Gabrielle and the Scholar

By Fedelma

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.

There’s 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 don’t read it. I take some serious liberties with historical fact (but which of us doesn’t?).


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 don’t know how that makes me feel, to see you open your eyes and look at me. I was so scared. It’s 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 don’t feel so cold. Now, don’t look at me like that. You’re sick and I’m going to take care of you until you’re better. Don’t worry. By tomorrow morning you’ll be kicking the covers off and yelling for your armor again. Just lay still and get it out of your system.

Oh, this? It doesn’t hurt. Much. It’s just ugly. Things got a little rough there for a while and I got smacked. It’ll fade in a few days.

How much do you remember? Not a lot, eh? Hero says that’s one of the effects. I don’t suppose you’ll ever recall the whole mess. Tell you? Well, there isn’t that much to tell, really. You got kidnapped and we got you back. We? Yeah, Hero and the others. And me. Mostly Hero. He’s 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. That’s how he talks. Alexandria. He’s from Alexandria.

He’s just a friend, Xena. That was just a good-bye peck. No, nothing happened. Nothing! Don’t grin like that. It’s lewd.

Listen, you just lie still and drink that tea. I know it is, it’s supposed to be cold. It’s medicine. I’ll tell you everything. Finally -- I get to tell you a long story without you interrupting me. All right, all right. Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t 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 that’s how I feel, that shouldn’t surprise you -- but this time I was glad to be left behind. Ships on the ocean aren’t 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 hadn’t 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 can’t think of anything more insulated from the noise of the outside world than a room full of parchment and ink. 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 I’d enter. I’d thought I’d 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 doesn’t have a lot of money. So I went on practicing and I heard the "pop" noise again, and...well finally I couldn’t 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 wasn’t much of a breeze. There hasn’t been a cool breezy day or rain since I got here a month ago.

Well, that part is important. Just wait and you’ll see. Here, have more tea. Yes, you have to. As much as you can hold. What? Show me that again...oh! No, don’t try to get up, I’ll get the chamberpot.

There now. No, I won’t leave the room. You’re so tough. I can’t leave you alone. You have to stay awake, they said. That’s good...I’ll just set that over here, where I won’t kick it over ...anyway. There was a man in there, young, actually he’s 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 didn’t see any other parts. You must be getting well.

He held out his hand and said "Hello, I’m Hero", and the first thing I said was "Well, aren’t you modest!" He grinned in a kind of sick way and said "Not a hero. Hero. That’s my name. Hero of Alexandria."

I apologized and said, "I’m 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. "It’s a water engine," he said. "It’s 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 -- it’s been around a while.

I asked him about that and he said, "No, that’s 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 can’t 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 wasn’t laughing at him, really, but it was so funny to watch this little toy.

But his face wasn’t smiling, and he didn’t think it was funny. I asked him what was the matter and he said, "It’s not supposed to do that."

‘"Do what?" I said.

"Pop apart like that. The sphere is supposed to keep going round. I can’t 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, "That’s why I do this. It’s 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. It’s how we rescued you.

Well, by the time we got done it wasn’t a toy. You have to hear the whole thing. It won’t make sense otherwise.

Thanks very much! It does too make sense now. Clenching your teeth doesn’t make you look any better. Do you want to hear what happened or not? Who’s 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 that’s 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 hadn’t thought of that, and I said "There’s a blacksmith in the next street. Why don’t you go ask him?" He asked if I’d go with him; "I’m kind of shy around strangers, especially when I have to ask them for favors." I said he hadn’t 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 Hero’s 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 (that’s 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 he’d thought of that, but the engine couldn’t exert enough force to move the wagon even if it were bigger. He showed me a lot of mathematical calculations I didn’t understand but he did, something about the wheels rubbing against the axles, or something. Anyway, it wouldn’t 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 he’d 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 can’t go to sleep until that poison’s 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 doesn’t 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, you’re 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 won’t. I’d have to deal with a lot of different people, you know, carpenters and smiths and...I just don’t work that well with other people." And I said, "Well, that’s 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 I’d come back the next day, and I said I would, even though it seemed like there wasn’t much for me to do.

I’m getting to that. And of course I knew. But why would I say no? He was very nice.

You’re color’s better. Can you talk yet? No, if you can’t, don’t strain. There’s 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. ", 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 father’s. 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 wasn’t 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." He’d figured out that one of the problems with the toy boat was that the two waterwheels -- he called them paddlewheels -- weren’t 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 he’d 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 isn’t 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 -- he’s 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, you’re right. We should go and see him after you’re 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 didn’t 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, I’ve been thinking about what you said, about building a real boat like this. I could design it, but getting people to work on it -- that’d be hard for me. But you know people, and you’re good at persuading -- maybe we could work together. We’d 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 father’s 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 don’t have to apologize. But I wondered if you’d come looking for me at the Academy and I’d 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 patient, Xena. We’re almost there. You don’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t want to do that kind of thing. I guess I got kind of bossy. I didn’t 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 don’t know what we’re going to do about those now. We’ll probably have to give the money back. Hmmm.

We’ll need to talk about that. But now we’re 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 we’d raised. We’d start giving rides the next day and we could raise more. He thought the Athenian navy might be interested, too.

I’m 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 don’t 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 couldn’t 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 hadn’t done anything. I still had all my clothes on and he did too. He said he wasn’t used to drinking wine and he’d just wanted to go to sleep. We both passed out in the straw and cuddled together because it was comfortable.

I didn’t 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 you’re smart and clever and beautiful and sweet and I could fall in love with you if you’d 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 haven’t kissed anyone like that marriage. He was a good kisser. It’s not like I belong to anyone right now. So I enjoyed it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s the matter? You look as if you’ve bitten a sour grape. You still must be sick.

But -- the whole truth. Sweet as he was, I just couldn’t see us together. He was a nice man, and a good friend, but I didn’t feel anything that would lead to -- you know. Being in bed together. I couldn’t imagine making love with him. It was hard to tell him that, so I lied a little.

I said. "Hero, you’re very sweet. And I’m flattered that you feel that way. But I should have told you -- I’m already in love with someone else."

He asked me who. I said. "He...ah they’re not here right now. But they might be back in a couple of days."

No, he didn’t try to argue about it. He knew that I knew my own mind and he respected that. He’s 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 couldn’t stay with me because the Academy doesn’t allow weapons inside. Okay. Then do you remember taking a bath? No? Okay, then that’s 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 weren’t in the room but your armor and weapons were, so I figured that you’d gone down to the bathhouse and I’d 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 I’d be there -- just in case you weren’t -- and went in to the bathhouse. You weren’t there, but I thought maybe you’d 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 wasn’t 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. He’d 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 I’d already been in the tub. When I said no he said "Don’t." 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 water’s been poisoned, I think."

"Poisoned?" I said. "How do you know?"

"That color. There’s 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 fishermen’ve 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 can’t move, they lose control of their muscles. They see and hear things, visions. They might even pass out. They can’t remember anything that happens while they’re affected by the poison."

"Why would anyone want to poison bath water? Doesn’t poison have to be swallowed?"

"It can be taken in through a person’s 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. You’d 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 weren’t 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 they’d 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 wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything but I didn’t 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 didn’t want to tell me, but Hero made her talk. He said if she didn’t we’d 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 wasn’t hard; he’s 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 wasn’t thinking clearly. Somebody had you and I’d 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 "aren’t you going to help?" and he said I seemed to be doing "quite admirably" by myself. There wasn’t 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 creep’s 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. That’s where he got the poison.

Oh, you know him? I’m not surprised. Here, let me see it, I can’t read it that far away. One of 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...what’s 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. I’m famous?

No, I didn’t. I just like to tell stories, that’s all. And I hang around with the Destroyer of Nations.

I’m sorry about roughing up Pedorus. If you’d teach me how to do that pinch thing, I wouldn’t have to...all right, some other time.

He swore he didn’t 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 wasn’t a breath of wind. It’s been like that all summer. I was in a panic and couldn’t 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 we’d 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 shouldn’t come, it was dangerous, he had a family to take care of. He said, "If it wasn’t for Xena’s help, I wouldn’t have been able to feed my family."

You know, you always worry about the enemies you’ve made. But you’ve 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 we’d 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. I’ve never moved so fast in my life. It was frightening, but thrilling, too, and I didn’t 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 Hero’s 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 wouldn’t catch them before dark and they’d 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 wasn’t sure what we’d 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t half as bad as some of the fights we’ve 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 wasn’t 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. Hero’s 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 couldn’t 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 wouldn’t have had time to climb down. I don’t remember telling Hero I couldn’t swim but I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered.

You were so cold! I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 he’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t ask.

We rowed to shore and carried you to this hospice, and that’s the end of the story. Sandor and Ferris and Hero waited around until you were conscious enough to recognize me, and then they left. They’re good friends, Xena. They saved your life. I don’t know what Ophides had in mind for you but keeping you alive wasn’t one of them. Well, yes, me too, I guess. It wasn’t anything you wouldn’t have done for me. I should have gone with you right away to the inn. Maybe you wouldn’t have gotten into that drugged bath.

Or, you’re 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. I’ love with...anybody. No...of course not. Who would I be in love with?

Here. Cheer up and have some more tea. You’ll be able to talk soon.

If you want to...


The End

Return to the Academy


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.