A Queen’s Tale
Gabrielle replenished Xena’s goblet and sat down, taking a sip from her own and nibbling on a bit of stewed duck on her plate.
Dinner had turned out more expansive than she’d imagined – though the ingredients had been eclectic, everyone had pitched in with their own favorite ways of cooking and so the result had been quite a number of reasonably good dishes for everyone to share.
So it had been nice. Instead of the expected confrontation with the city elders and their representatives from Athens everyone had just settled down at the table, shared the flagons of ale and talked about what tomorrow might bring them when the sun rose on a new day.
Dori had been put to bed, and now Gabrielle was settled next to Xena in the center of one edge of the square table and pretty much anyone who had anything to do with their part of the war was there too.
Even Denius. The Athenian patrician was sitting a few chairs down from them, having a discussion with one of the city men, and Jens.
Just past him on the corner was Milena, with a few of the Amazons that had offered to fight for them in the city, and seemed to be getting friendly with the girl.
Gabrielle was glad. Milena was talking to one of them, and it was sort of a relief to have her focused on something else other than Xena – who hadn't given the kid so much as a glance the whole night.
Gabrielle remembered what that felt like. She smiled and leaned on the chair arm closest to her partner, watching as Xena's hand lifted and reached out for hers, lacing their fingers together in casual affection.
She did remember, but it had been a very long time since for either good or bad Xena had been indifferent to her.
Xena's fingers squeezed her hand, and she looked up to see the warrior's eyes twinkling, shifting towards the table, then rolling a little.
A very long time indeed. Gabrielle lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of Xena's, then pressed it against her cheek. “Should I tell a story?”
Her partner tilted her head slightly. “I'd rather we wrap this up.” She murmured. “Go take advantage of that nice soft bed.”
Gabrielle produced a grin in response. “Right there with ya.”
“Damn well hope so.” Xena took a sip from her goblet, then sighed, surveying the room.
On Xena’s other side Jessan was using a bunch of leftover shishkebab sticks to demonstrate some kind of formation to Bennu, with Iolaus listening with interest a seat or two down.
Hercules was sitting right next to Xena, sipping from a goblet with a quiet, pensive expression on his face. “Hey.” He leaned on the arm of his chair closest to the warrior. “Isn’t that the guy who was prodding everyone to attack the Spartans?” He indicated Denius.
“Yeah.” Xena nodded. “He’s Athenian council. Changes his damn mind every half candlemark.”
“He asked me to lead the city guys against them.” Hercules confided. “I think I insulted him when I answered.” He shook his head. “Crazy.”
'I'm not sure what his game is.” Xena answered honestly. “I met him here in the city, he was waiting to head to Athens. Said he lives around these parts.. but he also said he's in the council and owns a bunch of these ships.”
“He's not familiar to me.” Hercules said. “I know most of those guys, but not this one. And by the way, who's the kid over there? She does look familiar.”
Xena glanced over. “Ah. Well.” She leaned back and crossed her ankles. “According to her, she's a by blow of some top dog in Athens.”
Hercules studied the girl, his sandy brows contracting. “I have seen her before.” He said finally. “I just cant remember where. I thought Io said she was mixed up in some crime?”
Xena shrugged. “Depends how you define it. She scammed the council out of something. Probably just a bag of coins. She was traveling with a couple of guys.”
“Eh.” Hercules finally shook his head. “It'll come to me.” He glanced at Xena. “Let's get this over with, huh? I'm trying to get used to being back down here.”
“Okay.” Xena stood up at her seat and waited, letting her gaze scan the crowd as they rapidly quieted, turning their attention to her. “Been a long day.” She said. “I know there are people here who think we should have taken a different path with the Spartans, but the fact is, people, we did the right thing today.”
One of the city men looked at her, meeting her gaze unflinchingly. “We'd have fought with em.”
Xena nodded. “I would have too. But I didn't have to, and you didn't either so in the end no one died today.”
Gabrielle very gently cleared her throat.
A brief smile crossed Xena's face. “A lot of people would have.”
“We could have stopped them though.” Denius spoke up. “It is outrageous that we allowed them to escape. You may have the say here, Xena, but in Athens it will be a different matter.”
“You're an idiot.” Xena replied, in a mild tone. “Maybe I should just kill you and save myself a lot of trouble.”
Gabrielle covered her eyes with one hand.
“You dare.” Denius stood up, angrily.
“Shut up and sit down.” Xena told him. “You want to know what would have happened if you'd attacked the Spartans after we promised them safe passage? There'd have been a lot of dead bodies around and the huge advantage Athens gained would have been lost.”
“What advantage?” Denius shot back, but sat down at the same time. “We look like idiots!”
Xena pushed her chair back and little and circled in back of Gabrielle's, seeing the Athenian flinch as she approached. “No.” She said. “Sparta looks like idiots. They broke the war treaty with Athens by invading.” She ticked off a finger. “They charged through Thrace trying to find some random woman to lead their army.” She ticked another finger. “They let themselves be faked out and ended up having their surprise attack ruined.” She paused, now right behind Denius. “And at the end of the day, they had to agree to passively march down to their ships and run away from us.”
Denius was hitched around halfway in his chair, watching her nervously. “But now they can go attack us!”
“They won't.” Xena shook her head. “Athens knows what they did. By this time, the ambassadors from Sparta are red faced on the steps of the council chambers or maybe even in jail. They gambled. They lost.”
Denius stared at her, with a frown.
“What do they have to lose then, Xena?” Jens asked, in a quieter and more respectful voice. “Why not just go and attack Athens?”
“Because the guy leading them isn’t stupid.” Xena told him. “He knows what he has there is a resource of his state, and you don’t waste resources just to salve your ego. Not when you’ve been around as long as time as he and I have.”
“It’s hard, Xena.” Jens said. “As a man of war, it’s hard for me to stand by and watch my enemy escape me.”
Xena leaned on the back of his chair. “Jens, take it from someone who’s been there and done that. Enemy ‘s a very ambiguous word.”
“What do you mean?”
Xena went back to her chair, leaning on the table and aware everyone was concentrating on her. “Lets say… all of a sudden we get attacked by Persia.”
The warrior nodded. “They’d love Greece.” She said. “So let’s say one of the Persian king’s armies and their horse brigades attack … Athens. And Athens reaches out and asks Sparta for some help.”
“Hey!” Jens stood up. “Xena, all respect to you, but we would never do that!”
The warrior gave him a wry, droll look. “Jens, the Spartans are a lot more like Athenians than the Persians are. Trust me. You would.”
Denius was nodding. “They say politics make very strange bedfellows. Is that what you mean, Xena?” He sat back in his chair, looking more confident. “That someday, we will need to ask, and then this deed we have done here will be remembered?”
Gabrielle smiled kindly at the man, resisting the urge to give him an encouraging a little applause. “I’ve seen that happen.” She remarked.
“So have I.” Ephiny chimed in. “You know, we were at war with the Centaurs for many years, and through mutual need, we found a way to live together in peace.”
Everyone’s head swiveled and they regarded he Amazon regent. Then they all refocused on Denius and Xena.
“So yeah.” Xena said. “Sometimes, kicking people’s ass isn’t the only way to win.”
There seemed to be some doubt. Gabrielle started the process of sorting through her stories, narrowing down her choices to ones that might prove her partner’s point without being overly obvious about it.
She stood up, twitching her tunic straight and stepping up to Xena’s side, resting a hand on her partner’s back. “Sometimes, violence isn’t the answer.” She paused then took a breath, but didn’t need to continue because for a change, it was okay.
Jens nodded. “I understand.” He said. “It’s something to consider, if I ever should find myself in such a place.” He sat down and lifted his mug, tipping it in Xena’s direction.
“There is truth in that.” Denius agreed. “I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but I can see where we could find an advantage in it. A good advantage.”
A round of clanking mugs went around the table, and everyone relaxed. Xena glanced at her partner, getting a tiny shrug from the bard before they both resumed their seats.
“Now what?” Gabrielle muttered.
Hercules promptly stood up. His tall, muscular bulk immediately drew attention as well, and the noise faded out again. “People. Let me say how glad I am that everyone did the right thing here, and it ended up a peaceful resolution. There were a lot of things at stake here, and trust me when I tell you this city ended up very lucky.”
“Yeah.” Iolaus spoke up. “You all have NO idea what Athens was spared because of this.”
“So I suggest that everyone go and get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow we’ll help with putting everything right before we leave.” Hercules concluded. “Been a long day people. Everyone’s earned their beds tonight.”
Xena watched the crowd, seeing the reluctantly pleased faces as they responded to Hercules speech. There was still something not quite right. She could sense it, she knew Gabrielle could, and she suspected Hercules could as well.
But it wasn’t in this room. Even Denius was relaxing, lifting his mug and leaning back in his chair, as the chatter resumed, and the demigod next to her sat back down with a grunt.
Xena gave him a slap on the shoulder as she moved past, going over to where Jessan was sitting, crouching down and resting a hand on his chair arm as she spoke to him.
Gabrielle quietly resumed her seat, leaning on the arm of it, and pulling her legs up in rakish comfort. She caught motion from the corner of her eye and turned her head as Milena stepped up next to her. “Hello.” She kept her voice mild.
Milena studied her briefly. “They tell me you’re in charge of the Amazons that live near you.”
“That’s true.” Gabrielle responded. ‘The tribe lives in the mountains above Amphipolis.”
Milena nodded. “That’s what those women said back there. They said I would have to ask you if I wanted to go live with those Amazons.”
The bard watched her face, mist green eyes faintly reflective in the torchlight. “Why?” She asked. “I thought you lived in Athens. Why come live out in Thrace?” Her gaze flicked around, but the others around her were distracted. “Sit down.” She offered, pointing at the chair next to her.
Milena did so. She had an expression that seemed halfway between embarrassed and discomfort. “I guess you would ask that.” She said. “I don’t’ really expect you to understand but..” She paused, as Gabrielle lifted her hand up. “What?”
“You don’t’ expect me to understand?” Gabrielle asked. “Is that because you’ve got some really complicated former life or just that you think I’m a yokel?” She asked. “Aren’t you a little young to have that much complication in your life?”
Milena turned red. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Ah. Then you think I’m a yokel.” Gabrielle folded her hands over her stomach. “But go on, give me a try. You never know.”
The girl frowned. “I don’t think you’re anything. I just don’t think there’s a place for me in Athens, and I wanted to give this a try.”
Gabrielle regarded her thoughtfully. She suspected she knew the real reason Milena wanted to come live with her tribe, but since she’d left home for the exact same reason, she really didn’t have it in her to hold it against the kid.
Kid. The bard felt her face crinkle into a wry grin. “Amazon life isn’t easy.” She commented. “You’ll have to find a place in the tribe, and contribute to it’s wellbeing. We don’t just let people hang out and laze around.”
She sensed motion to her other side, and as she glanced that way, Pony settled against the table, saying nothing but projecting that irascible Amazon air with her folded arms and cocked eyebrow “Hey Pon.”
“Hey your maj.” Pony replied promptly.
“Eponin is our weaponsmaster.” Gabrielle returned her attention to Milena. “She’s responsible for teaching the tribe how to wage war.” She explained. “She does a great job.”
Pony grinned happily. “Wow. Nicest thing you ever said to me.” She said. “Or about me. Or whatever.” She looked over at Milena. “You looking to be an Amazon?”
Milena looked warily at her. “I was taught how to fight back in Athens.” She said, and then hesitated. “But I’ve seen you people fight here. It’s different.” She looked back at Gabrielle. “I like to learn that.”
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her knee and thought about it. She studied Milena’s face, and watched as the girl waited for her decision, without any signs of fidgeting. There was a lot of gray there, she recognized. This was no white fleeced lamb, and yet, she didn’t think there was all bad there either.
Shades of gray. Something she was very intimately aware and used to . “You can come back with us for a trial.” Gabrielle said, after a long pause. “That way we can both see if it’s something you really want to do.”
Milena looked surprised, but she just nodded a little. “Thanks.” She said. Then she pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. “Those guys want to come too.”
Gabrielle glanced past her at the Amazons seated down the other edge of the table, watching her covertly. She looked up at Pony in question, and the weaponsmaster half shrugged, but nodded. “Sure, why not.” She concluded. “We leave tomorrow, so just be ready.”
Briefly, Milena smiled, just a flash of good humor that went as soon as it came, as she turned and headed back to the group on the other side of the table.
“Got us some recruits?” Ephiny slid into Xena’s chair. “Maybe we can kick those grandmas out and put these guys in their places.”
“Eph.” Gabrielle eyed her. “C’mon. “
“C’mon nothing.” Ephiny said. “We have laws about that, y’know? For them to challenge you when the tribe was in mortal danger… that’s grounds for expulsion. They know it.”
Gabrielle blinked in surprise.
Pony cracked her knuckles. “Gonna have fun when we get back. “
Xena chose that moment to drift back over, leaning on the back of her soulmate’s chair. “Party’s over.” She said. “Everyone go get some sleep.”
“Yes, mom.” Ephiny stood up and gracefully eased back out of Xena’s slap range. “See you guys in the morning.” She tugged Pony by her belt, and they started for the door, as most of the rest of the guests were also.
That left Xena and Gabrielle at the table, as the sounds slowly wound down to nothing save the scuff of boots and claws on the stone steps outside.
“So.” Gabrielle said, after a moment of silence. “Sleep?”
“Bed.” Xena held out a hand, wiggling her fingertips in invitation.
Gabrielle accepted the offer, getting up from her chair and joining her soulmate as she circled the room extinguishing the candles, letting darkness chase them into the still lit confines of the bedroom.
The candles had burned down another mark and the sounds outside had settled out to silence. Xena was stretched out on the bed, luxuriating in the feel of the cool linen against her back contrasting with the warmth of Gabrielle’s bare body draped over her.
It felt so different here, than it had on Mount Olympus. Xena idly studied the ceiling, her fingers gently tracing a mindless pattern on her partner’s back. She felt immersed in the scent of the flickering candles, the faint hint of lavender on the linen, and the earthy sensations of their recent lovemaking.
The night they’d spent up there – had felt good, but there was a certain veneer over it that put just a hint of separation between the sensation and them, as though the silence and the rarified air on the mountain had deadened their senses just a bit.
Just a bit, but she understood the difference now, and the richness of the feeling made her skin tingle. Everything here was now, and present, and real in a way nothing had been on the other side. Dinner had tasted far more intense, the smell of the city coming in the window hammered her nose, and the solid weight of Gabrielle covering her, their heartbeats thumping in twin rhythm made her ferociously happy.
Right now, she felt completely alive and she was enjoying it, a smile twitching her lips as she listened to the quiet night sounds around them.
“Xe?” Gabrielle shifted a little. “You’re not going to sleep, are you?”
“No.” Xena exhaled in contentment.
Gabrielle gently traced a line down her partner’s belly. “You’re waiting for something to happen.”
“Yeah.” The warrior admitted. “I don’t know what, but something’s brewing. I can feel it.”
“Is it really, or is it just that things usually don’t go our way and this time they did?” The bard asked. “And we just are waiting for the other boot to drop?”
“Eh.” Xena acknowledged the possibility with a lift and drop of her hand. “I went to visit the horses, and they were restless.”
Gabrielle considered that, content to remain where she was curled up against Xena’s body. “Maybe they just want to get out of here as much as I do?” She mused. “Or they don’t like the smell, from the fire.”
“Possible.” Xena said.
“You know what?” Gabrielle traced the dark pattern of the tattoo on her partner’s chest. “I don’t want anything to happen, Xe. I just want us to go to sleep, wake up, and leave.”
“I do.” The warrior said. “Hades, I wanted to suggest we just pack up and leave tonight, but we’ve got too many people to deal with.” She grumbled. “Damn it.”
“Mm.” Gabrielle smiled. “Boy, would I love to be on the beach with you tonight, just listening to the waves.” She said. “I remember that first time we stayed by the shore, and that first night, after we had that cookout.”
Xena rested her cheek against Gabrielle’s head. “I remember that too.”
She remembered the warm breeze, and the two of them sprawled in the sand, stuffed to their eyeballs and just a little drunk on the sweet summer wine they’d shared, casually reaching over and clasping each other’s hand just because.
They’d been through enough with each other at that point to not need an excuse, or want one, simply enjoying being together and at least momentarily at peace.
“So what do you think’s going to happen?” Gabrielle brought the question back around. “Do you still thnk those mercenaries here are going to start trouble? The Spartans are gone.. or do you think they’re not really gone, just hiding?”
Xena stretched her body a little. “Didn’t see much trouble from the city guys. No, I don’t think it’s something inside. Everything’s pretty calm. “ She said. “Honestly, hon, I don’t know what I’m expecting. I’m just twitchy.”
Gabrielle could feel it. Xena was restless. She could feel the motion in the body she was wrapped around, those little shifts of her partner’s muscles clearly evident under her touch. “Want to go out and go for a walk?” She offered.
“Mm.” Xena considered that. “Down along the waterfront? “ She mused. “We could climb up onto the escarpment and see if the Spartans are hanging around.”
“Don’t we have people watching up there?”
“Yeah.” Xena admitted. “But they could be sleeping. Cait and Paladia are over in one of the big bunk rooms sacked out.” She said. “Got some of the city guys to go up there but who knows. May have taken a wineskin up with them figuring everythings over.”
“Hm.” Crazily enough, the idea of wandering outside with Xena seemed appealing to her. Even climbing up onto the cliff didn't sound bad. She made a picture in her head of what that would be like, standing there with Xena at her side, looking out over a hopefully moonlit sea. “Okay.”
“You're not too tired?” Xena ran her fingers up and down the bard's bare back. “Long day.” She reminded her. “Longer for us than most.”
Gabrielle gently kissed Xena's shoulder. “I'm not really tired.” She said. “I think I'm still running on nectar or something. I might as well enjoy it while I can. What about you?”
“I feel great.” Xena said, after a small silence. “Maybe because I felt so crappy before it happened. Damn I was sore.” She mused. “That fight on the boat kicked my ass.”
“The one where they jumped you?”
“Yeah.” Her partner “Sure missed having you watch my back. Iolaus was there, but it wasn't the same thing.”
“No it wouldn't be. Hey Xe?” Gabrielle snuggled a little closer. “I was heading out here, and they were chasing us. A couple times I felt you.. I thought I felt you? Were you trying to.. do something?”
“Yes.” Xena answered in a mild tone. “I was on the boat and I was missing you so I.. well, I thought it was a dream because you were in Jessan's village. But I wanted to snuggle with you.”
“Wasn't a dream.” Gabrielle smiled.
“No, I realized that later. Then.. you were looking for a hideout. I tried to show you where to go.”
“Ahhh.” The bard rumbled softly. “The old fortress.”
“You know, Dori told me that night she saw you.”
Xena tilted her head and studied her partner. “She did?”
Gabrielle nodded. “She said she could see you in me when we were riding.”
Xena's face twitched a little. “Uh.” She grunted. “Well, I think I remember seeing through your eyes at one point. You looked down at her and she was looking up at your face.”
“I don't even remember that.” Gabrielle whispered. “I was so worried about them catching us.” She gave Xena a hug. “Thank you. I wish I could have returned the favor.”
“Eh.” Her partner sighed. “We survived.”
“We did. We're a good team, you and I.” The bard smiled. “Want to go for that walk now? Either that, or lets go spar in the courtyard or something. I”m twitchy too.”
With a smile, Xena gave her a one armed squeeze, then she released her as they both eased out of the bed, careful to be as quiet as they could. Xena went over to the long, low press and picked up her tunic, slipping it on and belting it as Gabrielle joined her.
They dressed in silence, sitting down together to pull on their boots and then getting back up. Xena lifted her sword up and removed a coiled leather belt she almost never used with it, threading the sheath onto it and buckling it over her back. She added a set of boot daggers and glanced over at the door, where Gabrielle was standing with her staff, waiting.
Moonlight was coming in the front window and outlining Gabrielle's figure and it made Xena smile to see the casual confidence in her partner's posture, fingers wrapped around her chosen weapon and leaning just a little on it.
She wriggled her shoulders to make sure her sword was in place, then she crossed the room to join the bard at the door. They walked through the big open room in front, then eased out the big wooden portal that led outside.
It was quiet. The city seemed to be sleeping, there was no music or noise from the lower pier area where the rougher of the pubs were and the stone streets were empty of people.
Xena proffered her hand, and after Gabrielle took it, she started along the walk that ringed the building they were staying in.
It was at the very very top of the hill, surrounded by a complex of buildings and rooms that held all their friends and supporters. At the edge of the compound was a gate, and that gate blocked entrance up the set of steps that led down the hill.
Someone, Xena reasoned, had needed or thought they needed protection. She lifted her hand and waved at the guard at the gate, one of her own militia. “Evening.”
“Genr'l.” The militiaman opened the gate and stood back. “Late, isn't it?”
“Yeah.” Xena agreed. “We're just going to take a walk.”
The militiaman's eyes flicked over the staff, and the sword on Xena's back, but he merely touched his head in respect, and swung the gate shut after they went through it.
A cool breeze was coming off the water, and it fluttered their clothes as they walked down the steps and onto the upper promenade where the inn was located. That was quiet also, the window above the stable stained at the edges with smoke.
Xena detoured a few steps and opened the barn door, poking her head inside and checking on the horses. They all were standing in their stalls, ears up, and moving around in the straw. “Hey kids.”
Io nickered at her, stretching his neck out and flaring his nostrils.
“Just taking a walk.” Xena said, watching the animals closely. Even Rusty was moving around restlessly and the gray mare they'd rescued from Milena was rolling white rimmed eyes at her. “Hhm.”
“What's wrong?” Gabrielle poked her head inside. “Oh.” Even she could see the animals anxiety, the shifting of weight from foot to foot that reminded her of her soulmate's twitchiness. “They're upset.”
“Mm.” Xena nodded. “Let's go see if we can find out what they're upset about.” She drew back and shut the door. They continued along the promenade and then started down the steps towards the docks.
“Why are we going down there?” Gabrielle asked. “If there's an issue, woudln't it be the other direction? Up in the city?”
Xena nodded. “You'd think.” She said. “And we will go up there, I just want to get up on the ridge and see what's going on from that perspective first.” She clasped Gabrielle's hand gently as they walked, their light footsteps the only sound aside from the water.
No ships in port, no clanking of rigging or anchors. Just the lap of the water against the seawall and the sound of the wind as it brushed over them.
They walked past the pub, seeing men rolled up in sacks outside it asleep and ahead of them a dog trotted across the docks and disappeared behind a closed building.
The moon came out from behind the clouds and drenched them in silver unexpectedly. “Ah.” Gabrielle turned her head. “It's really amazing how bright the moon can be sometimes, you know?”
'When it's full, yeah.” Xena agreed. I used to go sit on a rock on nights like this when I was leading my army, reading my battle notes.” She said. “I like it. No one bothered me.”
Gabrielle looked up at the moon, then at Xena, and shook her head a trifle. She remembered trying to read on those long nights and completely failing. The light just didn’t allow it, but then, she didn’t have Xena’s eyes.
“I remember watching the flock on nights with a full moon.” She reminisced. “It seemed to make the world so magical. Everything blue and silver, and the sheep out there shining white.” She smiled briefly. “It was so peaceful out there. Just me, and the wind and the flock. No one yelling at me, or.. “ She paused, then shrugged. “Anyway.”
They walked along a few steps in silence. “I think I would have stolen your sheep.” Xena remarked, giving her a wry look. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be sorry. You stole my heart and soul instead.” Gabrielle smiled. “Isn't that better than a couple of stinky sheep?”
“Hmm….. who stole whose?” The warrior demurred.
Xena released Gabrielle's hand and draped her arm over her shoulders instead. They crossed the pier and reached the foot of the cliff, where the meager rope ladder hung. “You first.” The warrior said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
‘Uh huh.” Gabrielle studied her staff. Then she leaned it against the wall and started climbing, lifting her weight up the rough rope rungs bit by bit.
She felt the rope ladder steady and go taut as Xena's weight came on it behind her and that made it easier to climb so she proceeded upward with confidence.
Confidence because she could feel the pleasing sense of energy in her body and also because she knew Xena was behind her and wouldn't let her fall. She could hear the water crashing below her, but refrained from looking down at it. “Listen to those waves, huh?”
“Yeah.” Xena sounded a touch distracted. “Tides going out.”
They made it up to the top in short order, and Gabrielle moved away from the edge of the cliff to give Xena room to come up behind her. She could see the moon striping the water, and she walked closer to the far edge to see it.
Beautiful. Gabrielle smiled, seeing the sea spreading out to the horizon in front of her. “No Spartans.”
Xena came to stand shoulder to shoulder with her, head turning as she scanned the peaceful scene from one side to the other.
Up on the cliff, the winds were stronger, and the warrior blinked against it. She took a few steps more and looked down at the entrance to the harbor which was very satisfyingly empty of Spartans as well. She'd expected that, and hadn't thought the Spartans would stick around, or try to come back into the city, but you never knew.
Glad she'd guessed right, at least.
“Hey Xe?” Gabrielle had gone to the inner edge, and was looking down into the harbor. “Check this low tide out! You can see the broken up ship and everything.”
Xena turned and went to Gabrielle's side, looking down into the basin. The harbor was sucked almost dry of water, and she could in fact see not only the wreck of the ship, but rocks that dotted the bottom.
“Must have gone all the way out while we were climbing, but sheesh.” Gabrielle said. “I've never seen anything like that before. What do they do when boats are in there? Ground them? It wasn’t like that earlier today… was it?”
Xena stared at the harbor, then she whirled and went to the other side, seeing the same drawing back of the waters exposing the shoreline in a strange, bare way. “What the...”
Gabrielle came to her side. “This is kinda strange huh?” She touched Xena’s arm. “That can’t be normal Xe. The ships would get cracked to bits. What’s going on?”
Xena's ears pricked as she caught a sound out over the water, a rumbling rush that rang a sudden bell of memory. “By the gods, Gabrielle it's a tidal wave.” She grabbed the bard, hauling her along toward the rope ladder, right past the peacefully sleeping guard.
Gabrielle had never seen her partner move as fast as she was doing now. She closed her eyes as the ground came up fast, holding tight to Xena as the warrior let go of the rope ladder several body lengths up and plummeted through the air.
The bard readied herself and bent her knees as first Xena’s then her feet hit the ground, and they both recoiled. She felt Xena release her and then the warrior was bolting across the pier towards the stairs cut into the hill.
Gabrielle threw herself into motion after her, putting all her energy into catching up just as Xena let out a strong yell of warning.
The sound echoed against the stone walls, and as the warrior let out a second, the silence between them was broken by running boots and loud whistles.
She redoubled her efforts, but she was losing ground to her partner, who was now powering up the steps with a fluid motion that caused the moonlight she was running through to ripple over her like water.
“Get up!” Xena was yelling, now that people were pouring out of buildings at the alarm. “Everyone get up as high as they can!”
“What?” Hercules had come out on the balcony of the room he and Iolaus were sharing. “Whats up??”
“Tidal wave!” Xena hollered back. “Big one!”
“Oh…crap.” Hercules put a hand on the balcony and vaulted over it. “Iolaus! Get out here!”
Gabrielle reached the top of the steps and nearly plowed into Ephiny. “Eph!”
“What the Hades is going on?” The Amazon was out of breath. “Where were you? What’s she yelling about?”
Gabrielle took a breath to answer, then realized she had no idea what to say. “Something’s coming.” She turned and pointed. “By sea.”
“Something? What?” Bennu arrived, skidding to a halt. “What’s going on little hawk?”
“Xena said a tidal wave.” Gabrielle said. “Everyone has to get up as high as they can.”
“Why?” Ephiny frowned “What’s a tidal wave?”
“Never heard of it.” Bennu added. “She sure?”
Gabrielle pinched her nose, counting to ten. “You know, one thing I’ve learned about Xena over the years. When she says run, I run.” She turned Ephiny around and pointed at the steps. “Run.” She grabbed Bennu’s arm. “Just have everyone go to the top of the hill.”
“But Gabrielle…” Ephiny protested.
“DO WHAT I SAY.” Gabrielle lost her patience and bellowed the words, as loud as she could. “MOVE IT NOW!!!!” She gave Ephiny a push, as Bennu quickly headed in the direction she pointed, holding his arm awkwardly at his side.
“Okay!” Ephiny smiled, and then she turned and headed after him, trotting up the steps and waving the rapidly descending Pony back.
“Sheeps.” Gabrielle let out a short breath. “Okay, now what.” She turned and spotted more of the militia. “Guys! Get everyone and get them moving up the hill. Up to the top.” She went to the edge of the promenade and looked down. “Hey!”
Men running across the dockside glanced up at her.
“Get up to the top of the city!” Gabrielle yelled at them. “Go that way!” She pointed at the sea gate, the one the Spartans had marched through earlier in the night. “Up to the front!”
'Gabrielle.” Paladia emerged from the gated walkway leading up into the inn. “Hey.”
The bard turned. “Hey.” She moved closer to the ex renegade and put a han don her arm. “Where's Cait?”
“Idiot went down there.” Paladia pointed behind her. “Went to go find some freaking people or something I tried to stop her.”
Gabrielle's eyes met hers, and they both exhaled at the same time. Then Paladia, unexpectedly, smiled. 'I kinda get you now.” She said. “Can you get Xena to like call her back or something? She'll listen to her.”
“C'mon.” Gabrielle urged her back towards the door. “Let's see if we can get her back here. She might listen to me too.”
Paladia regarded her. “Probably.” She assented, getting out of the bard's way and following her to the door.
They ducked inside the passage and crossed the courtyard to the inner door, opening it and leaving the inn for the long, narrow crooked street that led down into the lower part of the city.
Gabrielle could hear Xena yelling above them, and she started down the lane, rambling quickly over the cobblestones as she evaluated the urgency in her partner's voice. “We better hurry.”
“She's freaked.” Paladia pointed up.
“Totally.” Gabrielle agreed. “I don't know what's coming, but it sure isn't good.” She glanced right and left as they headed down, surprised at the lack of people. “Where did all the people up here go?” She wondered. “Didn't anyone live here?”
“Heard they were all workin for the Spartans.”
Gabrielle almost stopped walking. “What?”
Paladia nodded. “Some guy was in the bar tonight. He was drunk and talkin.”
Spartans? Spies? Gabrielle shook her head, setting that aside for later. She reached the bottom of the road, and looked right and left. “Which way?”
“There.” Paladia pointed at one of the buildings across the open way. It was a two story inn, and in front of it were a half dozen Amazons, a couple soldiers and a small gathering crowd.
Gabrielle heard a growing roar to her left, and she turned her head to look down thorugh the gates. The road was relatively empty, only now were the ringing bells and blowing horns stirring people and bringing them out into the streets in sleepy confusion.
“There.” Paladia pointed. “Nitwit.”
Gabrielle spotted Cait arguing with one of the Amazons. “Cait!” She broke into a trot. “Hey!”
Cait turned and saw her. “Your majesty!”
“Everyone needs to get up the hill.” Gabrielle. “Hurry up.. we don't have much..”
Paladia grabbed her without any warning and turned her. “That what we're waiting for?” She pointed.
The bard stopped, and stared, as a wall of water abruptly surged over the seawall and rushed up over the waterfront. “Uh oh.”
The crowd hastned to join her, and for along moment everyone froze. Then Gabrielle felt a jolt in her guts and started moving. “Go!” She started pushing them up the slope towards the front gates of the city. “Hurry!”
A woman screamed.
“Move it! Hurry!” Gabrielle waved them forward then turned and looked up as something drew her atttention that way. At the top of the hill, she spotted Xena's distinctive profile in the torchlight and felt a dire warning.
Grabbing the nearest two arms she started running, heading up the slope as the first rush of water started drenching the stones under her feet. It pushed against her the backs of her heels, then her calves as she herded people in front of her. “Move people!”
Gabrielle felt her heartbeat start to race as she shoved people up the slope ahead of her, hearing panic in the side streets they were passing. “Go up to the gate! Up to the gate!” She yelled.
A woman screamed behind her, but she felt the water grabbing at her legs and she surged faster uphill, her hands on Paladia and Cait's back as she shoved them ahead of her. “Move!”
“Moving!” Cait called back. “Oh my gosh what's going on?”
“I have no idea.” Gabrielle almost stumbled, but kept going. The edge of the water swept past them and she saw something go crashing by in the opposite direction. It was big, and heavy, and she hoped no one was behind her in its way.
“The wagons!” Cait yelled. “Oh! Wait!”
“Just keep going!” Gabrielle craned her neck to see around Paladias tall form. “Oh Hades!” She spotted the wall of wood heading their way. In the dark with the torches behind it she had a nightmare vision and remembered the river breaking the bridge and slamming it down towards her.
For a moment, she froze in mid flight, her mind skittering towards panic as the screams started echoing over the roar of the water now sucking at her hips.
Then a jolt of something flushed through her and she turned her head and spotted an escape. “There!” She grabbed Cait and Paladia's leathers and hauled them to the side. “There! Go!”
“Augh!” Paladia reeled, puilled off balance.
“Come on!” Cait spotted the crooked little side street and she darted into it, leaning forward and charging up the steep path.
Gabrielle hauled herself into the cul de sac after them just as a wall of wood skimmed past her, so close it scraped her hip and leg as she squirmed past, the water exploding up as the wagons hit it and drenching her.
But it didn't stop coming, she felt it surging after her as she climbed with her two Amazons up as high as the street went, which wasn't very. They stopped at a dead end, whirling to face the water as it continued to rise.
'Holy crap” Paladia coughed. “What is this?”
It was dark. Gabrielle felt her heart hammering in her chest as she tried to catch her breath. The water was already up to her stomach and she backed up until she was on the steps of the townhouse at the top of the rise.
She hammered on the door with her fists. “Hey! Let us in!”
There was no answer.
“I'll climb up there and let us in.” Cait started scaling the outside of the bulding, finding handholds in the tiniest of crevices. “Hang on!”
Gabrielle turned and got hit in the chest with a surge of water. She could see it sweeping everything down the main road and then debris abruptly crested and headed their way, broken boxes barreling up at them. 'Ah.”
Paladia turned, “OH crap.” She swiveled back. “Hey crackpot! We're gonna get creamed down here!”
“What?” Cait turned her head and her eyes nearly came out of their sockets. “OH no!”
Gabrielle grabbed the overhang of the door and pulled herself up out of the water, swinging back and then forward as she slammed her boots into the door with all the force she was capable of.
The shock nearly made her let go, as it traveled up her spine and and she twisted in mid air, hauling herself back up and kicking the door again, as a wave of water slammed her in the back.
Maybe it was just that little extra impact, but as the water hit the door with her it exploded inward. Gabrielle released her hold and let the water take her inside, with Paladia hard on her heels.
“Nice!” The ex renegade roared. “Stairsr!”
They bolted for them and stumbled upwards as the water rushed through the lower level and smashed leaded glass windows out in the back. The structure shuddered and things started falling off the walls as they climbed up the steps to the second level.
Gabrielle ran to the window and looked out, the town outlined in silver hued moonlight. For a long moment she merely blinked then she leaned out and looked hard.
What she had first thought was moonlight was actually light reflecting off water, which had covered the town up to the rooftops everywhere any lower than where they were.
“Holy crap.” Paladia was standing next to her, glancing aside as Cait crawled in the other window. “This is not good.”
“Rather.” Cait got to their side, and they all looked up as the building started creaking around them. “I've got a bad feeling about this place.”
Gabrielle felt the wooden timbers move under her hands. “Yeah, me too.” She looked back out, and saw a building collapse next to them. “Maybe we should climb up onto the roof?”
Across the tops of the houses she could see the hill that fronted the waterfront and on top of that hill, she knew Xena was safe, and Dori with her. The thought calmed her, then the sense of calm faded as the townhouse started to creak and shift.
The water just kept on coming. It swirled and sloshed and pushed against the stone and instead of subsiding, it rose higher and higher, almost like the ocean itself was overflowing its banks.
She turned and looked at Cait and Paladia. “We've got to get up higher.” She said. “I don't know if the water's going to stop rising.”
Cait peered out next to her. “This is terrible.” She said. “Gosh everyone was sleeping.”
Everyone except for her and Xe. “Yeah.” Gabrielle leaned over the window sill, spotting a wall. “Let's try to get over onto that, maybe we can climb up onto that next roof.”
Wiithout waiting for or expecting agreement, she straddled the sill and swung out of the townhouse, grabbing hold of the edge of the roof as her feet found purchase on the slanted surface.
She really didn't think about what she was doing, focusing on the wall and easing along towards it as she heard Cait and Paladia start to follow her. “Careful you guys.”
“Too right.” Cait was clinging to the sill. “You be careful your majesty!” She got out of the way as Paladia stuck her head warily out. “Sorry you had to come down at look for us. “
“What's the us, crackpot?” Paladia spoke up. “I told you not to go there!”
Cait exhaled.”I told you not to follow me so hush!” She said. “I had to straighten out that lot of women before they started trouble.”
Gabrielle was interested, but not enough to lose her focus. “Let's talk about it later.” She swung across the small open space between the townhouse and the wall and got her feet on it, shoving away from the house and catching her balance on the wall.
She waited for Cait to come near, then held a hand out to her. “Quick, Cait.. I think that house is... oh Hades!” She saw the house wall crumbling just as Paladia made wild jump at them, her legs and arms flailing.
Without really thinking about it, Gabrielle dropped flat on her stomach and reached out, clamping on with her knees as her hand tangled in Paladia's leathers just as the water surged and sucked the townhouse down away from them, to crash into the horrific flow.
Paladia twisted and turned in the water, getting flipped around and grabbing Gabrielle's arm. “Augh!”
“I have you.” Gabrielle assured her, hauling the taller woman over to the wall. “Get up, quick.”: She pulled Paladia onto the wall, scrambling to her own feet as the relentless water topped the wall and almost washed them all off. “Oh boy.”
Cait balanced precariously and helped her partner up, as they followed Gabrielle's cautious progress along the wall, as it inched upwards. “Have you ever seen something like this, your majesty?”
“Cait, you know my name. Please use it.” Gabrielle hastened up a few more feet as the water surged and washed over her boots. The wall wasn't wide, about half the width of her shoulders and she was afraid she was going to be washed off it at any moment. “And no, I sure haven't.”
She looked up as she heard a shrill whistle over the sound of the waves. Putting her fingers between her teeth, she returned the signal.
“Was that Xena?” Paladia asked.
“Yup.” Gabrielle pulled herself up onto a higher part of the wall, succeeding in getting herself completely out of the water. “That was Xena saying, 'Gabrielle! Where in the Hades are you!' she dropped her tone into her partner's range in mimicry. “Damn it !”
“And I answered.. 'over here, honey. Just trying to keep my ass out of the water.” Gabirelle found another roof and boosted herself up onto it. This building had a flat top, and she walked across it to the far end to look out.
Paladia and Cait scrambled after her. “Whew.” Cait came up next to the bard. “I think it's stopped rising.”
“I think you're right.” Gabrielle watched the water start to go out with a sense of relief.
Personal relief, since she knew it would only reveal the horrors the flood had caused as it sucked itself dry. In the dark, all she could hear was the rush of the water and the screams of those caught in it, but she couldn't see much.
How many had been caught in their sleep, after all? Gabrielle shuddered a little.
'Wonder what happened to those other guys?” Paladia asked. “We told em to stay up where we were. Idiots.”
“They were fighting.” Cait explained. “They wanted to talk about going back with us but not have us hear it. I was trying to make sure they weren't making a mistake.”
“Well, let's get back up there. I”m sure there's a big mess to clean up now.” Gabrielle sighed. She walked to the edge of the building, looking for a way to climb down. The water was receeding quickly now, pulling parts of walls, and wagons, and buildings along with it.
And people. Gabrielle thought she saw a body drifting past, a face that rolled up out of the black and caught a bit of moonlight, eyes staring right at her.
Gabrielle released a breath. Then another form sped past, this one moving.
“Oh, let me go see if I can help them.” Cait started forward, surprised when a powerful arm blocked her.
“No.” Gabrielle shook her head. “Waters moving too fast, Cait. If you go in, we go in after you and all three of us are going to be in trouble.”
Paladia turned to face Gabrielle. “Someone finally has some damned sense here. Holy crap.”
“Well.” Cait murmured.
“And then if we get in trouble. Xena will dive in after us, and she's got Dori with her.” Gabrielle concluded. “That's a lot to risk.”
“You don't got to make excuses.” Paladia said bluntly. “You're right. Diving in after that chick would be nuts.”
“But..” Cait said. “We're supposed to help people. Isn't that what you always say in your stories?”
'Yes.” The bard smiled briefly. “I do say that. If someone charged at you across this roof with a spear I'd step in front of you.” She crossed her arms. “But I've come to value my life enough not to randomly throw it away in a lost cause.”
“Are you sure it would be a lost cause?” Cait frowned.
“I”ve been in that kind of flood.” Gabrielle said. “So yes I am sure.” She unfolded her arms and dropped to her knees instead, leaning over the edge of the roof. “There's an open window here.”
She grabbed the edge of the surface and swung herself over it, lowering her body to dangle over the water before she got her boots on the window sill and then ducked to enter.
It was a bedroom, and it was empty. Gabrielle cleared herself out of the way. “C'mon guys.” She called back, before she left the bedroom behind and walked thorugh the inner door into a very dark hallway.
Something came at her fast, So fast, she only barely had time to register it, and start to bring her hands up before it hit her.
Gabrielle felt the impact almost as soon as she registered the sound of motion and felt her body react to the danger without any conscious direction on her part.
She’d asked Xena once, how she managed to make the right moves at the right time when so many things were going on around her and the warrior had looked puzzled, and shrugged. You just do it, she’d told Gabrielle and in this blink of an eye moment, the bard understood.
She just did it. Her body half turned and she ducked her head as something came whistling past her ear, stinging the edge of it. ‘Hey!” She let out a yell, throwing her hands out. “Stop it! Who are you?”
“Hang on your Majesty! We’re coming!” Cait called from outside.
Gabrielle smelled steel and leather very close by and she dropped to her knees, as a body hit her and knocked her over onto her side on the ground. She twisted over and put her arms up just in time to block a heavy blow.
Ow. Gabrielle grabbed the iron bar that had just hit her with one hand and punched blindly with the other. She felt her knuckles impact something somewhat softer than her hand and the weapon in her grip wrenched back out of her fingers as her opponent jerked out of the way.
She got up and tried a kick, feeling a jolt as her boot hit bone and she heard the sound of a body knocked offbalance. She dodged to one side as she sensed a strike, hearing a heavy blade skin past her and bury itself in wood.
She slammed her body against where she thought the hilts might be, and was rewarded with a grunt of pain and a giving sensation, along with a faint crack. She reached for the sword she felt pressing against her hip but was knocked offbalance as she was hit from behind.
Damn. Gabrielle ducked and dropped again, feeling arms pass over her head grasping for her as she lunged forward, spreading her own arms out and wrapping them around her opponents hips and shoving them against something in the room that scraped and squeaked as it took their weight.
Hands grabbed her, and she could hear an almost animalistic growl as she rolled to one side and wrenched herself free. Her senses told her a wall was nearby and she felt motion to her left as her opponent dove at her.
Getting her feet under her, Gabrielle shoved away from the ground just as a heavy body flew past her, making a resounding noise as it hit the wall. The bard landed in a crouch and straighened, bringing her hands up in a defensive posture.
Damn, she wished she'd remembered her staff. No matter it would have been useless and dangerous in their escape from the water, she missed having it's solid security clutched in her fingers.
A thumping behind her and a breathless gasp almost distracted her. “Careful Cait.” She said. “Someone in here's armed and desperate.”
“Right.” Cait came to her shoulder in the darkness, a whisper of familiar sound prickling Gabrielle's senses as she drew her blade from it's sheath. “Could you step back a bit then? Just in case I don't want to splatter you.”
with an unseen grimace, Gabrielle did, her head cocked to listen for their attacker.
Several moments passed however, with nothing more than the sound of heavy breathing. Gabrielle slowly relaxed and let her hands drop. “Anyone got a striker? There's a torch there by the window.”
“Got it.” Paladia answered from behind them, just before the sound of a flint being hit was heard. After a brief pause, the inside o the building lit with the pale amber of torchlight.
The room was a mess. Two chairs lay shattered, and a table was heeled over to one side, it's leg broken into splinters. Things were scattered over the floor, and near the far stone wall lay a big, heavy body covered in armor with a long blade still clasped in it's fingers.
As they watched the body twitched and the knife dropped to the wooden floor with a dull clatter.
Paladia joined them. 'Creepy.” She said, briefly.
“Spartan.” Gabrielle acknowledged softly. “Guess there were some of them still around.” She turned in a circle and regarded the room. It had, apparently, been providing a hiding spot for the man for some days.
There were supplies strewn across the room and in one corner were piled valuables from the household – apparently the man was ready to make a profit while he was at it.
“All right, well.” Gabrielle glanced around at the room, spotting a spear leaning against the back wall. “Could you guys please tie him up? I”m going to grab that.” She walked across the space and grabbed the spear, which had a thick enough shaft to almost match her staff.
“You want to leave him here?” Cait asked. “I remember the lot said you decided not to do that when we were leaving Amphipolis.”
Gabrielle glanced back over her shoulder. “That was different.” She said. “Go ahead and tie him up and let's get out of here. I think the water's down enough to go to the street.”
“Right.” Cait went to the bed in the room and pulled the sheet off, taking her blade out and slitting it into a strips. “Pally, grab hold.”
Gabrielle watched them for a moment, then she went to the door and opened it. To her surprise, it opened right onto a stone outside stairwell, and she emerged into the moonlight and walked to the edge of the steps and looked down.
The street, as she'd hoped, was empty of water, though she could see the shine of it further down. She decided she'd lead her little group down to the main road and see if they could make it to the road that led back up to the summit.
In the distance, she could hear screams and calls for help, and as they faded, she put her fingers between her teeth and let out a whistle of inquiry.
There was a long pause, then she heard an answer, the short, high pitched sounds that meant her partner was very busy and couldn't take time to talk. “Hurry up guys.” She called back. “I think they need our help back there.”
“Sorry.” Cait emerged, follow by her taller partner. “He started getting up a bit. Pally had to squash him.”
Wasn't a mental image Gabrielle really wanted. “Let's go.” She led the way down the steps and then to the street, The cobblestones were drenched, and there was debris everywhere, broken boxes, and bits of building that they dodged as they moved down the slope.
Windows were thrown open along the way and heads were stuck out along with arms that pointed in the direction of the port. Horns were blasting from all directions and now she could hear hoofbeats.
She hoped it wasn't Dori on Rusty.
“That was weird.” Paladia said. “Who ever heard of the water coming up like that?”
“Xena, apparently.” Gabrielle said, as they reached the corner and started down the wide boulevard leading to the port. There was still water down at the end, she could see the moonlight reflecting off it and judged it was just far down enough for them to make the narrow lane that led up to the inn.
The city looked strangely clean. The main street was scoured of everything and the moonlight was glistening on the stones under their feet as they headed quickly downward.
Past the gates they could see debris in the harbor area, hulks of wagons and barrels and Gabrielle shook her head at the destruction she could see all around her. Homes were collapsed on either side of them and they could hear people crying.
Suddenly, the screams got louder, and the horns started to blast again so loudly they echoed off the wall. Two men who had started down to the port gate turned and started running back towards Gabrielle as fast as they could.
“Uh oh.” Paladia said. “That don't look good.”
“OH my gosh.” Cait pointed. “The water's coming back!!”
They were lower down on the road than before, and Gabrielle briefly froze, as she saw the foamy rush of the water heading towards her with incredible speed. Did they have time to get back to where they were?
A piercing whistle.
“Sheeps.” Gabrielle grabbed Cait's arm. “Run for it! That way!” She pointed to the narrow and crooked lane that was the service road up the hill and started in that direction, running full out.
The water caught them not two steps up the street and picked them up in a rush of cold, shockingly salty power.
Gabrielle released the spear she'd been holding onto as she fought to keep her head up out of the water, the swirling surge unexpectedly pulling her down as it lashed against the walls.
It was shocking, the power of it as it sucked her under and she was only barely able to grab a breath before the darkness surrounded her.
A younger self would have panicked. Gabrielle remembered a trick Xena had taught her and she squinted her eyes open, letting a little held breath out and aggressively following the bubbles motion. She felt something approach and turned her shoulder at the last moment as the water slammed her against the wall.
She kicked off it, sweeping her arms down and pushing herself to the surface, her head popping out of the froth as she sucked in a lungful of air.
Shaking the wet hair from her eyes she whirled in the water, spotting Cait and Paladia behind her struggling towards a wall sticking out in the flow. “Get to the lee!” She yelled, as the current carried her away from them.
She saw them grab hold then she had to turn around for fear she’d smack into something, and she saw a pole sticking out of a wall rapidly approaching her. Taking a breath she readied herself then as it passed over her she lunged out of the water and grabbed hold of it, barely able to keep her grip as surge reluctantly let go of her body.
She dangled there for a minute, then she swung her legs up and got them over the pole too, feeling the scrape of the wood against her skin as she pulled herself up and onto the top of the pole and lay there, catching her breath.
Sheesh. “Maybe we should have just stayed in bed.” Gabrielle muttered. She lay on her stomach on top of the post and pushed the wet hair from her eyes as she looked up the road to see how far the water had gone.
It was still rising. The power of the water was terrifying, and she watched as the walls were being undermined , slowly toppling into the street and being taken away by the current as she watched.
But at least she was now on the street that would end up with Xena. All she had to do was wait for the water to subside again. She turned her head and peered down the street, relieved to see Paladia’s pale head poking out from behind the wall.
Cait waved at her.
Gabrielle lifted a hand and waved back.
What a nightmare. The bard rubbed the salt out of her eyes and licked her lips of the same substance, wondering how much longer the horror would continue. There were people out there trapped, she was sure, who needed help.
It would be a long night of cleanup and now, she blinked slowly as she realized that given their own wishes they’d have been out on the beach tonight in the direct path of it.
Probably would have killed them.
Gabrielle heard a scream and she looked up to see a low porch shearing off into the water with two figures on it. The figures parted as the water grabbed them, and she was just in time to see one of them flung free, it’s size marking it as a young child.
“Mama!” The shrill voice echoed over the rush of the waves. “Mama!”
Gabrielle didn’t really think about what she was doing before she was gathering herself up and fixing the position of that tiny head as she got herself ready to go into the water after it. She saw the pale hand wave frantically and then she was launching into the air, falling feet first back into the dark water below her.
She plunged into the water and stroked strongly upward, keeping her head almost above the surface as she spotted the child going under.
She ducked under herself, forcing her eyes open and seeing a brief glimpse of a round, white face, and a hand sweeping by her. She reached out and grabbed the hand, hauling the body back towards her and forcing her head back up out of the water.
The child’s head followed, eyes round and wide and terrified as they stared around at the walls.
“Easy.” Gabrielle gasped. “I’ve got you.”
It was a little blond haired boy. “Mama?”
“She’ll be here in a minute.” Gabrielle turned over onto her back as the surging water swept them forward. She curled her arm around the child and held him up out of the water, craning her neck so she could see where they were going.
She saw the wall break loose and head for them just as the water’s forward motion seemed to hesitate and her chances were radically reduced as she looked quickly around for something to grab hold of.
“Mama!” The child hollered in fear. “Mama where are you?”
“Take it easy.” Gabrielle ducked debris and caught hold of a wagon jammed in a doorway, swinging around it as the water now started to recede and suck against her.
She braced herself against the wood, holding the child as the pull of the current pressed her against the creaking surface and started to drain back, dropping enough for her feet to gain purchase on the ground a moment later.
She heard screams far off. A man’s howl of despair and all around the noise of structures collapsing into the water as it undermined their surfaces.
The water dropped past her waist, and she put her fingers into her mouth, letting out a long whistle, then two short ones.
Gabrielle felt her heartbeat pick up. There could be many reasons Xena didn’t respond, of course. She could be in the same sort of situation, her hands full, or .. Anyway. Lots of reasons.
“Mama!” The little boy hiccupped. “Mama.. oh Mama where are you?”
Probably being sucked out to sea. Gabrielle’s conscience weighed heavily on the thought but she let the boy down as the water level went below her knees. “Okay, honey. Take it easy. Your mama will come get you as soon as she can.”
The boy looked up at her. “Who you?”
Gabrielle knelt next to him. “My name’s Gabrielle. What’s yours?”
“Alfin.” The boy hiccupped again. He was younger than Dori, maybe three or so, and cute as a button with his spikey blond hair and round face. “Wanna go get my mama.”
“Okay.” Gabrielle stood up and eased around the wagon, relieved to see Cait and Paladia sloshing towards her against the current. “You guys okay?”
“Fine thanks.” Cait eyed the boy. “You gave us quite a turn diving in the water though. “
Gabrielle sighed. “Sometimes I can’t keep my accidentally heroic side under control.” She muttered. “Did you happen to see…”
“That way.” Paladia turned and pointed towards the end of the street. “Tried to grab hold of em, but it was going too fast.”
The bard exhaled. “Okay, let’s go up to the top of the mountain.” She said. “Alfin, maybe we can see your mama from there.”
Both Amazons looked at her. Gabrielle looked back at them. “Let’s go.” She said, starting up the slope. “Before that water comes back and makes it all a moot point.
“Right.” Cait pushed her hair out of her eyes, her boots slipping a little on the steep slope. “This really is just rot, you know?”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle plucked the sodden fabric away from her body and leaned forward, her free hand captured by Alfin. “This is not good.”
Paladia cursed. “Aw crap.”
“What?” Gabrielle looked up and almost stopped walking, as she spotted what Paladia had. At the top of the street, near the entrance to the inn were several shadowy figures, obvious ly armed.
Obviously waiting for them.
“Well.” Cait said. “At least we’ll get a fight out of it.”
“Great.” Gabrielle muttered. “Just great.”