The Longer Journey Begins

David E. Milligan


Part Three

Gabrielle stowed her belongings below deck in the hammock that was to be her sleeping berth,  after paying the ship's captain the twenty-one dinars.

As they were saying their goodbyes, Abrias gave Gabrielle one last item.

"What is it?" She asked, turning the small but slightly heavy parchment-wrapped gift over and over. "Can I open it now?"

"If you'd like."

Gabrielle untied the leather string and unfolded the parchment. 

"Abrias, I - I don't know what to say." Gabrielle stammered as she held up a smaller, lighter and more decorative version of Xena's double-edged breast knife. "It's beautiful."

"Well, you never know, it may come in handy some day. And I couldn't help but notice that it will have quite a comfortable resting place."

Gabrielle smiled a little bashful smile, then put one hand behind Abrias' neck and pull him down to her and kissed him. A kiss that lasted a little longer than she had intended.

"You have been good to me, and Xena." She said, "I expect to see you when we return. I think we should get to know each other a little better."

It was Abrias' face that redden this time.  "There's nothing I'd like better."

The ship's captain yelled down into the hold to Abrias that it was time for the ship to be leaving. Gabrielle followed him up to the deck, and gave him one last hug before he jumped to the dock.

She only had time for one final wave, then she was ordered to help the deck hands raise the sail. As they pulled on the ropes to raise it, Gabrielle could feel the ship begin to move as the wind pushed against the sail. By the time it was fully deployed and secured, the ship was far enough away from the dock that it was hard to tell who was who.  Gabrielle wasn't even sure if Abrias was still there, but she waved anyway.

Life aboard the ship as a deckhand was quite different than as a passenger, as Gabrielle was quick to discover.  It didn't take long for blisters to appear on her hands. She wrapped her palms with soft leather to protect them until calluses could form. She didn't expect the sun to be so bright and to be coming from two directions - from the sky, and reflected off the sea.  The journey was half over before her sunburn turned into a tan.

There was always something to be done, whether it was adjusting the ropes, and then readjusting them to maximize the sail's ability to catch the wind, or daubing the inside of the ship's hull with tar to keep the many small leaks from becoming large ones.

The only time there was no work was at night. The winds died down so there was nothing to do but try to sleep. As tired as she was after a day's work, Gabrielle never did learn to sleep soundly with fifteen or so men around her snoring, or cursing in their sleep.

And there were the night watches. Even though there was no active sailing at night, two watches had to be maintained, one fore and one aft. They were watching out for pirates, who often attacked at night using oarsmen to run up on helpless ships.

The days started out cold, but soon after the sun was up it was warm enough. But after dark many times it was cold enough for frost to form. More than once Gabrielle thanked Meg for the warm coat she had given her.

It was on these watches, which came every three to four days, that Gabrielle did her thinking. Mostly she was trying to come up with some way to free Xena from her debt. But sometimes her mind would wander to other things, and other people.

"I wonder why Abrias never married. I don't think he's married. Surely it couldn't have been because of me, not after all these years. I wonder how old he is. Come to think of it, we should be about the same age. He said he had just turned sixteen when he first saw me. I was what? Seventeen? Eighteen?  Xena and I have been together about six years, I think. And we were asleep in the ice for twenty-five. So that would make me about -- forty-nine?  I guess that's about right, which means Abrias is forty-seven or eight.  To be almost fifty he looks pretty good. And he seems to be well off.  A girl could do worse. He obviously likes me.  And if things in Japa don't work out like they should, I could always go back to Amphipolis. 

"What am I thinking about?! Of course they're going to work out. Michael said they would. But still. . . .  I wonder how Xena would feel about settling down in Amphipolis. It WAS her home at one time. And that Koliss wasn't such a bad guy. I wonder how he and Xena would get along."

"Hey - YO!"  The aft watchman sung out.

"Hey - YO!" Gabrielle answered back. 

Every once in a while one or the other watchmen would yell out to the other. It was done to make sure the other was still awake and watching for pirates.

After twenty days the ship sailed into a small port on the south shore of Cyprus. After the cargo was offloaded the ship's captain paid off the crew.

As Gabrielle was about to leave, the captain handed her five dinars. "What's this for?" She asked.

"Your wages. One quarter dinar per day. You worked hard. I'm impressed."

"Well, thank you. By the way, Koliss mentioned that I would be able to find a ship sailing for the desert land. You wouldn't happen to know of any, would you?"

"Well it just so happens I, myself, own a small vessel that could be chartered -- for a reasonable fee."

"How reasonable?"

"Only five dinars."

"Of course." Gabrielle said as she handed back the money.


Four days later Gabrielle was walking through the market place of the small village, whose name she never could pronounce,  where the ship had docked the day before.   She was able to trade her gold dinars for food and lodging even though there was somewhat of a language barrier. She never knew if she was being cheated or not, although she was sure she was.

From the innkeeper she found out that a caravan was leaving in a few days, heading east across the northern edge of the desert on its way to Indus. Just what she was looking for! Now she was trying to find out who owned the caravan.

She made several inquiries but didn't have much luck. Finally she was approached by a sleazy looking man who told her he knew of the caravan she was seeking and could take her to the owner.  As she followed him, they left the main center of the market place and ended up on the outskirts where there were fewer people.

The man pointed to a tent farther away, and as Gabrielle looked where he directed she suddenly saw a blurred movement in front of her eyes moving downward. Then she felt a cord being tighten around her throat.  Before it could be drawn tight, she managed to get one hand between her neck and the cord, but not enough to keep it from choking her.

"I believe you have a certain pouch I need." A second man said as  he jerked open the front of Gabrielle's coat.  After he pulled the pouch from her belt, his eyes fell upon the Chakram, and he broke into a grin.

"And what is this?  I have never seen a weapon of such beauty. I must have this also."

As his hand moved toward the Chakram, Gabrielle struggled harder, but the cord tightened, and she felt the pressure behind her eyes being to build and her breath was being cut off.

"Why doesn't someone help me?" she thought. "What's the matter with these people?"

As the thief's hand closed in on the Chakram it seemed to Gabrielle that it moved slower and slower until it stopped. Everything seemed to stop. Then Gabrielle blinked, and blinked again. Seeming to float between her and the thief was Ares.

And she thought she heard him say, "Well, well, now. It appears that you have gotten yourself into a situation here.  You know, a woman traveling alone in a strange city, in a strange land, makes quite a tempting target. Unless your name is Xena,  WHICH IT ISN'T!  Now I know you you'd rather handle things yourself, but it doesn't look like you're doing so good right now. I'd really like to help out, but . . . ."

"Believe me, anything you do will be greatly appreciated." Gabrielle heard herself say.

"Yes, I'm sure it would be. But since you're so independent now, you have to realize that any help I give is strictly for Xena's benefit."

"Of course."

"This has nothing to do with you at all."

"Certainly not."

"Just so we're clear on this."

"We're clear, believe me. We are very clear."

Ares nodded and disappeared. Then the thief's hand seemed to move again, but just as his fingers touched the Chakram, fireballs started raining  down on them.  As people started screaming, Gabrielle started struggling again. Just then a fireball hit the thief who was behind her and he was thrown on top of Gabrielle, his robes on fire. 

Gabrielle fought to get the man off her before her coat caught fire as well. As she rolled to her feet she saw that both thieves were headless. There were charred stumps where fireballs had hit them.

Backing away from the body, Gabrielle saw her pouch of dinars in the sand. She picked up and turned toward the market place.  Quickly she made her way back to the more crowded part of the market, not wanting to be associated with the deaths of the thieves. 

Deciding she would wait until the next day to continue her search for the caravan owner, Gabrielle returned to the inn where she had rented a room. The next morning as Gabrielle left the inn, she saw seven men blocking her way, all wearing white robes and turbans. As they stepped toward her, Gabrielle had the Chakram out and her arm across the front of her, ready to throw. Immediately all seven fell to their knees, their heads touching the sand. They seemed to be bowing down to her.

Gabrielle slowly lowered the Chakram, but was still wary. Quickly she spun around to see if anyone was behind her; no one was. She walked over to the man closest to her and bumped the top of his turban with her foot.

"Hey! What's going on? What do you people want?"

The man raised his head, but wouldn't look at her. "My Master wishes to see you."

"Your master? What are you, a slave?"

"Oh yes. As we all are. You will come with us?"

Not taking any more chances, Gabrielle asked, "What does your master want?"

"I do not know. He only tells me, Fetch the Woman of the Mystic Shakkra who rains fire down on her enemies."

"News travels fast." Gabrielle thought. "Alright. I'll go with  you." she said.  "But the rest have to stay here. Tell them -- tell them not to move until they have counted to one hundred."

The slave said something to the others in a language Gabrielle was unfamiliar with, and immediately they began to chant words that Gabrielle assumed were numbers.

"On your feet." Gabrielle ordered. "Let's go."

The slave quickly got to his feet, still without looking Gabrielle in the face and hurried off away from the inn.  It wasn't long before they were approaching a small tent city, with one large one in the middle. It was to this one the slave led Gabrielle.

As they entered the tent, the slave went to his master, bowing so low as to almost touching the tent floor, and without looking up he whispered something near his master's ear. The master waved him away, then looked hard at Gabrielle, studying her. Finally he said, "I am King Umayyad. You may bow to me."

Gabrielle waited for two breaths, then bowed her head only, as she had done in Japa.

"I am Gabrielle, the one your slave called Woman of the Mystic Shakkra."

"To cause fire to rain down you must have great powers."

"This might have possibilities," Gabrielle thought.

"You will show me." King Umayyad stated.

"Or it could cause problems." She decided.

"No." She replied.

By the look on the king's face it was evident he wasn't used to his orders being refused.

"Would you have me burn down your tent and all who are near?" Gabrielle continued.

The king was silent, thinking, then said,  "Then you will show me the power of the Mystic Shakkra."

"Very well, but it should be done outside of this tent in order to better demonstrate its power."

King Umayyad yelled to someone in the unfamiliar language, then indicated Gabrielle was to leave first, and he followed.

When they got outside, the other six men she left counting were lined up side by side, two arms' lengths apart.

"You will remove their heads with one throw of the Mystic Shakkra." The king said.

"You want me to cut their heads off?" Gabrielle asked not believing her ears. "Isn't that a little extreme? Surely you can think of another demonstration."

"They are only slaves. I have many more. Do as I say."

Gabrielle slowly removed the Chakram as her mind raced. Of course she couldn't kill those men, but how . . . ? Then she had an idea.  Slowly she brought her right arm with the Chakram up and across the front of her, then suddenly hurled it skyward. Singing loudly, it flew high into the air, then began to circle back to her. As it did, it leveled off at the height of the necks of the six men and sailed past them, barely a hand's width away.

It took but a heartbeat for King Umayyad to realize the Chakram was heading toward him. And at the very last moment, before either he or his bodyguards could react, Gabrielle snatched it out of the air, saving his life.

Before he could speak, Gabrielle leaned toward him and said, "Perhaps the lives of your subjects mean nothing to you, but I do not needlessly take a life."

"And now," she continued, "I believe we have business to discuss." And she walked away from the still shocked and speechless king and entered his tent.

After King Umayyad had re-entered the tent and had regained his composure he spoke.  "You said we had business."

"Yes." Gabrielle answered. "I am going east, and I understand there is a caravan leaving in a day or two.  And I suspect you may be associated with it somehow."

King Umayyad sat silent for so long that Gabrielle wasn't even sure that he heard her. She started to repeat herself when he said, "My informants tell me that the great Soul Eater of the Far East was killed with the Mystic Shakkra, and since you posses this remarkable weapon then you must be the slayer of this terrible malevolence."

"I regret to tell you, but your informants have been misinformed." Gabrielle told him. "It is true that the owner of this Chakram, what you call the Mystic Shakkra, did destroy Lord Yodoshi, but his death was caused by the Kutana, a sacred sword.  It was wielded by Xena, the Warrior Princess, my Soulmate, who perished in the conflict. As for the Chakram, it was in my possession at the time. I am now returning to Japa to reclaim her soul and to return her to the living."

King Umayyad, as was his way, sat in silence, as if trying to interpret what Gabrielle had said.  "My informants have not been misinformed." He finally said.

Gabrielle started to argue the point when King Umayyad continued. "You have told the truth. My statement was a test. Had you lied, my guards would have struck you down before your rain of fire could have saved you."

Not knowing how to respond, Gabrielle went back to her original subject. "What about the caravan?"

"In two days I have a caravan leaving for the east. Once it crosses the desert, it will follow the sea coast until it arrives at the port of Karach.  From Karach another convoy will proceed across the land of Indus until it reaches Dacca."

"Well, that should get me almost three fourths of the way there." Gabrielle said. 

"You are so certain you will be with  my  caravan."

"I thought  we were discussing my traveling with  your  caravan."

"No, I believe this was your thought."

"Okay, what do I have to do to join  your  caravan?"

"You will pay me a fee of 60% of your worth, and you will provide protection from marauding bandits with your fireballs and Shakkra."

"I have a better idea, I WILL provide the protection you request, but in turn you will provide me with the transportation, food, water and shelter I will need. And I will NOT pay you one gold piece."

Again King Umayyad was silent as their eyes locked, waiting for the other to give in. This was no time for Gabrielle to be timid. Eventually it was King Umayyad who looked away on a pretext of issuing orders to a slave.

"Very well," He said, looking back at her, "Your request shall be honored. But hear me, should one camel, one driver, even one slave lose his life, all the fire at your disposal will not save you."

"That sounds fair. But to avoid any potential problems, you should send out messengers ahead, telling all that the companion of the slayer of Yodoshi, the Eater of Souls, is returning to the Far East. And those who value their lives will not make attempts on the caravan of King Umayyad."   

Nodding in agreement, King Umayyad said, "It shall be done. The caravan leaves two mornings hence. You are dismissed."

Nodding slightly, Gabrielle turned and left the tent, wondering what she had gotten herself into.  "Let's just hope those messengers find the right people." Meaning the ones, or friends of the ones, who had accompanied her from the western limit of Chin to the eastern edge of the desert lands.


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