Leaving the beach behind, Gabrielle cautiously walked along the path. It was obvious it was used frequently, so she constantly was looking behind her, far ahead of her, and listening for any sound that would indicate that there was anyone using the path.
Twice she hid in the woods as small groups passed on their way to the beach. "I know S’uu Ma told me to hide during the day and only travel at night, but I need food, water, and clothes. I know I won’t make it through another freezing night if I don’t find something else to wear. I hate to steal from these people, but I really don’t have a choice."
Eventually it got so that Gabrielle had to stay more in the woods than on the path. She was coming to a small village and there were more and more people using it. Just before she got to it, she crossed a small stream, and after drinking her fill, took the opportunity to fill her water skin with fresh water. Her next goal was food and clothing.
Staying just out of sight, she went from one small cottage to the next until she found one with laundry draped across one of the many bamboo fences that were that so common. She knew if she took anything, it would have to be something that wouldn't be missed. She decided to take a blanket to use as a wrap. There were four of them lying across the fence and she took the smallest.
Several houses down she found several pairs of trousers drying in the sun and took one of them as well. They were large on her, but by rolling up the legs and tying a length of vine around the waist, they would do.
She found carrots, beans and cabbage in the gardens that were next to every house. After taking only a few of the vegetables from each, Gabrielle went deeper into the woods to eat her first meal in almost two days.
Gabrielle knew she would not be able to have a fire even if she had some way to start one, so she started gathering branches and sticks to build a windbreak. She found a natural depression and began to line it with leaves. Soon she had a crude but serviceable shelter for the night.
The night was colder than she had expected, and more than once she wished she had taken more than the one blanket. The next morning she disassembled the windbreak and scattered it so no one would discover it, put two and two together and start looking for her.
She was able to gather more of the carrots and beans from a few more gardens for breakfast. She then decided she needed to head back to the eastern coast. From there she would have to find some way to get onto another boat to cross the sea to the large island where Mt. Fuji was located. If she was to find Xena, that would be her starting, or ending point; she really didn’t have any idea where else to look. Making her way back to the eastern shore, Gabrielle stayed just inside the trees and traveled north until she came to one of the small fishing villages that dotted the beaches of the island.
"How will I ever find a boat that is going to the other island?" she wondered. "If I had anything of value I could try to bribe one of them to take me, but that would be taking a dangerous chance. Not that I have anything I’d be willing to part with, or is of any value to anyone but me. I guess I’ll have to try to stow away on one of them and hope for the best."
Waiting until after dark when the boats were in port, Gabrielle searched for one that looked large enough that she could hide on without being caught. Several times she was afraid she was discovered when she realized that many of them had the crew sleeping on board since they were only in port to trade goods for the fish they had caught.
She finally settled on one that seemed large enough that there were plenty of places to hide among the barrels and boxes of produce and other goods. And even though she barely spoke the language, she thought she understood some of the crew talking about going back home the next morning, to the north. Exactly what she was looking for!
For three days the small vessel sailed north hugging the coast, putting in at night and leaving again at dawn. Then they gradually turned northeast, passing a smaller island after several more days. Gabrielle heard one sailor tell another that in four more days they would reaching the large island.
Gabrielle congratulated herself for being able to conceal her presence, and still find enough food and water during the trip. She used a small pot she found to relieve herself during the day when they were out to sea, and there were plenty of opportunities at night when the crew were asleep, or passed out from the saki they drank with the evening meal.
When the small ship docked and began to unload its cargo, Gabrielle realized that her hiding place was about to disappear. "What luck," she thought, when she crept as far back as she could and found extra ropes and nets to hide under, hoping in the very dim light of the hold she wouldn’t be discovered.
With her hand on her Chakram, Gabrielle waited breathlessly for the ship to be unloaded, waiting to be found out. Then there was silence, and more silence. It seemed that the crew had gone home, leaving the ship docked in port, and empty.
Gabrielle waited until it was too dark to see and slowly crept to the opening in the deck that led to the outside. Keeping to the shadows she crawled to the gangplank, and when she was sure no one was around she made her way to the dock and then to land.
"Thank the gods," she said under her breath. "I made it."
"We wondered how long you would stay aboard the ship. We thought we would have to drag you off."
Gabrielle looked around for the directionless voice, her Chakram in one hand and her remaining sai in the other. Suddenly torches were lit and Gabrielle saw that she was surrounded by at least a dozen soldiers armed with swords and pikes.
"It would be foolish of you to resist. You would not want to die before your trial."
Gabrielle looked at the voice, it was the commander of the squad. Next to him was the man she recognized as the ships captain.
"Did you think I was so stupid not to know I had a stowaway on my own vessel?" he said to her.
"You have committed many serious crimes." The commander continued, "Stowing away, stealing food, stealing water, and putting the crew and this respectable sea captain at risk for harboring a fugitive. Yes, we know who you are. You have come to damn the souls of our dead by taking away the spirit of the Warrior Woman."
Gabrielle could only stand and wait, hoping for an opportunity to escape.
"Before you try anything unwise, you will give up your weapons. You have no chance."
The commander signaled to one of his men, who walked toward Gabrielle with his hand out for her weapons. When he was within arm’s length, Gabrielle desperately pushed him and started to run, but before she was able to take a single step, she was hit across the side of the head from behind and knocked unconscious.
Gabrielle came to when a bucket of very cold water was thrown on her. She put her hand to her aching forehead and realized she was bleeding from her wound when she felt the warm blood. Then she also realized she had been stripped naked.
Her hand went immediately to her neck. The vial with Xena's ashes was gone!
"You are looking for this?" Someone asked.
Gabrielle looked up to see another soldier, a different commander or captain holding the precious vial.
With a cruel smile on his face, he slowly uncorked the vial and poured the ashes out.
"NO!" Gabrielle yelled as she jumped up toward the captain.
Again she was struck in the head, this time from the front. Gabrielle fell backward, hitting the back of her head on the stone floor. Slowly sitting up, she wiped more blood from her eyes just in time to see him drop the vial to the floor.
Gabrielle crawled toward vial and as she grasped it, the commander stomped on her hand, fracturing bones and crushing the vial, causing it to cut the palm of her hand and fingers. Gabrielle screamed out in pain, but she never let go of the pieces of the vial.
She could hear the guards laughing along with the commander. "You will be our guest until your trial. Then you will be beheaded for your crimes."
As the cell door was slammed shut, it was suddenly very dark. Gabrielle cradled her broken hand and the pieces of the vial as she wept from the pain. She felt warm drops hitting her hands but didn’t know if they were tears or blood. The back of her head throbbed as it had never done before.
Gabrielle had no idea how long she was alone with her agony. She thought she might have slept, but didn’t know. Then just as suddenly as it was slammed shut, the cell door was opened and a guard tossed in a small metal pot, and put down a small bowl of food. Again, the door was slammed shut.
Gabrielle crawled to the bowl, barely visible in very dim light that came in through a tiny window set high in the wall. With her good hand, Gabrielle scooped out the rice and put it in her mouth. And then spit it out when she realized it was swarming with maggots. She threw the bowl against the door and crawled back to the corner where she had been. Later she managed to find the small pot to relieve herself, but missed it as much as she hit it.
Gabrielle slept again, but she woke up feeling rats nibbling on her bloody forehead. She screamed as she batted at them, driving them away temporarily. More time passed. Another guard brought more rice. This time Gabrielle forced herself to eat the maggot infested rice, such was her hunger. But she immediately vomited it up. She slept again and again woke up feeling rats crawling on her. She fought them off for a second time.
A guard came to empty the pot and to leave a bowl of water. Despite its filth and sliminess, Gabrielle drank it, her thirst was greater than her hunger. Somehow she managed to keep from throwing up the water.
More time passed. Gabrielle found she didn’t even have the strength to crawl around to find the pot. She could only creep to the opposite corner to relieve her bladder or bowls.
Gabrielle dreamed horrible dreams of rats eating her head as it was paraded thru the streets of Japa on top of a spear, and Xena was smiling down from Mt. Fuji, saying everything was going to be all right. As Gabrielle tried to eat the maggots and rice one more time, she began to cry uncontrollably as she vomited one more time.
"I can’t do this." she moaned. "How could I have ever thought I could be a Warrior? I’m not Xena, I never will be. What was I thinking? By the gods, how could I have been so -- so stupid and so reckless?"
((Have faith, Gabrielle. Have faith.))
"Xena? Is that you?"
((You must have faith, Gabrielle.))
"Faith? In What? My ability to screw up everything I try to do? I can’t be you Xena! I can’t do it alone! I’ve needed help from the time I left Japa going to Greece, and then coming back here again. If I had been you, I could have jumped on my horse and rode across the land without help from anybody. I should have taken Ares up on his offer to bring me back here. At least I wouldn’t be in prison with a death sentence hanging over me. Ares was right, I’m NOT a Warrior."
"Okay! That’s twice you’ve called my name!" Ares said as he flashed in. "It's kind of dark in here." he continued. With a wave of his hand the cell was as bright as daylight.
Then seeing the bloody Gabrielle, he said, "You look terrible, and you’re NAKED!"
Struggling to her feet, Gabrielle answered, "Yes, I am. So what of it?"
"Well, it’s just that I’ve never seen you -- this way before. I mean, I’ve seen Xena, and I’ve seen Hope, but never you."
"Fine! So take a good look!" Gabrielle put her arms out and slowly turned in a circle, barely able to keep on her feet.
"Had a good look?" she asked with venom in her voice. "No? How about another one?" And she turned around again.
"Okay, okay. I’ve seen enough."
"So why are you here?" Gabrielle asked as she fell back to the floor, unable to stand any longer.
"I heard you call me. It looks like you’ve gotten yourself into another situation here. Doesn’t look good from where I’m standing."
"So what am I supposed to do? BEG you to help me? Am I supposed to kiss your feet and plead with the mighty God of War to save me? Not a chance! I may be beaten and bloody, but I still have my pride when it comes to asking you for anything. Before I ask for your help, I’d rather they took my head."
Gabrielle fought to keep her voice from breaking. "At least then I’d be with Xena. That’s what why I came here in the first place!"
"Oooh! Aren’t we the brave little Warrior?" Ares said sarcastically.
((What are you doing to her? Can’t you see she needs your help?))
"Where are you? Why can’t I see you?"
((I don’t have a lot of strength here, but you’ve GOT to get her out of that Hell hole!))
"She says she doesn’t want my help."
((So what? You want someone to beg you? Fine! Then I’m begging you! Please! I BEG OF YOU! Help her! Get her OUT of there!))
"Okay. I’ll do it. Where do you want me to take her?"
((Here with me on Mt. Fuji, at the Fountain of Strength.))
"We’ll be there before you know it."
((And Ares, get her clothes and her weapons while you’re at it.))
"Right! Clothes and weapons."
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