A SHADOW OF STRENGTH - CHAPTER 6: THE ODYSSEY
Gabrielle came to a harbor town near enough Aeaea to sail, but she needed a ship. She offered as much gold as she could afford to several sailors, and bribed them with her words and her breasts, but none would take her to the island.
"Men who go to that place are turned to pigs," they would say, or else, "The course would set us on Scylla's path, and I won't risk my crew."
Eventually, her pleas were overheard by a pirate whom she thought immediately mischievous, but something made her trust him.
"Excuse me, my lady," he said suavely, "Apologies, name's Anticles. Couldn't help but overhear. You wanna get to Aeaea?"
"Yes. Can you take me there?"
"Now, what kinda person would want to go to Aeaea? Men lost at sea end up on those shores and they say the witch who lives there turns 'em to beasts."
"I need to see that witch. Can you help me, or are you wasting my time?"
"You're in luck, little lady. For my crew is to set sail for Aeaea today."
"Now, why would you want to go to Aeaea? Like the idea of becoming a pig?"
"They say she has great riches, gold from the Gods and rare herbs worth more than that. My crew and I simply must try our hands at it."
"And risk such a fate? Why?"
"My father was the King of Thieves, and so I am his heir. I can't just sit on that title."
Gabrielle suddenly realized why she trusted this man, "King of Thieves. Your father was Autolycus?"
"The very same," he said, "Did you know him?"
"Yes, I knew him years ago. We were great friends."
"Hmm," he said, "You seem young to have known him in his youth, but he did always like beautiful young women."
"If you are going to Aeaea, I would like to travel with you."
"Hold on, missy. I didn't even get your name!"
"Not Gabrielle of Potidaea?"
She smirked, "The very same."
"My father talked about you, and the warrior Xena. He seemed to think that you were dead, but then I heard of the death of Xena just a few moons ago. And here you are, alive, and less than thirty winters old!"
"It is complicated," said Gabrielle, "but rest assured that I am alive, and any son of Autolycus is a friend of mine."
"You and Xena taught him about morality and goodness, and so he has taught me to only steal from the rich and evil. That is why I want to steal from the witch of Aeaea, because of how many men have been lost by her hand. We leave at mid-day; be here if you are to join us."
In fact at midday they set sail, and Gabrielle prepared for the journey by drinking tea to calm her stomach and keeping her finger on her pressure point. Something seemed familiar about the journey, and it wasn't the handsome features of the captain that so reminded her of Autolycus.
"Charybdis," her vision of Xena muttered.
"What?" said Gabrielle softly, trying to hide her speech lest the crew think her insane.
"These are the same waters we sailed with Cecrops, the cursed mariner. The whirlpool, Charybdis is in this direction, I'm sure of it."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in realization and she marched up to Anticles and shouted over the roar of the ocean, "Anticles! If we continue on this course, we will hit the whirlpool, Charybdis, and be swallowed by the ocean!"
"I appreciate your concern, Gabrielle," said Anticles, "but if we turn any west of this course we will surely encounter Scylla, the six-headed monster. There are six men on this crew, plus yourself making seven, and if she takes one of us each in her mouths we will surely perish."
"So will we if we continue on this course into the eye of Charybdis!"
"My father was a great sneak, but I am a great navigator," said Anticles, "We will pass far enough from Charybdis to avoid its pull."
Gabrielle nodded, but was still doubtful. Something inside her told her to be afraid. Somehow, she knew in that moment that Anticles would die.
And they soon found that she was right, as the roar of the water grew louder, and the lookout could see before them the swirling anger of the whirlpool.
Gabrielle heard cries of "Change course! Change course!" and sure enough they did, but there was no sigh of relief as they avoided the danger, for each man knew that he was now headed straight for the jaws of Scylla.
Gabrielle had never seen a monster so horrific, and she had seen, in her day, many horrific monsters. From a dark cave emerged six gigantic heads attached by long, serpentine necks to a body she could not see.
One-by-one, each head came down and snatched a member of the crew in its jaws, until all that was left was one head still wanting its snack, and Gabrielle and Anticles frozen and terrified on the ship.
The head searched the boat, before its gaze landed on Anticles. Gabrielle quickly dove before him, drawing her sais.
"Don't take him," she said, "take me, I deserve it so much more than he does. He plans to steal from the witch of Aeaea, did she not make you this beast? Let him get vengeance for you, and take me."
There was a pause, as though the beast considered her words, but then the head came down over Gabrielle's and took Anticles in its maw. Gabrielle stabbed the great neck with her sais, but seemed to do no damage. She hung off the beast on her blade until it shook her loose and she fell hard against the now-empty ship.
Satisfied, Scylla re-entered her cave, but a part of Gabrielle wished that she would eat her too.
Gabrielle vomited as the ship continued on its course toward Aeaea.
"This is my fault, isn't it?" she breathed.
"No, Gabrielle," said Xena, "They were headed to Aeaea anyway, and perhaps if Anticles had listened to your warning he would have adjusted the course earlier and not drifted so close to Scylla. They would have all perished with or without you, but at least you can now get the message of their deaths to their families."
Gabrielle did not feel comforted, but shook violently as she crawled to a map that sat on the floor and was splattered with blood, hoping her crude navigation skills could get her safely to the island.
When she finally saw shore, she breathed in relief and fear. Would she arrive only to be turned into a pig?
She barely docked the ship and took shakey steps onto the beach, where her knees buckled under the weight of her grief and seasickness.
She seemed to lie there for an eternity. She looked up eventually to see a beautiful woman approaching her across the beach. She was tall, with long hair black as night falling messily over her shoulders, and eyes of an impossibly deep blue.
"Xena?" Gabrielle muttered in her haze. But as the woman approached she could see that she wasn't Xena at all. She had a rounder face and was not nearly as muscular. Gabrielle knew, too, that this woman was not mortal.
Gabrielle pulled herself into a kneel, "Dear Goddess, my name is Gabrielle of Potidaea. I have come to this island because I require your skills in dark magicks to complete a quest. Will you help me?"
The Goddess watched her with those blue eyes, a calculation and sympathy in them that only Xena had shown simultaneously, "Please, call me Circe. You must be starving," she said, "Come into my home, I have meat and wine and you may rest your weary body."
Gabrielle was wary of the woman, but instinctively trusted those blue eyes, and she took the woman's hand as she led her further into the island.
NOTES: So in mythology Autolycus is actually Odysseus' (AKA Ulysses, why do you do this to us Xena writers?) grandfather... Which clearly doesn't work out within the Xenaverse so I just ignored that and made some shit up. Did I just read Circe by Madeline Miller and love it? Absolutely! And Circe's always been one of my fave mythological characters and it's a shame they never used her in XWP. So get ready for some good ole witchy fun!