A Queen’s Tale
Everything was in a rush to be ready to leave, but Gabrielle took a moment to sit down with Dori in her lap and have a cup of tea. “Did you say goodbye to your friends, Dor?” She appreciated the quiet around her quarters, having spotted the half dozen younger Amazons who were standing guard outside.
She was leaving the tribe in a state of uproar.
She hadn’t really meant to. It had started off so innocently, just a minor change, a cooking class.. and here she was, having survived her first personal challenge getting ready to leave and cause chaos again.
Her first challenge. Gabrielle sipped her tea thoughtfully. She felt a little strange, thinking that. She’d once told Ephiny that she’d let Xena answer them all so long as the warrior was able to. Now that she’d done it for herself, did she still feel that way?
Xena had said she was more than capable of it, and she’d gotten very angry at her for that. She’d thought Xena was saying she didn’t need her. Xena, on the other hand, had thought she was giving a compliment.
So now it seemed that Xena had been right all along. She was capable, and even if her challenger hadn’t backed down, she’d have found a way to disarm her, to wrestle, to pick up a rock.. something, anything, because the truth was that Gabrielle had become a fighter after all.
In that respect, she was an Amazon.
But it was also true that if Xena had been there, Gabrielle would have deferred to her and she suspected that she would in the future. She was a fighter, it was true, but Xena was a master.
Heck, if Xena had been there, the old coot probably wouldn’t have even looked cross eyed at her. Gabrielle lifted her cup in a wry toast to her partner, then bounced her daughter a little. “Well, did you?”
“Mama, I did.” Dori said. “We had fun and we played horsies.” She related. “But they said you go fghjfboom. You go boom?”
Gabrielle exhaled, and took a sip of her tea. “Well, not really, honey.” She said. “I thought I was going to have to, but we talked instead, and decided to have fun. So no one had to go boom.”
“They said you beated up ever’body.” Dori told her. “I said go mama!”
The bard sighed. “It’s always better to talk about things then go boom, Dor. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that what Boo told you?”
Dori looked up at her. “Mama, they said we won’t find Boo.”
Her mother’s green eyes narrowed a little. “Who said that, sweetie?”
“Well, she doesn’t know anything about it, does she? We always find Boo.” Gabrielle reassured her. “They don’t know about how mama and Boo find each other all the time.”
“All the time.” Dori nodded “I tolds them.” She said. “But they said Boo ran away.”
Gabrielle put her cup down and put her arms around Dori. “Dori, if there is one thing you know about Xena, it’s that she never, ever, ever runs away from anything.” She said. “Never ever. Boo went away because I asked her to go find our friends Ephiny and Pony.”
“Did you want Boo to go?”
“Did they say I did?” Gabrielle watched her daughter nod, and came closer to becoming a short, somewhat ineffective berserker than she had in a long while. Then she counted under her breath, and forced her body to relax. “What do you think, Dor? You think I wanted Boo to go away?”
Dori shook her head emphatically. “Mama loves Boo.”
“Well, you’re right.” She managed a smile. “I didn’t. In fact, you and I almost went with Boo.”
“We did?” Dori asked. “How come we didn’t?”
Because I’m an idiot. “That’s a good question, Dori. You know mama has to do things with our friends here, and because of that, I had to stay and you stayed with me. “ Gabrielle bounced her a little. “So now it’s time for you and me to go find Boo. Ready?”
She’d had enough of the Amazon village for now. Gabrielle put Dori on her feet and drained her cup, setting it down on her work desk. She looked around, then shrugged her backpack onto her back and ruffled Dori’s hair. “Let’s go.”
The sword was strapped to her pack. Gabrielle had debated leaving it in her quarters, but she suspected she’d made an impression of some kind with it, and leaving it behind would leave questions along side the finely made weapon.
Worse came to worse, Xena could use it as a second sword if she needed one, in that two handed mesh of dangerous steel she’d seen her practice now and again.
They walked out and down the path. Gabrielle lifted her hand at the two guards on either side of the path to her quarters, giving them a smile as they respectfully saluted. “Keep your heads down.” She advised them. “We’ll see you guys when we get back.”
“My queen.” The one on the left said. “Have a good journey. Hope you find Xena soon.”
“Me too.” Gabrielle grinned.
“Me too!” Dori piped up.
Gabrielle took Dori’s hand and they crossed the big square, which was unusually quiet at this hour. There were only a few women around the dining hut and she was pretty much left alone as she neared the exit, and a small group gathered to join her.
It was a sort of lonely feeling. Gabrielle was aware, in a vague sort of way, that she’d crossed a line somewhere and she hadn’t figured out yet whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.
But Solari was waiting, with Nala, Aailene, and several others. “Ready?” Gabrielle asked.
“Ready.” Solari agreed. “Jess and the guys are waiting up by your place. Saw them head up a little bit ago.”
“Great.” Gabrielle said. “Bennu and his guys went with Cait and the horses. With any luck we’ll meet up with them just after sundown.” She turned to Nala. “You have all the party stuff ready here?”
Nala grimaced a little. “We’ll have some kind of party, but the mood’s kinda grim around here. Damned elders.”
Gabrielle patted her on the arm. “Just try to hold it together until we get back.” She said. “Between the two of us, Eph and I will figure something out.”
Nala nodded. “Do my best.” She said. “But I won’t lie and say I didn’t wish I was going with you.”
“Me too.” Aailene said.
“Me three.” Pasi, the third Amazon agreed. “They’re all in a funk, and all they’ll do is bitch at all of us. It’s so stupid. They’re just scared.”
“I know.” Gabrielle said. “Change is always hard. I’m sorry they don’t trust me to handle that, but when we get back, maybe we can all sit down and talk about it.”
“Maybe you could just knock them into the lake with your staff.” Mala muttered. “Probably be more effective.”
And that, Gabrielle knew, was probably the truth. “Okay Solari, let’s go.” She turned and waved in the general direction of the rest of the tribe, then she and Solari started up the path to their cabin. Dori skipped along side them her small bag tied to her back, and her eyes scanning the bushes for any of her beloved bugs.
“Glad to be out of there.” Solari said. “Bunch of stuck up old geezers.”
Gabrielle smiled briefly. “I think it’s like Pasi just said. They’re afraid of losing the way they’ve always lived, and it scares them. It makes them mad.”
“Gabrielle.” Solari said. “That’s a centaur crap reason to throw a challenge at you when all this stuff’s going on. You know?”
“I know.” The bard admitted. “But the truth is, I wasn’t listening to them.” She climbed upwards. “They tried to talk to me about it.”
“That’s what Renas was saying.” Solari said.
“I wasn’t listening, because they kept saying the same thing over and over, no change, no change, no change.. and they couldn’t really tell me why.” Gabrielle went on. “Just that it was tradition. Well, in Potadeia the tradition is girls marry men who usually beat them, keep chickens and have kids.” She glanced at Solari. “I never was much for tradition.”
Solari smiled. “Big X ain’t either.”
“No.” Gabrielle smiled back. “Aside from the fact I fell in love with her at first sight, what intrigued me the most was that she did whatever she wanted to do and no one told her otherwise.”
“Fall in love like that?”
“Gush.” Dori pattered after a butterfly.
Gabrielle chuckled. “Our biggest critic.” She indicated her daughter. “Yes, I did.” She answered the question. “Surprised the heck out of both of us.”
“I bet.” The Amazon said. “So, Xena too?”
“Yeah.” The bard smiled, remembering the moment Xena had admitted that to her, matter of fact and offhand as it was. She said she just didn’t see it at the time, and of course, neither had Gabrielle.
Or had she? Something sure had driven her from her home and family out into the wilderness chasing that grubby, wild figure.
Just like something had made Xena yank out that horse blanket and toss it to her instead of running her off home.
“Your heart knows, Solari.” She said. “Even if your mind doesn’t.”
“Huh.” Solari grunted. “That can be tough, though, you know?”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle agreed, with a slight sigh. “It sure can. Worth it though.”
They reached the cabin, and as they did, the forest dwellers came out all packed up and ready to go. Gabrielle saluted them with her staff, then she led the way past, heading on up the slope away from the cabin.
The forest dwellers fell in behind her, and Jessan came up next to Gabrielle. “Nice night for a walk.” He said. “Glad to be heading out?” He grinned at her, already knowing the answer.
“Sure am.” Gabrielle took a deep breath of the summer air and tightened her grip on her staff, glad she’d chosen her old traveling clothes for the trip. The sun was warm on them, and she felt comfortable in the cropped top and wraparound skirt.
“Me too. This place was getting weirder than usual.” Jessan said. “I thought I heard some stuff about you having a fight down there or something?”
Solari snorted. “Some pigheaded oldsters decided they didn’t like her Maj’s style. Didn’t work out too well for them.”
“Wow.” Jessan frowned. “That’s not cool.”
“It was though. Gabrielle pulled out that sword she’s got there and told em she was gonna cut their heads off, and they all skanked.” The Amazon related. “Bunch of chickenshits.”
Jessan eyed the sword strapped to Gabrielle’s pack, then gave her a look. ”Wow. Didn’t know you took that up.”
“I didn’t.” Gabrielle admitted. “It was a scam.”
Jessan’s jaw dropped a little, and Solari chuckled under her breath. “Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.” The Amazon said. “Had me convinced.”
“C’mon people. I’m a bard.” Gabrielle said, after a moment’s long silence. “Give me a break, will you? I spent half my time making stuff up. You think faking out a bunch of pissed of Amazons was really that hard?”
“You sure fooled me.” Solari admitted. “Especially that twirl move. That was Xena all over.”
“Please.” The bard shook her head. “You’ve heard me… how many times? In stories? When I act like one of the people I’m describing, or change my voice?”
“Well, sure.” Jessan said.
“I’m usually imitating someone I’ve seen maybe… once.” Gabrielle said. “For a couple candlemarks.” She added. “So believe me, imitating Xena is not a problem.” She turned and walked backwards, changing her posture and tilting her head in a very familiar way. “You don’t want to make me mad, do ya?”
Solari clapped her hand over her mouth.
Gabrielle produced a reasonable facsimile of her partner’s sexy grin. Her voice had dropped almost an octave, and carried Xena’s intonation perfectly. “I’ve seen her take that sword out and twirl it so many times I can imitate it in my sleep.”
“Wow.” Jessan laughed. “I’ve never seen you do that before.”
“Xe gets embarrassed.” Gabrielle turned back around and rejoined them. “Because I think all the stuff she does is cute, especially the faces and she thinks it’s stupid . So I don’t’ usually do that unless I’m messing with her a little when we’re alone.”
“What were you gonna do if she didn’t back down?” Solari asked after a moment.
Gabrielle shrugged slightly. “Channel Xena, and hope for the best.” She admitted. “After all, even though I can’t use that sword, I can fight.”
“That’s for sure. “Jessan agreed. “You had a great teacher.”
“I have the best teacher.” Gabrielle gently corrected him. “Every day I learn something new from her.”
They walked along the ridge, passing through thinning trees and brush as the sun tilted towards the horizon. It was quiet up on the mountain. There wasn’t much wind, just a gentle breeze, and it rustled the leaves faintly as they moved through the short scrubby grass.
“It’s nice here.” Jessan remarked.
“It is.” Gabrielle glanced to the right, where a thicket of bushes hid the narrow path up to a small flat space and an old apple tree. She stifled a smile, and turned, taking the path upwards. It was only a few minutes out of their way, and she had an urge for an apple.
The group followed her without question, Dori bouncing up the path as she warbled about all the things she was seeing. “Mama, see that birdie?”
“I see it honey.” Gabrielle ducked a branch and they emerged onto the plateau. “Let’s see if we can see what we’re getting into.”
“Wow, great view.” Jessan went immediately to the edge, and scanned the horizon. “You can see to the pass from here.” His three companions joined him, as did Solari.
Gabrielle detoured to the tree, and patted it’s trunk affectionately. “Hello old friend.”
Dori pattered over. “Mama.” She pointed. “Dere’s happles.”
The bard tilted her head and looked up. “So there are.” She agreed. “You want an apple, Dor?”
Gabrielle put her hands on the lower limbs and boosted herself up into the tree, carefully climbing up to where the canopy was, resting her elbow on the almost circular bole at the top where once upon a time she’d lain with Xena.
On that magical, magical night.
“We should try that again when Xe gets back.” The bard decided, before she reached up and gently picked two of the apples, bringing them down to her nose to sniff them. “Mm.”
They had the same rich, sweet smell she remembered. She cradled them against her chest and made her way down, jumping lightly to the earth just as the rest of the party wandered over to join them. “Here you go, Dor.” She handed her daughter one of the apples.
“Save some for Gogo?” Dori asked hopefully.
“No, honey.” Gabrielle buffed the fruit she’d kept against her skirt. “Argo’s not coming with us this time. She’s staying home and keeping Grandma company. Isn’t that nice of her? We can bring her one when we get back.”
“Okay.” Dori started munching. “Mm.”
“She’s so cute.” Jessan chuckled. “Got any more where those came from?”
“Hmm.” Gabrielle turned and looked up at the tree. “You’re more than welcome to go pick one.” She said. “But I should warn you this is the tree Xe and I slept in the night I’m pretty sure resulted in her.” She indicated Dori. “And we shared one of the apples.”
Everyone edged away from the tree as if by common accord. Gabrielle took a bite of her apple, and winked at them. “No, huh?”
Xena batted away a last, reeling sailor and got up against the rail, feeling the ship lurch under her as a wave of salt water can washing over the deck, sending the frantic people on it sprawling. “Over here.” She motioned Pony and Ephiny towards her.
“They’re gonna leave us! Jump in the water!” One man screamed, rushing past her to the rail. “Make them stop!”
“Idiots! Stop!” The captain was limping over. “Get in line! Get in lie before you all die!”
“Stop those women!”
Xena grabbed Pony and boosted her up to the rope. “Grab.”
Pony needed neither urging or explanation. Roping through trees was second nature, and she got her legs locked around the creaking strand and pulled herself up and over the waves to make room.
Ephiny was next. Xena was a little gentler with her, but the Amazon regent caught the rope competently and swarmed forward. “Move it, Pon!”
Both started to cross towards the other ship. Seeing them, the crowd on the sinking one realized their one avenue of escape, and they all bolted towards Xena, standing alone at the rail.
Xena’s eyes widened a little, and she took a step then leaped for the rope herself, getting clear of the grasping hands by a bare second. She swung over the sea, her legs dangling, as she watched the crowd start to climb on the rail to reach the lifeline and hand over handed herself further out of their reach before she swung her legs up and got them crossed.
“Hurry!” She called over the roar of the waves. “All those bodies get on this thing, we’re going in the water.!”
“Gotcha!” Ephiny was moving up the line in a lithe, powerful motion, following her partner. “Never a dull moment, huh Xena?”
“Never.” Xena could feel the strain in the line as more people climbed onto it. She peeked over at the ship, and saw bodies falling over the rail, splashing into the ocean and others hanging from their hands unable to pull themselves up to cross.
She could, of course, have stayed to help. But Xena had felt no urge to, sure that if she had, the people onboard would have run right over her, and stood on top of her to get to the line. There was no reason in them right now and she felt that she’d done her part in finding the damn thing and shooting the rescue rope to them.
Would Gabrielle have agreed? Or would she have wanted to stay and be the last across after saving as many as possible?
She might have. But Xena decided she would have wanted Xena to get clear and not risk being left behind.
They swung through the air, as the ships pitched and rolled and she tipped her head back, watching Pony grimly hanging on, moving forward despite the motion. On the ship side, there were sailors and others waiting and Xena could see the captain there, yelling something.
Probably calling her names. She grinned briefly.
Pony reached the rail and crossed over the deck, unlocking her feet and letting her body hang briefly before she let go and landed hard, going to her knees against the wood. She yelled something to Ephiny, who nodded as she got over the rail herself.
Xena didn’t wait. She released her leg hold and dangled over the waves, turning with her hands to face the ship. She picked a spot and arced her body forward, releasing the rope as she tumbled through the air.
The ocean flashed under her, then the warmth of wood and upraised faces. She twisted in mid air to get her feet under her and landed bent legged, turning and reaching up as Ephiny let got and catching her on the way down.
There was yelling around them, and she hustled both Amazons over to the mast and away from the chaos where they stood catching their breaths, and watching the others try to cross to safety.
In the end, they saved a score of people, the last two coming over two of the other Amazons, bedraggled and half drowned as they dropped off the line and fell heavily to the deck, grabbed at once by Regi and Auhalia, who were almost frantic.
A loud crack sounded, echoing over the waves and through the storm with ominous depth.
Everyone rushed to the rail and froze, as lightning flashed overhead and the foundered vessel creaked and shifted, it’s bow plunging under the waves.
“Heave to!” The captain yelled. “Cut the line! Cut the line!”
Xena saw the ship going under, and she whirled from her spot and leaped as she drew her sword, slicing through the line as their ship started to creak and pull in the sinking vessels direction. The rope parted with a snap, sending a spray of water outward as it slithered downward.
The captain filled the sails immediately, tacking the ship away from the swirling water and away from the wreck, the seas washing over his decks and making even the thought of looking for survivors in the water impossible. “Hang on you lot!” He bellowed. “We’ve got seas coming up big time!”
Everyone scrambled for the hold and the forecastle. Xena grabbed Pony and Ephiny and herded them towards the hatch to the cabins, getting them through it just as the ship lurched and rolled into the waves.
“Ugh.” Ephiny grimaced. “I think I’d rather go back to having morning sickness.”
Xena pointed at the door. “In there. It’s small, but I’ve got some herbs’ll help ya.”
They got themselves into Xena’s cabin and braced against the bunk and the wall, as the waves pounded the hull outside.
For a moment, they were all silent. Three drenched and battered women unexpectedly in each other’s company again.
Xena snagged a mug hanging on a hook and fished out her healer’s kit. “You two okay?” She asked finally.
Ephiny looked up at her, the blond woman’s face exhausted. “Where in Hades do I start?’
Pony braced herself against the wall with her boots and closed her eyes. “Tell her about how ya wanted to find out why this traveling crap appeals to Gabrielle.’
Xena chuckled briefly. “Yeah I know she says that.” She handed Ephiny the mug. “Here. It’ll help with the motion.” She eyed Pony. “You need some?”
“Nah.” Pony waved a hand at her.
“Xena, this traveling crap is a nightmare.” Ephiny drained the cup. “Thanks.” She paused. “We caught up with that pack of bitches halfway to Thera.”
Ephiny looked up. “You did?”
The warrior nodded. She sat down on the bunk and extended her long legs out. “Couple of them got stuck in jail there. I picked em up and heard their story about meeting you.”
“That’s a whole nother story.” Pony put her arm over her eyes. “Swear to Artemis those women nearly made me give up being an Amazon.”
“Were they on deck up there? I thought those two looked familiar.” Ephiny said. “Those two idiots started the whole brawl on the dockside. Some kids from the city were making comments about women fighting and they took off after them and killed three.”
Xena shook her head.
“Idiots.” Pony had her eyes closed. “We tried to stop them.”
“I would have too.” Xena pointed at the basket. “Got some grub in there if you want. Some light wine too. Probably all right for you Eph.”
The regent rested her head against the dresser and regarded Xena. “After what I’ve been through in the past few days I’ll risk it.” She asked. “Xena those jackasses jumped us and tied us up. Dragged us onboard, and had them throw us in the hold, said they’d sell us to Athens for attacking them.”
Pony was rummaging in the basket. She drew out a fold of travel bread with some smoked meat in it and handed it to her partner. “Here. “
“So I guess they didn’t listen to you.” The warrior smiled briefly. “I heard they had you tied up. How’d you get loose?”
“The ship crashed.” Pony took a swig from the wineskin and passed it to Ephiny. “I don’t’ think those guys knew how to steer it or something. One minute we were down in the hold with the donkeys the next there was a hole in the damn thing and water was gushing everywhere. “
“We lucked out.” Ephiny said. “The hold we were in was close to the hatch to the deck. The rest of those assholes were all the way on the other side of the boat, far away from us as they could get.”
“We got up on deck and it was just crap.” Pony took up the tale. “We knew were in trouble. That tub was leaking like a old duck.”
“So we were out there for a day.” Ephiny said. “Then another storm was coming, and the captain figured that was it. He knew it would sink. We figured…” She glanced at Pony and fell silent for a moment. “You know, I finally understand now what Gabrielle said once about not caring what scrapes she got into as long as you were there with her.”
They were all quiet for a minute. “Yeah.” Xena finally said. “Makes a difference, having friends.. or your family with you when things like that happen.”
‘Still sucked.” Pony said. “We were up on the high part of the ship when it was heading into the water, and it was like… “ She fell silent in turn. “Anyway, one of the sailors all of a sudden got up and staggered to the rail to toss his guts up and saw this thing heading for us. “
“Mm.” Ephiny said. “So Pony went to see what he was yelling about and then she came back and told me there was a ship coming to rescue us, and you were on it.” She paused, and met Xena’s eye with a wry look. “And in my head, you know – I said ‘well, of course.”
“Of course. If there was a ship coming to rescue us you’d be there.” Ephiny clarified.
That didn’t make much sense to Xena, but she merely nodded. “We had the storm hit us a day back, almost went onto the rocks ourselves.” She related. “We made it through, but after it got lighter I saw something on the horizon and bullied the captain into coming to check it out.”
“Did you know it was a shipwreck?” Ephiny asked, curiously.
Xena was silent for a moment. “Thought it might be.” She admitted.
“Did you know it was ours?” Pony spoke up.
Again, the warrior was momentarily silent. “Thought it might be.” She repeated. “Just had a gut feeling about it.”
Ephiny leaned forward and put her hand on Xena’s knee. “The gods bless you and your gut feelings.” She said, in a serious tone. “I know it wasn’t easy for Gabrielle to send you. I know how precious you are to her, Xena. I’m sorry I put her in that place.”
Xena blinked a few times at this unexpectedly sensitive chat.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Pony nodded. “Next time I’ll know better and just tie her up if she’s got dumb ideas like that again.”’ She indicated the regent. “Because let me tell ya, this wasn’t no fun.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Ephiny sighed. “And it was a waste of time. They weren’t having any of what I was pitching.”
Xena felt the exhaustion creeping back, now that the rescue was done, and they were once again on their way. “You haven’t heard the worst of it.” She said. “You want to?”
“Gods.” Ephiny covered her eyes.
“We got a visit from the Spartans.” Xena went on anyway. “And Iolaus is here, on the boat. He told me the gods are involved. Some bet or something between Artemis and Athena, and the Amazons are being recruited to piss Artemis off.”
Now it was the Amazons turn to blink several times.
“So they are recruiting Amazons, and they are going in the front lines, and they are going to be sacrificed, because Athena thinks it will distract her sister and let her win the bet.” Xena plowed on. ‘Did I mention they also convinced both armies they needed a woman to lead them? Sparta offered me a nice deal.”
“Iolaus.. that’s Hercules friend.” Pony said.
“Is he involved too?” Ephiny apparently decided to divert from the whole Amazon question for the time being. “Hercules, I mean?”
Xena nodded again. “He’s in Olympus, trying to convince his family to stop the war.”
“Good luck with that.” Pony grunted.
“He wanted Iolaus to pose as a woman and take over the Athenian army.”
There was absolute silence after that comment. The creaking of the ship around them suddenly sounded loud as they all just sat and looked at each other. Then Ephiny slowly reached up and stuck a finger in one ear, wiggling it around and shaking her head.
“Yeah.” Xena commiserated. “And my partner’s not even here for us to blame.” She sighed. “But I’m damned glad I found you.”
“Us too.” Ephiny smiled. “This is the first time I’ve been able to relax in a sevenday.”
“Ungh.” Pony had her head resting against the wall. “Mind if I sleep on your floor, champ?”
Ephiny glanced around. “We probably could find some space somewhere else.” She said. “Not much in here.”
“Nah.” Xena shook her head. “There’s not much space on this tub, and those other Amazons got into some trouble belowdecks. You’re safer here.” She said. “We can get some hammocks rigged up once the storm dies down.”
Pony didn’t hesitate. She curled up in a ball and tucked her arm under her head, the exhaustion showing plainly on her face. Her eyes met Xena’s after a slight hesitation. “Glad you’re here too.” She then firmly closed her eyelids.
Xena smiled briefly in response, understanding the unspoken words behind the words.. “We might as well get some rest until this is over.” She indicated the pitching of the ship. “Chances are the deck’s not a good place to be anyway.”
“Sounds good to me.” Ephiny leaned back against the wall and extended her legs.
“Here.” Xena tossed her the lone pillow from her bunk. She dropped one of her saddlebags into it’s place and lay down in the bunk, pausing only to unclip her sword and lay it down next to her hand. She felt her body relax, and her mind did also, as she sorted out what had happened in the last little while.
It was dim in the cabin, and she could hear rain lashing the boat outside. She could also hear the breathing of the two women she’d rescued, and there in the gloom, unseen by them she smiled to herself.
Gabrielle, you got what you asked for. She silently informed her soulmate. I found them. I found them, and I rescued them for you. Piece of cake.
She knew the bard would be proud as well as happy. She could imagine the grin on Gabrielle’s face when she saw them and her muted frustration at missing it all.
She could imagine the warmth as Gabrielle leaned against her, and gave her that look of fond affection. The pat on the side and the kiss and as she lay there, the desire for that intensified.
It made her feel good inside. She’d done far more impressive things, of course. But it wasn’t often that Gabrielle asked her to do something specifically for her and she was glad this time had turned out pretty good after all.
The ship creaked and shifted. Now she just had to keep them in one piece getting to Athens, then do the same on the way back.
With any luck, in two sevendays they’d be back home, and their lives could go on. Surely by then the war would be on, and everyone’s attention would be far away.
Xena closed her eyes, glad to surrender at last to rest after the trials of the past two days. The rumble of thunder outside almost seemed comforting, and she imagined for a moment that she was home in their cabin, listening to storm in the mountains, safe and secure.
It had, in fact, turned out to be a pretty damn good day.
At least, for her.
Gabrielle perched on a rock, taking a sip from her waterskin. It was dark, and they’d stopped by the edge of a small waterfall on their way down the steep track that lead eventually to the river and the road beyond it.
They were well away from Amphipolis. The track she was leading them on would skirt the outer boundary of Potadeia and end up at the small ford they’d need to cross before they hit the road and bolted for the pass.
Getting through the pass was her goal for the night. Once past that, they could hole up either in some caves she knew the location of or in one of the small towns that bordered the road.
Same ones Xena had probably stopped at, matter of fact.
It had been a long day though, and she was tired. The moon was high overhead, and it was quiet, the soft night sounds fading away around them as they moved, then flooding in again behind them. Dori was sitting on the ground next to her, for once seeming out of energy.
“Gabrielle?” Solari came out of the darkness. “We’re filling the skins, want yours?”
“Sure.” Gabrielle handed it over. “Thanks.”
Jessan wandered over. “You think they’re buying it?”
“If the Amazons did what they were supposed to, sure.” Gabrielle said.
“You think maybe they didn’t?”
The bard flexed her hands. “We’ll find out when we hit the ford.” She said. “If there’s an army there waiting for us, then we’ll know.”
Jessan sat down next to her. “You really think they’d squeal on you like that?” He asked. “Aren’t they supposed to be like, your family or something?”
Or something. “It’s complicated.” Gabrielle admitted. “I got my title with them on a freak chance. The right holder got caught in a fight and I threw my body over hers… she gave me the right as she died. I had no idea what the heck was going on.”
“Literally, no clue. “ Gabrielle said. “All I saw was this person in danger and I didn’t think about
“So then Melosa, the queen, challenged me for it, and Xena naturally accepted in my place… Xena had a sort of mixed history with the Amazons.”
“So from the tribe’s view, I sort of got sideways into it without really earning the title.” Gabrielle continued. “Though I’ve always met the challenges… well, Xena’s met the challenges, there’s still a big bunch of them who think I’m a fraud.”
“Gabrielle, you aren’t any fraud.” Jessan shook his head. “You’re a good leader.”
The bard gave him a smile. “I’m not bad, now.” She agreed. “I’ve learned a lot and grown up a lot in the last couple years. But to add insult to injury, I forced Xena on them as my consort, and then uprooted them from where they’d lived a long time and brought them up here. They still don’t view me as a true Amazon.. in fact, I think a lot of them really think Xena’s more a tribe member than I am.”
“They like her?”
Gabrielle laughed shortly, as she stood up and took her staff from it’s leaning position against the rock. “They hate her, they love her… they’re scared of her… it’s a mixed bag. The fact is though, she keeps putting it on the line for them so there’s not a lot they can do about it.”
“Here you go, your Maj.” Solari came back over and handed her the skin. “Nice water. Sweet.”
“Let’s go, Dor. We have to keep on going, okay?” Gabrielle tousled Dori’s hair. “We’re going to meet our friends, then we can get on some horsies.”
“Okay.” Dori got up. “Mama, I’m tired.”
“I know honey.” Gabrielle said. “I know you can’t just walk all night like Boo can, but do the best you can, and we’ll help you after that.”
“Okay.” Dori trotted over to where the rest of the forest dwellers were getting ready to start moving.
“I can carry her.” Jessan offered. “Want me to?”
Gabrielle peered ahead of them. “Once we get past this steep part.” She said. “That would be great. Thanks Jess. She’s gotten too big for me to carry around a lot.” She watched her daughter fondly. “Xe can still handle her though.”
“I bet.” Jessan walked alongside her as they started down the slope. “She still go flying with her in the morning?”
“Every day.” Gabrielle smiled, recalling Dori’s burbling excitement every time she came back with her buddy, and had been treated to some new trick of Xena’s. She knew, of course that the day would come when Dori would outgrow her partner’s ability to carry her but Xena seemed to be determined to postpone that day as long as possible.
Good for her. The bard caught up to the rest of the forest dwellers and Solari, and recaptured Dori’s hand. “Hang on, guys. It gets steep here.”
“Steep like that thing you led us down with the horses?” Solari queried warily.
“Not that bad.” Gabrielle took a firmer grip on her staff and edged into the lead. “Just hold on to the trees on the way down. That’s what Xe and I did the last time. “
The last time. Gabrielle thought about the last time they’d come that way, a short visit to Potadeia when they’d gotten word Gabrielle’s mother wasn’t feeling well. Xena had tired of all the questioning of their coming and going down in town, so they’d gotten Ephiny to watch Dori, and slipped away by themselves for the short journey.
At least, that was the excuse they gave. Gabrielle smiled, remembering them scuffling down this very path, hand in hand, stopping to bathe in the waterfall and make love among the trees, alone save the goggle eyed squirrels and a goat they nearly scared into losing it’s bleat.
She remembered laughing so long and so hard after that her stomach hurt, the two of them splashing in the cool spray and ending up sprawled in the leaf shaded sunlight for a late afternoon nap as they dried.
No real reason for them to take the hidden path other than that, a brief escape into solitude right in the middle of their part of civilization.
She had a certain fondness for the route, she had to admit.
It was steep though, and they made their way down carefully, moving from tree to tree in the darkness.
An owl hooted overhead, and Dori looked up at it. “Mama! A owl!”
“I see him Dor.” Gabrielle had a grip on the back of the child’s tunic and was bracing her weight against her staff. “Is that the owl from near our house? The one who sits outside your window?”
Dori blinked up at the tree. “No.” She said. “It’s a little owl. A buppit.”
“Okay, we can look for the other owl in a minute. Stay here by me and hold on to my staff.”
Dori clutched the smooth surface as they worked their way down. “Boom.” She patted the staff. “Mama go boom all the time.”
“Oh, not all the time.” Gabrielle grimaced as she felt her boots slip a little. “Watch it – it’s muddy here.”
“Whooyah.” Jessan nearly ended up on his butt. “Sure is!”
“Hey your Maj?” Solari eased her way down the slope. “I know we’re doing this to keep hidden, but you’ve used this way before right?”
“Sure.” Gabrielle grunted.
The bard got her staff grounded and skidded the last bit into the flatter area of the path. “You mean, why do I do this the hard way? Stay close here, Dori. Don’t go over past that rock.”
“Okay.” Dori spotted a lizard, and veered over towards it. “Mama! Izzard!”
“Yeah, sorta.” Solari looked relieved as she reached the easier going. “I mean, the way up to our place is steep enough. This is nuts.”
“Xe uses this as a training run.” Gabrielle paused to take a breath. “She likes to keep things fresh.”
“Ugh. Yeah, okay.”
The bard silently chuckled. “Anyway, it’s flatter from here. We need to just keep going. We’re already down past the midway point to Potadeia. Another candlemark or two, and we’ll be at the ford.”
Jessan hoisted Dori up onto his shoulders and they continued on the darkness.
Gabrielle found herself in the lead, and she fell into a comfortable pace, glad of the night breeze cooling her skin. She let the sounds of the forest surround her, and picked out the ones she knew with a sense of comforting familiarity.
Foxes, to the left. She could hear them sneezing, and briefly was glad she hadn’t brought Ares along since he loved to tear off into the trees hunting them. There were frogs out, with their ribbity singing, and the low hoots of owls accompanied them as they made their way down.
Every step brought them further from the Spartans, but in her heart, every step also brought her closer to her soulmate and that thought lightened her mood regardless.
She was already thinking ahead to the journey, for once glad they’d taken horses to speed their way. A daytime rest in one of the villages near the pass, then they’d head on towards Thera, warning everyone along the way about the advancing Spartans.
What would Amphipolis do, behind them? The thought made her grimace a little, thinking about the friends and family she’d left behind.
Had there been a choice? She wondered if the Spartans would trash the town, or if her warning not to would make them stop and think. It was a big risk and she knew it, but she also knew her choices had been very limited.
She’d given Cyrene two options, and they’d staged the militia the best they could. The villagers could escape to the forest dweller valley, or they could go up the slope to the Amazons. Privately, Gabrielle considered the valley the best option but there were a lot of stubborn people in that town, who might well decide to go nowhere at all.
She wished she knew what was going to happen.
“Gabrielle.” Solari caught up to her. “Smell that?”
Gabrielle wrenched her thoughts out of her conscience and took in a breath, opening her mouth a little to draw air in both ways. “Smoke.”
“Wood smoke.” Solari agreed. “Want me to scout ahead?”
Gabrielle thought about the path. It was a very narrow one, winding through the trees with a creek on one side of it that eventually joined the river down at the bottom of the slope. There wasn’t many places to stop and make camp, and not many people who would be wandering around in the scrub wanting to do so.
Casual travelers would have stopped in Potadeia, this side of the ridge.
“Go on, but be careful.” Gabrielle said. “Jess, can you send someone with Solari? To find out what that smoke is?”
“Sure.” Jessan indicated one of his russet companions. “G’wan Esan. Let’s hope it’s just a lightning strike or something.”
The forest dweller and Amazon disappeared into the darkness ahead of them. Gabrielle now shifted her grip on her staff, and dismissed her thoughts to concentrate on the here and now. People on the trail – probably weren’t a positive development.
The group fell quiet, footsteps grew silent and cautious as the minutes lengthened and the scent grew stronger. Gabrielle’s ears twitched and she listened for other unusual sounds. A wild fire would mean animals running from it, and she didn’t hear that.
She could hear the creek running to her right and the leaves rustling overhead. The path was just visible in the moonlight, and she felt her heartbeat start to pick up as the silence otherwise lengthened.
Jessan fell a few paces behind, talking in a low mutter to his two other companions and leaving Gabrielle to take point alone.
Curiously, that made her a little uneasy, despite her earlier exasperation at the rest of the group preventing that. Maybe it was the dark, or the uncertainty, but Gabrielle suddenly felt a shiver come over her, and her guts tightened into a knot.
“Never easy, huh?”
Gabrielle very nearly jumped out of her skin. She looked around, then nearly bit her tongue as Ares faded into visibility at her side. “Urp.”
The God of War joined her, strolling easily along the path. He looked past her at the rest of the group. “You hang around with the weirdest people.”
“You included?” The bard kept her voice almost subvocal, suspecting Ares wasn’t making himself visible to them. “We’re kind of in a mess here.”
“No, really?” Ares clucked his tongue at her. “Tch tch.”
Gabrielle sighed, but another look at his face told her that she was being teased. “I thought you’d be enjoying the show back on Olympus.”
“Peh.” Ares grimaced. “That mess? Boring me to tears.” He eased past a tree. “Unfortunately, I can’t interfere.” He added. “Daddy’s orders. Gotta leave those two amateurs alone.”
“So.. you’re here just to say hi?” Gabrielle asked. “Hm. Y’know, I was wondering earlier tonight what your take on this was.”
“I heard ya.”
The bard eyed him, feeling a little prickle of surprise in her guts. He heard her? Since when did Ares bother listening in to her? “You did, huh?” She asked. “What is their game, Ares? This whole thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“Does it ever?” The God of War sounded atypically disgruntled. “Stupid pissy women.”
The scent of woodsmoke got stronger, and Gabrielle blinked a little as it stung her eyes. She took a better grip on her staff, and glanced behind her. Jessan and the rest of the forest dwellers were taking out their swords, watching her intently.
With a sigh she looked forward again. “You sound upset.”
Ares was silent for a few steps. “I’m not upset.” He said. “I’m pissed off.”
Middle of the night. Running from the Spartans. What a time to be having a sensitive chat with the God of War. “I don’t get it.” Gabrielle fished gently. “This war.. this was your setup.” She said. “You laid the ground work for it… why are they even involved?”
“Exactly!” Ares started walking backwards, facing her. “You got it. My gig. I planned it, I got you and Xena to make it happen for me, I did everything.”
“You did.” Gabrielle agreed. She heard something coming up behind her, and turned her head to find Jessan closing in, Dori asleep on his shoulders.
“Gabrielle, who are you talking to?” Jessan asked, in a low voice.
“You really want to know?” The bard replied.
“No.” The forest dweller responded. “I’ll just stay back here with the kid and the fuzzies.” He dropped back hurriedly.
Ares chuckled briefly. “That one’s got some smarts.” He said. “Anyway, so after I set up all this brilliance, then I go and have that stupid thing happen.”
Gabrielle studied him. “In the valley.” She said. “When you died.”
His face twitched. “Don’t say it like that.” He grumbled. “It’s so mortalistic.”
Well, it had been. Ares had been mortal, Ares had been stabbed mortally by Xena’s sword, and Ares had died tied to the both of them as they’d pulled him up out of the valley they’d all been trapped in. “Okay.” Gabrielle said. “I don’t like thinking of that word the time Xena did, so I get it.”
‘Yeah, well, they don’t.” Ares said. “They figured maybe they could take my place. Like they could do what I do better.”
“Ares.” Gabrielle said, in a sincere tone. “Nobody does what you do better than you do.”
The God of War stopped walking, and waited for her to catch up to him. He had his hands on his hips and there was the faintest smile on his face as she drew near. “I must be getting to you, Gabrielle.” He said. “That’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.”
Gabrielle stopped walking, since the alternative was plowing into him. “Its just the truth.” She remarked. “They shouldn’t be trying to be you. Don’t they have their own stuff to do?
Ares turned and walked along side her as they continued down the path. “The prize they want is Xena.” He said, in an abruptly serious voice. “They know that’ll piss me off more than this piddly war.”
All of a sudden the shadows seemed deeper. “What do you mean, prize?” Gabrielle asked, slowly. “Xena doesn’t want any part of the war.”
“She’s already a part of the war.” Ares put his hand on her shoulder. “She’s heading for Athens. Once she’s there, they’ll take her. She’ll end up leading them cause she wont’ have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice.” The bard said, softly. ‘Ares, you know that.”
“Yeah.” He said, after a long pause. “Artemis thinks she’s got you.” He added. “Featherheads, home town… no way you’d back out.”
“But I did.”
The God of War smiled. “Yeah.” He said. “So I figured I’d better drop in and clue you.”
Gabrielle felt another chill. “I thought you weren’t supposed to get involved.”
“I can’t get involved with her. Or with them.” He said. “No one ever said I couldn’t get involved with you.” He pointed ahead of them. “There’s a bunch of Athena’s agents down there. They’ve got orders to kill you.”
The bard felt a jolt of energy. “Kill me?”
“You’re caught between two of the biggest bitches I know, baby.” Ares said. “And they think they’ve got you two in the palm of their hands.”
Gabrielle paused, and looked at him. “What are we…” She paused. “What do you want us to do, Ares? How do we get out of this?”
Was it just her imagining, or was that really a twinkle in his eyes. “Stop the war.”
Gabrielle stared at him.
“Yeah, the irony kicked my godly ass too.” The God of War commiserated. “But do it, and that pair of losers gets a taste of what I’ve been through and baby, that’s what I want.” He chucked her under the chin. “You do that for me, willya? Remember ya owe me one.”
Stop the war. The irony that had kicked Ares ass made Gabrielle almost dizzy. “Can you send us to where she is?”
Ares looked genuinely regretful. “Wish I could.”
Gabrielle nodded. “We’ll do the best we can, Ares.” She said. “What happens if one of them wins the war?”
They looked at each other for a long moment, as Ares hesitated. “I don’t know.” He finally said. “Maybe they’d take my place. Who knows? Daddy has a twisted sense of humor sometimes. He’s playing with my half brother right now, making him beg. You never know.”
“Yeah.” Ares pointed down the path. “Better get the fuzzballs moving. Those skanks down the hill are kicking ass on your scouts.”
Gabrielle reached out and grasped his hands. “Thanks for the warning.” She squeezed them.
He looked embarrassed. “Don’t get all girly on me.” He said. “You two are just.. ah… uh…”
“Friends.” Gabrielle looked him in the eye.
He fell silent and just stood there, his hands clasped in hers. Gabrielle heard a gasp behind her that meant he was probably visible now to the rest of them. “We’ll do our best.” She released him.
“Yeah, you do that.” Ares gave the forest dwellers a look, seeing the round, wide eyes. “Later.” He snapped his fingers and disappeared, leaving a silver mist behind him.
A yell broke the silence. “Let’s go. There’s an ambush down there.” Gabrielle didn’t stop to explain. She turned and started to run down the path, taking a better grip on her staff, putting aside everything to think about later.
If, of course, there was one.
Xena let her eyes blink open, finding expected darkness around her. The seas had settled, though, and she could hear only soft creaking and the wash of gentle waves against the hull outside. The motion had returned to the gentle rocking, and she felt a sense of relief in no longer hearing the howl of the wind.
However, that wasn’t what had woken her up. She probed the powerful image that had, seeing clearly in her mind’s eye Gabrielle’s intense expression, and the urgency in the call she was certain she felt.
Come back. I need you.
Absolutely positive and very different from the vague sensations she’d been feeling since she’d left. This wasn’t Gabrielle just living her daily life and getting into the usual things they often did. This was her partner consciously wanting to send her a message.
She was sure of it.
Rare. Xena studied the dimly seen ceiling of the cabin. The last time she remembered feeling anything that strong was in the war, in that pivotal moment when she’d sent a simple message in the opposite direction, a razor edge of timing that had quite simply won the day for them.
It was almost a relief. Xena now considered the various sensations she’d felt the past couple of days and decided they were probably more than coincidence. There was something going on at home, and it was just now that Gabrielle had gotten to the point where she knew she had no other option but to give her partner a tug.
Wouldn’t be trivial, to ask her to give up on her task, abandon their friends and the Amazons though certainly more trivial to Xena than to Gabrielle. The warrior was glad she’d already achieved her mission, and now she put her mind to thinking about how she was going to turn the ship around.
Force was an option of course. Xena counted her assets, that now included Ephiny and Pony. Would the other Amazons fight on her side? Would Iolaus, who was obviously very intent on getting to Athens to help his partner?
Hm. Xena rolled over onto her side and stretched her body out a little. I should have gone and talked to those damn other Amazons. She chastised herself. With the two they’d rescued, the whole picture could have changed in terms of how they’d deal with her.
They would want to get to Athens, probably. The patricians would, and the soldiers.
So that left her, Ephiny and Pony against the rest of the ship. Xena turned her head and glanced at the other side of the cabin. The two Amazons were curled up sound asleep, obviously exhausted after their harrowing experience.
Not to mention, Ephiny was pregnant. So in reality, that left her and Pony against all comers. Xena suspected they could put a good dent in the opposition but she also knew she needed experienced men to sail the ship for her, so she wasn’t sure force was her best option.
Convince the councilors from Athens? Xena sighed, wishing Gabrielle were here with her. The bard was much better at that sort of thing but then, if Gabrielle had been here she wouldn’t have had to worry about it.
Xena nibbled the inside of her lower lip. Could she get the ships crew on her side? The captain seemed to like her, and so far she thought she made a good impression on the crew she’d interacted with but the patricians had money and lots of it and she only had her personality and that damned reputation.
Tough call. She rolled over onto her back again. The ship was now crowded with the refugees from the other vessel and they were all an open question. She’d found and saved them, true, but she’d made no bones about what she was there fore, and those that had made it over to their ship had done so with no help from her.
Xena sighed. Shoulda helped out. She admitted silently. Gabrielle’s gonna spank me for that. If she’d acted the hero her task now would be much simpler but unfortunately she hadn’t. So. Xena put her hands behind her head and stretched the ache out of her shoulders. At daylight she’d go out on deck and see what her possibilities were.
The warrior turned her head, and Ephiny slid silently over to where she was lying. In the bare scrap of moonlight she could see the regent’s disheveled, curly hair and a glint off her eyes. “Not time to get up yet.” She kept her voice low.
“Yeah, I know, but in the morning it’ll be the usual craziness and I wanted a chance to talk to you for a second before that.” Ephiny said. “I got some sleep. I feel a lot better now.”
“Good.” Xena replied. “Me too.”
Ephiny smiled. “You looked pretty wiped.”
“I was.” The warrior admitted freely. “Long couple of days.”
Ephiny was quiet for a minute. “How upset is Gabrielle?”
Xena thought about that for a while before she answered. “I don’t think she’s upset at all at you, if that’s what you mean.” She eventually said. “Maybe disappointed a little.”
“For not telling her?”
“Yeah. But she understood why not.” Xena smiled into the darkness. “She’s got a good idea of her own skills in persuasion.”
“I wanted to give her a chance to do her own thing there too.” Ephiny went on. “If I’m around, it’s not always clear who’s in charge. You know?”
“So I figured a couple weeks of me not being around.. who knows? I heard people wondering what it would be like for her to be in charge and I guess maybe I was curious too. Gab never really makes changes.”
Xena chuckled softly. “She respects your position.” She paused a moment. “And I think when you get back she’ll hand it all back to you and more.”
Ephiny leaned a little closer. “What does that mean?”
The warrior hesitated. “You should talk to her.”
Xena decided to let the subject drop. “So tell me what happened with those other Amazons.” She said. “What about those guys who attacked you, what was up with that?”
“On the road?” Ephiny allowed herself to be distracted. “Oh. I guess someone put the word out. One of the damn scumbuckets from that town recognized me and they tried to grab us for ransom.”
‘Word out?” Xena frowned. “About Amazons?”
“No.” The regent gave her a wry look. “Anyone from Amphipolis. The guy from the town had been to the last market and remembered me.. and probably Pon, from the lists there.”
“I don’t get it.”
“They said the word was, Amphipolis was full of Spartan sympathizers.” Ephiny related, leaning an elbow on the warrior’s bunk. “I wasn’t sure what the heck we were getting into, but let me tell you that put us in the middens with the rest of those chicks once they heard it.”
Okay, now it started to make sense. Xena nodded. “Maybe the word that Spartans visited us got out.”
“Fast.” Ephiny said. “We left just after they did.”
“So why are they all so sure I’m going to Athens to help?” Xena wondered. “Every single person I met so far pretty much has heard that, and we have a pack of patricians onboard who assumed I was too.”
“No, that’s just what we heard there.” Ephiny said. “Once we were closer to Thera, the tune changed. I wasn’t sure what was going on, and then when we were in the city Pon and I were treated like visiting royalty based on the mention of your name.”
“Pissed off the rest of them, I’ll admit it.” The regent grinned wryly. “I was cursing Amazon egos a lot like you usually do by the time we got into the scrap, and then… “ Her eyes narrowed. “The queen who said she was in charge.. from Athens.. said we should be tied up and taken in just in case we were really spies.”
“Yeah.” Ephiny looked a little grim. “Aleta, the one in charge was convinced she’d get me to admit you were really acting against Athens and there to assassinate the council.”
Xena turned her head, and both eyebrows hiked. “What?”
The Amazon shrugged. “Made no sense to me. That’s what I kept telling them and they just kept telling me I was full of horse crap.”
“She figured she’d get a big bonus and kudos for turning me, and I guess by extention you, in.” Ephiny said. “I asked her why an Amazon would turn on her own kind, and she told me she’d learned how to spot a traitor when she saw one and profit from it.”
“Which one is she?”
Ephiny smiled again, reaching over and patting Xena’s arm. “She’s dead.” She uttered quietly. “I killed her.”
Ah. Xena wasn’t sure whether she should be relieved or disappointed. “What about the two that got over in time?” She asked. “They trouble?”
Ephiny leaned against the wall and extended her legs out, resting her elbow on the bunk as she faced Xena. “They might be. I wasn’t shy about what I felt about them, and I had enough time to flap my jaws until you showed up.”
“Huh.” Xena grunted. “What a mess.”
“Sorry.” Ephiny didn’t look particularly penitent. “Most of the crew was with me if it’s any consolation. Aleta rubbed them raw, and thought she could push her status around. She had a cousin on the council, I think.”
Okay. So now she had two reasons not to land the ship in Athens harbor. One, because Gabrielle needed her back, and two, because after the story got out she was pretty sure she’d be getting Ephiny and Eponin out at swordpoint as half of the Athens guard tried to arrest them.
No fun for anyone.
Xena rolled onto her side to face Ephiny. “We need to go back to Thera.” She said. “I got a gut feeling there’s something going on, and Athens is the wrong destination.”
Pony sat up, and then crawled over to the bunk, settling herself down next to Ephiny. She raked her dark hair out of her eyes and stifled a yawn. “Shoulda woke me up. I’m missing the good stuff.”
“Sorry Pon.” Ephiny smiled. “I just wanted to bring Xena up to speed on what happened.”
“Big mess.” Pony grunted. “What were you saying about going home? Sounded good to me.” She looked up at the window. “Weather cleared up.”
Xena pushed herself up, then half stood and opened the window, letting in a wash of salt tinged air. She could hear the faint flap of the wind in the sails and the sound of the ropes creaking. But every sound made her aware they were heading in the wrong direction, and she felt a sense of impatience taking hold of her.
“Xena said we need to head back.” Ephiny said. “I think Gab’s calling her.”
The warrior looked over her shoulder at the Amazon, one brow lifting.
“You know what I mean.” Ephiny said. “I’m all for it. Far as I’m concerned the rest of the Amazon nation deserves what it gets.”
Xena sat back down on her bunk, facing the two Amazons. She didn’t really think Ephiny meant what she was saying. She knew her two friends had undergone a tough experience, and she understood how angry they must have been.
But just as Pony’s response to her and Gabrielle had turned dark and ugly in the valley they’d been trapped in, her usual attitude had returned with a snap of Ares fingers and she’d shown no evidence of the resentment she’d shown ever since.
Buried? Or was it just not real, an artifice of the situation they’d found themselves in with a mortal God of War?
Hard to say. Xena preferred to believe it was the latter. “They’ll make their own fate.” She predicted. “This war’s going to happen. I just don’t’ want to be any part of it.”
“Aren’t you sorta already?” Pony asked.
Xena sighed, resting her elbows on her knees. Despite the rest she still felt tired, and more than a little sore. She pushed that aside though, and pondered the door, wondering if she should go out and see what leverage she had with the crew.
Then she heard the distinctive thunk of the anchor holds being released, and the rattle and rush of the anchor as it was deployed. The flap of the sails now seemed far louder, and she could hear the creak of the rigging as the fabric was taken down.
They were stopping.
“What’s going on?” Ephiny asked, seeing her expression shift.
Loud boots sounded outside the cabin. “I don’t care a gull’s splat what you think, sir. Repairs must be made, and nows the time for it. We’ll layup here till the ropes are mended, or you’ll end up bowing knee to Poseidon as the ship’ll founder.”
“Captain..” Denius’ voice sounded angry. “You’ll pay for this in Athens, I promise you. This will be your last commission.”
The boots faded, and the voices with them. “Guess they needed to fix some of the storm damage. “Xena said, thoughtfully. “Maybe we can make that work in our favor.”
“You got a plan?” Pony asked.
Xena stood up and ran her fingers through her hair. “Stay here, and get some rest.” She said. “I’m going to see if I can tip our odds a little.” She eased between them and opened the door. “Who knows? We could get lucky.”
Ephiny stretched herself out and sniffed the cool night air, catching the scent of pitch on it. “Y’know Pon, I think I’ll stay away from boats from now on. “ She remarked.
“Stick to the trees.” Pony went back to her spot and curled back up again. “Hope she doesn’t start something out there. I’m still bushed.”
Ephiny scooted back over next to her, and shared her pillow. “If those guys out there are stupid enough to get between her and getting back to Gabrielle, they’ll deserve what they get.” She closed her eyes. “Hope she throws the pieces overboard.”
“Being preggers made you bloodthirsty, y’know?”
“Sides she didn’t take her sword.”
“Only makes her more dangerous. She took her charm with her instead.”