DISCLAIMERS: The characters depicted are all the property of Universal/Studios USA/Renaissance Pictures. This story is an alt. fiction, meaning the women depicted here are more than "just friends", and behave accordingly. There are scenes of a sexual nature depicted here, so anyone under 18, please go play somewhere else.
Many thanks to MWP.
The events in this story take place immediately after WHEN IN ROME (about the same time as SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII by DJWP, but let's just say that this is an alternate timeline event, a different scenario).
A NEBULA MENAGE
By Nusi Dekker
We were finally out on the open sea. To the east, the mountains of Italia rose in the distance. Funny, how I felt safer being able to see the land. I didn't even feel seasick. I must be getting used to all these sea voyages. I actually enjoy them now.
I was standing at the railing by the port bow, watching a group of dolphins leap through the waves as our escorts. It was supposedly good luck to see them at play like this. I always wondered if those old children's stories were true, that the dolphins were shipwrecked sailors turned into fish by Poseidon.
Just hours before, we had finally sailed free of the bustling Roman port of Ostia and its myriad of merchant and pleasure craft, heading toward Syracuse under a strong west wind.
Xena and I had spirited Vercinix out of Rome to a safehouse in the hills beyond the city. We waited until dark, then Vercinix headed north to the safety of his family, under the guise of a moonless night. Xena and I went southeast to Ostia, where the merchant ship was waiting and ready to shove off as soon as we were on board. The captain was an old friend of Xena's from her pirating days, and one of the few people from that period who had remained on good terms. Xena had saved his ship and crew from capture by Caesar's forces once, so he had agreed to smuggle us out of Italia, but only as far as Syracuse.
After all I had just gone through these past months with Xena, I knew that helping her rescue Vercinix was my only choice. Yet how can I feel so much pain for someone like Crassus, who personally ordered the crucifixion of innocent children? Why couldn't I kill Callisto, who murdered my husband before my eyes? And yet I was able to poison my own daughter, because she had killed the son of the one I most loved. I have tried so hard to do good, make things right without resorting to violence, and yet, every new place that we visit, it's there, waiting for us, and I can't change the outcome. If I parted ways with Xena, the violence would be less, but it would not end for me. And I know that Xena needs me. And by the goddesss Gaia, I can't leave her now, I love her too much.
I turned my head to look for Xena, and found her down by the stern, deep in conversation with the helmsman. She must have felt my eyes on her then, because she returned my gaze, and my body filled with warmth, in spite of the cold wind. Not taking her eyes off mine, she excused herself and came back to my side.
"Feeling all right?" She looked at me with such concern. I'm sure she was thinking of our earlier conversation about Crassus, when she reached for my hand, causing me to drop the imperial ring into the sea. I had felt the intensity of her love and sorrow then, as I wrapped both my hands around hers.
"Yeah, I feel good. Just watching the dolphins. I think I'm getting to like sailing." The look of concern faded, the blue eyes brightened with affection. "So when do we get to Syracuse? And what about getting back to Greece?"
"Don't worry about getting to Greece. It's already being taken care of." Her eyes twinkled and a small mischevious grin turned up the corners of her lips. "As for Syracuse, the helmsman said we won't get there till sunup, I'm afraid."
This was not terrific news. I was exhausted and looking forward to a good quiet sleep in Syracuse. "Great! Where are we supposed to sleep? This boat is not that big and no way on this earth am I going to sleep below deck with that grubby crew! They've been hitting on me constantly since I've been here! I'd like to be able to get some sleep!" I immediately hated myself for getting so cranky on such a beautiful day.
Xena just smiled. "Gabrielle, you know that they wouldn't dare touch you as long as I'm with you. But to tell you the truth, I couldn't stand being down there with them either. I've already spoken to the captain. He'll let us sleep in his anteroom. We'll have to sleep on the floor, but at least we'll be inside and have shelter from the wind and seaspray. And, we may get a little privacy. Sound better?"
"Yeah, thanks." Xena always thought of me. She had observed my interactions with the crew, even as I thought she hadn't noticed, and had gone and done something about it. She always looked out for me, but I somehow still needed to be reminded of it, by things like this. I reached my arm around her waist and drew her close. She responded by draping her arm around my shoulders, using her hand to stroke my hair away from my neck. I could feel the warmth eminating from her body through her leathers even though I had donned a cloak to ward off the cold wind. I looked up at my beloved's face. She appeared to be watching the leaping dolphins, but her eyes seemed to be focused on something more distant. Her fingers were caressing my neck just behind the ear, normally a very sensuous spot for me, but it felt absent, somehow. Her mind was somewhere else. I wondered if it was still the effects of our terrible rift which caused the almost imperceptible withdrawal from the closeness that we had before? What else was she holding back? But I, too, harbored a deep secret which I was witholding from my partner. All I knew now is that any touch from her lifted my spirits, gave me the patience I needed to once again fill her heart with my love. We stood there like that for a long time, until the dolphins left our boat to bade farewell to the sinking sun.
The cook had prepared a cabbage and onion stew with a few pieces of sheep meat and some salt pork bits cooked in for flavoring. I could get a whiff of it now and then and my stomach growled in response.
"Sounds like you're hungry. Hey, he's serving dinner. Let's go get some," Xena said, smiling down at my belly. Her hand was still on my neck, hidden beneath my hair. I let her steer me toward the cook, then she discreetly dropped her hand. We picked up some not-too-clean bowls from a stack and received a ladleful each of the stew.
"Let's go sit up by the stern, Gabrielle. There's a little sheltered spot," Xena said, walking off.
The spot Xena picked was actually very cozy, right up against the Captain's cabin. I scarfed the stew down, I had been so hungry. It was a little salty, but otherwise not bad. I watched Xena, who was eating contemplatively, her eyes toward the dark horizon.
"Dinar for your thoughts."
Xena looked back at me and smiled. "Keep your money, you might need it. Well, you sure have an appetite!" she laughed jokingly as she looked pointedly at my empty bowl. "Looks like you're adapting nicely to the sea life." Her eyes caressed me as she grinned.
"Well, we've taken a lot of these sea voyages lately. I better get used to it. Either that or die." I was still joking, but Xena suddenly sobered. "Hey, I was just fooling!"
"Yeah, that's all right," Xena said, smiling again slightly. A quick flash of some remembered pain flitted across her eyes briefly, then it was gone. "I'm glad to see you feeling better," she said sincerely.
"Food works wonders for me. Xena?"
"You said you had things worked out for when we get to Syracuse. Are we going on another merchant ship?"
It had grown quite dark. There were no stars visible, which meant that some clouds had moved in. Xena turned her face away from me to stare into the blackness. The wind had picked up considerably and whipped the hair from her face.
"Maybe we should get inside." She took my bowl and straightened out her long frame, relinquishing her spot next to me. My windbreak was suddenly gone, and where before I had been resonably snug next to Xena, I now felt the cold wind and seaspray dampening my hair and clothes.
I stood up also and almost fell back. The seas had gotten rough and the boat was now pounding through some pretty impressive waves. Other than Xena and I, there were only a few of the crew left on deck to guide the boat. The rest had gone below. I staggered in place like a drunk while Xena nimbly strutted to the now-desserted galley and stowed the bowls. Striding quickly back, she grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the captain's anteroom.
"Whoa, it's getting a little rough," I said as I grabbed for a table that was attached to the wall.
"And I thought understatement was my talent."
"Ha Ha. Do you think Argo will be okay?"
"She's gone through much worse than this. She's used to it, she'll be fine." Xena had to stoop to get through the small door, and had finally gotten it shut. The anteroom was tiny, with barely enough room for the table. Another doorway led to the Captain's bedchamber. The curtain had been drawn aside, the room being unoccupied as yet. Xena hooked a lantern to the ceiling for some light.
The furs had been thrown under the table. Xena must have brought them in here earlier. I arranged them there since that was the only place where there was room for us to sleep. It was going to be a little tight, which was fine for me. I crawled into the furs and waited while Xena removed her armour and weaponry. She then slid into bed beside me and piled her things on the other side of the furs.
Her thigh was pressed against my hip. It felt so good, that soft warm skin over hard muscle and bone. The feel of her vibrant body was so soothing to me. We had been through Tartarus together, and things weren't right between us yet. Xena was so careful with me. She loved me, that was so clear, yet she would not make love to me like she used to, as if she felt she would hurt me if she did. I wanted so badly to express to her how wrong her logic was in this matter. But I hoped that she just needed time. For now, I would have to be satisfied with her body contact, which I needed more than almost anything, and my own right hand, which served to dampen the frustration of my unfulfilled desires these last few weeks.
"Xena," I whispered into the flickering lantern light, "You didn't answer my question."
I sighed. It was so hard to get anything out of her. I tried again. "Who did you line up to get us off Syracuse? Is it a friend? Someone I know? You've been so evasive about this. You promised you'd be more upfront with me, remember?"
"Evasive? Huh! What makes you think I'm being evasive, Gabrielle?"
"There you go, changing the subject. Now I know something's up."
"All I want to know is, do we have a plan to get off Syracuse and back to Greece, and are you going to tell me what it is? Because I'm not letting you sleep until you do." I got up on one elbow and leaned over her until my face was directly over hers. It wasn't exactly threatening, but it made it hard for her to squirm away. My cloth-covered breast was pressed against the bare skin right above her leather tunic. I know that she felt something, because a slight blush formed around her nose.
"Alright! Alright, I'm getting the message!"
I pulled back slightly. I wish this tactic worked more often. "Well?"
"We're meeting a ship anchored off the southeastern side of the island about a day's ride from the port. The captain is ..."
"Wait a minute. Why is this ship hiding so far from the port? Xena, we're not getting on a pirate ship, are we?"
"Gabrielle, I'm telling you now, so would you just let me finish? This is a friend, from, ah, before I knew you."
"Oh really? You mean from your evil days? So he is a pirate! Xena, I don't like this."
"Take it easy, it's going to be fine. Just let me finish, okay?"
"Fine." I lay back to let Xena talk, but I was worried. Lately, getting involved with people from Xena's past had caused nothing but the worst of troubles for me. Caesar, Ming Tien, even Vercinix, they had all done irreversable damage to the fibre of my soul, had altered everything that had meaning in my life.
Xena could sense my stress. She spoke softly, "I had just turned against Borias and was getting my own army in place. The captain of that boat was a pirate and had run afoul of Caesar's navy. I saved her from the cross."
"Yes. She had gotten quite a reputation in the eastern Mediterranian for stealing from only the very rich. After I saved her, she became the commander of my armada. She kept my army well-supplied with food and arms and carried the booty from the villages I'd sacked. She always remained loyal to me. After a few years she wanted to go back out on her own. I'd started scaling things down by then so I let her go, gave her a new Greek tirame I'd captured. So we parted on good terms."
"Is she still a pirate? She doesn't sound like an evil person."
"Oh, she's still a pirate, but lately she's only been going after the luxury yachts of the Roman elite, the Patricians. She's been playing cat-and-mouse with Caesar's navy, and once in a while she's been able to disable one of their Roman galleys."
"So she sounds pretty decent, for a pirate."
"Not only that, but she's an ally of Hercules. I heard that she helped Hercules defeat the deadly Arachnida and saved Iolaus's life."
"I heard that story! It's one of my favorites! So this woman we're going to meet is the same Nebula from that story? She's your friend?" I was, once again, awestruck.
"Yup. Nebula." She smiled, noting my excitement. "Damn, now you're wide awake. We better try and get a little sleep if we can." She reached over to stroke my face gently, which instantly calmed me. Must be one of those Eastern techniques that she knows.
I lay back and closed my eyes. "G'night, Xena."
I felt her body move against me, then her mouth parting my lips, her tongue briefly caressing mine. Then it was gone. The wetness around my lips started to cool. It felt like such a long time since she had given me a goodnight kiss like that, so spontaneous. Maybe the passionate love we once shared was coming back. I was ready to try again. But Xena still had her demons to battle, stuff to work out of her system. I had to be patient.
"Hey, get up!" a rough male voice yelled close to my ear. Xena cursed and unwrapped my arms and legs from around her body, and tossed the fur off both of us. She slid off the bedroll and stood next to the captain.
"What's up, Spiros?" Xena pointedly yawned while glaring at him. I popped my head up. It was still very dark outside. The door to the deck had been opened and cold air rushed in. It was invigorating, if unwelcome.
"We'll be in port in a few minutes. You just have enough time to get your things together before we start unloading," he said grinning, before he walked out.
Xena had slapped the guantlets over her arms and was now hooking up her breastplate. "C'mon, Gabrielle, let's get off this ship. Hand me my sword and chakram, would you?"
"All right." I handed Xena her weapons. "Gods, I think I only got about five breaths worth of sleep last night." My mood wasn't the best this morning. I shook out the stiffness in my muscles and gathered the furs.
"Yeah, I guess the anteroom wasn't so great after all," replied Xena. She looked at the captain's bedchamber and made a face, which made me laugh. Old Spiros had come staggering in shortly after Xena and I had said goodnight, reeking of wine, dragging a sailor with him. They had made enough noise in that bedchamber to wake the dead. It was amazing how bright and cheery he was this morning.
We stepped out to the deck. The eastern sky was becoming lighter, and was clear of clouds. The lights of the port were just ahead of us. Most of the crew was above deck, scrambling about with ropes and trimming the sails. The captain himself was at the helm, carefully guiding our vessel to the dock. As we drew near, several men threw ropes over the side where they were caught by several dockworkers who drew the boat up to the slip.
"Well, let's go get Argo," said Xena as she strode down the ramp to the hold. I followed with my big wad of furs.
Later, we stood on the dock together while Xena made sure everything was in place with Argo. I looked back at the ship. The cargo of chickens, grain, and apples had been unloaded already, and barrels of the famous red wine of Syracuse were being rolled up the ramp for the return trip.
I felt her warm hand on my shoulder. "How are you doing?" she asked me, "Feeling alright?" Her eyes searched my face for any indication of discomfort.
"No, I'm good," I said, smiling. "My lack of sleep may catch up to me later, though. Thank you."
Her hand moved up to my neck then smoothed my hair in a long caress. "Well, we've got a day's ride ahead of us." She turned toward the village, which was now bustling with people. Produce and fish vendors had set up shop along the roadway. It was just past sunrise. "I see a tavern. Let's eat before we move out."
The tavern turned out to have excellent food, prepared in the traditional Greek way. I felt much better, and eager to get going.
Xena paid the barkeep, then came back carrying a sack. "Not bad," she said, hefting the sack. "Turns out that Nebula's one of his favorite customers, she told him to look out for us, provided us this fruit, bread and cheese for our journey. Here." She handed me the sack, which was heavier than it looked. "I'm going out to the well to fill our waterskins, then we can go."
I went out to tie the sack to Argo's pack while Xena filled the skins. As she came back, I blurted out, "I can't wait to meet that Nebula! I heard she had to cut Iolaus out of a cocoon!"
"Yup" Xena laughed as she swung onto Argo.
"I actually get to meet the hero of that story! I get to hear it from her own lips!"
"Come on up, Gabrielle, we'll never make it there if you're gonna talk all day. She's expecting us," Xena smiled as she lifted me with one arm onto Argo's back. "Ready?" I just had enough time to wrap my left arm around Xena's waist before we took off.
As we left the village I saw a group of thin men of varying ages laboring to lay stones to build a road. There were about ten Roman soldiers standing around, whips in hand, watching. I felt Xena's entire body stiffen as she observed the scene.
"Those are farmers from some poor village sacked by Caesar, made into slaves to build his damn roads! Their wives are probably kitchen slaves to wealthy Romans in Pompeii!" Xena spat into the dirt as she fumed from anger at the sight of those men, but to my surprise turned Argo away from them into the hills.
"Xena, can't we free those slaves? There's only ten Roman soldiers, we can take them easily!" I tightened my hand on my staff, thinking only of freeing those poor men, not of any consequenses.
"No, as much as I want to kick their asses back to Rome, we have to keep a low profile. Caesar is trying to track us. If we cause an incident here, he'll find and capture us for sure. And I will die before I see you captured as a slave by Caesar!"
"Slave! He'd crucify me for collaborating with you. He already tried that once, remember."
"Yaaaaah!" Xena suddenly kicked Argo into a gallop, almost unseating me. I had said something upsetting to Xena, again. Even though I said it as a joke. Sometimes my tact just leaves me. We raced through a ravine, then slowed to a walk again to resume our steady climbing.
At the top of the rise, we could see the laborers behind us. We angled back down the rocky slope to the small coast trail. We rode in silence for awhile, then got off and walked, to give Argo a rest.
The area we were walking through was breathtaking. On our left, beautiful cliffs plunged down to rugged, rocky coastline, separated by tiny, secluded beaches. On the right, there were rolling hills covered with vinyards and olive groves, then the treeless, snowcapped slopes of Mount Etna, a whisp of white steam trailing off its peak.
We had steered clear of the larger villages, turning inland as we encountered them, then once again turning toward the sea. We never lost sight of it as we headed south.
When the sun was high in the sky, it was getting hot, and I was getting hungry. I longed for a bath. Xena, sitting in front of me on Argo, was getting quite ripe. I couldn't smell myself, but I could imagine. I hadn't bathed in more than 4 days.
"Xena, Do you think we could stop somewhere to bathe?"
"Why? Do I smell?"
"It's just that I haven't had a bath since before Syria, and I don't want to meet Nebula like this."
Xena turned to me, her blue eyes flashing with amusement. "Hmmm... All right." She pointed ahead to a gorge brimming with thick, green vegetation. "Looks like a creek up ahead. We need to stop for lunch anyhow. C'mon, Argo."
The creek was secluded, running with clear springwater. We hadn't seen any farmhouses or other areas of occupation for awhile, so it didn't look like we needed to worry about contaminating someone's water supply.
It was perfect. The creek was shallow, but would serve our needs nicely. I jumped off Argo and rummaged through the saddlebag for the soap. Xena was already striding toward the creek, removing her armour and piling it against some rocks. I threw my staff next to her chakram, pulled my boots off, then took off my clothes and threw them in the creek. Immediately, dirt began to waft away from the fabric. I stepped into the chill, shin-deep water. Xena waded in a little upstream from my dirty clothes, holding her underwear. I threw her the soap. She lathered up her underwear, then rinsed it and threw it on a rock behind her to dry. I started squeezing the dirt and sweat out of my clothes. Xena sat down in the creek, then dipped her head back to wet her hair. She soaped up her hair then worked on her arms and legs. I grinned at her as I wrung out my clothes and spread them on the rock to dry. She was saving the best part for me. She remembered. I moved over to her and soaped her back, then her neck.
"Lay back, Xena," I said as she sank back into the creek. The soapsuds floated away from her hair. I ran my fingers through her hair to remove the rest of the soap. Then I cradled her on my left arm as I used my right one to guide the soap over the front of her body, running my thumb gently over her hardened nipples. Her eyes were closed with contentment, her head resting against my breast like a child's. It was like before, how long was it, half a year ago? When all we had between us was the love.
I moved the soap down to her pubis and rubbed it thorough the hair, then placed the soap on her belly button. With my hand I carefully cleaned between her legs, using firm but gentle strokes. I traced my fingers around her opening, then circled around the base. I could feel the hardening lump rise beneath my palm as I dipped my fingers inside her. Xena sighed and started to writhe. A moan escaped her lips. I felt the heat of desire in my own body now, coursing across my skin like waves. Xena was almost mine.
Suddenly, her hand shot to my wrist and her eyes flew open. She held my eyes to hers while bringing my hand up to her face, then kissed my palm. "Please don't Gabrielle," she whispered, with pleading and love in her eyes. "I can't take this from you. I don't deserve it."
"What? But I want to do this so much, Xena." I just couldn't understand why she felt she had to think that way, why she refused to take pleasure from me.
"It brings up so much...pain. I'm...not ready yet. I know you don't understand, I know it's hard for you.." She looked up at me with such raw vulnerability.
"It's okay, Xena," I smiled at her as I stroked her face. "I shouldn't have pushed it."
"Okay then, your turn." She grinned, and removed herself from my embrace. "That felt wonderful, though. Gabrielle, you still have that touch." She started to vigorously lather my hair with the soap. She then moved methodically over my entire body, leaving no area unsoaped. I had to close my eyes to keep the soap out. She manipulated me like a doll, then rolled me through the shallow water like a piece of dough. It worked, I was clean. Although I would have preferred a method that was a little less utilitarian. Xena tossed the soap back on the rocks.
I gingerly walked out of the creek, trying to spare my bare feet from the sharp rocks, as I picked my way to the sack of food hanging of Argo's saddle. Xena spread our clothes in the sun on some warm rocks, then sat to wait for me in the shade.
It felt wonderful and so luxurious to be able to walk naked and free like this, for once with no worries about being observed by someone like Joxer. As I approached Xena my eyes once again took in her astounding beauty. She was one of those people who looked so much better without clothes. Xena, in turn, stared at me with open approval. I loved it when she looked at me like that, and rejoiced that she still did.
"Oh!" I exclaimed, as I opened the sack of food between us. It was like unwrapping a Solstice gift. There was an earthen jar of fresh sheep milk yoghurt, my most favorite food in the world, besides cherries. Bread baked with nuts and herbs. And a small pouch revealed a handful of cherries! Now I was in Paradise. There were also some apples, and a longish yellow fruit I hadn't seen before. I picked one up and smelled it.
"That's a banana. They're hard to get. The only place they grow is in Crete, " Xena said. She eagerly took one and began to remove the peel. "These are my absolute favorite!"
"I've never seen you eat one before."
"Draco always had some around. He likes them too." Xena peeled the outer skin off the banana and dipped it into the yoghurt, then took a bite. "Hmmm, I could be in the Eleusian Fields right now. I'll have to think of a way to repay Nebula for this." She dipped more of the banana into the yoghurt and offered me a bite.
"Mmmm, great! But I still like cherries better. You know, Draco had cherries, too. I remember eating some in his tent after he captured me that time," I recalled, as I sucked on a few yoghurt-dipped delectibles.
Xena reached over to feel her underwear, found it dry, and proceded to put her clothes back on.
"Aw Xena, time to go already?" I said as I pretended to sulk over my applecore.
"Afraid so. I'd like to get there before dark, as much as I'm enjoying this little respite," Xena replied, managing to keep an appraising eye on me while lacing up her boots.
"All right," I sighed. I spit the last cherry pit into the creek and went to retrieve my nicely dried clothes. As I got dressed, Xena, who was already done, fed our applecores and leftover bread to Argo. She then took the banana peels and tossed them behind some trees. "Relax, they're organic," she said at a sharp look from me. "The deer'll eat 'em."
I smiled back at her as I rinsed out the yoghurt jar, and stuck it back in the sack. It was a nice jar, useful for barter.
Xena had made a last pit stop and was ready to go. I made a quick sacrifice also and had to run to catch up to Xena and Argo, who had already started the climb out of the gully.
The next few hours were uneventful, allowing me to appreciate the rugged beauty of the trail we followed. We alternated between riding and walking every few leagues, making good time, or so Xena said. I asked her about Nebula, and Xena replied that Nebula was about as tall as she, and had long, curly black hair and brown eyes. Her origins were somewhere in Mesopotamia, although she was of Greek descent. Like Xena, she had traveled to the Far East and learned their particular fighting skills.
"At least that's how I remember her. I haven't seen her for at least ten years," Xena mused, lost in thought.
"Ten years is a long time. Look how you've changed. You're so different from the woman I met three years ago."
"Well, I don't think the way Nebula and I feel toward each other has changed," Xena stated innocently.
"These are feelings of mutual respect, right?" I asked. Strange feelings of Lao Ma deja vu began to surface uninvited into my thoughts.
"Of course, Gabrielle," Xena replied, sensing my discomfort. "Nebula used to work for me." At least Xena was paying attention to my feelings, now, as she sought to reassure me. Turning her head so that she could see me out of the corner of her eye, she said, "I love you more than anything in the world, always remember that."
I had my arm wound around her waist, as we were astride Argo. She placed her hand over mine and interlaced our fingers. More reassurance that I needn't worry about Nebula. I hugged her close from the back. She let her body relax against me.
We rode that way for awhile without talking. I tried to imprint what I felt right then in my mind, the pleasure, contentment. Things that could dampen my nightmare memories of our rift which still plagued my dreams.
We got off so that Argo could drink from a stream, then walked on together. As we rounded a hill, I spotted a small ship nestled in a secluded cove ahead and below us.
"Is that it?" I asked excitedly, pointing to it.
Xena looked down at the vessel, then checked the position of the sun. It was low in the sky, almost getting ready to dip behind the hills. "I believe so," she said. "Better make sure, though." She drew her sword and flashed the blade in the sun.
The boat was already in shadow, so its occupants, if they saw us, would no longer be able to use the same signal. We stood, watching and waiting. The sun dipped lower, finally disappearing behind the coastal hills. Suddenly, two tiny points of light appeared on the boat's deck.
Xena resheathed her sword. "That's the signal. It's them. C'mon, Gabrielle."
We made our way across the hill, looking for a way down the cliff. It was beginning to darken; soon it would be too dangerous to try a descent.
"Damn," Xena swore, exasperated. "We may have to make camp and wait til morning. I can't risk Argo..."
Suddenly she drew her sword and swung around in battle stance, facing a stand of shrubery.
"Show yourself!" she shouted. I led Argo around to a to a safe distance behind her. I had heard nothing, and could see nothing. But someone was there. I trusted Xena's instincts.
Xena continued to stare into the bushes, keeping her sword in front of her with both hands. A man stepped out from behind the thick greenery, holding up his weaponless hands. Xena lowered her sword.
"You are Xena and Gabrielle," he said." you are expected."
"And you are?" Xena asked, though she had already guessed him to be one of Nebula's men. She put away her sword.
"Narsis, first mate to my Captain, Nebula." He made a little bow.
I had stolen up to stand beside Xena. She whispered to me out of the side of her mouth, "Nebula's right-hand man, among other things." I took a good look at him. He was about the same height as my partner, wiry and well-muscled. His skin was dark, and his hair short and kinky, like Xena's dead lover Marcus.
"I've come to guide you to our vessel. There is only one way down these cliffs, well-hidden and with many false trails and dead ends. You would have found it difficult and perhaps deadly to find your way on your own. Come with me," he beckoned.
A few feet down the path he bent down and moved a pile of dead branches, then pulled up what looked like three clubs. They turned out to be torches that he lighted with flints he took from a waist pouch. He gave one to Xena and one to me. I juggled it a little in my left hand since I was holding my staff in my right. Narsis then gestured for me to follow him. I looked at Xena. She nodded her head almost imperceptibly.
"Please follow behind me, Lady," he said to me. Lady! I smiled wryly at that. Narsis stared at me appraisingly, but continued his instructions. "Walk only in my footprints and you'll make it fine. Keep your eyes on my feet. Do you understand?"
I bristled slightly at his condescending manner. What in Hades did he think I was, a prissy little girl? I opened my mouth in protest.
"Listen to him, Gabrielle," Xena mumbled under her breath. I turned to throw the most indignant look I could on her, but she stared back at me neutrally.
"Yes, of course," I said to Narsis.
"Xena will do the same with you. The horse will follow her own instinct. Ready?"
"Let's go," said Xena, who had taken up her position behind me with one hand gripping Argo's reins.
As we started along the stony flat clifftop, I noticed that there was no visible path but Narsis seemed to know his exact whereabouts. He placed his feet carefully, and kept checking the surrounding landscape, probably using natural markers. In a short time we had come to the edge of the cliff. We were very high; I could barely hear the surf crashing on rocks far below.
Narsis walked right up to the edge of the cliff and stepped over. "Oh!" I uttered against my will.
Our guide had found a narrow ledge under the cliff, just below my field of vision. "Follow my feet, exactly!" he shouted to me, though I was very close. He brought his other leg over the cliff to find the second, lower foothold.
I put my foot exactly in the print he had left, then followed with my other foot just as he had done. I now saw what he meant about focusing on his footfalls. One false step and I could fall hundreds of feet to my death. Just looking over the edge made me dizzy, and I could not use my hands to grab anything if I lost my balance. I was afraid, but I could not show this to Xena. I broke into a sweat with the effort of being brave.
It took a long time for us to wind down back and forth across the cliff. It was nightfall again by the time we all reached the sandy beach at the bottom. My legs were shaking so hard from the concentration and effort that I could hardly stand, once it was over.
Xena moved up beside me. "All right, Gabrielle?"
"Of course! Never better," I replied, with all the bravado I could call up right then, which wasn't much.
"Then come," said Narsis. "My boat is beached just up ahead. We won't need the torches anymore." He snuffed his out in the sand, and had us do the same.
When we came up to the boat we found it to be a narrow canoe. "We can't get Argo on that," stated Xena.
"Your horse can easily swim out to the ship. It's not very far. We have slings to bring her up once we get there. You can lead her from the boat."
"No, she won't go unless I ride her," Xena replied with resignation. "Gabrielle, help me load our stuff into the boat."
We stripped everything from Argo except her bridle. Xena then took off her breastplate, weapons, grieves, and even her boots and gave them to me. I stowed them under the furs in the middle of the boat.
"I'll meet you there," Xena said with a wave. She took a running leap onto Argo's back and together they plunged into the surf.
Narsis and I shoved off. I took my place in the front part of the canoe, and listened for his instructions. We had to break our way out of the surf, and were nearly upended, but managed to get by without getting the gear wet. Once past the waves, we pulled ahead and overtook Xena and Argo, who were in the water up to their necks. Xena flashed me a smile as we glided past them.
We got to the side of the big boat. Narsis let out a hail and immediately several heads appeared at the railing. A huge basket secured with many ropes was lowered down to us. Narsis and I dumped the gear into the basket.
"Now you get in," he said. "I'll stay and help with Xena and the horse."
"Hey!" a female voice shouted from above me. I looked up and stared into the face of, I swear to all the gods, Cleopatra!
"You must be Gabrielle," she continued, smiling hugely at me while I continued to stare at her like an idiot. "Well, do you want to stay down there all night? Get in the basket, and we'll bring you up!"
As I came up, muscular, multi-tattooed brown arms grabbed me and lifted me out of the basket onto the deck. I found myself face-to-face with this magnificent woman. "I'm Nebula," she said, with great amusement. "What, is something the matter? is there something on my face?" She watched me with something like a leer.
"I.. I'm so sorry," I stammered. "I'm not usually like this. It's just that you look so much like Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, it's incredible!" Except for her outfit, which was pretty incredible in itself. Heavy boots, leather pants, and two bronze cups covering her breasts, secured to her by the smallest of leather thongs. And a huge, gold necklace.
"Yeah, she's a poor relation of mine," Nebula replied offhandedly. She looked me up and down. "My, my. Xena certainly has not lost her good taste in women!" I could have died right then. Nebula guffawed and laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Welcome aboard, Gabrielle."
"Hey, throw down the sling!" I heard Narsis shout from over the side.
Nebula rushed over to the railing. "Xena! Hey girl!" she yelled. I ran to her side. Xena was in the water securing the sling around Argo, being assisted by Narsis, who was still in the canoe.
"Okay!" Xena yelled. Argo was lifted cleanly out of the water and smoothly swung onto the deck. A rope ladder was tossed over the side of the boat, which Xena, then Narsis, climbed.
As soon as Xena was on board, Nebula caught her in an embrace like a long-lost lover, then pushed the wet hair away from Xena's face with her hand and kissed her, full and passionately, on the lips. A momentary wave of intense jealousy passed through me.
"That's quite a welcome, Nebula," Xena said, stepping back and glancing at me, then back to Nebula. "You're looking good. You've aged well."
"As have you, Xena. And your girl Gabrielle is quite stunning," Nebula responded, stealing another appraising look at me.
"She's not 'my girl', Nebula," Xena said evenly. "She's my best friend. She travels with me by her own choice." She glanced at me lovingly, then back to Nebula. "Without Gabrielle, I would not exist."
Nebula arched an eyebrow, then let her breath out in a low, admiring whistle. "I heard that you'd changed your ways, Xena. I couldn't believe it. I had to see for myself. It's true." She turned from Xena to me, her eyes now bright with admiration. "Extraordinary," she breathed. Then, beckoning Narsis over, she said, "Show Xena to her room, so she can dry off." It was like a command to a slave. "Take their gear with you. Xena, please make use of the clothes I laid out for you, until yours dry. We'll set sail shortly."
Xena thanked Nebula, then nodded to me.
"Wait," Nebula said, laying a hand on my arm. "Xena, do you mind if Gabrielle helps me here? That alright with you Gabrielle? I'm short of crewmen at the moment." She looked at me, and I nodded. Then she turned back to Xena.
"Sure," Xena said. "I'll be right back to help you myself, soon as I get dry." She followed Narsis and another man, who were carrying our belongings, all except her weapons, which she carried herself. En route she stopped to check on Argo, who was in a cozy decktop stall.
"Gabrielle," Nebula said, beckoning me over. "Could you help Laticus there raise the anchor? It's better if two people do it. Then come meet me back at the helm when you're done." She then left with a sly wink.
I went to the bow and helped Laticus haul the thick rope up, then wind it around a giant spool built into the deck. The work was really hard, with both of us working up a sweat. I got a blister on my hand from the effort. Laticus thanked me profusely, though. He was so grateful for my help. I guess Nebula really was short of crew. When we finished, I went to rejoin Nebula at the wheel.
Nebula was barking orders at the men as the ship came about on its first tack out of the cove. The two towering sails filled with the wind as the men scrambled to one side of the boat to secure the rigging. I had not seen that design of sail before.
"This ship is from Phoenicia," Nebula said, as if she sensed my curiosity. "Built out of the best cedars from Lebanon and Crete. The sails are of Persian hemp, and are of Egyptian design. This puppy is fast too. I've had to outrun more than a few of Caesar's naval patrols," she finished proudly. "Coming about!" she shouted down to the men as she turned the huge wheel. The booms swung over in unison as the men ran to the other side, tightening the sailines.
"One more tack and we'll be out of this cove. Then it'll be a straight run to Pylos. We should get there by mid day," Nebula reassured me.
I looked into her large brown eyes. They stared back at me, bright with confidence, pride, and more than a little curiosity. I felt the heat of embarrassment on my face and hoped that Nebula wouldn't notice, but knew that she had. A tiny smile of amusement lifted the corner of her lips.
Nebula then looked out over the deck, shouted "Coming About!", and spun the wheel as the two sails once again swung over. "This is it," she said. "Now all we have to do is watch for any Roman patrol boats in the area, but I don't think we'll see any." The dark captain then turned back to her scrutiny of me.
I needed to divert her attention. "Nebula, what was Xena like in those days when you knew her as a warlord? She doesn't like to tell me anything of those days. It's like pulling teeth with her."
Nebula looked at me closely. "Do you really want to know? You may not like what you hear."
"Yes. I need to know. I pretty much have heard the worst, I think. I need to understand... who she is, and who I am."
"Very well, then. When I met Xena, she had just been betrayed very badly, by the only man that she had been close to."
"Yes, Borias. Then she told you some things."
"I know that Borias was killed by one of her own men, Dagnine. I know that Xena negotioated a peace treaty with the Centaurs, and she bore Borias's son." I could barely choke out those last words. The guilt lay in my belly like a smouldering volcano, waiting to explode.
"She had a child?" Nebula gasped. "I would never have thought she would allow herself to bear offspring, the way she was then. Of course, it makes sense now. In the last few weeks of that campaign, she kept herself hidden from view. Her commands were relayed by messenger. Her army thought she had been wounded and was near death. I was there when she came out of her tent to show herself. She was in full battle armour. Her face was so white, and I could see that she had lost a lot of weight. But she could still generate fear in her men, despite her appearance."
Nebula's eyes wandered off to stare into the black evening sky as she continued. "That night. I remember it so well. She called twenty of her highest-ranking commanders into her tent, then had sex with all of them, one after the other. There was no emotion. She maintained her dominance and control over her army with a virility that was... almost godlike. Her reputation of satisfying every man she encountered was legendary."
I stood in silence, as we sailed through the dark seas. It was as if Nebula was talking about a completely different person. I could not see this woman of my heart as Nebula had painted her.
The pirate captain went on. "After she had finished with her men, she sent for me to come to her tent."
I turned to look up at her. Another lover out of the past. Another one to take up space in Xena's heart. "Please don't tell me that," I begged. "I don't want to know about you and Xena!"
"There was no love of that nature between us then, it was more of a mutual respect. I would never take her from you. We are not on the same path. Don't worry, Gabrielle." There was sincerity in her brown eyes.
"I'm sorry, I've been having a hard time coping lately. Go on."
"Xena had several slaves back then. As I entered the tent some of the slaves were carrying out her soaked silken sheets to be burned. She had replaced everything. The silks from Chin, the exotic furs, even her clothing, everything that carried the smell of those men. She was in her bath and beckoned me to join her."
"How different she was that night from the persona she showed to her men," Nebula reflected, her eyes focused on the dark horizon. "Deep down, she despised all men, ever since her encounter with Caesar. She had an almost unsatiable sexual desire then and she vented it as much as she could, especially on men she hated. It was her way of expressing her disdain for them, her complete disrespect. Of course, those guys didn't know the difference, or didn't care. They got their quick pleasure out of it. It also resulted in a lot of backbiting within the ranks of Xena's army. That was her way of finding dissidents, of sifting out the ones who opposed her."
"I was only one of many women she bedded while I was in her service. Sometimes she had two or three at the same time. Never with me, though. And I was with her less than a dozen times in two years. But those were very quality times." Nebula smiled at the memory.
I smiled slightly too, and found myself blushing. I, too, remembered each and every one of my quality times with Xena. I hoped that someday I would be able to experience them again. For now, we still had love.
"I felt very privileged during those times," Nebula continued. "She kept me with her the entire night. She slept in my arms like a child. She no longer had that warlord patina. I got a glimpse of what she might have been." She sighed deeply. "She always tossed the men out immediately after they coupled. I think the last man she actually slept with was Borias. What's the matter, Gabrielle?"
A tear had escaped from the corner of my eye and Nebula had spotted it. She looked at me with concern. "Is there something wrong between you and Xena? I can't imagine, you look happy together as far as I can see. You have been gaining a reputation far and wide as Xena's consort. I thought..."
"No, Nebula." I took a deep breath. I was going to get things off my chest. This pirate was one person who might understand. "It's just that... Xena and I have been through some... terrible times lately, and..."
"Hey Gabrielle!" Xena interrupted from the deck. The Queen of Bad timing. "I got us some dinner! Hungry?" She stepped up to the helm deck, dressed in a resplendant Sumerian robe, balancing a steaming bowl in each hand.
"Xena, that's beautiful," I said, distracted. I reached out to touch the intricately embroidered fabric. The patterns were fascinating.
"Yeah, interesting how you happen to be in possession of clothing of the Royal Family of Sumeria," Xena stated to Nebula sarcastically.
"I only provide the best for you, Xena, "replied the captain with a smile. She saw, as I did, that Xena thoroughly enjoyed wearing those robes, even though she tried not to show it.
"Share some dinner?" I asked Nebula, holding my bowl out to her.
"Oh, no thanks, I already ate before you came. That's all for you."
The food was delicious, and I felt that I hadn't eaten for days. Boiled vegetables topped with tender cooked redfish, and flatbread baked with herbs. Xena had disappeared but returned with two mugs of wine.
"To a successful journey, Gabrielle," Xena toasted, handing me a mug.
"To a successful journey," I repeated, as I helped myself to a heavy draught.
Xena sat behind Nebula with her back against the railing, and beckoned me to sit next to her. "Doing okay?" she spoke softly into my ear.
"Yeah, fine," I said, my mouth full of fish. We sat eating in silence. I was still digesting what Nebula had just told me about the "old" Xena. I wondered what had happened to her "sexual virility", if what Nebula said was true. My partner was certainly the model of chastity these days. I had no reason to doubt this pirate captain's sincerity. After all, she was the friend of Hercules and Iolaus.
"So, Nebula," Xena said brightly. "You must've told Gabrielle your side of the Arachnida story, eh?"
Nebula turned with her hands still on the great wooden wheel and glanced sideways at Xena, then at me, then back to Xena. "No I didn't. She didn't ask me."
"Really? Huh, you seemed pretty deep in conversation when I got here. Gabrielle, I can't believe you didn't quiz her on that yet, being as excited about it as you were. Sure you're all right?" my beloved said in a sarcastic tone as she placed a hand on my forehead, pretending to check for fever.
"I'm fine," I muttered with the same sarcastic tone. "We were just having some girl talk. Did you know those sails are made out of Persian hemp?"
"All right! All right," Xena said, shaking her head.
"Okay, Nebula, I'd love to hear your story now. I want the whole poop about how you saved Iolaus from that monster." I leaned forward expectantly, elbows on knees.
The dark-eyed captain glanced down at me. "Okay. In a nutshell. I'm not a bard like you, Gabrielle."
"My crew and I had just finished this great heist and were loaded down with treasure." Nebula stole a glance at me to gauge my reaction to her admission. I stared back at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue. After all, stealing wasn't anything close to killing.
"We got caught up in this huge storm and barely made it to this island. We abandoned our ship in a cove, and hoped it would survive the storm. My crew of ten and I found shelter in a cave, which, unfortunately for my crew, turned out to be the lair of Arachnida herself! Well, that bitch proceded to capture and eat every single one of my men, and there was nothing I could do to save them. She was after me too, and I barely escaped by the skin of my teeth!"
"So then Hercules and Iolaus showed up out of nowhere and started to haul my treasure away! I couldn't believe it! Herc had the audacity to arrest me when I came out of hiding to get my gold back! He was so focused on hauling my ass back to that King I stole the treasure from that he didn't notice the danger we were all in. He finally realized the problem after his three sailor friends were hauled away and cocooned."
"When Iolaus got captured we had to work together to save him. Hercules finally saw me for what I was, and we became friends. I was able to rescue Iolaus while Herc was fighting Arachnida. Fortunately, we got there just as Arachnida was about to implant one of her eggs down his throat. All the rest of the men had been impregnated, so to speak. One of her spawn had already hatched and we had Hades of a time getting rid of it. Hercules ended up torching the entire cave. Arachnida burned to death in that fire, but so did all of my men. But they never would have survived, anyway."
"Hercules and Iolaus were shipwrecked, but my vessel had survived the storm. We were able to escape from the island with all of the treasure. Herc returned the treasure to that King but decided not to turn me in. I was able to pick up a few men in the next port and resume my business."
"So that's it," I said. "What do you think of Iolaus?"
"Between you and me, he's definitely my type," Nebula replied with a wink. "I hope we can meet up again, someday."
"I think you would make a pretty striking pair," I agreed. "That really was some story. Quite good, actually, considering you probably never had the training in it." I tried to stifle a yawn, but then I couldn't stop. I was suddenly so sleepy, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I so badly wanted to stay up with Xena and Nebula, but the day had just been too long and exciting for me. I was fading fast.
"Gabrielle, why don't you go get some sleep. You must be exhausted," Nebula said. "Narsis! Come up here and show Gabrielle where she is to sleep."
The first mate scrambled up the steps. I turned and looked a question at Xena.
"You go on ahead," my partner said as she drew my head to her for a kiss. " I'll be with you in a bit. I'll keep Nebula company just a little while longer."
"Okay, don't be long," I admonished her. I stood to follow Narsis. "G'night, Nebula."
"G'night, Gabrielle," she called after me. As I walked behind Narsis, I noticed Xena getting up to stand close to Nebula.
Narsis led me below the main deck to a good-sized room at the back of the ship, then turned and left me. I entered and surveyed the somewhat luxuious room. The bed was quite large, covered with exotic cloths and topped by a silken canopy. There were lion and leopard rugs covering the floor leading up to the bed. An open closet to the side contained all of our gear. Xena's leather outfit had been cleaned of sea salt and now hung on a line in a corner. Scented candles burned from niches in the walls. A low door in the corner caught my eye and I opened it out of curiosity. A private latrine, which emptied directly into the sea! Xena and I had stayed in some royal castles which were not this opulent! Nebula was very generous, indeed.
I prepared for bed, and decided to remove my boots this time. After all, I would be spending the night in a soft bed and not on the ground. It didn't even occur to me to take off my clothes, I was so used to sleeping in them by now. I lay down on the lavender-scented sheets. What a luxury! I thought to dig out a scroll I had been working on and wait up for my partner, but I fell dead asleep before I could even act on that thought.
I awoke out of a dream, a bad one, about Brittania, Caesar, Khrafstar. A warm body shifted next to mine and I knew Xena had finally come in to sleep with me. I moved an arm over for a gentle hug and my hand landed on her naked breast! Instantly awake, I sat up to get a better look.
Blue eyes stared up at me, amused. "What's the matter, Gabrielle?"
"Nothing, nothing at all. It's just that it's not like you to sleep naked. I like it though," I added, smiling.
"Are you saying that you two have been sleeping together with your clothes ON the whole time?" an incredulous voice on the other side of me said suddenly. I was so startled that I jumped almost straight up. Nebula was stretched out quite comfortably on the bed, very close, and as naked as Xena.
"What... what are you doing here?" I spluttered. The heat in my face rose, I knew I was blushing again.
"This is my bed," Nebula retorted, laughing. "There wasn't anyplace else to put you, and I didn't think you'd mind. We're all women, after all. Here, let's make you more comfortable." She reached over and started to undo the ties on my green top.
"Hey!" I swatted her hand away. "I can do it. Give me a minute, okay? Xena, what's going on?"
"Xena and I were just reminiscing about the old days, Gabrielle," said Nebula. "Back then, none of us slept in clothes. Xena said it was the only way to be. I still sleep this way, it's much more comfortable. My men know not to let anyone enter my bedchamber unless they're invited."
"I guess talking with Nebula made me feel a little nostalgic," Xena confessed. "We can't sleep like this on the road," she said to Nebula. "We've been ambushed far too many times to count. Come on, Gabrielle," she coaxed, turning those beautiful blue eyes on me. "Let's get your things off. For once we don't have to worry about marauders..." she unclasped my belt, "or bounty hunters..." Nebula loosened my bra and deftly slid it over my head, "or assassins!" Xena pulled my skirt down with a flourish and threw it on a sideboard.
I was left with my black panties. I lay back on soft, silken pillows. Through half-open eyes I saw Xena and Nebula leaning over me from either side. My head started to swirl from the headiness of some perfume that lingered at the edge of my senses. I felt warm hands on me, the panties being removed. I closed my eyes to heighten my senses to touch, taste, and smell. Kisses from two sets of lips traveled along my body, lingered on my neck, my breasts. I could not tell whose they were. I began to writhe with the pleasure that was rising within me, and little moans escaped from my open, panting mouth. The heat coursed through my body as one pair of lips lodged themselves between my legs. A wet warmth stroked the inner walls of my being with such perfect delicacy, that I rose to climax almost immediately. Light and heat were expelled from me all at once.
I lay bathed in my own sweat, sounds returning to my ears, sounds of moaning, panting. Were they mine? I couldn't tell. I felt lips travel up my body until they locked with mine. I tasted the sweet cream of my climax on the tongue that was exploring my mouth. I felt dizzy again, as if my body was in suspension, floating through a river of paradise. Hands were stroking me, bringing the blood back to my extremities, making me relaxed and aware again.
The lips relinquished their hold on me. I opened my eyes again to gaze into the liquid azure eyes of my beloved.
"I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered as she stroked some stray hairs from my face. "I never want you to forget that."
"I love you, Xena," I mumbled in reply. My lover wrapped herself around me, snuggling close for sleep. Inside me was the need to make love to Xena, to reciprocate, but I was so sated, so relaxed, that I knew I could not stave off Morpheus for long. I turned my head, remembering Nebula. She was on her side, facing me, already asleep. Sweat beaded her forehead and upper lip. Her face was relaxed and very young, like a child's after a good day of play. An aura of satisfaction brightened her features, as if she had received the same pleasures as I, but how could that be? I reached down to pull the thin sheet over me.
I would sleep good tonight, I knew.
"Hey! You two going to sleep all day?"
We both sat up, startled and confused with slumber. "What...what time is it?" Xena stammered, trying to shake the muzziness from her head.
"The sun is halfway to high noon! We'll be pulling into Pylos in a couple of hours," replied a brightly beaming Nebula. "I've been at the helm since sunrise. I've never seen anyone as dead to the world as you two!"
"We'll be right there," replied Xena, as she whipped off the sheet that had covered us. "Let's go, Gabrielle," she muttered, resigned. She gently helped me untangle my legs from around her body. I was glad she didn't mind my uncontrollable cuddling instinct, I just couldn't help myself.
"Good morning to you too!" laughed Nebula. "Well, I gotta get back to steering this bucket. Some of us have to work." She turned and left for the upper deck.
"Ohhh..." I stretched my body luxuiously as I stood up, it felt so good. Then I remembered that I was naked. "Oh...sorry." I hoped Xena didn't take me for a narcisist or something.
"Gabrielle, don't you ever be sorry for that," my partner admonished. "Especially if you feel as good as I do this morning." She hopped off the bed and reached for her tunic. I found my own clothes where they had been tossed on the shelf that glorious evening before.
Xena emerged from the latrine, putting on her greaves and armour. "I'm going to go see if Argo's been fed. Catch you uptop," she said, walking out the door.
I finished lacing my boots, then paid a visit to the latrine myself. I then organized our gear, and headed out to the deck.
The sun was bright and hot. As I emerged onto the deck I was handed a bowl of gruel with sliced apples by Narsis. I thanked him and dug in. Xena was standing up at the helm with Nebula, who was pointing something out to her. Looking toward the direction she pointed to, I saw the mountains of Greece rise above the horizon.
I handed my empty bowl to Laticus, who was walking by, after we had exchanged greetings. I then climbed the small ladder to the helm deck.
"Hey girl!" cried Nebula when she spotted me. "You look well this morning! I trust that the accommodations suited you, then?"
"Oh, yes, they were the best," I said. The pirate captain turned a mischevious grin on me and I immediately blushed crimson. Xena smirked behind Nebula's back. I held my stand. "I...I don't know if I can ever repay you for what you've done." I dipped my head out of respect for Nebula, and to hide my visible embarrassment.
"I see why she's so precious to you, Xena," Nebula said with affection. "There is no need, Gabrielle, I've already gotten my reward." She turned back to Xena with a sly wink, which made Xena break into a smile.
Xena came over to stand next to me. "We're almost home," she said. "Maybe now we can move ahead, put some of these bad things behind us."
"At least we're getting back on the right track, thanks to Nebula."
"You can say that again. What do you say we find an inn tonight, get ourselves collected before we go on the road again, eh?" Xena spoke softly into my ear as she draped an arm around my shoulder.
"Best idea you've had. Xena, I think you're on a roll."
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