me this kind of greeting maybe I should do it again."

"Never, never leave me, no matter what."

Gabrielle had now spied Sea standing behind the woman. She looked at Xena and said, "Xena, I . . . "

Xena answered, "I know, go."

Gabrielle walked past her and stepped toward Sea. As she neared, she said, "You have come to visit Xena and me, and we can't wait to show you our home. It's good to see you again."

Sea reached out and hugged the woman then stepped back and said, "The world would fade if that lovely smile of yours wasn't in it. Happy Solstice."

Xena raised an eyebrow as she watched the two women. Gabrielle stared down at the donkey and dropped to her knees as she said, "Tobias, you've come home." She reached out and hugged the animal as it nuzzled her long strawberry blond hair. Sea reached down and said, "Let me help you up." Gabrielle grabbed her hand and the woman helped her to her feet. Xena had turned and started back toward the cave when Gabrielle called out, "Xena, wait for us." She wrapped an arm around Sea and said, "Let's go in, the snow is lovely but it is warmer inside."

Sea took Tobias's rope and led the animal toward the cave. As they neared the entrance Gabrielle approached Xena and said, "Isn't it wonderful, Sea has come to visit."

Xena stared at the two women, smiled and said, "Yes, Gabrielle, it's wonderful. Now, let's get you back inside before you catch cold."

Sea hesitated and Gabrielle stared at her. Xena walked up to Sea and said, "Come on friend, let's celebrate this remarkable Solstice." She wrapped her left arm around the woman's waist and her right one around the Bard's. With the sounds of caroling in the background the three women walked into the cave, leaving the twinkling stars and the glimmer of the newly fallen snow on the land.

The end
 
 

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wonderful. Now, let's get you back inside before you catch cold."

Sea hesitated and Gabrielle stared at her. Xena walked up to Sea and said, "Come on friend, let's celebrate this remarkable Solstice." She wrapped her left arm around the woman's waist and her right one around the Bard's. With the sounds of caroling in the background the three women walked into the cave, leaving the twinkling stars and the glimmer of the newly fallen snow on the land.

The end



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