SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII
Bay of Naples
Gabrielle stood with her hands on the rail looking out over the bow of the ship to the shore.
"So close, yet so far," she sighed to herself. "Gods, I should hate the sea."
The bard smiled, reminding herself of all the reasons why she shouldn't. Turning her head, her gaze settled on the most important one, who stood by the main mast of the vessel arguing vehemently with the captain.
"And I'm telling you, I want at least half of our dinars back." The bard could hear the stern, but smooth voice of the warrior carried to her by the sea breeze.
Gabrielle turned away to look at the shore.
All she really wanted to do was get back on dry land; she didn't give a hoot if they got any dinars back. The bard was just happy to be alive.
They had taken passage on this ship back to Greece after they finished their mission freeing Vercinix from Caesar's clutches in Rome. They were well on their way through the Bay of Naples when a storm hit. Gabrielle guessed it was Poseidon once again trying to exact vengeance against Xena.
The storm tossed and turned them until Gabrielle was sure she was going to die from the seasickness alone. No amount of pressure on her wrist would relieve her distress. Add to that the fact that Xena had insisted on staying topside to help 'batten down the hatches' and the bard found herself in the cargo hole, huddled in a tight ball next to a wooden crate groaning from a stomach twisted in the throes of worry and nausea.
"I really, really hate the sea," was her mantra for the entire night.
Morning found the storm gone, the sea calm and the ship scuttled on a barrier reef off the coast of the small fishing village of Oplonto.
Now, Gabrielle stood on the bow in the bright morning sunshine, staring not at the small village but at the overwhelming presence of a dark mountain that loomed over all in the background.
"Mount Vesuvius," Xena stated coming up behind the bard, causing her to jump a bit. Her eyes had been following a thin, but steady stream of smoke that rose out of the mountain's sharp peak.
"A volcano," the warrior continued, gripping the railing to stand beside her friend, "That's Oplonto at its base, a small village. But the bigger city lies just a short ride up the Sarno river, just beyond. You can almost see it...see?"
Xena pointed into the distance.
"Pompeii. Ever hear of it?"
Gabrielle shook her head and squinted, trying to see the faint outline of the city beyond Oplonto.
"Well, ya gonna get to see it. We have to go there."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked, turning her head to look up at her partner.
"The ship's hull has been breached. She's going to sink."
Gabrielle eyes widened. Xena smiled.
"Eventually. We'll be off long before that happens." The warrior pointed towards the shore.
"See those long boats pulling away from their moorings?"
"They'll be heading here. Scavengers. Maritime etiquette says they can take whatever they can salvage when a ship is lost, but they are bound to help all passengers safely to shore."
"The crew, too?"
Xena nodded, grinning at Gabrielle's predictable concern for the safety of all.
"Everyone. They'll lose their profits, but not their lives."
"Thank the gods for those rules."
"Well, the captain and crew are not very happy campers, I can tell ya that. They've lost everything. I don't think we'll see any of our dinars, even though we paid the full fare for passage all the way to Greece."
Gabrielle shrugged and patted Xena's arm.
"I'll just be happy to make it to dry land," she smiled back at Xena's grin. "What'll we do?"
Xena pulled a strand of hair out of her face, blown into her eyes by a soft gush of ocean wind.
"We'll have to go into the city and try to book passage the rest of the way."
Gabrielle looked back at the shore and smiled broadly.
"Yup," Xena answered, nodding. "The captain said that would be the best place. Most of the merchants who sailed the larger ships would be there."
"Pompeii is a big city?"
"Lots of shops?"
Gabrielle's smile widened.
"Good places to eat?"
"I'm liking it already."
Xena smiled down at the bard and squeezed her shoulder. "I thought you would."
Then the warrior lost her grin and looked at her partner with all seriousness.
"Just remember that this is a ROMAN city. A very Roman city. After what we just did, I wouldn't be surprised if news of it has already spread to every Roman stronghold in the empire. We have to be very careful, Gabrielle."
"And YOU have to be a little less...recognizable," the bard added, examining her partner's leather and brass armor with a worried, but appreciative eye.
"I'm sure I'll blend right in," Xena stated before pushing off to move away from the railing.
"Right." The bard replied sarcastically, following the warrior to gather their belongings before the salvage boats arrived.
With a deep grunt, Xena lifted a large, heavy sack onto her right shoulder and carefully stepped out of the long boat onto the Pompeian dock. After several deliberate steps, she was able to heave the sack into a cart waiting near the dock's edge.
Gabrielle followed right behind, carrying a slightly smaller but nonetheless heavy burden of her own. The bard threw the bag into the wagon and wiped her hands in satisfaction.
"That should do it!" she proclaimed and smiled as the long boat's owner pushed one last box into its place and mopped his brow with a piece of rag.
Xena wiped back sweaty bangs from her forehead and squinted up at the sky.
"Whew, it's hot in the sun."
"Yes, hot when you do hard work," said Pontius, the salvage boat's owner. He smiled warmly at the warrior, wondering how any woman could be so strong, work so hard, and yet manage to look so beautiful even when sweating.
Gabrielle chuckled to herself, thinking that only Xena could leave a man smitten simply by helping with the cargo.
Pontius continued to smile at the warrior, until Xena became a tad annoyed under the silent gaze. She shifted impatiently to her other foot.
"Well, looks like that's about it," Gabrielle said, interrupting the uncomfortable silence.
"Yes, we're finished," Pontius agreed, still smiling at Xena.
"Good luck in the market," Gabrielle added, glancing briefly at Xena and smirking at her partner's annoyed expression, "What's the name of that street you told us to watch for?" The bard's question forced the merchant's attention away from the warrior.
"Via Dell'Abbondanza," Pontius answered, turning to face Gabrielle. "Go in here through this porta, follow the road until you come to Via Dell'Abbondanza. Turn left and just keep walking. The closer you get to the Forum, the more taverns and shops. Most of the merchants and seamen will be there. Selling, trading, eating...."
"Drinking...." Xena finished for him.
"Yeah. Drinking," Pontius added wistfully. "Hey, maybe you'd like to go for a drink with me?"
Xena’s attempt at a smile failed. "No, thank you. We have business to do and we need to get to it."
"Thank you for asking, though," Gabrielle butted in politely, even though the invitation obviously did not include her.
"Come on, Gabrielle," Xena pushed past the merchant and headed for the long boat to bring Argo ashore. She helped the mare negotiate the plank and then joined Gabrielle, who was waiting for them at the start of the short path that led to the city.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Pontius yelled, causing the pair to turn around. He threw a small bag at the warrior, which she caught it easily.
"What's this?" Xena asked, holding up the bag and giving it a shake. It jingled with the sound of dinars.
"Hard work deserves good pay," Pontius replied with a nod. "Without you I wouldn't have salvaged half as much. Thank you."
Xena looked at the bag and thought a moment. Gabrielle half expected her to toss it back, but instead the warrior tucked it into her bosom with a grin.
"Thanks," Xena said, flashing Pontius a brilliant smile. The merchant beamed.
"And thanks for the ride!" Xena added with a wave of her hand, then she tugged on Argo’s reign and the three of them turned away to walk down the short road that led from the dock to the Porta Stabia, the gate into Pompeii.
"Any time!" Pontius answered, climbing into his wagon. "Absolutely anytime."
As they approached the large arched portal, Gabrielle paused to looked up at the towering solid stone wall that ran along the perimeter of the entire city. Her eyes followed the massive structure that stretched out as far as the eye could see in either direction.
"Quite a battlement. The Romans must be a bit paranoid," Gabrielle mumbled, touching the surprisingly cool limestone briefly as they passed into the gate.
"The Greeks built this city," Xena replied. Gabrielle looked at Xena in surprise.
"Years and years ago," Xena added. "This battlement was built as protection against attack."
"Obviously not good enough to protect them from Caesar," Xena commented with a frown.
"Caesar took this city from us?"
"Well, actually Pompeii was taken from us by the Samnites a long, long time ago. The Romans took it from them."
"I guess no battlement can be big enough," Gabrielle commented.
"Not against power-hungry warlords bent on world domination. Come on," Xena said, removing the small pouch from its own protective haven and giving it a jingle. "I'll buy you a drink."
Gabrielle smiled and nodded in acceptance, her eyes taking in everything they could as the warrior and bard led the mare into the shadow of the arched entrance and entered Pompeii proper.
Continued - Chapter 3
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