The Cottage part 2
by Eva Allen
* * *
It didn't take long for Xena to gather wood, lay a fire, and start it
using a brand she lighted in the cottage embers. Now she must wake
Gabrielle up, but would the bard still be hysterical? Would she allow
herself to be touched? Xena considered for a few moments. Maybe if she
were already holding Gabrielle when she woke up, she would stay calmer.
Crouching beside her friend, Xena slipped her arms under her and lifted
her onto her lap. Then she eased herself back so that she could lean
against the rock. She held Gabrielle across her thighs, the golden head
cradled on her shoulder. Then, gently, she released the pressure
points. After a moment or two, Gabrielle stirred and opened her eyes.
"Xena?" She looked up at the warrior, confused, and then around the
"I brought you over here to sit in the sun, where it's warmer," Xena
said, "and I've cleaned you up a little bit. Do you remember what
Gabrielle's eyes moved quickly to the smoking ruins and back again,
her body becoming tense and her breath coming faster. Fear replaced the
confusion in her eyes. "I remember," she said finally, "but how did I
"I used the modified pinch on you, so you've been out for a little
while. I'm sorry, but you were struggling so hard, and I couldn't think
what else to do."
Gabrielle looked at Xena for a moment, then looked away. She didn't
speak, but she seemed to relax a little in the warrior's arms.
"Gabrielle, I know this will be hard for you, but can you tell me
what happened? Can you talk about it at all?"
There were several moments of silence, but finally the bard began, in
a voice so low and hesitant that Xena almost missed the first few words.
"I was writing," Gabrielle said, "by the creek over there, in the
sun." She gestured vaguely in the direction of the meadow. "I didn't
hear him. I guess I was too involved in what I was writing. I heard
Argo whinny and I turned around and he grabbed me." She shivered
slightly. "I didn't even have time to pick up my staff."
Xena stroked Gabrielle's hair softly, but said nothing.
"I started screaming. I screamed your name, but he just laughed at
me and said that you were far away and couldn't hear me. He said he had
watched you go a long ways off into the hills."
Xena closed her eyes for a moment and drew a shaky breath.
"I fought him, Xena, I really did!" Gabrielle was looking at her
now. "I kicked him and bit him and fought him every way I could!"
"I know, Sweetheart. I've seen the marks of that fight all over your
"He was just too strong," Gabrielle mumured. "And he had a dagger.
He kept saying he'd kill me."
Xena pulled the bard a little closer and kissed the top of her head.
"He dragged me into the cottage and threw me down on the bed. All I
could think about was that it was right where you and I--last night--"
"I know," whispered Xena.
Gabrielle hesitated a moment and then went on. "I tried talking to
him, reasoning with him, but he just laughed at me and said he was going
to get his revenge." She took a deep breath and let it out again. "He
cut my clothes off of me. That's how I got--" She glanced down at the
"And then he--" She stopped and swallowed hard, crying now, her body
"You don't have to tell me," Xena said gently. "I've seen what he
did to you." She waited for the trembling to stop. It took a long
time. Finally she said, "Tell me what happened afterwards. How did the
fire get started?"
"Afterwards--" Gabrielle began and then paused, as if she had trouble
remembering this part. "I think I must have fainted or something. I
just remember opening my eyes and seeing him standing by the table. He
was bending over--I don't know what he was looking at, but I saw the
frying pan on the hearth there, near the bed. I grabbed it and jumped
up and I hit him, just as he straightened up. I hit him in the
"You knocked him out."
"Good for youl! What did you do then?"
"After that, I don't know, I just went kind of crazy or something.
All I could think about was how he had ruined everything and made it all
dirty and horrible. We had such a beautiful love nest and he came along
and turned it into a hate nest. I couldn't stand thinking about it, so
I lit the candle in the fireplace and set the straw on fire!" There was
a wild light in her eyes, and her voice shook with emotion. "I had to
do it, don't you see, Xena? I had to burn it after what he did! You
can see that, can't you?"
The warrior stared into the frantic green eyes. "Yes, Darling, I
see," she said softly and smoothed the hair back from Gabrielle's face.
"Everything's going to be all right now. You're safe and everything's
going to be fine."
After a moment, Gabrielle sighed and laid her head against Xena's
shoulder. The two were silent for several minutes. Xena's mind was
filled with the images that her lover's story had created. They were
not images she wanted to see, but she knew she had to.
"Xena, take me away from here, please," Gabrielle said at last. "I
hate this place."
"We'll go first thing tomorrow, I promise," said Xena.
"Not tomorrow. I want to go now."
"I don't see how we can, Gabrielle. It will take several hours to
get to town, and you're not in any condition to travel. You've lost
quite a bit of blood, and I don't think you'd find it pleasant to sit on
a horse right now. Besides which, you don't have any clothes."
"That doesn't matter. I can wear anything--a blanket, a
nightshift--I don't care."
"We don't have a blanket or a nightshift," Xena said quietly. "All
our things were in the cottage, remember? They're gone. All burned
Gabrielle stared at her. "I did that, didn't I?" she said slowly.
"I burned up all our stuff." Her gaze shifted to the cottage ruins.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I didn't even think about--"
"I know. It's all right; we'll be fine. I'm just glad you burned up
Garron while you were at it." She managed a weak grin, but Gabrielle
"What are we going to do, Xena?"
"Well, you know how I always say I like to be creative? I figure
this is my big chance!"
"Be serious, Xena. I don't feel like making jokes."
"All right. I thought we could stay right here tonight--right where
we're sitting. I think I can rig up a little brush shelter or
something, and we'll have the fire to keep us warm. And each other, of
"But I don't want to stay here. Isn't there a cave someplace we
could go to?"
The warrior considered for a moment. "I don't remember any caves
around here," she said, "and I didn't see any while I was out today.
It's just not the right part of the country for caves. We'll be fine
here, Gabrielle. And once the cottage fire cools off some, I want to
try to retrieve some things that might have survived. Then in the
morning, we'll get to town somehow and we'll stay at an inn, where we
can eat good food and sleep on a real bed and you can rest and get
"How will we pay for it?"
"I don't know, but I'll figure something out."
Gabrielle was silent. Xena suspected she was not happy with the
plan, but perhaps she would accept it without further protest. Xena
wasn't so happy with it herself, but it was the best she had been able
to come up with, given the circumstances.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"How do you think I feel?" Gabrielle snapped. "I've been beaten up
and raped. How would you feel?"
"I'm sorry. That was a stupid question. What I wanted to know, I
guess, was how much pain you're feeling from that wound."
"It hurts," Gabrielle said flatly, "but it's bearable."
"Okay. I'll make you some tea as soon as I can get the pot out of
the ruins. I couldn't stitch the wound up, since I don't have a needle
and thread, so you'll have to be careful with it. Do you think you'll
be all right here by the fire while I go do some things?"
Gabrielle nodded and winced as she moved stiffly off of Xena's lap
and eased herself down in the grass near the fire.
The warrior watched her for a moment. "Do you want to lie down?" she
asked. "Do you think you could sleep?"
"Will you be warm enough? You can wear my clothes, if you want."
"No, I'll be fine."
Xena got up, feeling somewhat stiff herself, and laid a few more
sticks on the fire. She looked at Gabrielle, but the bard was staring
at the flames and her mind seemed to be a hundred leagues away. The
warrior sighed, picked up her sword and chakram, and headed for the
meadow. There was a stand of young saplings growing near the creek.
She studied these for a few minutes and selected three which were
slender and straight, two of them forked. A single cast of the chakram
felled all three, and her sword made quick work of the leafy tops.
Picking up the three poles, she started back along the creek toward the
She stopped when she saw Gabrielle's staff and writing quill lying in
the grass. She bent down to get them and then noticed a piece of
parchment caught under a bush nearby. Laying down her weapons and
poles, she went over and picked it up. Gabrielle's close-written script
met her gaze, telling yet another exuberant tale of the exploits of the
Warrior Princess. Xena's eyes fell on a section of writing near the
bottom of the page.
"Hold on, Gabrielle!" called Xena, as she tied a rope around
"I can't hold on!" screamed the bard. Her strength was gone and
knew she would soon lose her precarious grip on the rope bridge where
the two new-made gods, Velasca and Callisto, were throwing lightning
bolts at each other. Her life would end in the lava pit below, but it
be worth it if these two evil beings perished with her. "Hurry!" she
cried to Xena. "Just do it! Cut the rope!"
"Hold on!" commanded the brave Warrior Princess.
Just then, Callisto and Velasca lunged at each other and began
grappling hand-to-hand, causing the bridge to jerk wildly.
"Xena, I can't hold on!" cried the bard.
"Gabrielle, don't take your eyes off me!" And with these words,
Xena slashed the rope handrail, sending the two deities plummeting
toward the boiling lava below. Then, with a great leap, she launched
herself into space, just as her friend finally lost her hold and
toward certain death. Their hands met
The writing broke off at that point, and Xena let the hand holding the
parchment fall to her side. Her knees felt weak and there was a
terrible ache in her heart. She leaned against a tree and closed her
eyes. So many times she had saved Gabrielle. Why had she failed so
It was several minutes before she could gather the strength to move
again. Glancing over at Gabrielle, she saw that the bard was sitting
just as before, staring at the fire. Xena looked down at the parchment
in her hand. At least this scroll had survived. Several others had
been left in Poteidaia for safekeeping with Gabrielle's family, but the
rest . . . well, they had been in one of the saddlebags in the cottage.
Xena picked up the weapons and poles and walked back to Gabrielle.
"Hey, look!" she called. "I found your staff!"
The bard raised her eyes briefly. "Good," she said, but her voice
Xena laid the poles down and placed the weapons beside the rock.
Then squatting down next to Gabrielle, she held the parchment where the
writer could see it. "And look what else I found," she said.
Gabrielle stared at the writing for a few moments, her eyes narrowing
and her face becoming hard. Suddenly, she snatched the page from Xena's
hand, ripped it in two, and threw it into the fire. Then she grabbed
the quill and threw that in, too.
Xena watched as flames quickly curled around the parchment. "Why did
you do that?" she asked in a low voice.
"Because I never want to write again."
"You don't know that, Gabrielle. You're hurting now, but you'll feel
better after a while. One day you'll feel like writing again."
The bard turned to look at Xena, fury in her eyes. "What would I
write about," she asked sarcastically, "the brave Warrior Princess who
goes fishing while her lover is being raped?"
Xena caught her breath sharply, as if she had been slugged. She
stared at Gabrielle and opened her mouth to speak, but no words came
out. Biting her lip, she turned her face away, then stumbled to her
feet and walked blindly toward the cottage. Standing at the edge of the
ruins, she stared at them without really seeing anything. She had to be
patient, she told herself. Gabrielle's pain was raw and deep; she was
just lashing out the way a wounded animal would. Healing would come,
but it would take time. Meanwhile, she, Xena, had to be strong. And of
course, she could be strong--she was a warrior, after all. But why was
it so hard right now? And why did it hurt so much?
The best thing was to keep busy. There was so much to do, so much to
think about to keep her mind off the pain. She shook her head to clear
it and forced herself to pay attention to the sight before her. She
needed to get the cooking pot, first of all. There it was, sitting on
the hearth. It would be easy enough to snag it and pull it out with her
whip, but-- Her eyes went to the charred remains of the saddle. Yes,
there was the whip, now reduced to blackened fragments of leather, still
lying in a neat coil.
Xena turned and walked back to the campsite. Gabrielle did not look
up or show that she was even aware of her approach. Selecting one of
the forked poles, Xena carried it back to the cottage. She knocked the
pot on its side, stuck the end of the pole inside, and lifted the pot
out, dropping it in the grass where it could cool. The frying pan was
more difficult to get ahold of, but by prodding and shoving it with the
pole, she finally got it out, too.
It was hot work. Xena paused to wipe the sweat off her face and
found herself staring at Garron's body. "You got better than you
deserved, you bastard," she muttered. "If it had been up to me, I would
have made sure you were awake so you could experience every minute of
being burned alive. Either that, or I would have torn you limb from
limb with my bare hands!"
How had he done it, she wondered. How had he managed to follow them
without giving a single sign that would have let her know he was doing
it? She had seriously underestimated him--that was clear. And how had
he known that attacking Gabrielle was the most effective revenge he
could have taken on her? He must have seen them together, must have
known they were lovers. Had he been watching through the window last
night when they-- The thought sickened her, and she put it quickly out
of her mind.
What else could she salvage here? That was the question. They had
the pot to make tea in, but nothing to drink it from. Maybe the clay
mugs had survived. She began poking in the ashes near what was left of
the table. The fact that Garron's body was there did not make the job
easier. Finally, she found a few fragments of one mug, then the second
mug intact. She fished it out of the ruins with the pole and examined
it. Totally blackened and badly cracked, it was still the only thing
they had to drink out of, so it would have to do.
Had she saved everything worth saving? Scanning the cottage debris
again, her eyes fell on the saddlebags. She poked at them and realized
that one was actually lying on top of the other one. It was an easy
matter to hook the strap between them and lift them out into the grass.
She knelt beside them, and was met with the sharp smell of burnt cloth
and leather. The bags were too hot to touch, so she went in search of a
couple of sticks. The top bag was badly charred, with the flap burned
away and most of the front panel missing. Using the sticks, Xena pulled
out fragments of cloth which she knew had once been their towels and
nightshifts. Next she found Argo's brush, the bristles gone and only a
portion of the blackened handle remaining. A flask of oil she used to
keep her leather boots and clothing supple had broken open, its contents
sacrified to the flames. Gabrielle's extra bottle of ink had met the
same fate. The metal dinner plates had survived, though, along with the
forks and Xena's sharpening stone. All were heavily blackened, but they
would be usable. She thought briefly of the wooden bowls they had eaten
from last night. They would be just a memory now, she mused.
The second bag, protected by the first, had fared somewhat better.
Its leather was severely singed in places, but for the most part, it
remained intact. Xena pried it open anxiously. On top was a
lightweight cloak, burned in several places, but with some good-sized
areas of fabric unharmed. It could no longer be worn, she knew, but
they could certainly find a use for spare pieces of cloth. Tossing
aside the sticks, Xena began to use her hands to dig in the saddlebag,
not really caring anymore if she got burned. Under the cloak, she found
a small leather bag, soot-covered, but otherwise in good shape.
Excitedly, she untied the drawstring and emptied out a spool of thread
with a needle stuck in it. "Thank the gods," she said softly. Now she
would be able to stitch Gabrielle's wound.
She reached into the saddlebag again, cursing as she hit a
particularly hot spot, and pulled out a comb. Carved from bone, with
roses for adornment, it had been a wedding gift from Perdicus to
Gabrielle. One end was burned away and there were some scorch marks,
but otherwise, the comb was fine. Xena laid it in the pile of rescued
articles and peered into the bag again. Gabrielle's scrolls were all
that remained. The outer layers of many of them had been burned in
places, but a few of them appeared completely untouched by the fire.
Xena unrolled one of the damaged scrolls and studied it for a moment.
It seemed to her that it would be fairly easy to reconstruct the missing
parts based on what remained. Looking over at the campsite, she saw
that Gabrielle was sitting with her chin in her hands, staring at the
ground. There was no sense giving her the scrolls right now--she would
probably just burn them, as she had the other one. Xena re-rolled the
parchment and placed it with the others. Then she picked up the cloak
and tore a section of unburned cloth from it, wrapped the scrolls in it,
and tied the bundle with another strip of the cloak's fabric.
Picking up the still-hot frying pan, pot, and mug, Xena carried them
quickly to the creek and dropped them in the water. She found a sharp
stone and used it to scrape as much black off as she could, then she
filled the pot with water and carried it to the campfire. From her
stash of herbs, she got some willow bark and a couple of other types of
leaves, added them to the water, and set the pot in the coals.
Gabrielle continued to sit, silent and apparently uninterested in her
Xena walked back to the cottage then with her dagger and cut the two
saddlebags apart. She tossed the burned one back into the ruins and
filled the other with the rescued items, leaving out only the thread and
needle. She returned to Gabrielle and sat down beside her. The bard
glanced up briefly, then turned her gaze away.
"I found some things that survived the fire," Xena said, "some things
in one of the saddlebags, including the needle and thread. I think I
should stitch up your wound."
Gabrielle looked at her. "All right," she said.
"It's going to hurt some. Do you want me to use the pinch again?"
"No. I can take it."
"Are you sure?"
"I figure if I'm tough enough to kill a man, I'm tough enough to
stand a few stitches."
Xena frowned. "The logic of that escapes me," she said. "Look,
Gabrielle, you don't have to prove anything to me. I know how brave you
"Just do it, Xena."
"Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know." She pulled a
length of thread from the spool, bit it off, and threaded the needle.
"Why don't you lie down?" she said. "I think that will make it easier."
It took eleven stitches to close the wound. Xena tried to work
quickly, but she wanted to do a neat job of it, so that the scar would
not be too bad. Gabrielle turned her face away, but Xena could see that
she was hurting her, and that knowledge made the task even more
By the time she finished, the tea was ready. She dipped out a mugful
and blew on it to cool it. "Gabrielle, sit up and drink some of this.
It will help with the pain."
The bard pushed herself up and Xena handed her the tea. "It's hot,
so be careful," she said.
Gabrielle studied the contents of the mug. "It has black stuff in
it," she said.
Xena leaned over and peered at the tea. "I guess I didn't get all
the soot out of the mug," she said. "It won't hurt you, Gabrielle--just
The bard took a sip and then made a face. "It's so bitter," she
"I know, Love, but please try to drink it. It will help you feel
Xena glanced at the sky and saw clouds moving in from the west. Soon
their warm sunshine would be gone, and there might even be rain on the
way. She got up and started work on the brush shelter. First, with her
dagger, she dug holes and set up the two forked poles, then laid the
third pole across them. After that, she cut thick, leafy branches for a
roof, laying them across from the pole to the rock.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said when the shelter was almost done.
"Why are you building this? We've slept out in the open plenty of
times without a shelter."
The warrior stopped to consider for a few moments. "Well, that's a
good question, actually. It's just that when we slept out before, we
had clothes and blankets, and now we don't. I thought the shelter might
hold the fire's heat a little better, and our body heat."
"Will it keep us dry if it rains?"
"I doubt it. And if there's a big wind, the whole thing will
probably blow away," Xena said with a grin that looked more like a
"Then why are you building it?"
Xena thought again and finally said, "I guess it makes me feel like I
am somehow protecting you."
Gabrielle sighed and took another sip of tea.
Xena placed the last few branches on the shelter, feeling a bit
foolish now. Then, brushing off her hands and trying to sound cheerful,
she said, "How about some carp for supper?"
"I'm not hungry," Gabrielle said flatly.
"I know, but you need to try to eat something."
There was no response.
Xena went and pulled the two fish out of the water, then took her
dagger and went off a little distance to clean them. There was no oil
for frying, but she could simmer the fillets in water. And she had seen
some watercress growing in the creek nearby. They could eat that with
the fish. She thought about gathering more blackberries, but quickly
decided against it. No use being reminded of what they had done last
night. Besides, she wasn't very hungry, either, come to think of it.
* * *
"Are you feeling any better?" Xena asked later, after they had eaten.
"No. I wish I were dead."
"Gabrielle," Xena said softly, "please don't say that. I love you
and I'm very glad you're alive." They were sitting side by side, close
to the fire. Xena reached out and laid her hand over one of
Gabrielle's. "I know you're feeling a lot of hurt and anger," she said.
Gabrielle jerked her hand away. "You don't know anything about how I
feel!" she cried. "Have you ever been raped, Xena?"
"No, you just screwed all the men in your army and had a grand old
time--that's what you've done!"
Xena's hand shot out and grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder in a clamp-like
grip. With her other hand, she turned the bard's face toward her.
"Gabrielle, stop it!" she said. "I know you're hurting, but being mean
to me is not going to make you feel any better." Gabrielle dropped her
eyes and Xena let go of her. "I will never forgive myself for letting
this thing happen today," the warrior continued in a low voice. "I
should have been here for you and I wasn't. I would gladly give my life
a hundred times if that would take away your pain and give you back your
innocence. Please believe me, Gabrielle."
"I'm sorry." The bard's voice was little more than a whisper. "I
feel like I've become some sort of monster. I thought I could rise
above hatred and bloodlust, but I can't. It was like this when Callisto
killed Perdicus, remember? But now it's worse. Now I've actually
killed someone. I've lost my blood innocence. You must be so
disappointed in me."
Xena put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. The bard stiffened,
but didn't pull away. "Gabrielle," Xena said, "you didn't deliberately
set out to kill Garron. It just happened. I'm not sure if that
"I didn't plan to kill him--you're right, but when I lit that fire, I
must have known that he would die. I must have known, on some level,
that I was killing him. And I'm not sorry he's dead."
"I'm not sorry, either, and if it had been up to me, he would have
suffered a lot more on his way to the River Styx." Xena grinned a
They fell silent for a few minutes. Xena studied the gray clouds
which obscured the setting sun and tried to guess what time the rain
might begin. It wouldn't be a pleasant night; she could pretty much
predict that, anyway.
"I keep thinking about--" Gabrielle stopped and sighed.
"About what, Sweetheart?"
"About last night."
"Xena, why is life like that? One day you're incredibly happy and
the next day you're so miserable you want to die."
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I've wondered the same thing myself. All
I know for sure is that if we didn't have the bad times, we wouldn't
appreciate the good times nearly as much. And I also know that it's
love that gets you through the bad times. Love is really very powerful
"No, it's not! Hatred is much stronger than love. And so are fear
and despair. I thought I learned that lesson when Perdicus got killed,
but I guess I forgot it."
Xena pulled the bard closer and touched her face softly. "You're
wrong, Gabrielle," she said. "Maybe you can't see it right now, but you
will eventually. You're going to come through this thing stronger than
you were when you went in, and it will be love that gets you through.
You'll see. It's just going to take some time--maybe a lot of time--but
it will happen. You can depend on it."
Gabrielle stared at her, the green eyes dark with pain. Then,
frowning, she turned away. In the west, there was a brief flicker of
light and a low rumble of thunder.
"I think I'd better get some more firewood," Xena said.
She left and soon returned with an armload of dead branches, which
she stacked near the fire, then fed the blaze until it was burning
brightly. The pot of tea was still warm, and Xena filled the mug and
held it out to Gabrielle. "Want some more tea? You may not get another
chance till morning--especially if the rain puts the fire out."
The bard took the mug and made a face at it, then reluctantly began
Xena, aware for the first time of pain in her hands, examined them in
the fading daylight. There were several angry-looking burn marks, and a
large one on the back of her right hand was badly blistered. If she had
some grease or oil, that would help kill the pain, but she didn't have
any. Oh well, she had put up with much worse injuries before.
Gabrielle nudged her with the mug. "That's all I can drink," she
said. Xena took the mug and, seeing that it was only about a third
empty, drank the rest of the tea herself. It might help the burns, but
mostly she hoped it would dull the aching in her heart.
"Let's try to get some sleep before it starts raining," she said,
when she finished drinking. "After that, we may be too cold."
"I don't think I can sleep," muttered Gabrielle.
"Maybe not, but at least we can cuddle up and keep warm."
Gabrielle lay down on her side, facing the fire, and Xena nestled
herself against the bard's back. She put her arm carefully around
Gabrielle, trying to avoid putting pressure on bruises or the breast
wound. "Are you okay? Warm enough?" she asked.
Xena laid her face against Gabrielle's back. She could hear the
distant heartbeat and feel the gentle rise and fall of her lover's body
with each breath. At first, she was uncomfortably aware of the
throbbing burns on her hands, but soon the pain began to fade. She
thought she would not sleep, but after a while, she did.
She dreamed that she stood on the brink of the lava pit, frantic to
save Gabrielle. Then, just as she leapt into the chasm, she saw the
bard lose her grip on the rope bridge and begin to fall. Too late, Xena
realized that she had forgotten to tie the rope around her waist. Yet
somehow she knew it would be all right, if she could just reach
Gabrielle. But she couldn't. Falling and falling, headfirst, she
stretched out her arms to grasp her lover's hands, but they were always
just out of reach. Endlessly she fell, terrified, knowing that she had
to catch Gabrielle or both of them would die. She reached out again--
"Xena, wake up! You're hurting me!"
Xena jerked awake and sat up. Her heart was pounding and her breath
came in gasps. Disoriented, as she often was after such dreams, it took
her several seconds to realize that she had merely awakened from one
nightmare into another one. The night was fully dark now, but in the
glow of the campfire's embers, she could see Gabrielle lying beside her,
curled in a ball. Xena leaned over her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she said. "What did I do?"
"You were clutching at me and you hurt my wound."
"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. Did I break the stitches? Let me look at
"It's all right; it just hurt is all."
Xena sat back and took a few deep breaths. "I'm really sorry," she
repeated. "I guess I was having a nightmare."
Usually, Gabrielle took an interest in her companion's nightmares,
asking what they were about, offering comfort and interpretations. But
this time she remained silent.
"It was a nightmare I've never had before," Xena said, "and you were
"Oh, that's just great!" Gabrielle said sarcastically, and pushed
herself up into a sitting position. "I'm the one who's raped and you're
the one who has the nightmares!"
Caught by surprise, Xena didn't answer for a moment, then said with a
weak smile, "Well, I was just trying to be helpful."
A flash of lightning revealed Gabrielle's scowl. "I just don't get
it," the bard said. "This isn't about you--it's about me. Why are you
the one having nightmares?"
Xena smiled grimly. "Because I'm good at nightmares--that's one of
my many skills. Besides, this isn't only about you." She reached out
and laid a hand on Gabrielle's arm. "It's about me, too, because as it
just so happens, I love you."
Lightning flashed again and the crack of thunder that followed made
both women jump. The rain began then, with big, noisy drops splattering
down on the leaves of the brush shelter. Xena moved quickly to put more
sticks on the fire, fanning the flames with a plate to get the wood to
catch. Maybe, if it didn't rain too hard and the fire was burning well
enough, it would not go out. When she ducked back under the shelter,
her eyes met Gabrielle's, and in the firelight, she could clearly see
the pain on her friend's face.
"What is it, Gabrielle? Tell me," Xena said softly.
"It's just that I don't see how you can still love me after what
"Of course I still love you. Nothing that could happen to you will
ever change that."
"But I feel so . . . I don't know . . . dirty, or something after he
. . ." she stopped and swallowed hard. "I feel like everything's been
ruined--love, sex, everything we had. I don't see how you can even
stand to touch me now."
Xena stared at her and let out a long breath. "Gabrielle--" She
stopped and bit her lip, then tried again. "I don't know what to say to
you. I don't know how to make you believe that I do love you--just as
much tonight as I did last night. You're still the same wonderful woman
I made love to last night and will make love to again someday, when you
"But I'm not the same--I've changed! Everything has changed! You
loved the sweet, innocent Gabrielle who never let hatred control her,
who never killed. That Gabrielle is gone, Xena. She'll never be
The warrior was silent for a moment, regarding her companion, then
she said, "I love the Gabrielle of the kind and generous spirit, the
Gabrielle who cares deeply about other people and who forces me to care,
too. I love the Gabrielle who sees beauty all around her and poetry
wherever she looks, the Gabrielle who is my conscience, and who helps me
fight my demons. That Gabrielle has been hurt, and she's a little hard
to see right now, but she hasn't gone away; she's still right here."
Gabrielle drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around
them. She didn't look at Xena or offer an answer, but as the warrior
watched, she saw the firelight glinting off of tears that trickled down
the bard's cheeks. Without warning, the rain increased to a downpour
and soon began dripping in through the leafy roof of their shelter.
Xena reached over and laid her hand on Gabrielle's arm. "You're cold,
Gabrielle," she said. "Why don't you lie down so we can try to stay
Xena snuggled up to Gabrielle's back again, but it was hard to get
warm. The branches she had piled above them offered some protection
from the driving force of the rain, but did little to keep them dry.
Gabrielle put her hands over her face, trying to keep off the drips, and
Xena buried her own face under the bard's hair. She listened to the
hiss of the fire as the rain extinguished it and smelled the steamy
smoke mingled with the scent of Gabrielle's damp skin and hair.
Pressing herself close against the bard, Xena willed her body to keep
her lover warm, but she had little warmth to give. As the minutes
passed, she only got wetter and colder. Soon she was shivering and
could feel Gabrielle doing the same. If only they had a blanket--just
one lousy blanket! She tried to imagine herself wrapped in thick, warm
wool, sitting in a cozy, dry place by the fire. But it didn't work.
She still felt cold and miserable.
"Are you staying warm at all?" Xena said to the back of Gabrielle's
"Well, at least you've got clothes on."
"Yeah," Xena said sarcastically, "and leather is so toasty and warm
when it's wet!"
Gabrielle didn't answer.
"I've just been lying here fantasizing about our wool blanket. If we
had a wool blanket, we might still be wet, but at least we'd be warmer."
"Well, we don't have one, so you can just forget it," Gabrielle said,
struggling out of Xena's embrace and sitting up.
Xena lay there for a few moments and then sat up, too. She shoved
her wet hair back and then tried to dry her face against her damp arm.
"I just wish--" she began, then stopped. "No, never mind. I won't say
"You just wish what, Xena? Come on, let's hear it."
The warrior hesitated for a moment. "I just wish you had thought to
save something from the cottage before it burned down--a blanket, the
saddlebags, the saddle, anything!"
"That's all you care about, isn't it? Your stupid saddle."
Xena sighed. "No, Gabrielle," she said. "You know better than
that. What I care about is you. I shouldn't have said what I did--I'm
just feeling cold and miserable and my brain isn't working very well."
The two of them sat in silence for a minute. "Sounds like the rain
is letting up," Xena said finally.
Gabrielle wiped her arms with her hands and shook the excess water
off her fingers. Xena moved over to sit by the rock. She leaned
against it, shivering as the bare skin of her back touched the cold, wet
surface. When she was settled, she held out her arms to Gabrielle.
"Come sit on my lap and let me at least try to keep you warm," she said.
The bard hesitated a moment, then crept over and sat on Xena's
thighs. The warrior wrapped her arms around her cold companion. "Mmm,
you're just like a little icicle," she said.
"You're not exactly a glowing ember yourself," Gabrielle muttered.
She laid her head on Xena's shoulder. A last flash of distant lightning
lit the sky, followed by the sound of retreating thunder.
"Xena," Gabrielle said softly after a few moments, "when I lit that
straw on fire--" She paused and looked up at the warrior. "I never
meant to burn the whole cottage down. I wasn't thinking, I guess. I
was just . . . crazed. But that fire went so fast! The whole bed burst
into flames and then the wall caught fire, and then the roof! I just
stood there staring at it. Then these big hunks of fire and thatch
started falling all around me, but it was like I couldn't move--I
couldn't think what to do. I just stood there." She stopped, her
breath coming quickly and her body trembling in Xena's arms. "I don't
even remember getting out," she said. "I remember the rafters starting
to fall and then I remember being outside. I don't know how I got
there. I didn't think about saving anything. I don't even know why I
She sighed and let her head rest again on the warrior's shoulder.
Xena closed her eyes and laid her face against the blonde head. Then,
after a few moments, she took a deep breath and said, "When I got back
to the cottage and saw that burned body, I thought at first that it was
you." Her voice choked with emotion and she had to swallow hard. "I
felt like the whole world suddenly stood still," she whispered. "I just
can't imagine my life without you in it. I can't tell you how grateful
I was to find you alive."
For a time, neither of them spoke. The rain had stopped, but the
brush shelter continued to drip. Xena ran her hand over Gabrielle's
outside arm and leg to brush off the drops of moisture that clung
there. The exposed skin felt cold to her touch, although she was
beginning to feel some warmth where their bodies touched. "Gabrielle,"
she said, "something strange happened to me out there today." The bard
did not look up, but her stillness let Xena know she was listening. "I
must have been more than half a league away, down in a little valley,
but I heard you screaming."
Gabrielle sat up. "You couldn't have," she said bluntly. "Not if
you were that far away."
"I know. That's what was so strange about it."
"What did you hear? What did I scream?"
"At first, it was just screams, and then I heard 'Xena! Help me,
Xena!' I heard it very clearly. It took me a minute to realize that I
wasn't hearing it with my ears, but here--" she tapped on her chest,
"with my heart."
The bard stared at her. "I've never heard of anything like that
before," she mused. "Have you?"
"No, and I was really scared because I knew you were in trouble and
that I could never get to you in time. I had been fishing and I didn't
even have my boots on. I ran as fast as I could to get here, but the
ground was so rough. It's a wonder I didn't fall and break my neck!
And then, when I got about halfway, I saw the smoke from the cottage. I
didn't know what to think. I just knew something terrible had
Gabrielle closed her eyes and laid her head down again. "You heard
me scream," she murmured and then sighed softly, as if this thought
somehow reassured her.
"Yes, Love, I heard you." Xena stroked the golden hair for a moment
and then laid her hand lightly over the bruised face to keep off the
drops of rain. After a few minutes, she heard Gabrielle's breathing
deepen and realized, to her surprise, that the bard was asleep.
She sat very still, not wanting to waken this person who so much
needed the healing of sleep. The pressure of Gabrielle's weight on her
thighs was beginning to make her legs ache, and her feet in the wet
boots felt icy. Her back hurt where her spine met the unyielding rock,
but she set her mind to ignore these discomforts as best she could. In
time, her legs went to sleep and became totally numb, but the pain in
her back continued.
Time slid slowly by. The dripping gradually stopped, and in the
little bit of western sky that Xena could see from under the shelter, a
few stars appeared. Leaning her head back against the rock, she began
to consider some of the questions whose answers had so far eluded her.
The first was how to get Gabrielle to town tomorrow. She figured the
bard could ride Argo, if she sat sideways and they travelled slowly.
The big problem was Gabrielle's lack of clothes. If the town weren't so
far away, Xena could ride there and get a blanket or some sort of
garment and then come back for Gabrielle. But that would take several
hours, and she didn't want to leave her lover alone that
long--especially not in this place of terrible memories.
Maybe there was something she could make clothing out of. Leaves?
Xena couldn't imagine that they would make a very practical garment, and
besides, she didn't have enough thread to sew them all together. Animal
skins? That would require a major hunting effort, plus several days to
cure the skins properly--several days which they did not have.
She tried to remember whether there were any farms or houses between
here and the town. It was possible there were a few, but the peasants
who lived in them very likely could not afford to part with anything as
valuable as a blanket or extra clothing. Another idea might be for Xena
to let Gabrielle wear her warrior clothes. Sitting up on Argo, the bard
would be fully exposed to the view of other travellers, and the leather
outfit would give her some protection. Xena, meanwhile, would be
walking and leading the horse. It wouldn't be as obvious that she was
naked. Maybe they could even slip off the road into the trees when they
met people. Once they got close to town, they could find a hiding
place, switch clothes, and Xena could ride on into town and bring back
something for Gabrielle to wear. The warrior frowned. It wasn't a
great plan, but it was the best she had come up with yet.
And then there was the matter of money. They had five dinars. That
would pay for food and lodging for one night, two at the most. But
after that, what? It would be nice to stay at an inn for a week or so
in order to let Gabrielle rest and heal, but how could they afford it?
They didn't even have the option of camping out now, since they had lost
so many of their belongings. It would take a lot more than five dinars
to replace even the essentials, like blankets. And the first priority
was to get Gabrielle some clothes. Even that would probably cost more
than five dinars. Xena sighed. Maybe there was some way she could earn
money once they got to town. She knew tavern work, anyway, having spent
most of her youth helping her mother and brothers run one. One thing
she knew for sure: she would do anything she had to in order to take
care of Gabrielle--even if it meant scrubbing floors or mucking out
Xena shook her head in frustration and ran the fingers of her free
hand abstractedly through her damp hair. These days she usually gave
little thought to money, but suddenly it had become a big issue, an
almost unsolvable problem. When she was a warlord, money had been hers
for the taking, pouring into her coffers, big bags and chests full of
it. She smiled, remembering how the sunlight had glinted off coins and
jewelry piled at her feet by the frightened peasants whose villages she
had plundered. But after a moment, her smile faded. How many of those
she robbed had needed their few dinars as desperately as she now needed
her own? "I deserve this," she whispered. "I deserve this and so much
more." But Gabrielle didn't deserve it. What had this sweet young
woman ever done that she should suffer like this? Nothing, except to
fall in love with Xena, the once-evil Warrior Princess.
Her thoughts had grown as dark as the night around her, and for a
time she did nothing to free herself from the abyss into which her mind
had fallen. So many times she had struggled with the guilt she felt
about leading Gabrielle on a journey of constant danger, but her friend
had insisted on staying with her. And now that Xena had come to realize
how intensely she loved and needed Gabrielle, she did not see how she
could ever let the bard leave.
She glanced down at the quiet form whose body she could only dimly
make out in the darkness. How did she do it, Xena wondered. How was
Gabrielle able to sleep in spite of everything--the trauma, the pain,
the cold, the uncomfortable position? Yet here she was, slumbering as
peacefully as any baby in its mother's arms-- And with that thought,
Xena suddenly realized there was another question she had not yet
considered--one that her mind had hidden away and did not want to look
at. What if Gabrielle was pregnant? A cold shiver ran through the
warrior's body. How would her lover feel about bearing a child
conceived in so much fear and hatred? And how would she herself feel?
And what would happen to their partnership? They could not possibly
continue to travel in such dangerous conditions with a tiny child in
Surely it would not happen. Xena began making calculations. They
were now at the new moon, which meant it was almost time for both of
them to begin their monthly bleeding. Ever since they first began
travelling together, their cycles had been closely synchronized. With
any luck, it would not be the fertile time of the month for Gabrielle,
and there would be no problem. In only a few days, they should know for
Xena leaned her head back and closed her eyes, aware once more of the
aching in her back. The burns on her hands were smarting again, too,
but at least she wasn't as cold now, or as wet. Gabrielle's body felt
warm and comforting against her own. She sighed, feeling tired and
longing for the oblivion of sleep, yet fearing the nightmares sleep
might bring. For a time, her mind continued to wrestle with the fears
and heartache this day had created, but gradually her thoughts grew
quiet and slipped away. And then, at last, she slept.
* * *
She woke to the sound of birdsong. The sky was pale blue, and a low
mist hung over the wet grass of the clearing. Numbness had claimed her
back as well as her legs, and Xena wondered in a disinterested way
whether she might not have become totally paralyzed during the night.
She shifted her position experimentally, and the pain that shot down her
spine assured her that she wasn't paralyzed after all.
Gabrielle moaned softly and stirred. "Xena?" she murmured.
"I'm right here."
"Have I been asleep?"
"Uh-huh, for several hours."
"Really? I didn't think I'd be able to sleep at all." She stretched
tentatively, wincing as she did so. Then she sat up, and that movement
brought the first sharp pinpricks of feeling back into Xena's legs.
"Seemed to me like you slept pretty well," Xena said, and brushed a
strand of gold hair away
from Gabrielle's eyes.
The bard looked at her. "Have you been holding me all night?" she
"That's crazy, Xena! I could have just slept on the ground. Why
didn't you put me down?"
"Guess I'm just a crazy kind of girl," Xena said with a wry smile.
Gabrielle frowned and slid off the warrior's legs, groaning as she
"Sounds like you're pretty sore."
"Yeah. Everything hurts." Gabrielle said and crawled out from under
the shelter. She stood up, stretched cautiously, and walked stiffly off
among the trees.
Xena flexed her shoulders, back, and neck, then began to massage her
legs, grimacing as the feeling came slowly and painfully back into
them. By the time Gabrielle got back, she was standing beside the dead
campfire, staring at the cold ashes.
"Let me take a look at that wound," she said, glancing up at her
companion, who was standing with her arms tightly hugged across her
chest for warmth. "Then I'll try to get a fire started."
Gabrielle opened her arms. The area around the wound had become red
and a little puffy. Xena studied it for a minute, then said, "I'm going
to take out one of the stitches, so this can drain better. Does it
"Okay, wait just a minute." She got her dagger and a piece of cloth
from the burned cloak. It didn't take long to drain the wound, and when
she finished, she used the dagger point to break the burn blister on the
back of her right hand and drained that, too.
"What did you do to your hand?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, I did it when I was getting stuff out of the cottage yesterday.
It's not a big deal--doesn't even hurt much." She took the cloth to the
creek, rinsed it out, and hung it over the rock to dry. "Gabrielle,"
she said, "when you lit the fire in the fireplace that first night, what
did you do with the flint afterwards?"
Gabrielle looked at her blankly, and Xena tried again. "I have to
try to find the flint in the cottage, so we can start a fire. Do you
think you left it on the hearth?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Xena sighed. "Okay, I'll go look." She picked up a stick and walked
over to the cottage ruins. The rain had quenched the last of the
smoldering embers, but it had also turned the thick layer of ash into a
mucky paste. Xena hesitated a moment and then waded in. She spent
several minutes poking around the hearth, but she could not find the
flint. Finally, she squatted down and held her hand inside the
fireplace. It felt warm there, and a little exploration with the stick
revealed some live coals which had been protected from the rain by the
mantelpiece. The next challenge was to find dry wood. It took some
scouting, but eventually Xena came up with a few sticks and branches
that she thought would work. And after considerable coaxing, fanning,
and swearing, she managed to get a reluctant, smoky blaze started.
"Xena, how soon can we leave?" Gabrielle asked. She sat in the grass
nearby, hugging her knees to her chest.
The warrior considered for a moment. "Well, there are several things
we need to do before we go. If I ever get this fire going, we can make
tea and cook breakfast. I could catch us some more fish."
"No. No breakfast. I'm not hungry and it will just take extra
time. I want to get out of here as soon as possible."
"Okay," Xena said, glancing over at her companion. The bruises stood
out dark and clear on Gabrielle's arms and face, although the swelling
around her eye had gone down. "One thing I need to do is check the
cottage to see if anything else survived the fire. And we really ought
to wash the blood out of your hair. Do you want to do that here or wait
until we get to town?"
"Here," Gabrielle said. "Do we have any soap?"
"No, the fire melted it, but maybe I can find a soap plant."
"I saw several in the meadow when we were cutting grass."
"Did you? Good. I'll find one."
The fire seemed to be burning, at least for the moment. Xena took
the pot to the creek and filled it, then dropped some herbs into the
water. But by the time she got back to the fire, it had reverted to
smoke again, and muttering a few choice curses, she went back to fanning
it with the metal plate. A flame had just reappeared when her ear
caught Argo's eager whinny, followed by a whicker that sounded like it
came from another horse. Xena stood up quickly and thrust the plate
into Gabrielle's hands. "Here. Try to keep this fire going. I've got
to go check on Argo."
She set out running along the creek, her long strides quickly
covering the distance to the edge of the meadow, where she stopped
short. Argo indeed had a companion, a big, bay stallion wearing a
saddle and a bridle with a broken rein. "Garron's horse!" Xena
exclaimed. She had been so preoccupied with Gabrielle's injuries that
she hadn't even thought about looking for the slave trader's mount,
which would have been tied in the woods somewhere nearby. "I must
really be slipping," she muttered. But no matter. The horse was here
now and if she could just get ahold of him-- Well, there would be no
more money worries with an animal like that to sell.
The bay seemed quite interested in Argo, and the mare, for her part,
was leading him on a flirtatious romp around the meadow. Xena watched
for a few moments and then whistled. Argo trotted to her and the
stallion followed at a short distance. Xena fussed over the mare at
some length, pretending to ignore the other horse. When she saw that he
had edged closer, though, she turned her head and began talking to him.
"What a pretty boy you are," she crooned. "Were you tied up all day?
You must have gotten thirsty. No wonder you broke loose. Or did you
get scared during the storm last night?"
Slowly, she turned toward the horse, still talking sweetly to him, and
took a step in his direction. He tossed his head and snorted, pranced
back a few steps and then forward again. Xena held out her hand and
took another step towards him. "I wish I had an apple for you. Then
you'd come to me, wouldn't you?" She took another step, and the horse,
apparently curious, moved a little nearer to her. Finally, they were
close enough that the bay could stretch out his neck and sniff the
warrior's hand, and in a smooth, easy movement, she took hold of his
bridle. "What a good boy you are," she told him and stroked his nose.
Argo nudged at her from behind, demanding her attention. Xena laughed
and turned to pet the mare with her free hand.
She led the dark horse to a tree near the creek and tied him. She
was eager to see what treasures Garron's saddlebags contained. Coiled
on the side of the saddle was a length of rope. "That's a good start,"
Xena murmured. There were plenty of things she could use rope for. Tied
to the back of the saddle was a wool blanket. It was wet from the rain
and somewhat ragged-looking, but still, it would have felt good last
night. She unhooked the saddlebags and dropped them on the ground, then
uncinched the saddle and pulled it off. Uncoiling the rope, she knotted
one end around the bay's neck and the other end around the tree. Then
she took off his bridle. "Okay, she told him, you've got time to do a
little grazing before I have to saddle you up again." The only response
was a snort as the horse moved toward the creek to get a drink of water.
Xena quickly turned her attention to the saddlebags. In the first
one, she found some moldy bread and cheese and a little dried meat.
None of it looked appetizing, so she tossed it into the nearby bushes.
Next she found a mug, plate, fork and spoon, a sharpening stone, flint,
and a dagger. The second bag yielded a ratty-looking towel, a blue
tunic, and a pair of loose, gray trousers. As Xena unfolded the
clothes, she breathed a sigh of relief. "Bless you, Garron," she said,
"you don't know how much we needed these!" She held up the clothing to
examine it and sniffed at it suspiciously, but it appeared to be clean,
although slightly damp.
Stuffing everything back into the saddlebags, Xena picked them up,
along with the blanket, and headed back to the clearing. Gabrielle was
standing on the bank of the stream, facing the water and sipping from
the mug. Her bare white skin was bathed in sunlight, and the sight made
Xena stop for a moment. From this distance, she could not see the
bruises, but she could see Gabrielle's pain just in the way she held her
body--head bowed, shoulders slumped, arms drawn in tightly as if to
protect herself. Well, at least they had some extra clothes now.
Neither of them would have to go naked into town. She hurried forward.
"I can't keep that stupid fire going," Gabrielle said flatly when
Xena reached her side.
"That's okay. Did the tea at least get hot?"
"Yeah. But just barely."
"Good. Gabrielle, you'll never guess what happened. Garron's horse
showed up with the saddle still on and the saddlebags. Come here, and
let me show you." She took the bard's arm and led her back to the
campfire. "Sit down," she said, then continued talking excitedly.
"There was a rope and this blanket, and look what else!" She quickly
opened the saddlebags and began emptying them, spreading the contents
out like trophies on the grass. Only when she finished, did she look up
to see the expression of horror on Gabrielle's face.
"Get those things away from me," the bard said in a low voice. "I
don't want to touch anything that belonged to that man."
Xena stared at her. "But Gabrielle, we need some of these
things--especially the clothes."
"I don't care. I'll go into town stark naked every day of the week
before I'll wear anything of his."
"All right," Xena said after a moment's consideration. "I'll wear
Garron's clothes and you can wear mine."
"Yours won't fit me. They'll be too big."
"We've got the needle and thread. We can take some tucks. It's only
for a couple of days until we can get new clothes made for you. There's
no other answer, Gabrielle."
"Okay," the bard said finally.
Xena gathered up everything except the clothes and crammed it all
back into the saddlebags. "We don't have to use this stuff," she said.
"We can take it to town and sell it or trade it for what we need. But
the best part is the horse." She took hold of Gabrielle's arm. "Don't
you see what this means? We can get a lot of money for that
horse--enough to replace the things we lost and probably enough to buy
you a horse, too. We can find a nice, gentle one that you would really
like-- What do you think, Gabrielle? We could go so many more places
and travel so much faster if we both had horses."
Gabrielle looked at her, but she did not seem to catch the warrior's
enthusiasm. "Yeah, I guess you're right," she said, "but I don't know
if I want a horse."
"Sure you do! You just need to get used to the idea. We'll talk
about it more later. Right now we have to get some clothes on you. How
about unlacing me?"
When the leather garment was off, Xena went to their saddlebag and
got out the small pouch with the needle and thread. Then she tore a
section of cloth from the cloak and folded it into a square. "I think
it would be a good idea to tack this inside the bodice here," she said,
crouching down beside Gabrielle. "It will provide some padding for your
The bard nodded.
"I can do it, if you want me to," Xena continued, "but as you know,
my sewing skills don't go much beyond stitching up wounds. I think you
would be happier with the results if you did it yourself." She smiled
and offered the garment to her companion.
Gabrielle looked at her for a moment, sighed, and then took it.
Xena dropped the bag with the needle and thread into the bard's lap.
"I have some other things I want to get done," she said, "but if you
need any help with the lacing or fitting or whatever, just yell." She
walked away from Gabrielle a short distance, unfolded Garron's clothes,
and put them on. The fit wasn't too bad, although she really needed a
belt for the tunic and to provide a way to carry her weapons. Lacking
that for the moment, she tucked the tunic into the trousers and tied the
drawstring waist. Then she turned her attention to disassembling the
brush shelter. It had served its slight purpose and now only blocked
the sunshine they needed for warmth. Working quickly, she tossed all
the branches and poles into the nearby woods.
When she had finished that project, Xena walked over to the cottage
ruins. She pulled the charred bridle out of the ashes, cut the bit
loose, and discarded the rest. Beyond that, she could find little else
to salvage. Their cloth food pack, along with its contents, was gone
without a trace. The wineskin and waterskin had been reduced to sooty
scraps of leather. She found one of the spoons, but it was so tarnished
that she dropped it back into the ashes again. Standing over Garron,
she studied the tip of his sword, which stuck out from under his body.
The scabbard had burned away, and the sword blade was blackened. It was
possibly worth some money, depending on what condition the hilt was in.
He must have been wearing a dagger, too; Gabrielle had said he had one.
And he might have been carrying some dinars--possibly quite a few. An
hour ago, she would have been desperate enough to rob the corpse, even
though the thought of touching it disgusted her. But now she had his
horse and the contents of his saddlebags. That was enough.
She crouched on the creekbank and did her best to wash the black off
her hands and the bit. Then, rolling up her trousers, she waded in a
little ways and tried to get the ashy muck off of her boots. She hated
wet leather--wet boots most of all. It was a good thing she would be
riding today instead of walking; otherwise, she would certainly end up
Back at the campsite, Gabrielle was trying on the leather tunic.
Xena laced it for her and helped determine where to take it in. While
the bard was stitching it, Xena went to the meadow and dug up a soap
"Is the creek deeper up that way?" Gabrielle asked when she returned.
"There's a pool that might be waist-deep just this side of the
"That's where I want to take my bath."
"Gabrielle, the water is cold, and I don't think it's a good idea for
you to get chilled. Why don't I bring water in the pot to pour over
your hair and we can wash it right here?"
"No. I want to wash all of me. I don't care if the water is cold."
She had that look that Xena knew meant it was useless to argue with
her, but she tried anyway. "I washed you pretty thoroughly yesterday,
Gabrielle. Why don't you wait until we get to town and can get some
warm bath water?"
"You don't understand, Xena. I feel really filthy after what
happened yesterday. I need to try to get clean."
"All right," Xena said softly. "Just be careful with your wound."
Xena walked with Gabrielle along the creek and watched as the bard
waded resolutely into the cold water. When she got in hip deep, she
began to scrub herself vigorously with the soap root and her hands.
"Do you need any help? With your hair or anything?" Xena asked.
"No, I'm fine."
"Okay. I'm going to ride Garron's horse for a few minutes." She
turned and headed for the meadow. The stallion seemed calmer than
before, and responded well to her petting and attention. Xena cut a
length from the tether rope to replace the broken rein, then saddled the
bay and buckled on his bridle. In one smooth movement, she swung up
onto his back. He proved to be a spirited mount, but a little
headstrong and hard to control. Xena wished she could let him run full
tilt, to find out how much speed he had, but the meadow was too small
for that. Argo followed the bay around anxiously, at times pushing up
close enough to nudge Xena's leg with her nose. "Don't worry, girl,"
the warrior called to her, "you'll always be my first love!"
After a few turns around the meadow, Xena guided the stallion back
along the creek toward the clearing. Argo followed close behind her.
She passed Gabrielle, who was sitting in the sun on the creekbank,
trying to comb out her wet, tangled hair with her fingers. At the
campsite, Xena dismounted and tied the bay to a tree. She went to their
saddlebag and found the comb, then walked over to Gabrielle and squatted
down beside her.
"Maybe this would help," she said, holding out the comb.
Gabrielle stared at it for a long moment, then looked at Xena, then
back at the comb. Finally, she reached out and took it, holding it
carefully, turning it over and over, running her fingers along the
burned places. "My comb!" she whispered. "I thought it was gone." She
looked up again, her eyes wet with tears.
Xena smiled softly. "You see," she said. "Good things can survive
the bad. It happens more often than you might think."
Gabrielle didn't answer, but after a moment she brushed her hand
across her cheek. Then she began pulling the comb carefully through the
"Do you want me to do that for you?" Xena asked gently.
"No, I can do it."
"I'd be glad to do it, if you want me to."
"No, that's all right. I'll do it."
Xena bit her lip and was silent for a few moments. "Okay," she said
then. "I'll go start packing up." She got up and walked slowly back to
Once there, she got out the coil of rope and cut herself a length for
a belt, then tied another piece over her right shoulder. She attached
her sword scabbard to this in back, tied the chakram at her right side,
and tucked a dagger in at the waist. After that, she tied a section of
rope to Argo's old bit and fashioned a simple bridle and reins. Then
gathering up the loose things, she stuffed them into the saddlebags and
attached the bags to Garron's saddle. She also tied on the frying pan,
cooking pot, her armor, and Gabrielle's staff. Argo was used to
carrying their gear, but the bay seemed nervous about the strange
objects thumping and clanking at his sides. "Sorry, fellow," Xena said
as she rubbed behind his ears, "you'll just have to put up with it for
Gabrielle came back from the creek and put on the leather outfit.
Xena laced it for her. "You ready to go?" the warrior asked.
"More than ready."
Xena lifted the bard up to sit sideways on Argo's back. "How does
that feel?" she asked.
"Kind of weird."
"Hold onto the mane with one hand," Xena instructed, "and onto these
with the other." She handed Gabrielle the rope reins. "I'm going to
lead you around a little bit so you can get used to it. Does it hurt to
sit that way?"
"A little. Not much."
"Would you rather ride straddling the horse?"
"No!" Gabrielle said quickly.
They made a circuit of the clearing and then Xena turned control of
the mare over to Gabrielle. She untied her own mount and hopped into
the saddle. The bay was a little skittish, but soon settled down under
Xena's firm control. The warrior rode over to where Gabrielle sat
staring at the cottage ruins.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked. How strange it was to have
to ask the normally talkative bard what she was thinking.
"I'm thinking I wish we had never come here," Gabrielle said. "I
wish I had never seen this place."
"The first night was good," Xena said. "I thought you enjoyed it,
"The first night was beautiful," Gabrielle said softly. "That's what
made the rest of it so terrible."
"If I had known things would turn out the way they did, I would never
have brought you here, Gabrielle, believe me. My only thought was to
make you happy."
Gabrielle looked at Xena and her faced softened. "I know," she
said. Then she turned Argo's head toward the path. "Now, let's get out
[end of Part 2]
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