DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
CATEGORY: Go ahead and list it under ALTERNATIVE, Lunacy, cause its the only way I know how to write em. The Maintext is Subtext, my friends.
KUDOS: Hugs and Kisses to my brave Beta Readers including: Amberly, baermer, Barron, Constare, Danan, Deb7, Jmay, Julie, Katherine Colson, kathleen, Katrina Blau, Nusi, Silent Bard, Tymedancer and especially Lunacy, who held my hand when I was about to throw the entire thing in the garbage. And of course, to my one and only sidekick who sure knows how to come up with a name.
As usual, I wrote this to entertain and to help keep XWS at bay during rerun season. Its good and long, so it should keep you all busy until Xena finally pulls Gabrielle out of the barbeque. Speaking of barbeque, sit back with a plate of Boar, Peas, and crispy bread and enjoy!
SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII
Xena stood before the ocean, staring out to sea. A strong wind slapped a light ocean spray against her skin, the darkening sky offering little warmth. She stood, unfeeling, staring at the disappearing sun wishing desperately that she could follow it's path down into the depths of the ocean and leave this life of endless pain and torment forever.
She couldn't really remember how she came to be here. She had left the temple of Dahak in an empty daze, mounting Argo with almost mechanical motions, allowing years of habit to tell her muscles how to move. Without so much as a glance back to the temple, she left a dead Callisto, a grieving Joxer, a score of villagers, death and destruction and whatever gods were still alive to fend for themselves. She had done enough, sacrificed enough, been wounded down to her very soul. Xena's only action was to half-heartedly turn Argo in the direction of the forest and then she allowed the horse to take her wherever the mare chose.
The faithful war horse brought her to the ocean as though she knew this particular location alone could help the stricken warrior.
Of all the places, Xena found herself staring out to sea from the very spot where she and Gabrielle had frolicked upon their return from Illusia. Her heart should have been breaking apart in her chest from the weight of the memories. Somehow, though, she felt only peace.
Xena closed her eyes and let the feeling of that moment fill her emptiness.
"Home at last, Gabrielle," Xena whispered to no one but the sea.
She wiped dripping ocean spray from her face and turned to walk back towards the shelter of the cliff and Argo. The mare was waiting patiently for her in the sand.
Xena looked at her horse and managed a small smile.
"Well, I'm glad someone around here is thinking," she said, glancing at the large piece of driftwood the mare was standing near.
"Found some wood for a fire, huh girl? I guess we're staying the night."
Xena looked round and shrugged. She could care less where she camped - tonight or from now on. Nothing seemed to matter. Her heart was sinking quickly. She better get to work on a fire... to distract her thoughts, if nothing else.
A bit of chopping and in a few moments, a small fire was lighting the cliff wall with a soft glow. The sky was losing all of its color, turning Xena's world from vibrant color to simple black.
The warrior sat on a thick piece of leftover driftwood; the rest lay in a pile of chopped pieces at her right waiting to be fed to the fire. Argo stood silently, ready for her mistress to perform the rest of her usual nightly routine: removal of the itchy and sweaty saddle and then a nice rub down. After awhile, it became obvious to the mare that this was not going to happen tonight. The horse ambled off in search of some sweet grass.
Xena stared at the dancing flames for a bit before offering a piece of driftwood to the fire. At the moment, she had no thoughts and was grateful for that. She wistfully hoped her mind would remain still for the rest of the night, but knew this to be impossible. The silence would not allow it.
It was so quiet.
The fire crackled. And then there was the sound of ocean waves hitting the shore.
It was too quiet.
She removed the scabbard from her back and pulled out her sword, ready to start sharpening. The thought of doing it made her stomach turn. She threw the sword, sheath and all into the sand at her feet.
"I can't stand the silence, Gabrielle," Xena whispered to the air.
She warmed her hands over the fire; the air was getting chilly.
"I apologize right now for all the times I yelled at you to be quiet."
Xena wrapped her arms around her upper body and began to rock slowly, back and forth.
"I'm sorry for every time I ever laughed at your stories."
She closed her eyes and pictured Gabrielle in her mind, imagining the soft smile that would grace the bard's features at the sound of Xena's words.
"By the gods, I would give anything to hear you tell one now!" the warrior cried out to the sea.
The dead can hear your thoughts.
Xena's head snapped to Argo. She found herself staring at the bag of scrolls strapped securely to the side of the saddle. Gabrielle's scrolls. Her stories.
The warrior stood quickly up from her seat on the chunk of driftwood and took quick, purposeful strides towards the horse. Argo snickered softly, lifting her head to watch as her mistress approached. But Xena only removed the bag and returned to her seat, without even stopping to pet her nose.
Nope, no rub down tonight. The mare's attention went back to her meal.
Xena sat back down on the driftwood slab and fed more fuel to the fire, arranging the wood to produce the maximum amount of light. The flames flickered a bit higher, illuminating the warrior's features in an orange glow.
She opened the flap on the bag, pausing to run her fingers over a few scrolls with a tender touch.
"I never helped you with these, did I?" Xena realized, caressing the outside of the bag and looking up towards the stars.
"Never asked what you were writing. Or bothered to take the time to sit and read one of your finished stories. I told myself it was your thing. Weapons were my thing and scrolls were your thing. I could have at least helped you with names and places, but I never even thought to ask."
Xena shook her head, angry at herself for taking so many things for granted.
"Gods, how did you put up with me all this time, Gabrielle?"
Her thoughts ran quickly out of control, turning to memories of all the nights and campfires they had shared together. In all those nights, how was it that Xena managed to focus on anything and everything, but the one thing that was the most precious to her?
"I don't even know what's in this bag!" Xena announced out loud to the ocean air, turning briefly to Argo when the mare answered the comment with a snort.
"Ya got that right, Argo."
Xena paused for a moment, staring at the bag and it's contents and then reached in to pull out a rolled parchment.
"I'm going to read one of your stories every night, Gabrielle, for however long I manage to stay alive," Xena promised aloud. Hopefully not long, followed in her thoughts.
"We'll end each day together, my bard."
She unrolled the random choice, turning the parchment slightly towards the fire so that the light might better illuminate the carefully written words.
Xena's eyes scanned over the page, filling with warmth and sparkle.
"I feel so close to you now, Gabrielle. Like I'm sitting right next to you."
She lifted her head and looked out at the black ocean, the night sky. She could hear the waves better than she could see them.
"I guess maybe I am."
Her eyes returned to the parchment and she began to read:
"I should hate the sea. After all, it is Poseidon's realm that makes my stomach turn each time I feel it's heartbeat underneath my feet. It was the ocean that brought us to Ithaca and the near heartbreak who called himself Ulysses. And only the sea could have damned Cecrops in the name of the ocean god to an eternity of endless pain searching for a love he might have never found.
I should fear the sea. For it once swallowed us whole and brought out the worst of our fears as we lay trapped within its depths. And it is those very depths that now holds the last of my innocence in the form of a golden ring. How easily I tossed it away, giving it up to the mer.
But mostly, it is the sea that I should curse because it carried me to Britannia and threw me into the cold arms of evil. An evil that sucked the very soul from me, leaving behind an empty heart - once so filled with love, consumed so easily by hate.
And it was to the ocean she dragged me. It was over the vast water she stood poised to throw me.
Then it was into the sea that we both plunged from lofty heights. So wrapped up in our pain and anguish, we threw our arms around each other in one last angry embrace and fell from the grace of love into the churning waters of hate.
Perhaps Poseidon had his revenge after all."
Xena looked up from the scroll as she felt herself hyperventilating. Gods, maybe this was not such a good idea. But she was compelled to read on and so, after closing her eyes for a brief moment to calm her racing heart, she turned her gaze back to the parchment and continued.
"But the truth of it all, is that I will forever be indebted to the sea. I vow to sing its praises and marvel at its beauty. I promise to lay tribute at Poseidon's shrines and gives thanks for his gift to us which is the ocean and all its vast splendor. I will love the great sea and give thanks for the rest of my mortal life and beyond.
For it was the ocean that cleansed us. It was its gentle waves that carried us back to one another. It was in the ocean's embrace where our broken hearts were healed and our souls reunited.. The kiss of the ocean blessed us that day, even as we kissed one another.
For this alone, I could be eternally grateful.
But there is more.
It was the glorious ocean that brought us to Pompeii, and for this...the sea will always have my heart."
"Pompeii," Xena's breath exhaled and was carried away by the offshore breeze. The fire cracked in response and Xena looked at its blaze with unseeing eyes.
"Pompeii," Xena repeated and a small smile found its way to her heart.
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
Xena slipped from the driftwood into the sand and sat so that her back could rest against the wood. She threw a large piece of log into the flame and then stretched her legs to make herself more comfortable.
With a happy sigh, the warrior settled in to read realizing, once again, the bard had found a way to bring her peace in the long, dark night.
Bay of Naples
Gabrielle stood with her hands on the rail looking out over the bow of the ship towards 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, once again, 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.
Gabrielle now 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 her 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 attempted a brief smile to be polite.
"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 said, 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 Argos 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 said, climbing into his wagon. "Absolutely anytime."
As they approached the large arched portal, Gabrielle paused to looked up at the towering solid stone wall completely enclosing Pompeii. 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 said, 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.
City of Pompeii
The Porta Stabia brought them onto a main street. Xena was able to read a golden plaque clearly displayed high on the wall of a stone building just to their right: Via Stabia. The warrior squinted down the expanse of street, seeing nothing but the avenue stretching out before them, flanked on each side by one and two-story buildings as far as the eye could see.
Xena could already feel the claustrophic effects of an over-crowded city creeping down her spine.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was 'oohing' and 'aaahhing' at the brightly painted facades of the houses. Their balconies and loggias were overflowing with flowers and plant life, and beautifully tiled archways seemed to adorn each and every doorway all along the boulevard.
One particularly colorful wall grabbed the bard's attention. She hopped over a cement channel filled with water that flowed along the length of the Via Stabia dividing the street in two, intending to run over and take a closer look.
An angry yell behind them caught Xena's attention. She reached out to grab the bard's green top and pull her back just in time to prevent her from being run over by a merchant's wagon.
"Pedestrians to the right!" the angry driver yelled as he passed by in a clinking, clanking rush.
Xena looked down the Via Stabia and realized that the street was indeed segregated: pedestrians to right, wagons and horses to the left.
"Watch yourself, Gabrielle," Xena said, smoothing the shoulder of the bard's green top. "This isn't Athens."
"It sure isn't. Take a look at this, Xena!"
Gabrielle grasped Xena's elbow and together they crossed over to the opposite side of the street, but not before looking both ways for oncoming traffic. Xena pulled Argo gently, waiting patiently as her mare negotiated the step over the water channel.
"There's writing all over the walls," the bard said, bringing them before a stone wall, covered from top to bottom with the scratchings and artwork of what could only be the local Pompeians.
"Ha! Look at this!" Gabrielle directed Xena's attention, pointing to a scratched phrase on the wall:
'Romula tarried here with Staphylus.'
She suddenly realized that the wall contained all manner of messages, poetic or otherwise, for any and all to read.
Then the bard heard Xena chuckling and looked as the warrior pointed out one as well:
'O Chius, I hope that your ulcerous pustules reopen and burn even more than they did before.'
"That's disgusting, Xena!"
"It's funny though."
Gabrielle chose to make no comment and shuffled down a little to point to another.
"Now, here's one I like!"
'Health to those who invite me to lunch!'
Xena pulled Gabrielle back to her and tapped the stone with a forefinger.
'Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!'
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Xena's laughter.
"You have a morbid sense of humor!"
Xena smiled with feigned innocence and shrugged her shoulders.
"Xena," the bard said, fingers tracing the etchings in the stone and looking around at all the walls she could see. "There's stuff written all over the place. Poems, comments, messages to people. Even drawings." Gabrielle stopped in front of a beautiful rendition of a mother and child. "Good ones, too."
"Now here's a comment I can really appreciate," Xena stated, pointing out a bold scribble in a corner.
'I am astounded, O wall, that you do not crash under the weight of all this trash!'
They both enjoyed a good laugh. Gabrielle could already feel the stress and anxiety that, as of late, always seemed to be present beginning to fade.
"Come on," Xena placed her hand gently against the small of Gabrielle's back to prompt her away from the wall. "We better get going."
The pair carefully crossed to the 'pedestrian' side of the road, Xena electing to keep Argo on the horse side, while she led the mare along from the pedestrian side. Gabrielle grinned at the warrior who was having a hard time convincing the mare to stay on her side of the divider. A city and its rules, she thought to herself with a smirk as they continued their journey down the Via Stabia.
They walked in silence for a while, grateful for the constant shade the tall buildings on the each of street provided from the sun, until the houses on the left came to an end and the suddenly bright sunshine almost blinded them.
"Oh, my!" Gabrielle exclaimed, shading her eyes and looking out at a meticulously groomed lawn spread out before a massive building. "Look at that stage!"
Gabrielle could barely contain her excitement. The theatre had been built to fit into the curve of the sloping ground. There was a semicircular pit in front of the stage, and the seats rose upward from that, row upon row into the hillside. Just how many seats there were , Gabrielle could not begin to count. Just the thought of performing in such a venue was giving the bard heart palpitations.
Xena was patiently awaiting the next statement, which could only be a request to attend whatever it was that would be held there.
"Yes," Xena said bluntly, before her friend had a chance to speak.
"What?" Gabrielle turned her head in surprise, almost missing the statement.
"I said, yes."
"Yes, if we have time, we can go to the theatre."
If she hadn't been so preoccupied with the beauty of the building, Gabrielle might have thrown her arms around the warrior and given her a big kiss. For Xena, the bard's bright, happy smile was more than enough.
"Come on. The faster we get to the center of things, the more quickly we can find out about the plays."
Xena gently pulled her arm, expecting the bard to resist and stare a little longer at the grand building, but just the mention of the word "play" sent Gabrielle bustling down the street.
There was no way, the bard thought to herself, that she was going to be in this city and not experience the joy of watching classic drama in the atmosphere of that magnificent theatre.
Xena chuckled as she pulled Argo along, following her partner, barely able to keep up.
"She's a bard on a mission," Xena muttered behind a grin, following contentedly.
The theatre district came to an end and they were once again flanked on each side by stone and brick two-
Xena managed to catch up with the bard and was keeping an eye out for the street called Via Dell'Abbondanza. She imagined it would be a large thoroughfare, since it sounded like a main street in the city. And though they had passed a number of very small cross streets, none had that name on its plaque nor fit the description.
She was wondering just how far away this main street could possibly be when she noticed a great amount of wagon and pedestrian traffic mulling at the cross street just ahead.
"That looks like it," the warrior nudged her friend and they hastened their pace - Xena anxious to book their passage out and Gabrielle anxious to book seats for that evening's performance.
Sure enough, they came upon the Via Dell'Abbondanza and rounded the corner to turn left.
"Yow," Gabrielle stated for both of them.
The Via Dell'Abbondanza was twice as wide as the Via Stabia and a bustle of activity. Shops and stores lined each side of the street. Unlike the open-air market of Athens, the merchandise did not spill out from vendor stalls bursting at the seams. Here, each store had distinctively designed storefronts and entryways, colorfully decorated and identified with signs. Shoppers were busily entering and exiting,carrying armloads of bags that overflowed with goods and food obviously purchased inside. The enclosed shops, however, could not prevent the wonderfully heady scents of freshly baked bread mixed with a touch of incense, fragrant oils, fruit, spices and all manner of fragrances, from drifting into the air.
Gabrielle took a big, deep breath and sighed.
"Aaaah, I love the smell of a marketplace in the morning."
The pair wove their way through the flow of oncoming traffic, heading in the direction Pontius had recommended.
The Pompeians were hastily coming and going, shuffing impatiently around Xena and Gabrielle and a horse who was now on the wrong side of the road. They seemed to be the only ones on the street who did not know where they were going. The pair walked toward the center of activity, trying avoid the steady stream of people who were hustling by them in both directions.
They passed all manner of stores: fabric, clothing, jewelry, furniture, weapons, pottery, food, food, food and then more food. But there were no taverns or eateries of the type that would harbor merchant seamen. Xena stopped for a moment, looking forward and then back from where they had come.
Gabrielle had to brake her step to avoid bumping into the back of the warrior. "Whatsa matter?"
"Pontius did say Via Dell'Abbondanza, right?" Xena looked up and down the busy street.
"Yup, that's what he said," Gabrielle answered, distracted by a very attractive bodice visible through an archway. She raised her eyebrows and smiled in appreciation, wondering how much such a lovely garment might cost.
"Well, there are plenty of stores all right, but I don't see any taverns..." The warrior scruntinized the signs posted over each entryway.
"Just keep walking, Xena," Gabrielle advised, placing her hand against the warrior's back and pushing her gently, "we're bound to find a tavern. And slow down, don't walk so fast. You might miss it."
Xena narrowed her eyes and looked at the bard, wondering if that suggestion was to prevent them from missing their objective or just an excuse to allow her to window shop.
"Come on," Xena said and took off at a brisk pace.
Gabrielle sighed. Gods, when Xena got her mind on something there was just no getting her to relax. The bard followed, but kept a more leisurely pace. The distance between the friends grew with every passing step.
Xena stopped abruptly and turned her head, suddenly sensing the absence of Gabrielle's presence. She spotted the bard's golden hair amidst the bustling crowd. She was staring at something through a portal.
"Gabrielle!" the warrior called. The bard's head spun towards the sound of her voice. "Come on!"
With a sigh, Gabrielle reluctantly left the portal and wove her way back to the warrior. Xena had already starting leading Argo down the street.
A young woman bumped into Gabrielle's shoulder as she walked passed.
"Excuse me," the bard mumbled, but the woman was already gone. Another step and Gabrielle had to cut left to avoid another collision.
"Sorry." Gabrielle turned a bit to follow the quickly retreating form, only to walk right into another shopper.
"Hey! Watch it!" the man barked, moving the bard aside by the shoulders.
"Sorry," Gabrielle said and quickly stepped away. The man continued down the street.
"I guess you need a pair of Hermes' sandals to get anywhere in this crowd," the bard muttered to herself. Then her eyes found Xena and watched as her partner strolled easily down the street. Even with Argo trailing behind, Xena did not seem to be having a problem. The oncoming crowds parted in a path away, letting the warrior walk wherever she wanted as quickly as possibly.
Gods, how does she do that? Gabrielle squared her shoulders and took off with an upraised chin and confident steps, only to crash right into the first person who came her way, scattering a bag full of groceries.
"Excuse me," the young woman said with a smile before bending to pick up the items that had fallen to the ground.
The bard smiled and bent down with her. "No, I'm sorry. Here, let me help you."
Together they picked up the groceries and re-filled the bag.
"Gabrielle! What are you doing? Come on!" The irritation was easily recognizable in Xena's voice even at this distance.
"Sorry." They both stood and Gabrielle put a nice loaf of bread back into the young woman's package. "Gotta go."
The bard made her way quickly back to the warrior's side.
"Try and stay with me, will ya?"
"Xena, what is the big rush? You know, your legs are a lot longer than mine. It's hard to keep up with you. At this pace, we could walk back to Greece and be there by tomorrow."
"Well, we'd get a little wet," Xena said, pulling Gabrielle away from the center of the street and nearer one of the shops to get them out of the flow of traffic. "Look, I'm just anxious to make sure we can book passage out of here as soon as possible."
"Why? Has something got you worried?"
Xena studied a Roman flag, Caesar's standard, displayed proudly above an archway, flapping lazily in the breeze.
"This is a big Roman city with plenty of rich and powerful Roman residents. Let's just say I don't want to end up fighting in a coliseum again."
Xena looked at her partner meaningfully and Gabrielle paled at the thought.
"You're right, of course. Look Xena, I'm just slowing you down here. Why don't you go on ahead and I'll browse around for a while."
"Not a good idea. We'll lose each other in this crowd."
"I'll stay right in this area," the bard promised, indicating the few stores surrounding them.
"I have no idea how long it'll take me to find the tavern."
"I can fix that," the bard stated confidently. Xena raised an eyebrow.
Gabrielle looked around and spied a young boy sitting under an awning and playing with some sticks and stones on the walkway. She looked back up at the warrior and grinned.
"Wait right here."
Xena watched as Gabrielle trotted over to the young boy.
"Excuse me," the bard looked down at the lad and smiled.
"Yeah?" The boy caught a stone in his hand and paused in his game to look up at the bard.
"Are there any taverns or bars along this street?"
"Yeah, sure. Plenty."
"How 'bout one where a lot of merchant seamen might hang out. My friend and I need to book passage on a ship back to Greece."
The young boy leaned over to look beyond Gabrielle at the warrior and horse who were waiting impatiently a few steps away.
"That'll be the Fish Head. It's just a ways down on the left, closer to the Forum. It has a big sign...."
"Let me guess. A big fish head?"
"Yeah," the boy laughed. "Ya can't miss it. Smells like fish in there, too. But that's where you'll find all the skippers and their crew. They got the strongest sweet wine in the city."
"Thanks," the bard said sincerely and turned to walk back to Xena.
"Did you hear?"
"Yeah, I heard. The Fish Head."
"On the left, just before something called the Forum. So, you go there and I'll wait here."
"Gabrielle, I don't really want us to be separated in this city."
"Relax, Xena. I'll be fine. I'll do a little shopping and you'll book us passage. We'll meet right back here, say...in an hour? I'll be here. I promise."
"You'll stay right in this area?"
"You won't wander off and get lost?"
"I said, I promise!"
Xena studied Gabrielle's face carefully and then decided.
"All right. But don't you dare wander off. I mean it. I don't want to spend the rest of the afternoon looking for you."
"For Zeus' sake, Xena, do you want me to write it in blood? I said I'll stay right around here. Besides, it'll give me a chance to find out about this evening's performance at that theatre. Remember, you said we could go?" Gabrielle waggled her eyebrows up and down, smiling at her friend.
"Yeah, all right. We'll go. Do you need some dinars?"
Gabrielle shook her head no.
"Well here, have some anyway." The warrior took several out of the bag, placed them in the bard's hand and then returned the pouch to its hiding place. "I'll meet you back here in no more than an hour."
"Right. Do you want me to get you anything? Something else to wear? A disguise perhaps?" Gabrielle asked, shifting her staff so she could count the coins in her hand.
"Just get your butt back here in an hour so I can find you."
"Wouldya stop worrying! Go on. I have some serious shopping to do!"
"All right. See ya in a bit." The warrior pulled Argo and took off with purposeful strides in the direction of the Fish Head. Gabrielle grinned at her friend's retreating back. Aahh, now I can shop in peace. She headed in the direction of the first accessible store.
Xena paused after a few steps and turned to follow the bard with her eyes. Gabrielle had wandered over to
a fabric store and was gazing into the archway.
Xena smirked, knowing full well that her partner was going to wander off and she probably wouldn't be able to find her for hours. The warrior's eyes drifted over to the young boy, who had resumed his game on the
cool stone street.
"Hey, you!" Xena called out.
The boy looked up briefly, spotted the warrior and assumed she must have been speaking to someone else. He resumed his game.
"You, boy," Xena said again, taking a few strides in his direction.
The boy looked up and saw the warrior woman heading his way fast. He glanced nervously over his shoulder, hoping she was really walking toward someone else.
"I'm talking to you," Xena stated.
"Who me?" The boy said, pointing to himself.
"Yeah, you." The warrior covered the last few paces remaining and stood towering over the young boy. "How would you like to make some easy coin?"
"You mean money?"
"Silver denarius," Xena answered, smirking at the sharp question.
The boy squinted his eyes distrustfully at the tall, dark warrior woman.
"Depends. Just what do I have to do?"
Smart boy. "Do you see that girl looking into that store, just over there?" Xena asked, pointing in the bard's direction.
"You mean the one who asked me for directions? The one with the hair the color of sunshine?"
Very smart boy, Xena thought smiling. "Yeah, that's the one. I want you to keep an eye on her for me. See where she goes. Make sure she doesn't get lost. You understand?"
"One dinar now," Xena said, flipping the silver coin into the air. The boy caught it easily. "Two more if you can take me right to her when I come back. Deal?"
The lad looked the coin over carefully before smiling up at the warrior in agreement. "Deal."
"I'll be back in an hour. I'll meetcha right here. Ya got that?"
"No problem. I'm on it. I won't let her outta my sight."
"Good. I'm counting on you."
And with that Xena tugged on Argos reign and headed away in the direction of the Fish Head.
"Oooh boy, three dinars and alls I have ta do is watch a pretty girl for an hour!" The boy scooped up his colored stones and ball, then ran after an already wandering Gabrielle.
To Be Continued...Chapter 4 and 5
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