A Bowl Of Tsunami
Darkly, the storm raged across the jagged cliffs and out to the sea, where it buffeted billowing clouds massing higher and higher, obliterating the sky and whipping the sea into a thunderous frenzy.
Roaring breakers slammed into the rocks, spraying angry white foam up into the black heavens. From time to time, the spidery fingers of lightning tore into the scene with an eerie white light, until the crack and rumble of thunder brought back the ominous dark once more.
Further inland, the angry belching of a long-dormant mountain went unheard over the raging storm, but the sea felt it in the slight tremors ran along the ground underneath the water, whipping the waves up to even higher peaks.
Gaea, it seemed, was suffering from indigestion, and Poseidon was heaving chaos in sympathy.
Incredible, thus, to see a shape bob up and down nervously among the waters. Tiny it seemed against the sheer size of the waves, and yet it bore an assortment of people, milling about awkwardly on the jolting deck in their struggle to keep the vessel afloat.
Barefoot, so as to have a better grip on the slippery planks, the crew of the ship could be distinguished from the floundering shapes of her passengers, who were clinging to masts or crawling on all fours, frantic for any kind of handhold.
The Warrior Princess, being a quick study, had discarded her boots almost as soon as the sailors had, and was straining, at the side of Autolycus, against a thick tow holding the last of the balky sails. If they could not pull it in soon, they were doomed. And if they did pull it in, and by some miracle survived this, the King of Thieves was doomed.
Autolycus knew it, too, by the nervous glances he kept casting at the tall warrior. He bristled a little. He hadn't asked them to jump to his rescue, after all. He'd had everything under control, letting himself be caught to be shipped off to those mines. Dig up a few stones, maybe slip a diamond or two into his pocket before making his escape... But no, they had to come along and ruin everything. He should be the one who was angry!
But for now, they had a common goal: bare, naked survival. Secretly, he vowed to keep both his feet on firm ground in the future, no matter what riches lay promised at the end of a sea journey.
"Pull harder, for Zeus' sake," Xena yelled above the waves, and gave a mighty heave that brought the sail in about another handspan.
"I am pulling, dammit, I'm not Hercules, you know."
"More's the pity," the warrior mumbled.
"What happened to Gabrielle?"
"I sent her below deck. If she knows what's good for her, she'll-"
"Xena!" came the bard's voice from the starboard hatch.
"Speak of Ares," Xena grunted. Raising her voice, she yelled, "I told you to stay below deck. Didn't I tell you to stay below deck?"
"Well, I didn't listen," replied Gabrielle, straining her voice to be heard. Autolycus wisely did not say anything at all.
Not waiting for Xena's reply, the bard grabbed hold of the rope and pulled.
"Well?" she said, when the other two gaped at her. "I thought we need to furl that sail."
Rolling their eyes in unison, warrior and thief complied. With the added strength of the bard, they finally managed to pull the sail in and stow it away, just in time to save the already straining and creaking mast from sharing the fate of its mate, that was now floating aimlessly in the waters. From time to time it righted itself on the crest of a wave, only to dip down and disappear again soon after.
No sooner had the sail been stowed than what had seemed a full-fledged storm already gathered up yet more force. The ship was flung about this way and that, rising impossibly high with each wave it crested, then dipping low with enough speed to make you feel light-headed and queasy.
Gabrielle made a strangled sound and clapped one hand to her mouth. The other one was firmly clamped onto a strap of Xena's armor. Xena in turn was hugging the mast as the deck heaved and buffeted them about like so much flotsam.
"Easy, Gabrielle," Xena cried. "Hold on. You can be sick later, no time for that now."
"Oh, funny," choked Gabrielle.
"Didn't you use the pressure points like I showed you?"
"I must have missed. Or else, they're only meant for calmer waters."
"Hera's heels," cursed Xena (although with the wind and water roaring the way it was, we can't be entirely sure that she did, indeed, say 'heels'), mouth agape and eyes wide as she stared at something behind the bard, high up.
"What the-" said Gabby, but whatever she had been about to say was cut short by the sheer immensity of the wave now racing towards them.
"Everybody, hold on tight!" they heard the captain cry. And then the monster wave was upon them. The vessel gave a violent lurch, then tipped crazily as it was borne swiftly upwards. Up and up they went, with the vessel now almost topside and spinning madly, until you could not tell where the water left off and the sky began.
Cries of "Man overboard," went up and were blown away by the wind, unheard.
Another violent heave, and down they went again. By that time, Gabrielle was beyond caring, she just clung to Xena with her eyes closed and tried not to think about her rising bile, and the reason why it was rising in the first place.
And then, after a few smaller lurches with the ship miraculously righting itself, the sea went deadly calm.
"Well," said Autolycus, getting to his feet and patting his drenched clothing. "Glad that's over."
"Wasn't too bad, was it? Bit lame, though," said Xena, wringing out her long black hair. "But you know... I hate it when my leathers get wet." She wriggled her rear a little to adjust the squishy garment in question.
"Lame?" Autolycus mouthed silently. His eyes were the size of saucers.
"Guys, maybe we should help out those fellers over there?" Gabrielle put in, pointing at the several men who had gone overboard, floating with heads and waving arms above the surface.
"Then can we go where there are some a little more exciting waves?" Xena said, looking about to pout.
Autolycus, meanwhile, was backing slowly towards one of the lifeboats, looking aghast at Xena. "Uh yeah, well, girls, don't worry about those sailors, I'll take care of them. I see a bit of land over there. We'll be headed there. We should be okay."
"Wimp," Xena snorted, watching the thief fumble with the boat's fastenings and all but dump the small craft into the now eerily calm sea. Grabbing a set of oars, he jumped after it, and was gone.
Gabrielle bit her lip, looking like she would give anything to be joining the man, but could not think of a convincing argument that would save her face with the way too adventurous warrior. She was not a wimp, after all!
With the thief fishing out the sailors one by one, and then paddling double-time towards the dark line on the horizon, Xena took stock of the damage.
One mast had snapped, floating forlornly a few yards away. The hull was cracked in a few places where debris had struck it, one sail was ripped, the figurehead had a bad case of dandruff and was missing one eye. A tell tale sloshing sound from belowship suggested that the water was already about knee-deep in the cargo hold.
"She's still seaworthy, I'd say," the warrior assessed, squinting at the mangled figurehead.
The captain, carrying the splintered remains of the rudder in his hands, was opening his mouth to voice a protest, but a look from the Warrior Princess was enough to strangle him into silence. Clearing his throat, he nodded.
"Excellent. All right then, where should we sail to for some fun? How about-"
"Shh, Xena..." Gabrielle said. "Can you feel that?"
The vessel was trembling in tune with a low, distant rumble. A whooshing, gurgling noise accompanied the sound.
"The water level is dropping," said Xena, creasing her brow.
Slowly, the ship swung about and started moving in a lazy wide arc. Still there was no wind.
"Whoppin' Poseidon," the captain breathed. "Whirlpool! We're done fer! Never thought we'd see one o' those hereabouts."
And sure enough, the ship was now completing its first circle and continued on in a narrowing spiral, towards the center of the vortex.
"Tartarus, but that's a big one," Gabrielle said, now wishing more than ever she'd joined Auto, who by now was probably halfway to shore.
Xena's face lit up with dark glee. "Now the real fun starts."
"Man the oars! Set sail," tha captain yelled, and what was left of the crew hurried to comply. "And row! Row for your lives!" In minutes, the creaking of leather and the strained groans of the oarsmen built a counterpoint to the droning song of the maelstrom.
With the defunct rudder, there was no way of properly guiding the ship, but by putting more men on the port side, they managed to make the ship turn about and face away from the danger. Yet, row as they might, the monster that was the whirlpool pulled them slowly, inexorably, towards its maw.
"You happy now?" Gabrielle growled at the warrior. Xena was using her whip to lash the rudder back together. She just grunted in response.
Panic rose among the crew. The eye of the whirlpool was approaching faster and faster; already the deck was tilting dangerously towards the stern. The were going down, and no amount rowing could save them. With the total lack of wind, the limp sails hung useless, mocking.
Gabrielle could have sworn she heard a gleeful, delighted cry from the Warrior Princess, even as she put all of her strength into pulling the craft away, to no avail.
There was a choked gurgle. Then, where the maw of the maelstrom had been rose an enormous bubble, soundlessly. With a sneeze of spray, it burst, showering them with more sea water, mixed with pieces of dead fish, and worse. The ship stopped dead and bobbed in place. The whirlpool was gone!
"Well, I'll be..." said the captain, scratching his head.
"What is that godawful stench?" Xena said, while the others were still coming to terms with the fact that they were still here, and breathing air, no matter how smelly.
Before the water had quite time to calm, the sea level dropped once more, and this time, in the distance rose the most feared of all deep sea hazards - the Tsunami, a tidal wave of monstrous proportions.
"Out of the frying pan..."
"Okay, what now, Warrior Princess? That wave high enough for you?" Gabrielle hissed.
"Yup, just about." And the warrior actually smirked!
"Oh no!" the captain shouted. "If that thing breaks on top of us, we're squid food. Row, for Poseidon's sake, row!"
Incredibly, the craft made it close to the shore, before it was borne upward by the building wave. Higher and higher, until the trees of the nearing coast looked like lichen on a rock, and the sheep grazing further inland like little white grubs.
As the wave broke, it froze for a few seconds, the tiny craft perched on its very top, before dipping gracefully forward, downward.
Gabrielle's last thought was that falling was an exhilarating sensation. This was what flying must feel like! Maybe Xena wasn't so crazy after all.
Then, all was darkness.
* * * * * *
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, wake up! Are you okay?"
"Ah, thank the gods, you're all right."
"Get up, quickly, we have to get away from here!"
"Whaaa...?" Words were slowly returning to the bard. Her head hurt like a centaur stampede. Bit by bit, shreds of memory returned... the storm, the maelstrom... although, what she was doing on a grassy surface, with enough sand in her mouth to fill an amphitheater, or how she had come to be here in the first place was still fuzzy.
"It was the urgency in her friend's voice that finally pulled her fully into the waking world and made her stagger to her feet. If Xena was worried...
"What is it, Xena?" she asked dazedly.
Xena just pointed somewhere up behind the bard. Gabrielle turned, and gaped. Above the treetops, far in the distance where the sky should have met the horizon, rose a wall of water, rushing closer. It was another tidal wave.
Not needing further prompting, she scrambled after the warrior, who was climbing up a rocky slope towards the shore of a mountain lake.
A rickety pier led out into the still water, at its end floated a tiny raft.
Xena rubbed her hands together and crisply set about untying the craft. "Okay, I think it's best if we paddle out into the lake. The wave won't rise any higher than this, so we should be safe there until the worst is over."
"Let's hope you're right," said Gabrielle, and they started paddling.
* * * * * *
Dusk was fast falling over the placid lake. At this time of day, most of the children had gone back home for dinner, leaving the place in peace and quiet.
Over in the distance, bobbing gently on water sparkling like rubies in the setting sun, was a small, inflatable rubber boat.
Two small figures cowered in it, oars pulled in, hugging their knees and looking towards the shore with their lower lips between their teeth.
"How long till they find out about the toilet bowl, do you think?" asked Gabby.
"I dunno... the water was rising pretty fast. But my guess is we'll hear mom scream from here," said Sina dejectedly.
Gabby sighed deeply, and rubbed at a smelly, moist stain on her T-shirt. She wrinkled her nose. Having Sina as a friend meant something new and exciting every day, it seemed.
And many days of being grounded.