Disclaimers: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance Pictures/USA, are used without permission, and with no intent to infringe copyright or profit from the story. The story line and other characters are either of historical record or of my own invention.
Theres no sex, not much violence (some whacking and thwacking) and a little romance of different kinds. I find it hard to imagine anyone being offended by this, but if you are, please dont read it. I take some serious liberties with historical fact (but which of us doesnt?).
Summary: While staying in Athens without Xena, Gabrielle spends an extended stay at the Athenian Academy, and becomes involved with a scholar/inventor with a mysterious past.
This story occurs sometime before "Destiny".
Constructive criticism is always welcome. Please!
How are you feeling? Better? You dont know how that makes me feel, to see you open your eyes and look at me. I was so scared. Its been several hours since we brought you here; that last dose ought to be wearing off. Your eyes are starting to look the same size again. You dont feel so cold. Now, dont look at me like that. Youre sick and Im going to take care of you until youre better. Dont worry. By tomorrow morning youll be kicking the covers off and yelling for your armor again. Just lay still and get it out of your system.
Oh, this? It doesnt hurt. Much. Its just ugly. Things got a little rough there for a while and I got smacked. Itll fade in a few days.
How much do you remember? Not a lot, eh? Hero says thats one of the effects. I dont suppose youll ever recall the whole mess. Tell you? Well, there isnt that much to tell, really. You got kidnapped and we got you back. We? Yeah, Hero and the others. And me. Mostly Hero. Hes a friend. He had to leave, though. He said to give you his best wishes for a speedy recovery. Yes, he actually said it just like that. Thats how he talks. Alexandria. Hes from Alexandria.
Hes just a friend, Xena. That was just a good-bye peck. No, nothing happened. Nothing! Dont grin like that. Its lewd.
Listen, you just lie still and drink that tea. I know it is, its supposed to be cold. Its medicine. Ill tell you everything. Finally -- I get to tell you a long story without you interrupting me. All right, all right. Maybe its a good thing you cant talk yet.
So we come into Athens so I can work at the Academy for a few days. Usually I kind of resent it when you go off and tell me to stay and wait around -- well, you know thats how I feel, that shouldnt surprise you -- but this time I was glad to be left behind. Ships on the ocean arent my style, you know that. When you said "pirates" and "at sea for a moon" I almost lost it. Thanks for letting me off the hook on that one.
I took a room at the Academy and I checked my newest scrolls into the Archive, and then I went browsing for new scrolls I hadnt read yet. It was too early in the morning for most people to be in the Archive, so I was all alone in the quiet. I cant think of anything more insulated from the noise of the outside world than a room full of parchment and ink.
Okay...it was just an image. Add a little background, color, you know. Be patient.
So on with the story, already. Drink your tea.
There was a parchment posted on the door of the Archive announcing a Contest for Performing Bards the next evening. It sounded like fun, I thought Id enter. Id thought Id do the one about Diana and Meg at King Lyas palace. But I needed to practice, so I found a little room off the main scroll room and I went in and...
I am getting to the point.
I was in this little reading room, practicing my recitation, when I heard this strange squeaking sound and then a strange "pop!" coming through the wall. Those walls are thin, you know. The Academy doesnt have a lot of money. So I went on practicing and I heard the "pop" noise again, and...well finally I couldnt stand it anymore, and I went to the reading room next door. I knocked and this voice with the strange accent said, "come in!" So I did.
That room was a mess. There were chests and trunks all over the place, and lots of clutter that turned out to be tools and little parts. There was a pungent, burnt smell in the room too, even though the window was open. There wasnt much of a breeze. There hasnt been a cool breezy day or rain since I got here a month ago.
Well, that part is important. Just wait and youll see. Here, have more tea. Yes, you have to. As much as you can hold. What? Show me that again...oh! No, dont try to get up, Ill get the chamberpot.
There now. No, I wont leave the room. Youre so tough. I cant leave you alone. You have to stay awake, they said. Thats good...Ill just set that over here, where I wont kick it over ...anyway. There was a man in there, young, actually hes just my age. He was skinny and pale and he had his dark hair cut in a kind of bowl-on-the-head style, and he had black eyes. He was kind of cute, really. He had very long fingers, very thin and agile. His hands were the nicest part of him.
No, I didnt see any other parts. You must be getting well.
He held out his hand and said "Hello, Im Hero", and the first thing I said was "Well, arent you modest!" He grinned in a kind of sick way and said "Not a hero. Hero. Thats my name. Hero of Alexandria."
I apologized and said, "Im Gabrielle of Poitidea." He had never heard of Poitidea, and he was polite while I told him what little I could. Then I asked him what he was doing. "Its a water engine," he said. "Its my invention." I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he meant a water wheel, like the ones that turn mills, and I wondered how he could invent that -- its been around a while.
I asked him about that and he said, "No, thats not it at all. Come here, come here." He had a kind of nervous energy, like a bird showing off his new plumage. There was a table with a lot of little parts and there was this kind of square framework with a pipe in the middle, and these two half-spheres on the table and a little brazier that held some burning charcoal. I cant describe it very well. But he held up a finger, and took the half-spheres and fastened them together somehow around the pipe, and then he connected a metal tube to another tube coming from a kind of kettle on the charcoal fire. And the funniest thing happened! The little sphere had some bent tubes coming out of it, and the tubes started to whistle...and then the sphere started to spin round and round, all by itself! And it kept whistling and spinning and whistling and spinning and finally the sphere halves popped apart..."pop"! I laughed, and he looked kind of glum. I wasnt laughing at him, really, but it was so funny to watch this little toy.
But his face wasnt smiling, and he didnt think it was funny. I asked him what was the matter and he said, "Its not supposed to do that."
"Do what?" I said.
"Pop apart like that. The sphere is supposed to keep going round. I cant find a way to keep the halves together."
I asked him what he hoped to accomplish with it. He said, "What are you doing here at the Academy?", and I told him I was a storyteller.
"Well, what do you hope to accomplish with your stories?"
"I entertain people. I make them happy for an hour or so."
He smiled -- he had this big, bright smile -- and said, "Thats why I do this. Its entertaining."
"Watching a little ball going round is entertaining?"
"Yes, it is, because it goes around without anyone turning it. Just the heat from the fire and the steam make it go round. No animals to feed, no slaves. It works by itself."
This has everything to do with you. Its how we rescued you.
Well, by the time we got done it wasnt a toy. You have to hear the whole thing. It wont make sense otherwise.
Thanks very much! It does too make sense now. Clenching your teeth doesnt make you look any better. Do you want to hear what happened or not? Whos the bard here, anyway?
Thank you. We all have our skills. So, where was I...ah.
I asked him how his engine worked. He explained that water in the kettle on the fire makes steam, and that if you seal up the steam and only let it escape through a pipe, it goes into the sphere where, by escaping through the bent tubes, it pushes the sphere around in a circle. I think thats right. His explanation was a lot more complicated and he used numbers and letters and symbols to explain it. I left all of that out just now. The pressure of the steam in the sphere made the halves pop apart after a while. He showed me how he held the halves together with hide glue, but that melted when the spheres got hot. Since the sphere halves were metal I asked him if there was some way to use melted metal to hold them together. He said he hadnt thought of that, and I said "Theres a blacksmith in the next street. Why dont you go ask him?" He asked if Id go with him; "Im kind of shy around strangers, especially when I have to ask them for favors." I said he hadnt been shy with me and he said I was easy to talk to.
I am. And I do let people get a word in edgewise. Now put that tablet down and listen. You asked for this story!
So the smith looked at Heros little sphere, and I kind of charmed him not to laugh at Hero, but once the problem was clear to him he got kind of intrigued. He found a way to make the sphere all in one piece so there were no halves. It took him about a day to figure it out.
Well, you were off somewhere chasing pirates all this time, so I have to tell you this part so you understand the rest!
All right. I met Hero at his laboratory (thats what he called the little room the Academy let him work in) the next day and he had the new sphere in place, and wow! did that little bugger spin! So I began to wonder what you could do with it. And -- call me crazy --
Watch your mouth, Princess. I could see in my mind this thing attached to the axles of a wagon wheel, spinning round and making the wheel go without horses. So I suggested it to Hero and he said hed thought of that, but the engine couldnt exert enough force to move the wagon even if it were bigger. He showed me a lot of mathematical calculations I didnt understand but he did, something about the wheels rubbing against the axles, or something. Anyway, it wouldnt work. "Besides," he said "where would you find a road smooth enough to run it on? Every day some chariot driver takes a header going too fast over these awful roads." Then it occurred to me you could move a boat the same way, and it would only have to go through the water. Funny I should think about boats. We talked it over and one of us thought of water wheels -- I think it was me -- kind of in reverse, spinning and pushing against the water. Hero started making doodles and sketches and pretty soon he had an idea of what we were talking about.
I got hungry and so did he so we went to a cafe for dinner. He told me a lot about himself and his ideas and his home town, and how this was the first time hed left there, and...I know, anyway, he was very sweet and charming and his ideas were fascinating. I could have listened to him all night.
Well, actually, you do have all night. You cant go to sleep until that poisons completely out of your system.
So the next morning I came back -- I was just enjoying seeing him and talking, it was fun solving problems with him. He hands me a block of soft wood and a sharp knife and says I should make a boat. and I said "What? How am I going to do that?" He drew some lines on the block and said "Carve away anything that doesnt look like a boat." I thought it was ridiculous but I started cutting, and in about an hour I had a pretty good boat. While I was doing this he was very busy with a long wooden trough, like the kind they grow flowers in outside windows, sealing it up with pitch and filling it with water from the courtyard fountain. Then he fastened his little toy spinning thing on the top of the boat, and connected a long leather hose to the sphere, and connected two chi-shaped things, like water wheels, to the axle of the sphere. When he added water to the kettle and closed the lid tightly, the wheels started spinning in the water and the silly thing actually moved forward! Amazing!
For a little while, anyway. The toy boat tipped over after a few inches, but Hero was ecstatic. He started dancing around the room and he grabbed me by the shoulders and waltzed me around. "It works, it works, Gabrielle, youre a genius!" he kept saying.
He fiddled with the toy for a while and finally got it to go all the way from one end of the trough to the other. He was so pleased. So I asked when he was going to build a bigger one, a real boat that could carry people.
He got very nervous. "I...I probably wont. Id have to deal with a lot of different people, you know, carpenters and smiths and...I just dont work that well with other people." And I said, "Well, thats okay, but you should really tell other people about your invention. Then they could use it. And he said he was writing a book and his water engine would be in it. He asked me if Id come back the next day, and I said I would, even though it seemed like there wasnt much for me to do.
Im getting to that. And of course I knew. But why would I say no? He was very nice.
Youre colors better. Can you talk yet? No, if you cant, dont strain. Theres still more to tell. Relax and drink your tea.
Well, sick of it or not you have to drink it. You want to get your voice back? Good. Then drink it.
What does that say? Honestly, Xena, your handwriting...well, true, it is in wax. But you could use lower case sometimes...oh. "So...how...dis?...oh, did I get...poisoned?" Is that it?
What? More? Oh, yes, I forgot to mention it. I came in second. Euripides, the son, not the old one, gave a one-man reading of a part of a new play of his fathers. It was about Bacchae, and a lot of it sounded suspiciously familiar, if you get my meaning.
I went back the next morning and Hero wasnt in the laboratory. I found him at a table in the Archive, buried in mountains of scrolls. I asked him what he was doing, and he said "Research." Hed figured out that one of the problems with the toy boat was that the two waterwheels -- he called them paddlewheels -- werent perfectly synchronized, so the boat would zig and zag. He was looking for a better way, and he found one. He showed me a drawing by a man called Archimedes, who lived in Syracusa, and who was a lot like him -- an inventor and mathematician. One of the things hed invented was a pump that used a screw to lift water through a pipe. Hero saw what I saw when I looked at the picture -- you could work it the other way, turn the screw under the boat and the screw would pull the boat through the water. It was very clever. He had a problem, though. It seems that carving the screw was very tricky -- he showed me several unsuccessful attempts he had made.
Do you remember Sandor, the carpenter in Scalpeus Street, the one we helped collect the payment from Thestes, the warlord who had ordered all those coffins he never got to use? Well, I took Hero to see if he was still there, and sure enough he was. They have seven children now, and Alissa is pregnant with another. She seems very happy, she loves children and having them isnt that much of a strain for her. Hero showed Sandor a copy of the screw drawing, and Sandor actually made one out of a piece of scrap wood while we ate lunch. Hero had a good time with the children -- hes so shy I never would have thought it but he actually rolled on the floor playing with them. He showed them little tricks with scraps of wood, little catapults and such. They laughed so much! I asked Sandor what we owed him and he said "a story", so I told a story to the whole family and them we went back to the Academy. We spent the whole afternoon there but it was worth it.
Yes, youre right. We should go and see him after youre up and around. He and Alissa would like that.
Well, the screw worked just fine. The toy boat just zipped along from one end of the trough to the other, in a pretty straight line. He also found a way to heat the water in the boat, with a tiny oil lamp and a smaller version of the kettle. That way he didnt need the long tubes. We worked on it together almost all night, I was mostly handing him parts and helping him figure out little things when he got stuck.
He said to me "Gabrielle, Ive been thinking about what you said, about building a real boat like this. I could design it, but getting people to work on it -- thatd be hard for me. But you know people, and youre good at persuading -- maybe we could work together. Wed make a good team. I could do all the designing, and you could see that it actually got made, find the right craftsmen and workers and such. I have money, my fathers a physician and he gave me about two thousand dinars to come here. What do you think?"
I was beginning to be concerned about you. You had been gone three weeks and no word. I know, you dont have to apologize. But I wondered if youd come looking for me at the Academy and Id be all tied up on some project. He said we could work right nearby -- the Athenian canal runs near the Academy and we could set up a bigger laboratory there. So I said yes. He seemed very happy and kissed me on the forehead to say thank you.
I know. How did you get...be patient, Xena. Were almost there. You dont need to know all the details, but for three weeks we worked on building his water-powered boat. I helped him find a slip on the canal, and we bought a boat with his money. I helped him bargain for it. We got Sandor to help, and Ferris the smith, and I went around town finding people and persuading them to work on the project, making bargains and swaps and trades. After a week we had quite a crew down at the canal, hammering and sawing and working together. It was a lot of work. Every time there was a problem with the machinery Hero was right there with an idea how to solve it, and I had to find a way to make his idea work with the money and people we had. Hero was right, we were a good team. He was very smart, and fun to be around. Not so good looking, but then, he didnt have to be. He was also a very nice, very kind man.
Sometimes too nice -- I had to chew out a couple of people for goofing off, and he didnt want to do that kind of thing. I guess I got kind of bossy. I didnt really like myself when I did that, but I got carried away wanting to see the boat actually built and working. I guess I can be a real bitch when I want to be, but between his ideas and my bossiness we got it done. Near the end Hero ran out of money, so I figured out ways to raise more. I told stories in the agora, and he worked out a kind of magic show like he had with the children, and we sold rides -- tickets for rides when the boat was done. I dont know what were going to do about those now. Well probably have to give the money back. Hmmm.
Well need to talk about that. But now were getting to how you ended up here in this hospice. All right, I can shorten some of it because you were here for this part. Some of it.
We tried the boat out on the canal and it worked. Some things were wrong -- it was hard to steer, and you had to have two people on board, one to steer and one to tend the fire that heated the water. But it was mostly a success, and Hero and his crew fixed the little problems pretty quickly. Xena, I have never seen anyone so happy in my life -- he was like a kid on Solstice. We went out to a tavern after we ran the boat up and down the canal, and we had a nice meal with the rest of the money wed raised. Wed start giving rides the next day and we could raise more. He thought the Athenian navy might be interested, too.
Im afraid I had a leeetle too much to drink. I remember singing songs with Hero as we walked down to the boat shed -- he wanted to see his "baby" in the moonlight. We...well, I dont remember much after that. I do remember how we woke up. Together, that is. There was a pile of fresh straw near the smithy and and we must have fallen asleep there. I woke up with his arm around me. I couldnt remember anything. I was mad and afraid so I whacked him in the head to wake him up!
"What are you doing here?" I asked, and he said, "What are you doing here?"
I said "You know very well what I was doing...I mean, what you were doing...I mean, what you wanted to do with me! How dare you!" I was really angry.
But he stammered and swore up and down that he hadnt done anything. I still had all my clothes on and he did too. He said he wasnt used to drinking wine and hed just wanted to go to sleep. We both passed out in the straw and cuddled together because it was comfortable.
I didnt feel like anything happened and there was no evidence of anything...unusual, so I had to believe him. I apologized for hitting him. But...well, the truth. He held my shoulders and he said that he wished we could have done something, as he put it. He said "Gabrielle, I think youre smart and clever and beautiful and sweet and I could fall in love with you if youd let me. I think maybe I have anyway." And he kissed me. I mean, really kissed me, and he meant it.
It was nice. I kissed him back. Yes I did. Why are you looking at me like that? Xena, I havent kissed anyone like that since...my marriage. He was a good kisser. Its not like I belong to anyone right now. So I enjoyed it.
Theres nothing wrong with that. Whats the matter? You look as if youve bitten a sour grape. You still must be sick.
But -- the whole truth. Sweet as he was, I just couldnt see us together. He was a nice man, and a good friend, but I didnt feel anything that would lead to -- you know. Being in bed together. I couldnt imagine making love with him. It was hard to tell him that, so I lied a little.
I said. "Hero, youre very sweet. And Im flattered that you feel that way. But I should have told you -- Im already in love with someone else."
He asked me who. I said. "He...ah theyre not here right now. But they might be back in a couple of days."
No, he didnt try to argue about it. He knew that I knew my own mind and he respected that. Hes very smart for a young man. And he was very polite. He just said that if I was ever free, I should look him up. And he gave me another kiss and I gave him one, and that was that.
You showed up that day. You were dirty and sore and tired and you hunted me down at the Academy -- do you remember that? Okay. Then do you remember going to get a room at an inn? You couldnt stay with me because the Academy doesnt allow weapons inside. Okay. Then do you remember taking a bath? No? Okay, then thats where I can pick this up. I went back to my room to get my things and move them to your inn. When I got there you werent in the room but your armor and weapons were, so I figured that youd gone down to the bathhouse and Id find you there. I thought a bath was a good idea myself and that it would be nice to join you. So I told the innkeeper that Id be there -- just in case you werent -- and went in to the bathhouse. You werent there, but I thought maybe youd stopped somewhere on the way. I was getting ready to undress and get in the tub, which was full of warm water, when I noticed that it wasnt very clean -- the water had this funny yellow-green color. I was going to complain to the innkeeper when there was a knock on the door, and Hero was there. Hed found a way to make the boat easier to steer, and it was finished and he wanted me to come to the slip and see. I said I was still waiting for you and was about to take a bath. He noticed the bath water and said "what a strange color." Then he asked if Id already been in the tub. When I said no he said "Dont." I was about to put my hand in the water and he grabbed my wrist and held me back. I told you he had strong hands.
I was alarmed, and I asked what was wrong.
"This bath waters been poisoned, I think."
"Poisoned?" I said. "How do you know?"
"That color. Theres a poison called agaralis that fishermen use sometimes in the Nile. They get it from boiling seaweed. Dump it in the water and it knocks out a whole bunch of fish, they float to the surface and you can rake them in. The good part about it is the poison decays after a while. When it sits in the air it turns that green-yellow color and loses its potency. It decays in the flesh of the fish, too, but not as fast, and you have to cook the fish carefully to destroy the poison. Father saw several patients a year who were made sick from poisoned undercooked fish. You can tell where the fishermenve used it because it leaves this color behind in the water."
I said, "What happens when it gets into a person?"
He said, "Lots of things. They lose their voice, first. Then they cant move, they lose control of their muscles. They see and hear things, visions. They might even pass out. They cant remember anything that happens while theyre affected by the poison."
"Why would anyone want to poison bath water? Doesnt poison have to be swallowed?"
"It can be taken in through a persons skin. Fishermen sometimes poison themselves like that, they get it on their hands. Whoever might have used this bath would get the poison in their system and be helpless."
"Oh gods!" I said. "Xena!" And then I thought for a minute. Youd never have gotten into a bath that looked like that. I mentioned this to Hero. He said that the poison, when it was fresh, was clear as water and no one would notice it mixed in the bath water. I asked if it was fatal. He said no, once a person stopped getting it they would recover in a few days. Even the fish werent dead, just knocked out.
Finally I told him, "Somebody just kidnapped my friend, the only way they could -- drug her senseless!" I asked how long it took for the poison to wear off. He said the person would feel weak for a few days, and might still experience visions, but theyd wake up in a couple of hours. "Unless they kept getting more of it," he said. He also said it took about two hours for the color to change, maybe less because the water was hot. I wasnt sure what that had to do with anything but I didnt ask. I called the innkeeper and asked if the girl who prepared the bath was still around. She was, and when she came in I grabbed her, shoved her against the wall, and ask who made her poison the water. I was so scared for you, Xena, and very angry. She didnt want to tell me, but Hero made her talk. He said if she didnt wed dump her in the tub and then lay her body out naked on the public fountain in the nastiest part of Athens we could find. I was surprised; he seemed like such a gentle fellow.
She said she was paid by a carpet merchant named Pedorus to pour a bottle of stuff he gave her into the bath when Xena called for one. Remember Pedorus? That guy in Piraeus who was nailing kidnapped children in barrels and shipping them off on pirate vessels to be sold as slaves? You remember, I know you do. You almost killed him. Now I almost wish you had. They would have found somebody else, I guess. I got my staff and Hero and I went to find Pedorus, which wasnt hard; hes a fence, and his shop was right behind the inn. By the time we got there I was in a killing rage. I did everything you taught me not to do, I let my temper run away with me, I wasnt thinking clearly. Somebody had you and Id do anything to get you back.
As soon as he saw me the bastard tried to run but I tripped him and -- well, I kind of beat him up. I know I broke one of his arms. I knocked him around the shop while Hero stood by and watched. I yelled at him "arent you going to help?" and he said I seemed to be doing "quite admirably" by myself. There wasnt any danger from Pedorus. He was fat and slow and we scared the stuffing out of him. Finally I whacked him right into Hero, who had a curtain cord in both hands and wrapped it around the fat creeps neck. I never saw anybody turn that shade of blue before. He said that a bunch of men brought you into his shop, dripping wet and naked, and they rolled you into a carpet and carried you out. He told us the men were part of a pirate crew, on a ship captained by one Ophides. Thats where he got the poison.
Oh, you know him? Im not surprised. Here, let me see it, I cant read it that far away. One of the...is that "pirates"? Okay...pirates got away...Oh, I see. He was one of the pirates you were off chasing, and he escaped and came back for revenge...yes? How did he know to look for you in Athens? Me? Why me? You left me here before he...whats that? Academy...bard...friend. Oh, your friend is a bard at the Academy -- yes, that would be me. He knew that?
Oh. Everybody knows that. I see. Im famous?
No, I didnt. I just like to tell stories, thats all. And I hang around with the Destroyer of Nations.
Im sorry about roughing up Pedorus. If youd teach me how to do that pinch thing, I wouldnt have to...all right, some other time.
He swore he didnt know where they were taking you but that Ophides had a ten-oared galley that could navigate the canal. We ran down to the bank of the canal and asked around, and sure enough people remembered a ship like that that had cast off about two hours before, under oars. There wasnt a breath of wind. Its been like that all summer. I was in a panic and couldnt think, but Hero said "The boat!" It took me a minute to get what he was talking about, but he explained that when the fire was hot the boat wed built could go faster than any galley could row. It was a desperate move but we were out of choices. We ran up to our slip and Sandor and Ferris were both there. Hero got the fire going while I explained what had happened. They both immediately offered to come with us. Ferris is an old soldier, and he was up for a good fight; he went back to his shop to get weapons. I told Sandor he shouldnt come, it was dangerous, he had a family to take care of. He said, "If it wasnt for Xenas help, I wouldnt have been able to feed my family."
You know, you always worry about the enemies youve made. But youve made a lot of friends, too. You should remember that.
I like it when you smile.
When Ferris came back with the weapons we set off down the canal, Hero steering and Sandor and Ferris stoking the fire. The firebox got so hot it glowed red, and the pile of wood in the bow got smaller and smaller. I was afraid wed run out of wood before we caught them. But we were going so fast! The steam coming from the spinning sphere whistled like a high wind, and there was the splashing made by the turning of the screw under the water and the wave at the bow of the boat as we pushed along. There was wind in my hair, streaming past us. The banks flashed by. I think we were going about twice as fast as a horse could gallop. I stood in the bow keeping an eye out for that galley, and other boats that might be in the way. Ive never moved so fast in my life. It was frightening, but thrilling, too, and I didnt even have time to be seasick.
I swapped places with Sandor to give him a break, and Ferris and I kept feeding logs into the firebox. He was wearing a sword, and there were several crossbows in the boat. I also noticed a sword on Heros back. It was odd; I never thought of him using weapons.
We reached the end of the canal where it opens out into the upper harbor above Piraeus. It was late afternoon by now, almost evening, and I was afraid we wouldnt catch them before dark and theyd get away. I tell you, I was flopping between wanting to cry over fear for you, and laughter at the wild trip we were on. I wasnt sure what wed do when we caught them, but I knew we had to catch them first, and that was all that mattered right then.
Sandor saw them first, a low, slim galley with no sails set, just a bare mast, and oars stroking for all they were worth. We were right behind them, and catching up very fast. Hero sat at the tiller and said "Faster! More speed!" We piled on more wood and Ferris pumped the bellows with all his strength. The boat jumped forward, and Hero steered for the side of the galley nearest the shore. He yelled "Everybody duck!" I threw myself on the bottom of the boat just as he crashed into the oars on the left side of the galley. I could hear the thumping and cracking of wood, and feel the boat shudder as it struck the oars. We shot ahead of the galley and turned across the bow, and I could see that all the oars on one side had broken off. The galley started to turn toward the shore and then the oars on the other side stopped rowing.
Hero kept turning the boat, almost in a complete circle, and it bumped up against the bow of the galley. We kept shoving and the galley turned toward the shore, pushed by the boat. Men with bows appeared at the sides of the galley, and some arrows started to fly, but they didnt hit anybody in our boat. Sandor and Ferris shot back with crossbows, and they hit several of the pirates; one of them fell over the side, I saw. Hero was shooting, too, and he got two of the pirates himself. He turned out to be a pretty good fighter.
Xena, it wasnt half as bad as some of the fights weve been in. This is just a bruise; I got hit in the face with some kind of club one of the pirates was swinging. Oh, that was after we climbed up on the galley. Ferris had a couple of hooks tied to ropes, the kind that Autolycus uses, you know?
He threw them up and they caught on the galley, and then they climbed up. The galley wasnt very high -- when I stood up in the boat the rail of the galley was only a little higher than my head. Hero fixed the tiller so the boat was pushing the galley toward the shore, then he climbed up. He tried to make me stay in the boat but of course I came anyway, I had my staff. There was a fight on the deck, the pirates trying to throw us overboard or attack us with swords, but Sandor and Ferris were able to fight them off. I clobbered a couple. Then all of a sudden the galley gave a hard lurch and the deck slanted, and everybody went off their feet. Hero grabbed onto a rope and stayed on his feet, and the pirates were too busy not sliding into the water to fight. I bumped my head and I might have been out cold for a minute, but Hero helped me up and we started looking for you. He had a little crossbow in his hand and he wounded a couple of more pirates as we went into the back cabin. That was where we found you, tied up and drugged. You were lying there naked and so still, at first I thought you were dead, but I could hear your heartbeat when I put my ear on your chest.
When we came out of the cabin there was thick smoke everywhere, wood smoke. Heros boat was on fire. When the galley ran aground the firebox of the boat came loose and spilled burning embers all over. The fire was spreading to the galley and we had to get away.
There was a small boat tied to the back of the galley. We couldnt figure out how to get you down the rope that led to the boat, so Ferris jumped into the water and Hero grabbed you and threw you in after him. Ferris was a good swimmer and got you into the boat. I started to shinny down the rope but Hero grabbed me and threw me in, too, and Ferris pulled me out. Then Hero and Sandor both jumped in and everybody climbed in the boat and we rowed away from the burning ships. It was an inferno by then, and I could see that we wouldnt have had time to climb down. I dont remember telling Hero I couldnt swim but I suppose it wouldnt have mattered.
You were so cold! I didnt have any blankets or anything to cover you up, so I just held you and rubbed you with my hands to try and warm you up. I guess the men thought that was pretty cute to watch but I didnt care. Hero just sat there watching the fire, watching his creation go up in flames. I asked him if he was angry about losing the boat but he said no, it was just a thing, that he had it all in his head and could recreate it exactly, maybe even with improvements, if he ever wanted to.
I asked him where he learned to fight like that. He gave a kind of lopsided half-smile and said that hed been in the Alexandrian army for a while, and was in a big sea battle near Cypria, against the Persians. He got hurt and the army sent him home. He said he didnt like fighting but he supposed it was good to be able to defend yourself and your friends. I told him he and I had that feeling in common, and he looked sad. He looked at you, lying with your head in my lap, and he looked at me, and he shook his head and laughed. I wondered what he found funny but I didnt ask.
We rowed to shore and carried you to this hospice, and thats the end of the story. Sandor and Ferris and Hero waited around until you were conscious enough to recognize me, and then they left. Theyre good friends, Xena. They saved your life. I dont know what Ophides had in mind for you but keeping you alive wasnt one of them. Well, yes, me too, I guess. It wasnt anything you wouldnt have done for me. I should have gone with you right away to the inn. Maybe you wouldnt have gotten into that drugged bath.
Or, youre right, maybe we both would have been captured. Who knows? But it worked out.
I regret lying to Hero, though. He was very nice to me.
Of course it was a lie. Im...not...in love with...anybody. No...of course not. Who would I be in love with?
Here. Cheer up and have some more tea. Youll be able to talk soon.
If you want to...
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NOTE: Hero of Alexandria was a real person who lived sometime between 150 BCE and 300 CE. He invented the rotary reaction steam engine described in the story (an "aeolipile") as well as many other mechanical and heat-powered devices. He also authored several books on mechanics, physics and mathematics, and is thought of as one of the earliest industrial engineers. There is no evidence that he ever visited Athens, built a steamboat, had any military experience, or encountered the Warrior Princess and her retinue.