Disclaimer: Some of the characters in this story are copyright MCA/Universal/RenPic, others aren't. The story is mine. Except the bits I stole.
Warning: These disclaimers contain warnings.
Sex/Romance/Lurve Warning: This story suggests stuff. Come on do I have to spell it out? If it's illegal or upsets you, then keep reading and write me a nasty email afterwards.
This story contains a hint of straight-text, you have been warned.
Storm Warning: This story contains references to bad weather.
Music Warning: There is a truly awful song in this story, ear plugs might be required for those of a nervous disposition.
Pizza Warning: This story does not contain any pizza. Though the letters that make up the individual ingredients may be found somewhere in the text.
Bard's Boring Bits: Thanks to everyone who offered comment on the beta versions of this. You know who you are.And no, Kam, I'm not going to mention you by name. D'oh!
In various guises the beta versions of this story have been titled "Surprise" and "A Band On Ship", I've changed the name again for the final release because I can, and because I want to use "A Band On Ship" for the title of the out-takes for this story.
There's a scene in here that I wrote to please Stacia Seaman, if you don't like it, blame her. If you do like it, then it was my idea and all my own work.
Thanks to everyone who wrote to say how much they enjoyed "ABCDEFG", (do you realise how difficult it is to type that correctly?). In the short time it's been released it has proved to be the most popular thing I've done with regards to feedback.
Special mention to Nagypapi for 'treacle'. Which, by the way, is the second most popular with regards to feedback. It's amazing what people will do for money. <G>
To anyone still reading this, please let me know if you like this story, (thats the story that follows all these disclaimers. Believe me, it is there!). Us bards like to be fed. Remember, a fed bard is worth two in the spoiled broth. Or is it, never poke a pig in the bush? Whatever it is, we love feedback.
I should mention Laura, a.k.a BlindzonElyzon, again, because she mentioned me in the disclaimers of her last story. Which is rather good, even if it was my idea. <G> Special message for Sam; Isle of Ewe.
And a mention for Harpy who revealed himself to Laura behind my back. But not in the way you're thinking! He's also helping me write the out-takes.
Also Murphy, who's tireless enthusiasm for reading fan fiction knows no bounds. And she's not half bad at writing it, too.
If you've got this far, then congratulations you've won the chance to win a prize!(see note 1) Take every third letter in the Boring Bits and rearrange them into a well known phrase, send me the answer and I'll send you a prize.(See note 2)
note 1: This is a lie.(see note 3)
note 2: And so is this.(See note 6)
note 3: This is a lie, too. (see note 1)
Historian's Note: This story happens sometime in the second season, if you worry about that sort of thing.
Note: This story portrays Gabrielle in irritating blonde mode. Some Gab fans might not like it. However, Im not a Gab fan, so I dont care! <G>
Final Note: This story really does not contain any pizza, honest.
LOVE ON THE OCEAN WAVE
by Claire Withercross
"I have an idea," said Gabrielle. She rushed out of the inn, leaving a bemused warrior alone at the table.
Xena looked around her to see if anyone had an explanation for the bard's sudden disappearance. No-one appeared to have one, so she reached over, picked up Gabrielle's drink, and finished it.
When Gabrielle returned, about two hours later, Xena was knocking back a mug of ale and chewing on a chicken leg. Not at exactly the same time, of course. Xena may have many skills, but eating and drinking at the same time is not one of them.
"Hey! Gab'rel," burped a happy warrior. "You're back! Have drink," she pushed a mug at the bard at filled it from a pitcher on the table.
"Thanks," said Gabrielle, taking the drink and sitting down.
"So, where'd you go?"
"Where?" The warrior's head swivelled as she looked around, her right hand moving to her chakram.
"No, Xena," said Gabrielle, putting a restraining hand on the warrior's arm. "Where I went is a surprise."
"Oh," the warrior picked up her ale and paused. "Was it a nice one?"
"The surprise you had. Was it a nice one?"
"Oh! A nasty surprise. Did you have to hit anyone?"
"No," Gabrielle shook her head in dismay at the warrior misunderstanding her.
"Not even a little bit?"
"No. It wasn't that kind-"
"Not even a quick whack with your staff?" the warrior grinned as she mimed the action, spilling some of her drink in the process.
"No. I was saying it wasn't that kind of surprise."
"Oh! What kind of surprise was it?"
"The surprise is that you'll find out tomorrow."
Xena frowned into her drink, then beckoned the bard closer. As Gabrielle leaned over the warrior pulled her into a rough embrace and whispered, not so quietly. "Hey, Mavis, it kinda ruins the surprise if you tell me," she patted her friend's shoulder and winked. "Never mind, eh. Better luck next time."
"But I haven't told you."
"That's okay then," she picked up her drink and punched Gabrielle playfully on the arm.
The bard scowled and rubbed her arm. "I think we better go to bed, we've got an early start."
"Why? Where are we going?"
"The surprise. Remember?"
Xena brought her finger to her lips and shushed loudly. "You're not supposed to tell me."
"Okay, I won't tell you." Gabrielle said as she hauled the warrior to her feet, and led her away.
"It's a surprise," the warrior giggled and grinned inanely at any of the customers who happened to look her way.
"How much further?" the whine was bordering on petulant.
"Not far now."
The warrior sighed. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"I know that, but you can tell me now," she begged.
"When we get there," said Gabrielle with infinite patience. 'She's like a two year old,' she thought depressingly.
They trudged through the rain soaked streets in silence for another ten minutes.
"We're here!" the bard declared.
"What?" the warrior looked around, confused.
"The surprise. Happy birthday!" proclaimed Gabrielle.
"It's not my birthday," replied a puzzled warrior. "It's a month away yet."
"I know, that's the surprise!" explained the bard with an enthusiasm that was becoming increasingly more difficult to muster.
Xena figured the best thing to do was play along. "Oh! Yes! Great! Thank you! Um... Wonderful!" she was even worse than Gabrielle at faking enthusiasm. Or maybe it was the hangover. "The surprise?" she asked with a rictus grin.
Gabrielle fixed a matching grin to her face and pointed to her left.
The warrior looked in the direction indicated and then back at Gabrielle. At the bard's encouraging nod, she looked once more at the surprise.
"Uh... I don't know what to say. I... Um..." Xena pointed at the surprise and cast a questioning glance at Gabrielle to doubly confirm it.
The bard nodded.
"I don't want to appear ungrateful, but... um... how... um... it's... oh... I... It's nice!" she inserted quickly to avoid upsetting her friend. "But... um... Very nice," she added. "But..."
"But what?" prodded Gabrielle, confused.
"It's a bit big," the warrior said tactfully. "How could you afford it?"
"The boa-" Xena cut herself off. "Ship," she corrected herself.
"It was only thirty dinars."
"Thirty dinars!" Xena cried incredulously, and turned to stare open mouthed at the young woman.
"Well, thirty dinars each," admitted Gabrielle. "But I haggled the captain down from forty-five on the promise I provide some entertainment on board."
"Each? What? Entertainment?"
"On the cruise."
"Cruise? What cruise?"
"The one I bought for your birthday," explained Gabrielle patiently.
"You bought a cruise for my birthday?"
"Yeah," said Gabrielle with a bright smile. "You didn't think I bought you the ship or something," she added with a guttural laugh.
"The ship? No, don't be silly," the warrior laughed lightly, clapped the bard on the back and cringed inwardly at her mistake.
The ship, for it was indeed a ship and not a mere boat, was the biggest that Xena had ever seen. The captain, an old Roman sea dog with a mass of grey hair and a big beard that only exposed a small amount of wrinkled, weathered skin around the eyes, proudly boasted about his ship.
"Aaar, the Titan, she be the biggest, and she be the fastest ship in these here waters."
Though he was a Roman, the captain had spent all his life on the sea and had acquired a stereotypical seafaring accent.
"Titan is an apt name for a boat this big," Gabrielle chipped in.
"Ship!" cried the captain. "She be a ship, not a boat."
"Aye, big, fast and indestructible. That be the Titan."
"Unlike the previous ninety-eight," commented Xena.
"What can I say, it be a common name."
"Previous ninety-eight?" queried Gabrielle.
Xena pointed to the name on the side of the ship. Immediately after "Titan" was the serial number in Roman numerals, "IC".
"But ninety-nine is XCIX," Gabrielle insisted.
"It's nautical short hand," explained Xena.
"Oh, right," the bard said, unconvinced.
Sometimes even a bard can't appreciate humorous irony.
They had left the captain to do whatever the captain had to do, there was probably a mainbrace that needed splicing or something, and went in search of their cabin. Gabrielle looked at the ticket, then at a helpful little plan of the ship on deck.
"This way," Gabrielle proclaimed and marched towards the front of the ship. "Here it is."
The cabin was luxurious, by the standards of the day, and bright and airy. Soft furnishings and lace curtains in reds and blues gave it a homely quality. But not a home that the warrior would like. She refrained from commenting because Gabrielle had gone to a lot of trouble and she didn't want to appear ungrateful.
"So, was this a great idea of mine, or what?" Gabrielle lay back on the huge bed with a self-satisfied grin on her face.
"Yeah," replied a distracted warrior looking at a pipe by the bed. She pulled a stopper out of the end and peered into its dark depths.
"Oh!" cried Gabrielle and bounced across the bed to grab the pipe from Xena. "This must be the talking pipe!"
"Watch!" the bard instructed. She blew down the pipe; it made a whistling noise.
After a few moments a hollow sounding, but chirpy, voice drifted from the tube. "Good morning, cabin service, Randius speaking, how may I help you?"
"Good morning, this is cabin fourteen, can we have a flagon of your finest wine, please."
"Be right up. Have a nice day."
Gabrielle put the stopper back in the end of the pipe and turned to her friend. "Isn't it great?"
"Yeah, great," the warrior smiled back.
Randius was six foot five, somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, and his well muscled, smooth, ebony skinned body was a couple of sizes too big for his sleeveless shirt. His tailor had also scrimped on material for his trousers, but it's best not to go there. Though that's not what Xena and Gabrielle thought.
Gabrielle grinned like a love sick schoolgirl and rushed to take the wine from Randius.
"Oops," said an insincere warrior moving her carelessly placed foot from where Gabrielle had tripped over it. "She's a bit uncoordinated," she purred at the cabin boy, taking the flagon of wine and allowing her fingers to stroke his hand for what could be considered an inappropriate length of time. The warrior's seductive smile caused the boy to swallow hard.
"Um," Gabrielle cleared her throat, she lay on the floor in a hastily arranged casual pose, "Would you like to help-" she tossed her head and blew to get a strand of hair out of her face, "-me up, please?" she extended her hand to Randius, and smiled radiantly.
Randius leaned over to reach her hand, but his movement was mirrored by the dark-haired woman. "Allow me," she said. Her eyes never left his as she reached behind her and hauled the squealing bard to her feet. "She's a bit heavy, I wouldn't want you to strain anything."
"Errr, thank you," said Randius.
"Yet," the warrior added.
"I-I think I-I better g-go," he stammered and hurried out backwards.
"You can come and serve me any time," Xena called after him suggestively.
"You can come and serve me any time," mimicked Gabrielle.
The warrior turned slowly to face her friend. "Did you say something?" she queried with a raised eyebrow.
"Nothing," said the bard innocently. "Do you really think I'm overweight?" she added with a frown.
"And if I did?" challenged Xena softly.
"Well," Gabrielle took the wine from Xena's hand and placed it on the floor. "I'd just have to do this," she lunged at the warrior.
Xena caught Gabrielle in a bear hug and fell onto the bed, they rolled over and Gabrielle ended up on top.
"Wait!" Xena called out.
Gabrielle stopped struggling and looked down at her companion. "What is it?"
"I can't take all this weight on me," she spun over and pinned the bard to the bed. "Let's see if I can get you to work some of this off."
The warrior's fingers mercilessly attacked the ticklish bard's sides.
Pangaea was easily twice as big as her husband, Triasic, who followed her as she walked along the deck; her grey hair was pulled back in a severe bun that exposed a round, severe face. She bustled along issuing a stream of orders to her husband.
"...and under no circumstances do I want you embarrassing me on this cruise. Understand?"
"Yes, dear," Triasic replied automatically.
"That last cruise on the Poseidon was a nightmare."
The large woman paused at the sound of shrieking from the cabin, turned to glare at Triasic as if it was his fault, and opened the door.
Pangaea's own scream went unheard amongst those emanating from within. She shut the door and headed straight for the captain; her husband followed in her wake.
"Aaar, say again."
Pangaea wobbled as she explained again to the captain.
"Our cabin. Two women."
"What sort o' things?"
The captain looked at the faraway gaze and wide grin on the husband's face and reached a conclusion. "With each other?"
Pangaea looked as if she was about to explode, if this was a cartoon smoke would be coming from her ears.
"Aaar, I'll deal with it," said the captain, and slipped away. He warned a couple of crewmen to stand by with a bucket and mop just in case the woman blew.
"What do you mean, 'wrong cabin'?" asked a sweaty warrior with evaporating patience.
"Ye be in the wrong cabin," said the captain. "I can explain it no clearer."
"No, no, no, no," said Gabrielle fishing out her ticket. "There must be some mistake. See, it says here, cabin fourteen."
"That's right," said Xena looking at the ticket. "It says fourteen on the ticket and it says fourteen on the door. I'd say we've got the right cabin."
"Aaar..." the captain weighed up his options of which he'd rather face; an irate battle-axe or an angry warrior. "Aaar," he repeated stalling for time. He reached his conclusion. The warrior could kill him, but Pangaea had money, and he was essentially a business man. "That ain't be an I, that be a slash," he pointed at the numerals on the ticket.
"What do you mean?"
"That be X slash V, not XIV."
"What does the slash mean?" Xena asked knowing she was not going to like the answer.
"That means cabin X on deck V."
"But there's only VI... I mean six decks," said Gabrielle.
"For thirty dinars what did ye expect."
The most that could be said for cabin X on deck V was that it was dry. Xena attributed this to the lack of cleaning that had taken place; no self respecting water would touch the place. The warrior had been in better dungeons.
"It's... it's... cosy," was all Gabrielle could think of to say.
"I think, tiny, is the word you're looking for. Or diminutive. Or minuscule. Minute. Teensy. Weensy. Teensy-weensy. W-"
A backhanded slap to her midriff brought the warrior abruptly out of thesaurus mode.
"Shut it," Gabrielle hissed while mentally counting to X, sorry, I mean ten.
The only furniture in the cabin was a set of bunk beds. Not much else could fit in there. But I think I've made that point.
"There's not enough room to swing a cat," Xena observed, not willing to drop the subject. She ran a hand over some suspicious looking marks on the wall. "It looks like someone's proved that," she put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and surreptitiously wiped the dirt off.
"Well, it's not as if we're going to spend all our time in here," Gabrielle said with forced optimism, "There's plenty to do," she unfolded the ship's brochure.
"There's the theatre, where we'll be providing entertainment, there's a tavern, there's something called a say-una, there's-"
"What was that?"
"No, before that."
"A tavern. You're not going to spend the whole cruise getting drunk," cautioned the bard.
"No, before that."
A small enigmatic smile appeared on Gabrielle's face, she turned to the warrior, and stared at a point a few inches in front of Xena's face. "Uh, um," she turned her attention slowly back to the brochure. "That was, the um, theathum," she trailed into a mumble. "Oh! Look!" she pointed at the brochure. "You can get a back rub. You always feel nice and relaxed after a back rub. Maybe Randius ow-"
The warrior grasped the back of Gabrielle's neck. "What was it you said about the theatre?"
The question was delivered in a low, calm voice. Gabrielle had seen grown men try to rip their own heads off rather than face Xena when she had asked them questions in that same tone of voice.
"Uh!" she squeaked. "I-" she coughed. "We, um..."
"Yes?" breathed the warrior.
Gabrielle couldn't stop the shiver that went down her spine.
"You wouldn't be suggesting that I have to provide any entertainment. Not on my birthday cruise, surely."
"W-. I-. Uh-"
"Think very carefully how you answer."
'How does she do it?' Xena thought miserably. 'She just somehow manages to do it every time.'
"You're on," said Gabrielle.
Xena cast one final, malevolent, look at the smiling bard.
"Go on, Xena, you'll love it," Gabrielle rubbed the warrior's arm.
She took a deep breath and stepped onto the small stage, the sparse matinee crowd mustered a ripple of applause. The warrior smiled and spoke.
"This is a song I'd like to dedicate to my best friend, Gabrielle," she nodded at the orchestra.
Well, orchestra might be a bit of a misnomer. Xena was convinced they used to be an orchestra, it's just that the rest had probably died of old age if the four remaining grey-haired, wizened old men were anything to judge by.
Anyway, the 'orchestra' struck a chord. If it hadn't been stunned by the noise, the chord would probably have struck back. There was a brief pause, some muttering, and a glare from the warrior before they struck the right one.
"I'm on holiday and I'm having fun,
Sleeping all day in the baking sun,
My bar bill is so huge it would cause you fright,
Because I'm a party animal that drinks all night.
The weather is great, the food can't be beat,
There's not much to do but soak up the heat,
I've got big clean room with a big clean bed,
But one thing is missing and it must be said,
Is that I wish,
I wish you were dead."
For some reason Xena couldn't figure out, the sparse crowd got sparser.
The Titan had set sail midmorning into a grey, misty rain. By midafternoon the misty rain had turned to persistent rain. By evening, as Xena and Gabrielle left the theatre, it was raining hard and the wind was causing an uncomfortable swell on the sea. They were making their way down to deck V when the ship lurched.
Gabrielle let out a shriek and fell. Fortunately someone broke her fall.
"I'm so sorry," she said to the young man.
"That's okay," he said, brushing his red shirt clean and running a hand through his floppy blonde hair. "I..."
The warrior looked down the stairs at Gabrielle and the boy. They were staring doe-eyed at one another, little hearts burst in the air around them and somewhere a violin played.
"Oh gods," Xena rolled her eyes. "Not again."
"Hi, I'm... Mav- no, um...," the bard stammered.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called.
"That's it, Glabriellelle or something," she giggled dreamily.
"I'm Leonardo," breathed the boy, enamoured by her raging beauty. Or so it said in the script, all he could actually do was twist his mouth and blink a bit.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?" asked the warrior when she reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Yeah," she sighed, her eyes fixed on Leonardo's as the music started reaching for a crescendo.
"What? Wait a second." Xena banged on a nearby door. "Will you cut that racket out!"
"Sorry," came a muffled reply, and the music stopped.
"You go back to the cabin, I'll be along shortly."
The warrior shook her head and left before she threw up.
"...and he's only in the next cabin," said Gabrielle dreamily. "Just imagine, there's only this thin wall between us when we're sleeping," she caressed the wall by her bunk.
Xena sighed and picked up her armour. On hearing the clank Gabrielle paid attention.
"You're not wearing your armour to dinner," stated Gabrielle. "This is a classy ship."
"What else am I going to wear?"
"No," repeated the warrior. "No," she added firmly.
Gabrielle continued to smile.
An eyebrow disappeared behind a red-gold fringe.
The bard's smile widened as the warrior's resolve crumbled.
"This meal better be worth it," grumbled Xena smoothing the dress over her thighs.
"It will. The travel guide I saw the cruise advertised in gave it five stars."
"What does that mean?"
"I-" Gabrielle stopped as she noticed Xena adjusting her bosom. She slapped the warrior's hands. "Don't do that!" she commanded.
"I need my leather and armour to keep them in place; they don't just stay up on their own, you know."
"It's not polite to do that in public," the bard advised.
"It's all right when it's your own, it's only when it's someone else's is it considered impolite."
Gabrielle groaned and entered the dining room.
Huge chandeliers bathed the room in a flickering glow.
"Wow! It's beautiful," Gabrielle gazed in wonder at the murals on the wall.
"Where do we sit? I'm starving."
"The cabin number should be on the table."
They wandered through the dining room past tables stacked with fruit, bread, cheese, meats and vegetables, and eventually found their table.
"We're eating with the crew!" Xena said through gritted teeth.
"It's an honour to eat with crew," explained Gabrielle.
"No. It's an honour to eat with the captain. It's an insult to eat with the crew."
A sailor at the table eyed the warrior warily on hearing her comment.
"She doesn't mean it," Gabrielle assured him with a forced smile. She took her seat slowly and looked around the table. "Excuse me, Mr...err..." she tapped the shoulder of the sailor on her left.
"Mr Staines. Mr Staines?"
"Uh, Se- uh, Mr Staines, is there a menu?"
Staines chuckled, the chuckle turned into a laugh, the laugh into a guffaw.
"Okay, knock it off, we get the idea," growled Xena.
The broth wasn't that bad as it turned out. But sitting with crew, and having to wear a dress put the warrior in a dark mood. Gabrielle on the other hand was enjoying herself; she gazed around the room at the diners, commenting on the fine clothes and jewels on display. As well as keeping a look out for Leonardo. She also attempted to engage the crew in small talk.
"Se- Mr.. er.. Staines."
"I was wondering..."
"Staines, it's a..." Gabrielle frowned and thought better of what she was going to say.
"It must be nice working on a ship like this."
Staines was about to make some rude comment but he caught the warning glare from the dark-haired companion of the blonde.
"It's... nice, yes."
"And how long have you been a sea- Oh look, there's Leo," ignoring the sailor, Gabrielle stood up and waved. "Leo! Over here!"
Leo waved back and made his way towards Gabrielle. She stared at the young man with unashamed adoration as she pushed Xena out of the way to make room for him.
At that moment the ship tilted violently. The sounds of smashing crockery and cries filled the air and the dining room was plunged into darkness. Several seconds passed before the chandeliers were relit.
Lying dead on the floor with a knife stuck in his chest was Leonardo.
"Oh, Gabrielle, I'm so sorry," said Xena.
"Ah, well, never mind," said Gabrielle in a matter-of-fact tone. "It's probably for the best. And it's not as if I'm not used to it."
"That's my girl, think positive. After all, you barely knew him."
"Hmm, but did his killer?"
"His killer," Gabrielle said with a determined glint in her eye.
Xena groaned inwardly, she recognised that glint. Gabrielle had an idea and she wasn't going to let it go.
"This is perfect," continued the bard with mounting enthusiasm. "I'll solve his murder."
"No, Xena," she held up a hand to silence her friend. "You always get the job of solving problems. Well, now it's my turn. I can do this. I've studied you. Besides, it's your birthday cruise, you deserve to relax."
"No, buts. Now who had a motive for killing him?"
'Oh gods,' thought Xena. 'If she puts a finger on her chin and starts pacing, I'm out of here.'
Gabrielle stepped forward and raised her voice. "Can I have everyone's attention please! No-one is to leave until they've given a statement. I'm going to solve this murder," she raised a finger to her chin and started pacing. "Now, we need to determ- Where do you think you're going?"
A confused Xena stopped and looked around.
"Yes, you," said Gabrielle. "Didn't you hear what I said? No-one is to leave until they've given a statement."
"Everyone, Xena, you included, is a suspect until I've cleared them. Now sit down and wait your turn to be interviewed."
Xena slouched back to the table and sat down; Staines laughed at her.
She leaned over to him and gave him her best wicked smile and whispered. "Wipe that smirk off your face or your crewmates will be wiping Seaman St-"
"Uh, Xena?" interrupted a timid sounding Gabrielle. "Could you go back to our cabin and get my scrolls and a quill, please?"
Xena awoke the next morning to find Gabrielle pouring over a pile of scrolls.
"Wu-uh," the bard replied, not wanting to loose concentration.
"You took all those statements?"
Gabrielle looked up, doing her best not to be annoyed by the interruption. "Kennius helped me."
"The cute young man that was sitting down the end of our table. You must have seen him. The one wearing that red shirt with the big collar?"
"Oh, him. Red? It was orange wasn't it?"
"Red, orange, orange, red, what difference does it make."
"Probably none," muttered the warrior. "Did you get any sleep?"
"Yeah, yeah, now leave me. Kennius is coming here and we're going to go over these statements."
As if on cue there was a knock at the door. Xena opened it to see a short, blonde-haired young man in a reddy-orange, or orangey-red, shirt.
"Mmmmo, im Gabyelle, mmre," he mumbled.
"What did you say? Speak up."
"Come in, Kennius," called Gabrielle.
The lad entered and looked adoringly at Gabrielle. The bard returned the look.
"Excuse me, I need to get some fresh air," said Xena, making a hasty exit.
The swell was no better than the previous night, this was testified by numerous people hanging over the side of the ship 'feeding the fish', but at least there was a bit of sun dodging behind the grey clouds.
Xena had climbed the rigging to find some peace and quiet. From her vantage point she could see Gabrielle and Kennius walking along the deck, she could also see two sailors carrying a cask of ale. A quick calculation of their respective trajectories told the warrior what was going to happen next. She called out, but her voice was lost in the wind.
"Mmmm!" cried Kennius as he went over the side.
"Oh my gods! They killed Kennius!" cried Gabrielle.
"You bastards!" cried a shocked onlooker.
"Mmmm, mmm mmkay!"
Gabrielle peered over the rail into the churning sea. "Oh, it's okay, he's alive."
The two seamen who had been carrying the cask threw out a line for Kennius, and he started swimming towards it.
Gabrielle noticed something moving in the water behind the young man. "Umm, is that what I think it is?" she asked the sailors, pointing at the object.
"I believe it is," said one of the seamen, who Gabrielle recognised as Staines.
"Kennius! Behind you! A shark!" Gabrielle shouted at the swimming boy.
Kennius paused and looked behind him. "M mmmark!!!" He may mumble his words, but those three exclamation marks were perfectly enunciated.
The water behind Kennius rose up and a huge mouth with sharp pointy teeth appeared.
Krug was busy strutting his stuff. He liked strutting his stuff. He had the stuff, why not strut it? It made him feel good to see the respect he got for doing it.
'Yeah!' he thought.
He showed off with a lightning quick three hundred and sixty degree spin. He followed this up with a somersault and a one hundred and eighty degree turn.
'Splashing and thrashing!' he grinned as he registered the commotion in the water.
It took fifteen milliseconds for him to pinpoint the source. He executed a fifty degree turn and angled up to the surface at precisely fifty-four degrees.
Despite being incredibly mobile and acrobatic, and super sharp when it comes to calculating angles and speed of attack, a shark is not very bright. Ninety percent of its brain is devoted to eating, so you would've thought it would recognise the difference between something edible and something not edible. But no. The shark's brain tells it to go for the small fast thing first, because it can get the big slow thing later.
Krug thrashed his tail and pushed himself out of the water, the fast thing distracted his attention from the slow, red thing. He executed a mid air twist of fifteen point seven-six degrees and closed his jaws. They snapped shut two milliseconds after the object entered his mouth and fifty milliseconds before the object left his body through an orifice he did not previously possess.
Gabrielle heard the 'whoosh', saw the shark twist in mid leap and swallow the blur of the chakram. She grimaced as the chakram exited the shark in an explosion of cartilage and blood.
This was followed by an increase in the noise from the passengers 'feeding the fish'.
Kennius, meanwhile, had grabbed the rope and was hauled aboard by the sailors.
"Oh, Kennius," Gabrielle swooned and simpered over the dripping young man as he was laid on the deck.
"Mmm mm," Kennius sighed, and allowed Gabrielle to comfort him.
Gabrielle ate her lunch as she continued going over the statements.
"Oh! Hi, Xena," she jumped slightly as the door to the cabin opened. "I was so engrossed in trying to catch the killer. The thrill, and challenge of pitting myself against a master criminal. It's exhilarating. I now know how you feel when you're up against an enemy and have to plan your strategy to beat him."
Xena smiled, picked up one of the sandwiches Gabrielle was eating and took a bite.
"Oh gods! That's awful," the warrior spat out the mouthful she'd taken. "What is it?"
"Shark," grinned the bard.
"He's on duty."
"That reminds me, you're supposed to be on stage soon to help pay for this cruise," the warrior suddenly remembered.
"What? Oh! I'd better go," Gabrielle stuffed a sandwich in her mouth and ran out, the door slammed shut behind her.
A few moments later it opened, the bard lunged in, grabbed the warrior's arm and pulled her out.
"'ome on," she said around her full mouth. She swallowed and gasped. "We're in it together, remember."
"How could I forget," muttered Xena grumpily.
The matinee crowd today contained some of the children on board, which was a bonus as what Gabrielle had planned was aimed at the younger audience.
Xena glowered darkly at the bard from under the big, bright red wig she was being forced to wear.
"Excellent glower," said Gabrielle as she applied a wart to the warrior's face. "You're a natural."
"I'm not acting," grumbled the warrior.
"Aw, you're such a kidder," smiled the bard and pinched Xena's cheek.
A strange gurgle came from the bard's stomach.
"Excuse me," she grimaced. "Right," she said regaining her composure. "You wait for your cue."
Gabrielle stepped onto the stage.
"Hello, children! Hello everyone!" she called and waited for a response.
Someone in the third row coughed and a small boy in the second row announced that he had to go "wee-wee."
"I've won over tougher audiences," Gabrielle said to herself. "On with the story," she beamed. Her smile wavered slightly as her stomach lurched. "Uh, once upon a time there were two ugly sisters... I mean... uh, one ugly sister. There used to be two but one of them was on holiday when this story takes place," she coughed nervously.
"Anyway, there was one ugly sister... ONE UGLY SISTER," she glared off stage.
Xena walked sullenly on stage.
A young girl in the audience screamed and dived under her seat. The boy in the second row announced that he no longer needed to go "wee-wee".
Gabrielle took a deep breath and continued.
"The ugly sister," she gestured to Xena, "had a much prettier sister," she gestured to herself. "Who was made to live in the fireplace by the ugly sister."
Gabrielle frowned as another gurgle emanated from her stomach. It started getting very hot on stage.
"And... uh... um... stuff happened... and at the end... um... there was... uh..." A wave of nausea hit her like a tsunami. "Shoes."
It was a shame Gabrielle was in costume, because her face went the same colour as her usual attire.
"Excuse me," she croaked and rushed off stage, out of the theatre and onto the deck.
"Throw up off the lee side," the warrior called to her with an evil chuckle.
Gabrielle groaned as Xena replaced the damp towel on her forehead. "Don't think I didn't hear you laughing, warrior."
"Come on, it was funny."
"Not from where I was standing."
"True," Xena chuckled. "But I did tell you, the lee side."
"I was sick, I couldn't tell what side I was on."
There was a tap on the door, Xena opened it to find Staines.
"There's been an accident," he said.
"What sort of accident?"
Gabrielle removed the cloth from her forehead and sat up. "Dead?"
"This is great. The mystery deepens. Could it have been murder?" she asked the sailor excitedly.
"Err, possibly," he replied tentatively.
"Excellent! Do you know what this means, Xena?"
"There's a serial killer on board!"
"I hardly think two-"
"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle patted the warrior's arm. "I know the killer's not in your league. I mean, what's two compared to the hundreds you've slaughtered, but it's different, you know? He's my serial killer, and I'm going to catch him before he strikes again."
The warrior gave a silent plea to the gods.
Kennius had been found hanging in the rigging. It could've been an accident, but Gabrielle was convinced otherwise.
"There must be a connection," she mused as she examined the crime scene. "If I can establish the three factors in every murder, then I can find the killer."
"What are the three factors?" asked Staines.
Gabrielle turned to face him. He was standing in the crowd that had gathered to watch. Some thought it was part of the onboard entertainment.
"Everyone knows what the three factors are," she replied.
"I don't," countered the sailor.
"Nor me," said someone else.
"Or me," said another.
Mutterings of ignorance spread through the crowd.
"What are they?"
The bard hushed the crowd irritably. "All right! The three factors are," she raised a finger. "Number one: Motive." She raised another finger. "Number two: Opportunity."
The pause lengthened.
Her eyes looked everywhere but at the crowd; she started chewing her lower lip.
"And?" prompted Staines.
"And, what?" she asked innocently.
"What's the third factor?"
"Well," she laughed nervously. "It's um.... it's uh... Number three," she raised a third finger. "Aammmmwubblely," she mumbled.
"What was that? I didn't catch it."
"I said, number three:..."
"Means," whispered Xena out of the corner of her mouth.
"Means," said Gabrielle with conviction. "Yes! Number three: means."
"Means what?" asked Pangaea. She stood in the front row, her husband, as ever, stood meekly behind her.
"What?" Gabrielle frowned at her.
"What does it mean?"
"What does what mean?"
"Yes, means what?"
"What does number three mean?"
"What? I mean, number three is means."
"Oh!" the woman nodded in understanding. "What does means, mean?"
"It means, it means... it means...," Gabrielle cast a pleading look at Xena.
"It means, the means by which the murder was committed," the warrior supplied helpfully.
"Okay," said Pangaea, satisfied. "Sorry, what were the first two again?"
"Motive and opportunity," replied Gabrielle diplomatically.
"And what do they mean?"
"Shut up and let her get on with it," called someone from the back of the crowd.
Pangaea went red and started to tremble. Her husband dutifully patted her and told her to calm down. Pangaea glared at Gabrielle. "Carry on, then," she commanded.
"Yes, okay, I," Gabrielle frowned. "Where was I? Ah! I remember. The three most important factors in a murder; motive, opportunity and..."
"Means," Xena whispered again.
"... means. Yes! Motive, opportunity and means. If I can find a link between the two victims then that will give me a motive. Once I establish a motive I can narrow down the list of suspects and find out who had the opportunity, and bang," she pounded her fist into her palm for effect, "there's the killer."
"Uh," Staines spoke up hesitantly. "What about means?"
"Yeah, you said motive, opportunity and means. You told us how motive and opportunity would help catch the killer, what about means?"
Gabrielle stared blankly at him for a few moments. "Don't complicate things," she said dismissively, and turned away. "Okay, now do we know of anyone who would want Leonardo and Kennius dead?"
The crowd fell silent, there was a bit of nervous shuffling, and a lot of looking at people out of the corner of eyes.
Pangaea coughed. "My husband-"
"Ah-ha!" Gabrielle cried, and jumped in front of Triasic, who stared at her like a frightened rabbit. "So, you wanted them dead, is that right?"
"Don't try and wriggle out of this. Even your wife thinks you did it."
"I do not!" protested Pangaea. "I was about to say, my husband needs to go and lie down. All this excitement isn't good for him."
"Ah," Gabrielle looked suitably embarrassed. "Sorry."
"I should think so."
"Don't fuss, dear," said Triasic.
"No, you know what the healer said about getting excited. Come along!"
She barged her way through the crowd, Triasic followed.
"Of course, dear," he muttered. "There's no danger of that with you."
The crowd reformed after the couple had left and looked expectantly at Gabrielle.
"I need to think," she told them.
They continued watching her.
"On my own. Alone. With no one watching me," she made shooing gestures with her hands. "That's it," she said encouragingly as they started to disperse. "Go away. I'll be round later to collect more statements."
On hearing that the crowd disappeared very quickly.
"You too, Xena. I need peace and quiet."
"I'm gone," said the warrior, needing no further prompting.
The pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place for Gabrielle. She had narrowed down the list of suspects considerably and was wandering around the deck, trying to clear her mind, and seeing if she had missed an important clue.
"If only he would kill a few more, then I'd have more data to work with," she pondered aloud.
A splash of water on her face made her look up. She was at the bow of the ship. It seemed to be sailing directly into the wind and her hair blew back from her face. She sighed and closed her eyes.
"Wow," she whispered. "It feels like I'm flying."
She spread her arms wide and leaned forward out over the bow.
"I- Aarrgghhh!" she cried as someone hit her from behind and she went over the railing.
Xena let out a long, low sigh. The sigh turned into a moan. The moan turned into a groan.
"Aaaahhh, that's wonderful. A little more to the left."
The hands working on her back moved as directed.
The warrior's skin was glowing from the sauna and the deft fingers of a blonde-haired hunk called Sven were working miracles on her back. She was in Elysia.
"This sauna is marvellous," said the warrior. "Was it your idea?"
"Not originally, but it was my idea to have it on the ship," replied Sven.
"Whoever thought of it deserves a place on Mount Olympus with the gods."
"Where I come from sauna is almost a religion."
"I bet you don't have trouble finding converts."
"Not too much, no. If they refuse, we just assimilate them. They don't complain afterwards."
"People resist a sauna?"
"Sometimes; but resistance is futile."
"With practitioners like you, I wouldn't resist," sighed the warrior, and closed her eyes.
Sven stopped massaging Xena's back. "Now I thrash you with some twigs."
Xena's eyes flew open, she turned over and stared at the woman. "Twigs? Thrash?"
"Yes. It's very invigorating."
"You-" Xena stopped and cocked her head to one side. "Did you hear someone scream?"
"No. Now lie back down and let me spank you."
The warrior jumped to her feet and ran out.
"Aww," Sven pouted in disappointment. "They always run out at this part."
Xena ran back in, grabbed her clothes and ran back out again.
Cholera was a sickly young woman. Her parents had brought her on the cruise in the vain hope that the sea air would be good for her. And that she might meet an eligible man to marry.
They had a snowball's chance in Tartarus.
Since leaving port Cholera had been lying in her cabin, too sick to venture out. This evening she had felt sufficiently less weak to take a stroll on deck. She walked - staggered, to be more precise - along, head down, watching her footing. She didn't see the person she bumped into, she only heard them scream.
"Oops, sorry," croaked Cholera. She looked up, there was no-one there. "Hello?" she queried timidly.
"Hey! Help me up!"
"Where are you?"
Cholera gingerly peered over the bow, a young woman hung there. "Did I do that?"
"Yes. Now pull me up! Please."
"Who are you?" asked Cholera.
"I'm Gabrielle. Will you pl-"
"You look kind of familiar," continued the sick woman.
"I'm Queen of the Amazons!" shouted Gabrielle in exasperation.
"Oh!" Cholera leaned over and hauled Gabrielle back on deck. "I'm so sorry, your Majesty," she curtsied and almost knocked the bard back over the railing.
The poorly woman grabbed Gabrielle to stop her from falling. Suddenly she felt strange as she held the green-eyed beauty close. 'Oh my!' she thought. 'She's beautiful.'
"Thank you," said Gabrielle, and looked into the deep, dark brown, slightly bloodshot with a hint of yellow, pools of the woman's eyes. "You are?"
"That's a... a pretty name. Would you like me to walk you back to your cabin?"
"Hmm... What? Oh yes."
Gabrielle linked her arm with Cholera's as they walked. "That's a lovely red skirt you're wearing," commented the bard conversationally.
"It's scarlet, actually."
"Scarlet, red. Red, scarlet. Who cares."
"I don't," sighed Cholera.
A pair of blue eyes watched them from a distance.
"Not again," muttered Xena.
Staines didn't enjoy the meal that night. The irritating blonde had brought a friend to the table and they spent all the time chatting. He cast dark looks at them. At first he was wary to do so for fear of the warrior, but she seemed just as annoyed at her friends constant wittering. If they didn't shut up soon he was going to take desperate measures.
"...pow, biff," Gabrielle provided the sound effects to the story she was telling. "They didn't stand a chance."
"You're so brave," sighed cholera. "I couldn't face up to one Titan, let alone a whole army."
"Well, I did have some help," the bard gestured to Xena.
"There were three of them," Xena informed the enamoured young woman. "And it was me that fought them. It was goldilocks here that set them free to cause trouble in the first place."
Cholera shot Xena a sharp look. "Whatever," she dismissed her and turned back to look adoringly at Gabrielle. "Go on. What were you saying before being so rudely interrupted."
Shouts from the other side of the room distracted everyone. Two men were wrestling and knocking over tables, chairs, and people.
"Quick, Gabrielle!" cried Cholera. "Stop them."
Gabrielle looked from the worshipful young woman, to the fighters, and then to Xena.
"Yeah, go on, Gabrielle. It's only two men, that should be easy after an army of Titans," the warrior scoffed at her.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and stood up. The deep breath turned into a sigh of relief as a couple of crewmen stepped in to break up the fight. "Oh well," she tried to sound disappointed. "They don't seem to need my help now."
Cholera took a sip of water, and coughed. Her eyes bulged out, she started clutching her throat and fell off her chair. Before she hit the floor she was dead.
"Oh, Gab-" Xena started to speak.
"Yes!" cried Gabrielle and pumped her fist. "Another murder. This is great. Absolutely wonderf-" she looked around at the shocked faces watching her. "Tragic, I mean. An awful tragedy," she continued in a suitably subdued tone. "A poor young woman's life snuffed out in her prime. I'm devastated," she brought a hand to her mouth.
Several observant diners slipped out and hurried back to their cabin to destroy any red articles of clothing they owned.
Xena yawned and stretched, she leaned over the edge of the bed to look at the bottom bunk. It was empty. She slipped lightly out of bed and started getting dressed.
The door burst open.
"I did it! I solved the murders! I know who done it!"
The door burst shut.
Xena shook her head and continued dressing.
The door burst open again.
"Come on! I've asked everyone to gather in the dining room so I can announce it!"
The door burst shut again.
"She's almost just about starting to begin to annoy me," growled Xena.
Everyone had gathered in the dining room as ordered. Gabrielle was in the centre of the room, walking in circles, explaining how she solved the murders.
"Of course the biggest mistake the killer made was to go up against a master detective like myself.
"Using my extensive knowledge and, even if I say so myself, considerable skill, I have concluded that the killer is none other than... You!" she stopped in front of the captain and pointed at him.
The captain looked around him. "Me? Aaar, lass, ye be mistaken. I ain't no murderer."
"No! I mean, what are you doing here?"
"Ye said ye wanted everyone gathered here," he replied uncertainly.
"But if you're here, who's driving this thing?"
The captain's mouth hung open. "Bugger."
The ship lurched and a loud crunching noise filled the air.
"Abandon ship!" cried the captain as water started spraying into the room.
Panic ensued, people were running in all directions. Somewhere in the melee Gabrielle stood, and tried to attract the attention of anyone who rushed past.
"Wait! I haven't told you who the killer is. No, wait! Please!"
Just like a similarly named vessel, there were not enough lifeboats for the number on board. Though in this case only two people were left behind. They clung to a broken piece of mast in the middle of a circle of rapidly disappearing lifeboats.
Xena looked at Gabrielle. The bard smiled back.
"I have an idea," said Gabrielle.
"Please, not another one."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It was your idea that got us into this mess."
"It's always my fault."
"What were you thinking?"
"At least I can use my brain and not just beat people over the head."
"A cruise! Have you heard of anything so ridiculous?"
"I didn't hear you complaining. At least I think of you.
"I think of you all the time."
"What have you ever done for me?"
"I've saved your life."
"Or got me anything for my birthday?"
"I got you that green top."
"Oh yeah! This awful green top."
"Awful? You never take it off."
"And it's way too small."
"You said you liked it!"
"And it shrinks everytime it gets wet."
"You're so ungrateful."
"At least I don't-"
Sometimes when two people know each other really well, they know the right things to say to really hurt each other. Sometimes they stop themselves before they go too far. Sometimes not.
"Anyway," sniffed Gabrielle. "I managed to solve-"
"-Oh gods! Here she goes-"
"-again. You never shut-"
"-up. You just rabbit on-"
"-help. I'm not completely-"
"-and on. Hah! That's a-"
"-useless. I don't need you to-"
"-laugh. You didn't solve-"
"-do everything for-"
"-them. You have no idea-"
"-me. I did, too! It-"
"-was Staines. He-"
"-them. It was me, you fool. I-"
"-did it because he was jealous-"
"-did it because I was jealous-"
"-of them being close to-"
"-of them being close to-"
"-me, because he fancied me himself-"
"-you, because I love you-"
"-which was silly, because I love you-"
They looked at one another in shocked silence.
Imagine if you were a seabird. You've examined the wreckage and decided that there's nothing worth having, so you fly on. As you fly away the two humans clinging to the wreckage become smaller and smaller till they are nothing more than a tiny speck in a vast sea of... er, sea. And as you fly away their conversation gets fainter and fainter.
"So you killed them all?"
"Yes. I killed them all. And everyone who's got close to you before the cruise."
"Name one who you're responsible for."
"Ah, ha! I knew you were lying. Callisto killed Perdicus."
"But I could have saved him. How many times have I saved you from certain death with my chakram?"
"Hmm, true. But you saved Kennius with your chakram?"
"I was aiming for him. I didn't know the stupid shark was going to get in the way."
"Oh right. You know it's all starting to make some sort of sense, now that you mention it."
"Yeah. I thought it was just bad luck."
"Shut up, and start kicking. I think I can see land on the horizon."
12 November 2000 - 14 January 2001