The Liliad
senachie
lataine@hotmail.com
 
Chapter 33
Water Weal

 

Come along, come along,
my pretty, brave gals,
there's plenty of grog in the jar,
we'll plow the briny ocean with
the jolly, rollin' tar...

If Lila may have imagined that her first ocean voyage was going to consist primarily of leisurely lounging on the deck of a cruise ship, she quickly learned otherwise. The troupe of ten had to do the work of twenty crew members, and they couldn't afford to slack off if they were going to keep the craft on course. While the captain handled the pilot's wheel on the foredeck, the ladies tended to the mast and riggings and then, during the lulls when the sails were in irons, they went below decks and hauled on the oars. The ship had no jib or spinnaker, so a good deal of muscle was needed to tack into the headwinds as the craft, on an easterly course, ran with a finicky, leeward wind. Once free of the cape, there was nothing to do but to veer south of the tricky Thracian straits while keeping a close eye on the declination of the sun and pole star. The navigation wasn't difficult for an old salt like the ship's captain, but it took a lot of tedious concentration, so it was a challenge not to let oneself get sluggish and somnolent through the long, weary hours of little sea change and almost no swell.

The ladies hefted and hauled with battens and stays while alternately cleating and uncleating the davits until their hands began smarting with rope burn. The captain supplied them with greasy cakes of lanolin which they kneaded into the palms of their hands at every free turn of the sandglass, so that it was only when they were chowing their grub (briefly) and kipping below decks (also briefly) that their hands weren't busy with some laborious task or other.

Lila had a harder time than the others keeping to the rigorous pace and had to take frequent breaks. Besides, it was her moon time, and she was bleeding and cramping. Never having sailed on the ocean before, Lila, like Gabrielle in the early days, had a hard time finding her sea legs. Fortunately, Lila's tummy wasn't as badly affected as Gabrielle's had been when Gabrielle was first shanghai'ed aboard Cecrops' vessel. Lila was more queasy than nauseous but she was also plagued by fatigue. Yet she kept plugging away, as best she could, and made no complaint. Gabrielle and Xena insisted that Lila rest when necessary and urged her not to be concerned that she might be pulling less weight than the others. No one expected her to become as physically fit as an Amazon overnight.

Despite the rugged conditions, the ocean breeze was exhilarating, and once the women settled into a rhythmic pattern of heave to and haul away, they took well to the task of crewing the outrigger and even seemed to enjoy it. Though they may have been embroiled in a serious conflict over the allocation of status, power and leadership in their community, Xena noticed -- and the captain noticed too -- that the Amazons worked well together.

Here, Xena remarked to herself, is the Amazonsí saving grace. When the demands of the instant thrust the disruptive tendencies of the ego aside, a natural harmony reigned among these women which united their spirits in modest, selfless enterprise. If I'd had, with my armies, that gift of mutuality and grace which these women seem naturally to exhibit, Xena mused, we could have conquered the world. But then again, with a gift like that, we wouldn't have wanted or needed to conquer the world. Xena gritted her teeth and shook her head in the sharp, sudden gust of wind that came slamming across the mast and nearly sent her flying off the crosstree where she stood with half a furled sail in her hands: when you get right down to it, this is what you ladies do best -- enhance and balance each other -- and, if only you'd avoid putting artificial barriers in your own way, you'd find that, when all is said and done, you really do love one another.

We are family, I've got all my sisters with me...

By mid-afternoon, some of the troupe had fallen to laughing and joking as they kept shouting, "Aye, aye, sir!" in response to the captain's continuous string of commands to haul a little here and reach a little there and then to tug the sheet and now to reel it in and next to bight the boom and next to let it out so far that the craft would all but jive.

The captain didn't know quite what to make of these scantily clad coeds who looked to him, for all the world, like a feathers Ďn frills chorus line from a comedy by Aristophanes but who showed themselves to be hard-working and disciplined and, for landlubbers -- and women -- able to master, with remarkable aplomb, the skills required effectively to navigate a merchant liner. Yet, for all that, how could he be sure that these women -- Amazons, after all -- might not mutiny, seize the ship for their own purposes and dump him overboard to make a meal for the creatures who gnawed men's bones five fathom deep. Quite a risk he was taking, having these ladies serve as his crew, even if they were, by and large, proving to be a competent bunch.

But fear was quelled by greed. These ladies wanted no pay, only passage, and the resulting profit margin for the trip -- buckets of tinkling dinars in his ears mimicking the sound of merry chimes -- had been too good to pass up. Even Salmoneus, the notorious impresario of the bargain emporium, of whose reputation for cut-rate enterprise the captain was cognizant, would eagerly have jumped at the deal. Who else, if not Salmoneus, had been zany and reckless enough to become entangled with a gaggle of screaming maenads, offering to exchange pleasures of the flesh for diamonds, rubies emeralds? Those girls bite, the captain knew; and, unlike the venom injected by vipers, adders and other species of extremely poisonous snakes, those maenad bites could really do a deadly job on a guy.

With the course laid in and the riggings more or less in place, the winds falling off and the weather turning indolent, it was time for the ladies to drop down to the hold and put their backs to the oars. This was hard, grinding work, the most demanding and monotonous part of the voyage, usually the provenance of slaves, convicts and those who blasphemed against the gods. Not only one's arms and shoulders but one's legs and buttocks and particularly one's lower back soon became dolefully sore from the constant, back and forth, leaning and pulling as the oars bit and lugged through the bleak, heavy swell below twirly white caps, the gurgling funnels thrust athwart the receding prow, the shipís wake looking like an endless succession of little whirlpools.

The ladies passed the long, languorous hours droning sea shanties, first the verses they knew, then verses made up for the occasion. Xena and Ephiny sat on the port side of the lead bench, Velasca and Elana on the starboard side, the front positions being the spot where maximum thrust was needed. Behind Xena and Ephiny sat Solari and Eponin. Behind Velasca and Elana sat Oriena and Thelestria. Gabrielle and Lila sat across the aisle from one another on the rear, on the one-person seats where the least relative amount of bodily strength was required. Gabrielle had taken it upon herself to keep a close eye on Lila and to make sure that Lila kept sipping from her waterskin to stay hydrated even if Lila didnít feel she needed to.

"Stop if you get dizzy or start feeling faint; I mean it," Gabrielle lectured Lila.

"Yah, I will," Lila assured Gabrielle, though Lila wanted, more than anything, to prove to the others that she could be an asset -- or, at any rate, not be a liability -- to the venture. Gabrielle knew that Lila was trying hard to prove herself and so resisted the impulse to give Lila too much advice so as not to embarrass her in front of the group.

"I'm just glad that you're with us, Lee; and I couldn't care less if you never rowed a stroke and neither could Xena," Gabrielle wanted to say, but she wisely thought the better of it. Just make sure that Lila paces herself and doesn't get over-tired and then, in spite of her best intentions, actually end up becoming a burden to the others.

Got a gal and her name's Solari,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
mess with her and you'll be sorry,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

The women's voices chanted in unison...

Got a gal and her name is Eponin,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
mighty big boots for me to be steppin' in,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

keeping time with the pull and lift of the churning oars.

Got a gal and her name is Xena,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
courted her down by the old marina,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

On toward twilight...

Got a gal and her name's Velasca,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
gone up north to the Alabasca,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

the sun hunkered astern, a thin, smooth slice imitating the orange ball that one of the enaretes kores, at the thesmophoria skit in the telesterion, had picked up and slowly lowered to represent the oncoming darkness.

Got a gal and her name is Gabby,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
lookiní at her makes me feel so flabby,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

Muscle, sinew, joint and bone: women, under sail, on their own power, shedding spume, shearing wake, skipping over the waves. Something new was seeping like vital fluid into Lila's soul with every shove and yank on the oar handle. Wimping out? Hades, she was just getting into gear.

Got a gal and her name is Lila,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
sweetest boat in the whole flotilla,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

Up on the fo'c'sle, twirling the wheel, even the old sea captain got into the groove:

Amazon gals are wild and scary,
weigh, hey, we'll all come down,
awful pretty but you'd better be wary,
weigh, hey, gonna bring her 'round...

And before anyone knew it, night had fallen and it was time to haul out the rations.

The ladies clambered up to the mess. The evening's fare was salted fish and strands of kelp made palatable by generous helpings of fruit preserves.

Despite the rocking of the vessel, Lila was hungry from a long day's work and ate heartily. Gabrielle picked gingerly at her supper, still, after all these ocean jaunts, feeling a bit unsettled by the rolling of the sea.

Night duty was lighter, and the crew catnapped in shifts. During the wee candlemarks, when Lila at last had some leisure time to hang out with Gabrielle on the poop, the halyards and stays now settled into the steady, favorable breeze from astern which the sailors called "Zephyr's caress," she took Gabrielle's arm and folded it into her own.

"Thanks for looking out for me, Sis," Lila said, warmly. "I know you've been keeping an eye on me. I only hope I'm not slowing you guys down."

Gabrielle smiled and placed the palm of her hand over the back of Lila's wrist even as the palm of Lila's hand rested on the back of Gabrielle's other wrist. "I'm glad youíre here," Gabrielle said. "I've said to Xena -- you can ask her if you want to -- that I'd really like it if you might ride with us sometimes."

"And what has Xena said to that?"

"That she liked the idea. Her only concern was for your safety. She still worries about mysafety, and I've had to bail her out of any number of scrapes."

Lila chuckled.

"But now you're here on your own initiative," Gabrielle let go of Lila's hand and stared into the darkness where points of light, reflecting the glint of stars, twinkled on the water. "Which makes it even better than if I'd asked you to come."

"I've been rather at odds with you, you know," Lila said.

"Over anything special?" Gabrielle asked.

"The way you cut out when Xena came along. It dumped a lot of stuff on me that I wasn't prepared to handle."

"Oh, Lee," Gabrielle said with deep sadness, "I suspected as much. I have to admit I'm not surprised."

"I told Lexie on the day that Dad treated us to drinks at Canty's that you got to do as you pleased while I had to stay behind and pick up the pieces. Even if that isnít exactly true, it was the first time I'd ever gotten angry with you out loud."

"Is that what you think? That I up and left you behind to pick up the pieces?"

"Well, I know thatís not the whole story."

"I wouldn't blame you if you feel I ratted out on you. On Mom and Dad and Perdicas too. In a way, I suppose I did. But for the first time, I'd found something I wanted more than anything and I guess I made the choice, for good or ill, to go for it."

"Was it Xena?"

"Who made the choice? No, it was me. I'm the one whoís responsible."

"I mean was it Xena whom you wanted more than anything, or was it a life of adventure, living on the edge and constantly rushing off from here to there?"

"It was Xena. From the instant I laid eyes on her. I just knew. Don't ask me how."

"I felt a teeny tiny bit that way with the guy who looked after us at Latrinus' camp, the one that Xena gutted with her sword. There was a spark that flared up. Nothing major. Just a brush fire, not a whole village gone up in flames. I remember how you told me once when we were lying awake on our cots, with the moonlight streaming in through the window and the curtains fluttering, but now that youíve spent all this time with Xena, I want to ask you again. What's it like to really love somebody?"

"You feel stupid and helpless a lot of the time. And sometimes you just wanna stab or strangle Ďem or toss 'em over the railing just to get it over with."

Lila let go a light but serious laugh. "And now we're on a boat bound for the terrors and wonders of Troy. I've been thinking about Mom and Dad nearly non-stop since we left."

"It was so neat the way that Mom and I connected when we got here the other night," Gabrielle said. "I hope Mom won't hold it against me that Iíve whisked you away."

"You didn't whisk me away. I whisked myself."

"I don't think Mom and Dad are likely to see it that way."

"Then I'll just have to tell them."

"Still, they'll know you were influenced by my example."

"Gab, I need to become my own person, thatís clear to me now. It came into focus on the night that me and Lexie got kidnapped. I think itís important that Mom and Dad be made aware of that. Me and Lexie had even talked about signing up to take courses at the Warrior Training Academy."

"At Tyldusí war college? Really?" Gab raised an eyebrow.

"I know it sounds ridiculous."

"No; no, it doesnít. Not at all. I just never imagined you doing anything like that, not even if Lexie was doing it with you."

"Well," Lilaís face brightened into a hint of the prettiest smile that the known world, up to that point, had ever been blessed to see, "I need to do something to ensure that you and Xena don't walk away with all the kudos."

Gabrielle laughed.

"I don't know why I think this," Gabrielle went on to say, "but Iím getting the feeling that something in the way that Dad feels about Xena may have shifted. I sensed it yesterday at breakfast before I came to get you at the sibyl's. Maybe it's because Xena came flying to the rescue, but Iím wondering if it might have something to do with some kind of a deeper personal understanding between them. Maybe it was the way that Dad was looking at Xena before we rode out to take on Latrinus. It was as though he was starting to see her as a person, a fine and caring person despite her rough edges. I don't want to delude myself with false hope, but for just the turn of a sandglass, it felt nice. It felt really good, in fact."

"Dad said something not very nice about you and Xena at supper one night, and Mom hauled off and let him have it," Lila said. "He backed right down when he saw how much what heíd said he'd hurt her, and I haven't heard him say a word against Xena since that night. Dad loves you, Gab. Big time. You know how I know? 'Cause one night... it was the night we were on our way home from Cantyís after Lexie had squelched two of Latrinus' goons. We were on our way back to the cottage, Dad and me, strolling arm in arm past the acacia grove and I was bubbling over at having Dad all to myself, and then, as we closed in on the yard, Dad got to telling me how proud of me he was, almost as if the gods had blessed him and Mom with... He didn't finish what he was saying, but I knew he was thinking that he was as proud of me as if I'd been his son. And that was okay with me 'cause I knew what he meant by that. But it was the look in his eye. It wasn't the son he'd never had that he was missing. It was you. And now we're both gone, and they're alone tonight."

"Does that make you feel guilty?"

"Does it make you?"

" A little, I guess," Gabrielle said. "That feeling is always there -- a little."

"Do you resent them for it, the fact thatís itís always there?"

"No, itís just something thatís there. What I don't want to do is come between you and Mom and Dad. You know: their having to let go once and then their having to let go a second time."

"Maybe you get better at it when you go through it the second time, though."

"Maybe," Gabrielle shrugged.

"Or maybe it gets worse," Lila felt a sour pang in the pit of her tummy.

"It wasn't only Xena that Dad seemed to be looking at differently," Gabrielle reflected as the craft lolled gently side to side. "I think he may have been looking at me differently too. Maybe it had to do with the way that me and Xena came flying in on the wind. But when I told him that no man with any brains in his head would dare to test my virtue, he nodded as though he understood why that was so, that it was something about me apart from Xena and not because I might have had some sword-wielding Warrior Princess around to protect me. By the gods, maybe I'm growing up. Now thereís a scary thought."

Lila grinned. "You'd better be grown up if you've got to go see this Penthesileia person and sort out whether you or Velasca are going to be queen."

"They say that Penthesileia's very magnetic," Gabrielle said.

"You haven't met her?" Lila said.

"Not yet," Gabrielle shook her head.

"The sibyl filled in the details of what I'd heard from Chiron and the Felafel Man," Lila said. "This Penthesileia sounds like a lady on the edge."

"I hear she knew Velasca's mother. Her birth mother."

"Velasca had a mother? I mean... obviously, but I thought she Velasca was adopted."

"Melosa adopted her after her mother was killed in a raid."

"They say it takes a village to raise an Amazon. Thatís true, isnít it?

"And that's what a lot of this squabbling seems to be about," Gabrielle said. "The kind of village -- the kind of network of villages -- that the Amazons are going to have."

"Was it a warlord who raided Velasca's village?"

"Yeah," Gabrielle nodded.

"Was it Xena?" Lilaís eyes got wide.

"No, that was Callistoís village."

"Well, Xena sort of made the rounds back then."

"After Velasca's village got burned to the ground -- I think it may have been the same village that Oteri was from, and Oteri lost her mother too -- Velasca got brought to Hippolyte who entrusted her to Melosa, who'd just become queen when Melosa's mother, Tarandel, had passed on. We'll have to bring you up to speed on how some of these different Amazon tribes fit together."

"So Velasca came to Melosa when she was a toddler?" Lila said. "And then, when she grew up, she turned on Melosa and killed her? Oh, Gab, she doesn't sound like the kind of person you ought to be associating with."

"Iím probably not," Xena appeared in the dark as the ship gently listed on the barely noticeable waves.

"Xena...," Lila drew back. "Goodness, I didnít mean you. I was talking about Velasca. Gab says she killed her own mother."

"Well, so far I haven't done that," Xena said. "Though I did come awful close once."

"Any sign of Ares lurking about?" Gabrielle said. "You and seven Amazons on a bee line for Troy are bound to attract his attention."

"Eight Amazons," Xena corrected.

"Oh..., yeah," Gabrielle said with a self-conscious shrug.

"You'd better start thinking of yourself as a top of the line Amazon if you're going to make a credible showing in front of Penthesileia," Xena advised.

"I can't wait to meet this lady," Lila said, noticing that even Xena spoke the name with respect. "Has she got two heads that breathe fire?"

"Only one of her heads breathes fire," Xena said.

"It isn't true what Chiron was saying, though, is it?" Lila said. "That Gab... that you and Gab might be in mortal danger? Chiron was telling me and Lexie that the penalty for usurping an Amazon throne is death. And the Felafel Man didn't even want to talk about it."

"Usurping the powers of an Amazon throne can result in a death sentence, yes," Xena said. "I think Cyane may have been getting ready to pronounce a death sentence on Alti before Alti struck." Xena shot a quick glance at Gabrielle. "Before Alti and I struck. So yeah, it's possible."

"You don't think Penthesileia would do that, do you?" Lila said with concern. "Pronounce a death sentence on you and Gab and Ephiny? I hear she doesn't take well to most things Greek, especially Greek Amazons who have babies with centaurs and are good buds with Herc."

"Penthesileia's more complex than that," Xena said. "No, I think she's likely to have more pressing concerns on her mind than pronouncing death sentences on anyone."

"Is she really planning to go up against Achilles?" Lila said.

"That's what they say," Xena said.

"Xena," Lila said, "I guess this is changing the subject, but me and Gab were just noticing that Mom and Dad's attitude toward you seems to have changed a bit. What happened with me and Lexie getting kidnapped may have brought some of it bubbling up to the surface, but I think that those changes have been going for a while now. Especially since all that awful business with Hope if you don't mind my saying, Gab. I think Mom and Dad are getting to like you, Xena, and maybe even to approve of you is what I'm saying."

"Thanks, Lila," Xena said. "Your father's a good man. I wonder what it might have been like to have had a father like him."

"Really," Lila said. "Dad has his faults. Gab can attest to that. He can be real hardheaded sometimes."

"Like someone else I know," Xena shot an affectionate glance at Gabrielle.

"Me hardheaded?" Gabrielle huffed. "This from the lady for whom wearing an iron helmet in battle would amount to a needless duplication of effort."

"Would you guys keep the volume down a little?" Ephiny's voice came floating up from the main deck. "You're scaring the fish."

"The fish? What fish?" Gabrielle called back.

"The fish that live here. Come watch the fish," Ephiny waved at Gabrielle, Xena and Lila. "Theyíre attracted by the light. You can see them glowing sleek and silvery in the dark."

"Let's go watch the fish," Xena said.

"Iíve never watched fish glowing at night on the ocean," Lila enthused as she, Xena and Gabrielle descended the stair ladder to join Ephiny and the others on the main deck.

"Shtick wid me, kid, and youíll see da seven wonders of da known woild," Xena, vamping like a cross between a mustachioíed Autolycus and an evening gowníed Salmoneus, scooped Lila off the ladder and set her down on her feet, those Warrior Princess eyes, even in the dark, glowing with their limpid, incandescent sheen.

Continued - Chapter 34
 
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