General Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other relevant "Xena: Warrior Princess" characters are the property of MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures, and their writers. All rights are reserved to the legal owners, and no infringement is intended. All other characters are my own doing.
A general violence warning, after all we are talking about Xena. There are a couple of scenes towards the end of this tale that may be distressing, so please be warned.
This story depicts a loving relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. Sexual content is mainly PG-13 but not overtly graphic.
This is an alternate timeline story, changing direction from "Destiny". The Warrior Princess and the Destroyer of Nations did not exist. Nor did Lao Ma, Borias or Hercules take part in moulding this particular Xena. This is the second story in this series, the first being "Gladiator". While this is a stand-alone story, you may want to read the first one to come up to speed with some details in this tale.
Some liberties have been taken with the Chakram of Darkness, so please read this story in the spirit that it was written.
I would like to give a BIG thank you to my Beta reader, Babel, and her ever-vigilant computer. She has put a lot of work in on this story to make sure it comes up to scratch. Thanks sweetie.
FEEDBACK: Any positive feedback is appreciated at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
© July 2005
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'Mama! Look at that!" Xena couldn't help but smile at her daughter's intense curiosity. She was pleased at how easily the child had come to accept her in such a short time, especially with the dropping of the more formal 'mother'. Marina was proving to be even more of a joy in her life that she had been in the scattered visits over the last nine years.
"Look at what, sweetie?" A small laugh bubbled up in Xena as Marina looked up at her, her small features breaking into a full-fledged grin and her eyes glowing with love for her mother. Unexpectedly, she threw her little arms around Xena, nearly causing the woman to lose her footing. "Woow! Hang on there. We'll fall over." Not that she would have minded. Xena returned the exuberant hug with one of her own.
"I love you, mama."
Oh damn, that is sooo cute. "And I love you Marina. What brought that on?"
"I don't know. Just wanted to say it."
"Well, you can say it anytime you want, sweetheart. Now, what was I supposed to look at?"
Marina grabbed her hand and led her to the railing, pointing to the water below. "What are those fishies doing?"
Xena glanced over the rail to spot a small pod of dolphins racing in front of the ship. "Well, my little busybody, those fishies are playing with the ship. They're racing to see who will come first."
"But why are the fishies jumping out of the water?"
"Those fishies are called dolphins Marina."
"Dol – fin." Marina tried the word on her tongue slowly.
"Why are the dol – fins jumping out of the water, mama?"
Xena would never tire hearing her daughter call her mama. Her mothering instincts were now fully engaged and she turned to mush every time she looked at the miniature version of herself.
"Well, do you see the little holes on the top of their heads?" She could see the child looking intently at the water.
"Yes! Yes I can see it, mama! Do you see it?" She had to laugh at the girl's enthusiasm. Was she ever that young? Xena thought back to when she was a child and realized she must have driven her own mother crazy with question after question.
"Well that little hole is what the dolphins breathe through. They may be a fish but they breathe air like we do." How long did it take her to reach that conclusion? Hours and hours of studying them. What a joke of the gods this was – make a fish that had to breathe air to live.
"So they jump up to get a breath of air before diving back into the water."
"Can I go play with the dol – fins, mama?"
"Do you know how to swim Marina?"
"Swim? Can I swim?"
"Can you do this?" Xena made a swimming motion and could see that her daughter had no idea what she was talking about. "Never mind. When we get home, I'll teach you to swim. Swimming is a way people can get around in the water. See how the dolphins move in the water?" The child looked back down into the water again watching the dolphins move along side the boat. She looked back up, her azure eyes shining with wonder. "Swimming can move you forward in the water, just like the dolphins."
"Oh!" Marina seemed satisfied for the moment and was content to watch the dolphins swim around, resting quietly in the safe haven of Xena's arms.
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Marina had finally grown tired and was having a nap. Xena stood at the bow of the ship, enjoying the feel of sea spray on her face. The ship slowly rolled under her feet and the sun blazed down on her mostly bare shoulders. It had been way too long and she so missed the joyous feeling of sailing.
They had been making good time and were now within distant sight of Greece. She was pleased that Marina had taken to the sea like she was born to it. It was another thing that they shared in common. Gabrielle, however, was struggling.
Xena glanced over to see poor Gabrielle in the same spot she had been on and off since they had left port at Ostia, hanging over the rail and heaving up her guts. Poor girl. Blue eyes softened. Some people just never got their sea legs. Not much longer, little one.
A pale face tinged with green moved from its position over the railing and faced her. She looks so miserable. Xena offered a smile in sympathy and winced as the face disappeared over the rail again.
She had gotten a chance to look at the captain's maps and by her reckoning there was another day or so before they would reach port. Not soon enough, looking at poor Gabrielle.
This journey had been wonderful and Xena revelled in her own new-found freedom and the freedom of sailing on the high seas once again. She had enjoyed the time she had to spend with both her daughter and her lover. It was something new and exciting to her – to be able to have the time to discover all the facets of her budding relationship with both of them.
Despite Gabrielle's occasional bouts of seasickness, they spent many hours together, talking, making plans and playing the odd silly game of star gazing. Both, however, were feeling the strain of abstinence. Neither wanted to shock the child and be forced to explain, but having tasted what the other had to offer made the task even harder.
The boat was quiet and she turned from her introspection to see the men watching her. Sometimes it was a curse to look the way she did. Even the conspicuous sword on her back did nothing to discourage the lustful looks she got. Men... But then again she couldn't talk – that was the same look she had when looking at Gabrielle, so...
But some of those looks had Xena worried, especially when they were directed at her partner. She kept herself close by when Gabrielle was on deck, not liking the sub-vocal comments from a couple of the sailors. She was thankful for her excellent hearing, otherwise there could have been trouble.
She glanced over to the far horizon and noted that dark clouds were beginning to close in. Just what her lover needed, rough seas, and it looked like the storm would strike before they reached land.
Leaving Gabrielle to her misery for a while, Xena went below decks and collected their belongings together, making a backpack of sorts if she needed to grab them quickly.
She went back on deck and the dark clouds had gathered more quickly than she had anticipated. "Gabrielle?" A sweat-slicked face met her gaze. "C'mon, we need to get below deck."
Gabrielle looked around and saw the reason for Xena's concern. Huge, rolling dark masses of cloud moved quickly in their direction, lightning streaking across the sky in spectacular fashion. Her eyes widened in fright. A pair of large hands rested on her shoulders and she looked up into blue eyes cooling in the darkening sky.
"Storm, ho!" There was a bustling on deck as the crew prepared for a wet night.
"Everything will be alright. C'mon, let's go."
In their cabin Marina had awoken, a little frightened at the rolling of the ship. "It's alright sweetheart. Just a small storm. I'll be right here with you." Xena tried to sound as confident as she could under the circumstances as she gave her daughter a tight hug in comfort.
Over the next candlemark, the storm gathered strength, the rolling became a definite sway, swinging lanterns in all directions. Seawater began washing in the portholes, making walking slippery, and objects were flying in all directions. Things were getting dangerous.
Finding her backpack and making it secure around her, Xena gathered up her family and moved them towards the deck. She didn't want them caught inside if the ship went down.
She stuck her head outside and found the crew were fighting a losing battle, barely able to keep their footing. Lashing rain was making visibility nearly impossible. The ship was being tossed around like a toy in a bathtub. They could have been blown off course by leagues and no one would ever know.
She heard the cry, "Rocks ahead!"
She grabbed Gabrielle, trying to muster as much confidence and calm as she could. "Wait here with Marina. Should the ship start to sink, make your way to the top. Don't get caught below decks. Understand?" Gabrielle gave her a nervous nod. Xena hesitated for a moment and decided that if something happened she would regret not doing it, so... "I love you sweetheart." Xena brought Gabrielle into her for a quick kiss.
She looked down to see Marina watching them, a puzzled look on her young features. Hmmm, when we get out of this, I think a talk is in order. Here was another problem that was going to have to wait in line until they were safely on land.
Xena squatted down on her haunches, bringing the girl to eye to eye with her. "Honey, will you please do what Gabrielle tells you? For me? I will explain everything later." She pulled her daughter into a hug, her body warming the young child's chilled skin.
"Wait here," she cried and dashed out into the howling storm. The deck swayed from side to side, battered by huge waves trying to wash everything overboard. She battled her way to the wheel and grabbed it with two strong hands off the first mate struggling to keep control. She was steering blind and only hoped she was not getting them into more trouble. Pulling the wheel with all her strength to the right she felt the ship start to turn. Precious seconds went by as she held her breath for the collision, and the high-pitched squealing put her teeth on edge as the hull scraped over the sharp outcrop of rock.
They were not out of trouble yet. The heavy sheets of rain still made it impossible to see where they were going. She tied off the wheel and ran down to help the crew with the billowing canvas that was thrashing out of control. The sails were beyond repair, the shredded material flapping uselessly in the howling wind.
Along with the rest of the crew, Xena began grabbing handfuls of canvas, pulling it off the mast. Water ran is small rivulets down her face and into her eyes, blinding her. Continuing her task by feel only, she pulled the heavy material until there was no more. She brushed her fingers across her eyes, trying to get some of her eyesight back, but with the wind, the rain and the crashing of waves, it was impossible. Her senses were useless in this storm. The howling of the wind, the cries of the sailors washed overboard and the creaking wood made them dull and dampened.
She was taken completely by surprise by the whooshing sound and a yell, "Watch out!" just before everything went black.
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Xena tested her surroundings with her other senses before opening her eyes. She could feel sand under her exposed skin, water lapping around her and the sun gently beating down on her back. She slowly opened her eyes, immediately regretting the action.
"Ow!" She couldn't stop the exclamation from leaving her lips as her head throbbed in time to her own heartbeat. She slowly tested each of her limbs and found everything intact except for the massive headache.
Her eyeball slowly swivelled and focused on the scene before her. Scattered up the beach were broken planks of wood, some of which she recognised had come from their ship. Shipwrecked! This was a sailor's worst nightmare.
Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet. A hand went to the back of her head and found a lump there. What happened? The last thing she could remember was somebody yelling, "Watch out!" She must have been hit in the head with the boom. That thing is hard!
Xena looked up and down the beach, scattered with debris. Looking out to the reef, she saw the remains of the ship, gutted and left to die on the rocks. Marina! Gabrielle! In a panic, she ran up and down the beach looking for them. Oh Gods, where are they? She could feel herself starting to unravel at the thought of losing them.
Some of the crew had washed up on shore, nearly all dead by drowning but she had found one or two that had been skewered by a piece of wood from the ship. The reality of it all crashed down on her unexpectedly and tears came unbidden to her eyes. Her attention turned to the shipwreck out on the reef.
She was stripping off her armour and leathers before she had given it another thought. She had to know once and for all. Stowing the backpack and her clothes safely in the underbrush away from the beach, and placing a marker so she could find it again, she ran down the beach, stretching her long legs as she lengthened her stride and arced cleanly into the surf. Dressed only in a thin cotton shift and carrying a knife, she swam strongly through the breaking waves out towards the wreck.
The water was cool and clean and teaming with marine life. Trying to keep her fear at bay, her mind logically gathered in all the threads that would aid her in her survival – food, water, fire, shelter – but she couldn't help adding her family to that list. That last point was what would make her survival bearable.
The enclosed cove seemed to be predator-free. There was plenty of fish for food and it looked like dangerous sea creatures were not able to get past the reef. That would mean these waters were relatively safe for swimming. Good to know.
She reached the wreck in no time at all and scrambled to get a hold to haul herself on board, the constantly breaking waves making standing on the tilted deck difficult. She quickly scanned the surface and saw a couple of dead bodies caught on broken wood, not yet claimed by the sea.
Gingerly, she made her way to the stairs to go below deck. Supplies were scattered everywhere, some spoiled by seawater but others looked salvageable. But that was not her immediate objective. Frantically she searched around, terror tearing through her like a knife. If they weren't on board, then the chances of her finding them alive were not good.
She was just about to give up looking when a glimpse of blonde hair tucked away under the bunk in their cabin caught her eye. Nooooo! Her mind screamed out in pain.
"Gabrielle?" There was no answer. Oh Gods, answer me!
She tried again. "Gabrielle?" She crossed the distance in a matter of seconds. Grabbing around under the bed she found an arm and gently pulled. Gabrielle's body came out, her arms safely wrapped around Marina in protection.
She laid them out and quickly checked for life. Pulses were thready and breathing shallow but they were alive. Bowing her head, Xena quietly sent up a prayer of thanks to the heavens.
Time slipped by as Xena silently guarded her precious cargo. Marina lay in her lap while a strong arm gathered in Gabrielle to her side. Relief washed over her and swept her away, her battered emotions finally giving away to the events of the last day, while the two people she most loved in the world lay blissfully unaware of her emotional crisis.
The real world barged in on Gabrielle's grey world with a bang. Everything ached, from her hair to her feet. Scratchy eyes refused to open. Through a haze, a gentle pressure on her arm caught her attention. She tried to speak but it was too hard, and only a small rush of air escaped her lips.
That low voice she had recently come to crave beckoned to her and she could do little else but reply. "Yeah?" She didn't even recognize her own voice, which sounded dry and broken.
"Oh Gods!" Gabrielle could hear the raw emotion in that voice and struggled to pull up her hand to cup the tear-streaked face watching her. "Are you alright?"
Xena couldn't help but laugh. How ironic a statement that was! "Am I alright? Gabrielle, are you alright?"
"Ask me next week." Gabrielle so wanted to go back to sleep, to leave the world's problems behind for a little while longer.
Xena, watched as the bloodshot green eyes closed and she drifted off into peaceful slumber. One down... She turned her attention to the child lying in the cradle of her legs. This was the first unguarded look she had of the person who was of her flesh and blood.
She could see a lot of herself in the child, besides the obvious features of midnight black hair and the electric blue eyes behind the closed eyes. She had the same high-planed cheekbones and aquiline nose. Marina was a bit of a late bloomer, unlike Xena who had been all long legs and arms even at Marina's age, but she suspected that the child would soon have a growth spurt and put some length into her limbs.
She's finally mine! Xena had a hard time accepting that Marina was finally staying with her. All the child's life had been small snippets of a life with a mother whom she saw episodically at the whim of a cruel and arrogant father.
Her eyebrows drew together in concern. While her daughter was a bright and exuberant child, she wondered about her child-like demeanour. Marina certainly did not have the maturity of a nine year-old and her writing skills were only starting to bloom, but she knew the child was very bright, picking up her new language with amazing speed.
She suspected that the adults who looked after her closeted her away from the outside world for many of her informative years, only allowing her out perhaps when her inquisitive nature became too much. Well, she was going to change all that when they got home.
Finally, she spared a thought for the unselfish act of a woman who had given her life to help her. To help them. Emotion tore through her at the memory of a woman who had become, for a short while, her mother. I won't forget you mother...
Assuring herself that both of them were out of immediate danger, she turned her intellect to getting them to dry land. As much as she would like to stay here until they were ready to travel, high tide would force them out of this haven soon. She knew Marina didn't know how to swim and she wasn't sure about Gabrielle either.
While they rested, she began looking around for something to get them to shore with. Working quickly, she found a piece of broken decking, flat enough to take both of them. She wedged a plank of wood into the break and began using her weight and strength to tear the splintered wood away. Pleased with her work, she put the raft to one side.
Checking on her patients and seeing that they were still asleep, Xena quickly gathered as much as she could. Wet blankets were filled with anything that was salvageable. Flasks of water, wine and oil, sealed barrels, clothes, weapons, maps, lanterns, flints, anything that could be at all useful, whether she thought she needed them or not, was collected. She would sort it all out later on dry land
High tide would be approaching overnight and could very well lift the wreck off the reef and take it out to sea. This may be her only chance and she was going to take as much as she could carry in the one trip. Once on dry land, she would not be leaving her family alone until they were back on their feet.
She lashed Gabrielle and Marina down to stop them sliding off the raft. Her collected bootie was secured in a torn sail wrapped around a frame and she set off, swimming along side the raft, steering it through the reef towards the beach. It was very slow going and extremely hard work, especially with the drag of the canvas raft floating behind, but she eventually got back to land without incident.
Exhaustion was eating at her flagging reserves as she struggled to carry everything up the beach to safety. She had a little fresh water and unspoiled food salvaged from the ship before collapsing into a dreamless sleep.
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Continued in Chapter 2
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