2003 Bardie Winner!
People's Choice Best Show
Best Technology--The Bubbler
Worst Prop--Cap'n Xena's Cigar
Best Appearance by Amazons
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and back story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
SUBTEXT: This is an Alt-Xena story. Bear that in mind when you read it and follow rules and directions of your local tribe.
The middle-aged woman with tinges of gray in her dark hair bustled across the busy Amphipolis street, dodging cart and horse traffic. Her wide blue eyes were full of the happiness that comes with a total contentment of your life and work. To all who saw her she waved a cheery good afternoon and gave them Elis Blessings and they responded in kind. Once across the street, she hurried up to a small homey looking house with colorful flowers in window boxes and let herself in with her key.
Once inside, she set aside her shawl on a coat rack and called, "Mama, Im home " There was no answer and she called again. "Cally? Mama? Where are you?" There was still no answer, but she was unworried. She passed through the front of the tidy and cozy little dwelling, glancing as she went at the sword and the katana intertwined with the chakram and crossed sais hanging above the fireplace. Once in the kitchen, finding no one, she frowned faintly and looked out of the small window into the back garden of the house.
There under a shady arbor near some rose bushes in the walled garden she saw two figures. One was a small blond woman, the other a golden haired child of perhaps fourteen summers. They sat with their backs to her, and she could hear the woman speaking in a soft voice. Between them was a small table with a sweating pitcher and two glasses containing tea. The woman in the window smiled tenderly as she watched them for a moment, then the smile became a grin as a twinkle came into her blue eyes.
Quietly, she let herself out of the door and approached the two from behind in a crouch. She made no noise at all as she crossed the grass, for she had once been very, very good at stalking prey quietly. There were many other skills that she had once been very good at as well, but there was too much pain connected to them and she preferred not to remember them nowadays. Noiseless as a ghost, she advanced toward the small blond and the child. Then within about ten feet from their unsuspecting backs, she hunkered down behind a small rosebush to listen to what was being said.
It was the child who spoke. "Would you tell me a story, Gramma Brielle?"
"I guess I could, Cally-babe," the small blonds voice smiled. She did not look as if she could possibly be a grandmother to this child, not by any stretch of the imagination. Her skin was firm and rosy with health, her voice was full and her long blond hair was untinged with any hint of silver. She wore a thin top and through it could be seen the faint outlines of a large and colorful dragon tattoo that wound sinuously down her back. "What would you like to hear about? The time when your Gramma and I met Goliath the giant? Or when we went to India? Or how about when we met Pandora?"
Cally said primly, "If you dont mind, Gramma, youve told those before and I like them, but how about something new?"
"Hmmm. New, huh?" The small woman seemed to consider.
"Yeah." Cally sounded excited. "How about something I never heard before about you an Gramma Zee? Something totally new!"
"Totally new, huh?" There was a mischievous tone in the older womans voice. "Did I ever tell you how yer Gramma and I first met?"
The child sounded disappointed. "Aw, Gramma Brielle, you told that lotsa times!"
"Well see," said the small blond taking a sip of her tea and smacking her lips with appreciation. "Now you just sit back and listen, cause I recollect that theres lotsa parts Ive never told you before; parts that have never before been revealed to anyone till this very day because they were Top Secret! Nowadays it probably doesnt matter any more, but back then it was real barn burnin stuff!" She pulled back the long hair from her neck as she warmed to her subject. "Now as I recall, it was way back during the Trojan War. We were on this boat called a Poseidons Trident and "
Cally interrupted in shocked tones. "But Gramma, thats not how you met! When you tell it in "Sins of the Past" you met in Poteidaia and the warlord Draco "
"Hush, child. Whos the bard here, you or me? In case you dont know, I always told that Poteidaia yarn with Draco to cover up the real story. I told you this was Top Secret stuff, known only to a very few at the time! Now like I say, the first time yer Gramma Xena and I ever met was when the Greeks and the Trojans were at war "
"But Gramma "
Her grandmother sighed. "Cally, child. How can I tell a story when you keep interrupting me?"
"I dont mean to, but, your stories always have a name, like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or something. So, whats the name of this story?"
"Oh," the blond said reflectively. "I guess yer right at that. Let me see "
As the bard meditated, the woman behind the rose bush settled noiselessly in and made herself comfortable in the soft grass for the tale sounded as if it could be interesting. As she lurked there, her startling blue eyes watched the bard and the child intently and a small self-satisfied smile played about her lips, for she was certain that the two were completely unaware of her presence.
That she herself might also be watched never entered her mind. But like a mere housecat hunting a mouse while in turn being stalked by a great tiger, the skilled hunter behind the bush had suddenly become the prey. For yet another pair of hard eyes was hidden nearby and their owner was as intent upon the woman behind the roses as she was upon the unsuspecting bard and child beneath the arbor.
Meanwhile, having thought for a moment, the blond bard grinned at her granddaughter and spoke. "Here ya go! I call this one The Tale of MizXenas Navy!"
Her voice shifted and became suddenly vibrant and compelling as she intoned, "I sing the song of a time and a war long ago, of greedy kings and foolish men and dark betrayal. I sing of Helen, the beautiful queen of the majestic city of Troy; a city now lost to the ages! Helen of Troy, in whose name a thousand ships of war were launched. Further, I sing the song of a tall, dark, Greek Captain from Amphipolis, who was in command of a most unusual vessel "
The sea wind whipped captain Xenas raven black hair past her face as PT-Evdomenda Tria surged through the tossing azure waves toward the small Trojan supply ship that was attempting to flee. She shifted the cigar from one side of her mouth to the other as she grinned in delight at the chase. Since the besieging Greek armies had cut off Troy on land, to catch that ship could mean depriving the enemy of needed supplies which could shorten the war between Greece and Troy. That war had been going on for almost ten years now and showed no signs of stopping. That ship also represented a sizable amount of dinars in prize money for each member of the crew of the small Poseidons Trident and this Patrol had been a long haul with no prizes taken so far. However the PT-Boat didnt seem to be catching up to the small sailing vessel so far and Xena frowned.
She yelled into the speaking tube to the Bubbler Room. "Give it all we got, Chief BM! Theyre showin us their heels!"
Joxer, the Chief Bubblermans voice echoed hollowly back. "This is it, Maam! We cant go any faster!"
"What in Tartarus are you talking about?" Xena was astounded. "We can make more knots than this! We have plenty of times before!"
"Well, yeah, we have, but I cant bump the rocks up to full bubble for another ten minutes!"
Worry made Xena chew her cigar. The Hercules Bubbler was the heart of the PT-Boats top secret means of moving without sail or oars. If it stopped working, they would be dead in the water. "Why ten minutes? Is something wrong with the Bubbler?"
She blinked with surprise as a different voice came over the speaking tube. "Hey, Cap? My galley stove has broken down."
Xenas voice was baffled. "Chef Autolycus? What are you doin in the Bubbler Room? You belong in the galley!" Her tone sharpened. "Never mind, wheres Chief Joxer?"
"Oh, hes right here with Assistant Chief Theodorus." The cooks suave voice came back. "But I thought Id better tell you about the Mousaka before you made a hasty decision."
"The Mousaka?" Xena began to wonder if she was dreaming.
"Yes, I was baking an Eggplant Mousaka for tonights dinner when the stove broke." His voice was confidant, charisma seeming to ooze through the speaking tube with every word. She could imagine him stroking the small mustache he kept so pristine. "Then I thought about how hot the top of the Bubbler gets. So I put the pan of Mousaka I was cooking on top of it to finish, and that was just perfect. But itll scorch if Chief Joxer turns up the speed any more!"
The volume of Xenas string of outraged curses caused heads to turn as far away as the Trojan supply ship they were pursuing and the amazons of her own deckside Ballista crews grinned at one another with delight. When she had her breath back, she spoke grimly into the speaking tube. "Chef Auto, kindly put Chief Bubblerman Joxer back on."
"Oh, sure thing, cap. Thanks tons for understanding!"
After a moment, Chief Bubblerman Joxers voice came through the speaking tube. He sounded anything but happy. "Y-Yes, Maam?"
Her voice held a chill that seemed to freeze the air. "Chief BM, you will get that speed up and get it up now or youll find that pan of hot Mousaka so far up your pink butt that steam will come outa your hairy ears!"
"Y-Yes, Maam!" He blurted, forgetting to use the customary naval answer of, "Aye, aye" to confirm her order.
"WHAT WAS THAT??" She roared.
"I mean, Aye, Aye, Maam!" He shouted desperately. A few moments later the PT-Boat surged forward in the azure waves like it had been kicked by a gigantic mule and left a frothing white trail of madly popping bubbles in their wake. Xena grinned savagely through the increased spray coming over the bridge.
The fleeing ship suddenly seemed to leap closer as they bore down upon it and she shouted through the speaking trumpet. "Ahoy, Chief Melosa! Chief Ephiny!"
The two Crew Chiefs looked at her for orders. The forward mount was crewed by black haired Melosa, dark Marga and blond Velasca. The aft mount was crewed by blond Ephiny, her dark haired lover Solari and the well-muscled Eponin. All the women on both crews were amazons, and there was fierce competition between both the crews who womanned the two giant crossbows that comprised the main armament of PT-Evdomenda Tria.
"Chiefs, be ready to loose Greek Fire bolts on my command, but only on my command! We want this prize intact if possible!"
"Aye, aye, Maam! We got em in our sights!"
The boat rocked savagely as it plowed into an unexpected wave and Xena snapped, "Keep her steady for the Ballista crews, Mister Palaga! Bring us up on their port side!"
"Sorry, Maam, but Palagas gone, remember?"
Shit! In the heat of the moment, shed forgotten. Xena turned to the dark skinned amazon at the wheel.
"Sorry, seaman Dragonna. Just keep on their tail!"
"Im doing my best, Maam, but I wasnt trained for this." Dragonna shouted unhappily as she wrestled the wheel through the swells. "Ill be glad when I can get back to regular duty."
"Yer doin fine, sailor. Hopefully well get a replacement to take over for you back at base. Meanwhile, keep up the good work!"
Dragonnas grin flashed in her dark face. "Aye, aye, Maam!" Then she added, "You know its hard to remember Palagas gone, sometimes."
Xena grimaced. "Yeah, well, thats life. Some stay, some go. We gotta deal with it as best we can."
They were drawing abreast of the small supply ship now and only 100 yards out. Xena saw figures gesturing on the deck. She grabbed the speaking trumpet. "Trojan ship! This is Poseidons Trident Evdomenda Tria of the Greek Navy! Heave to! Haul your sail and spill your wind, or be fired upon!"
The small ship showed no sign of following her orders as it continued to flee and she cursed softly. Then she called to the foreword Ballista. "Chief Melosa! Give em a dry round into their deck. No fire, repeat, no Greek Fire!"
"Aye, aye!" came the answer. "Where do ya want it Capn?"
"Somewhere impressive. Try not to kill anybody if you can. If you can hit the main mast Ill give you and yer crew each five dinars!"
"Aye, aye, Maam!" Melosa grinned, "Better get those dinars ready!" Her crew went into action shouting with pleasure at the announcement, while groans of envy came from Ephinys aft Ballista position. Crewwoman Velasca began cranking back the heavy bowstring to full draw, while Melosa and Marga began unloading the three yard long arrow tipped with a bottle of Greek Fire liquid.
Xena grinned to herself as she heard the bitching from the aft mount. A little rivalry was good between the Ballista crews. It kept them sharp and trying hard to succeed. Then she grimaced. In fact the rivalry was sometimes made a little bitter by the fact that all eight amazons on board came from two different Greek tribes who had broken up in a recent tribal war. Afterward, with no set tribes, amazons from both sides had drifted into service with the Greeks in the War against Troy. In general, the women got along all right, but a certain strain was evident at all times. All Xena knew for certain, was that Melosa, Marga, Velasca and Terreis came from one tribe. Ephiny, Solari, Eponin and Dragonna were from another.
Oh well, as long as they did their jobs and didnt kill each other in the process. Shrugging, the captain watched as the crew of Mount Number One quickly removed and stowed the Fire Bolt that was already in the giant crossbow and then reloaded another with just a sharp bronze tip. Then Chief Melosa manned the firing position and aimed coolly at the supply ship, judging the rise and fall of both ships in the waves as she waited for the right moment to loose. Finally she did and with a twanging buzz, the large bolt flew straight and true toward the Trojan ship, to stand quivering directly into the center of the main mast about six feet off the deck!
Melosas crew pounded her on the back, shouting at the perfection of the shot, while jeers and catcalls sounded from the crew of Ephinys Ballista, who were disappointed that they had not yet had a chance to shoot. Melosas crew shouted insults back as they quickly began reloading their Ballista with a fresh bolt. This time with a Greek Fire tip again.
Meanwhile, men ran screaming and pointing on the supply ships deck as Xena hailed through the speaking trumpet. "Trojan ship! This is your last warning! Heave to, or the next bolt will be Greek Fire!"
For a moment Xena thought they would not stop, and steeled herself to give the order that would bring death and fiery destruction to the other ship. But then the Trojans sail suddenly flapped as she turned against the wind. Then the crew began to haul it down. The small ship lost headway immediately and the PT-Boat surged past the slowing craft.
Xena released a breath she hadnt known that shed been holding, then called into the speaking tube as Dragonna began to turn the boat back toward the captured vessel behind them. "All right, Chief BM, you can slow bubbles. Just keep us moving at half speed."
"Aye, aye, Maam. Uh, chef Auto wants to know if he can put the Mousaka back on now?"
"He can put it on or he can stuff it in your face, Chief BM. Tell him we just got prize money!"
"YES, MAAM!" Joxer whooped.
She hung up the speaking tube and grinned at seaman Dragonna. Looks like its gonna be a good day!
PT-Evdomenda Tria lay at the secluded and hidden dock far away from the rest of the Greek fleet, and of course, far from any fun facilities like taverns, gambling houses or brothels as well. Xena shifted the cigar from one side of her mouth to the other and sighed. The tall raven-haired commander grumbled unhappily to herself. "We got our prize money, but what good is it if you cant go spend it somewhere?"
Things had gone fine as the PT-Boat had escorted the captured Trojan supply ship into the Lemnos harbor. The Trojan crew had been interned and the inspectors had gone aboard and come back with the good news that the cargo was worth many dinars. The crew of the PT-Boat had gotten a pat on the back from Admiral Cecrops along with their share of the prize money. Xena had requested a replacement for Palaga and Cecrops had promised to send her someone to take her place. Then PT-Evdomenda Tria had sped off out of the harbor to its hidden anchorage to re-equip and supply. Now they were back at their lonely dock again, with the same two guards pacing the sun washed planks and spitting into the water. There was nothing much to do here except to sunbathe or swim, or listen to the quiet lapping of the water of the cove, the hum of pigeon-sized mosquitoes and the slow progression of blood through their veins.
Now they were waiting for orders and for the new officer that Admiral Cecrops had promised. Xena slapped at a mosquito as she hoped that this new man or woman knew something of the job of command and that she would not have to train them from scratch. Also, she thought reflectively, I hope she or he can fit into this wild and woolly crew who hasnt had liberty in a couple of months! Damn this boat were on! Nothing like it has ever been seen before on either side. Because of that, my crew has been kept penned up on board for fear one of em might get drunk in port and shoot off his or her mouth about its capabilities.
The small PT-Boat was a totally new idea in naval warfare. No sails caught the wind and no oars pulled by men propelled it. Oh, it had a bank of three fake oars along each side strictly for show, but that was to hide the real TOP SECRET of the propulsion system. The dark captain found herself even thinking the words in Capital Letters and growled in disgust.
The whole big SECRET was the Hercules Rock Bubbler. Captain Xena wasnt certain just how the thing worked herself, but then she wasnt certain how a horse worked either. She just knew if she jumped on and did certain things, the horse ran or walked or stopped. It was the same with this new Bubbler thingy. If she called through the speaking tube and ordered speed, certain control wheels would be turned by Chief Bubblerman Joxer and his Assistant BM Theodorus and the boat moved magically forward under its own power. If they turned the wheels the other way the boat lost headway and stopped moving in moments.
Xena knew that it all had something to do with the strange and rare explosive rocks that sent up bubbles from under water. Her friend Hercules had brought them to the attention of the Greek commanders and some big brain named Archemedes had come up with this idea for their use in moving a boat. She frowned. The rocks had to be kept constantly under water or they would explode with devastating force. They were kept contained in a big sealed iron vat full of water. Inside the vat, the submerged rocks sent out a constant cloud of steaming bubbles to the surface of the water inside. The vat was called The Bubbler for obvious reasons and was below decks in a steaming hot compartment called, again for obvious reasons, the Bubbler Room.
Normally there was an open hole of about 10 inches diameter in the top of the Bubbler vat, which allowed the steam from the bubbles to escape. However, if this vent was closed with a large iron plug and the control wheels were turned to open, the bubbles were then directed out of three iron tubes that ran underwater beneath the hull of the PT-Boat. They ran all the way back to the stern. Then, instead of just being vented out into the Bubbler Room and on outside to the air, the bubbles shot out underwater. The discharging bubbles drove the boat forward faster than any ship powered by sail or oars. Unfortunately, the Bubbler was apparently not powerful enough to drive a bigger ship, but it worked just fine for the small PT-Boat.
It was the job of the Chief Bubblerman and the Assistant Bubblerman to stay in the hot steamy space and regulate the flow of the bubbles vented out the bottom of the boat when the captain called for speed. It was also their job to make certain that the water level in the Bubbler did not fall too low and expose the rocks to the air. The volatile rocks would explode within scant minutes if not kept cooled by the water covering them. Every so often, the Chief BM and his Assistant BM would pour buckets of seawater into the vent hole in the Bubbler Vat to (hopefully) keep the rocks submerged.
Lastly, the closer to the surface of the water the rocks were, the faster the bubbles came up into the Bubbler. More bubbles shooting out of the stern tubes meant the PT-Boat went faster. Of course this was more dangerous because the water level in the vat had to be monitored carefully. If the surface of the rocks became exposed, it was bye-bye to both the PT-Boat and the crew.
The top brass thought that a small fast boat like this one, armed heavily for its size could work wonders against traditional ships that had to move by sails or oars. They envisioned it darting around against the wind, or harassing a becalmed wind-powered fleet and wreaking havoc with its armament of Ballista bolts tipped with bottles of explosive Greek Fire. The large three-man crossbows had good range and their incendiary missiles could set a wooden ship on fire easily.
Xena grunted gloomily. The only thing wrong with this rosy view was of course that unless they were unarmed supply craft like the one today, the becalmed ships didnt just have to lie there and take it. If they had archers, they could sweep the deck of the tiny boat and kill the two Ballista crews. With no one to work the PT-Boats main weapons it would be worse than useless in a fight. Oar powered ships didnt depend on the wind and were as fast as the PT-Boat in the short-run. They could give trouble to the lightly armed boat, at least until the rowing crews grew tired. Further, if the larger ships had catapults and managed to score even one hit, the tiny thin-hulled craft would be sunk without hope of survivors.
"And how come Im the only one to have thought of this bit of sand in the spinach?" she muttered, chewing viciously on her cigar. She spat over the side of the PT-Boat. "Of course the high command has thought of it. Thats most likely why no more Poseidons Tridents have been built yet. Theyre waiting to see whether we succeed or fail before investing in any more of them meanwhile were SOL even for liberty " Just then there was a smash and thud below and a female howl of anger, followed by the sound of blows.
"Oh, for the gods sakes," Xena cursed as she hurried below. "What in Tartarus is happening now?" As she came near, it sounded like Ephiny and Melosa were at it again. This proved to be true as she came into the small mess hall. The two amazons were throwing punches, kicks and flipping one another all over the space, while Chief Bubblerman Joxer, his Assistant Bubblerman Theodores and Autolycus the cook stood by placing bets on which woman would win. Ships Healer Mlila watched in boredom as the two amazons hammered one another.
"All RIGHT! Thats ENOUGH!" Xena bellowed. She strode between the two women, stopping the fight. "Why dont you two save it for the Trojans?" she snarled. She chewed at her cigar savagely. "What is it this time?"
Aft Ballista Chief Ephinys blond hair was tangled and there was a boot imprint in the center of her shirt. She pointed at Melosa. "This stuck-up slitch said, that if she was queen and I was the last amazon in the tribe, shed sooner give her right of caste to a centaur! She knows damned well I hate centaurs!"
Forard Ballista Chief Melosa snarled a bloody lip. "Yeah? Well, where do you get off saying that my mothers tribe wore all wore SANDALS? No self-respecting amazons would ever do such a thing! My mother always wore boots just like the ones I was just kickin your ass with!"
"She-yeah, RIGHT!" Ephiny sneered. "An I suppose that blood on yer lip is from bitin my knuckle "
"Why you bleached blonde bumpf-head " Melosa screeched, starting forward.
"ARGHHH!" Xena howled. In a flash she was between the two amazons and hurled them sprawling to the deck. She was so furious that she bit through her cigar and both of them paled, their anger momentarily forgotten. The captain spat the cigar stub out of her mouth. "Enough! I dont give a Bacchaes butt WHO said WHAT to WHO! Melosa, you get your boots up top and swab the foredeck all around yer Ballista! Ephiny, you get up top and start swabbing around yer aft Ballista! I dont wanna see either onea you two within ten feet of each other till dinner time! Now, move it, both of you!"
As the two disgruntled crewwomen limped away, Xena turned savagely on the three men. "And if you three dont have any work to do, you can start by scraping the barnacles off the hull!"
"Holy, Zeus! I do think I hear my pots calling me. Ill be workin on dinner. Tah-tah!" Autolycus left quickly.
Squat and over-muscled Assistant BM Theodorus grunted, "Oy tink oyll go add some watah to da Bubbler " and withdrew in haste.
Chief BM Joxer, however, made the mistake of saying, "But, Capn Xena the barnacles are on the hull under water. Howd we breathe?"
She came close to him and her narrowed blue eyes shot lighting bolts into his. "You wanna find OUT?"
"Uh, no " he quavered with a sickly grin, backing up a step.
"Then why?" She inquired icily.
A blank stare met her question, then he stammered, "Th-Then why what, Capn?"
"THEN WHYRE YOU STILL HERE?" she bellowed.
"Huh? Oh. OH! Uh, the Bubbler Room! Its a terrible mess! Yeah! I could help Theodorus tidy it up!"
As the man departed hastily tripping over his own feet, Xena turned to Ships Healer Mlila. "And why didnt you do anything to stop the fight, Pills? You coulda used that pressure point combat stuff you showed me to paralyze them or something!"
The small brown-skinned woman with faintly oriental features shrugged.
Xena raised an eyebrow in irritation. "I asked you a question. Answer me."
"Zeenja, dragi." Mlila said carefully. "Od zivota tebe vise voli." Her eyes were bright.
Xena didnt understand the words except the mangled pronunciation of her own name at the beginning, but the Gaulish womans tone was almost caressing. "Hades on a crutch, Pills! Speak Greek, cant you? You know that stuff is Britannian to me!"
"Ako budem tebe izgubila " Mlila looked back steadily from under her eyebrows as she continued, " cemu bi se ja nadala?"
"Oh, whats the use?" The dark captain groaned. "Get back to the surgery and check over your supplies of herbs and bandages and stuff. If you need any, write me a requisition."
"Tvoja ljubav samo mene krasi, Zeenja." The dusky woman flipped her head as if shooing a fly. "Dalje kome kao srcu mome?" She turned and silently left by the companionway.
Frustrated, Xena watched her Ships Healer go. "Im damned if you dont understand Greek as well as I do," she muttered as she got out another cigar and clamped it in her teeth. "Yer just too Hades stubborn to speak it."
She had just gotten it lit when a voice came. "Hey, Capn?"
She turned and saw Ballista Loader Solari standing there. "Yes?"
Ballista Chief Ephinys dark haired lover hooked a thumb upwards. "We got a new officer comin inboard, Maam. Maybe shes here to replace Ensign Palaga."
Xena didnt know whether to be happy or apprehensive. She drew on the cigar before asking, "Where is she?"
"I left her on the dock, Maam. I figured youd wanna welcome her onboard yourself." Solari leaned over and lowered her voice. "She looks kinda young, Cap. But cute? Mmm-Yummy. If I wasnt already hooked up with Eph..." She winked.
"Belay that jabber, Assistant Chief," Xena frowned and shifted her cigar from one side of her mouth to the other. "Shes your superior officer."
Solari straightened. "Aye, aye, Maam. That she is."
Xena came on deck and saw with satisfaction that Melosa and Ephiny were swabbing the aft and forward decks respectively. Nearby, young seaman Terreis, Ballista cranker Velasca and crewman Dragonna were sunning themselves. On the other side, crewman Eponin concentrated on lifting weights with Assistant Bubblerman Theodorus. Both were covered with sweat which shone in the sun and were amazingly muscled.
Xena allowed herself a small smile. Now if she could only keep this bunch of hot-bloods busy long enough to get to sea again without bloodshed, things should quiet down again. She hoped the new arrival had some orders for her wild and wooly crew. She went to the gangplank connecting the boat to the dock. At the land end, stood a smallish red-haired woman with brilliant green eyes. She was muscular without being bulky and looked on the young side as Solari had said. She held a scroll and at her feet was a brand new sea bag. Inwardly the tall captain winced. Great. Looks like Im gonna have to nurse along another wet-nosed kid. Hope she can make the grade. She sighed.
Meanwhile, the small woman hoisted the sea bag to her shoulder, advanced up the plank and stopped with a salute before stepping onto the boat. "Ensign Gabrielle of Poteidaia reporting for duty, Captain. Permission to come aboard?"
In spite of herself, Xena was impressed. The young womans voice was arresting. It had a quality and depth of timbre to it that many officers wished for and she had a personal presence as well, no doubt about it. She relaxed a tad. This kid might work out after all. She removed the cigar from her mouth and returned the salute. "Permission granted, Mister. Come aboard." By strict Naval tradition, the use of the honorific Mister was applied to any ensign no matter what sex they were.
At her words of welcome, the ensign smiled, causing her nose to wrinkle and her face suddenly had an elfin loveliness that made the captains breath catch. Damn, shes beautiful. Down girl, shes your second in command. Dont even think about it. She consciously straightened her shoulders and swallowed.
Noticing nothing, the young ensign stepped off the gangplank and put down the sea bag. She glanced around curiously at the PT-Boat, the deserted dock with the two guards pacing listlessly back and forth. "Long way out here, Maam. Why arent we docked with the rest of the fleet?"
Xena raised a stony eyebrow and cleared her throat. "You have something for me, Mister Gabrielle?"
"Oh," The ensign blushed. She handed Xena the scroll. "Sorry, Maam. Here are my orders."
Xena grunted and accepted the parchment. She looked it over, noting that the wax seal was unbroken. She opened it and saw the ensigns orders assigned her to the PT-Boat replacing Ensign Palaga. She looked around, saw seaman Marga coming out of the hatch and waved her over. She turned back to the ensign and they clasped forearms. "All right, Mister. Welcome to Poseidons Trident Evdomenda Tria. Since you are senior in rank to anybody but me, youll be my Second-in-Command."
The ensign seemed to swell with pride and smiled again. "Thank you, Maam. Ill do my best to do my duty." Her green eyes shone with excitement and Xena felt sweet urgings welling up in her that shed thought were safely buried long ago. She groaned inwardly. Not now, dammit.
Showing nothing of the turmoil that was growing inside, she spoke to Marga. "Sailor, take Mister Gabrielles seabag and show her to Mister Palagas berth." She turned back to the redheaded ensign. "When you get squared away, come back on deck and well talk about your duties."
"Very good, Maam." The young woman saluted.
Xena sketched a return salute and turned away with a grateful sigh as her new Second Officer followed the dark amazon to the hatch. As a result, she didnt see the young redhead look around quickly as if to see if anyone was watching. When she saw that there wasnt, she closed her green eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath as if to calm herself before she entered the hatch after Marga.
Some while later, Xena looked around to see the redheaded ensign coming on deck. She seemed to wobble slightly and appeared somewhat pale. The captain studied her. "Something wrong, Mister?"
"Um, no, Maam. A bit close down there below decks n-not used to it yet." The young woman drew in a deep breath of the fresh sea air and her color did improve. "Mmm. Thats better," she sighed.
"Hmm. Well, Mister Gabrielle, I hope youre half as good as our last ensign was."
"Who am I replacing, Capn? An ensign Palagy was it?"
"Ensign Palaga," Xena was short. "We lost her, last mission. She was a good officer and good at the helm; damn good."
"I-Ill do my best to live up to her reputation, Maam." Gabrielle swallowed. "H-How was she killed? In combat with the Trojans?"
The captain took out her cigar irritably. "Shes not dead, shes married!" At the ensigns stare, she continued. "She fell in love with a centaur in the last port and jumped ship to marry him. Leaving us short handed by the way."
"She married a centaur." Gabrielle had an expression of somewhat stunned contemplation on her face. After a moment she ventured, "Wouldnt that be, um, a bit hard to, uh, TAKE, as it were?"
Xena guffawed. "Hard to TAKE? Those boys arent small, Mister. Id say it would be a bit MUCH to take!"
The ensign giggled, which turned her face quite young and made her look very cute indeed to the captains sudden unease. She found herself taking in the ensigns body, her smooth legs and muscled arms. Her hands were particularly beautiful, with long fingers and short nails and her hair shone coppery red fire in the sunlight. Xena groaned inwardly and forced her eyes away. No, dammit. This isnt gonna happen. Shes your fellow officer, and anyway," she thought glumly, theres no way in Tartarus she would be interested in an old war chariot like you anyway.
Meanwhile, unaware of her captains turmoil, the ensign was gazing around at the deck and the Ballistas. "So, Captain, I was wondering. This boat is a bit different from any others Ive seen. What do our duties and missions consist of anyway?"
Glad for the distraction, Xena drew on her cigar and found it was out. "Our job is to pursue and destroy or capture enemy vessels."
"Pursue?" The ensign was clearly at a loss. "Begging your pardon, Maam, but how do we do that with a boat this size and only three oars per side? And while Im thinking about it, where are our oarsmen? I didnt see too many berths below. At least not enough to crew the Ballistas and the oars at the same time."
She was sharp, no doubt about it. There was no way that the twelve man crew, fourteen with the two officers, could man oars and weapons at the same time. Xena grinned as she re-lit her cigar. "Im glad to see there are no flies on you, Mister Gabrielle. What would you say our top speed is?"
The ensign was candid. "Frankly, Maam? Judging from what Ive seen, no masts or sails, only six oars? Id say a sick crab could outrun us."
Caught unaware, Xena drew in a breath to laugh and coughed smoke. She liked the young womans no nonsense appraisal and standup assessment of the facts as she knew them. She was absolutely right. If PT-Evdomenda Tria were a normal craft, she couldnt have caught a one-person rowboat with a determined old woman at the oars.
"Yer absolutely right as far as it goes " she grinned after she had finished coughing. "But this boat isnt exactly a run-of-the-mill naval craft. Its like this "
When she had finished explaining how the Bubbler drove the ship without oars or sails, faster than other ships could sail or row, the ensign was awed. "By the gods! Thats amazing, Maam! The Trojans wont stand a chance! How many others like us are in the fleet?"
The captain looked sour. "There were two others before us, but at the moment, were the only one."
Gabrielle was stunned. "Then why do they call this boat Poseidons Trident Evdomenda Tria if there arent really Seventy Three other PTs in the fleet?"
"Thats Commands brilliant idea," Xena said acidly. "They tacked the seven on in front of the three figuring if the enemy sees the big number and thinks there are that many like us, theyll be scared or something." She drew on her cigar and meditated "I suppose its not really such a bad idea. Itd be better if we had a few other boats with other numbers though."
"Um, you said there were two other PTs? Wh-Where are they?"
Xenas gaze was stony. "They never came back from their trial runs. Official explanation is they were lost to enemy action..." she let her voice trail off as she looked at the younger woman from under her eyebrows.
Gabrielle swallowed. "Maam?" Her voice was troubled.
"What is it, Mister?"
"These, um, explosive rock thingies in the, uh, Bubbler " Her voice was low.
Xena studied her second officer. "Yes? Speak up, Mister. Bacchae got your tongue?"
"You said that if the water in the Bubbler ever uncovers the rocks, they, uh, explode?"
"That is correct, Mister Gabrielle."
"Uhhh, I wondered wh-what happens if they do explode? I mean h-how bad would it be for us?"
"How bad?" Xena took the cigar out of her mouth and regarded it sourly. "Since were loaded with stored amphoras of Greek Fire for the Ballistas such an explosion would probably blow everyone on this barge to a right choice seat on Charons boat trip to Tartarus!" She looked at the suddenly white-faced ensign and raised an eyebrow with a sardonic grin. "But if it happened wed be dead before we knew it, so I guess if ya look at it that way, it couldnt be TOO bad."
Xena picked up the speaking trumpet and bellowed, "Call to orders! All hands on deck."
In moments, the women and men of PT-Evdomenda Tria came from below, formed up into their various groups and stood to attention. The two Ballista crews stood by their weapons. Chief Bubblerman Joxer and his massive Assistant Chief BM Theodorus stood together. Chef Autolycus and Ships Healer Mlila stood next to the main hatch. Lastly, dark skinned seaman Dragonna and young seaman Terreis stood near the rear hatch.
Xena spoke. "At ease, people. This is your new second officer, Ensign Gabrielle. Shell be replacing ensign Palaga on the duty roster. Mister Gabrielle will be second officer under me."
They stepped up to the nearest group and the captain said, "This is Joxer and Theodorus, the two who make sure this boat keeps moving on command."
Gaping at the ensign, Joxer grinned from ear to ear looking not unlike a happy harpy. "Chief Bubblerman Joxer, at yer service, Maam. This is my Assistant, Chief Theodorus. Welcome aboard." He made a fuss over shaking her hand. The hulking Theodorus merely stood, saying nothing.
The redhead shook Joxers hand gravely. "I hear its you and Chief Theodorus who keep the Bubbler from blowing us all sky high. Please, and I do mean this with all my heart, keep up the good work."
"Aye, aye, Maam! Well do our best!" Chief Joxer threw her a snappy salute. At least it was supposed to be snappy, but he stuck his thumb in his eye when he did so. He then staggered back with a yelp of pain, stumbled over the coaming and fell off the deck into the cove with a hapless cry and a huge splash which soaked any crew member unlucky enough to be nearby. He then proceeded to thrash and scream for help, plowing his hands in the water with absolutely no hint of swimming skill whatsoever.
Assistant Chief Theodorus rolled his eyes. "Nice tuh meecha, Marm," he grunted at Gabrielle, then hooked a thick thumb overside. "Capn? Parmeeshon tuh leave th bo-at?"
With a sigh, Xena waved a hand. "Granted. Go on."
He nodded, then jumped overboard and swam powerfully toward where his gargling Chief was going down for the third time.
"Pay no attention," the dark captain groaned to the wide-eyed ensign while leading her toward Ballista Mount Number One. "Despite this little display, he really is quite good with the Bubbler."
"Uh, shouldnt we throw them a line or something?" The ensign asked worriedly as the commotion in the water continued.
"No, no. Its all right," Xena said conversationally. "Happens a couple of times a day. Chief Theodorus can handle it " At that moment the cries and thrashing from the water ceased in a beefy smack and an anguished grunt from the Chief BM. "See? Taken care of already."
As they came up to Mount Number One, the amazon crew snapped to attention. "This is the crew of Ballista One. Chief Melosa who is also the aimer, Loader Marga and Cranker Velasca." Xena smiled at the tall, muscled, honey blond she had introduced last. "Seaman Velasca does the heavy work of cranking back and cocking the Ballista string while the Chief and the Loader just watch, right, Sailor?"
"If you say so, Maam." Velasca grinned.
Xena winked. "At present, thanks to the keen eye of Chef Melosa, and the fast work of Loader Marga, Ballista One is a bit ahead of Ballista Two in hits. But that could change anytime, right Chief?"
"Sure, Maam, when pigs fly," smirked Melosa.
As Xena and Gabrielle headed toward the next group, the captain drew on her cigar and muttered out of the side of her mouth, "Theres a bit of rivalry between Mount One and Mount Two in keeping score. It keeps them on their toes."
"Friendly rivalry of course," the ensign grinned.
The captain smirked. "Oh, of course. Wouldnt have it any other way." At that moment, Chief Theodorus appeared climbing over the side of the boat. He was carrying the limp Joxer over a shoulder with ease.
Xena gazed at him, noting the swelling bruise forming on the unconscious Chief Bubblermans chin. "Everything all right, Assistant Chief?"
"Oy, capn. Naow trooble."
"Very well, carry on."
"Oy, oy, Marm," he grunted and carried the dripping man below decks.
As they approached the Cook and the Healer, Autolycus preened his mustache and made a show of kissing the ensigns hand, causing her to blush. "Pleased to meetcha, Maam, Im Autolycus the Chef. You like spinach?"
"Uh, yes." Gabrielle stared at the question.
"Oh, good! I make a killer spinach cheese pie, well, when I have the fresh spinach that is. Lately I just dont seem to be able to get the captain to order any aboard." He bent over and whispered sotto voice, "Frankly, I dont think that someone with the initials XWP likes spinach but thats no reason the rest of us should suffer, eh? Maybe you could put in a good word "
Xena cleared her throat. "Make up a new requisition Chef, and in future write more clearly. Ive been meaning to ask why youve been ordering fresco splints all this time." She moved on to the small dusky woman next to him. "Mister Gabrielle, this is Mlila, our Ships Healer."
The ensign was cordial. "Happy to meet you, Mlila. Ive always thought that healing people is the most important service we can perform."
Mlila gazed at Xena for a moment, then looked hard at the ensign. "Dobro, bre lepa devojko davole." She seemed to sniff. She looked back at Xena with a glint in her eye. "Sta ce tebi devojko?"
"What did she say?" Gabrielle looked puzzled.
Xena was brusque. "Uh, I think she said, Welcome aboard." From the tone, she didnt think thats what the Healer had said at all, but decided she didnt want to get into it at that moment.
Gabrielle smiled. "Thank you," she said politely to the Healer.
The smaller woman arched a dark eyebrow. "Setices se da si izgubio, lepa devojko."
As they moved on to Dragonna and young Terreis, Xena was aware of Mlilas eye following them and she didnt look happy.
Seaman Dragonna clicked her heels and nodded to the new officer. "Happy to have you aboard, Maam. More than youll ever know."
"Thank you," the ensign blushed faintly.
Beside her, young Terreis merely saluted, seeming unable to say anything and Gabrielle dimpled.
Finally they moved to Ballista Number Two where the crew had been waiting patiently.
"This is the crew of Mount Two. Chief Ephiny, Loader Solari and their cranker, Eponin."
"Saving the best for last, eh, Capn?" The blond Ballista Chief grinned cockily.
Xena winked. "Of course, Chief." She looked the Ballista over. "Everything shipshape?"
Ephiny put a proud hand on the giant crossbow. "This baby is ready to wail, Maam. Melosa cant get lucky hits every time."
"Thats the spirit," the captain smiled, then turned to face the entire crew. "Okay, so much for introductions. Attention!" All the crew snapped to. "Were gonna take a little cruise out to the target range to shake down Mister Gabrielle and get her accustomed to the way the boat handles. Once there, well get in a little target practice as well. All hands to duty stations. Prepare to cast off and leave the dock."
"Aye, aye, Maam!" The crew shouted, then began running to their various stations while Xena and the ensign went to the bridge. Once there the captain grabbed the speaking tube. "Bubbler Room?"
Chief Joxers voice came back somewhat blearily. "Bubler Room man an ready, Maam."
Xena frowned. "You all right, Chief Joxer?"
"Oh, yeah. Take morena thumb inna eye ana lil drownding ana punch inna face to kee me down."
"All right then, Chief, stand by to bubble on my command."
"Aye, aye, Maam."
She looked out over the deck and shouted "Cast off Forard! Cast off Aft!"
"Aye, aye." Came the answers.
As the lines thumped onto the dock she spoke into the tube again. "Chief Joxer, were ready to leave dock. Make bubbles for one quarter speed."
"One quarer spee, aye, aye."
Xena took the wheel of PT-Evdomenda Tria. Until she knew more about how good the ensign was at ship handling, she preferred to take her boat up the narrow channel from the hidden dock herself. "Ill take her out, Mister Gabrielle. Watch what I do and be ready to follow it."
"Aye, aye, Maam." The ensigns voice was excited and Xena realized that this was the first time the young woman would see the movement of a ship that was propelled not by sails or oars, but by ... bubbles?
The water at the stern of the PT-Boat began to froth and the snapping sounds of popping bubbles filled the quiet air of the cove. The boat began to move slowly leaving the dock behind and a breeze caused by its forward motion began ruffling their hair.
"By the gods!" Gabrielle gasped.
"Man made wind, no animal or muscle power causes it. Before this only the gods could make a wind where there wasnt one. Now we can." Xena grinned as she steered the boat deftly up the channel. "Pretty interesting feeling, isnt it?"
The ensign grinned back, her green eyes snapping and her nose wrinkling in delight. "Th-This is is, amazing! Begging your pardon, Maam, but I hadnt really believed it could work until now." The sun shone on her smooth skin and the breeze over the bow caused her long fiery copper hair to swirl around her face and stream out behind her in a fan of brilliant light.
Again Xena felt a surge of desire and groaned within. Gods, she is soooo beautiful. If only I could run my fingers through that lovely hair, kiss those cute ears with the big lobes Stoppit, stoppit, STOPPIT! Fool! Idiot! Dirty old ex-warlord! Focus, like Lao Ma taught you! "Oh, it works all right," she said, sounding calm regardless of the simmering feelings inside. "Shes pretty fast on the helm too. Can turn on a dinar. Once in the bay, Ill turn her over to you and you can get the feel of her yourself. Youll have a ball."
"Uh, huh. I-Im sure I will " the ensign said, but her voice suddenly sounded less happy.
Nerves, the tall captain decided. Its her first test, her first command. Shell do fine. She stopped thinking about it as she concentrated on steering through a particularly narrow part of the channel.
Once into the wider bay, Xena gave over command to the young woman and let her try a few maneuvers at various speeds with the quick little boat. Then they headed for the target area, a section of the bay that was set aside for firing practice with anchored floating buoys with targets on them. It was a fine calm day, with a blue cloudless sky that seemed to go up forever and the azure sea foaming along beneath the keel. Gulls danced and screamed overhead and dolphins raced the ship and leaped over and through the bubble popping wake of the PT-Boat.
They reached the target area and were idling along at low speed, when Xena grabbed the speaking tube. "All right, Chief Joxer! Twist her tail. I want flank speed on the Bubbler " Her voice sharpened. " And no damn Mousaka on the vat housing this time!"
His voice echoed back. "Aye, aye, Maam. No Mousaka it is!"
In a few moments, the boat seemed to jump forward and Xena whooped. This was more like it! "Mister Gabrielle! Bring her around for a run at the targets!"
"Aye, aye, Maam "
The ensigns voice sounded tight and Xena glanced at her second officer. The redheaded woman was clutching the wheel and her face was pale with a deaths-head grin. The captain decided that she was probably tense with the excitement of her first real drill. The PT-Boat was crashing through the waves at a good clip. The chop was just a bit rough and Xena was enjoying the wind through her hair and the motion of the boat with the waves. The ensign had done fine at steering at low and medium speeds in moderate seas, and the tall captain had no doubts that she could handle this as well.
She grabbed the speaking trumpet and roared, "Chief Melosa! Chief Ephiny! Target Drill! Fire at buoy targets as they bear! And remember, the crew that hits the most and closest to the center gets an extra ration of Oozo back at base!"
The crews at the Ballista mounts acknowledged her orders with shouts of anticipation and raunchy challenges back and forth. They made four target runs at full speed, with both Milosa and Ephiny hitting each target that came by. One final run and Milosas crew hit the buoy near the center, but much to their dismay, Ephinys bolt hit the target a full handbreadth closer.
Deciding that they had done a good job, Xena called for the crews to secure the Ballistas and lock down the mounts and they began moving quickly to follow her orders on the bucking deck.
Spray crashed over the bridge and Xena was in her element. She joyously screamed her war cry to the sharp breeze blustering over the coaming. "Alalalalalaaaaa! Sheee-Yip!" With a huge grin of enjoyment she glanced over at the ensign hunched over the wheel and bellowed against the wind. "This is the life, eh, Mister?"
Gabrielle didnt answer, but kept her face forward and clung to the wheel as the boat bucketed along.
The captain noticed her second officers posture was ridged. "Whats the matter, Mister Gabrielle?"
The young woman answered without turning around. "N-Nothing, Maam " Her voice was choked.
"Belay that," Xena frowned. "Look at me. Thats an order."
"Y-Yesh, I m-mean, y-yes, Maam " The ensign turned a greenish tinged face to her.
"Holy Zeus!" Xena swore. She realized with a start that the young woman was seasick ... massively so. She grabbed the speaking tube. "Chief Joxer, back her speed off to one quarter headway."
"Aye, aye, Maam."
The boat quickly began to lose headway and ride easier as the control wheels were closed below and Xena approached her Second-in-Command. "Damn, Mister. Yer about to lose it. Was it something you ate at lunch?"
This was a mistake. As Xena said the word lunch, the ensigns face went dead white as drool ran down her chin. She clapped both hands over her mouth with a squeak and staggered for the side of the boat. Even so, she barely made it before she heaved.
Xena had grabbed the wheel when the ensign had bolted and kept the boat steady. When Gabrielle seemed to be finished, the captain said quietly. "Come back to your post, Mister. Youre still on duty."
"Y-Yes, Maam " The pale faced redhead staggered a bit, but did as she was told without protest. She hunched over the wheel, a picture of misery.
"Stand up straight, Mister." Xena kept her tone soft, aware of the Ballista crews still working fore and aft. "Face the breeze and take a deep breath of clean air. Youll feel better."
"Aye, aye, M-Maam. Thank you, Maam " The ensign gulped. She stood straight and breathed deeply, but seemed unable to look her captain in the eye.
The captain eyed the Ballista crews now standing at the ready. The mounts were secured and the munitions lockers closed. "Very good work, Chiefs! Take your crews below and tell the cook a tot of Retsina for all hands." With a cheer, the amazons quickly cleared the deck leaving the two officers alone.
Xena drew on her cigar and found it had gone out. She thought of lighting it, but after a glance at the ensigns still pale complexion, chewed on it instead. She grunted, "I thought you looked a bit under the weather before when you came up from below back at the dock but I didnt think "
The young woman was miserable. "Y-Yes, Maam. Down below it always seems worse somehow "
"It would," Xena nodded. "Close spaces, stuffy smells of old paint and mildew and bodies. You feel the roll more down there too. Coming on deck to the fresh air always helps." She looked at her mangled cigar and tossed it overboard. "You always sick at sea?"
"Yes, Maam " the ensign sounded ashamed. "Once during training, I even upchucked during a dead calm when we were tied to the dock."
"Yet you stuck it out and made ensign," the captain mused. "That takes guts when you feel sick all the time."
Gabrielle said nothing, continuing to stare over the bow and breathe the sea breeze.
Xena felt a growing sense of admiration as she remembered that despite her illness, the ensign had kept the PT-Boat rock steady during the target runs too. She spoke firmly. "Give me your hand, Mister."
Gabrielle looked at her for the first time. "M-Maam?" Faint color seemed to come back into her face as she blushed.
Xenas expression was impatient. "Gimmie yer hand, dammit. Im not gonna bite it."
Hesitantly the young woman held out her hand and the captain took it. Inside, her thought was, Oh, by the gods how beautiful her hand is; how soft and smooth and warm. Gods, shes trembling, could it be nah. Shes just feeling sick, stupid. She cleared her throat and firmly shoved the traitorous thoughts away as she turned the young womans hand over. "See this spot here on the inside of your wrist? Its a pressure point." Before the ensign could speak, Xena gave the spot a quick rap with two hard fingers.
The young woman yelped at the blow, then her green eyes widened. "By the gods! Maam! Wh-What did you do? I I think I feel better!"
Xena nodded. "That pressure point controls your queasiness reflex. If you strike it like that it will keep you from being seasick for an hour or so before wearing off. If you just press on it with two fingers, like so, it will have the same affect but your sickness will come back quickly once you stop pressing."
As she was showing Gabrielle the pressure point, she didnt notice the rear hatch where Ships Healer Mlila was just coming up for some fresh air. The dusky woman took a deep breath and looked around smiling. When she saw Xena holding the redheads hand on the bridge, her face fell. "Devojko davole!" She hissed, balling up a tiny fist at the ensign. "Ako li me naznjes, stado da mi uzme!" Then tears filled her eyes as she went below again.
Meanwhile, Xena became aware that the ensign was gazing at her with obvious awe and admiration. She cleared her throat. "Now its not a cure-all. And there can be strange side affects to your appetite if you use it for too long at a time. Its best you try to fight off the sickness yourself if you can. But at least youll know what to do in emergencies, like when you dont have time to be sick."
Gabrielle nodded soberly. "I understand, Maam." Then she glanced down and Xena realized that she was still holding the other womans hand and that it was soft and pliant in hers. She flushed and let it go hastily. She was beginning to turn away when the ensign stopped her. "Maam?"
Xena turned back and swallowed as she found herself lost in the ensigns green eyes. She forced her voice to calmness. "Yes, Mister Gabrielle?"
The redheads expression was grateful. "Thank you, Maam. Really."
Xena hesitated then finally grunted almost unwillingly, "Yer welcome " Irritated with herself, she raised her voice. "All right, Mister, take the wheel! Lets see what you can do now."
"Aye, aye, Maam," the ensign gulped.
The tall captain grabbed the speaking trumpet and roared, "All hands prepare for battle drill! All hands to battle stations!" She grinned as the two amazon Ballista crews began spilling out of the hatches and running to ready their mounts again. Up came seaman Dragonna and Terreis with buckets of sand to cover blood on the deck and water to douse any fires. Chef Autolycus and a grim-faced Healer Mlila took the two short lookout mast stations that stood above the bridge and began scanning the four horizons for any sign of enemy sail. Satisfied that all was ready, Xena slammed down the trumpet and called into the speaking tube. "Chief Joxer, kick her in the tail! And dont spare the bubbles!"
It was nighttime back at their base a week later. Xena had run her new second officer and the crew through intensive days of battle drills and everything had gone without a hitch. Both the crew and the young ensign were measuring up to each other, getting to know one another and now functioned like a unit. Xena had kept them so busy training, that they were normally too tired to get into mischief of an evening back at the base. The captain was proud of them. Since her first bout with seasickness, Gabrielle had managed to keep it under control, either through sheer will power or the pressure points Xena had showed her. The crew had come to respect and like the young ensign as well. She did not try to impress them with her rank or pretend knowledge that she did not have. If she did not have a clear-cut solution to a question, she would ask if anyone else knew the answer and then direct any discussion. Mostly, she simply gave orders in a voice of quiet authority and expected that they would do their jobs and the crew respected that as well.
There was not much to do at night on the hidden base, and that made for brewing troubles. The highly competent crewmembers were on a razors edge of efficiency and had much tension to let off after hours. Gambling took care of some of that, but once a few expert players had won most of the available dinars, there was no incentive to keep playing. Athletics and drills and eating took up more time, but there were still too any chances for the crew to get bored and possibly start fights and feuds. The captain and ensign of PT-Evdomenda Tria had their hands full keeping the crew at the fine edge of combat ready and further, at peace between those times.
It was at sometime during this week that Xena had discovered that her second officer was also a remarkable storyteller, with wondrous control of her voice and a seemingly infinite fund of tales. When she played all the parts of various characters in her stories, she changed her voice and posture, moved her arms and made faces and generally just took her listeners right into her tale with her.
At night around the large campfire as the crew slapped at mosquitoes the size of cats, eventually someone would ask her to tell a tale, and the redhead would always oblige. The amazons all liked her, especially young Terreis who worshipped her. Chief Bubbler Joxer seemed to adore her and the suave Autolycus doted on her as well. Those who were couples or lovers like Melosa and Marga, Ephiny and Solari, or Eponin and Dragonna would sit close together sharing food and comfort as they listened. The others would sprawl or sit in a companionable group listening and participating. Even the hulking Theodorus who mostly kept to himself, seemed to be drawn in when Gabrielle would begin with a line like "I sing a song of Oedipus, most TRAGIC of men... All in all, it worked out splendidly and was a good tension reliever after a long day of training.
That night, as Xena listened to the tale that Gabrielle was spinning, she found herself happy to just sit and listen and watch her talented second officer and to let her mind float with images of the young woman in her arms. She knew that it was a fools dream, because Gabrielle was her fellow officer and Xena would never let the possibility of love spoil the good working relationship they had. Perhaps if they were not both in the Navy in the same chain of command but they were. And the warrior captain would not cross that line to betray her trust as an officer. Not even for her dream of love.
She drew on her cigar, then smiled at the fire lit outline of her redheaded hearts desire. Someday perhaps, she thought, someday when this war is all over, if we all live through it. Then maybe Ill tell you, my beautiful one.
Just then Mlila came over and sank down on her knees next to her. She looked at Xena, then at Ephiny and Solari sitting with their arms around one another as they listened to the young ensign-bard who was so wrapped-up in her story and said plaintively, "Zeenja? Dal devojko dara rasturilo?"
"Absolutely," the captain answered offhandedly. As usual she had no idea of what the Healer had said.
"Ah. Da nam padne letnja kisa," the Gaulish woman sighed with sadness in her voice. Then she got up to move closer to the fire and listen to the story. Just then the ensign bard came to a funny part of her tale and the crew broke into gales of laughter; including Mlila. Xena studied her Ships Healer, wondering not for the first time, just how much the small woman did understand of what was being said in front of and around her. Aw Hades, she thought after a moment. Shes just laughing because we did, or maybe she just likes the rhythm of the words.
Shrugging it off, she went back to listening to the bard with the rest.
The next afternoon after a long morning of target drill out in the bay, the PT-Boat was coming back down the channel to the hidden base once more. Gabrielle was at the helm, for she had now advanced in skill to the point where Xena let her pilot the boat everywhere while she took care of running everything else like keeping the ships log, navigating, setting up drills, keeping the crew on its toes and so forth.
Xena was wrestling below with the scroll log, when the young ensign called, "Maam? Someone waiting for us on the dock. Looks like brass maybe."
Grateful to have something else to do, the captain stretched, put away the log and came onto the bridge. She squinted that way. She saw the tall black man with dreadlocks standing on the pier holding a small scroll case and flinched. "Holy, Zeus! Thats Admiral Cecrops himself. Sound Duty Stations, Mister Gabrielle. Look lively!" She darted back down to her duty cabin to make certain everything was ship shape and squared away.
"Aye, aye, Maam!" The ensign took the speaking trumpet and called "All hands. Take your duty stations! All hands, take your stations please!"
Within moments the crew, including Xena had all piled out of the hatches and stood at attention at their emergency stations except the two Bubbler Chiefs, who stayed on duty at their posts below.
As the PT-Boat nosed up to the pilings, Xena bit her lip and thought, easy, easy. Lets not ram the dock with the admiral on it, please! However she said nothing, trusting the ensign to do her job. The captain was proud of her second in command, when at just the right moment, Gabrielle took the speaking tube and called for Chief Joxer to halt Bubbles. The already slow moving Boat lost headway quickly, nosing into the dock bumpers as gently a mothers kiss and came to a complete stop.
"Mooring lines, please," Gabrielle called. "Tie her down and step lively, there." Dragonna and Terries jumped onto the dock and tossed the mooring cables back to Valesca and Eponin who made them fast and that quickly the boat was secure. At the same time Chiefs Melosa and Ephiny set down the gangplank from the side of the ship to within inches of the Admirals toes. Xena now came up and stood at attention at the head of the plank.
"All hands Atten-SHUN!"
The Admiral came up the plank and stood on the end with a salute. "Permission to come aboard, Captain?" His voice was rich and deep, seeming to rumble out of his chest like thunder in a cave.
"Permission granted, Sir! Welcome aboard."
"Thank you, Captain Xena." Cecrops nodded as he stepped into the boat and looked about.
Xena gazed up at him. Although she was tall, Cecrops towered a good five inches over her. "Would the Admiral like to inspect the boat?"
He smiled but shook his head. "Not at this time, Captain, although knowing you, I am certain everything is Ship Shape in Athens Fashion. May I speak to you in private?"
"Certainly, sir. Come this way." He followed her to the bridge where Gabrielle was standing rigidly at attention next to the wheel.
He looked at her. "That was a right smart maneuver coming into the dock, Mister. I felt not even a bump as you touched."
The ensign colored with pleasure and shouted, "Thank, YOU, Sir!"
He nodded and turned to the dark captain. "Now, as to why Im here. I have orders for your next assignment "
"Thank you, Mister Gabrielle, that will be all " Xena began to say when the Admiral spoke.
"Belay that, Captain. Let your second officer stay. She will need to know what I have to say about this mission and she might as well get it from the um, horses mouth as it were." He smiled. "However, please do dismiss the rest of your crew to shore. They will not be on land again for a number of days from now."
Uh, oh, here it comes. Xena felt her gut go tight but showed no sign. "Aye, aye, Sir." She dismissed the crew ashore and waited until they had all gone back to their huts to start playing ball or bathing. Then she turned to him. "All right, Sir. Lay it on us."
The PT-Boat was making a good clip across the azure waves and gulls circled screaming overhead. Xena gazed at the horizon without seeing it and pondered her orders. Admiral Cecrops had been clear and to the point.
According to Command, Cecrops had said, the war was floundering along in a stalemate. Neither the Greeks or the Trojans could gain a clear advantage and after ten years there had been far too much blood spilled. Now, a secret messenger from Prince Paris of Troy had come with news that he (Paris) was willing to settle for an equitable peace with King Melenaus.
The agreement was simple. Paris would return Helen to her husband Melenaus to do with as he chose and the king would withdraw his forces from all lands of Troy and go back to Greece never to return with an army in his lifetime. The king had tentatively agreed to these conditions.
However, there were many hot heads on the Trojan side who would rather see Helen dead than returned to her husband the king. For the Greeks, there were many who would have her dead for leaving her husband the king to go with Prince Paris in the first place. Therefore, Helen could not be given over in public, for there was too much chance of assassination from ill-wishers. The whole thing must be handled with speed and secrecy.
So as captain of the fastest ship in the fleet, Xenas mission, whether she chose to accept it or not, was to take PT- Evdomenda Tria from the Greek base in Lemnos. She would go to a sheltered bay some miles north of the port of Troy. There she would lead a small force from her crew, down the shoreline into the port on foot and in disguise as followers of Hestia a deity recognized and respected by both the Greeks and Trojans.
Once in the port, they were to go to an Inn called The Laughing Sailor. There they would meet Paris, his brother Deiphobus and Helen, who were waiting in disguise there. They would turn over the queen to Xena and leave. The Greeks would then take Helen and leave the port by the same shore route by which they had come, get on the PT-Boat and make full speed to the Isle of Lesbos and turn her over to her husband King Melenaus who was awaiting her arrival. Once Helen was safely with Melenaus, he would have no further reason to fight and would order the army to withdraw from the siege of Troy.
A simple plan, a simple mission, a simple answer to ending the ten year war. Xena rubbed her nose. She had never trusted simple. The minute you said something was simple, The Fates stepped in to bollix things up with complications. She sighed aloud and Ensign Gabrielle looked at her from the helm. "Everything all right, Maam?"
"Just worrying about the mission, Mister."
The ensign was calm. "Sounds dead easy, Maam. What could go wrong?"
What indeed, the dark captain thought morosely, chewing her cigar. If I knew that maybe I could quit worrying.
PT-Evdomenda Tria had crossed the Aegean Sea from Lemnos to near the port of Troy without incident. Giving the port a wide berth in case of patrol ships, they soon found the small bay mentioned some five miles north of Troy and hid the PT-Boat. Next it seemed everyone wanted to go along on the Away Mission to fetch the Queen of Troy, but Xena already had her team in mind. On the boat, she left Ballista Chief Melosa in charge, with orders to have Seaman Dragonna move them out of the bay if they were discovered by shore or sea patrol.
For the Away Mission team, she decided ensign Gabrielle should go to get some experience in a land operation. Then she had picked Theodorus and Eponin for their muscle. She had also picked Ephiny, Marga and Terreis. All then disguised themselves in the robes and veils of Hestian Virgins, including the massive Theodorus. The big man didnt look much like any kind of virgin, but then Xena didnt figure anyone would mess with such a big woman anyway. She was both pleased and interested to note that somehow out of all of them, Ensign Gabrielle got the one Hestian costume that had top and bottom pieces, which left showing in between them, a very trim midriff with a cute little mole.
Then Chief Joxer had insisted that he should come instead of Theodorus, because he could look much more like a Hestian Virgin. Privately Xena agreed, but had told him she needed his expertise with the Bubbler on the ship. After he had sadly gone back to the Bubbler Room, Mlila had showed up and indicated that she too wished to come, but when the captain once again demurred, the Healer stamped her tiny foot and stormed off saying, "Vi idite, laka junaka!"
Watching her leave, Xena frowned. But after all, she reasoned, lets get real! What kind of a captain would take all of her officer personnel like the Chief Bubblerman and the Ships Healer along on an Away Mission? What would be next, the COOK wanting to go? Hades, everybody couldnt go! Somebody had to stay and watch the ship!
They were not expecting a fight, nevertheless, under their robes, the amazons had their small crossbows and short swords. Chief Theodorus had a short club under his. Ensign Gabrielle couldnt hide anything under her brief costume, (sigh of desire) so she carried a staff instead. Xena had her sword and chakram and somehow managed to keep them hidden from view.
Following the shore for several miles, they soon came to the entrance to the port of Troy, with the walled city on the cliffs high above. Xena was edgy as they approached the outer post of the shore guards, a Ballista Tower manned with many men. But as prim and holy Hestian Virgins it seemed that no one cared to trouble them. The soldiers looking down from the tower merely waved them on past and into the port.
However, things seemed far too lax to Xena. She was certain the soldiers were all about half drunk and she couldnt understand it. The Trojan soldiers she had met in battle before were quite professional. They were both tough and canny fighters who could stand up to anything the Greeks could throw at them and give it back with interest and it worried her. Was it because the guards couldnt imagine that such a small band of women could cause any harm to the mighty city of Troy?
Still worried, she whispered to Gabrielle, "Keep yer eyes open, Mister. Somethings wrong. I dunno what, but something is off."
The ensign looked up at the mighty walls of the city above the port, bristling with guards, Catapults, Ballistas and vats of boiling oil and shivered. "Maybe these guys dont think they need to be worried this far from the fighting? The Greek army is all on the land side in front of Troy, isnt it?"
Xena wasnt convinced. "Maybe, but I dunno. Just doesnt seem right."
However, as they went into the port proper, they came across many people drunken and dancing in the streets. Music and wine flowed freely and even the soldiers they saw seemed to be joining in. It seemed a full-scale celebration of some kind was in progress and it became difficult to move through the alleyways and thoroughfares because of the thronging humanity.
As they went through the crowd trying to remain inconspicuous, one drunken man stumbled into Theodorus. "Hoo, a Hestian! Hic! A H-Hestian Virgin!" His eyes traveled up to the veiled Theodorus head. "A BIG Hestian Virgin! Y-You look to be a charmfull-armfull! How about a grea big k-kiss, sweeting? I promise it won de-viginize ya " He made as if to raise the Chiefs veil, but the big Bubblerman grasped him by the throat and lifted him without effort to glare into his eyes.
"Thas nowt perlite!" He growled to the gurgling man. "Insultin a Hestian Virgin ars a sin! Naow repent an sin no moawr!" One handed he flung the man away from him to crash into a bakers stall, sending disks of fresh flatbread skittering everywhere.
No one paid the slightest attention as the Virgins hurried away, but the man sat up with a hiccup and a dopey smile. "Damn, wh-what a wo-woman," he groaned before he fell back unconscious.
Everywhere they went towards their destination, it was the same. People cavorted, drinking, dancing and singing in celebration. It was too much to fathom. Xena stopped a man who was wobbling by carrying an amphora of wine and drinking freely from it. "Hey," she said sharply. "Whats going on here? Whats all the celebration about?"
He looked blearily at her then smiled vacuously. "Oh, a-a Hestian Virgin! Here, b-beautiful sister. Come and help me celebrate. Have a drink!"
"All right," she said, putting on a sexy voice even though she was fuming inside. "So tell me again, what is it that we are celebrating?"
"Why, the Greeks ocourse! The bastard Greeks!"
She furrowed her brow. "The Greeks? What about them?"
He stared at the amphora with watery eyes. "Ten years! Ten years I survived. My sons dead, my wife left me, but I lived through it! That calls fer a drink!" He raised the container to his mouth.
Xena dashed it to the ground where it smashed. She grabbed him by the coat, her eyes intense above the Hestian veil. "What ABOUT the Greeks, you drunken sot!"
"Th-The Greeks?" He pawed ineffectually at her hands. "Oh, the Greeks! Whereve you been, sister? Theyve pulled out! Given up! Their army marched away! The Wars over! The Bastards even left us a big wooden horse statue in honor of our victory over them! I hear its a hunnerd feet tall."
"The Wars OVER?" She was astonished. Behind her she heard the amazons began to mutter among themselves and Gabrielles quick admonition of silence. "What do you mean the War is over?"
"Yup! Our generals had the horse pulled inside the city and down the main street to the city square so everybody could see it and know the Wars over!" His eyes filled with tears. "The damn Wars over my son is dead, but the Wars over." He slumped to a sitting position. "M-My son is d-dead " he began crying heavily. Xena left him where he sat and rejoined the rest of her team.
Chief Ephiny stepped to her. "Maam? If the war is really over, what happens to our mission? Should we even be here?"
Gabrielle hissed, "Belay that, Chief. Let the Captain think."
As far as Xena could recall, they were near the section of town where the Inn of the Laughing Sailor was supposed to be. As the people danced and cavorted around them, she consulted her map while the rest of her team gathered around in a protective circle to ward off the crowds. Shortly she rolled it up again. "All right. The Inn should be two streets up and one over to the east," she said. "Chief Ephiny, you lead the way with Chief Theodorus to break trail if needs be. Everyone follow them and Ill bring up the rear."
"But the War," Ephiny said. "If its over "
"Weve got our orders, Chief!" Xena snapped. "I intend to follow them till I hear different! Now move out!"
Ephiny swallowed. "Im sorry, Maam, I didnt mean we shouldnt..."
Xena took a breath. "I know, Chief. I shouldnt have snapped." She laid a hand on the amazons shoulder and attempted a smile. "I guess were all strung a bit tight right now. Ready to move out?"
"Aye, aye, Maam." Ephiny smiled. "Come on you lot."
As the others started off following the Ballista Chief, Gabrielle touched Xenas arm and she jumped. "Sorry, Maam," whispered the ensign.
"Never mind," the tall captain was irritated. "What is it?"
"Look, this place is busier than an anthill after a heavy rain," the bard spoke low. "I just wondered how were gonna be certain of meeting Helen and the others if theres a crowd like this at the Inn."
"I know Helen," Xena said shortly. At the ensigns stare, she grudgingly amplified. "We were good friends once. So if shes there, Ill know her when I see her."
"Aye, aye." The ensign murmured. "What about this thing about the War being over?"
"It looks as though somebody may have jumped out of the starting gate early, before Helen got turned over to Melenaus," the captain growled. "But at this moment I dont have any more idea than you do, Mister. If they are at the Inn, maybe Helen or Paris can tell us. Now lets go."
As she followed her small crew through the crowd, Xena found that she was nervous at the prospect of meeting Helen again. Yeah, they had been good friends all right. So good that they couldnt live together any more after two years of trying. She sighed. They had not parted company on the best of terms after the final blowup and Xena was not looking forward to seeing her ex-lover again. Maybe if she had been more understanding, less judgmental focus on the mission, she told herself sharply. Time enough for might-have-beens when you see her. Right now you have a job to do.
Following Ephiny and Theodorus, the small group of Hestian Virgins passed into the bustling throng of merchants, soldiers and common folk who were all dancing, singing and drinking, and vanished from view in the crowd.
The Inn of the Laughing Sailor was on a side street which at the moment was only populated by a few inebriated figures collapsed on the cobbles. The Inn was easily recognized by the large clay statue at the entrance. It was of a man dressed in seafaring togs who had a smirk chiseled on his face. As they approached, Xena suddenly felt her hackles rise. Her nostrils expanded as a certain reek reached them. Her heightened senses told her that a lot of blood had been spilled nearby and the closer they got to the Inn, the more certain she was that it was inside.
She gave a low whistle and the rest of her team stopped where they were and looked to her. She glanced around, then indicated that they should ready their weapons and spread out. After they had, she approached the Inn door. After a moment, she kicked it open and leaped to flatten herself against the wall beside it. When nothing happened, she stooped and looked in the opening at about knee height. What she saw confirmed what her nose had been telling her. There were two bloody corpses on the floor and many tables and chairs had been smashed and knocked about. No one else was visible. Getting up, she darted in the door and to the side, sword and chakram in her hands. With a rush, her team followed her looking in all directions for enemies, but there were none.
Xena mentally divided her team into the best possible combination of fighters who could help each other if trouble occurred and spoke quietly. "Chief Ephiny, take Eponin and Marga you check out the upstairs. Chief Theodorus, you and Terreis, look to the kitchen and the cellar. See if anyone is alive." As they left, she knelt to examine the two bodies. They were big, hard muscled men with scars. They wore strange black helmets that had an almost beak-like protrusion that came down the middle of their foreheads to their eyebrows. Each had been stabbed through the chest with a lunge that had gone clear though him. At sight of the helmets, Xena frowned, then shrugged. She ran a finger through a pool of blood on the chest of one corpse and brought it up to her nose to sniff.
She heard Gabrielle swallow. "I-Is that Paris and his brother?"
The captain stood up. "Unlikely, Mister Gabrielle. Although Ive never met them, Paris and his brother are royalty. These two look more like thugs." She gazed about the room appraisingly. "There was a fight in here, thats for certain. And not long ago either."
"H-How can you tell that?"
The raven-haired woman rubbed her thumb and finger together. "The blood is still wet and like water. It hasnt congealed at all. Also blood turns black after a time; this is still quite red." The ensign made a gagging sound in her throat and Xena said, "Remember the pressure point I showed you for nausea. It works not only for seasickness, but any time your stomach wants to turn."
There was a groan from behind her and she looked around to see Gabrielle with her fingers on the pressure point in her wrist. The ensign looked surprised. "It wasnt me. It came from over there " she whispered, pointing toward the bar with the arm she was pressing on.
Xena cat-footed across the room and leaned over the bar top. Down below she saw a pair of grimy bare feet in greasy pants sticking out from under the bar. Vaulting over the top, she knelt behind and then helped a gray-haired man in common clothing stagger to his feet. There was blood running from a shallow scalp wound in his head. The man groaned and swayed, and Xena guided him out from behind the bar to sit on a bench.
"Here, sit down," she said. "Mister Gabrielle, bring him some wine. Who are you?" She asked as she examined his head. "What happened here?"
The ensign brought a small amphora from the bar and the man drank gratefully. "Thankee, sisters. May Hestia reward you for yer kindness," he said weakly. "Im Tallonus, the Innkeep. They was a bunch o men sailors mebbe, by the look of em. They come in and made to grab two gentlemen and a right pretty woman. She was a lady Id say. The one gentleman fought em. Kilt those two there "
"What about the other man and the woman?" Xena asked tightly as she wrapped a makeshift bandage around his head.
Tallonus went on. "Now that was the funny thing. Before one of the farstards knocked me wobbly, I saw the one gentleman come up ahind the other whilst he were fightin the rogues an lay him out with a smash to the back o his head. The pretty woman screamed then an called him kin slayer "
The tall captain grimaced. "These two men did they look anything alike?"
"Well now, come t think on it, they looked as alike as to be brothers they did. How did you know?"
"Lucky guess," she shrugged. "Can you tell me anything else?"
"Well, whilst I was alayin on the floor with me eyes crossed, I heard em grab the woman and gag her. Then the gentleman, the one she had called kin slayer, says something like, "Here is my brother and the bitch delivered as I promised Melenaus. Tell Draco that once theyre on his ship, he can do whatever he wants with them "
Xena suddenly felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. "Wh-What name was that?" Her voice was a rasp.
"Um, Im sure it were Draco Aye, that was it. Draco. They left not more than ten minutes ago "
"Thank you," Xena said fervently. She stood up in haste. "Mister Gabrielle, gather the team. We have to get to the docks at flank speed. We may still catch them."
The ensign gazed at her with appraisal. "Maam? Do you know this Draco?"
"Do I know Draco?" Xenas voice was harsh. "Yes, Mister, you could say that. You certainly could."
As soon as they got together, they began moving toward the docks, but found it tough going until Xena put Theodorus and Eponin out front. The two mighty muscled sailors carved their way through the crowd, hustling people aside or flinging them bodily away while the rest of the Hestian Virgins followed in their wake. In this way, they hammered through the milling throngs like a hot knife going through butter.
Suddenly ahead of them as they neared the docks, Xena saw a group of men wearing the strange black beak-like helmets who were doing the same thing as they were. Furthermore, they seemed to be hustling two people along in the center of them. The two captives had grain sacks over their heads. Urgently she called to Theodorus. "Thats them ahead, Chief! Bull your way through if you can." The hulking Hestian Virgin nodded and began pushing harder through the crowd, but it was obvious that he and Eponin were going about as fast as they could already.
Xena looked about frantically. There had to be a way to slow their quarry down. Then she saw a series of flagpoles about two stories up, set out perpendicular to the street. "Mister Gabrielle, take over. Bring them up as fast as you can! Im going up there!" She pointed at the poles.
"But, Xena " The ensign gulped, then flushed as the captain raised a sharp eyebrow at her. "Sorry, Maam. Wh-What are you going to do?"
"Im gonna slow them down, of course, now follow my orders, Mister!"
"Aye, aye, Maam." Gabrielle said unhappily.
Paying no more attention to her second in command, Xena looked for an opening in the throng that led to a wall across from the flagpoles. She found one, gauged the angles and distance by eye, then ran at full speed towards a building side. Reaching it, she ran up the side of the stone wall! Just as she had reached the limit she could run, she went into a series of flips across the street and upward, catching one of the flag poles she had spotted. In a moment she had swung atop it. Balancing there easily, she peered ahead and saw that the other group was nearing the docks! They would be there in another minute if she didnt stop them. Right at the dock she saw a two masted ship waiting to leave and even at that distance she saw a familiar figure in a black armor and his trademark beaked helmet on the command deck. "Draco, in the stinking flesh." she breathed.
Hurriedly then, she gauged the distance to the next flagpole. Yes, it was just enough.
Below as the Hestian Virgins pushed through the crowd, the redheaded ensign watched her captain with heart in her mouth. She couldnt believe what she had just seen when the dark woman had run up the wall and now so effortlessly stood on the pole as if she was on a plank on the street, not a narrow rounded dowel two stories in the air. What she saw next almost brought a scream from her throat, but she choked it back as she watched her captain now running across those bouncing flagpoles without heed. In moments the dark woman had reached the end of them and flipped off, dropping thirty feet into the crowd ahead to face the enemy alone! Gabrielle cursed and shouted orders as the Hestians continued plowing through the thinning crowd.
Xena had timed her drop well. Her boots landed on the shoulders of one of the beak-helmeted men who were hustling the two hooded figures forward. She rode him into the ground with a crunch and whipped out her sword as she landed. In a trice she had cut down one of them before any of the others even knew they were being attacked. As he fell she grabbed a scimitar that was stuck in his belt. She saw that one of the two captives was a man with hands bound in front of him. She knew she needed another blade at her side, so she whipped the sack off of his head, cut his bonds with one stroke and pushed the scimitar into his hand while he was still blinking in the light. "Fight!" She cried, parrying a blow from one of his now alerted captors and spitting her attacker on her sword in the next instant.
He was a sandy blond with a neat little beard. "I dont know who you are, but you have the thanks of Paris, prince of Troy!"
"Dont just stand there and talk!" She roared as she parried a bow from another man and kicked yet another in the face flipping him up and sideways.
Ignoring her advice he grinned, "Youre a trifle rude to a prince, but then you are a Greek." He swung the curved sword into the crotch of a leaping enemy who clasped both hands between his legs and screamed. Yet another thug now attacked him, but the prince gutted him as well. "Good fight," he grinned as he dodged another man swinging a mace at his head. "A trifle busy though " He ran the man through and panted, "Are we it or are more coming?"
"Theyre coming," she grunted as bobbed back and forth, evading a number of blows from a huge man who seemed determined to bisect her with his two-handed sword. "All we have to do is last "
"Oh, good! A last minute deliverance, my favorite kind!" Paris slammed his sword hilt into a bearded face and ducked a spray of flying bloody teeth.
Xena dodged a final blow from the man with the two-hand sword, then flipped over him suddenly and ran him through before he could turn.
"Nice move," Paris shouted as he attacked another man. "Wheres Helen got off to?"
Glancing around, Xena was horrified to see that the still bound and hooded woman was now twenty feet away, still being rammed toward the ship by two burly men through the now fast dispersing crowd. She tried to see a way to get at them, but then was forced to defend herself against three more who attacked her viciously. She was managing to hold them off until one landed a cut on her right biceps, which made her arm go momentarily numb. Quickly she tossed the sword to her other hand and continued fighting.
The two of them were being backed away from the dock by at least six thugs and she knew there were some who could attack them from behind as well. It was looking bad when suddenly there was a roar as Theodorus and Eponin suddenly crashed into the fray, followed by the rest of the sword and staff swinging Hestians. In moments the enemy were cleared away, either dead or disabled.
The way was open to the ship, as all of the crowd, either drunken or dancing had seemed to clear away suddenly. The two men were hustling the captive woman toward the gangplank of the ship and on deck Draco was roaring orders to cast off.
"Come on," Xena cried. "We can still stop them. Amazons, fire your crossbows at the deck and charge!"
She started forward as Gabrielle came up beside her.
"Maam," gasped the ensign, "This could be a bad idea "
Paying no attention, Xena charged past her with Paris, Theodorus and the amazons. She howled in triumph as the amazons triggered their crossbows and several men fell screaming from the ship. However, Draco roared orders and suddenly ten men appeared behind him with short bows and aimed a flight of arrows at the charging amazons.
"Down, get DOWN!" Xena shrieked, flying into a forward roll as the men loosed their shafts. Her amazons threw themselves aside safely, but two arrows flew like hungry bees straight toward Prince Paris face as he stood gaping. Desperately she snatched the two arrows out of the air within inches of their target.
"D-Damned nice catch," he quavered with his eyes bulging. Xena tossed them aside and tackled him rolling them both behind a nearby barrel as more shafts zapped through the space where he had been.
"What did I say about standing around talking?" she rasped.
"Point taken." He swallowed as yet another arrow shattered on the stone wall above and showered them with fragments. "These bastards seem to mean business."
More arrows came in and the amazons returned fire with their crossbows. With no missile weapon, Chief Theodorus held the dead body of an enemy in front of him and kept going forward toward the ship as the men aboard slammed arrow after arrow into it.
Certain she could avoid the shafts, Xena was about to charge from cover to help him when she heard an agonized female scream. She looked up from Paris as her heart seemed to stop. Please not the ensign, she gulped with horror. N-Not Gabrielle, please.
Then she saw that the redhead lay on the ground about ten feet away near another barrel. Heedless of the snapping arrows still coming from the ship, Xena leaped up and ran across to the huddled form. "Gabrielle," she gulped. Gently she turned her second officer over. As her face came into view, the ensign looked up at her confusedly, but with no sign of pain in her green eyes.
"Are you all right " Xena began, then choked on her words. "Oh, gods!" Beneath the ensign-bard lay young seaman Terreis with an arrow protruding from her left breast and her blood stained the thin Hestian clothing.
"She fired her crossbow then stood up to reload. I tried to get her down, but before I could, she was hit," moaned the ensign. "Then all I could think to do was cover her from more arrows..."
"C-Captain " Terreis voice was weak. "It-It hurts "
Gabrielles green eyes were pleading as she looked at her captain. "Is-Is she gonna be all right?"
Xena had almost as many medical skills as Mlila and after one look knew she could do nothing for Terreis. The shaft was too close to the young womans heart. Even with the most expert Healers hand, trying to remove it would kill her. Leaving it in would kill her. Xena felt her eyes filling with tears. Oh, damn you. This is your fault, Xena! All of it! You got in a hurry and charged right into it! Even Gabrielle knew better but you wouldnt listen. How does it feel to be adding yet another mark to your score of the innocent dead? Damn you, Xena, when are you going to learn?
Terreis coughed and moaned, and the captain reached down with both hands to two places on the young womans chest and pressed hard. The amazon grunted, then stopped groaning. "It-It hurt before n-now I hardly feel a thing " she said weakly. "Am I all right now?"
Xena smiled down at her. "Just rest," she said softly.
"All right," Terreis closed her eyes. Gabrielle gazed up at her captain with the hope and certainty that she could do anything. Her face fell as the raven-haired woman swallowed and shook her head. A tear ran down the redheads cheek, then she took Terreis hand and stroked her hair.
Just then Xena heard Ephinys voice calling urgently. "Captain?"
Back to work, Xena. Yer too evil to rest. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembered hearing when the arrows had stopped coming and knew they had lost their quarry. She stood up and looked around wearily. "Yes, Chief?"
"The ships pulling away, Maam. Out of arrow shot. They got Helen on board. What are we going to do now?"
The captain shook herself. Plenty of time to punish yerself later, warrior bitch, she promised. Right now youve got a job to do. "Chief Theodorus? Youre strongest. You take Terreis. Chief Ephiny, gather the group." She turned to the hulking Assistant Bubblerman. "Be gentle," she whispered.
"Oy, oy, Marm," he said. He picked the young amazon up into his arms and straight off the ground in a dead lift as if she were a feather and as gently as a baby. Even so she groaned faintly.
Ephiny was at her side again. "All here, Maam." Her eyes turned to Terreis, and she looked grim.
"All right, Chief. Mister Gabrielle, get us started back to the boat. You and Eponin lead off. Keep Chief Theodorus and Terreis in the center. All right people, lets move."
As they started off prince Paris came trotting up. "Look, whatever your name is. Youve got to get Helen back from that ship and take her to Melenaus, or our agreement falls through and the war goes on!"
She turned on him savagely and he took a step back. "All right, prince, what in Tartarus is going on? This was supposed to be a trade, not a fight! What happened?"
He smiled crookedly. "My little brother Deiphobus got too big for his sandals I guess "
She interrupted him. "Tell me as we go. Were on a tight schedule."
He nodded as they started moving and continued. "As near as I can make out from things I heard while I was under that sack, when I told my brother about my idea of offering Helen to Melenaus as a means to end the war, he had his own plans. He contacted this Draco bastard to take Helen and I to sell as slaves." He dodged past a drunken woman and continued. "Then when Helen is not turned over to the king, that will keep the war going. I wouldnt be there and Deiphobus would take over as ruler and continue running the war to his own satisfaction."
Xena was perplexed. "Why would he do that? Isnt he a prince as well?"
"Certainly, but the little sod has always been sure he could rule better than me. Brotherly love, you know." He scratched his head. "Seems he also wants the war to run on for awhile longer. Then he will surrender to the Greeks and have a piece of all the slaves they will garner." Paris smiled and he suddenly looked ugly. "It was really quite a good and ambitious plan and Im almost sorry I didnt think of it first. But, now Im stuck with the original deal I cut with Melenaus Im afraid."
Xena sucked her breath through her teeth. It seemed Paris didnt care any more about Helen than her husband had and she almost wished she had let those arrows hit him in the face.
They went on for a moment or two before Paris spoke again. "Anyway I need to get back to the palace and prove that Im alive and incidentally settle with my dear brother " he licked his lips as if hungry. "You must catch this Draco person and take Helen back to old Melenaus as agreed."
"Fine, fine." The raven-haired woman spoke shortly, her distaste obvious. "Well do our part all right, but weve got to know where hes going! I suppose you didnt happen to hear where he was headed?"
Paris seemed not to notice her attitude. "As a matter of fact they did mention the walled city of Mogador. Do you know it?"
Xena grimaced. "Its in North Africa. Its a main slave trading port." Memories of another time some ten years before tried to crash in on her. Images of captured men and women sold and bought like cattle and bags of money in her hands. Steadfastly she shoved the memories aside. Deal with them later too, warrior bitch. "Ive been there, but not recently."
"How very interesting." His tone said that it wasnt. "Well, nowadays its that said some Arabian Khan who goes by the unlovely name of Gur, runs the place. I mean, really." He shrugged. "He has apparently offered a tremendous sum for Helen because she is the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world." He snickered. "Hes in for quite a disappointment, I fancy."
To keep from throttling him, Xena reminded herself that this smirking horseapple was supposed to be on her side. "So whats all this stuff Ive heard about a wooden horse left by the Greeks? Was that part of the plan?"
"No," he grunted. "Hades if I know what thats about. Dont care either. They left it as a gift, well take it as one. It will help cement my popularity with the people."
"Whatever," she said. Her disgust for him seemed to have no bounds.
It seemed everyone in the port wanted to see the giant gift horse left by the Greeks for the streets were now next to empty. Paris left them and no one felt sorry. They passed the Ballista Tower of the Shore Guards and now saw a litter of broken and empty wine amphoras but not a single guard. They reached the beach where they had left the PT-Boat easily, but sadness accompanied them for it was now obvious that Terreis was dying. Theodorus laid her gently on the sand and they made her as comfortable as possible. The big man had allowed no one else to carry the ailing girl the whole way. Now he stood with by an impassive face, but grief shown in his eyes.
Xena had Mlila fetched out just in case there was anything she could do, but after she had looked the young amazon over, the tiny Healer sadly shook her head.
Terreis voice was surprisingly clear. "Mother are you here?"
With tears in her eyes, Xena was about to answer yes, to make the young womans dying easier when from behind her another voice said, "Im here, little bird," and Melosa knelt beside her. The dark haired amazons face was full of grief and tears ran down her cheeks, but her voice was perfectly calm as she stroked the young womans hair.
Xena stared. Was Melosa truly Terreis birth mother? If so they had shown nothing of their relationship on board. She looked up at Marga, Melosas lover. The black amazon bit her lip, then nodded. Shaking her head, the captain turned back to the scene before her.
"Heal heal the tribes, mother " Terreis eyes were shut, her voice faint but clear. "You are queen you must heal us."
Melosa stared sightlessly at her dying daughter, her lips working, but didnt speak.
"Mother " the clear voice was insistent. "Promise h-heal "
Melosas voice finally broke. "I p-promise, little bird. N-Now sleep in the Eternity "
The young womans face relaxed into a smile and a long sigh trailed out of her mouth. Afterward she was still and her mother sat sobbing on her chest as the rest of the crew watched silently. Then Ephinys voice was heard in a long drawn out song. It was part lament, part chant and seemed to somehow be full of joy at the same time. As she sang, one by one the other amazons all joined in and even Melosa herself finally sang with them as they carroled Terreis soul into the winds of Eternity.
The PT-Boat was finally leaving the beach. Behind it on the sand, the last few licks of flame on the dying amazon funeral pyre consumed the remains of the youngest member of her crew, for Xena had decided that they had time enough for the proper burial of Terreis according to the custom of her people.
When ensign Gabrielle had hesitantly pointed out that Draco was getting further and further away with Helen as they waited for the pyre to burn down, Xena shook her head grimly. "We know where hes going, Mister. Theres only a couple of headings he can take to get to Mogador in North Africa. I saw that ship he has. With the Bubbler, we are well faster than he is. Hes not going anywhere that we cant catch him."
"What if hes not going to Mogador? What if he changed his mind?"
Xena was grim. "If he changed his mind, were SOL, Mister. But I dont think he will. If this Gurkhan character offered so much for Helen, Draco will go for it. Ive never known him to have turned down a big score and this is one of the biggest." She nodded. "Well find him, never fear."
"Aye, aye, Maam." If the ensigns voice may have shown any doubt, Xena ignored it.
PT-Evdomenda Tria carved its way through the Aegean swells at full speed, bubbles hissing and popping from its wake. Chef Autolycus voice came from the lookout nest. "Ahoy the deck! Sail ho, three points off the starboard bow!"
Xena looked that way and saw nothing but blue sky and azure sea meeting. "Where away?" She bellowed.
"Sorry, Cap!" The chefs voice came back with a laugh. "I mean its off the left side, not the right! Port. Starboard. Windward. Larboard. Never could keep those Navy direction thingies straight. Anyway, I had a fifty-fifty chance of being right!"
Xena chomped her cigar. "Dammit, chef! For two pins Id "
"Hey, no biggie! I got yer attention, didnt I? Sheesh."
Frustrated, the captain looked at her second officer who was already turning the boat that direction. She shrugged with a grin. "Hes right, you know. He did get our attention and thats what counts. Wanna look her over, Maam?"
The raven-haired woman started to swear, then groaned and covered her eyes with a hand. "Fine, fine. You steer her over thataway and Ill pipe up the crew."
The closer they got, the more certain Xena was. It was Dracos ship all right. "Mister Gabrielle! I when we reach her, I want you to cross her T! Well take out her rudder first, then she cant run from us!"
"Aye, aye, Maam! Her T it is!" The ensigns voice held suppressed excitement and perhaps worry.
Xena remembered that it was for all intents, the ensigns first time in true ship-to-ship combat. She patted her arm. "Just like a drill, Gabrielle, and we have all the advantages. He has to depend on the wind. With the Bubbler, we dont. We can run circles around him."
She called to the Ballista crews. "Were gonna cut across her stern, chiefs! When we do, I want both of you to fire dry rounds into her rudder. Pin it down! I want her unable to steer!"
"Aye, aye, Maam," came the answers and this time she noted there were no jibes and bets being made from either Ballista crew. All on board were grimly anxious to catch the ship ahead and make them pay for the loss of the youngest crewmember of PT-Evdomenda Tria.
Closer and closer they came and they could see figures running about on the deck of the ship ahead and Xena fanced she could see Draco at the bridge, shouting orders. Wasting no time and using the PT-Boats superior maneuverability to keep the enemy ship right where they wanted it, they cut in behind the stern at only fifty yards distance. That was point blank range for the Ballistas and neither crew missed their target, howling in triumph as the bronze headed bolts slammed into the rudder a split second apart. Melosas bolt hurled the rudder against the stern of the ship and partly pinned it. Ephinys bolt nailed it down for good.
The affects were instant. Because of the trapped rudder, the bigger ship was beginning to turn in that direction. In moments this could bring them against the wind and the pressure on the sails could flip the ship over. Draco showed himself a good ship handler, screaming orders that brought the sails down in quick time and kept the ship from capsizing. She lost headway quickly and was soon just floating like a monstrously large piece of debris on the placid waves as the PT-Boat stood off out of arrow range and continued to circle her foe at half Bubbles.
Xena took up the speaking trumpet. "All right, Draco. Weve got you. Talk to me."
The dark skinned man with the beaky helmet came to the side of his ship. He had a big smile on his face. "Well, Xena my love. I thought that was you at port o Troy! Small world, isnt it? What do you want?"
"Im not your love, Draco. As anyone who looks at that scar I put on your face should know. And you know what we want. Turn over Helen and you can be on your way."
"Helen? Helen. Hmm." He stroked his small beard as he pretended to consider. "Do you mean Helen worth-a-million-dinars-as-a-slave, Helen? Or is that some other Helen you think I have?"
The raven-haired captain was grim. "No tête-à-tête, Draco. No witty repartee! Im in no mood this time! Turn her over now, or suffer the consequences!"
He laughed. "What consequences would those be, Xena? I hold all the cards here! Anything you can do to us happens to Helen too. As soon as we unstick the rudder well be on our way!" He grinned. "Nice seeing you again. Sorry you had a wasted trip out here "
"Well see whats wasted!" Xena snarled. "Ballista crews! Aim at the deck and loose Greek Fire on my command!"
"Aye, aye, Maam!" came the answer from both Melosa and Ephiny as cranking noises came from their weapon mounts.
"What in Tartarus are you doing?" Screamed the warlord.
Xenas face was stony. "Thats a nice big boat, Draco! It oughta catch fire real nice and take you an yer whole stinkin crew with it! I think Id just turn Helen over if I were you!"
"You wouldnt dare," he blustered. "Helen would burn too!"
Xena sneered, "Well now, dont you bet yer life on it! Considering yer gonna sell her into slavery, I suspect shed sooner burn knowing yer gonna go with her!"
"Damn you " he roared, his face red with fury.
"Come on, Draco! Whats it gonna be?"
"All right, all right." The warlords shoulders seemed to go slack. "Just hold those damned Ballistas." He turned away to his first mate. "Starky, were licked. Bring up the queen."
His mate began to protest. "But Capn "
Draco swore at his mate. "I said were licked, damn you, Starky! Now do as I say!" Then he muttered something else, his words too low for Xena to hear.
Seeming reluctant, the mate nodded, then said loudly, "Orright, Capn, but I still think yer makin a mistake turnin her over so quick."
"We have no choice. Just do what I said," the warlord growled and the mate nodded. When he had left, Draco stared at the deck, shoulders slumped, the perfect picture of defeat and dejection.
Xena watched him narrowly, then without turning her head, spoke quietly out of the side of her mouth. "Mister Gabrielle?"
"Aye, Maam?" The redheaded ensigns voice was soft.
"This is too easy. Hes got something up his sleeve or Im a Bacchae." The raven-haired captain drew on her cigar and continued to speak low, her lips barely moving. "If I leave the bridge for some reason, youre in command. Use yer best judgment, but protect my ship and crew."
The small woman swallowed. "Aye, aye, Maam."
Xena took out the cigar and raised her voice. "Come on, Draco. My crews have itchy fingers!"
"Just hold on, damn you," he cursed. "Shes coming." There were noises from behind him and he grinned. "In fact, here she comes now!"
Suddenly, a beautiful dark woman dressed in silken finery was thrust up to stand on the railing of his ship and the Greek Warrior Captain felt her mouth go dry and her heart began to hammer. Not because the woman was beautiful; she had known that. It wasnt the disheveled clothing and wild hair either. It wasnt even the coils of rope that bound her hands to her sides and the gag in her mouth. What made the fury and fear begin to fill Xenas mind was the hangmans noose around the queens neck, the rope of which led up to the yardarm on the mainsail of Dracos ship.
Gabrielles voice was tight with horror. "Captain! If she falls, shell hang herself "
"Steady on, I see it." Xena ground out. She forced her voice to calmness while her mind raced. "All right, Draco. Whats this supposed to prove?"
"Nothing," he grinned disarmingly. "Im just testing a theory." Then his expression became grim and his voice went guttural. "Lets see if youre really as tough as you talk! You fire one shot with those Ballistas and Ill hang her right here in front of you!"
She leaned nonchalantly on the railing, her voice bored. "So what does this get you?"
"Nothing if Im wrong and you fire into us," he smirked. "In that case, Helen hangs, we burn and you get squat. But I dont think thats gonna happen cause I heard that once upon a time you two had a thing."
At the wheel, the red haired ensign made an almost inaudible noise, but said nothing.
Xenas mind was full of ice as she gazed up at the queen and Helens frightened eyes behind the gag were beseeching. The captain turned a burning glare on Draco and he swallowed. "All right," she said softly. "What do you think happens now?"
Draco laughed in relief. "I KNEW it! You WERE bluffing!" His voice became a crow of victory. "Hoo-YAH! I beat out Xena, warrior captain!"
"Really? Im not sure Id say that." Xena was still calm. "If you hang her well burn you! Looks like a stalemate to me."
"Oh, no. Not now!" His voice was euphoric. "Now IVE got the upper hand. Were sailing out of here now nice as you please and I dont even mind telling you where! Were going to the walled city of Mogador in North Africa. Once there well sell Helen to the highest bidder." He grinned triumphantly. "Hades! You can even come to the auction and bid on her! If you can beat out Gurkhan and the other buyers, you might even get her back!"
"Oh, Ill get her back all right," Xena snarled. She snatched the chakram from her hip and hurled it upwards in one motion. The weapon whined as it shot up and Draco jumped back in panic, thinking he was the target. But he wasnt. In an instant, the chakram had cut the noose about a foot above Helens head and as the rope went slack the bound queen of Troy teetered on the ship rail.
The flying weapon returned to her hand and Xena raised her voice to a shout. "Helen! JUMP!"
Without hesitation the queen propelled herself off of the side of the ship just as a cursing Draco leaped for her. She splashed into the water an instant later and vanished beneath the surface.
"Take over, Mister!" Cigar clenched firmly in her teeth, Xena flipped off the deck of PT-Evdomenda Tria into a dive and down under the water. She heard the sizzle as the cigar was extinguished as she hit and then her ears were full of bloomping underwater sound. In the clear azure ocean water, she saw the bound figure of the queen struggling with her ropes as she slid down into the depths surrounded by air bubbles.
In a few powerful strokes the captain was beside her. The chakram severed the ropes effortlessly and they fell away. Then Xena and the queen headed for the sunlit blue ceiling above them.
As they broke the surface, the captain was wary lest they be shot at from the slave ship, but nothing happened. As she shook the water from her eyes she realized she still had the soggy remains of the cigar clamped in her teeth and spat it out with disgust. She saw the PT-Boat standing to beside the larger ship, smoking Ballistas aimed at where Draco stood raging on the deck.
She heard a yell from seaman Dragonna. "I see em, Mister Gabrielle."
"Well, get em on board, sailor!" The ensign shouted back and Xena wondered if she was the only one who heard the tightness in her second officers expressive voice.
"Aye, aye, Maam. Come on, Capn! Swim this way!" A line came sailing from the stern of the Poseidons Trident and gratefully, Xena and Helen swam to it and allowed Dragonna to tow them in and haul them soaked and dripping on board.
"Take the queen below and make her comfortable, sailor," Xena ordered Dragonna, wiping water out of her eyes. "Im going to the bridge."
"Aye, aye, Capn."
As she came dripping onto the command deck, the ensign glanced at her and the obvious apprehension in her green eyes vanished into a smile. Still she asked, "You all right, Maam?"
"Fine as frog fur," Xena grinned. "I take it our friend isnt too happy?"
"No, Maam," Gabrielle grinned back. "I wont attempt to repeat some of the things he said after you hit the water, but Ill say they involved your parentage, family lineage and a knowledge of your birth that he couldnt possibly have had."
"I see he hasnt attempted anything rash "
"Oh, no, Maam," the ensign said contentedly. "He was going to have men dive in after you, but I said if he did that or anything else I didnt like the looks of, that I would start firing flaming Ballistas into his hull until his ship was burned down to the water line."
"Good job, Mister Gabrielle." Xena said warmly.
"Thank you," the redhead blushed faintly at the praise.
Just then Dracos shouted voice came, trembling with anger. "All right, damn you, Xena! You got what you wanted! Now were leaving!"
She turned and looked up as if just remembering that he was there. "I dont think so. Can you swim, Draco?"
He sounded angry but puzzled. "Sure, why?"
"Thats good. I hope yer in good shape."
"What do you mean?"
"If I let you go with this ship, youll just start raiding again. I dont think I like that." Her voice got guttural with rage. "Besides, you killed one of my crew. A little girl who had her whole life ahead of her and yer gonna pay."
His voice was apprehensive. "I didnt do it."
"No but it was your men that did it..." Xena lit a fresh cigar. " and Im taking your ship."
"Like Hades you are!" His laughter was uneasily. "Ive got a crew three times the size of yours!"
"I dont think thats gonna matter," she said, blowing smoke calmly and he stopped laughing. Xena pointed to the north. "See that headland out there? Its only a couple of miles. Best you get started swimming."
"Were NOT leaving this ship!" He roared.
"Oh, I think you are," Xena removed the cigar from her mouth. "Ballista Chiefs, commence Rapid Fire!" she shouted to Milosa and Ephiny. The twin Ballistas snapped as one, sending their flaming bolts into the bigger ship. When they hit, the Greek Fire tips broke and splashed fiery destruction everywhere. Within seconds another double round of flaming disaster was on its way and then another and another.
At the first strike, Draco ran back from the rail, shouting orders. He and the men tried desperately to fight the fires, but as fresh bolts kept coming and the wooden sides and sails and rigging began to catch as well, it became obvious that their efforts were for naught and his crew began to panic.
"Cease Fire " Xena called after the sixth double round of fire bolts had struck the ship. It was now wreathed in tendrils of fire, which writhed and crackled with an almost human chuckling.
The raging warlord reappeared at the fiery rail as his men began to dive overboard. "DAMN YOU! Ill get EVEN for this! I dont know when or how, but Ill see you in Tartarus, Xena!"
"Youd better get going, Draco!" She called. "Its only a few miles to swim. If you save your breath, I feel a man like you could manage it!"
"You lousy Harpy!" Draco shouted desperately as the flames hissed around him. He dove cleanly off the side of the ship, cut the water like a knife and surfaced a moment later. Getting his bearings, he set out stroking strongly for the headland Xena had pointed to and didnt look back. His men followed.
"That Draco," she said with a tinge of admiration. "Once hes decided to do something, he puts everything else out of his mind. Thats what I call focus."
"Does that go for what he said about getting even too?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"Oh, yeah," Xena said lightly. "Hell be looking for me. You can count on it." She sighed, then glanced back at the fast burning slave ship where a few more men were leaping off into the water and straightened her shoulders. "Im gonna see to our guest. You have the bridge, Mister. Keep an eye on those last men and be ready to pick up any who seem like they cant make the swim and put em under guard. Were not murderers, after all." She paused. "In a couple of minutes, move us off about 100 yards and then put us at station keeping. We dont want to be pulled under by the suction when she goes down."
"Aye, aye, Maam," the redhead replied. As the tall captain went below, she didnt see the adoring look her junior officer gave her. "What a woman," she sighed as she turned back to watch the burning ship and the last few sailors swimming away.
Xena came down the companionway and found Autolycus, Dragonna and Mlila tending to Helen in the Mess Hall. The dark amazon had wrapped the queen in a blanket while the cook had brought her something hot to drink. The Healer was taking her pulse and seemed to be a tad extra solicitous.
"Now you just try this chicken soup, maam," Autolycus said holding out a steaming cup. "It should warm you right up."
Helen sipped some, and a surprised smile crossed her face. "This is really good, crewman. Thank you. I don't believe I've ever tasted anything quite like it..." Her voice was tinkling bells.
The cook gave the impression of strutting a little. "Its the fresh butter, tarragon and shallots, maam. Gives it that little extra taste sensation. Oh, and I braise the chicken before I put it into the stock "
"Its fully as good as anything Ive had at a kings table. You could be a gourmet cook!"
"COULD be?" The mustached cook sounded hurt. "I AM a gourmet cook. If they gave titles for cooking, I would be Autolycus, CHIEF of Chefs "
Xena rolled her eyes, then cleared her throat.
"Oh, hi, Cap!" The cook said brightly. "You want a cup too?"
"No, not just now, thank you," she said.
"How about some nice warm honey baklava then? I just made it "
"Autolycus!" She lowered her brow and looked at him from beneath it. Then she gave a quick nod of her head toward the galley.
His eyes widened. "OH! Guess I better go check on that rice pudding." He nodded to Helen, "Maam. " He left hurriedly.
Xena caught Dragonnas eye too, and the amazon sailor nodded and left. She turned to the Ships Healer. "How about it, Pills? Is she all right?"
Mlila pursed her lips. "Vernu ljubav, jos vernijeg druga."
"Ill take that as a yes," the captain sighed. "Thanks. You can go."
Mlila tossed her head and sniffed. Then she looked at Helen and her expression was teasing. "I dajte mene na devojke." She wet her lips. "Men devojke bolje nose." She left.
Once they were alone, the captain sat down across from the queen. She drew on her cigar but said nothing.
"Xena," Helen smiled warmly. "Its so good to see you again."
The tall captain was cool. "How have you been, your majesty?"
Helen gazed at her over the cup. "Ive been better," she said grimly. "Melenaus, Paris, even Draco; they all wanted me for their own purposes. I used to think I was loved. Nowadays I feel like a bargaining chip in a mens pissing contest. Paris doesnt seem to love me any more and Melenaus never did. Only one person ever treated me like I was a human being with feelings and I let her get away. Now here you are, rescuing me from all that." She gazed into Xenas eyes, then smiled radiantly and sat down the cup. She glanced around the room, then whispered, "Im glad were alone. Id like to thank my rescuer properly." She leaned forward as if to kiss the captain.
The Greek pulled back out of range and the queen blinked. "No need for that. Youre welcome."
Helens dark eyes had been sparkling, now she pouted. "Its been a long time. Arent you even going to kiss me hello?"
"No," Xena said quietly. The queen of Troy stared at her as if in shock as she continued. "So where should I take you I wonder?"
Helen was hurt and puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, since Draco isnt an option unless you want to be a slave, and your Kingly husband apparently wants you dead, who else is there? Providing hes still alive, should I take you back to Troy to look for yer boy-toy Paris, or is there someone else I should know about?"
Helen looked as if shed been slapped. "Xena "
"Save it, Hel. Just give me a straight answer. Where do you want me to take you?"
The face that was said to have launched a thousand ships fell. Then the queen drew herself up. "I see you are still as inflexible and blunt as usual." She sat down the cup. "I had hoped you might have changed a bit since we were last together "
Xena sighed. "Look, Helen, lets not fight, okay? We were friends and Im being a sorry excuse for one. I apologize for acting shirty."
The dark complected queen wiped at her eyes. "What happened to us, Xena? We used to be so much in love." Her voice was small.
"Ive thought about that a lot over the years." The captain looked into her ex-lovers eyes. "Helen, what we had just didnt work out. It wasnt your fault or mine, we just didnt get along except in bed "
"At least we were good that way, werent we?" The queens eyes glistened.
"Yes, we were," Xena smiled. "Its just that we could never agree on anything else in our lives together."
"Thats for certain," Helen chuckled with regret. "I loved opera, you wanted comedy. I loved parties, you wanted to go hunting. I loved exotic dishes and fine wines, while you could have lived on venison and ale every day "
Xena joined in. "Yeah, and you wanted to dress up and go out every night while I was content to stay home with the dogs and polish my sword." She shook her head ruefully. "We made a heck of a couple, didnt we? We were like a chariot crash waiting to happen."
"Thats for certain," Helen chuckled. Her laugh was a tinkly sound that that brought stirrings of old familiar feelings back into Xenas mind. Their eyes met and Helen ceased laughing as they stared at one another. Then without warning, they both leaned forward and found themselves kissing gently. The kiss continued for a moment, but there was no passion behind it and finally they pulled back as if by mutual agreement.
Helens lip trembled. "Im sorry. I just wondered if there was still anything there," she whispered.
"There is, but I think we both know it wouldnt work out, Helen." Xena sighed. "Honey, I love you as a friend and I wish you all the best. I hope you finally find that special someone." Then she grinned ruefully. "Shit. I hope we both do."
At that moment somewhere outside the hull, there was a rumbling gurgling noise that sounded like the biggest drain in the world emptying out. Swirling, grumbling and hissing noises followed and then came a muted groaning and cracking that seemed to pass beneath the PT-Boats hull and continue downward. Helen listened in awe. "Wh-What was all that?"
"It was Dracos ship going down," The captain shrugged. "He and his men wont bother anyone for awhile, anyway." She grinned. "Theyre too busy swimming right now."
"W-Will they drown?"
"Draco? Not a chance. He and his men are probably halfway to land as we speak."
"Oh." There was silence for a moment as Helen digested this. "So what will you do with me, now?" the ex-queens murmur was soft.
Xena was thoughtful. "Is there anywhere safe for you to go? Do you have any friends or relatives I could take you to?"
"My parents are dead I havent had any contact outside of Troy for the last ten years. I used to have some friends in Thessaly. You remember Tycos and Marina. They might take me in."
"Well, for the moment then, Id say Thessaly it is. If you think of someone or someplace else, let me know." Xena looked to a movement at the door, and saw Mlila standing there watching them. She stood up and waved the Healer in. "Pills, give her something to help her rest."
The Healer nodded and entered. She spoke to Helen. "Dobro, deli devojko."
Helen smiled tenderly. "Thank you, Xena. For everything."
The Captain nodded. "You get some rest. I gotta see about getting this boat moving and ironing out some wrinkles."
Xena came from below decks and onto the bridge and looked around. The Ballista crews were lounging at their weapons. Autolycus was in the lookouts nest watching the horizons. There was no sign of the slave ship; no smoke sullied the clean sea air and no debris littered the water. It was as if the bigger ship had never been there. Far in the distance she could make out the small swimming figures making for the headland. "Everything ship shape here, Mister?"
"Yes, Maam. I set the crew at ease except for the lookout. Dracos ship went down by the head a few minutes ago."
Xena nodded. "I heard."
The ensign sounded sober. "I dunno why but it was a kinda unsettling sight. Not only that but it made all kinds of noises, almost like living people in their death agonies." She swallowed. "I didnt know ships made so much noise when they went under. I dont mind saying it made me queasy."
"Because it coulda been us," Xena said flatly. "The sea isnt really our element, Mister Gabrielle. Its not like on land when a wagon were riding breaks down. There we can get off and walk. Here its sink or swim. " Her voice softened. "When we see another ship go down, it reminds us of how nothing is sure on the sea except that we dont truly belong here and we and our little boat could be next."
"Makes sense," the redhead said softly.
Just then Autolycus called down and pointed. "Ahoy the bridge. A small ship coming toward us from the direction of Troy."
"What is she, Chef, a warship?"
Autolycus squinted in that direction. "No, Maam. Looks like a small Trireme, Trojan make. Unarmed with one bank of oars on each side. Looks like plenty of people on deck though."
Xena felt her breath quicken. "Soldiers?"
"No, Maam. I dont think so. I dont see any glints on armor or weapons. Just looks like shes crowded."
"Orders, Maam?" The ensign asked, a hand on the speaking tube to the Bubbler Room.
The tall captain rubbed her nose and came to a decision. "Lets look her over, Mister. Tell the Chief to give us half speed." As Gabrielle began speaking into the tube, Xena leaned over the bridge. "Ahoy the deck! Ballista crews man your weapons and stand ready, but dont shoot unless I give the command."
"Aye, aye!" As the Ballista crews moved to obey, the PT-Boat came alive again and began making way.
Xena turned to Gabrielle. "Ill be below for a minute, Mister. Get us started toward them if Im not back."
"Aye, aye, Maam." The ensign sounded curious, but kept her peace.
Xena hesitated, then flushed slightly and spoke. "Im going to tell Helen to stay below while were at this Trojan ship," she said. "No sense taking the chance that anyone recognizes her. We may not want anyone to know shes alive yet." Without waiting for an answer, she ducked below.
When she was out of sight, the redhead smiled after her tenderly. "By the gods, she didnt have to tell me that. Maybe she does care," she whispered to herself joyfully. Then she called down to the deck. "All set, Chiefs?"
Minutes later Xena reappeared as Gabrielle was pulling the PT-Boat up to the other ship. They gazed in awe at the vessel. As Autolycus had said, there were no soldiers, but the deck was crammed with men, women and even children, all huddled together. Some carried a few bundles of belongings but most had nothing. All looked to be in shock and misery. They were certainly not capable of fighting.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other for a moment in shock and pity, then the captain called, "Ballista crews, stand down and secure mounts." She picked up the speaking trumpet. "Lets see what theyve got to say, Mister."
Exchanging hails by speaking trumpet between the two vessels, Xena and her crew got the whole story. The war was over. Troy had fallen. There had been Greek soldiers hidden in the giant wooden horse statue. Once everyone in the city was drunk with celebration, they had stolen out, rushed the few guards at the gates and opened them. Outside awaited the hidden Greek army, who had rushed in and began killing anyone who resisted and taking any who surrendered for slaves. At their head was a king called Melenaus who had offered a reward to anyone who could bring him Helen or Paris dead or alive.
So sudden was the unexpected attack, that only a few ships with refugees had managed to flee the city before it was taken completely. Fewer yet had managed to escape the Greek fleet, which was waiting to pounce. The land and sea effort had been well coordinated and had to have been well thought out in advance.
Xena was grim. Apparently king Meleaus had never meant to follow through on his secret agreement with Paris since he obviously had not been waiting on the Isle of Lesbos for Helens delivery by the PT-Boat. Or perhaps this was part of the deal he had made with Deiphobus. Xena wondered if Admiral Cecrops had known about any of this or if he had been kept in the dark as well. Well, whatever the plan had been, the war was over now and the Trojans were being enslaved as they spoke. According to the people on the Trireme, the Greeks were now sacking the city of all valuables and burning everything else they didnt want to take. They boasted that when they were through, Troy would become an unnamed wasteland and that the Trojans would never be known as a people again.
Even though they had fought the Trojans for years, everyone in her crew seemed shocked at the news, everyone that is, except Xena. Secretly the captain of Poseidons Trident-Evdomenda Tria knew that she would have done the same thing years before if her army had managed to take Corinth and was ashamed. It seemed so long ago now; long ago and far away. Despite herself, she knew that the Warlord she had been would have thought nothing of such a thing, and it saddened and sickened her to realize it.
What could she do to help make amends now? She ordered that half of the PT-Boats stores of food and drinking water be transferred to the Trojan ship to help relieve the hunger and thirst of the under-supplied and crowded humanity aboard. Her crew worked with a will, seeming to feel a need to help their former enemies as well. Many of the people had been hurt getting out of the city, so she sent Mlila over with Theodorus in case she needed protecting, and the tiny Healer was able to ease much suffering.
At last toward evening, they had done all they could and bid farewell to the Trojan ship in the gathering twilight. As they watched its glowing lanterns recede into the darkness, the ensign turned to Xena. "Well, what now, Captain? Back to Lemnos base?"
Xena was pensive. "No. Not yet. I know what I want to do, but Im not going to make that decision for everybody on my own this time."
"Then what, Maam?"
The captain of PT-Evdomenda Tria lit her cigar. "Call up the crew, Mister Gabrielle. Every man and woman. This time everybody gets a vote."
The PT-Boat bobbed gently on the dark ocean swells and the stars and moon shone down cool and white on the boats deck lighting it almost like day. The whole crew was present and came to attention as Xena stepped off the bridge and faced them. "At ease, people," she said. As they relaxed, she looked around at them. "Our mission was relatively simple, but you all know how things went into the outhouse back in Troy. Now the city has fallen and we have Helen aboard. Her Greek husband wants her dead so if we take her to him, at the least he will sell her into slavery." She grimaced, "At the most he will kill her as a philandering wife." She gazed at them. "Her Trojan lover prince Paris may be dead and in any case the city has fallen, so I cant in good conscience take her back there to be killed or sold as a slave." She fell silent to give them time to think over her words.
The silence dragged on and no one spoke. Finally big Theodorus grunted. "Saow, wot we gonner do, Marm?"
Xena spoke softly. "This should be a decision by all of us, because it will affect all of us." She waited but again no one spoke and she went on. "In my estimation, I think we should take Helen and drop her off somewhere far from this area. Then, I think we should abandon ship, scuttle her and go on about our lives as we did before the war "
A babble broke out as everyone started to speak at once but quieted down as Xena raised her voice and continued. "If we never come back, then command will eventually assume we went down with all hands, just like the first two PTs. Thats why I say it should be a unanimous vote because well all have to agree to keep quiet about what happened. If we dont all want to do this, it cant work." Again she waited for comments.
Finally Autolycus voice sounded. "Well, for cryin out loud. I dont know about the rest of you, but Id say lets go for it. Ive got plans for the rest of my life! I want to eventually get a chance to parlay my culinary talents for someone besides you lugs in the Navy after all!"
There were a few chuckles among the crew, then Ephiny spoke up. "Id say it sounds good to all of us, Maam." She looked around. "We amazons would eventually get to be a tribe again, right ladies?"
Chief Melosa stepped up. "Sounds good to me too, Maam." Then she sent a sharp look at Ephiny. "But I want to know whos gonna be queen and how do we settle it?"
"Like the old days, trail by combat " Velasca suggested before Ephiny could answer and there was a touch of something clawed and hungry in her voice as she finished, " to the death!"
Ephiny and Melosa looked at one another for a long moment, then the raven haired amazon shook her head. "Weve lost a sister already because of this mission. My only birth daughter. We cant afford to lose many more or we may not have a tribe. I say we should vote on it just like were going to on this trip."
Ephiny looked around again. "Id say we already have our queen," she said softly. "Melosa has courage, honor and wisdom." She grinned feeling her stomach. "And a spin-kick like an angry mule." As it was meant to, the joke broke the tension and everyone laughed as the two formerly rival Ballista Chiefs clasped forearms.
"All right," Xena said finally. "Any one else have anything to say?" No one did and she called for a show of hands. "All who want to take this crazy trip, raise your hand and keep it up. I wont vote because you all know what I think." There was a faint shuffle as the people moved about, then silence while she counted then frowned. "Thirteen? Theres only twelve of us voting " Then she sighed. "Only one hand up if you please, Chief Joxer."
"Its for the missing vote, Maam," he said softly keeping both raised. "For Terreis."
Xenas vision got blurry with tears for a moment. "All right," she swallowed. "Thirteen votes it is. Its unanimous people."
There was silence then as everyone looked around at one another for a long moment, then Gabrielle spoke up. "So where are we headed, Maam?"
"At the moment, I plan to head for the Thessaly coast. Its pretty wild in spots and we can all disappear pretty easily. If my plan changes, Ill let you know." She turned to the Bubblermen. "Chief Joxer, you and Chief Theodorus will have to get busy. I intend to Bubble night and day all the way and its about a four-day trip at top speed, so youll have to stand shifts to keep an eye on things down there. Pull anyone from the crew if you need help except Chef Auto, Healer Mlila and Mister Gabrielle." She thought for a moment then continued. "Chef, youll need to have something hot for the Bubblermen at any hours to keep them awake. Pull any one you need to help as well. I also want a lookout in the nest at all times, because I want to see any other ships in time to sheer away. Mister Gabrielle will post a rotation list later tonight. Right now, she and I are going to plot a course. All right, People, anyone not needed for duty, catch some berth time. The rest of you, lets get at it."
A bit later in her duty cabin, Xena stood up with a groan from the bent position over the map she had been using to plot their course. Beside her with her head on a bent arm, Gabrielle yawned and closed her eyes. The tall captain stretched, then said, "I think thats the best we can do for now, Mister. At least till we catch some landmarks when we pass by Lemnos. Then our next big jump without any land will be to Thessaly."
With her eyes still closed, Gabrielle frowned. "How bad will that be?"
The captain grunted. "Dont buy trouble. Well worry about that when we get there. For now, Ill relieve seaman Dragonna at the wheel. You get some berth time. Ill wake you at dawn for your shift at the wheel."
"Aye, Maam, thank you." The ensign yawned again and stood up. "My berth will feel good."
Xena grinned. "No seasickness, Mister?"
"Not tonight, Maam. Just too damn tired. See you at dawn." She left the captains duty cabin with a stagger that had nothing to do with nausea.
Xena was about to go on deck, when she belatedly realized that she had not yet informed Helen of what they were going to do. "Hades. I promised her Id tell her my decision." She grunted. "Shell want to know." Without thinking of the lateness of the hour, she went down the passageway to the cabin where the ex-queen was quartered.
The tall captain moved quietly through the boat, any noise she might have made covered by the background sounds of rushing water against the hull and the Bubbler below. When she reached Helens cabin, the door was open and the light of a single lantern gleamed. She reached out to knock, then thought better of it. If the queen was asleep, there was no sense in waking her. She stuck her head in the door then stared open-mouthed.
On the berth, there was not one body but two sitting knee to knee together on the edge. Helen was not alone. Ships Healer Mila sat there with her. They were holding hands and looking into one anothers eyes and the soft lantern light colored everything it shone on warm and golden. As Xena watched, the small Healer reached a hand up to the taller womans head and ran it caressingly through her hair for a moment before pulling her down into a deep kiss.
Xena swallowed and pulled back silently. She stood there for a moment in the darkened passage uncertain of what to do. Then she heard a soft moan and a murmur from within the room followed by the silky sound of rustling clothing. She was tip-toeing away in the dark when she heard the cabin door close quietly behind her.
She grinned to herself as she went back to the bridge.
The trip across the Aegean from Troy was so easy and uneventful that it was almost boring and when on the fourth day the shores of Thessaly appeared just where they were supposed to, for some reason no one complained at all. Coming toward the land, they could see a small village on the coast and turned away from it to look for a more deserted spot further on. As Xena had promised, much of the shore was wild and untamed and about 20 miles from the village they found a small cove with a beach of golden sand that looked as if no one had set foot upon it since the world had been created. Beyond the sand was a lush green forest and there were blue mountains visible far beyond. They made landfall and unloaded such supplies as they thought they needed, then prepared PT-Evdomenda Tria for its final trip to sea.
As Xena prepared the wheel lashings that would keep the boat on one course without a living hand at the wheel, she patted the coaming next to her. "Sorry old girl," she murmured. "Youve done us great service in the past, but none bigger than this. Your death is going to give a lot of people a brand new life." She pursed her lips. "And besides, Im not certain you are a good idea anyway. I find I missed the sounds of wind in the rigging and sails flapping with the wind. The sound of popping bubbles just doesnt give a sea voyage the same feel."
She looked back at the beach to where her crew was waiting with their baggage. All except one. She took the speaking tube. "Chief, all ready below?"
Joxers voice came hollowly back. "Aye, aye, Maam. Ready as were gonna be." He hesitated. "You sure you wanna do this alone?"
Her voice was calm. "Yes, Chief. Its the captains prerogative to be the last woman off her ship."
"Yeah, I know, but doggone it, you be careful when you light that Greek Fire. That stuffs explosive ya know "
"I know that very well, Chief. Just you remember to close that deck hatch after you come out of it! Now open the Bubbler vents to half speed and get out of there, please."
"Aye, aye opening vents now." After a moment the sound of bubbles began frothing at the stern and the PT-Boat began to move slowly forward and she kept it moving along the shallow water next to the beach. A long minute went by and she began to wonder if perhaps the man had broken his neck in his haste to get topside. Moments later as she was saying uncomplimentary things about him under her breath, he appeared on deck from the forward hatch and waved and she sighed with relief. Then he sat down on the edge of the deck on the beach side and moments later pushed himself off.
Looking back as the boat kept going, she saw him stand up and begin wading toward the rest of the crew and Xena breathed a sigh of relief. Now it was her turn. She pointed the nose of the moving boat out to sea and then straightened it out. When it was moving straight away from the beach, she lashed the wheel in that position. Then she got the lit lantern and left the bridge, moving to the stern hatch of the boat. She bent over against the wind caused by the boats passage through the air and opened the hatch. Down below the passageway was already well smeared with Greek Fire, the pungent fumes of which she could smell quite strongly blowing out at her and she wrinkled her nose.
She glanced back at the beach. Yipes! Better get this party going. Gonna be a long swim and it was getting longer by the second as the boat moved. Just as she tossed the lantern, a sudden thought of "The fumes are blowing OUT at me? Thats not RIGHT!" struck her. Then she heard the lantern break below and thought "Oh, SHI-!" as a rush of flames boiled out of the hatch and thirty feet into the sky. Xenas nose was full of the smell of singed hair as she was knocked backward into roiling blackness!
Fade In to a dark cavern dimly lit by flames from somewhere. Three figures stand looking at each other. One is Hades, the Lord of the Dead. He is dressed in all black armor and dark slicked back hair. The other beside him, is a short ugly troll named Charon who ferries souls across the river Styx to Tartarus. The third is a tall woman with singed and frizzy dark hair and eyebrows who seems unhappy to be there. Her name is Xena.
Hades speaks: "Name?"
Xena is looking about sullenly. She speaks: "Xena of Amphipolis."
Hades: Sounding bored: "Occupation?"
Xena, somewhat proudly: "Murdering Warlord turned Good Person."
Hades, showing a flicker of interest: "Oh, yes. Youre THAT Xena of Amphipolis! Weve been expecting you for some time now. How did you come to die?"
Xena, rather flustered: "Well, um, I was on a ship when I tossed a lit lantern into a passageway full of Greek Fire. That wouldnt have been too bad, but unfortunately, I forgot that there was also an open hatch which connected to the passageway at the bow and the, um, boat was moving. The draught caused by the boats forward motion blowing through that forward hatch carried the exploding Greek Fire right out the rear hatch and straight into my face and blew me up!" Attempts a laugh. "Silly thing to happen, really."
Hades: Voice is chiding: "Xena, Xena, Xena. You are supposed to be a person with many skills. You were on your way to redemption for your Evil Past. How could you let such a silly accident kill you?"
Xena: Shuffles a foot against the ground in embarrassment: "Well, um, its the fault of this kind of, well, Idiot, really." Sounds angry: "I TOLD him to close that hatch when he came out but "
Hades: In a no nonsense tone: "Tsk, tsk. Xena, thats no excuse. You knew Joxer was an Idiot. YOU even saw he hadnt closed that hatch, yet you threw that lantern into the Greek Fire and blew yourself up."
Xena: Almost in tears: "But I was in a hurry! I was gonna have a long swim! Any way, its HIS fault! I TRUSTED him to do what I said!"
Hades: Sternly: "When you trust an Idiot to follow directions, whos the Idiot, you or them? Case closed. Charon! One customer for Tartarus! Special delivery. And make sure she gets hung on the BIG spinning cross for Eternity with a sign that says "Once Evil, always Stupid". She deserves it! Next case!"
Xena as she is whirled away into blackness: "Noooooo! Its not fairrrrrrrrr "
Hands rolled her over and Xena gurgled and spat up water. "H-Hades?" she groaned. She blinked the water out of her eyes and saw a beautiful face wet with tears staring at her with horror. Behind it were many other faces including Helen and Mlilas but she saw only one with any clarity. "Guh Gabri elle?"
"Xena, oh, Xena!" The redhead moaned. "By the gods! When I saw you blown off the back of the boat by the flames you scared the SHIT out of me!" Sobbing with relief she pressed her face to the bigger womans cheek and wrapped surprisingly strong arms around her.
The captain winced, feeling bruises and aches she had not remembered getting. "H-Help me up, Mister." She muttered. The bard did so being aided by Helen and Mlila as well.
She found she was on the beach in the surf and the crew surrounded her. She looked out to sea. "Wheres the boat?" Then she saw it. The PT-Boat was about a mile away and still going out to the azure sea. A rooster plume of red fire and black smoke thirty feet high was shooting out of the area of the rear hatch and the deck was now wreathed in flames as well.
"Damn, I didnt expect this," she groaned. "If that fire on deck keeps up, the lashings on the wheel will burn away freeing the rudder and she could go anywhere!"
Chief Joxer was puzzled too. "I cant figure out why the fire spread so fast. We thought it would stay in the passageway long enough to burn out her bottom and send her down." He found Xena glaring at him. "What?" His gaze was clueless.
At his empty-headed stare Xena shook her head. "Oh, never mind." She said tiredly. Whats the use, she thought. Like Hades said, we know who the REAL Idiot in this scenario was.
"M-Maybe the fire wont reach the bridge " Gabrielle said hopefully. No sooner had she spoken when the unmanned PT-Boat changed course in a wide turn and was suddenly charging back at the beach almost directly at them like a bolt of fire from the gods!
"Everybody scatter!" Xena shouted. "If the rocks in the Bubbler get uncovered by the shock when she hits, shell go up like Mount Etna!!"
Everyone ran for their lives as the flaming boat charged through the water toward the beach. The control wheels in the Bubbler Room must have been affected by the fire as well, for she was traveling at better than Flank Speed when she hit the beach, bounced and became airborne! She flew through the air for another fifty feet, then hit and skidded forward plowing geysers of sand from either side. She finally rocked to a stop and sat there halfway up the beach. burning like a bonfire, sending plumes of black smoke into the blue sky.
Xena and the others had stopped running and now watched in awe as the completely landlocked ship sat and burned. The captain turned to her second officer. "Well, that was a bit "
Whatever she had been about to say would never be known as they were all knocked off their feet by an explosion like a volcanic eruption that blew the PT-Boat into oblivion. When the whining fragments had passed by, there was still a rain of dirty debris that fell from the sky for another three minutes. When that ended, of the boat known as Poseidons Trident-Evdomenda Tria nothing remained except a thirty foot deep and eighty foot wide crater-like hole in the sand and a fast dissipating cloud of black smoke.
Late that afternoon, Xena came up to Helen and Mlila standing there together with the small surf lapping at their feet up the golden sand. The couple looked as happy as she had ever seen anyone look. She cleared her throat and they looked up. She spoke to Helen. "So I guess you are still planning to go back to Gaul with Pills?" Mlila gazed up at the ex-queen who nodded in the affirmative.
Tentatively Xena said, "Are you sure this is what you want to do? You could come to Amphipolis. Its just over that way in Thrace. Im sure my mother would take you in. Zeus knows, Gaul is a long way to travel from here."
"Yes," the ex-queen nodded soberly. "I think thats all to the good. No one would ever think to look for the lost Helen of Troy in Gaul."
"Yer probably right there," the captain said. She glanced at Mlila and smiled. "Looks as though you might have found that special someone too."
Mlila looked up and said to Helen. "Ellena, bre lepa dovojce. Od zivota tebe vise voli. Lice da ti ljubim"
The two women looked into one anothers eyes for a long moment, then Helen lowered her face and the two kissed gently. Afterward, Helen smiled at Xena with shining eyes. She put her arm around Mlila. "Youre right about that." Her voice was sincere. "I hope you do too."
"Doubtful," smiled the warrior captain, "But thanks for the best wishes." She looked at the small Healer clinging to the ex-queen. "Pills, take care of her. Shes quite a woman."
Mlila smiled. "Zeenja, you SAID it!"
The Greek captain dropped her cigar into the sand. "What did you just say?" She demanded in a strangled voice.
The dusky woman smiled as she looked at the red haired ensign standing nearby. "Dal devojko dara rasturilo?" She winked at Xena and flipped her head at Gabrielle. "Sto zelite, vi to uzmute, deli Zeenja."
Then she took Helen by the hand and tugged as she sang gently to her. "Dodje, mile u nas kraj, Pa da vidis sta je raj." The bigger woman got tears in her eyes for a moment then the two began walking away arm-in-arm.
The ex-queen smiled radiantly over her shoulder at the gaping captain before shrugging at her with a goofy grin full of love. "Good bye, Xena and good luck."
Xena shook her head as she stared after the departing women. "Well, Ill be damned I always KNEW you spoke Greek, you little minx." Chuckling, she picked up her cigar and blew the sand off of it.
Ex-Chief Bubblerman Joxer was poking morosely around on the beach. He was now unemployed and had no idea what to do or where to go since his naval job was kaput. Go back home and into the warlord trade with mom and dad? He sighed. That was what hed left home to avoid. He had been happier in the Navy working with the Bubbler than anywhere else he could remember; hed even seemed good at it. Now he didnt even have that. True he had voted to do this with the rest of the crew and it had felt right, but now what was he going to do?
His attention was drawn by something moving in a tide pool. He went to look, thinking perhaps there was a crab or something he could take to the cook for dinner. As he looked into the pool his eyes got wide; then he smiled. "Well, hello there," he said playfully. "Howd you like to come home with me?" He looked around and spotted Autolycus up the beach sitting with the pile of equipment he had taken from the PT-Boat before. "Hey, Auto," he shouted. "You remember that money makin idea you were tellin me about?" As the cook looked up, the Bubblerman grinned. "Bring Theodorus and that big galley pot you salvaged, will ya? I got a proposition for ya!"
Melosa and the other amazons all clasped forearms with Xena and Gabrielle. "Were on our way up into the wilds of Thrace. Should be room there for us to make a new start. One tribe from two."
"I wish you luck, Queen Melosa," Xena smiled. She handed her a heavy bag that clinked suggestively.
"Whats this?" The dark haired queen was puzzled. "Feels like dinars."
"Just a little something to help the tribe get a good start. Therell be things to buy at first when you are setting up. Tools, weapons, food. Use it for whatever you need."
Melosa was shocked. "Xena. This is your prize money for the Trojan supply ship! We cant take this!"
"I have no need real of it." Xenas face was unreadable. "It ... doesnt begin to pay for it, but I wish youd take it as part of an old debt a debt Ive owed to the amazons for a very long time." She said no more and Melosa gazed at her.
"All right," she said at last. "For your debt, if you wish. I prefer to think of it as in remembrance of Terreis."
"Thats as good a reason as any," smiled the warrior captain.
The new queen of the tiny amazon tribe of seven nodded. "Well be all right, I think. Even though we were from two different tribes, were all sisters under the skin." She gazed at her fellow tribemates. "We all have the same wants, goals and needs, right sisters?" She smiled when a chorus of agreement came from them.
Xena glancing at the group remembered the hunger for blood in Velascas voice when the talk had turned to combat to the death for choosing their queen and wasnt so certain that everything was so rosy, but she said nothing. Who knew what the future would hold for this small band? They would deal with life and with death as they came to them. She put a hand on Melosas shoulder and smiled. "May Artemis and Athena grant you favor in your endeavors." They clasped arms again and then the small group of women turned and headed for the tree line.
Now Joxer, Theodorus and Autolycus approached. The cook and the Chief Bubblerman were talking animatedly and Theodorus was carrying a large galley pot full of water. It contained a good-sized chunk of Bubbler rock that was living up to its name. The hulking man sat it down carefully in the sand as the pot steamed and bubbled.
"Chief. Chef. Chief." Xena nodded. "Everyone else seems to have a plan." She nodded at the bubble popping pot. "What are you three doing with that thing? Souvenir?"
The chef stroked his mustache. "We have formed a partnership. I want to run a high-class restaurant. Joxer has some ideas about using the Bubbler rock as a never-ending heat source for cooking. And we figured that Theodorus could bounce any of our patrons that caused trouble."
Theodorus grinned for the first time and flexed a muscle. "Bounce em! Oy!"
Joxer nodded vigorously, a vacuous grin on his face. "Yeah, this little baby musta been blown clear of the boat when she blew. I found it in a tide pool. Think how much money were gonna save on firewood and charcoal, heh, heh! It all goes into the profits."
The ex-Chef glanced at him and rolled his eyes. "So anyway, were all going to Thebes and use our prize money to set up a combination restaurant-catering service. Im gonna call myself, Autolycus, King of the Chefs of Thebes. Pretty snappy title, eh?" His chuckle was pleased.
Gabrielle sucked her lip. Xena said nothing.
The cook frowned. "What?"
The redhead cleared her throat. "Well, not that I hate it, but, um, it doesnt really grab me. Isnt it a trifle cumbersome?"
Theodorus suddenly made a guttural sound. "Yuh! Dats duh word! Cummerson!"
"Mmm." Autolycus looked doubtfully at the big man then shrugged. "Well, to tell you the truth, I didnt think it was that great either, but I was hoping I was wrong." He scratched his head. "Any other ideas?"
Xena lit her cigar. "How about King Chef of Thebes?"
Autolycus grunted. "Ehhh, actually, that sounds kinda clunky too. Maybe I can shorten it up some more."
Joxer chimed in. "Oh, hey! I got it! How about you call yourself The King of Thebes?"
Autolycus gazed at him, "And what will you be? The Bubbling Baron?" He laughed. "Bubbling Baron! I slay myself."
Gabrielle spoke, "You know, I suppose the real King of Thebes might not be too happy if you usurp his title."
Autolycus frowned. "Youre probably right. Well, I guess Ill think of something. I always do." He bent over Xenas hand and touched his mustache to it then straightened up. "Captain, its been a pleasure." He stroked his chin and turned to Gabrielle bowing his head slightly. "Ensign, you take charge of her now. I think shes gonna need looking after by someone who cares for her." He grinned as the redheads cheeks flamed.
"That goes for me too, Captain," Joxer simpered. "But no matter how far apart we get, you dont have to call me Baron. Ill always remember us as the best of sailor chums."
The raven haired woman said straight-faced, "Joxer, for my part, Ill always remember you as a BM."
"Aw, gee. Thanks, Captain." He said as he beamed with delight and ducked his head. As he did, Gabrielle broke into a sudden strangled fit of coughing and he looked at her anxiously. "Is she all right?"
Xena was deadpan. "Shell be fine. I think she just swallowed a bug." At this, Autolycus turned red and began wheezing as well and the redhead began coughing harder than ever and tears ran down her face as she alternately whooped and gasped for breath. The captain kindly pounded her on the back. Next to the chef, big Theodorus appeared puzzled by all the wheezing and coughing.
Alarmed, Joxer clapped a hand over his own mouth as he looked around frantically. "Damn! Must be a lotta bugs on this beach. Hope I dont swallow one too." His voice was muffled through his fingers.
The captain smiled. "I think theyve all flown by, but ya better get going before the next flock comes past."
"Good idea," the ex-Bubblerman said worriedly. "See ya around. Ready to go, guys?"
Still sniggering, Autolycus shook his head wryly. "Come on, your BM-ness, its a long walk to Thebes." Taking Joxers arm, he began to lead him off. "Gbye, ladies. Dont take any wooden dinars."
Theodorus said nothing, but nodded to the women as he lifted the bubbling pot and carried it carefully down the beach following his new partners.
Gabrielles coughing fit finally lessened into faint hiccups and she straightened up as they moved away.
"Feeling better?" The tall woman smiled as she patted her on the shoulder.
"Yeah, no thanks to you and that BM stuff!" The redhead sniggered between hiccups. "And he didnt even get it! I thought I was gonna pass out from lack of air there for a minute."
"Yeah, those bugs can be nasty," Xena said reflectively as she drew on her cigar.
"Stoppit, doggone you!" Gabrielle giggled, punching her in the arm as she began to hiccup again. Suddenly she looked sober and came to attention. "S-Sorry, Maam. If the Captain wishes to reprimand me for striking a superior officer " but stopped as the dark woman held up a hand.
"Its not Maam or Captain anymore, Gabrielle," she said softly, " and youre not an ensign either. That all ended when we set fire to the PT-Boat. Just call me Xena."
"All right Xena." The bard smiled. "I just wanted to ask, where are we going now?"
"We?" Xena drew on her cigar, then sighed and smoke rolled out with it. "Gabrielle, yer a good kid and I like you. Yer loyal, quick thinking and on the ball and you oughta get as far away from me as possible."
The young ex-ensign looked hurt and the ex-captain sighed again. "Look, before I met you I wasnt exactly a good person. I started out trying to do good, then I got I dunno, turned around somehow." A shadow passed over her face as she gazed at the glowing cigar tip. "Thanks to a good friend named Hercules, Ive left all that behind me now. But the result is Ive got enemies all over the place. And now Draco will be looking for me and the Greek High Command could realize what I pulled and be after me too." She shook her head wryly. "Hades, for all I know, even Helens husband king Melianus, or Paris himself might be on my trail for not bringing her back. Looks like there could be trouble ahead. Why would you wanna go into that with me?"
There was a hint of a smile in Gabrielles voice. "Because thats what friends do."
The tall woman took the cigar from her mouth. "Are we friends?" Her voice held a faint quaver.
"Oh, I think so." The redhead murmured fervently. "As a matter of fact, I think we are going to be more than that, you and I " Her tone became sultry as she continued, " much more."
Xena felt as if a million butterflies were all fluttering around in her stomach and her chest seemed to fill with feelings that she had denied herself for what seemed like forever. Quivering, she took Gabrielles hand and pulled the smaller woman into an embrace and the evening sun covered them both in warm golden light. She stared as if entranced into the green eyes looking calmly back up at her and swallowed. She wet her lips. "Guh-Gabrielle? C-Can I ?"
"Yes, please." The redheads whisper was a paean of longing. Trembling, Xena brought her face down and their lips met softly. Her tongue sought the warm wetness of Gabrielles mouth, which opened for a long passionate kiss that caused them both to shiver. Finally the younger woman laid her head against the muscled shoulder. "That was very nice," she sighed against Xenas throat.
"Gods, yes." Dazedly, Xena sucked on the cigar and blew smoke as she rested her chin on top of the red hair. "Do you think we can try it again?"
"I wouldnt be surprised," the bard said teasingly. She paused, then looked up and said, "Just one thing "
"Lose the cigar please?" The bards voice became pleading. "When we kiss, I wanna taste YOU, not that darned thing."
Xena removed the cigar from her mouth and looked at it as if shed never seen it before. "This?" She tossed it into the foaming tide where it spluttered out and was carried away with a rush of the waves. She smiled at the sometimes irritating redhead. "All right friend."
They kissed again for a long moment, then Xena took Gabrielles arm. "Lets go. Theres a village up along toward those cliffs about twenty miles."
"But we were just getting started," whispered the small redhead, leaning on her shoulder as she allowed herself to be pulled along. "I dont need a bed to be with you. Whats wrong with here?"
"Nothing at all if you dont mind sand in yer unmentionables," Xena grinned. "But Im not looking for a bed."
"Why do we need the village then?"
The ex-captain of Poseidons Trident-Evdomenda Tria smiled at her new love. "Because I also find that I dont care for the taste of cigars when Im tasting YOU. Well continue this once I find a toothbrush and some mouthwash." Arm-in-arm, the two women began walking alongside of the blue rolling waves toward the golden sunset as they headed into their new life of love and adventure together.
"That was a great story, Gramma Brielle," the child spoke as the bards compelling voice finally ceased and she took a drink of tea.
"Thank, you, Cally." The small blond answered, a smile tingeing her tone. "Of course youre a good listener too. You laugh or gasp or cheer at the right spots. Thats always a plus when a bard tells a tale."
Behind them, the middle-aged woman was about to arise and approach the small blond and the child, when with no warning at all, she felt a hand clamped over her mouth and her arm twisted behind her in a grip of iron. At the same time, a tiny voice whispered through lips pressed against her ear, "Uh, uh! I gotcha! Dont move. With this hold I could break yer arm."
Without moving, she rolled her eyes to the right and saw a blue gaze as penetrating as her own. The face was framed by raven black hair shot with a few threads of silver, and was wearing a self-satisfied smirk.
Before she could say or do anything, without looking around, the child spoke loudly. "Mom! Gramma! We know yer there. Ya might as well come out from behind those roses!"
"Thats tellin em, Cally." The small blond said in a wry voice. She turned around in her seat, holding a pitcher and a glass. "Come on, Xena, cut out the macho stuff with yer daughter and come join us for some cool tea in the shade. Weve known you two were hangin around back there since Cally asked me to tell a new story."
The two women looked at each other wide-eyed, and then Xena rolled her eyes and sighed. "Come on, Evie," she muttered. "Looks like Miss Smarty-Bard and yer daughter are onto us." She stood up and pulled the younger woman to her feet.
The two embraced with affection, then the shorter woman winced and frowned as she felt her wrist. "Darn it, Mom! That arm-lock hurt. If Id jerked, I coulda pulled a muscle!"
"Aw, come on, Eve," Xena said, her tone chiding. "You know combat and yer too smart for that to happen. I knew you wouldnt move once I had you in the lock."
"Yeah, well, you took me by surprise." Eve grumbled. "If Ida been ready, you wouldnt have found it so easy "
Xena snorted. "Huh! A real warrior is always ready for a surprise attack. Admit it. I caught ya with yer panties down!" She grinned. "Being th big priestess of Eli all these years has slowed you down a tad."
Eve narrowed her eyes in pretended irritation. "Maybe youd like a second match when Im not surprised, just to see how much Im slowing down "
"Youd try to kick yer old moms ass?" Xena sounded hurt. "If yer Gramma Cyrene was alive, shed climb yer frame for pickin on a poor ol woman twice yer age."
"Nah, I wouldnt try to kick your poor ol behind," Eve grinned as Gabrielle and Cally approached. "But Id want a strict promise from you that any eyes gouged out would be handed back after the fight."
"Eew, mom!" Cally said distastefully.
The bard rolled her eyes. "Warriors " she sighed as she embraced her lover and her daughter and granddaughter all at once. "What am I gonna do with you two over-aged kids?"
"Well, I dunno about these two, but I know what I hope you an me will be doin later," Xena winked at the bard.
"Xe-NAHHHH!" The blushing bard yelped.
"Mommmm!" Eve cried clapping her hands over the childs ears too late.
"Eeewww, Gramma!!" Cally squealed. "That is SO gross! You and Gramma Brielle must be at least forty! Even mom and dad never do that!"
"Callyyyy " It was her mother who now blushed furiously.
"Hooo, brother. Has someone got a lot to learn," Xena muttered with a leer.
"Xena, stoppit! Yer just trying to stir things up." Gabrielle said firmly, turning to Eve. "So, do you two wanna stay for dinner?"
Eve gazed at her golden haired daughter. "What do you think, Callisto? Dinner with yer Grammas, then home to bed? You do have school in the morning."
Cally pursed her lips. "I really oughta get started studying, mom. Tomorrow in class the teacher wants us to scribe an essay parchment on what weve learned about the Trojan War so far. I want to get the facts straight now that Gramma Brielle told me all that Top Secret stuff about the Hercules Bubbler and Poseidons Trident Evdomenda Tria and the real story of how Helen escaped the fall of Troy." She looked enthusiastic. "Holy Eli! With all these great new facts, I oughta get an Alpha Plus on this assignment!"
Xena and Eve both looked hard at Gabrielle and the bard colored slightly. "Oops," she muttered, her expression chastened.
"Ahem," Eve cleared her throat, raising an eyebrow at her blond mother. "Cally, get your night stuff and scrolls together."
"Okay, mom." Noticing nothing, Cally ran upstairs to get her things.
"And dont forget your dirty socks," Eve called after her as she turned to Xena and hugged her tight. She grunted at the return squeeze, then felt the older womans biceps. "Hmm. How about a few conditions on our up-coming tussle?"
"Like what?" Xena raised an eyebrow.
"Like, maybe you have one hand tied behind your back," the younger woman grinned.
"Okay, kiddo, whatever makes ya comfortable," snickered her warrior mother.
Eve turned to the chagrined bard with hands on her hips. "And thanks for looking after Callisto the last couple of days, Mama Brielle ... I think." Her voice was severe but there was a twinkle in her eye.
Gabrielle was uncomfortable. "Evie, Im sorry I didnt know Cally was studying the Trojan War when I made up that story "
"Oh, poo, Mama. I know that, Im just teasing. Come here." The younger woman hugged her bard mother affectionately and whispered, "I love you, and like Cally said, it was a GREAT story. I really enjoyed it myself."
Her bard mothers eyes shone with happy tears as she held her daughter. "Oh, Eve. I love you too."
Cally came romping downstairs with her things in a bag. She pushed back her blond hair and hugged both of her grandmothers. "You two are the best! Nobody else I know has Grammas like you two! Thanks for letting me stay over and thanks especially for the story! I like it even better than the one where Gramma Zee finally comes back from the dead!" She ran to the door and opened it. "Come on, Ma! I wanna get started on my notes for this essay!"
"Coming!" The middle-aged woman smiled at her mothers. "Ill see you both later, Moms."
When their daughter and grandaughter had left, Xena and Gabrielle went out to the garden to gather up the tea pitcher and glasses. As they reached the table, the warrior turned to her lover. "Well, that was great, Gramma Gabrielle. Now our Grand-daughters gonna blow her history essay because of your tall tale about bubbling rocks and Helen of Troy running away to Gaul..."
"Well, she wanted something new " Gabrielle shook her head glumly. "Its that darned fiction stuff thats why I prefer just writing down the facts and telling them, like in my stories about you; one hundred percent truth. With fiction, its just too easy to get carried away and embellish things "
Blue eyes twinkling, Xena raised an eyebrow. "You mean all that stuff about me running on bad guys chests, flipping off of horses and flying up into tall trees with a single bound is not embellishment?"
"Thats just artistic license," the bard said firmly. "The stories are based on the truth of things you did, not fiction."
"Oh, well," snickered the warrior, "At least some good might come out of your little tall tale."
"Yeah? Like what?" The bard was mournful.
Xena smirked. "Like maybe from now on Callyll know better than to listen to every old bone that rattles!"
"So now Im an old BONE?" Gabrielle squawked, aiming a punch at her lovers midriff.
"Hardly," murmured her partner, lithely dodging the fist and sliding her arms around the firm body and nuzzling her face into the blonds hair. She ran her hands over the bards muscular back and buttocks though her clothing. "Something this soft and smooth and warm certainly cant be a bone."
Their bodies molded together and they kissed for a long moment with their tongues dancing together. Afterward Gabrielle sighed as she snuggled into Xenas chest. "I think Im in love with you," she whispered.
"Mmmmm, right back atcha." Xena kissed Gabrielles ear, then gazed into the green eyes that were sparkling up at her and whispered. "Wanna skip dinner in favor of a little LATER right NOW?"
What the bard said then caused the warrior to shiver as if she were cold. A moment later she had swept the smaller woman into her arms, carried her inside the house and kicked the door shut behind them.
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