By: Dani Sheldon
Disclaimer, warnings, etc.: see part 1
Thanks for all the wonderful feedback!
(I see that I am not alone in the ether.)
Xena insisted on lifting and carrying Gabrielle by herself to the wagon when it arrived, having done all that she could for her companion’s wounds. She had trimmed the arrow shaft, leaving only a small portion protruding that she bandaged in place, and proclaimed the rest of its removal would be delayed until they returned to the relative security of Adwen’s encampment. The warrior carefully added extra padding to the Bard’s traumatized extremity, elevated the limb, and then wrapped Gabrielle in every bedroll and extra blanket that the herdsmen had returned with.
“How are you doing,“ Xena asked, fussing with the blankets under Gabrielle’s chin. She looked very small lying amongst all the bedding and was still far too pale for the warrior’s liking. Xena dreaded removing the arrow, knowing that the Bard was certain to lose even more blood.
Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open. “Never felt better,” she murmured, grabbing and squeezing the warrior’s hand.
Xena shook her head in amazement at the Bard’s ability to remain lighthearted in the direst of circumstances. “Hang in there. I’ll get you safe and fixed up as soon as I can,” she murmured.
Adwen approached with their medical kit and an amphora of wine, proffering them to the warrior.
“I need to mix up something for you to take, Gabrielle,” Xena said, waiting until the Bard gave her a small nod of understanding before pulling her hand away.
Adwen handed Xena a packet of herbs from the kit and the wine. “I’ll drive the wagon and the herdsmen can take care of the two prisoners,” he said, clearing his throat. “We’ll send someone back for the bodies.”
Xena took a few steps from the wagon, eyeing the amount of herbs before dumping a portion into the flask. She handed the remainder back to her former engineer and sealed the amphora with her thumb, shaking the contents. “I’m sorry about the merchant,” she said, gazing at him with genuine regret.
“Gabrielle almost lost her life because of him!” he exclaimed, stowing the packet away in the Bard’s kit. “I’m not sorry about anything.”
“According to Gabrielle, he was trying to defend her, at least in the end.”
Adwen chewed speculatively at his graying mustache. “’From the Gods who sit in grandeur, grace comes somehow violent,’” he stated. “Perhaps he was trying to redeem himself in some way, but that’s of no consequence to us now.”
“It is of consequence. Gabrielle might well be on the other side right now if it weren’t for him.“
“You’re the one who prevented that.”
“I certainly couldn’t have if she’d been dead when I got to her. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been too late, again! Just another time that I put her at grave risk so that I could play hero. That’s hard to live with,” she stated, the self-loathing evident in her voice.
“You did not put her at risk, they did and you’ll live with it because you love her,” he said emphatically. “The risk of loss is always the price of being close to someone else.”
“If I truly loved her, I’d send her far away from me and away from such danger,” Xena replied. The fear of losing Gabrielle forever was almost palpable to the warrior.
Adwen grabbed her elbow and squeezed, staring at her. “Only a coward runs from the possibility of pain and that’s what you’d be doing if you ever left her because of such nonsense.”
“Look at her,” Xena cried. “That is what knowing me has caused.”
“What a load of sheep droppings! Look at the world around us, Xena. It’s a violent place and from what I’ve heard about the Bard, she has no problem finding trouble all on her own. I seem to recall her stories of the Titans and Cecrops. Need I go on?”
Xena looked a little startled but was unable to give up on her self-flagellation so easily. “But, what about…”
“Don’t even start. It seems that as dangerous as these times are, the safest place that Gabrielle could be is at your side. If there is any way in the world that she can be protected and made safe, you’ll find it because you love her. No one else on earth can do that for her.”
“You don’t understand. There will always be someone…” Xena tried to explain.
“No, it’s you who doesn’t understand. Gabrielle would perish without you, not because someone killed her, but because you would break her heart,” he said. “Is that what you want?”
“No!” the warrior exclaimed. “Of course not.”
“Then don’t speak of such things,” he said, looking vehement.
Xena clenched her jaw. “You don’t know what we’ve been through. What I put her through.”
“You don’t think that I can understand about losing someone that you love more than life itself?” Adwen asked, gritting his teeth. “My wife wasn’t mercifully cut down, a casualty of some battle. I had to watch for months… as some wasting malady ate her alive, and there was nothing I could do to save her!”
“I’m very sorry,” Xena stated, regretting her presumptuousness.
“Don’t be. I wouldn’t trade one moment of the time that I had with Gaia, not even to be relieved of this sorrow,” he said, taking a deep breath and releasing her elbow. “Now, go care for Gabrielle and for both your sakes, focus on your many blessings, not on your near losses.”
The warrior stared at him, opening her mouth to say something but closing it again because she was unable to generate the words that would have any meaning when measured against his enormous loss. She turned away with a furrowed brow to care for her companion.
Adwen watched, awash in his own tragic memories, as Xena murmured to Gabrielle, helping her to sit up and swallow a draught of the wine that she’d prepared. After a few moments, he couldn’t stand to watch them any longer and climbed up onto the driver’s seat of the wagon, with his back to them. His shoulders shook as he wiped away his tears, unbeknownst and unnoticed by the others.
After more than four candlemarks, there was still no sign of the rest of their party. Marcellinus ordered Drusus to go back and find out what had happened. His principal departed for the riverbank, where it had all begun and, given what he had discovered there, where it had ended as well. There were four corpses still lying where they had fallen, an unknown local’s body, Salmakis and two Romans. Drusus removed his compatriots’ most prized possessions and stowed them with his own gear, hoping that one day he could deliver the items to their families back in Rome. He had searched the area, locating the fresh horse and wagon tracks heading away from the site, and back towards the herdsmen’s encampment. Drusus took careful note of the copious blood, a severed shaft from an arrow and the other evidence of combat, but found no signs of the other two Romans. As difficult as he found it to believe, he concluded that Xena had rescued the Bard and captured Lucian and Tullius.
When Drusus returned and informed the Centurion of what he had discovered, Marcellinus stomped his way around the rock-strewn gully, cursing.
“Are you certain that they were captured?” he asked, coming to a stop in front of his principal.
“Well, not completely,” Drusus replied.
“Didn’t I just send you to find out what had happened?” Marcellinus demanded, his eyes taking on a manic glint.
Drusus gazed at him warily, knowing that anything he said would be wrong.
Marcellinus sighed in exasperation. “We’ll have to track them back to the encampment,” he barked. “There must be some way to turn this to our advantage.”
“Turn what to our advantage?” Drusus asked, unable to refrain from saying it aloud. “We’ve lost four men that we could ill afford to lose. What in Jupiter’s name is there to turn to our advantage?”
Marcellinus began pacing. “What about our brother Romans?” he asked heatedly. “I have never left even one of my men behind on a battlefield and you’re saying that I should leave these men here as captives in Greece?”
“No,” Drusus said, looking away and feeling ashamed. Marcellinus’s behavior may have become somewhat erratic, but he’d been an outstanding commander and spoke the truth. In all the years that Drusus had served with the Centurion, he had never withdrawn from a battle and left one legionnaire behind.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Marcellinus demanded, already striding towards his grazing horse. “Let’s get our men.”
As he mounted his steed, the Centurion watched as Drusus moved to his horse with renewed purpose. Yes, we’ll get our men but I’m not giving up on the gold or the glory. Dead or alive, Xena and the Bard will be returned to Rome!
Adwen leapt to his feet and rushed to her side as Xena exited from the tent. She had dark circles under her eyes and blood up to her elbows, but managed to give her former engineer a small smile. “You can stop fretting. I got the arrow out and I’m pretty sure Gabrielle’s going to be all right,” she said.
“Any sign of poison?”
“None,” the warrior replied, wearily scrubbing her arms with soap over a steaming bucket of water that had been placed outside for this purpose. She squinted in the torchlight, trying to locate and remove all the blood and day’s worth of grime from herself.
“Thank the Gods,” he said. “I plan to sacrifice a bull in thanks for her when we return to my home.”
“You’d make her a lot happier if you let the bull live for her.”
Adwen managed a faint smile. “What a dilemma,” he said. “To please the Bard or to please the Gods…”
Xena shook her head with a frown, scrubbing at her elbow. “Better watch that, if you know what’s good for ya,” she muttered.
“Can I get you some dinner or how about something for the Bard?”
“I’m too tired to eat, and I just dosed Gabrielle up pretty good,” Xena said. “I’m hoping that she’ll be able to sleep through the night, but you could drop off some soup or something like that, just in case she doesn’t.”
“That’s it?” Adwen asked, rubbing absently at his bald head.
“One more thing, make sure that no one but you comes near this tent, and let us get some rest tonight,” she replied, rinsing herself with clean water.
He gave her a nod. “I’ll post sentries.”
“Good sentries,” the warrior stipulated wryly.
“Of course,” Adwen assured her.
“We’ll question the prisoners, first thing in the morning,” Xena said over her shoulder as she walked to the tent door, still drying herself off with a clean linen.
“I’ll be ready.”
The warrior only waved the linen exhaustedly, disappearing inside the tent.
It was still dark and the tent only illuminated by the torches outside, when Xena opened her eyes, knowing already that something, somewhere, was not right. She was poised to act but lay motionless, allowing her razor sharp senses full rein. The warrior perceived no immediate threats in or around their tent, and did not detect any movement other than the steady patter of spring rain against the roof, making her glad that they had a warm, dry place to shelter in. She gave up after several long moments of cautious scrutiny and rolled onto her side to gaze at Gabrielle in the dim light. The warrior mused over the fact that she could easily be lying here with the bed permanently cold and empty beside her. Although more likely she would have already taken her own life in order to join Gabrielle on the other side. Adwen had admonished her to count her blessings, and no matter which way or how she examined the many facets of her life, her blessings always added up to one. Gabrielle.
The Bard began moving restlessly in her sleep and Xena lit a candle, kneeling by her side. The warrior felt her forehead and although Gabrielle felt warmer than she normally would, there wasn’t any raging fever, much to Xena’s relief. She stroked the Bard’s hair, who seemed to quiet at her touch.
Gabrielle eventually opened her eyes, and blinked. “Xena?”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m not sure yet. What’s the prognosis?” she asked, her voice sounding unusually hoarse.
“Good, I think my patient is going to make a full recovery,” the warrior replied. “How’s the pain?”
The Bard shifted her body and moaned. “Great, if you like lots of it.”
“Eat a little soup and I’ll give you another dose of something to help with that,” she coaxed.
“I hate the way that stuff makes me feel,” Gabrielle groused. The warrior could only smile. Her Bard was excellent at caring for others who were sick or injured, but was notoriously cranky when she was helpless and on the receiving end.
Xena ignored her comment and walked across the tent to a covered crock sitting on a brazier that Adwen had brought earlier. She ladled a bowl full of the hearty looking broth, returning to kneel beside the Bard. “If you follow the doctors orders, you’ll heal quickly, and won’t need to take the herbs for long.”
“What are the doctors orders?” Gabrielle asked suspiciously, inching herself into an upright position. She held a protective hand over the bandaged wound to her side, which felt as if it were on fire.
“Rest, don’t aggravate your injuries and do everything I tell you,” Xena said, piling several pillows behind the Bard with her spare hand.
Gabrielle’s injured leg shifted before she could give the tart reply she’d intended. “Aphrodite!” she exclaimed, tears springing unbidden to her eyes.
Xena bit her lip in frustration as her friend lay panting in agony, and hit the pressure point again, knowing that at least she could provide some temporary relief. If the warrior could have, she would have willingly endured this suffering for Gabrielle. She knew from experience that it would be days before her pain began to subside.
“Do you need help?” Xena asked, holding out the bowl.
The Bard’s eyes had cleared a bit as the fog of her agony receded. “I don’t know if I feel up to eating,” she mumbled.
“You’ve got to,” the warrior replied obstinately. She swished the spoon around in the bowl, filled with broth, and held it in front of the recalcitrant Bard’s mouth.
Gabrielle reluctantly took the mouthful Xena offered and then reached for the bowl. “I’ll eat, I’ll eat,” she said. As exhausted and achy as she felt, there was no way that she was going to suffer the indignity of being fed by someone else, even if that someone was Xena.
“That’s what I like to hear,” the warrior replied, carefully handing over the bowl.
“It actually tastes pretty good,” the Bard said, taking a much less reluctant sip of the broth from the bowl.
Xena smiled. “I might try some myself,” she said, standing with a stretch.
She paused, frowning, at the faint sound of a horse whinnying and the reverberation of many hooves, sounding almost like a stampede. It was audible to Gabrielle as well, who looked at Xena in askance.
“That’s what woke me,” Xena said, grabbing her sword.
“What?” Gabrielle asked, setting her bowl aside.
“The horses!” Xena exclaimed, rushing towards the tent door.
The Bard winced as she shifted her leg in an attempt to sit up further. “Will you please tell me what’s going on?”
“Something’s wrong with the horses,” the warrior replied. She didn’t even pause to don her armor or grab her chakram before charging, sword in hand, outside and into the rain.
Now what in Tartarus am I supposed to do if someone discovers me lying in this tent, incapacitated by my injuries, the Bard wondered. She suddenly felt more defenseless than she had at any time previously in her life, and began scanning the tent for her weapons. The simple irony, that she was now trying to get her hands on her weapons, when not quite a day ago she wasn’t sure if she could even use them again, did not escape her. It might actually have been funny, had she not felt so awful and been so worried about her own safety. The Bard was eyeing her staff, which she’d spotted leaning tantalizingly on the far side of the wall, when the tent flapped opened, startling her.
“Xena! You’re back!” Gabrielle exclaimed in obvious relief.
The warrior entered and stood, just inside the door, dripping rainwater. She gave Gabrielle an odd look until the reason for her reaction dawned on her. “I made you a promise earlier that we’re not splitting up,” she stated.
“When you ran out like that, I didn’t know what to think and I couldn’t reach my weapons…” the Bard said, sounding more resentful than she’d intended.
Xena bowed her head a moment, ashamed that she had caused the Bard to think that she’d charged off again, leaving her alone and unarmed in this vulnerable, wounded state. “I’m sorry,” she replied. “I didn’t think about how running out would look to you.”
“So what’s going on?” Gabrielle asked in a much softer tone, accepting Xena’s apology.
“I just sent our sentries to find that out,” she replied, grabbing a linen and drying her sword. “From what I could tell, someone’s driven off the horses or stolen some. I told them to make sure that Adwen knew and then return to let me know what they discover.”
The exhausted Bard leaned back against the pillows. “So you’re staying here?” she asked hesitantly.
“I’m not leaving you again,” Xena said, laying aside her sword and walking over to Gabrielle. ”Do you remember Tripolis?” she asked, kneeling and taking the Bards hand.
“With the Persians?”
“I remember most of it.”
“I told you then that I was through paying for my past, that you were my true responsibility and I meant it, ” the warrior said quietly. “Do you remember that?”
“Today I almost learned a horrible lesson about what happens when I forget that. I won’t forget it again.”
“That day in Tripolis, you also said that I was your source and I’d always meant to ask exactly what you meant by that.”
The warrior looked perplexed. “How so?” she asked.
“Did you mean your source of strength, source of irritation or source of something else all together?” Gabrielle asked, trying to remove the worry from Xena’s face.
“If you weren’t completely incapacitated, I’d make you pay for that,” Xena replied, leaning close to kiss her.
“Careful,” Gabrielle warned her.
“What is it?” the warrior asked, pausing mid-way.
“Even my lips hurt,” she replied with a sorrowful quirk of her eyebrows.
Xena touched her lips ephemerally to Gabrielle’s. “My poor Bard,” she whispered.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, able to surrender to her body’s demand for sleep as long as Xena was there.
The sound of low murmuring voices brought Gabrielle to awareness, her wounds throbbing as she tried to move and found her entire body had stiffened up over night. Her other needs made themselves known as well as she blinked around, noting that it was lighter outside but that the rain still pattered away on the roof.
Xena and Adwen sat talking at the small camp table as the warrior ate.
Adwen sipped from his wine. “Good-riddance to them if you ask me.”
The warrior finished chewing. “As long as they don’t turn up later, looking for vengeance,” she replied. With the price on their heads in Rome, she knew that her concern was very real and with Gabrielle incapacitated, they were at their most vulnerable.
“I’ve got more men out scouring the area, than I have herders watching the sheep!” he exclaimed. “I tell you they’ve left.”
Xena choked on a sip from her cup. “Don’t take this negatively, but if nothing else, I’ve learned that herdsmen don’t necessarily adapt well to being scouts or soldiers.”
Adwen looked hurt. “That’s because they’ve had no real training… they certainly rounded up most of the horses as fast as you please,” he stated.
“My point exactly, Adwen. They’re good herdsmen,” she said. “But if you want protection then you have to hire swordsmen.”
He stroked his broad mustache in agitation.
“Just be thankful that no one was killed or injured when they escaped,” Xena said, picking up another piece of lamb, and waving it at him in emphasis before popping it in her mouth.
“The Roman’s escaped?” Gabrielle asked, sitting up as best as she could.
“She’s awake,” Adwen stated. He leapt up and walked over, standing to gaze down at her in bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Like Tartarus,” she replied. “I feel like it and I’m sure that I look like it.”
Xena came over and stood beside Adwen. “I’m warning you, she’s especially charming when she’s not feeling well,” she muttered, kneeling to hand the Bard a skin of water. “Drink up please?”
Gabrielle tetchily obliged her with a couple of swallows from the skin and paused. “Tell me what happened.”
“The horses were a diversion. Apparently while Adwen and his men were chasing them down, someone else liberated our Roman guests,” the warrior stated, her gaze grim.
“Do you think they’re coming back?” the Bard asked, taking a few more swallows of water.
“I honestly don’t know,” Xena replied. “I do know you shouldn’t worry about it. I want you to concentrate on getting better.”
“I’m actually a little hungry,” Gabrielle said, looking hopefully at the table as the scent of roast meat made her stomach growl.
“That’s a good sign,” Xena said, and couldn’t help but smirk. “Once you eat, maybe Adwen can arrange a bath for us, so that we can get cleaned up and change your dressings.”
“You don’t want her getting those wounds wet,” Adwen admonished.
“Of course not,” Xena replied sardonically. “We’ll work that out.”
Gabrielle glanced at Adwen. “I’m going to need to… um… very soon, to ah…” she looked at the warrior for assistance.
Xena’s eyes went wide and she grabbed Adwen’s arm. “Time to go, Adwen,” she said, hustling him to the door.
“No buts, go,” she ordered, forcing him outside. “Come see us again when you’ve got our bath ready.”