Originally post at XNF May of '97
The story is my own, and the characters of X:WP belong to the nice folks at MCA/Universal
The two women sat on a grassy bank, enjoying the warmth of the Spring sun. The sky was clear, and a gentle breeze played with their hair and cooled their skin. The smaller of the two, was plucking flowers, twisting the stems together to form a wreath. She then playfully placed it on the head of her dark-haired friend.
"Hey!" she protested ," Just what I need for my image--a bunch of posies on my head," she said dryly. Her friend giggled at her harsh words, knowing it was in jest.
"Leave it on, Xena. It's not like anyone is going to see you. Lighten up."
"Mmm," she mumbled, and grudgingly allowed it to remain. Gabrielle smiled at her small victory. She began forming another one for herself.
"Xena, why don't we camp in this spot for rest of the day? It's so nice here, that It seems a shame to leave," she suggested.
"We can if you want. We're not expected anywhere, and the time is our own," she agreed. She watched her friend smile with pleasure, and was once again amazed how Gabrielle could find such simple pleasures in something as small as a sunny spot in the woods.
Xena had to admit it was nice, but she didn't often pay a lot of attention to her surrounding when it came to beauty. She looked for tactical views and possible ambushes--not how pretty the flowers were. It was one of their many differences that would frequently slap her in the face.
Many times in the past, Xena would just shake her head in bewilderment, wondering how it was possible for two such different people to form a friendship. She watched her friend place her wreath on her own head, and then leaned back with a contented smile. Sometimes Xena wondered if the Gods were laughing at her. A crooked grin appeared on the stern warrior's face. She'll probably never know for sure.
Gabrielle had fallen asleep on the warm bank, confident her friend would keep an eye out for trouble; so when a cold and wet nose touched her, she was quite surprised. Her eyes popped open as she gasped, and she found herself looking in the face of a nondescript dog. A large pink tongue took a swipe at her face and she jerked away. At that moment, she heard the husky laughter of her friend. She sat upright and once again had to fend off the dog.
"Will you give it a rest, you mangy beast!"
"I think he likes you," Xena said with a chuckle.
"Don't encourage him!" she shot at her friend, "And will you kindly get this thing off of me," she complained as the dog almost knocked her down with his enthusiasm. Xena got up and pulled the dog off by the scuff of his neck.
"Come on, boy. Gabrielle doesn't want to play with you anymore."
"Thanks," the bard wiped her face with the back of her hand, "That's not the kind of kisses I was looking for. Yuck!"
"Fussy thing, aren't you?" Xena teased.
"Funny, Xena, funny. I wonder ..."
"Trouble!" a female voice shouted.
"She must be looking for you, Xena."
Xena pretended to wipe off blood from her mouth, "Score one for the runt," she whispered with humor.
A woman a few years older than Gabrielle came crashing through the bushes. She stopped as she spotted her dog with two strangers. Her eyes scanned them quickly, looking back and forth cautiously. Suddenly, she stiffened while looking at the bard, wearing her Amazon garb.
"You're an Amazon? I've never seen you before. Who are you?" she asked bluntly.
"Gabrielle. And who are you?"
"Palari. Gabrielle? That's the same name as the woman that inherited Melosa's band."
"Actually, I am the same woman, and this is my friend, Xena."
"Forgive me. I didn't mean any insult!", she apologized while laying herself prone on the ground.
"Please, get up, Palari. I didn't take any offense." The woman rose, and looked nervously at Xena, She had heard that she was very protective of the new Queen. Xena just smiled slightly, giving away nothing of her thoughts.
"Is this your dog? He's very friendly."
"Yes, I know. Too friendly. My daughter brought him home with her, with the hopes he'd make a good watch dog. As you can see, he's more likely to make friends than scare away enemies," she sighed.
"Well, I guess it's not in his nature, but he'd make a great family pet."
"A family pet?" she said with disgust, "No, that's not any good. I need a dog that's useful--not a burden. I'll just have to kill him, and find another animal."
Panic filled Gabrielle's eyes. She couldn't let that happen.
"I'll take him if you don't want him, Palari."
"Gabrielle! We ..." Xena stopped at the pleading look in her friend's eyes and sighed herself.
"Alright! But just until we find him another home," she snapped. She was angry with herself for once again being manipulated by those sad green eyes. *Some tough warrior you are! You take one look at those eyes, and turn into mush !* she thought with disgust.
Xena listened idly to Palari and Gabrielle chat, silently stewing over the dog. She glanced at her friend, who met her eyes and grinned. Xena raised her eyebrow in confusion. Her friend played with the wreath in her hair and turned her eyes back to Palari.
Then it dawned on Xena. She reached up and pulled off the flower wreath that was still on her head. She moaned with embarrassment. This was just what she needed, to be seen with a silly flower garland in her hair by one of Gabrielle's Amazon sisters. That ought to be a good story around the campfire tonight. She was going to kill Gabrielle. She wasn't sure how, but she was going to do it.
Palari invited Queen Gabrielle and her friend to her village to meet her own Queen. Gabrielle accepted with pleasure, and Xena managed to agree without snarling. Palari took the lead, guiding them through the woods.
"Gabrielle, get rid of the flowers, it's undignified," she whispered.
"Not a good fashion statement, huh?" she teased. Xena glared at her, unamused. "Alright, if you insist!" she whispered back. She yanked the wreath from her hair and threw it on the ground. The dog pounced on it and brought it back to Gabrielle. She patted it head.
"Whoever named that dog must have been an Oracle," Xena commented. She snatched the wreath from Gabrielle's hand and tossed it impatiently into a tree. The mongrel stared at it and barked its displeasure.
"Don't be such a grouch. He only wants to play, and you just ruined his fun."
Xena rubbed her forehead. This was going to be a long day.
Palari made the introductions between everyone, and Queen Yornea bid them welcome to their small community. She had refreshments brought in, and they sat down at the rounded table.
"Tell me Gabrielle, is it true about you and Xena?"
"Is what true? "
"Where does one start? Ever since the two of you first entered Amazon Territory, rumors of your adventures have reached us. There's so many of them, that they seem larger than life."
"They probably came from Gabrielle in the first place--she is a storyteller, you know," commented Xena.
"Yes, I've heard that rumor , too. Why don't we start with the one about how you brought Xena back from the dead."
Instead of a story, Yornea got silence from Gabrielle.
"Have I said something wrong? I'm sorry." The Queen was worried she may have distressed the young woman.
"No, it's just that...I've never repeated that story to anyone. It's too personal and fresh in my mind. Maybe one day I'll tell that story, but not right now. I'm sorry." Gabrielle stood and left the room, unable to stay another moment. The walls were closing in on her, and she needed air.
Xena watched her friend with concern. Gabrielle had been acting like her old self, and until this moment, hadn't realized that she still had unresolved feelings about the events around her death.
Xena excused herself and followed after her. She didn't know what to do or say, but she had to be there with her. She left the building and looked around. The girl was not in sight. The older woman walked towards the woods, and spotted the bard sitting on a log. The dog was sitting next to her, his head resting on her knee. Gabrielle was petting his head absently while she stared off into the trees.
The warrior walked up to her and joined her, sitting close. She looked down at the face of her best friend, seeing the pain and vulnerability all too clearly. Why hadn't she seen it before?
"Gabrielle, do you want to talk about it? " she asked gently. Gabrielle shrugged helplessly. Xena felt herself melt inside at the small gesture. She turned a little sideways and rested her hand on the girl's back, running it up and down in a soothing pattern before allowing her arm to settle around Gabrielle's shoulders.
Gabrielle felt the tears she had tried to contain overflow, running down her cheeks. Xena saw them escape and placed the palm of her other hand on Gabrielle's cheek, and tenderly pulled the bard's head towards her shoulder. Gabrielle wrapped her arm around her waist and allowed the tears to fall unchecked. All Xena could do was hold her and wait for the tears to end. Finally, the tears ended and Gabrielle pulled away slightly.
"Terreis sure made a mistake when she gave me her Right of Caste, didn't she? I weep like a baby over a simple question," she said self-contempt.
"She knew what she was doing. Terreis gave it to a young woman with the bravery to risk her own life for another. Gabrielle, you and I never took the time to talk about my death in depth. I know I kept putting it off, because I don't have the words to explain. But for your sake, I'll try. "
"Iolaus told me you heard what I said, and hoped it was true. "
"That you loved me? Yes, I heard it. Your words brought me both joy and shame."
"Shame? About what?" the bard said in confusion.
"For letting you down. For leaving you the way I did. I was so concerned with ending my own pain that I forgot about what it would do to you. I'm so sorry, Gabrielle."
"I was really ...irked at you Xena. You had pleaded with me to take you to the healer on the mountain, and after nearly killing myself to get there, you told him to let to die! Do you know how that made me feel? I felt like I was betrayed. You just gave up and died--without even letting me say goodbye," the last words spoken in a hushed whisper.
"I know. I wish I had some way of taking the pain away, but I can't. All I can do is say I'm sorry."
Gabrielle sniffled. "Well, at least I got you to promise never to die on me again. You'll just have to live to a ripe old age and wait until I travel to the other side first," she teased.
"I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I? For the rest of our lives, you're going to hold that over my head. I just know it," she said with a fake indignation. They stared at each other for a moment and laughed.
At the sound of their laughing, Trouble gave a joyous woof, and ran over to join the fun. He sat at their feet, wriggling in anticipation. His behavior brought a sense of fun to the moment, and Gabrielle took Xena's elbow.
"Come on. Let's play!"
"So much for Queenly dignity," Xena murmured.
Gabrielle and Xena re-entered the Amazon village, flushed and out of breath from their play. The dog followed, his tongue hanging in happy exhaustion. He walked over to a puddle and took a drink of the brackish water. Palari met them on the way back to the guest quarters.
"Is everything alright? Yornea was worried that she offended you somehow, when you left so quickly," she informed them.
"Oops. I guess we had better go and find her, and explain, huh?" Gabrielle said to Xena.
"It wouldn't hurt. Excuse us, Palari."
They re-entered the Queen's meeting room, and asked for her. The guard asked them to wait as she notified her queen. They only had to wait a few moments for her to appear.
"Queen Yornea, I'm sorry for my behavior earlier. I..."
"Don't worry about it, Gabrielle. And please, call me Yornea," she invited with a smile.
"Alright, Yornea. Thank you for understanding. I've been a little emotional lately."
"Understandable. Maybe a short visit and rest will help. I'd be more than happy to have you stay for as long as you want."
"You're very kind. We just may take you up on your offer."
Yornea nodded gracefully and excused herself.
"Still want a vacation, huh?" said Xena.
"Uh huh. The last one was cut a little short, you know," she said playfully, not wanting her friend to feel guilty for visiting her mother.
"Nag, nag, nag. I should have left you with my mother, but I'm not sure who I'd be punishing, then. I guess I'll just have to put up with you. Oh Zeus! What have I gotten myself into?" Xena teased, and received a not too gentle slap on her arm.
Gabrielle stood to the side, and watched as a group of Amazons drilled with their weapons. She was fascinated by the grace and skill they possessed. One woman, a petite and dark-haired with a quickness that stunned the eyes, was able to defend herself against three of her sisters with her quarterstaff. They swung their own staffs, attempting to catch her off guard.
The bard watched as she weaved in and out, avoiding the blows they tried to land on her. Gabrielle had never seen such skill from anyone but Xena, and she watched unwaveringly until the woman finished her match. She walked towards her, wanting to meet her.
The woman wasn't older than herself, she noted, but the air of confidence made her seem more mature. She smiled at her sisters, and laughed at a joke that Gabrielle couldn't quite hear. The bard got closer and waved briefly to catch her eye.
"Hello. My name is Gabrielle. I was really impressed by your skill. "
"Thanks. My name is Sarine. I see you carry your own staff. Are you any good with it?"
"Hmm," she said while waving her hand in a 'so-so' motion.
"Would you like a few lessons? I'd be glad to show you a few things," she offered.
"Would you? That would be great. Xena tries to help out when she can, but we're constantly moving, and it's hard to find time to practice."
"Xena? *You're* Queen Gabrielle? I'm sorry..."
"Oh no you don't! Don't apologize for treating me like everyone else. I hate formalities, Sarine," she said with a warm smile.
Sarine let out her breath and grinned. "OK, then you won't mind when I beat the stuffings out of you, huh?"
"I never doubted you could. I'm used to it, actually. I found you have to endure a little pain if you want to improve. So, how about those lessons?"
"OK. How about over there--in the clearing away from camp? No need to have everyone see you trounced," she teased. The strolled over the spot and faced each other.
"Let's see what you can do, Gabrielle--just a little spar at first," Sarine said.
The Amazon quickly swung at Gabrielle's legs, trying to knock her off her feet. Gabrielle managed to jump over the staff and take a swing of her own as she did so. Sarine blocked it and swung the back end of her quarterstaff at Gabrielle's head. The bard wasn't able to fully deflect it, and received a glancing blow to the top of her head. She paused momentarily, and Sarine swung once more at her knees, knocking her down. She lifted her staff and brought it down to in a motion, that if completed, would have smashed her throat. She stopped just short of it, and looked down at the Amazon Queen.
"Not bad. you could still use the lessons, though. " Sarine's words weren't said unkindly, she was just being blunt.
Sarine lowered her hand to Gabrielle, and helped her to her feet. Gabrielle sighed . This was going to be a grueling lesson she believed.
Xena watched her friend walk stiffly into the guest hut. She was dirty, bruised, and obviously exhausted. The bard sat down on the chair across the table from her--very carefully--and groaned in pain.
"You overdid it, huh?"
"Not now, Xena. It hurts too much. I don't even have the energy to fling insults at you," she moaned.
"Remind me to thank that Amazon later. She did me a big favor."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny, and her name is Sarine," she said curtly.
"Better be nice to me. I just had them fill a tub with lots of hot water, and I can always ..."
"A hot bath? Oh, Xena! My friend, have pity on me. Help me to it, will you? Please?" she said pitifully.
Xena pulled her lower lip into her mouth, attempting to hide a huge grin.
"Alright, but it's going to cost you."
"Anything! Just help me get up and into that tub."
"Anything? That's a dangerous promise, Gabrielle. One you may regret," she said with an evil smile.
"Gabrielle, lift your arm--I can't reach that cut properly," Xena instructed.
"You're taking it for granted that I *can* move it. For all I care right now, the arm can fall off."
"Don't be stupid. Here, I'll do it myself," Xena took the bard's arm and dabbed the medicated rag over the scrape.
"Oww! That stuff stings--and stinks. You need to find something else. That herb you use could drive Hades out of Tartarus by its smell alone," she complained.
"Well at least you're in the tub, and can wash it off in a little while. You won't have to reek of it all day."
"At the moment, that's little consolation. Not only do I hurt everywhere, but now my eyes and nose are watering."
"That's what you get for overdoing it. You didn't have to spar for five hours, Gabrielle! What could you have been thinking?" Xena scolded.
"I don't know. Maybe it was pride. I'm an Amazon Queen. I should be just as tough as the others. I know it's stupid, Xena. Don't chew me out anymore, I don't think I could take any criticism right now. I just want to die in peace," she said quietly.
Xena felt her annoyance slough off, and she stood and got behind Gabrielle to loosen the braids from her hair. She gently undid the intricate knots, and untangled the strands. She reached for the brush and ran it over the reddish-gold hair until it was smoothed out.
"Thanks. I think my hair is the only thing that doesn't hurt right now."
"You think you hurt now? Wait until the morning." , she predicted.
Gabrielle thought death would feel better than this. She attempted to get out of bed, only to have every muscle in her body protest. She fell back onto the mattress and considered her options. She could admit defeat and just lie there, or she could force herself out of bed and hope for the best. Her pride won out, and she tried again. She gritted her teeth and got to her feet.
Walking like an old woman, she walked to the basin of water to freshen up. She grabbed hold of the table with one hand. Gabrielle had made a mistake. She should have never bent over. Now she was frozen in pain, and couldn't straighten up.
"I told you so," Xena boasted from behind her. Gabrielle muttered something uncomplimentary under her breath.
"Well, just don't stand there rubbing it in. Help me for Gaia's sake!"
Gabrielle felt her friend stand behind her, and place one hand on her lower back, while wrapping her forearm in front of her shoulders. She pulled and pushed until the bard was standing upright. Gabrielle stifled a moan during the process, not knowing how she take this much pain.
"Gabrielle, this is stupid. Pride isn't good enough reason to go through this. Next time, stop when you've had enough," she scolded.
"I know. It's just that I wanted to ..."
"What? Gabrielle, don't shut me out. That's my style--not yours."
"I'm sorry. I been felling...inadequate lately. "
"About what? I don't understand."
"Xena, I got Terreis' Right of Caste by a fluke. I have no right to be the Amazons' Queen. Velasca was right. I'm not trained for the role. One of these days, I'm likely to be challenged, and I'll loose because I'm not good enough."
Xena digested her words, unsure of what to say.
Xena sat down on the bed and looked into the eyes of misery that Gabrielle showed her. Where did this come from? Gabrielle had never mentioned that she felt this way. She had taken on the role with certainty, and courage, never letting on she felt intimidated by the prospect.
"Gabrielle, why didn't you tell me about this? I could have helped. Besides, if anyone challenged you, you know I'd be there to back you up."
"Be my champion again? No. I took the role of Queen, and it's up to me to stand on my own two feet. You can't be expected to fight all my battles. Besides, what Amazon could respect a Queen that won't or can't fight against those who challenge her?"
The warrior couldn't argue against her reasoning. She'd just have to help in another way.
"Then I'll train you myself. I can't let you continue the way you have been. You're a decent fighter against the lowlife we normally fight, but you're outclassed by the average Amazon. Once you can move again, I'll start with your lessons. In the meantime, try not to overdo it," she got up and left before Gabrielle could argue.
The bard turned Amazon Queen could only stare at the doorway in disbelief.
Gabrielle limped out of the guest hut, and was greeted by Trouble. She had completely forgotten about him.
"I'm sorry, boy. I bet you're thirsty and hungry. Let's find something, for you, OK?"
"Talking to dogs, are we?"
The bard turned painfully and saw Sarine, who was smiling hugely.
Gabrielle flushed a little, then straightened up.
"I guess I picked that up from Xena. She talks to her horse."
"She does? That must be interesting," she said dryly.
"A piece of advice, Sarine. Three don'ts with Xena. 1- Don't pick on her friends. 2- Don't underestimate her. 3- Don't insult her horse. You'll get along better with her. Besides, I think Argo understands everything she says. There's been a time or two that I'd swear Argo has laughed at me," she said with a silly smile.
Sarine's lifted her eyebrows and smiled. She was amused by the little Amazon Queen. She had wondered why Xena and she had become such close friends in spite of their differences, and now she knew. Looking beyond her baby face was a very strong-willed and funny young woman. That had to be what bound them together.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Gabrielle sat at on the log, with her cold mid-day snack. She bit into the bread that was baked with honey, and savored every bite. She picked up a slice of melon and bit into the fruit and its juices almost burst from each bite. If there was Elysian Fields on the mortal plain, it was this. She enjoyed every morsel, eating slowly.
"That is the most decadent display I have ever seen!" said Sarine.
Gabrielle blushed at the teasing words.
"Don't worry about it. I won't tell anyone you raided the food stash. After you're done eating, do you want to spar some more? I've got the time," she offered.
"Uh...well, I was going to.."
"Help me out with my workout," said Xena. Gabrielle released her breath in relief. Xena to the rescue. She hadn't wanted to admit she hurt so badly from yesterday.
"But maybe if you have the energy and time, I can spar with you instead. Gabrielle will be sluggish after eating," Xena suggested.
"I'd be honored. Here and now?"
Xena reply was a swift punch towards the unarmed Amazon. Sarine just barely avoided the blow and came back with a foot to Xena's ribs. She winced from the blow, but quickly ignored the pain when she saw that the petite woman was ready to strike in the same manner. The warrior grabbed her leg and lifted, sending the smaller woman to the ground.
Sarine rolled to the side and got to her feet. Over and over, the two women tried to take advantage through their different fighting styles, but they found themselves at a standstill. Gabrielle was getting worried that it was being taken too far. Sooner or later, one of them was going to get hurt.
"That's enough!" she shouted. Both women stopped and looked at her. They were breathing heavy, gasping for air. Sweat poured off of them, and they were almost dead on their feet.
Xena looked at Sarine with respect and held out her arm. The smaller woman grasped it and looked her in the eye. For better or for worse, they were friends and allies.
"Why wouldn't you just admit to Sarine that you were just too sore to workout? No! Don't tell me. Gabrielle, I thought my pride was bad, but *yours* really takes the cake!" Xena paused in her admonishment long enough to see her friend cringe in embarrassment, causing her to soften her tone.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I was run over by a herd of Centaurs. Xena, may I ask you a question?"
"Oh Gods! It's been so long since you said those words, I thought I was safe," she sighed. "Go ahead."
"Why after all this time, you're going to really start training me? Oh sure, you've taught me a little here and there, but you were never willing to really dig down and teach me more. Sometimes I think you like me helpless."
"That is the most stupid...Gabrielle! I never wanted you helpless. I was just concerned about you taking it to the next step if you knew too much."
"You mean killing," she said with a flat voice.
"Yes. Extensive training can cause that. The blood starts pumping, and before you know it, you have blood on your hands." Xena looked at her own palms, almost expecting to see the crimson stains on her own.
"Xena. Look me in the eyes. Do you really think I have killer instincts?"
"Gabrielle, you know you do. Everyone does. Remember Callisto? You came so close to killing her that it terrified me. When you asked me for the sword lessons, I felt as though part of my soul was being ripped from me."
"But you showed me anyway."
"I could see the determination in your eyes. Whether or not I taught you--you were going after her. I had to give you a fighting chance. It was the least I could do after failing to protect Perdicus. "
"I know that. We've been over this before. Shall we start tomorrow. It doesn't have to be a crash course like last time. We can take it slowly, and just maybe you'll feel better about it. OK?"
They went out into the forrest to avoid the prying eyes of the Amazon village.
"This looks like a good spot. OK, first thing is to get you loosened up. you're still stiff."
Xena guided her through a series of stretches, each designed to strengthen and stretch the tight muscles. Once satisfied, she opened the cloth covered bundle she had snuck out of the village stores. In it was two sets of chobos.
"Many Amazons like to work with these, as well as swords and staffs. We'll start with these. You may never become an expert with them, but at least you'll learn how to fight against someone with them. She handed one set to Gabrielle. The lessons began.
Gabrielle looked at her cracked and swollen knuckles. They felt as though someone with huge feet had stomped on them, and she could barely move her fingers. She poured cold water into a basin, and put her hands inside the soothing water.
*So much for slow and easy!* she thought. The bard was almost as tired as she was after her bout with Sarine. Sleep wouldn't elude her tonight. A quick meal, and an early night for her.
Xena sat outside and watched the stars and enjoyed the cool breeze on her skin. She had learned to stop and appreciate it after her last encounter with Marcus. His words had stayed in her mind. She sent her thoughts to him, knowing he would listen.
Gabrielle met Xena outside the village at their practice area. Xena had told her she might be a little late arriving, but to wait for her anyway. The bard closed her eyes and tried to get the feel for what was around her. She could feel the slight breeze, and caught the scent of grass wet from the morning dew. She heard the birds singing in the trees around her, and sound of dried leaves being disturbed by some small rodent.
"Hear anything interesting?" Xena teased. Gabrielle jumped.
"Don't do that! And how do you do that anyway? I never heard a thing."
"Practice. And speaking of which, catch!" she said as she threw her a crossbow. Gabrielle caught it--barely, and grimaced as it hit her sore fingers. Xena saw the pained look and walked over to her.
"Here, let me see those hands." She took the swollen fingers into her own, and examined them gently.
"Good thing I chose to take it easy on you. I don't think you could handle anything harder right now. Why didn't you tell me how bad they were?" she scolded mildly.
"Because I didn't want you to quit teaching me. "
"Didn't I promise to teach you? I always keep my promises, you know that."
"I know, but I'm a little ...paranoid right now. Give me a break."
OK, this time I'll let is pass. Now, let's see if you can manage to hit a tree."
"Just take a half breath and hold it...aim..and pull," she advised.
The arrow shot from the crossbow and managed to embed it into the tree.
" I hit it!" Gabrielle squealed. A huge smile spread across her face.
"Yeah--this time. The tree hasn't been too intimidated by you this afternoon, because you keep missing it. Now, try again." Her friend gave her a mocking frown, but she wasn't really annoyed. Xena was right, this had been the first time she had actually managed to hit the tree.
Gabrielle shot off seven more, and missed each time. Xena retrieved the spent arrows and returned to Gabrielle, a frown on her face.
"This approach this differently. I can't believe you miss that often. Maybe your aim is off." She stood behind Gabrielle, looking over her shoulder as the bard took aim.
"Don't shoot yet. I want to walk you through this," she warned. She bent over her shoulder, attempting to see how the crossbow was pointed. A though occurred to her.
"Gabrielle, which eye are you aiming with?"
"Huh? What's that got to do with it? If you got to know...I'm aiming with my left eye," she said with mild annoyance. Xena chuckled.
"Gabrielle, you're holding the bow right hand-handed. That's what is throwing you off. Either change eyes, or open them both. "
"I can't aim through the other eye, so I guess it's got to be both." She looked down the shaft of the crossbow and re-aimed. Following Xena's instructions, she shot the arrow into the tree.
"Better. Now try again."
"How many times do I have to 'kill' the tree before we can stop?" she joked.
"Until I'm convinced you can hit what you aim at most of the time. Why? are you getting tired *Amazon Queen*?" Gabrielle stiffened at the challenge. She raised the crossbow and hit the tree.
Everyday, the two friends practiced and sparred. Gabrielle knew she could never be as good as Xena, but felt more competent than ever before. She felt herself get stronger and more able to handle herself with each passing day. The moves became easier, and her reflexes sharper. It felt good.
Xena sat down under a tree, needing to cool off. She had actually began to feel that workout. Gabrielle had given it her best, and had pushed herself to the limits. The warrior felt a mixture of pride and fear for her friend.
Once learned, the reflexes could cause untold problems. If in the heat of battle, Gabrielle stopped thinking, and fought by instincts--she could kill. It wasn't a pleasant thought in the least. Xena dreaded the possibility, but knew she couldn't help it now. For better or worse, Gabrielle has gained the skills to kill.
Gabrielle was speaking to Queen Yornea, thanking her for the hospitality. She and Xena had decided to move on, and she wanted to let the Queen know how much it had meant to her to stay among her band.
"You're always welcomed back, Gabrielle--and Xena as well. My home is always open to you. My people have enjoyed your company. Don't be a stranger, and visit again soon."
"You never know with us. We travel so much. Maybe..."
"My Queen!" a woman shouted, "We have a small band of trespassers on our land. They look like marauders."
Yornea acted quickly, calling out to her people to get their attention. Xena was leading Argo from the stables, and found herself in the middle of a group of Amazons, all armed. She watched them gather near Gabrielle and Yornea, and she tied off the horse before joining them. She made her way to her friend's side.
"What's going on?" she whispered.
"Marauders. Xena, I think we should join them. We can't leave now," she whispered back.
Xena's first impulse was to agree, but she was worried. Gabrielle's newfound skills were untried in battle. How would she react? Xena pushed aside her worries. This was a good as time as any to find out. She could only hope for the best, praying that the Bard's gentle nature would win out.
Yornea led her warriors to the area where the marauders were seen. She had her people fan out, in order to surround the men who had the gall to invade her lands. One of the scouts returned.
"My Queen, the men have made camp. By the looks of things, they plan on staying for awhile," she reported.
"That's what they think!" Yornea snarled, "Let's get their attention. Send them our *welcome to the neighborhood* symbols, would you?" she grinned evilly. The scout smiled back, and ran off to tell the others.
The men in the camp were laughing, and carrying on in their brutish ways. They had made camp in the prime location by the river, and had begun drinking and eating. Many had stopped to gamble just to prevent boredom. They had just raided a small village nearby, and wanted to take time to check over their booty, as well as rest up for the next stop.
The marauders had half-heartedly placed sentries around the camp, but they were lax. They paid more attention to the goings on than their duties. It was all too easy to surround them. The men were suddenly surprised by a rain of arrows coming out of nowhere. The men rushed to what little safety there was, grabbing their weapons and looked for their attackers.
"You are on Amazon land! Either leave right now, or we'll finish your visit permanently!" a woman's voice shouted.
"Hey, Roshen, you gonna let a bunch of women do this to us?" one of the men asked. Roshen, not wanting to look cowardly in front of his men, foolishly puffed himself up while coming out from behind his hiding spot.
"Amazons? More like a bunch of man-hating bitches to me! No woman is gonna tell me to move. "
"Fine. then die!"
Suddenly the arrows began hitting their marks. Many of the men fell were they were, never seeing what hit them. When the arrows were spent, the Amazons charged the men that survived the barrage. Xena and Gabrielle joined them.
Gabrielle swung her staff at a man who raised his sword in an overhead swing. She rammed the butt end of her staff into his ribs, and as he folded over in pain, she struck him over the head. She turned and faced her next opponent. A huge man didn't allow her the chance to defend herself. He threw himself at her, and tackled her to the ground.
She felt the breath get knocked out of her, but she kept her wits. She poked him in the eyes with splayed fingers, blinding him temporarily. He covered his face with his arms, the pain excruciating. She shoved him off and Gabrielle rolled away from his reach. Gabrielle picked up her staff and stood over him angrily. She felt this overwhelming desire to bash his head, actually raising the staff menacingly--and paused.
The image in her mind relived itself. The memory of having a sword at Callisto's throat, and the hatred she had felt at that moment. She lowered her staff, the anger suddenly gone. She now understood Xena's hesitation at teaching her. Her friend had known this could happen. She grinned, sure that Xena was probably worried sick, but the warrior had allowed this trial by fire.
That in itself, spoke of the respect and trust she held for her. The last remnants of anger left her, and was replaced by a warmth she never new was there. It flowed through her like a balm, easing her own self-doubts.
But the battle was not yet over, and another marauder rushed her. She would wait until later to revel in the new founded revelations. First, she had a job to do.
Xena stood back, forcing herself to allow Gabrielle the freedom to fight on her own. This was her battle, in more ways than one. She fought with only the barest of concentration, more concerned with keeping an eye on her friend. She watched Gabrielle stand poised over the man who had pinned her with anguish ripping her apart. Suddenly, Gabrielle lowered her weapon, and a look of peace spread across her face.
Xena let out her breath. The look was unmistakable. Xena turned away, no longer worried. Her friend wasn't going to loose her blood innocence today.
Xena walked along side of her friend, a silly grin barely contained. She watched as Trouble ran here and there ahead of them, sniffing at every bush and rabbit hole. Ever since yesterday, the happiness she felt refused to be reined. Gabrielle saw the joy in her friend's eyes, and smiled back. They had all the time in the world to talk, and for once, was willing to wait.
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