The Longer Journey Begins
For the rest of the day Gabrielle walked the marketplace, feeling much safer now that it was known that she could rain down fire. And that she had been in audience with, and accepted by the king of this small realm. Or was it so small?
The more Gabrielle thought about it, the less sure she was about the size of King Umayyad's dominion. While it was true that this land was more sand than not, villages had grown up around the very few oases scattered eastward from the sea. How many of these towns were under his influence? She couldn't remember hearing his name either the time she and Xena, or she by herself, traveled the route between Greece and Japa. There was no way of knowing, she finally decided.
Gabrielle was surprised when she was given a horse rather than a camel to ride. The Overseer of the caravan explained that because there were so many camels, over forty in number, it was necessary for her to be able to ride from the first to the last with more speed than a camel was capable. In other words, instead of simply riding along, keeping a watch out for raiders, she was expected to constantly patrol the length of the convoy. It was then she found out why there were three extra horses that carried no freight. They were for her to use, trading for a fresh one when necessary.
As the morning sun began to shine directly into their eyes, the caravan started its trek eastward.
For five days the caravan traveled eastward without incident. By the end of the first day Gabrielle discovered just how tiring, and monotonous the constant circling of the convoy was -- riding beside them until she was out ahead, then turning back to ride to the rear, then circling back again to ride to the front again, over and over, all day long. Even thinking about what she wanted to do when she reached Japa, or thinking about Abrias could only occupy her mind for so long.
But on the morning of the sixth day, as she was riding toward the front she heard someone from the rear screaming about raiders approaching. She quickly turned the horse around and rode at a full gallop toward them. As she did, the hood of her robe blew back from her head exposing her blond hair, shining in the morning sun as if it was made of strands of gold. As she got nearer, she took the Chakram from its clip preparing to launch it.
When she was close enough to throw the Chakram, the riders stopped, lowered their weapons and raised both hands to show they held none. As she got closer, Gabrielle realized she recognized two, then three of them. They had accompanied her on the final leg of her journey across the sands on her way back to Greece. With her Chakram still in hand, Gabrielle stopped in front of the riders.
"Greetings," She said. "It is good to see you again."
"Greetings to you. I was told you had returned but could not believe it was you who performed the miracle."
"What miracle is this you speak of?"
"A cousin of my brother-in-law swears he saw you rain down fire upon attackers in the town. Is this so?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment, then decided the truth wouldn't hurt.
"I am returning to the land of the Far East to bring back my friend who perished in that kingdom. While on this journey I am under the protection of the God of War of my people, just as this caravan is under my protection. It is he who rained down fire and death."
"You are the protector of the caravan?" He asked.
"This is a rich prize. It will provide for our people long into the winter."
"You will have to find another one. I can't allow you to take this one."
For a while they spoke among themselves, talking too low for Gabrielle to hear what was said.
"We fulfilled our obligation when we protected you on your journey to the western seacoast. So why now should we not attack?"
"It is true that you are under no obligation to me. And I feel great appreciation for the protection you provided, so it would grieve me to see any of you die from the fire when it was unnecessary. Go away from here, take the next one if you must."
Again the men conferred. "We will do as you ask, but do not think we are cowards. We do not know this God of War of which you speak, but we respect his power."
"I ask one more thing. Tell others along this route that I do not wish for anyone to die, but I will be merciless if we are attacked."
Without a parting word the raiders turned and rode away from the disappearing caravan. When they were out of sight over a sand dune, Gabrielle turned her horse and rode after the escaping convoy.
During the next forty days raiding parties were seen several times, but the sight of Gabrielle's blond hair shining in the sun and the Chakram in her hand as she raced toward them, and the threat of fire from the heavens, kept them at a distance.
In less than fifty days they arrived in the coastal town of Karach, on the western boundary of Indus. It took five days until another eastward bound caravan was outfitted and ready to leave. Again, the waiting was particularly difficult for Gabrielle.
The Overseer of the new caravan was doubtful of Gabrielle's ability to protect his cargo despite the testimony of many of the camel drivers and the Overseer for King Umayyad. Finally a deal was made. Gabrielle would pay 50 pieces of gold for her passage, and if they arrived in Dacca with no loss of goods or lives from attacks, due to Gabrielle's intervention, her payment would be returned.
There were two raids along the way. Both from small bands of renegades who ignored the warnings. Men from each group were killed by Gabrielle's deadly proficiency with the Chakram. No one ever got close enough to use their swords. Although numerous arrows were fired, none found a rewarding target.
It took thirty five days to reach Dacca. And at that time, the Overseer returned the 50 dinars to Gabrielle.
"Well, Gabrielle, it looks like you are on your own from now on." She said told herself. "It's at least another 60 days travel to the east coast of Chin. And that's with good weather and no delays."
Gabrielle bought two of the horses she had used. One to ride and one for provisions -- food, water, a tent, and blankets. She made good time the first few days, then storms and heavy rains caused her to seek shelter for just as many days. For eight days she was able to make decent time, then was stopped by a blizzard for three more days. Her progress through the heavy snow on the ground was slow. By her reckoning she was probably five or more days from where she wanted to be. Then her luck turned for the better.
A hunting party came across her deserted camp. She had hidden in the surrounding woods when she heard them approach. Then recognizing them as another group she had traveled with, she stepped out to greet them, Chakram in hand -- no need to be unprepared. After the surprise of seeing her was over, they became jubilant, thanking their gods for bringing such a sign of good fortune. Surely now they were blessed.
Gabrielle traveled with them for ten days, long past what they considered as safe territory. But when they met a detachment of a hostile army, which turned out to be another of Gabrielle's escorts, a temporary truce was called. They made camp, shared a meal, and discussed the possibility of a more permanent truce, someday.
As the two parties separated, Gabrielle went east with the detachment while the others returned to safety of their own territory. Twice more this happened. It had become obvious that word of her return was spreading ahead of her. But it wasn't until she was with the soldiers of S'uu Ma that Gabrielle felt as if her long journey was almost over.
As Gabrielle entered the home of S'uu Ma, she was waiting for her with food and drink. Over the meal, Gabrielle began telling S'uu Ma about the journey back to Greece; of her reunion with Eve and placing Xena's ashes with the remains of her family.
She told about the futile search for the Amazons (and who they were); about her meeting with Ares and Hercules. And with tears in her eyes she explained the about her forgiveness of Xena, and of herself. She told about Archangel Michael's assurance of her success restoring Xena to her body. She told about the journey to Amphipolis, and Abrias; and the sea journey to the desert lands. She ended her story with the journey across India and Chin, leading her to the home of S'uu Ma.
By this time it was late and S'uu Ma suggested Gabrielle retire for the night, which Gabrielle had no argument with. As she lay in bed, Gabrielle thought she had detected some anxiety in S'uu Ma's voice as she finished her narrative. But she was tired; maybe it was only her imagination.
The next morning the sun was half way to noon when Gabrielle awoke. S'uu Ma was not to be seen, but her servants provided Gabrielle with breakfast and a suggestion to bathe afterward. As Gabrielle was relaxing in the warm, scented waters of the bath, S'uu Ma returned, a troubled look on her face. Gabrielle quickly dried herself off and wrapped the silk robe around herself.
"Gabrielle, I'm afraid your voyage to Japa will not be the easy journey you anticipated."
"Why? What's the matter?" Gabrielle asked.
"News of your return has already reached the islands. It is said you have come to steal away the spirit of Xena, leaving those thousands of souls to be forever damned. Some say they will be no better off than when they were captives of Lord Yodoshi."
"But that's not true. Not entirely. I did come to return Xena's spirit to her body. But not until I can find a way for those unfortunate souls to find redemption."
"That may be your intention, but the sons and daughters and relatives have sworn you will not be allowed to walk the earth of Japa. They swear your death upon sight of you."
Gabrielle couldn't believe such a terrible turn of events. After coming all this way just to have a death sentence pronounced upon her? Could things be any worse?
"I'll just have to take my chances, that's all. I didn't travel this far just to turn back now. I'm going to Japa, that's all there is to it."
"You cannot hope to book passage on a ship. They will be waiting for you."
"What it I pay for a boat to take me away from the port cities and put me off somewhere there are no people?"
"You wish to be smuggled to the island?"
"If that's what it takes, yes."
"You know if you are caught, you will be put to death."
"So what does it matter? You say I will be killed if anyone sees me."
S'uu Ma didn't have an answer.
"Can you find me such a boat?" Gabrielle asked.
"It would be possible." S'uu Ma answered quietly. "But the captain of such a boat would require a steep payment, for if caught, he too would be put to death."
Retrieving the pouch of gold dinars from her room, Gabrielle said, "Then take this. If it isn't enough, I have two good horses and a few supplies. Surely that should be sufficient."
Taking the heavy pouch, S'uu Ma said, "I will make inquiries."
For three days Gabrielle was forced to wait. S'uu Ma felt it was better if she stayed away from the village. Just as S'uu Ma had informants in Japa, there were spies from Japa in almost every port in Chin. No need to let them discover what Gabrielle had planned.
"The boat we have chartered awaits a day's ride to the south. I am told that if you are successful, you will be landing on the eastern coast of the largest southern island. From there it will be up to you. Travel only at night, and hide during the day. That you are there will be known soon enough."
"Thank you S'uu Ma." Gabrielle said. "Things will work out, you'll see. I have it on good authority."
S'uu Ma smiled faintly. "I hope when they work out, it will be to your satisfaction. Take care, Gabrielle, I have become exceptionally fond of you. I would not enjoy hearing your head is positioned upon the top of a spear."
The two women hugged briefly, then Gabrielle climbed on the waiting horse and headed south with two of S'uu Ma's bodyguards.
As Gabrielle boarded the small ship, not much more than a large boat, the captain looked at her strangely and smiled. Gabrielle suddenly had a bad feeling. "I sure hope S'uu Ma paid him well." She thought. "But I'll keep a close watch on him, just to be on the safe side."
The voyage took them four days and nights. Other ships were seen during the day, the most dangerous part of the trip, but none got close enough to think they were other than just fishing boats. And none seemed to be following them.
As the sun began to set on the fourth day, the ship was sitting just barely within site of the isle. The captain told Gabrielle they would sail in closer when the moon was overhead. There were rocks hidden just below the surface and it would be too dangerous for them to try without the light of the moon, which made sense to Gabrielle.
As the moon rose higher in the sky, Gabrielle gathered the few possessions she had with her - a water skin, some food, and a leather tarp to be used as a small tent or rain cover. Of course she always carried the vial with Xena's ashes, her sais, the Chakram, and the small breast knife Abrias had given her. It was yet unused, but it gave her a measure of comfort. Not so much as a weapon, but as incentive to return to Amphipolis some day when this was all over.
As Gabrielle watched the dark line that was the shore grow larger, her anticipation grew. Perhaps it was this that caused her senses to be more aware of movement and noises around her. So when the net dropped over her head, she immediately went to one knee and drew the sais from the left scabbard and plunged it into the midsection of the sailor who tried to capture her.
Throwing the net off her shoulder, Gabrielle dived over the side into the cold, churning water. Temporarily disoriented, she started swimming out to sea, but then quickly turned toward land. As she swam away from the ship she could hear loud voices, no doubt cursing at her escape. But there didn't seem to be any pursuit. Maybe it was the fear of the frigid water.
How long she swam, Gabrielle couldn't tell, but the cold water was steadily sapping her strength. Just when she didn't think she swim any farther, her feet touched bottom. Half walking and half swimming Gabrielle made it to the shore. With her teeth chattering and shivering as she had never done before, she was barely able to move, but she forced herself to crawl past the sandy beach and into the shelter of the woods.
Curling into a tight ball and covering herself with branches and leaves Gabrielle grasped the vial around her neck and let herself fall asleep. When Gabrielle woke up, the sun was already high in the sky and it was warm enough for her to strip down so she could spread out her still damp clothes on the rocks to dry. As she sat in the sun she took stock of her possessions.
She lost the coat Meg gave her. She had it on when she went overboard, and vaguely remembered shucking it off when she felt it pulling her down. She only had one of her sais. The other she left sticking in the belly of whoever it was that tried to net her. She still had the Chakram, and her breast knife. And somehow managed to keep the water skin. But when she drank out of it, she found that sea water had contaminated it. She had no food, no water, no coat, nor anything to use as a blanket or tent, and no flint to start a fire.
When her clothes were dry, she got dressed. Then she looked both ways, up and down the beach, with no idea which way she should go. "Since I've been traveling all this time with the morning sun in my eyes, I think this time I'll keep it at my back," she said to no one, and turned so the sea was on her right as she started walking north.
As she walked along the beach, she continually looked behind her, ahead of her, and out to sea, checking that there was no one who might see her and possibly alert others she was there. Then she saw what she was looking for -- a well-worn path that seemed to lead to the interior of the island.
Taking one last look around, just to make sure, she started toward the path, then stopped. She looked up as if searching for something in the sky, then said out loud, "I'm here, Xena! I've come to take you home."
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