by Nene Adams
PART I: WITH APOLOGIES TO AARON SPELLING
Gabrielle's mouth was open in a wide O of complete astonishment and awe. "You mean, we're going to the honeymoon on...?"
Xena nodded, pale blue eyes gleaming with amusement and love. "That's right, bardie-poo. We're taking the Lust Boat. Next stop - Alexandria!"
The 'Amazon Princess', famed through Greece as the 'Lust Boat,' was an enormous trireme whose triple decks were currently hung with confetti, bright banners and those weird, colorful stringy things people hurl at the departing...
...oddly enough, this custom prevailed both at bon voyages and funerals; it is estimated that at the royal burial service of Cedric the Despised of Vulgaria, his subjects hurled enough stringy stuff and assorted confetti (not to mention the occasional farm animal) to stock several hundred New Year's Eve bacchanalias - or one heckuva wild "coming out" party thrown by Caligula...
Dozens of oars, manned by muscular young men in indecently brief loincloths, were currently shipped; the decks were swarming with guests and servants and crew members. The Lust Boat's sails were wide enough to make trouser suits for an entire herd of Hannibal's elephants, and were a brilliant crimson, besides.
Gabrielle's eyes were wide. "Oh, Xena!," she squealed, squeezing her warrior so tightly that Xena's eyes popped out like sky-blue grapes. "We're going to Alexandria on the Lust Boat! Ooooooooh! I can't wait!!!"
Xena's strong hands grabbed Gabrielle's and forced the bard's fingers to release their stranglehold on the warrior's breasts. Gabrielle was riding behind Xena on Argo and had a habit of clutching the warrior's more prominent attributes whenever the trail was rough... or when she got excited. This habit had caused Xena more than once to vow to reinforce that breastplate as soon as possible.
"Gabrielle!," Xena squawked when she got her breath back. "Will you calm down? People are gonna see us!"
The strawberry-blonde bard smiled widely and squeezed Xena once more, very lightly, before placing her hands on the warrior's waist. "I'm sorry, dream rabbit. I'm just so excited! I mean, it was fabulous enough that you said we could go to Alexandria, but the Lust Boat...! I'm thrilled to pieces!"
"Just don't squeeze me to pieces, bardie-poo," Xena growled over her shoulder. "I need those for balance, okay?"
Argo's steel-shod hooves clopped down the street next to the dock, placidly heading for the nearby stable where the warhorse would spend the next two weeks in pampered luxury while her mistress was away.
At the stable, finally having gotten Argo settled to her satisfaction (and the warhorse's care ensured by the twin applications of grisly threats and plenty of dinars), Xena and Gabrielle grabbed their saddlebags and headed for the dock.
They were greeted at the gangplank by a smallish man dressed in spotless white from head to toe. "Hi!," he said brightly, brown eyes glowing with simple-minded glee. "I'm Gopha, the ship's purser. Welcome aboard the Lust Boat!"
From the first deck (called the Promenade - a Gaulish word meaning "the-place-where-people-walk-both-dogs-and-egos-so- watch-your-step!"), a Cymric bard in a blue cloak was furiously strumming a harp and singing at the top of his lungs in an off- key baritone:
"The Lust Boat!
Gopha stuck his little finger in his ear and wiggled it vigorously. "Sorry about that, ladies. We were supposed to have a real band, but the Partridge Clan chickened out at the last minute. Ha... ha... ha...," he laughed weakly, cringing at the dangerous flash in Xena's eyes.
"Look. Just tell us where the cabin is, purser," Xena said. "We're in a hurry."
Gopha scratched his dark hair and scanned the piece of parchment in his other hand. "Um... you are...?," he asked.
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a glance, then the warrior gave Gopha the Look at Intensity #2, not strong enough to cause his eyebrows to spontaneously combust, but enough to cause his sphincter to cower in fear and consider an immediate change of address. "Xena," she growled. "Warrior Princess."
Hastily, Gopha ran a finger down the list of names and his face brightened. "Okay. Xena and guest. You're in Cabin #11, right next to the Honeymoon Suite."
Gabrielle's face fell. "Aw, Xena," she whined, "couldn't you get the Honeymoon Suite? I mean, it's the Lust Boat!"
Xena glared at her wife but held back the Look, repeating silently to herself, This is the woman you love. The one you recite mushy poetry to. Keep it in, warrior! "Gabrielle," Xena said aloud, "you know we can't afford it. I did the best I could. Besides," she continued, leaning down to whisper directly in the bard's ear, "I brought all the Special Stuff."
Gabrielle's sea-green eyes lit up. "You mean...?," she asked eagerly.
Xena nodded and patted the saddlebag slung over her shoulder. "Yep. Got it all right here. Items #3 through #67. And this time, I'll show you which end to use."
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's hand and bulldozed her way up the gangplank, dragging the taller woman after her. When she reached the Promenade deck, the bard yelled over her shoulder, "Where'd you say that cabin was?"
Gopha, an expression of puzzlement on his round face, replied, "Deck three. Down the east corridor, third room on the left."
The purser watched the smaller woman drag the dreaded warrior princess across the deck, pushing people out of the way with her staff.
Gee, he thought. I wonder why's she's in such a hurry? I mean, they're not honeymooners or anything...
Then the purser shrugged, and turned his attention back to the next
pair of cooing lovebirds.
PART II: WITH APOLOGIES TO EVERYBODY ELSE
Gabrielle was still yanking a highly amused warrior princess down the hall, headed toward their cabin with a single-mindedness of purpose more appropriate to lemmings or rabid weasels, when suddenly, she bumped headlong into...
"Oof!," the bard exclaimed, and looked up... and up...
Her sea-green eyes slowly traveled up the mighty thewed frame of the man she'd run into. Clad in a spotless white uniform bristling with insignias and medals, the fellow was, quite simply, the most magnificent physical specimen she'd ever seen. Up, up, up - past the narrow hips and waist, to a mighty chest so swollen the bard would've sworn he was wearing cheaters ("Salmoneous' Chest Enhancers - Genuine Pig Bladders - Self Inflatable - Get the Hercules Physique while they last!"), shoulders so broad he could've given Atlas a real run for his dinars, a neck like a tree trunk, veined with bulging sinews...
And finally into a pair of brown eyes set into a kindly, wrinkled, all-wise fatherly sort of face. He was as bald as a wigless Egyptian and the cap he wore perched on top of his dome was decorated with a spangling of crystals and some trim that strongly resembled scrambled egg.
The man cleared his throat. "Erhem! I am Kaptain Schtubing!," he announced, bending slightly forward and clicking his heels together. Gabrielle looked down and was relieved to see he wasn't wearing ruby sandals.
Kaptain Schtubing continued, "Erhem! Und vere are ve go- ink in zuch a hurrrry, laydeez?," he asked.
Xena frowned. This Kaptain was clearly from one of the Germanic tribes, and she definitely didn't like the way he was looking at her bard. Yeah, the warrior thought, surreptitiously loosening her chakram, I know what they say about these suave Germanic types.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle blinked, and tried to recover her composure. "Um... what?," she asked, wrinkling her brows over the Kaptain's incomprehensible accent.
Kaptain Schtubing cleared his throat again. "Erhem!," he said, "Forgiff me. Zut! I am Kaptain Schtubing, ladies, commandant of the Lust Boat. You should not run about on the decks; it could be dangerous."
Gabrielle nodded, never having left off her deathgrip on Xena's hand. "Uh-huh," she grunted, relieved the Kaptain was now speaking properly colloquial Greek. "Okay. Thanks."
She started to pull Xena past the Kaptain, when she heard him clear his throat a third time. "Erhem! Are you sure you don't wish to consult me on matters of love?," he asked.
Both Xena and Gabrielle turned around very slowly, and Xena raised one ebony brow. "What do you mean, matters of love?," she asked dangerously.
"Erhem! I mean... you are clearly on this cruise all by yourselves, two young single women who are searching for..." He waggled his brows, "companionship. I can assure you, that besides the usual complement of honeymooners and tourists, we also have a bevy of fine young men aboard. I'm sure, with a little help, it will be of no difficulty for you to resolve your romantic problems while on your voyage." Schtubing beamed.
Xena briefly contemplated cranking the Look up to Intensity #12 and turning this moron into a smoldering pile of cooked ash, but discarded the idea. Gabrielle will never forgive me if I ruined her honeymoon, the warrior thought. 'What makes you think we're not a couple?,'' Xena asked.
Schtubing looked thoughtful. "Erhem! Hmmmm... a rift in an unconventional romance... leaves room for either a tearful reconciliation or possible new love interest found... wait just one moment, please."
While an increasingly exasperated Xena and a curious Gabrielle watched, Schtubing removed his scrambled-egg decorated hat and, rolling his brown eyes up to Olympus, intoned, "Erhem! Oh, mighty Aaron! Appear to your supplicant in his hour of need..."
A faint glow appeared in the hall, eventually forming into the gauzy shape of a large-bellied man with a straggling fringe of gray hair and an scowl. "Whaddya want?," Aaron, God of Schlockmeisters, asked distractedly, running one hand through his hair. "I'm kinda busy workin' on a new series for the network."
Schtubing inclined his head in respect. "Erhem! Forgive me, mighty Aaron. But I have an unusual situation which is not outlined in the official and sacred 'Book of Situational Romantic Comedy Plots."' Quickly, the Kaptain explained his dilemma, pointing down the hall to where Xena and Gabrielle waited, punctuating his oratory with a barrage of throat clearing noises...
...in fact, Schtubing made these annoying sounds so often, he had been banned from Baghdad after a herd of love-stricken she-camels and one hard-of-hearing elephant had created what was still referred to by horror-stricken natives as "The Phlegm Incident.."
Aaron listened, then cocked his head to one side and considered. Finally, he waved one hand. "Aw, the hell with it!," he rasped. "It'll be a few centuries at least until the censors catch on. G'wan, Schtubing. I'll allow it."
The Kaptain bowed and clicked his heels together. "Erhem! Thank you, mighty Aaron."
As the figure of the god dissolved, he was heard to remark, "Who'd uv thought? From subtext to outright declarations so quickly! Gawd! I gotta hold a meeting with my script writers..."
Schtubing replaced his cap and gave his blindingly white tunic a tug. Turning back to the women, he said with a wide grin, "Erhem! Go right ahead, ladies. Enjoy your cruise." Rubbing his hands together briskly, the Kaptain sauntered off to inform his crew of the latest development from the mind of mighty Aaron.
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a glance, pale blue eyes staring into sea-green.
Then they shrugged, and continued down the hall to the cabin where Paradise
PART III: PROFESSOR BOWLDER STRIKES
*AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following scene is a recreation of actual events. No persons, either living, dead or imaginary, were harmed. Except for Igor, who inadvertently dropped a fire extinguisher on his toe.*
Scene: Bardwynna, esteemed authoress, sits at her computer keyboard, typing away furiously, a lit cigarette dangling precariously from the corner of her mouth. On top of the softly glowing monitor, a Big Yellow Electric Banana buzzes softly.
BARDWYNNA: Oh, yeah! This is the stuff all right! Those readers'll have to wear asbestos panties and make a run on the Amazon Ice Company to survive this sexy scene!! Whoo-hoo!
(Suddenly, the door bursts open. Framed in the doorway is a tall, slender man wearing a frock coat and a top hat. A monocle glints dautingly in one eye.)
BARDWYNNA: Who the heck are you?
STRANGER: I am Professor Bowlder. With me is my esteemed colleague, Mrs. Grundy (indicating small woman wearing a high necked dress and a frog-faced scowl). We are representatives of CRUSH I.X.A.F. - the Committee to Reform Unwholesome Sexual Hagiography In Xena Alternative Fiction. You (shaking little swagger stick) are in violation of Rule XXII, Paragraph IV, Subsection II. I'm afraid that scene you're working on will have to be confiscated.
BARDWYNNA: Over my dead body! (Grabs Big Yellow Electric Banana) En garde!
(A scene ensues with Bardwynna and Professor Bowlder - armed respectively with Big Yellow Electric Banana and swagger stick - as they parry, riposte and lunge around the room like a couple of crazed Musketeers in a Swashbuckling-for-Dollars gameshow (hosted by Wink Martindale).
(Finally, Mrs. Grundy sneaks up and thwacks Bardwynna on the back of the head with her purse, which is filled with morally uplifting religious tracts.)
BARDWYNNA: Ugh! (falls unconscious to the floor)
BOWLDER: Awright, Mrs. Grundy! (gives Grundy high five) I think we can get away with heavily editing the text instead of confiscating it outright. Get those scissors ready!
(For some time, the room is silent except for a frenzied snipping sound.)
GRUNDY: (In satisfaction) There! Nothing the least offensive left now!
(Bowlder and Grundy exit the room after stamping edited scene: "Approved by CRUSH I.X.F.A. - Pregnant chickens and individuals on certain medications - consult your doctor.")
(Eventually, Bardwynna regains consciousness.)
BARDWYNNA: Wha' hoppen? (Rubs head and staggers to computer, Big Yellow Electric Banana lying forgotten on floor) Ow! What the... My scene! Where's my bloody scene??! (Yells to Igor, imaginary invisible research assistant) Igor! You didn't...
BARDWYNNA: Yeah, that's right. If you'd been tinkering, there'd be drool all over the keyboard. You always forget to empty the damn drool cup, don'tcha? Was it those two escapees from the nut house? Did they do a hatchet job on my sizzling hot prose?
(Igor, unable to speak (being imaginary and all), hastily pantomimes the entire Bowlder and Grundy incident.)
BARDWYNNA: Oh, craperooni! (pecking at keyboard, crestfallen) They snipped
out all the good stuff! Well, I'm damned if I'm doing all that frimpin'
typing again! The readers'll just have to use their dirty little imaginations!!
PART IV: THE BEST LITTLE SCENE...
*AUTHOR'S NOTE: Folks, this is all that's left of the hotter n' hell scene I originally envisioned. Due to circumstances beyond my control, the scene has been edited (see previous chapter for explanation); it takes place behind the closed doors of Cabin #11 on the Lust Boat (in case you haven't been paying attention, that's Xena and Gabrielle's cabin. Didn't you know there'd be a pop quiz at the end of the story? Maybe you should take notes...). You'll have to fill in the blanks yourself. :-)*
Xena kissed ..........Gabrielle's creamy white ......swirling... the other woman's thighs...... tongues..... touching her..... hot, molten.... throbbing.......... ........ incredibly wet....... jolts of electric sensation.... fingers thrust into.........delving..... caressing........ the erect nubs..................... the goat attempted......... ....... whimpering......... the rubber surface of the trampoline was sopping........lips caressing her............. boiling flood of moisture............. the warrior's lips..hard against her... ..... unbelievably tight...... Cackling furiously, the rooster.. ...... slick surface of her......... The bar of the trapeze was getting slippery....... Gabrielle thrust the rigid....... Xena nearly screamed when the......... hot...... cresting higher and higher............... the bard was flipped over by the wanton... ... she grabbed the........ firm, upstanding......"More!," Gabrielle screamed deliriously.......... sensitive bundle of nerves........ "Oh, bardie poo!," the warrior cried, insatiable. .... licking..... lapping....................... hips bucking.... "Sweet Myth-tery of Life at last I've found you!," she screamed at the top of her lungs........ and the goat eventually escaped, too.
*And now, we return you to our regularly scheduled story*
PART V: I'M NEVER SICK AT SEA!
Gabrielle was exhausted. Not only had her warrior brought all the Special Stuff (and the bard privately wondered how Xena had managed to stuff so many wonderful toys into that small saddlebag!), but somehow, a couple of barnyard animals had made a (totally innocent despite evidence to the contrary - shame on you!) appearance, too. I wonder how they got into the cabin, Gabrielle thought, then shrugged the whole thing off as one of those Bermuda Isoceles thingys.
Xena was still cleaning off Item #15-B with a damp rag. She glanced at her bard and said with a grin, "So... when do you think you'll be ready for an encore?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Not for a while, dream rabbit. Any more of that and you'll have to pry me off the bed with a crowbar."
"Squelching all the way, I bet, hmmmmm?" Xena's blue eyes sparkled with mischief.
"Tee hee. You bet.... I wonder what the chambermaid'll think when she changes the sheets tomorrow?"
Xena leered. "She'll probably wonder where she can get some of that Potiedian love potion."
Gabrielle blushed. "Xena!," she cried, wrinkling her nose. "That's embarrassing!"
Xena stuffed Item #15-B back into the saddlebag, and grabbed Item #48, waggling it suggestively. "And this isn't?," she asked.
Gabrielle jumped up, snatched the toy from Xena's hand, and put it back in the saddlebag, closing the flap tightly. "That's enough, Xena. I'm starving. Let's go see what's on the all-day buffet."
Xena groaned. "Gabrielle... do you ever think about anything but food?"
The strawberry-blonde bard looked thoughtful. "Well, there's sex... and nutbread... and sex... and writing, of course... and sex." She smiled brightly. "See! I think of stuff besides food!"
"There was nutbread in that list."
"So?" Gabrielle put both hands on her hips defiantly. "Wanna make an issue out of it?"
Xena knew her bard well. She held up both hands and said, "Uh-uh! I am not going there." Well, the warrior thought, at least, not until I get a new copy of the Spear-Shaker's love poetry. Between the bushes and this cabin, my old one's gettin' pretty ragged.
Gabrielle tossed her head. "Okay, then. Let's eat!"
They exited the cabin, utterly unaware the Fate, with the stealthy gait of an arthritic, overweight pachyderm, was creeping up from behind, blackjack firmly in hand...
Having stuffed herself on numerous delicacies at the piled-high, groaning buffet table, Gabrielle leaned back with a sigh, patting her bulging tummy and picking her teeth with a fingernail. She belched delicately. "Ahhhhh," the bard sighed. "That was one Hades of a spread! I haven't eaten that good since... I don't know when."
Xena finished stuffing dinars into her belt pouch - she'd been accepting wagers throughout her wife's legendary foray into the free foodstuffs and the odds towards the end had been 47-to-1 for a major explosion and/or projectile vomiting taking place - and smiled. "I'm glad you're satisfied, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle returned her warrior's grin. "Yep." She belched again, not bothering to hide her gaping mouth behind her hand. "Totally satisfied, if you know what I mean." She gave Xena a lopsided leer.
Xena replied, "Well, I'm glad that end doesn't make any noises, or else there'd be a lot of questions, not to mention eyebrows, raised."
Gabrielle giggled. "Oh, dream rabbit," she said, "you're too much!"
Suddenly, the Cymric bard, who had been lurking outside the dining room in the hopes of a handout, bawled:
"The Lust Boat!
Xena sprang to her feet, uttering her blood-curdling warcry. One hand darted to the ever-present chakram riding on her hip; with an acrobatic flip that had spectators playing "See Food" with their dinner companions, the ebony-haired warrior flung the deadly circle of steel.
The chakram buzzed through the air like an angry hornet, spanging off columns, caryatids, and even one passenger's upraised fork, in a series of skilled bankshots that couldn't be rivaled even by that famed manipulator of stick and ball, Silesian Fats. The weapon zinged, striking sparks and showering spectators with splinters and marble dust, until it struck the Cymric bard's lute, shattering it into a zillion pieces; then it rebounded off a pig-tailed Germanic woman's steel breastplate and zipped back to Xena's waiting hand.
The Cymric bard stood absolutely still while Xena sat back down, a grim little smile on her beautiful face. That smile said silently, "Now, I know what you're thinkin'... Does she have one chakram throw left or maybe more? Well? Do you feel lucky, harp boy? Huh? Do ya?" - and her deadly eyebrow was cocked and locked.
The bard's face was a study in sullen petulance; with a sniff, he spun around and left the dining room, the edge of his cloak fluttering at his heels, muttering something about, "... everybody's a bluidy critic..."
The warrior received a standing ovation from the jubilant crowd, who had been sick of the Cymric bard but unable to do anything about him. However, Xena's triumphant, ear-to-ear grin was instantly erased when she turned in her seat and caught sight of Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's face was greasy with cold sweat and had turned an unhealthy shade of green; in fact, the color of her cheeks nearly matched the color of her eyes... not to mention the hideous green carpet-like top she insisted on wearing...
"Uh, Xena?," Gabrielle groaned. "I don't feel so good..."
With a growing sense of apprehension, the warrior realized that the boat was in motion. Oh, gods!, Xena thought, running one hand through her hair. She's gonna get seasick...
Gabrielle urped, cheeks distended, and clapped one hand to her mouth. Her sea-green eyes pleaded silently with Xena to do something... and do it RIGHT NOW!
Swiftly, Xena grabbed Gabrielle's arm and hustled her out of the dining room and onto the Promenade, cursing silently when one of her boots skidded in a pile of steaming doggie doo. The warrior glanced from side to side, hoping to spot the guilty cur and give it a stern talking to (being utterly unable to harm animals - Joxer being the exception), but that disgusting sight was almost more than the already queasy bard could take.
Seeing an explosion of some sort was imminently nigh, Xena hastily helped her stricken wife to the rail... just in time.
For a while, Xena could do nothing more than rub Gabrielle's back as she offered dinner, lunch, breakfast, and finally, even the memory of food, to Poseidon (who, in his watery realm, would spend part of the afternoon cursing and picking noodles out of his beard). At last, the bard's shudders ceased; Xena grabbed a nearby waterbag and helped Gabrielle rinse out her mouth.
"Feel better?," Xena asked, concerned.
Gabrielle raised a woeful, tear-stained face. "Uh-uh," she moaned, clutching her tummy. "I still feel awful, dream rabbit. Can't you make the boat stop going up and down like that? Or at least make the sky stand still?"
Xena forced down a smile. She had gotten her own sea- legs as a warlord; and she was one of those lucky individuals who never, ever suffered the curse of sea-sickness. "Well, I'd hoped on a ship this large you wouldn't have to go through this, bardie-poo. We're past the port exit, though. Once we get a little further out, the motion should steady."
Gabrielle clutched Xena's waist with one hand. "I'm not sure I can survive that long," she moaned.
With a lightning-fast motion, Xena's hand flickered out and struck the bard on her wrist.
"Ow!," Gabrielle complained, rubbing the area. "First I'm seasick, now you wanna beat me up?"
"I've just hit a pressure point in your wrist. It should make the nausea go away for a while. Remember Ulysses?"
Gabrielle's sea-green eyes narrowed. "Don't you mean Odysseus? How could I forget?," she mumbled sullenly. "You and that razza-frazzin', frikka-frakkin' muscle-boy from Ithica. There I was, sick as a canum, while you two chased each other around the poop deck like a pair of love-starved wolverines..."
Xena bit her lip. "Well...," she said carefully, "I only did it to make you jealous."
"Hah! Jealous-schmelous! Don't think I didn't notice the way you kept making cow eyes at him, Xena! Oh, and that bit when you 'convinced' him to go back to Penelope! Oh, please! You were practically in tears!" Gabrielle crossed her arms over her chest and glared; it was clear she was out of seasickness mode and well on her way to hissy fit.
Xena now bit her tongue - medium hard - to keep herself from saying something she might regret. "Actually, Gabrielle," the warrior replied in her most reasonable tone, "they were tears of frustration. I figured you'd have at least said something on the way back from Ithica. Like... hey, Xena! Wanna play Macedonian-Monkey-Nibbles now that Ulysses - or Odysseus or whatever the heck his name was - is out of the picture?"
Gabrielle tapped a toe against the deck. "Oh, yeah, right! I thought there was some deathless romance or something going on between the two of you... I mean, my heart was breakin' over here!"
Xena rolled her pale blue eyes. "Gabrielle... do you recall what you're wearing on your left hand?"
Startled, the bard looked at her left hand... at the gorgeous gold wedding ring Xena had given her during their Amazonian marriage ceremony. Her sea-green eyes flew back up to lock onto Xena's.
The warrior continued, "And do you see what I'm wearing on my wrist?"
Gabrielle nodded dumbly. It was the steel bracelet, shaped like a sword, that she had given Xena as a marriage token.
"Do you see Ulysses - Odysseus, Schmo-dysseus, whatever! - here with a ring on his hand?"
Gabrielle shook her head, a lock of strawberry-blonde hair tumbling into her face.
Xena smiled widely. "Then I don't think you have a thing to worry about... bardie-poo."
Gabrielle sniffled. "I'm sorry." Then she threw her arms around her warrior and bawled, "I love you, Xena!"
Xena's pale blue eyes widened and she was on the brink of shushing the sobbing amazon bard, but Common Sense and Libido managed to shout down Embarrassment, so Xena just held her sweet amazon bard and sighed.
Unfortunately... their embrace would not last for very long.
PART VI: THE CONQUERING HERO
"AHOY!," the lookout in the harpy's nest shouted from his position atop the main mast. "Ship ahead!"
Kaptain Schtubing rapidly came down from the quarterdeck. "Erhem!," he shouted. "Can you make out her colors?"
The lookout squinted then squalled in panic, "Caco, Kaptain! It's the Arkay-Oh! It's Cap'n Flynn an' his band o' cutthroats pirates!"
Schtubing blanched. Spinning about on his heel, he cupped his hand around his mouth and shouted, "Erhem! Drummers - increase the beat!" From the bowels of the ship came a frenzied drumming as the muscle-bound young men who manned the oars were spurred to increase their efforts. "Erhem! Put on every scrap of sail!," he shouted to his crewmen. "We have to try and outrun them!"
Xena watched with narrowed eyes, one arm around Gabrielle's waist, as the ship's crew leaped about in a flurry of activity. It soon became apparent, however, that the heavily laden trireme was going to be no match for the trimmer Arkay-Oh - a former Phoenician trading vessel with a raked-back hull that was built for speed.
"Get below, Gabrielle!," Xena said, reaching over her shoulder for the hilt of her sword... only to remember she had left it in the cabin. Godsdammit!, she thought savagely. This love business has turned my brains to mush!
Gabrielle shook her head emphatically. "Uh-uh!," she said. "I'm not going anywhere without you."
Xena resisted the urge to grab her bardic-soulmate by the shoulders and shake her like one of those baggie things invented by the ever-industrious Salmoneous ("Shake-n'-Fry! All You Need to Turn a Tough Chicken into a Tender Meal! - Comes in Three Delicious Flavors!"). She gritted, "Just go below and get my sword, Gabrielle! We don't have time to argue!"
Gabrielle looked over Xena's shoulder and her eyes widened. "Uh, Xena?," she said tentatively. "I think it's too late."
Xena spun around... and Gabrielle was right. Already, the Arkay-Oh had come up alongside the Lust Boat, and Cap'n Flynn's crew had already begun to throw grappling hooks, the sharp steel biting into the seasoned teak hull of Schtubing's ship.
The raven-haired warrior stomped along the deck to the Kaptain's side. "What do you know about this Flynn?," she asked.
Schtubing scrubbed his sweaty forehead with one meaty hand. "Erhem! He's decent, as pirates go," the Kaptain replied. "He'll divest the passengers of their jewels and money, and then he'll let us free."
"Oh." For a moment, Xena seemed nonplused. "You mean he won't rape the cattle and slaughter the women?"
Schtubing glared at the warrior. "Erhem! No! He's a gentleman, from what I've heard." The Kaptain sighed. "There goes my mid-season bonus, though."
Before Xena could question Schtubing further, a gangplank was extended across the rails of both ships, and the Arkay-Oh's pirate crew swarmed aboard the Lust Boat, as passengers and crew ran around screaming their heads off and clutching the dinar pouches and jewels.
They certainly are a scurvy lot, Xena thought, looking at the picturesque headscarves, bizarre attire, and the way they held their broad-bladed swords clenched tightly in their teeth. Zeus!, she thought. I hope none of them trips or he's liable to decapitate himself!
Gabrielle appeared at Xena's side. Putting an arm around Xena's waist, the amazon bard declaimed bravely, "I'll fight and die at your side, dream rabbit. Hades will take us together or not at all!"
Xena looked down at her wife with an expression of puzzlement. "Uh, Gabrielle?," she asked, "Have you been reading those blood-and-swash scrolls by Horatio Serpentbluster again?"
Gabrielle blushed. "Yeah," she muttered. "But you gotta admit - it makes one Hades of a romantic line!"
Fondly, Xena kissed the top of the smaller woman's head. "I do love you, bardie-poo," she said fondly. "Even if you are a bit silly at times."
"Hey! Who are you calling silly!," an indignant amazon bard exclaimed, sea-green eyes flashing. "I'll have you know...," she began irately, but happily, the embryonic argument was forestalled by a Schtubing Mucus Special.
"Erhem!," the Kaptain coughed noisily. "Pardon me, ladies. I must go to ensure the safety of my passengers." Touching a forefinger politely to his hat (whose scrambled-egg decorations were looking a bit wilted from all the excitement), Schtubing departed.
Both women jumped in surprise when suddenly, a wild, ululating call came from high above the decks of the Arkay-Oh. Looking up, Gabrielle and Xena saw what appeared to be a man standing poised on the yardarm, high above the poop deck, apparently preparing to jump.
The man leaped in an elegant swan dive, catching hold of a dangling rope in midair, and allowing it to snap him up with a whiplash reaction, swing him across the rails, and deposit him oh-so-beautifully on the Promenade of the Lust Boat ... with a slight squelch. The man peevishly scraped his caco-canum covered boot against the deck.
"Show-off!," Xena muttered, although she inwardly sniggered at the less-than-heroic ending of the stranger's magnificent aerial show.
The man strode towards the warrior and her amazon bard, brown eyes lit up with predatory glee. "Have I the honor of addressing the famed warrior princess, Xena?," he asked in a suave tone that made Xena's hackles rise...
...deep within the depths of Xena's brain, warning signals were whooping all over the place... the "podex alert" signs were flashing... all her warrior instincts, honed to the razor's edge in countless life-and-death encounters, were joining her Libido in shouting, "Hey! Wake up! Potential rival, dead ahead!"
Xena smiled, a deadly wolf's grin that did not touch her eyes. "And you are...?" she asked.
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