Tempting Fates

Part 6

“Why are old salts so salty?” Gabrielle asked, as they walked down the broad stone steps to the somewhat plain platform. “That captain the last time was too. Are they all related? Is it just that sea air all the time?”

Xena cleared her throat. “Stuck on a boat with a bunch of other guys for weeks or months, probably.”

“Ah.” Gabrielle watched as the men busied themselves pulling over a slightly lopsided wooden table and some raffia topped seats. “Well, y’know..”

“Oh, I know.” Xena stepped off the lowest step onto the ramp to the platform and they joined the small group of men a moment later as they milled around, in a visibly agitated uncomfortable swirl.

“All right.” Marcos exhaled, pulling a seat up and settling on it. “You men spread out, make sure there’s no one approaching who can hear us.”  He ordered the guards, who were more than happy to move away from them, walking to the edges of the platform and then disappearing into the shadows.

Xena kicked a seat over for Gabrielle to sit on and pulled one up for herself.  Then she paused and waited, one eyebrow arched up, her hands folded around one knee.

Gabrielle let her staff rest in the crook of her elbow. “We heard all about the pirates, on our way here. In fact we were told to avoid Costas if we wanted to arrange for passage, but because Xena and I never do listen to anyone about pretty much anything here we are.” She said. “You said it wasn’t what we heard it was. So what is it?”

Marcos nodded a little. “Its complicated.”

Both Xena and Gabrielle chuckled slightly. “Let us be the judge of that.” Gabrielle said, in a mild tone.

“The pirates are not really pirates. They’re mercenaries, being paid by the city council here.” Marcos said, and paused, watching their faces for a reaction, but not getting one. “This does not surprise you?”

Both woman shook their heads.

“The pirates have a fleet of twelve galleons.” Marcos went on. “They are ships that were taken from the Athens and Spartan ships that were being prepared for war, so they are armed.”

Xena shrugged slightly. “If I was going to be a corsair, that’d be the kind of ship I’d steal.”  She commented. “What’s their game? Protection fee?”

Marcos seemed a bit bemused. “Were it so simple. Their plan is to attack every other coastal town and force all commerce through Costas.  Ships come here, because there is no other large ship worthy landing on the coast, and once you are here, you pay.”

“And pay you do.” Besan spoke up. “Pay to tie up, pay to put a gangway in, pay to walk down it, pay to let your crew off.  Then you pay for water, and supplies, double what it would have been elsewhere.”

“Pay to offload your cargo, pay to be allowed to trade it.” Marcos finished. “You can, of course, refuse and turn around and sail out, but then, the fleet of pirates are waiting, signaled from the top of that cliff.” He pointed behind them.

“Why did you come here?” Gabrielle asked. “Or didn’t you find out until you did?”

Marcos grimaced. “They’re clever. The city sends emissaries out with a group of favored ships who tell a tale of a wonderful place to trade and having not many choices people come.”

“Sure.” Xena cleared her throat. “But you only come once before you know what the game is.” She paused. “Or do they make the ones who pay to play part of the scheme? You tell a good story, and you get a rebate on your ‘taxes’?”

Both men stared at her. “How did you know this?” Besan asked, with a suspicious narrowing of his eyes. “Did they make you an offer?”

“No.” Xena hiked one boot up on her opposite knee. “I’ve been leading armies since I was fifteen. You learn a few things eventually when you do it long enough.”

“Well.” Marcos exhaled. “They ask more than we have, and I was counting on selling our cargo here to fund further movement.” He lifted his hands up and let them fall. “We’re stuck. Half the crew abandoned us, I paid the rest what I could, but we’re out of options.”

Xena looked thoughtful. “Your boat the third one in dock near the wineseller’s tent?”

Both men nodded.

“You got a pirate next to you.”

They nodded again.

“Who is the big fancy boat on the end?” Gabrielle asked. “The one nearest the harbor entrance?”

Xena suddenly stood up and held a hand up. They fell silent and for a long moment she was, then she motioned to Gabrielle to stand up. “I think we’re gonna have to talk on the run. I don’t hear your guards anymore.”

Uncertainly, Marcos and Besan stood. “What? They’re just out watching to make sure we’re not disturbed…”

“I could hear them moving.” Xena said. “Now I don’t. Who else knew you were coming up here?” She started to move around the table. “Nevermind we got trouble coming.” She let out a piercing whistle and headed for the edge of the platform.

Gabrielle chivvied them with the edge of her staff. “C’mon.” She tapped them on the side. “She’s not kidding.”

The sound of hoofbeats clattered on the stone and from the shadows came Spot and Tanto, heading down the slope answering Xena’s command, and behind that now they all heard the sound of running boots and the flare of torches in the distance.

Xena swung up onto Tanto as he skidded to a halt and reached a hand down to Marcos. “Get up behind me.  Gab, get the captain up with you let’s get a move on. Ride down to the ship.”

“Do my best.” Gabrielle leaned her staff against Spot’s side and used the height of the platform to give her easy access to the mare’s saddle, getting settled and then offering a hand to the captain. “Least we don’t have to worry about finding a bed tonight.”

“What’s happening?” Marcos asked but did as he was told.

“Bunch of guys with weapons are headed this way and they’re either after you or after me.” Xena told him, urging Tanto forward. “Not going to stick around to find out which.”  She got the reins gathered in her left hand.

Gabrielle hefted her staff up and guided Spot after the stallion, aware of the somewhat nervous breathing of the sailor behind her.    Her eyes were on the ground, the moonlight showing the rock surface and she settled her knees a little more firmly as they quickened their pace.

Looking past Xena, she could see torches approaching, and as they reached the edge of the stone structure she leaned forward a little, anticipating Xena’s yell, and the rapid switch from fast walk to a canter, as Spot surged after Tanto’s haunches.

They were on the path now, and on solid ground, and then the horses were in a gallop as whoever was approaching them started to yell at them to halt.

“Crossbows!” Xena yelled back.

“Glad you’re in front.” Gabrielle responded, and then the first of the arrows fired to be caught and discarded by a flash of Xena’s hand leaning forward near Tanto’s head.

She tucked her reins under her knee and got both hands on her staff. “Hang on.” She told the sailor. “And stay out of the way of this stick.”

Pough.” The sailor took firm hold of her around her stomach.

“Halt! You have criminals with you!” A loud, male voice thundered from just up the slope. “By the order of the city council, I command you to stop!”

Were they the criminals? Were Marcos and Besan the criminals? Gabrielle figured it really didn’t much matter because Xena wasn’t going to stop regardless, so she lifted her staff and prepared to engage the troops charging them on foot.

There were probably two dozen of them, half of them had torches in one hand, and therefore had to deal with that, and the other dozen were clustered in a block, and raising crossbows to point at them, not really realizing they were too close.

Xena drove Tanto right at them, letting out her strident yell, and the stallion screamed in counterpoint, as the torches flickered off the sword that Xena now had in her hand.

They fired, and in quicksilver motion the blade deflected them, slicing through two of them at once, and then then Tanto was right there in their faces and rearing, striking out with his forefeet as he plunged through the block of guards and Xena was sweeping her sword around and clearing space around them.

Gabrielle urged Spot after them, using her staff to knock back the scattering guards, who belatedly realized they were faced with more than they’d anticipated. She whipped the end of the long weapon around and whacked one man in the head with it, and the hardened wood along with Spot’s forward motion sent his helmet right off his head spinning off into the gloom.

She took advantage of that by catching him with the return swing, and he went down in a sprawl on the ground, and then she was ducking under the branches of the trees lining the path as Xena and Tanto forged the route in front of them.

She could smell blood. She could see bodies on the ground as they swept past, and now the guards were all running, and dropping torches as they careered away from the two horses, leaving one figure on one horse left, who had bravely drawn a sword and was riding to meet them.

Points for guts. Gabrielle couched her staff under her arm and took back the reins, keeping her head down low near Spot’s neck in case one of the bowmen stopped running and turned around. “Stay down.” She told the sailor.

Xena twirled her sword and aimed Tanto right towards the remaining guard, the moonlight showing the higher level of dress she’d seen from the blunderbuss who showed up at the dockside and she wondered if it was the same guy. “Stand down.” She warned. “We’re not stopping.”

But the guard didn’t, he charged forward, on his large dark brown horse, his sword out as he came alongside Tanto, aiming a stroke right at the horse’s head.

Minus points for being stupid enough to go for the animal. Gabrielle veered Spot to the other side of Tanto to avoid the blood as Xena let out an indignant bellow of rage and leaned all the way forward and to her left, having switched her sword to that hand and intercepted the guard’s strike, cutting off his arm just below the elbow and sending the rest of the arm, with sword still gripped in the hand, spinning off into the trees.

Whooa.” The sailor, looking over Gabrielle’s shoulder, let out a grunt of appreciation.

The guard screamed in shock and fell backwards off his horse before Xena could kick him out of his saddle and she smacked his horse on the rump with her blade as they came past, sending him plunging off down the slope towards the stone platform, dragging the man behind him with one boot caught in a stirrup.

“Let’s go.” Xena called back, and they galloped up the road to the ridge, and then down the path leading back to the city. “Before they send more idiots up here.”

“Right behind ya.” Gabrielle exhaled in relief, glad the brief battle was over, given they were in the dark, on horseback, with passengers all three not her favorite conditions when having to fight. She kept her staff out though, just slid it between her knee and Spot’s side as they raced through the night air.

There were no more guards on the road up to the peak, and they slowed as they reached the edge of the city proper, moving from the meandering path into the outskirts of the market, from a canter to at last a walk as they entered the narrow aisles of sales tables.

Many were empty, tidied, and ready for the following day, and at the edges of the markets there weren’t even any torches lit, just silent spaces, an occasional closed up cart, and empty gaps where some sellers had left.

The  back edges of the market were quiet when they reached them, and Xena slid off Tanto to lead him further on, glancing right and left as they moved through,  even here where there were more substantial setups most of the vendors were closed up in the torchlit, narrow avenues.

Some few were still illuminated, those selling foodstuffs to customers who steered clear of the massive merchant’s hall at the far edge of the dockside, which was full of lit torches and oil lamps and the sounds of music and voices raised coming from it.

The wine seller’s tent was firmly closed up and fastened, his beasts still quietly inside their enclosure, enjoying some fresh nets of hay. They looked up at the sound of hoofbeats, but seemed to recognize Tanto and Spot, and went back to their munching without further interest.

A burst of noise came from the merchants hall, and then the echoing of ribald laughter, and at the tail end of that the distinctive snap of a whip floated out on the sea air as they paused at the steps that led down to the ship docks.

“Don’t think I want to know what that entertainment is.” Gabrielle said.

“Me either.” Xena eased Tanto to the stairs. “C’mon, buddy. Just like the stables back home, down ya go.”

They moved carefully down the steps and reached the dock, finding it pretty well deserted, and headed right along the quay to where the galleons were tied up, passing the stalls that during the day were massed with customers and now were dark and silent.

“Well.” Marcos exhaled. “Not how I hoped the night would end.” He was hastening towards his ship. “Nor did I think my men would abandon us.”

“Pfft.” Besan, now back on more familiar ground, made a disparaging sound.  “With us so low on supplies, better without em.” He strode along with a rolling, seaman’s gait.  “If this ends with us sailing on the tide, it’ll be to my pleasure.”

There was a sturdy gangway laying alongside the ship and the captain went right to it and worked the block and tackles to raise it up to the deck.  The tide was high, and it took him several minutes to get the ramp into place.

Gabrielle spent the time getting her staff fastened back into its holders, stroking the mare’s neck as she stood there, ears flicking back and forth, making soft whuffing sounds.

Figures appeared at the railing of the ship, attracted by the sounds of the gangway coming into place, and once it was fastened the captain strode up it quickly, and started giving them orders, and Marcos followed him.

Xena was about to lead Tanto up to the slanting ramp, her hand firmly wrapped around his bridle, when two figures appeared at the end of the pier and started their way. “Hold him.” She sighed and handed the reins to Gabrielle as she turned and stepped towards the two figures.

Tanto pulled a little to follow her, but Gabrielle shortened her hold on the reins and made some little clucking noises with her tongue. “Nahaha.” She uttered. “You stay right here, mister.”

Keeping a grip on him, she reached over and released the straps on her staff again, catching it as it fell free from Spot’s side and getting it into position at her side as she watched Xena walking along the pier towards the two shadowy figures.

The moon was out, and clear of clouds and it was a full one. So there was enough light to outline everyone in faint silver tones and Gabrielle relaxed a bit, as she saw Xena’s body posture alter, and her sword remained in its place, so whoever it was didn’t pose an immediate threat.

She turned her head hearing boots on the gangway and found two younger men coming down towards her, dressed in the clothing of common seamen. 

“Lady, may we help with the beasts?” The first one said, in a soft, slightly accented voice. “Cap’n sent us here.” He reached out to tentatively stroke Spot’s nose. “We know horses, a bit.”

Gabrielle handed over Spot’s reins. “Absolutely.” She said. “I’ll keep hold of this one, he gets a little excited sometimes.” She waited for the youngster to gently lead Spot to the ramp and then up it, as she followed, glancing back along the pier to find Xena turning to watch, hearing the hoofbeats on wood.

She lifted a hand and gave Gabrielle a thumbs up gesture.  Gabrielle paused and returned it, then she continued up the ramp, moving as the ship moved and remembered she hadn’t been able to find anything in the market with ginger in it.

Ah well.  She patted Tanto’s cheek as the stallion walked alongside her, not without glances back to look for his mistress. She’d survived the sea before, she suspected she would again.


Xena recognized the two figures as they came past the bow of the ship and into the torchlight from the deck and she paused in surprise as they both approached her, cloaked and shoulder to shoulder – her friend in the brass tent and Dugan, the grill master.

Dugan spoke first. “You are leaving out of here, lady?” He asked, in a low, serious tone. “These ships had some trouble with the city, I hear. Master doesn’t want to pay the fees.”

“We’re leaving.” Xena said. “I know about the trouble.” She looked at both of them. “You want something?”

The brass merchant grinned briefly. “Want to come with.” He said. “If there’s someone who can get a hull out of this harbor, it’ll be you.” He said. “Been stuck here for six sevendays.”

Dugan nodded. “I’ve been trying to get out of here for six moons. I’ll take the risk.”  He said. “I’ve got all my market takings with me. Tax man hasn’t been out tonight yet.” He glanced behind him. “No idea why they’re late, but I’m not arguing.”

“We’re going to have to fight our way out of here, and then probably at sea.” Xena told them. “Careful what you’re asking for.”

“Gotta die sometime.” Dugan shrugged. “Better hurry before word spreads you’re taking out of here and half the city’s coming down here to jump aboard.”

They both had packs strapped to their backs, and from their expressions, Xena realized they were serious. “Lets go if you’re going.” She said. “We had a tussle up on the hill there, someone’s gonna find the bodies any time now.”

She turned and started back to the gangway and the two men hastened after her, and as they reached the ship’s gangway her ears caught the sound of multiple sets of boots running down the dock. “Can’t be good.” She reached the top of the gangway and shooed the two men past her, then she turned and started untying the ramp.

“What are you doing?” Marcos asked her, hastening over.

“Leaving.” Xena finished untying the lines and lifted the gangway up, shoving it up and over the ship’s deck and dusting her hands off as it fell down the side of the vessel and collapsed onto the pier. “Get your sails unfurled

She made for the far side of the deck and peered over the railing at the ship next to them, and past it to see the moonlight outlining a crowd of figures coming down towards them.  She narrowed her eyes and studied them, seeing the cutlasses and the sailor’s togs. “Yeah, not good.”

“But..” Marcos started to backpedal. “Besan!” He let out a yell. “Besan! We’re getting underway!”

“No kidding.” Besan was rambling across the deck, moving rapidly towards the lines that held the ship to the dockside. “Lucky thing I got water onboard this morning.”

“What about the pirates?” Marcos asked Xena, who had paused to look up at the sails, which were starting the process of flapping into some kind of use.

Xena turned and met his eyes. “Let me worry about the pirates.” She said, in a calm voice. “And while I’m at it.” She turned as the lines came down all over the deck, and loped towards the one nearest the far rail, leaping up and then landing on the rail, then bending her knees and shoving off towards the other ship.

“Wait!” Marcos ran after her. “That’s the..” He came to a halt as Gabrielle got in front of him and brandished her staff. “What is she doing!”

Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder, watching Xena land on the deck of the other ship, then race across towards the lines holding it to the dock. “Probably cutting it loose.” She said. “Do you have any useful things like weapons on this boat? Now’d be a good time to bring them up here.”

Marco’s mouth opened and closed just like a fish.  

Two sailors nudged him out of the way. “Hauling sail up, watch yer self.”

The lines slithered down from the deck and Gabrielle felt the ship shift under her, drifting away from the dock. She abandoned the dithering Marcos and went to the far rail, watching as Xena cut the lines holding the other ship, while the sailors who belonged on her were struggling to lift the gangway.

Their ship was moving backwards, and a moment later the other ship was drifting off the dock as well, Xena’s sword cutting through the last of the lines holding her.

She was alone on the ship, Gabrielle noted, the entire crew had been off, and now the effort to raise the gangway turned frantic, the edge of it hitting the side of the ship as it was moving and the men bravely working to climb up and get onboard.

Xena noticed.  She ran back along the rail to where it was sliding along and just as the first of the sailors managed to get ot the top of the gangway she arrived and clocked the man with a roundhouse right to the jaw, sending him backwards.

He reeled and toppled and managed to grab the edge of the gangway, but his flailing legs thumped into the second man and gave Xena just enough time to pick up a gaff pike and lever the gangway off the side of the ship.

The sailors were all yelling in outrage, as the plank went sideways and took the line of men into the water Xena paused for a moment and put her hands on the rail, looking at them and smiling.  Then she turned and ran back to the aft of the ship, which was moving slowly in the current and approaching Marco’s vessel which was picking up speed.

She waited for the closest point of them passing each other and backed up a few steps, then ran forward and jumped off the aft forecastle and flipped twice in the air, moonlight flashing off her armor and sword as the other vessel drifting under her.

“That’s crazy.” Marcos said, catching up to Gabrielle who was moving along the rail and keeping Xena in sight. “Absolutely crazy.”

The other ship was drifting right towards them and as Xena landed on the deck and straightened up the bow the stern crashed into them and knocked people on the deck off their feet as the captain started to bring the bow around to leave.

Gabrielle sighed, as she clutched the rail and kept on her feet by luck. “Yeah.” She saw the pirate ship scraping along the side of theirs, wooden planks creaking and splintering.  “That’s kind of how our life goes sometimes.”

She looked over the side and saw the sailors swimming determinedly after their ship, but a second later it was no longer impacting theirs, it was slamming into the dock and as she watched, the pylons collapsed and jammed it in place.

Xena came down the railing towards where Gabrielle was standing and looked over the side at the nearby vessel taking apart the dock, and one of the sturdier pylons crunched into the side of the ship as it listed over. “That’s what I like to see.”

“Give us a head start?” Gabrielle concluded.

“Something like that.” Xena headed for the bridge. “Lets get out of the harbor and see where we go from there.”

Gabrielle followed her, using her staff to keep her balance on the now slightly rolling ship as it moved from the docking area into the channel that would allow them to exit to the sea.  She could see a hive of activity now on the docks, with the other ship still tearing apart the pier, and columns of city guards running along the waterfront.

Ahead of them she could see the other ships, the smaller ones, with crew now gathering on the aft decks watching them slowly move by, most of them giving a cheer and waving.  At the end of the waterfront, though, she could see the huge, ornate merchanter starting to take on sail and it’s decks were a hive of activity. “Xena.”

“I see it.” Xena had hold of one of the mainsail lines and was hauling on it. “Watch the rudder!” She yelled at Besan, who was on the bridge. “They’re going to try and block us!”

Besan laughed. “They are going to try!” He called out to the sailors. “Tell them to haul on those oars if they don’t want to die here!”

Xena pulled the mainsail up and it started to take on the wind, fluttering violently as she hauled on it hand over hand, grateful for the offshore wind that had just sprung up and they were now moving faster, the water starting to rush along the sides of the ship as they headed for the harbor entrance.

“They’ve got bowmen.” Gabrielle was at the rail. “And they’re starting a pitch fire, Xena.”

“Of course they are.” Xena tied off the mainsail. “Lemme go find some buckets if we need to put that out.” She headed for the stairs down belowdecks, her cloak fluttering in the breeze. 

Gabrielle took up a position near the forecastle, with a solid structure between her and the merchanter, and watched as the archers gathered around the hastily started fire and got their pitch covered arrows lit from it. Then they ran to the aft deck of the merchanter and lined up, drawing their bows and releasing the flaming arrows in their direction.

One landed in the structure she was behind, and she hastily hit it with her staff, knocking it out of the wood and scrambling to grab it as it landed on the deck.  She got a hand on it and lifted it before it could ignite the weathered surface and went ot the far side railing and threw it out into the sea.

Marcos was doing the same with a second, but a third and fourth were burning on the deck, and Xena coming back with buckets on ropes was timely.  She threw one to a sailor and then took the other and let it down over the side to draw it up full, and put out one of the arrows, then surrendered her bucket to two other sailors who chased her down and they took over the effort.

They were past the merchanter a minute later, and their arrows now were falling short, plunging into the sea, but the merchanter was now also on the move, and their sails were coming up and it was going to be a chase.

Xena stood on the deck and watched them get under way, her hands on her hips. Gabrielle took up a spot next to her and they both stood there for a minute in silence.  Then Gabrielle exhaled and shook her head. “Going to be one of those days.”

“Going to be?”


They picked up speed as they approached the harbor entrance, the wind starting to push against the rattle of the sails and the oars below deck steadily dipping into the water, stroking the ship forward and aiming it straight down the center of the harbor entrance.

Xena was on the bow, hands on the railing and looking outward, scanning the seawall on either side as the moonlight helpfully illuminated it for her, looking intently at the piled rock walls braced on either side forming a protective enclosure around the harbor.

“Is that other ship going to catch up to us?” Gabrielle came to her side, bracing herself against the motion of the sea as it started lifting them, the prow of the ship emerging from the stillness of the harbor.

“Probably.” Xena satisfied herself that no one was going to try and jump aboard from the seawall and then she took Gabrielle’s arm and started along the portside railing back along to the middle of the ship.  “Horses secured down there?”

“Yea, they’re in the back. They were munching on some alfalfa when I left them there.” Gabrielle reported. “They seemed okay.”

The sailors were all busy on deck, hauling up the multiple sails and running back and forth with ropes and the buckets, dousing the very last of the smoking pieces of wood from the fire arrows and preparing the ship for open ocean.

Marcos was standing, somewhat uncertainly, watching past over the aft at the following merchanter, and he turned as they approached. “We just slid past that big beast.” He put his hands on his hips. “But she’ll be after us.  That’s the brains of this scheme’s ship. He won’t like being crossed.”

“Makes two of us.” Xena remarked. “How many men you have onboard?”

“You see them.” Marcos extended a hand and swung it back and forth.  “We have twelve on the oars belowdecks, and these twelve seamen here, but to their credit, they were the ones who minded to stay, not run off in the night.”

Xena gave the men a brief look.  “They look like long termers.” She said. “Can they fight?”

Marcos lifted his hands and relaxed them. “As all men can.” He said. “They have knives at their belts, and are strong, hardy lads. But they are no soldiers.” He admitted. “We have crossbows in the hold, some longbows, a few spears.” He looked a bit uncomfortable. “Most of the younger lads, after their fortune, left when we started having problems with the city. They were no seamen but trained in arms.”

“Those four the last of them on the hill?” Xena said.

“Yes.” He admitted.

“Figures.” Xena exhaled. “We passed a bunch of kids on the way to town looking for a paid ticket.”

“The city offered good coin for the guards.” Marcos admitted. “And as you saw, had need of them.”

Gabrielle edged to the side to watch the merchanter that was now lumbering out of its berth and taking on sail to chase after them.  She could see past it to the dock, and on the dock there was a huge crowd of milling bodies moving around in agitation, including a scattering of horses with guards on their backs.  “Speaking of.” She nudged Xena in the ribs.

Xena looked past her. “Stirred up the hornets.” She grimaced a little. “Story of our lives.”

“True statement.” Gabrielle had to grin in any case. “Though I made good use of them once, back in the day.” She reminisced. “With a little help from Cait.”


“Was it?” Gabrielle looked briefly up into the clouds. “Damn I don’t remember. It was some bunch of scurvy ne’er do wells that I think we thought were Spartans but they ran so fast we couldn’t tell and frankly after a while I’m not sure it mattered.”

“Fun times.”

Fun times.  Gabrielle didn’t remember them being a whole lot of fun, but they had ended up – as they usually did – all right give or take a tidal wave and a visit to Mount Olympus.   She braced herself against railing and drew in a breath of the cold sea air, glad of her cloak and returned her attention to the here and now.

They had cleared the harbor entrance and were in the channel leading outbound to the sea, and the wind was freshening in their sails, fluttering the clothing on her body.   But looking at the larger ship behind them, she could see that they had at least twice as many sails and they were starting to bell out, and the wind had more to push against.

She looked over at Xena, who was standing there with her arms crossed, and a puckered brow, her eyes narrowed.

“There’s the signal up.” Besan called out and pointed.   At the top of the ridge, they could now see a flame rising from a large bowl. “That’ll bring the sharks our way.”

“Ah!” Xena exclaimed, and then moved suddenly, gliding along the railing and then up onto the aft deck, just as the merchanter was reaching the harbor edge.  She got to the very back of the ship and then, as Gabrielle quickly followed her as to not miss anything, she removed her chakram from the pouch at her back and gripped it.

Then she backhanded it with enough force to lift her off the deck a trifle, and the round weapon whipped through the air, skimming past the bow of the merchanter just as Gabrielle got to her side.  “Keep your head down.”

Gabrielle took a knee as she spotted the men on the bow of the chasing ship, bringing up crossbows and aiming it at them. “What were you..”

There was a sizzling thunk that suddenly sounded across the water, and then the flicker of motion in moonlight as the chakram came skimming back, followed by a heavy crash of metal and the sound of mechanical motion.

The men on the merchanter let out yells, and then just as suddenly the ship rocked in its motion, as a huge metal linked chain slammed up in its path, catching the very front of the bow as it tightened across the harbor entrance it’s length dripping with seaweed and encrusted with barnacles.

The crossbowmen were thrown off balance, and they toppled backwards, flailing their arms and releasing one or two shafts up into the air in harmless misfires.

Xena caught the chakram and returned it to its pouch as they started to move faster, plunging through the waves as they left the harbor behind and the huge vessel lunged and listed as the sailors aboard her struggled frantically to bring down her sails, and they could hear rough voices yelling in panic.

“Oh, that was nice, hon.” Gabrielle complimented her as she got to her feet. “Really good.”

“Thanks.” Xena dusted her hands off as Marcos arrived, along with five or six of the sailors, carrying crossbows of their own.  “That’ll give us a little time.” She watched in approval as the merchanter creaked and listed, and as they watched, it tilted sharply to one side and unable to prevent the motion, the wind in their sails slammed the boat against the harbor seawall. “Nice.”

“What did you do?” Marcos asked, leaning against the rail, and peering, as the sailors looked curiously at the two women.

“They put a chain across the harbor entry. To keep pirates out, I guess.” Xena smiled briefly. “I thought I saw the wheel for it off to the left side there. It’s wound tight, if you cut the catch ropes, the tension releases and the flywheel hauls up the chain and blocks the gap.”

 “Huh!” Marcos marveled. “Hoisted themselves! So now they’re stuck there.” He laughed gently. “Well if the bastard wasn’t raging before, he is now. Look at the damage it’s doing to itself.”

Besan arrived, slightly out of breath. “Saw that from the bridge.” He shaded his eyes from the moonlight and watched as the merchanter battered itself against the seawall. “Magnificent! Hope the damn thing batters itself to driftwood!”

They were making steady progress now, the sails full over their heads as the boat moved through the light seas, under a stunningly clear starlit night with its full moon overhead and they all stood there for a minute, watching the shore recede behind them, and after a second, Xena lifted her hand up and waved. 

Besan joined her. “Good riddance.”  He called out cheerfully. “Be that a marker for our voyage!”

“Now.” Xena turned around and put her back to the land. “Let’s figure out what we’re gonna do for the rest of the problems out here.” She studied the sailors. “Those all the crossbows we got?”

The sailor nearest her shook his head. “Got some crates down below. More or less just like these.” He held up the crossbow. “And one crate of arrows.”

“Show me.” Xena gestured him on, and the sailors all agreeably turned around and started for the hatch down into the hold, with Xena and Gabrielle at their heels.

Besan and Marcos stayed where they were, watching the chaos they’d left behind them. “That was worth the seeing.” Besan said, in a mild tone. “No matter what we get into, it’s good to be away.” He clapped Marcos on the back. “My apologies to you, man. You went the right route.”

Marcos nodded. “We had to get out.” He said. “They’d have come to take the ship tomorrow else, you know it.  Taxes were due tonight.”

“I know it. We all knew it.” Besan said. “S’why the weapons were so ready to hand. We were going to fight them for it. Bastards.” He looked at Marcos. “Good thing you wandered past that dockside inn when you did. There’s a chance of the fates.”

“Just a turn of a phrase, caught my ear.” The other man smiled. “Now, lets you and I go speak with these other two who shipped aboard, and see what’s what with them. Don’t want to think we took snakes onboard, but..”

“But one doesn’t know.” Besan made a wry face. “And don’t I know it.” He exhaled. “We may end up in Hades on this path, Marcos. But it’s better than losing everything in Costas.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “Let me go put on my cutlass no doubt I’ll be needing it.”


Xena found herself favorably impressed by the condition of the vessel as they climbed down into the hold, ending up on a level wooden surface that stretched the length and breadth of the vessel, with a second ramp a short distance away going deeper into the hull.

It was clean, for one thing. The deck was weathered, scored, and dented by boxes and crates and long travel but it’s surface was scraped clean of dirt and swept, the ropes and tools of the sea were mounted to the walls, and the ropes themselves were precisely coiled between the crew hammocks strung across the ceiling.

The joints were well tarred and a brief look at the inner walls showed no long-standing leak or buildup of dirt and the motion under her boots felt at least reasonably seaworthy, and she relaxed at the recognition of that, and nodded her head almost unconsciously.

Most of the rest of the deck was taken up with bales, chests and crates lashed in place to iron rings set into the decking, and hanging from the upper deck along with the hammocks were provisions.  It smelled of wood and the rich hemp smell of tightly coiled rope, of salt and the smoky hint of a carefully tended camp brazier somewhere nearby.

In the aft of the vessel, there were four beast stalls, deep but narrow, with cross ties, and Spot and Tanto were settled into the two center ones standing on a bed of wood shavings. Tanto spotted them and whickered, tossing his head, and Xena detoured over to give him a pat.

The area was well kept, and as she went over to the stallion a bandy legged, gray whiskered sailor came over to her with a short, brisk nod. “Good lookin beasts.”  He said, gruffly. “One there’s a bit nippy.”

“He is.” Xena gave Tanto a kiss on the nose. “Gets it from me.” She added. “This looks like a nice setup. You carry animals a lot?” She asked curiously.

The sailor nodded. “Horses, yea.  Market here for em. Brought four with us, bastards took them for ‘taxes and dockage fees.’” He answered dourly. “Didn’t get a quarter dinar for em, good breeding animals they were, from Ceristina, across the way.”

“Sounds like they have quite a scam going there.” Xena glanced around the back of the animal pens. “Enough feed for a crossing?”

“All the tucker we had for those four, to hold em for sale. We got plenty.” The sailor said. “Didn’t know what we were gonna do with it, now we do.” He winked at her. “Good luck, eh?”

Xena looked thoughtful. “Hm.” She made a low noise in her throat. “Yeah, I guess you have to get lucky sometimes.”   She gave Tanto a last scritch and walked back to where Gabrielle had remained standing, her hands clasped around her staff. “Know what I just thought of?”

“Things are happening too easy?”

“Yeah.”  Xena put her hands on her hips and swept the interior of the ship with a skeptical eye, noting the neatly strapped down cargo and the sailors busy at pulling trunks out into the middle of the open space, opening them to reveal neatly packed weaponry. 

“Well.” Gabrielle chewed the inside of her lip. “We have to get lucky sometimes, Xe.”

“Do we?”

“I mean, the law of averages being what it is.” 

Xena finally shrugged. “Well, it is what it is. I guess we take it as long as we can get it.” She gave herself a shake and adjusted her cloak, legs spread a little to keep her balance as the ship rolled in the waves. “Let me go see what we got here and figure out a way to keep from being boarded.”

She glanced sideways at Gabrielle, seeing her jaw muscles clench. “Go up on deck and find a place to sit and watch the horizon facing aft.” She advised her at once. “Don’t stay down here.”  She turned her around and gave her a gentle push to the ramp up to the upper deck. “We’re gonna be too busy later on.”

“Thanks.” Gabrielle without protest took the advice and climbed back up the ramp, using her staff to keep her balance until she emerged back onto the moonlit deck, and the wind coming across it hit her in the face.  Immediately she felt better, and she spotted a storage bin behind the mainsail in the aft where she could have a seat and see over the railing.

Her nausea subsided rapidly once she’d settled down on the bin because of course it had, bowing to Xena’s healer’s knowledge.  Gabrielle leaned back against the wooden spar and stretched her legs out along the deck, glad to have a moment to relax after the long and chaotic day.

She scanned the waves, as best she could in the direction she was facing and was glad of the moonlight showing her nothing between them and the land that was slowly retreating behind them.

No other vessels, as of yet. No sign that they’d figured out the chain and let the monster boat out after them.  Gabrielle pondered that, wondering if the night hours would give them a chance to divert themselves around the pirates waiting offshore.

Would the pirates know which way they would head?   She hitched herself around and looked across the length of the ship past the sails, but all she could see of their forward motion was faint whitecaps ahead of them, and dark sky.

She spotted Marcos headed her way, and swiveled back around to resume looking aft, casually laying one hand on her staff as he made his way past the mainsail and around to where she was sitting.  “Hi.” She greeted him, making him start a trifle until he recognized her.

“Ah, Gabrielle.” Without preamble, Marcos sat himself down on the deck a little distance away from her. “Hard to believe we are here at sea, making way from that place.” He gave his head a little shake. “Only this afternoon we were just wishing it was possible. Now here we are.”

“Now here we are.” Gabrielle agreed. “It did really happen pretty fast didn’t it?” She crossed her boots, getting a little used to the motion of the ship. “Sorry about what happened with your guards up on the hill. It’s lousy when you get turned on.”

Marcos sighed. “Yes.” He leaned his weight on one hand. “I hadn’t really had time to think about that. I thought they were good men, but I imagine anyone will turn for dinars, won’t they? That’s what Costas has become all about, coin.”

“Well. Maybe actually they didn’t. Maybe they were taken captive.” Gabrielle suggested. “We didn’t really stay around to find out. That probably was to our benefit.”

He nodded. “They did not have much chance against Xena.” He glanced sideways at her. “I remember your stories.”

Gabrielle smiled. “No, they didn’t have much chance against her.” She looked out across the horizon. “Where do we think the raiders are? Just offshore? How much time do we have before we have to start fighting them off, do you think?”

Marcos just shook his head. “Gabrielle I have no idea.  We didn’t hear about how it was until we were in the harbor, and never risked finding out until now.”

Slowly, Gabrielle turned her head and regarded him. “Are we sure they’re out here?” She asked. “Not much fun for a bunch of guys to just sail around in circles offshore waiting for someone to bolt.”

Marcos stared back at her. “B.. yes of course they’re out here. I saw with my own eyes one of the small traders boats, wrecked, being towed back into the harbor just last sevenday.” He protested. “Why would they lie about that?”

“People do. Easier to tell stories about having a big fleet of pirates then actually paying for them. Those guys must cost a bundle.” Gabrielle remarked placidly. “And if these city folks are all about dinars, maybe they want to save some by scamming everyone.”

“I heard in the dockside shops, ships have been brutalized.” Marcos said, but there was an element of doubt in his voice.  “Men beaten, captains thrown overboard.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I never met one personally.”

Gabrielle cleared her throat gently.  “Well, we’ll find out soon enough if it’s true.” She said. “And you never know, if they are out here, Xe could get them to turn around and take that city. There’s lots more coin there than on this ship.”

Marcos gave her another sidelong glance. “Could she do that?”

“Sure.”  Gabrielle smiled kindly at him. “She’s very persuasive when she wants to be.” She half turned to watch as Xena approached with a group of the sailors, discussing grappling hooks and their best placement and all the sailors were nodding and pointing obviously entranced.

Marcos looked at the group, then at Gabrielle. “I see.” He said. “You are an unsettling woman, Gabrielle.” He continued after a brief pause.  “Very unsettling.”

“Thank you.” She responded with a grin.

He got up and wandered off, and after a moment, Gabrielle also got up and walked over to listen to what Xena was explaining to the sailors, in that earnest, crisp tone she used when she was teaching, businesslike and confident.

Maybe, she mused, if they did have time, and if there were no immediate pirate related shenanigans, she could roll out a few stories just to pass the time of day.


Xena strolled across the deck to the bow, stepping up onto the raised forefront and walking to the rail where she came to stand with her hands lightly resting on its wooden surface.

The wind was at her back, and she could feel it pushing steadily against her shoulders as it filled the sails behind her, bringing the scent of charcoal woodsmoke and the smell of fish to waft around her as she looked out over the dark surface of the sea.

She scanned the horizon, the moon’s light reflecting on the waves they were moving through, the lightly whitecapped surface relatively mild ahead of them, and the sea free of any shadows that would mean corsairs were heading in their direction.

Were they?  Xena considered the question. The city had lit their beacon with every evidence that they were convinced it would be heeded, and certainly the rich merchanter had started out after them briskly enough and with every intent to make them stop.

She turned her head slightly as footsteps approached, and waited, as Marcos climbed up to the forecastle and stood next to her. “How long have they been running this scam?”

“Do I know?” Marcos asked, with a slight lift and relaxation of his shoulders. “Certainly, it was well underway when we arrived and that has been nearly five moons now.” He said. “Why do you ask?”

“Just curious.” Xena drummed the rail with the edges of her thumbs. “Would have thought we’d have seen the mercs already, at least on the horizon.” She scanned the water around them. “Unless they were far out, and having to tack back against the wind to find us.”

Marcos also put his hands on the rail and leaned against it, considering the question thoughtfully. “I would have thought rather they’d been close in, to come for the festival.” He said. “Was told that was the usual, to bring them in a couple at a time.” He eyed her. “Do you wish for them to find us?”

Xena smiled easily. “If there’s a fight in the offing, I always want it now. Get it over with.” She said. “But there’s nothing out there right now, so I guess second best is to get some rest while we can and see what the dawn brings.”

“We can provide you a cabin below, Besan and I have spoken and we will move spaces.” Marcos said, in a courteous tone. “To give you some privacy.”

“Nah.” Xena chuckled. “We’ll stay up on deck. Gabrielle gets seasick.” She dusted her hands off and turned. “We even brought our own hammock with us. Lemme go grab it.”  Seeing his startled and somewhat discomfited expression she turned and crossed her arms. “We’re both used to traveling with troops. It’s fine.”

“As you will.” He replied simply. “Are you satisfied if they do find us, we can evade them?”

Xena stared past him at the darkness. “Depends.” She shrugged. “Depends on the sea state, and the winds, and how stupid they are.”  She concluded, turning, and making her way down off the forecastle.

Marcos watched her head to the hatch leading belowdecks and shook his head slightly.  “Do I want them to find us? I hardly know if I would rather not, or rather see what happens if they do.” He exhaled, then found a ledge within the forecastle to take a seat on, wrapping his cloak around him and settling in to watch the sea around them.


Gabrielle felt the wind coming in off the aft ruffling her hair as she lay tucked into their hammock, swinging gently with the ships motion.  She blinked a few times, enjoying the pleasant contrast of the chill of the air, and the warmth in their little cocoon, happy to have gotten a nights rest as she detected the faintest of light change on the eastern horizon of pre-dawn.

Xena was sprawled next to her, awake but relaxed, hands folded over her stomach and her boots crossed casually, her sword in its sheath tucked on her left side.

They were alone on the aft rear top deck, the hammock strung between the last mast structure and the rail and the rest of the area open and clear, the station for the rudder control on the deck below them and only lashed crates and barrels to keep them company.

“How’s your gut?” Xena asked, turning her head to observe Gabrielle’s profile.

“I think it helps to be swinging like this.” Gabrielle responded after a moment of introspection. “I feel great.”

Xena patted her on the thigh. “We’ll make you a sailor yet.”

Gabrielle chortled wryly. “Don’t get all crazy.”

“I was thinking maybe we could build a little river boat and take the kids down the river.” Xena mused. “Think they’d like that?”

“I think you’d spend your entire time diving in and chasing them.”  Gabrielle laced her fingers together as she studied the dark skies over their heads. “Unless we went in spring and followed the ice melt down the rapids. That might be popular.”

“Hm.” Xena’s tone took on a thoughtful timbre.

It was quiet around them, save the creak of the ropes and the flutter and snap of the sails belled out fully overhead as they made way through the waves, and they could hear the rush and slosh of the sea as it parted around them.

The sky was clear and still very dark overhead, the stars twinkling, but the moon had set and now the thick density of pinpoints were a solid bowl over them, the horizons indistinguishable where they met the sea in all directions.

As they shifted course a little, a long band of thickly dense stars wheeled into view, looking like a valley of them right in the fabric of the skies. “That’s so pretty, isn’t it?” Gabrielle asked, in a musing tone. “What makes it like that, Xena?”

Xena studied the sky.  “Looks like a road.” She answered. “Maybe that’s the road out of the here. Goes somewhere else.”


Xena shrugged. “Could be. Maybe there’s a door somewhere and you walk through it, and then you walk right down that path there.” She said, lifting one hand to point, and follow the length of the cluster. “Looks like clouds, kinda. Clouds of stars.”

“It does.” Gabrielle studied it. “I’d like to go see it.” She decided. “Maybe we will someday. What do you think?”

Xena smiled. “Well. Weirder things have happened to us.” She said.  “Why not?”

That was undoubtedly true.  Gabrielle wiggled her left foot under their comfortable layer of furs, turning her thoughts from visits to the stars to what the day might hold for them, casting her mind ahead to their arrival on the other coast of the sea, letting the trial of the city drift behind them.  

And so, then, of course a horn suddenly blew overhead, followed by the call from the lookout in the watch station at the top of the mast and the peace of the pre-dawn was over. 

“Here we go.” Xena slid herself out from under the furs and got to her feet, pulling the sword out and settling on her back before swinging her cloak around her shoulders.  “Break time’s over.”

“Yup. At least we got one.” Gabrielle got herself untangled and swung her legs out of the hammock, reaching for her staff as she stood up.  She pulled her thick woven overshirt over her head and started after Xena, who was halfway down the steps to the main deck.

Her heart was speeding up, and she could feel the flush of that warming her from the inside as she jumped off the last step and broke into a trot, dodging a running sailor as she concentrated on keeping her balance.

“Ship ahoy!” The watch yelled down, pointing off towards the east, and the crew, rushing out from belowdecks went for the rail on that side, squinting through the predawn gloom.

Xena made for the main mast and starting up it, climbing rapidly upward towards the watch platform and hauling herself up and over the edge of it to join the sailor who had shouted the warning, into the octagonal space built around the top of the mast with just room for the both of them.

He scrambled out of her way and she stood to her full height and looked outward, finding the moving shadow across the waves with no problem at all, it’s profile now dimly outlined by the oncoming dawn. “Ahhh.” She rumbled. “There ya are.”

“Big one.” The sailor said promptly. “Bigger’n us. Saw one like it come in sevenday after we did, hauling a cargo runner.”

It was too dark yet to see the detail of the ship, but it was heading towards them, coming from behind and slightly to the south and moving under sail along with oars, intent on catching them.  Larger than them, yes, but the ship was more or less the same configuration. “Merchanter.”

“Aye, but not moving crates.” The sailor said placidly, standing with one knee braced against the protective railing to keep his balance as the ship rolled in the waves.

“No.” Xena could just make out the shields along the side rails and amidst the masts she thought she could see a catapult lashed to the deck.  She saw no evidence they were building a firepot, though, so maybe they weren’t going to have to deal with that at least.

For a moment, she let her hands rest on the safety rail of the lookout , studying the oncoming raider and thinking about what her options were, with this half crewed ship and their crate of crossbows.  Then she gave her head a little shake and vaulted over the railing, grabbing hold of one of the sail sheet lines and lowering herself hand over hand down it.

Gabrielle was standing on the deck waiting for her, and the crew had started bringing out their meagre assortment of weapons, an oil lamp fastened on the main sail mast throwing shadows across the pitching surface.  “Well?”

“Well.” Xena let herself drop the last few feet, just as Besans and Marcos reached them, hastily woken, and pulling on the outer layer of their clothes. “Morning.”

“Bastards finally caught up to us.” Besans said.

“Looks like they’re heading our way.” Xena agreed. “Just one hull. I don’t see any others past them.”  She started for the rail facing the oncoming raider, glancing briefly at the sky behind it that had started taking on the pearlescent gray of dawn.

“What are we going to do?” Marcos asked. “They have more arms than we do, and they’ll ram us, that bow on those ships is iron clad.” He said. “Saw them fitting her out a moon ago, bending iron around that prow.”

“Yeah?” Xena turned and looked at him with interest. “Maybe we should take it then. Might be easier if we meet the rest of them.”   She stood at the rail and put her hands on her hips. “Get your rudder man to steer us towards them. Get the oars in the water and speed us up.”

Both men looked at her. “Towards them?” Marcos asked. “Should we not go the other direction, Xena? If we put on oars and full sails we could move past.” He suggested. “We have as much sail, even if they have more on the oars.”

“They’ll chase us down.” Xena said, briefly. “Only way to stop them is stop them.” She headed for the forward forecastle. “Turn us towards them and get going as fast as you can.”

Gabrielle reached out with her staff and tapped them on the hip with it. “She’s got a plan.” She said. “It’ll work out better if you do what she’s asking. Trust me.”

Besans gave a little shrug of his shoulders and marched off towards the steering platform, the wheel midship where two sailors were standing, and started yelling orders.

Marcos turned to Gabrielle. “What are we doing?” He asked simply.  “What is this plan?”

Gabrielle grinned and shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” She took hold of his arm and started walking, crossing the deck and stepping up onto the forecastle where Xena was standing with a handful of the sailors.

The soft dim gray light from the east, and the ruddy gold from the oil lamp behind gave enough illumination to see by, and as they arrived to join the growing crowd of sailors Gabrielle felt the shift of the deck under her and the motion as the ship started changing course.

“Pile the grappling hooks there, just under the rail.” Xena said. “Soon as we get close enough, we line up, get me at least a dozen people, and everyone grabs a hook and gets in position.”

“We’re gonna board them?” One of the sailors asked, in a surprised tone.

“Yeah.” Xena agreed. “They won’t expect it.”

“Hades, no they won’t.” The sailor laughed. “But lady, if they hit us broadside, that’ll go right through the side. Won’t stand up to it.” He sounded regretful. “And you got them pretty horses downbelow.”

“I know.” Xena answered, in a serious tone. “I’m not looking to send this boat to the bottom. Lets get in position.”  She went up to the front of the forecastle, and leaned against the rail near the bow.  There were lines fastened to the gunwale there, running up to the masts far overhead and she studied them thoughtfully.

Gabrielle came up next to her, holding onto her staff with one hand and the rail with her other, as the ship tilted in it’s turn and started to come around to point at the chasing raider.   She watched Xena untie one of the lines and give it a speculative shake. “You’re freaking everyone out, hon.”

“That’s different how?” Xena looped the rope around her arm and tugged on it. “C’mon, Gab. They’re expecting us to run or surrender. You see either of those happening?”

“No.” Gabrielle regarded the oncoming ship, now clearly outlined in gray, with the whitecapped dark green sea curling from it’s bow. “I didn’t say I was freaked out.”  She could hear the shouts of the oarsmen below and they were picking up speed. “Just that they were.”

“Yeah, well.”  Xena studied the raider. She could see the pirates, if that was what you could call them, massing on the deck, and the twinkle of gray light on bows and arrows, with a line of leather armored men standing behind the archers with cutlasses.

They were not flying a flag, there were no marks on the ship to indicate it’s origin, save a bird’s head painted across the front of the bow, above the ramming iron prow and the ship was coming fast, but she could see three or four men, unarmed, in finer clothing coming over and staring at them.

The sun started to break over the horizon behind the raider and as she saw that, Xena stepped up onto the rail, with the rope snugly fitted over her upper arm holding her steady and drew her sword, standing braced and ready as the light of dawn poured through the raider’s sails and hit her, outlining her in gold and glittering brightly off the blade.

Gabrielle leaned on the rail next to where she was standing, holding her staff and appreciating the sun as the two ships rushed towards each other.  Along the deck on the other side of her the sailors had grabbed their hooks, usually used to bring on cargo, and unraveled the lines attached to them, flinging them behind them to trail across the deck.

She could see the looks now on the faces of the men in the pirate ship as they focused on Xena standing there on the rail, grinning, her dark hair now flowing back in the wind, along with her cloak, the sun picking out glints along her hammered armor.

Their ship had turned to a point where their bow was now pointed right at the bow of the pirate, and they were no longer on a line to being intercepted, and as they closed Xena let out a strident yell, and leaned forward, crouching as she prepared to leap across the gap between the careening vessels and the sailors along the line caught up her yell in excitement, extending the hooks behind them as they got ready to send the grapples over.

Suddenly the pirate ship exploded into a swarm of motion, the bowmen scrambling around and getting out of the way and the men behind them rushing to the rail along with a tall, bearded man who came to the prow and gripped it with both hands.

Xena caught his eye and grinned even wider, twirling her sword in her hand and making the sun scatter blue sparkles off the jewel in the pommel. “Blood’s the best way to start the day!”  She yelled out across the water at him. “C’mon ya bastards!”

The man’s jaw dropped and he stared back for just a long second, before he released the rain and turned and yelled at his own sailors on the deck, waving his arms and then bolting for the wheel in a cavalcade of confusion that left the men at the rail turning in surprise and the bowmen dropping their crossbows to grab the sheets that held the sails aloft.

The pirate ship abruptly started to turn, and the sails were being hauled down and they swept past each other, amidst a hail of crossbow bolts from Xena’s ship that took down a scattering of running men as they skimmed past, close enough to almost scrape hulls.

Xena stood there and watched them, chuckling softly.  “Cowards!” She yelled after them, as the pirate ship wallowed and the sails flapped as they turned back to the south, the oarsmen churning the water as they stroked backwards and quickly took them out of range of the crossbows.

Gabrielle patted her leg. “Awesome.”

The sailors seemed somewhat disappointed, and they watched the other ship retreat. “Too bad!” One of them said, coiling up the rope that was attached to his grappling hook. “Look at them! They ran away!” He said, in some amazement.  “They didn’t want to fight!”

Xena hopped down off the rail and sheathed her sword with an anticlimactic click. “Most bullies don’t.” She remarked.  “They depend on fear doing their work for them.”

The sailors were gathering around the two of them, turning to stare at the pirate’s outline receding into the rising sun, as their own ship gracefully started to curve back to the northwest, to resume its original course. Marcos joined them, standing with his hands on his hips, shaking his head a little.

“What would have happened if they hadn’t turned?” He asked, in a speculative tone. “If they had called your bluff?” He cocked his head at Xena in question. “Don’t get me wrong, it was masterful!”

Xena leaned against the rail, crossing her boots and a smile appeared, that lit up and put a twinkle in her blue eyes. “It wasn’t a bluff.” She stated. “And someone was smart enough on that crate to know that. They were expecting escaping merchanters and that’s what they were prepared to handle.”

“Not competing pirates.” Gabrielle nodded, chuckling.  “That tall guy recognized you, Xe.” She added in a confident tone. “I could see it in his face. He went from yeah lets pirate! to oh my gods I’m going to lose my ship in the blink of an eye and made the right choice.”   She wrapped her hands around her staff and leaned next to Xena. “So onward we go.”

“Can’t wait to tell Hercules what his damn party put us through.” Xena rolled her eyes.

Marcos, who had half turned to leave, turned back around and looked at her with renewed interest. “Hercules?” He said. “Do you know him?”

“We do.” Gabrielle acknowledged. “We’re going to his birthday party. That’s the point of this whole find a ship thing.” She added casually. “Why?”

The sailors were starting to drift away, keeping their ears cocked to listen, but now they nodded knowingly and looked at each other as they stowed the grappling hooks and moved off to where one of the men was bringing up a tray of waybread and a worn crock of some spreadable substance.

Marcos sat down on a plank. “Storys you hear, you know.” He said, and then suddenly smiled a little abashedly. “Well yes of course you of all people would know.” He said. “We had thought to make a voyage to Herculaneum, before we crossed here to Costas.”

“Herculaneum?” Gabrielle repeated, her voice dropping a little.

“Yes.” Marcos nodded. “A city founded around his living place, it was built up in the last few years as he provides protection and naturally those around there take advantage of his presence. I am told it’s a lovely place, and absolutely I wish we’d gone in that direction rather than this one at the time.”

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged looks. “Doesn’t really sound like him to name a city after himself.” Gabrielle ventured. “But I believe he’d protect anyone around him.”

“Hm.” Xena made a small, vaguely surprised sound.

“Just like Xena does.” Gabrielle leaned against her affectionately. “But she’d chase us all into the river if we tried to rename the town after her.” She felt Xena start to shake with silent laughter.

 Marcos smiled and shrugged. “I have never been there, and have never had the honor to meet him, so I cannot say how that came to be, but now that I know you wish to go there, should we alter course and head there instead? It will save you an overland trek, and maybe give us an opportunity to refill our coffers.”

“Win win.” Xena said, after a brief pause. “Means a longer time at sea.” She looked over at Gabrielle in question. “We’ll have to go around the end of the peninsula and up the other side.” Then she paused and waited for Gabrielle to answer.

Gabrielle authentically appreciated the consideration. “I’ll live.” She said without much hesitation. “Much less chance of our encountering yet more trouble on land, and I can work on my story.”  She looked at Marcos. “Thank you for the offer, Marcos. I know its been a little crazy.”

He lifted his hands and grinned again. “Yes, but in a positive way, Gabrielle. We went from being hostage in Costas to a much better path. Let me go talk to Besans. I think he will be glad to do it.” He got up and marched off leaving them alone on the forecastle.

“Herculaneum?” Xena said, with a querying tone. “Are you kidding me?”

“Yeah, wow.” Gabrielle agreed. “But hey, good for him, you know, Xe?  He deserves the accolades after all that’s gone on the last couple years.” She said. “Iolaus must have howled.”

“True enough.” Xena straightened her cloak out and ran her fingers through her hair. “Up for some travel bars?”

“That whole grandstand’s going to make a great story.” Gabrielle tucked her hand inside Xena’s elbow as they started to cross the forecastle towards the lower deck. “Let me get some tea made. I think I smell port and I can’t handle that for breakfast.”

“At least it’s not rum.”


The ship altered course to the south and the lookout basket now held two sailors, standing braced and peering both to the east and to the north, keeping an eye out for more pirates.  

Xena was standing on deck leaning against the main mast, arms folded, as she regarded the length of the deck and the working crew along it mending sail and ropes.

Gabrielle was seated on a storage casing midships, entertaining the workers with a story, and as she watched, more sailors with tasks that could easily have been done belowdecks came over and settled cross legged to listen.

It made her smile.  Gabrielle had her staff resting across her knees and she would occasionally use it as a prop for emphasis, since she was telling a story that had fighting in it and the men were evidently enjoying the tale.

After a moments indulgence, she pushed off the mast and went over to the hatch, walking down the steps into the hold. 

Here the sound of the wind faded and was replaced by the creak of the vessel moving, and the drone of the conversation of the oarsmen on the deck below along with the thunk and clang of the oars in motion.

On the upper level, the few crew who were not on deck were working at some tasks, or seated in hammocks relaxing and they glanced up as she reached the deck and started towards the aft. 

It was a bit warmer below, but still chilly and she was glad of her cloak as she made her way over to where Spot and Tanto were stabled, both animals standing to the front of their enclosures with ears forward, hearing her approach.

“Hey kids.” Xena greeted them amiably.    They were stabled next to each other and she went to the middle of the stalls, so she could give them both a hug and a scratch. “You doing okay? Not to weird down here for ya?”

Speaking to animals was very usual thing for her to do, and the horses were used to hearing her voice, their ears flicking around as they shoved their noses into her chest in greeting.

“They ever talk back?” A voice asked from the empty stall on the other side of Tanto and Xena turned her head and looked past the stallion’s head, to see the wizened sailor who’d greeted her near the stalls yesterday sitting on a barrel, repairing a rope.

“With words?” Xena asked.

The sailor smiled.

“No.” Xena said. “With motion, and ears and snuffles, yes.” She ducked under the ropes and went to the roughly boarded crate in the back where she’d stored their gear.  She removed her set of brushes and came back, starting to move along Tanto and comb out his coat. “Didn’t get a chance to do this yesterday.”

The sailor chuckled. “Were busy.” He acknowledged. “But thanking the gods t’day we’re gone from that rathole and back out at sea.” He glanced over at Xena. “Think them pirate’sll come back?”

Xena had worked her way past Tanto’s head and now could see the man clearly over the horses back. “That same one? No.” She said, in a placid tone. “But there might be others that will. Depends.” She worked the brush down one shoulder. “Gabrielle was right, that captain this morning recognized me. He wasn’t ready for that kind of fight.”

“Nah.” The sailor said. “Used to scaring the landies, like our guy here.” He didn’t sound angry about it. “Most of us’d give them a scrap though.” He grinned and squinted at Xena. “I was almost sorry to see them turn out.”

Xena chuckled. “Me too.” She agreed cheerfully. “They had some pretty good battle kit there. But it turned out all right.” She finished one side of Tanto and moved around to the other. “With any luck, he made a beeline back to Costas and told em.”

“Told em how lucky they were we went.” The sailor laughed. “And took Poseidon’s Bane wit us!”

“Something like that.” Xena glanced over her shoulder at him, her eyes twinkling. “Sometimes crazy old stories have a use. If they call all those guys back and leave us alone it makes for an easier trip.” She started to comb out Tanto’s dark mane.

The sailor winked at her then went back to his rope braiding, his gnarled, scarred fingers working almost without direction. “Always good to see a beast cared for.” He commented casually. “I woudn’ta tried it, got my fingers bit off.”

“Nah he’s a good boy.” Xena was now up by Tanto’s head, and the stallion was watching her out of one dark, round, liquid eye.  “He thinks he’s a lot tougher than he is.” She watched benignly as the horse nibbled her knuckles, then gave him a kiss on the head.  “Let me go brush your buddy over there. Maybe your other mother will bring you down some carrots later.”

Tanto let out a splutter, speckling the front of her shirt with saliva as she circled around him and went over to where Spot was patiently awaiting her.  “Hey Spotty.”  She stifled a chuckle at the name, though the mare came by it honestly, being covered from shoulders to hocks with roan spots on a light background, with a darker roan head and feet.

She had just started brushing her when she heard boots crossing the deck coming in their direction and she looked up to see the brass merchant and the grill owner heading over.  She continued her work as they neared.

“Hello there, lady.” The brass merchant greeted her. “Quite a show this morning.” He put his hands on the rope that outlined the horse stall. “The captain has told us we’re changing headings and sailing around the horn. Was that your doing?”

Xena paused and looked up. “He offered.” She said. “Save us the trip overland. That a problem?”

Both men immediately shook their head in a vigorous manner. “Best thing I could have heard.” Dugan said, in his bass rumble. “I’d done a deal with the captain to work the galley for him for my passage if I could stay aboard after he’d let you off in the north coast. I want no part of it. I had rough work there.”

“They’re not fond of those of us from overseas.” The brass merchant agreed. “But I’ve heard better things about Herculaneum and look forward to seeing it.” He said. “I hear you are familiar with its patron?” He added, a note of curiosity in his tone.

“We are.” Xena glanced up at them and noted the interest. “Invited to his birthday party matter of fact. That’s why we detoured across the plateau instead of just turning around and heading home.”  She sorted Spot’s strawberry colored mane. “We hadn’t realized such a settlement had grown up around where he and Iolaus set up camp.”

“Oh yes.” Dugan readily answered. “Quite a big port city, Herculaneum, these days, at least, named that way. Not sure it had a name before he came to live there, y’know, but it was a freeport. Took trade from all over.”

Xena rested her hands on Spot’s back, and Tanto took the opportunity to rest his head on her shoulder. “Well, glad it worked out for you.” She remarked. “Looking forward to getting there.” She eyed the stallion, who was tickling her ear with the prickly hairs on his nose.  “Ask Gabrielle to tell you some of Herc’s stories. She knows a bunch.”  She returned her focus to the two men. “She likes to be asked.”

Dugan smiled. “We will for sure do that, lady. Soon’s she’s done telling the one she’s on now, about the Spartans.”

They lifted their hands in farewell and walked off, leaving Xena to finish her task.


As the sun started to set, they picked up a tailwind and the sails overhead belled out, as the bow carved a path through the deep blue waters, throwing up a wake on both sides. 

The captain gave the oarsmen a break and they were up on the deck enjoying hard tack and fish, leaning against the side of the ship as they passed a skin of wine between them.

Gabrielle walked along the deck between them, a saddlebag slung over her shoulder as she retreated to the aft raised deck where Xena was seated sprawled on a box, enjoying the sunset.  “Whoof.” She said, as she arrived next to her and sat down. “My throat’s done for today.”

“You were definitely popular.” Xena lifted one hand up and brushed the pale hair out of Gabrielle’s eyes. “They really liked the one about the Hydra.”

“They did, and it was appropriate for a bunch of sailors.” Gabrielle let the saddlebag down and leaned back against the rear wall of the ship, exhaling. “They’re happy about going around to peninsula. Most of them want to see that side.” She mused. “Even the guys on the oars.”

Xena nodded. “Yeah. Those two merchants we picked up are too.”  She looked around, bathed in the golden light of sunset. “When have we ever had an adventure when everything worked out first time, Gabrielle?” She asked thoughtfully.

Then she turned around and looked behind them, seeing nothing but ruffling blue water to the horizon.  Not even another boat in sight, merchanter or pirate or anything.  She turned back to Gabrielle and raised both hands and eyebrows in question.

Gabrielle folded her hands in her lap and thought, her face scrunched up in effort.

“We never have, so stop.”  Xena got up and went to the saddlebag Gabrielle had dropped to the deck and opened it, fishing out a waterskin.  She added a cup to her booty and poured water into the cup handing over to Gabrielle and taking a drink herself from the skin’s spout.

“Thanks.” Gabrielle was glad to sip from the cup, clearing her throat. “Yeah you’re right, Xe. Somehow all our shenanigans turn out okay in the end but it’s never easy getting from start to finish. This…” She slowly nodded and let her eyes drift across the deck. “Is weird.”

Xena pulled out a packet of trail bars and returned to her seat. “They’re making fish stew downstairs.” She unwrapped a bar and handed Gabrielle one. “Salt cod.”

Gabrielle shuddered reflexively. “Can we fish from this deck?” She watched Xena half turn and look over the edge of the railing. “I mean with a fishing line. Not by you diving in.”

“Yeah we can.”  Xena smiled as she turned back around. “Not sure we’d catch much with this wind we got going but we can try.” She crossed her boots and leaned back to chew on her trail bar as they sat together quietly, watching the sun go down.

Gabrielle tucked her hand through Xena’s elbow and leaned against her, content with the silent companionship and the setting sun that was now painting the western sky in stretches of beautiful color, reds and oranges and the gold of the sun as it approached the horizon, giving them a view the seldom got living as they did in the mountains.

“You told them about Therma.” Xena said, after a while.

“Yeah, not all of it, parts. Because it had you and Herc and Iolaus in it, and ships and fighting.” Gabrielle responded. “I left out parts.”

Xena chuckled.

“Well, y’know Xe.”

“Yeah I know those were the right parts to tell em.” Xena said. “Especially the parts about the ships.”

“Which I missed.” Gabrielle narrowed her eyes in mock outrage.

“Not my fault. You asked me to go.” Xena held a hand up and waved it. “Teach you to play by the rules.”


The sun touched the sea, and the roundness of it started to flatten.  “Where does the sun go when it disappears?” Gabrielle asked. “I remember on Olympus you didn’t see it go anywhere it just faded out. But there it goes, like it’s going down into the water. But it can’t be right?”

Where did it go? Xena stared at the beautiful sky, where the bands of light spread all the way across the horizon as the sun steadily dipped into the sea.  Where DID it go? “It goes to the other side of the world.” She finally said slowly.  “I think its daytime there when it’s night here, wherever that is.”

So it’s dawn now, on that side of the world.” Gabrielle responded. “That’s so weird to think about.” She took a bite of her travel bar and chewed it thoughtfully. “Anyway, it’s pretty.”

“It is.” Xena let her head rest against Gabrielle’s as the sky darkened. “Glad we had a clear evening to watch it.”

“Me too.”


At dawn two days later, they were rounding the rugged promontory of land that thrust out into the sea, having had good seas and a robust wind to guide their path and here, in a narrow straight of water between two sets of rocky shores the waves were fractious, coming from different directions and slapping up against the hull.

Xena and Gabrielle were up on the forecastle, standing at the rail and peering out at both the water and the craggy, visible cliffs they were sailing next to, neither of them having had the opportunity to be in the area before.

Even Xena, who had traveled more than most, had never been in these waters and she looked at them with interest as they rounded the point and started back to the west and north around the other side of it. “Look at the water.”

She pointed at an area that seemed to be two sets of waves washing against each other, one a darker frothy blue that they had been sailing through and the other a more green color, with a heavy swath of sea wrack on it’s surface.

“It looks like soup.” Gabrielle said, thoughtfully. “Its even warmer here.”

“Yep.” Xena removed her sextant from a pouch on her belt and busied herself with taking a reading with it, half turning to swing behind them and look back the way they’d come. “We’re about even with Athens here. Want to visit on the way back?”


“We could go north from there and visit Rome.”

“No thank you.”

Xena chuckled.

“I do want to go see lions.”  Gabrielle said, after a pause. “But we should take the kids with us. Dori would love to see a lion, don’t you think?”

“She’d end up riding him.” Xena lifted her head and drew in a breath, able to scent the stone and greenery from the land on either side. There were no buildings on either side, but at the edge of her senses she could detect the smell of turned soil, and animals, so it wasn’t totally bare of life. “And they have hand long sharp teeth and claws.”

Gabrielle eyed her. “That mean we’d end up with another rug for the cabin?”

Besan strolled over to them and joined them at the railing, visibly in a good mood. “Morning ladies.” He greeted them. “Through the chute we go, and then to the north. We’ll be needing to pull into shore in a bit to pick up barrels of fresh water. There’s a little place I know of, we can trade for it.”

Xena glanced at him. “You know these parts?”

“The southern coast, yes.” Besan agreed. “I have family in Tieria. It’s a small place but settled by folks like us and friendly. A bit wild, but they’ve got a loading pier you could take your horses out for a trot.”

“They’d like that.” Xena said.

“Me too.” Gabrielle said, under her breath. “Maybe I can scrounge for some fresh tea leaves.”  She leaned against the railing and looked out at the land they were passing, both sets of green covered walls spreading up from the sea.

It was wild looking, as the captain had promised, but she could see the far end of the channel they were moving through, the winds tugging at their sails and ruffling her hair from behind. 

As she looked out over the water she saw a large fish lift out over the surface, with a huge pointed spike on the front of his face, curling up out of the water and then plunging back under the surface and that made her rest her elbows on the railing and peer down into the depths, which were taking on a blue green iridescence and imagined she could see shadows and fish in reflections there.

She kept that up until they sailed out of the end of the narrows, into a sunlit sea and a coastline full of cliffs and inlets on the right-hand side, and an open stretch of water to the left hand side, where she could see the far off humps of islands not that far away.

Gabrielle felt that old thrill of discovery, as she took in the new sights around her, appreciating the beauty of the water, and the green fullness of the cliffs and the bright sun washing over all of it.  She had an appreciation now of why Iolaus and Hercules might have come the same way and found it charming enough to settle and stay for a while. “It’s nice here.”

“Yeah.” Xena agreed.

The ship slowly started to slide along the coastline, and angled in towards the shore, heading for a small inlet they could see on the edge of the horizon and halfway there they were greeted by and escorted by a flock of saucy, gray black and white gulls.

The land was all cliff fronted, with hills the tumbled upwards behind into lush, green covered mountains, still full of leaves despite the freshness of autumn in the air and this close they could smell the rich pungency of trees and leaves.

“Ah, it’ll be so good to see friendly land.” Besan, who had been standing there next to them, just leaning on the rail himself. “Away from those lousy scammers.” He shook his head. “Last time I let a landie talk me into a spec trip.”

He dusted his hands off and strode off, climbing down the steps from the forecastle where he, and Marcos and the two merchants had their quarters and headed for the ship’s wheel.

The gulls wheeled overhead in hopeful circles, letting out their rusty sounding cries.  “What do they want?” Gabrielle looked up cautiously at them.

“They must think this is a fishing boat.” Xena put her sextant back in its pouch. “Lemme go get a crossbow. Maybe I can shoot one of those spear headed jumping ones.”  She clapped her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and guided her over to the steps, down to the main deck where the sailors were starting to stir, going to the rail to see what there was to be seen, and start preparing to take down the sails for docking.

The sun was climbing up overhead and as they walked through slanted beams of it the bow started to rise and fall a little more strongly, as they moved into an undersea current and went parallel to the coast, drawing slowly closer to land and almost to the hatch, Xena paused and detoured over to the left side rail to peer at the approaching coast.

In the distance, a small, rowed boat appeared out of the gap in the cliff and started their way, with four men rowing and three others standing between them, holding on to sturdy braces crossing the boat from side to side.  They were unmistakably heading in their direction.

“Ah.” Gabrielle put her hands on the rail and leaned forward to look past Xena. “Is this where the story starts going downhill?” She asked, but in a mild tone. “What do you figure, fugitives or representations of the law? They could hardly have sent word yet scammed our way out of Costas.”

“Maybe it’s just a welcoming committee.”

  “Maybe they’re going to warn us about fanged mermaids.”

Gabrielle turned from the rail and shook her head.  She tapped Xena on the hip. “C’mon, lets get our stuff ready.” She looked across the deck and past it, to the far-off islands, now visible as distinct cones sticking out of the water and reaching for the sky. “Xe, is that smoke coming out of the top of that mountain?”

Xena turned to look. She studied it for a long moment. “I think it’s a volcanic island.”  She said, offhandedly. “Glad we’re not going that way.”

“Me too.”


Continued in Part 7