Originally posted at the XNF in March of 97
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Universal/MCA, but the story is strictly my own
Author's notes: This story was my very first fanfiction. I corrected the typos. but changed little else. (Boy, do I see the flaws in it now!) I had written it on a lark about the time I joined the XNF, but never had the courage to post it. (Actually, the first part was the whole original story, and then continued in 20 parts.) One day, when we were going through rerun blues, I posted it, never expecting anyone to really read it. Convinced my literary urge was well and truly over with, (Yes, Lunacy, I know you are still laughing at me for that remark <BG>) I didn't plan on another story, but Kristo and others refused to let me stop there. So, you can blame them for my continious bombardment of fanfiction.
So my thanks and love to all those who encouraged me to continue.
She quickly got to her feet, looking for firewood. Gathering what she could, Gabrielle returned to the small fire, adding wood until she had a larger blaze. She turned to Xena, rolling her on her side to face the warmth. The small blond took the dagger and cut off leafy branches from the bushes. She took her blanket from the satchel to wring it out. Gabrielle then removed her own clothing. The smaller woman laid behind Xena then pulled the branches over them. The blanket she placed over the branches, forming a warm pocket of air.
Xena's body was so cold, it was like touching a corpse. Gabrielle prayed to the Gods, *'Please, don't let her die! Not like this!* tears streaming down her face. She held on tightly, willing her warmth to her friend. Nothing happened at first, then Xena's body slowly began to warm. Gabrielle held on even tighter moments later, when Xena began to shiver uncontrollably.
The sun set completely, leaving them with only the light of the fire. Xena's body stopped shaking and began to give out more heat, not much, but enough to give Gabrielle hope. She clung to her throughout the night.
The next morning, the sun rose in all it's glory, the sky free of clouds. The sounds of the waves crashing upon the beach woke Gabrielle. Disoriented for a moment, she looked around in confusion. Then remembering the events of the day before, she looked down at Xena, heart pounding. Her friend's breathing was soft and steady, lips no longer blue. Relief flooded through the bard. She got up and repositioned the covers over Xena.
She picked up her damp clothes, grimacing at their salty stickiness. She put them on. Gabrielle realized she was thirsty and hungry, realizing they would need food and water soon. Looking around, she chose a direction and headed off.
Luck was with her when she found a small pool of fresh water. Drinking deeply from cupped hands, she sated her thirst. She looked around, and finding a large leaf, she formed a cone-shaped cup and filled it with water.
She carefully returned to Xena. Holding the cup with one hand, she rolled Xena to her back and tried to wake her.
"Xena, Xena? Can you hear me?" she said while stroking her face. Xena's eyes opened, her blue eyes hazy.
"You need to drink. Try to sit up." Xena's eyes focused somewhat, then she attempted to comply. Gabrielle helped her straighten, then held the cup to Xena's parched lips. Xena drank it all, then fell back in exhaustion.
Gabrielle covered her and stood. She added more wood to the low-burning fire and banked it. She headed for the shore's edge, looking for something to eat. The bard found some clams and seaweed, but nothing else. She collected both, and returned to the fire. She dug a small pit, and lined it with the seaweed. Then she cut the muscles of the clams and placed them in the weed bed. She covered them with more seaweed and built a small fire on top.
With breakfast under way, she returned to the pool for more water. Once again, she forced Xena to drink. She stood and then began scratching herself, the salt on her skin irritating her. The young woman decided to wash their belongings. She gathered their things and headed once more for the pool.
Gabrielle scrubbed everything as best she could, then got in the water herself. The water felt good to her, and lingered as long as she dared. Gabrielle returned to the beach, still nude, and placed everything over bushes to dry. Thinking Xena was probably just as itchy, she took a damp cloth, and began wiping her friend's skin. Xena roused.
"Huh, what...?" she started.
"Shh...it's okay. Everything's going to be fine." Xena's eyes remained open.
"Would you like something to eat? I have some clams steaming." she offered.
"Sounds good." Xena said weakly. She attempted to sit up unsteadyily. Gabrielle placed an arm around her. Once the smaller woman was sure Xena could remain upright, she uncovered the clams with the dagger.
Xena looked down at herself, then at Gabrielle's nude form. A small smile tugged at her lips.
"Decided to go primitive, have we?" she teased.
It was music to Gabrielle's ears, now sure that her friend was well on her way to recovery.
She returned the smile before placing the hot clams on leaves. She handed Xena her share. They gingerly ate their first meal since their ordeal.
Color returned to Xena's face, pleasing her friend. "I haven't had time to explore yet. We have fresh water, but I don't know much more than that."
Xena's features darkened, trying to recall what happened. She could remember seeing the island and nothing more. She described her memories to Gabrielle and asked her to fill her in.
Tears welled up in Gabrielle's eyes. "You passed out. You were so cold! I thought I would lose you, Xena. You came close to seeing Hades again." No longer able to contain her emotions, she sobbed.
Xena pulled her small friend close to her, holding her as sobs shook her body. The older woman stroked her hair and murmured soothing words, tears brimming in her own eyes. Gabrielle seemed so young, with her emotions so close to the surface, and in a way, Xena envied her friend of her cleansing tears. Finally, Gabrielle drew away, sniffling.
"I'm sorry, Xena. I know you hate seeing me cry..."
"It's Okay, you had good reason. You've been through a lot since yesterday."
She gave her friend's hair a friendly ruffle, then attempted to rise, "Let's see what we can find and..." Gabrielle cut off her words with a harsh command.
"No! *You* are going to stay put. *I'm* going to get dressed and look around." Neither could say who was more surprised when Xena meekly sat down again. Gabrielle suppressed a smile and got up.
Gabrielle returned several hours later. Tired from her exploration, she sat down wearily.
"Do you want the bad news or the bad news first?" she asked.
"Uh oh...Just tell me what you found, Gabrielle."
"No people, no animals except birds, no trees large enough to build anything with. The whole island can be circled within an hour. No other islands in sight. We've stuck!" she informed her with total frustration etched on her face.
"Hmmm," was Xena's only comment. Gabrielle looked at her friend and realized she was clean and dressed.
"Got up and found the pool, huh?" she teased.
"Yep. I itched," she said dryly .Gabrielle laughed at her wit and Xena broke out with a silly grin.
"Well, Xena, I don't know about you, but I'm starved! I found some berries, but since I've never seen them before, I was afraid to try them." She handed a leaf-wrapped bundle to Xena, who examined the berries and shrugged. They were new to her as well. She popped a few into her mouth without swallowing. There was no burning or bitter taste after several minutes, so she swallowed.
"If they don't make me sick within a couple of hours, then they should be safe to eat," she told her. Xena stood up and headed for the shore, Gabrielle followed.
As they neared a small inlet, Gabrielle noticed that rocks had been placed in a semi-circle at the end closest to the sea.
"What the..." she exclaimed.
Xena smiled, "I built a rock fence. Hopefully I trapped us some lunch."
"You were supposed to be resting!" Gabrielle scolded.
Xena shrugged as she gazed into the pool of water. She grinned and pointed down. "Lunch"
"Well, at least we know we won't starve," Gabrielle commented, finishing the last of her meal.
"Hmm," was Xena's only reply.
"So what now? How do we get out of here?" Gabrielle asked.
"Don't know. All we can possibly do is hope we can signal a boat passing by," she answered.
"I wonder what happened to the other people on board? I didn't see anyone after we jumped ship." Gabrielle's face was glum, worrying about their fates.
Xena looked at her friend. She would have tried to reassure her, but her own opinion was that they were probably dead. But her cynical nature would only grate on Gabrielle's nerves, so she kept it to herself. "You said there was a lot of little islands around here, hopefully they made it to ones like ours," she suggested.
"Maybe." Gabrielle's imagination brought forth horrible thoughts of sharks and drownings. She realized if it hadn't been for Xena's stubbornness--they would both be dead right now. If she hadn't been given the chance to rest, Xena would have drowned--though if she had been alone, maybe she wouldn't have pushed herself so hard.
Xena, watching her friend's face, saw every emotion clearly. Her heart went out to her. She sat next to her and squeezed her shoulder. Gabrielle leaned into her, grateful for the kindness. She smiled softly.
"Xena? Can I ask you a question?---Something personal?" her voice a whisper.
She chuckled, "That's never stopped you before. Why hesitate now?" A indulgent smile played on her lips.
"No, seriously. Don't make fun of me, no wise remarks," she said as she pulled away. Xena's smile faded.
"Alright. I'm listening," her voice grave.
Gabrielle paused, her eyes looking away. "Why do you put up with me? I talk too much---I know I do! I'm klutzy ---you always seem to be getting me out of trouble..," her sentence trailed off. She fell silent, unable to look Xena in the eye.
Xena cupped her chin, forcing her to look at her. "Oh,Gabrielle! Haven't you realized yet that I love you? You're my best friend and the sister I've always wished for! It's not a matter of *putting up with you! * You've brought joy and hope into my life. Things I needed so desperately. You accepted me as I was without judgement. You're kind and loving---and I can't imagine what my life would be like without you. If you hadn't entered my life, I'd probably be still floundering, trying to find my way!" Xena's voice broke off, unable to continue.
Gabrielle began to weep. She grabbed Xena in a hug so tight, bones threatened to snap. Xena returned the embrace, mixing her tears with Gabrielle's.
The next morning, Xena looked down at her friend's sleeping form. Each of them were emotionally drained--yet elated. She couldn't understand Gabrielle's need to ask such a question. The young bard's logic sometimes defied even the Gods themselves. She might come to understand her better one day--when they were old and gray--maybe. A wry grin swept across her face.
She went down to the beach, scanning the horizon. Nothing could be seen. She gathered more firewood and quietly piled it. She fetched what she could for breakfast and prepared it the best she could. The warrior would never be as good a cook as Gabrielle. Deciding to look for something else to eat, she headed for the woods. Xena found a few tubers, and leafy plants.
Xena returned to find Gabrielle awake, who smiled at Xena, but didn't say anything. Xena raised a surprised eyebrow, but didn't comment on her friend's unusual silence. Throughout breakfast, not a word was spoken. Xena couldn't take it anymore.
"Gabrielle? Do you want to talk about it?" she offered. Her blond companion opened her mouth, then shut it again, not knowing what to say. Xena tried again. "Does it have anything to do with last night?"
"Sorta. So many things are rushing around in my head all at once," she finally spoke.
"Just pick one thing. We'll start there," Xena suggested.
Gabrielle rubbed her eyes and sighed, "Do you remember when we first met and I came to your campsite?" she glanced at Xena, watching her nod, " I was giving you every lame excuse I could come up with---hoping you wouldn't send me away..," Xena smiled in remembrance,"...at *that* point in time, you decided to let me tag along. Why?"
Xena blew out her breath, not answering right away. "That's a tough one. To tell you the truth? I'm not sure. It was that...we seemed to have a thread between us, a connection--I can't explain it--it was just there. I didn't really understand all the reasons you had for befriending me. I had such a terrible reputation that you should have run away screaming--not chasing after me. But you were so damned determined, so sure that this was what you wanted. Everything in me screamed to send you away, but I couldn't."
Gabrielle smiled and tilted her head, " I bet you know most of the reasons at first. I was young, restless, and wanted to see the world. You were bigger than life, Xena--the Warrior Princess! A cruel and heartless warlord --who helped a village escape from slavers. I was intrigued."
"Yeah, I guess I did at that," Xena smiled playfully," but you were so damned...cute..," she laughed and dodged a mock punch from Gabrielle,"I couldn't resist."
"So I'm a pet!!" pretending indignation, "And all this time, I thought it was my wit and charm."
Xena's smile remained, but changed,"In a way it was." Gabrielle looked at her in surprise.
"Huh? You want to explain that?!"
"Gabrielle, my *cunning* was mostly in the art of warfare. My usual answer to anything or anybody I couldn't understand was to destroy or use it. I've always been good at thinking on my feet, but after meeting Hercules, I was lost. My world had turned upside-down again. I knew I couldn't stay with him---it would have been all too easy to let him help me. But I was the one who destroyed my life, and it was up to me to fix it. I had to find my own path. The only thing I could think of was 'Go home'. That's where you came in."
"But they wanted to stone you! You're own mother rejected you!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"You forget, I wasn't the same after Cortese's attack. I became obsessed with ridding us of him, and protecting our valley. They feared me, and justly so," her voice filled with regret.
"So obsessed, you forgot everything else," Gabrielle said quietly.
"Yes. Like I told my brother, I forgot even how to feel. I didn't care for anyone or anything. I couldn't stop myself until I met Hercules."
"Remind me to thank him sometime," Gabrielle paused. "Wait a minute! You said 'that's where you came in'. What did you mean by that?"
A sly grin appeared on Xena's face," You talk, I fight. Remember? It wasn't a cold-hearted plan or anything, but you deal with people better than I do," her voice turned more serious, " I probably would have never noticed half of the people we met at first if it hadn't been for those pleading eyes of yours. I had to learn how to care again. You're my balance."
Tears filled Gabrielle's eyes. All her questions--even those left unasked--had been answered. She felt humbled by this incredible woman, yet freed. She grasped Xena's hands, needing desperately to tell her something.
"Xena, it works both ways, you know. When I first met you, I had a bad case of hero worship. I didn't see you as a real person. To me, you were god-like. No one could compare to you. Gradually, I discovered the real Xena. The woman with a quirky sense of humor, the playfulness---the woman who can't cook!" she teased. A crooked grin spread across Xena's face.
"I also found the woman whose heart is bigger than even she realizes, who's conscience eats at her soul, never knowing that's what separates her from her old self."
"Xena, from you, I've learned to believe in myself. You've always encouraged me, and have the patience to deal with my endless questions..," she noticed a silent guffaw from Xena, "Well, most of the time. But most of all, I've learned to love you too.
They smiled at each other. No other words were important. (End of the original story posted)
Gabrielle stood at the tide's edge. A frown marred her soft features as she stared towards the far horizon. This ritual has continued for nearly two weeks, and considering that only once they had spotted a ship too far to signal, it would continue. With a heavy sigh, she returned to their campsite.
Xena was nowhere to be seen. Nothing unusual. She would often disappear for hours on end. She would offer some lame excuse for her long absences --such as looking for ships or for food, but rarely came back with anything. Gabrielle suspected her friend merely wanted to be alone--just to think. *More like brooding,* her inner voice taunted, *The great Warrior Princess can't think of a way to get off this dinky island---and is as frustrated as a fingerless pickpocket.*
Xena was glaring at the horizon on the opposite side of the island. Feeling like a caged beast, angry at her fate, she felt helpless and antsy. The warrior had spent quite a bit of time trying to think of a way off the island to no avail. She spent her time now just practicing her sword and chakram, trying to use up her excess energy. It didn't help much. With one last sweeping glance at the sea, Xena headed back for the camp.
Spotting some berries, she stopped long enough to collect some for their next meal, wrapping them in leaves. She didn't want Gabrielle to tease her again for not bringing home the food she promised. *Yeah,like you're really fooling her!* Gabrielle knew her all too well, sometimes to the point it scared the former warlord. The bard had an uncanny knack for hitting close to the mark. Xena sighed. Her friend has been so indulgent with her foul moods and silences. The older woman felt guilty for the way she's been acting. Gabrielle has been just as worried about their predicament as herself, but took it a lot better. If Gabrielle had some parchments for writing, she'd probably be almost content staying here.
Gabrielle's enjoyment of the simple pleasures always amazed her. With an almost child-like view of the world, she found each day exciting and new. When traveling, she'd often point out things that caught her eye. A bird, a rock formation, an unusual flower. Xena had to admit, having Gabrielle around made her realize how dark and blind she had become over the years. The warrior had stopped looking at the world with young eyes long ago. The beauty had been lost to her, overshadowed by death and pain. Her friend had ended that to some extent---barely. She wondered what Gabrielle's eyes saw. She stopped and looked around her, and sighed. All she saw was bushes, bugs, and birds. She was just too jaded to see more.
Gabrielle watched Xena's approach. She noted that Xena looked as tense as usual, losing hope of once again to see her relaxed. Xena sat down next to her with a grace that defied her stature.
"Didn't see anything either, huh?" the bard asked.
"No." Gabrielle resisted the urge to smack Xena along the side of the head at her curt reply.
"Don't try to talk so much. You might strain that voice of yours," sarcasm laced her comment.
A hard glare from Xena almost made her apologize, but not quite. *I'm going to fix this once and for all!* Gabrielle thought to herself. She reached over and attempted to push Xena off balance, only to find herself flipped onto her back, arms pinned to the ground, Xena straddling her. Oops! Wrong move. She forgot about Xena's reflexes. Her tall friend flashed a smug smirk. Gabrielle's temper flared. More than once she had found herself in this position as a child. She knew just how to get out of it.
She lifted her feet, bracing them firmly on the ground. Then, with a quick sideways snap of her arms, she threw Xena off balance, her weight falling forward. Gabrielle lifted her hips with everything she had, and watched Xena fly over her head. Xena was unprepared for this maneuver, but twisted and rolled with it, preventing her body from slamming onto the ground. The warrior quickly got to her feet, a huge smile on her face. A good spar was what she needed!
As Gabrielle got to her feet and Xena grabbed her into a headlock, only to have her small friend grab a leg. The blond was too little to actually lift her, but did accomplish to push her backwards. Xena bounced on one leg, trying to keep her balance, but the ground was too soft. She released Gabrielle as she fell, and was instantly covered by the runt.
"Now it's my turn!" said Gabrielle as she tried to grab Xena's squirming arms.
"That's what you think!" Xena challenged. She knew Gabrielle's weakness--and intended to use it rather than hurt her.
"Let the tickling begin!" she shouted. Gabrielle squealed and tried to escape, only to have Xena's fingers find every ticklish spot there was.
"Mercy! I give! I give!" she pleaded, unable to breathe any longer. Xena laughed and stopped her torture. The taller woman got up and offered a hand to Gabrielle, helping her to her feet. Gabrielle held her stomach, positive she was going to hurt for days.
"That was not fair!" she complained.
"No, but it sure was fun. Thanks. I needed that. I feel a lot better."
"No more Ms. Grouchy then? I guess that was worth it. I was beginning to think you had forgotten how to smile. The last few days have been a pain in the butt."
"I'm sorry. I know I've been...moody."
Gabrielle patted her back., "I know you hate feeling confined. You were just restless," her voice understanding.
"It's not just that. I feel like I failed you somehow," she confessed.
"Failed me? How? We are alive and in one piece, I'm impressed--not disappointed!"
Xena smiled and gave Gabrielle an affectionate hug.
"By the way, next time we travel by boat, let's bring dice or something. It's not as exhausting," Gabrielle added.
"Xena? Can I ask a question?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh no! Not again!" she teased in mock despair.
"Oh Hush, brat! It's an innocent one this time, and it won't get us all weepy," she promised.
"OK--ask away," a soft smile lit up her face.
"How did you get that scar?"
"Which one? There's lots of them."
"No I don't."
"Yes you do. The one on your butt!"
"Gabrielle! What a thing to notice!" she chided.
"What do you expect? It's shaped like a crescent moon. Now, where did you get it?"
Xena's head slumped into her hands, *I'd rather it was a mushy question!* she thought to herself. "Is dinner almost ready? I'm starved!" attempting to change the subject.
"On no you don't! Answer my question. Did you get it in battle?" she guessed.
"Get it during a daring rescue?"
"How about while training to become a warrior?"
"Xena! You're driving me insane! HOW did you get that scar?" stubbornly refusing to give up.
Xena tried pleading, "Gabrielle..."
"Uh uh! I gotta know!"
*I'm never going to live this down! * She sighed. "OK,but you have got to promise never to tell a soul about this..," she threatened.
"About four years ago, I was talking to one of my men, and bragging how I was aware of everything around me. We were walking past the blacksmith's place..."
"And..," Gabrielle prompted.
"I was walking backwards while I was talking..."
"I walked right into a horseshoe that was just pulled from the fire," Xena blushed.
Gabrielle stared at her in amazement, struck silent. Then fell backwards as she laughed at her friend's expense. Xena was seriously considering throttling her young friend, when a voice surprised them.
"Looks like you're having fun. Mind if we join you?" Two men were standing there, and by the way they smelled, they were fishermen. Xena glanced up the beach and spotted the tiny boat. She silently cursed herself for not paying attention.
Xena and Gabrielle both got to their feet, retrieving their weapons. The men were startled at the display of force. The one who spoke originally added, "That's ok! Huh, Thadium? We like a little sport with our play," he laughed at his own wit. Thadium looked unsure, but wasn't willing to back down just yet. "Let's get them."
Thadium rushed at Gabrielle, but a simple side swipe from a branch left him missing a few teeth. He quickly back pedaled, hand to his mouth. The nameless one pulled a knife and approached Xena who had a feral grin on her face. Thrusting forward with his blade, he missed as she twisted and cold-conked him with the pommel of her sword. He slumped to the ground in a boneless heap. Thadium held up his empty hands in surrender.
"Hey! I don't want anymore trouble!" finally showing some intelligence.
" Fine!" Xena said, "Gabrielle, grab our things. These *gentlemen* are giving us their boat. We're leaving."
Gabrielle helped Xena pull the small vessel from the sea to the beach. It had been a relatively short journey from their small haven to Dracian's Island. They had gotten directions from Thadium, (nerve pinch proved unnecessary after mentioning Xena's name), and had set sail. They had landed the boat within a stone's throw away from the castle walls.
The locals had noted their arrival with some curiosity, but no one approached them. Xena helped Gabrielle collect their things and headed for the castle. They passed several shops and market areas with the usual bustle and scents, all of which, in light of their recent isolation, seemed almost overpowering. Xena grabbed Gabrielle's arm to hurry her along.
"Hey! I was just thinking about getting something to eat, I'll have you know!" she complained.
"But that would take Dinars we can't afford to loose. We still need to book passage to get back to Athens. Besides, once we get in the castle, we can get something there to eat," she promised with some uncertainty. After all, they were two weeks late for the wedding. Anything could happen.
They approached the entrance to the castle, where two guards stood at their posts. The guards watched the two weary travelers carefully, and felt compelled to block their path.
"Name your business, ladies," *Well, at least they were polite,* thought Gabrielle.
"We're here to see the King," Xena explained tersely.
"The King and his new Queen are not seeing audiences yet. You'll have to return at a later date," the guard told them with a dismissal tone. Xena held herself to her full height, glaring at him eye to eye as she took a menacing step closer. Her friend, not wanting to spend time in a cold and damp dungeon, grabbed her arm in warning.
"We've had a little trouble on the way, sir. We were invited for the wedding, but couldn't make it on time," she said, trying to head off a confrontation.
"That's right. Now we're here. Now_let_us_pass," Xena said with a cold voice. The guards stiffened at the implied threat.
Once again, the Bard tried reasoning with them, "Perhaps you could have a message sent for us? If it wouldn't be too much trouble?" sending them a pleading look. One of the guards looked to Xena and asked her name.
"Xena," she told him with a smile that never reached her eyes. His smug smile slid off his face. He turned quickly and signaled a passing servant. He walked over to the maiden and whispered to her for several minutes. He then returned to the two women.
"Follow Maesa. She will take you to a waiting chamber, and pass on your message to the King." He stepped aside and let them pass.
They were led to a spacious chamber with an inviting fire and padded seats. They sat down wearily as two more servants entered the room bearing trays. They were offered goblets of wine and a platter of finger food. Gabrielle thanked them and smiled her approval. They returned her smile and left. The pair were now alone. Gabrielle helped herself to a pastry filled with meat, biting into it with relish. Xena grinned at her friend's obvious enjoyment. She only nibbled, preferring to drink her wine. It wasn't long before the platter was empty.
"I'm glad I didn't get in-between you and the platter, Gabrielle. I might have gotten injured!" Xena teased.
"Very funny. I don't know about you, but I was getting sick and tired of seafood and leaves. You should have tried more. The food was great!" A huge smile crossed her face.
"Ok then. Now that my belly is happy, why don't you tell me more about King Dracian," she suggested.
"What about him? I already told you how we met. What more do you need to know?" she asked.
"I know you saved his hide once, but that doesn't tell me a whole lot. Come on, share a little," she urged. Xena rolled her eyes sideways and suppressed a smile. It was so fun to bait her sometimes.
"He's a good ruler. There hasn't been any warfare in his domain for over twelve years. His people are prosperous and happy. He's fair and tough at the same time. I suspect you'll like him," Xena commented.
"You overwhelm me with your description," Gabrielle said sarcastically. Xena's lips curled at one corner.
"I said tell me about the man," she complained.
"No you didn't. You asked about the King," Xena quipped. The smile spread.
"AAARRRGGG! Xena, one of these days!" she said with a waving fist, and a fierce look on her face.
"Tisk, tisk, my young lady. Such barbarism shouldn't be displayed in such a fine setting," a male voice chided. Gabrielle spun around to see a man in finery. He was middle aged, yet still in his prime. Only a sprinkling of silver marred his dark hair. Warm brown eyes smiled at her. Xena stood and nodded regally towards the man.
"Gabrielle, meet King Dracian. Your Highness, my friend, Gabrielle--Bard extraodinaire," Xena boasted. Gabrielle beamed at Xena, pleased at her friend's generous words.
"A Bard? Wonderful! Perhaps we can convince you to tell us a few stories during your visit."
"She's being kind, Your Highness!" suddenly feeling self-conscious.
"Please, call me Dracian. You are Xena's friend and now mine. Come, we'll go to the family's chamber. My wife is eager to meet with you."
They followed Dracian through a maze of passageways that left Gabrielle lost. She doubted she'd ever find her way around. The bard took in all the sights, peering into open doorways as they passed by. They finally came to a set of double doors, which a posted guard opened as the king approached.
They entered the room, and Gabrielle was instantly enchanted with. The room contained one of the largest fireplaces she had ever seen, easily big enough to cook an entire cow. On the walls hung tapestries and lit sconces. The furniture was shaped as no others she had ever seen. She ran a hand along a long bed/bench and felt its smooth surface. The king smiled at her pleasure.
"That piece came as a gift. I'm not sure where it was made, but is one of my favorite chairs." he explained. The sound of an opening door brought everyone's attention towards it.
Gabrielle and Xena looked at the woman entering. She was in her late twenties, willow thin, with shimmering copper hair. Greenish eyes smiled at them. The king held out his hand to her. Taking her hand in his own, he lifted it to his mouth to place a kiss upon her skin. They smiled at each other knowingly. He turned to his visitors.
"Xena, Gabrielle, this is my wife Theadora. My dear,..."
"Xena? The Warrior Princess? She's not what I imagined at all. I was expecting a huge brutish creature not this lovely thing...Oh! I am sorry, Xena. That was terribly impolite of me. Please forgive me." Theadora was genuinely distressed.
"That's okay, I'm not that easily offended, Queen Theadora," Xena told her. Gabrielle noted a slight flush to her friend's face. Xena didn't take compliments very well. She often ignored them.
The queen turned to Gabrielle, who was only slightly shorter than herself. " Your name is Gabrielle?"
The king spoke for her. "Yes, my dear. Xena informs me that she's a gifted Bard. I'm hoping to have her tell us why they were so late in coming," he shot an enquiring look to her.
"Well, it's a long story. Maybe we should sit down?" they all made themselves comfortable, "It all begins with a invitation to a wedding...."
"...and so Xena flew over my head--and believe me, I was so sure I could do it--and spins around and gives me this look..," Gabrielle looks at her friend and points to her, "Yeah, that one, and proceeds to grab me. I thought I was dead meat.."
"You thought she was going to harm you?" the queen asked.
"Oh, no. Xena is a little rough sometimes, but she'd never *really* try to hurt me, Your Highness."
"That's good," the queen said.
"At least you hope so," Xena said with a semi-evil smile. Gabrielle stared at her momentarily, then decided she was pulling her leg. She continued her story.
"Anyway, I end up being tickled to the point of insanity. I had to beg for mercy," Xena chuckles at her, Gabrielle gives her a silent promise of revenge, "then just when we're catching our breath, two men come up behind us. (Gabrielle decides to alter story for Queen's benefit) who were obviously out for no good. So we took care of them with little trouble and took their boat,...and here we are!"
At this point, Dracian sits upright in his chair. " These two men you speak of, are they still there?" he asks.
"I would assume so. We were there for two weeks before they showed up, and we hadn't seen any ships up to that point," Xena informed him.
"Then I think it's best I send some of my men to pick them up. I just wouldn't do to have them left there. Besides, they ought to be punished for what they tried to do." He went to the door and briefly spoke with his guard, then rejoined them. "There! All taken care of. I'll be informed when they're retrieved."
Gabrielle smiled at Dracian. "I told you a story, now how about one from you? I'd like to hear a little about the wedding we missed."
"But that's a long and complicated story, Gabrielle. Surely you're too tired to hear it?"
"Not at all! I'd love to hear it!" she said eagerly, leaning forward in her seat. Xena rolled her eyes.
"Very well. The day was beautiful..."
"Well, everything was going well until Polaran showed up. He was so angry that he shoved several of our guests aside in his attempt to stop the wedding..."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Dracian, but who is Polaran?" Gabrielle asked.
The Queen answered, "Polaran was my former suitor, Gabrielle. If I hadn't met Dracian, we would have probably married. He didn't take my rejection of his courting very well, I'm afraid. Dracian had to have him forcefully led out of the chapel. It was quite unsettling."
"I'm sure it was," Xena murmured under her breath. Xena thought all-in-all, the wedding didn't go off too badly. It could have been worse. Xena tried to stifle a yawn, but didn't succeed very well. Gabrielle saw it and felt guilty for keeping her up so late. She decided to put her out of her misery.
"That was a wonderful story, Lord Dracian. I'd love to hear more, but I'm awfully tired."
"Of course, my dear. Just a moment while I have someone show you to your rooms," rising to his feet. Shortly, a girl entered the room and ushered them through the door.
Once again, Gabrielle wondered how anyone could find their way around. The girl stopped and opened a door. "This is one of your rooms, and if the other would follow me?" she said. The Bard quickly told Xena to take the first one, giving the excuse that she wanted to see a little more of the castle. Xena looked grateful and wished her a good night. Gabrielle then followed the servant girl to her own room.
Once inside, she marveled at the lushness of the sleeping chamber. A fire had already been lit, and the bed covers folded down. Another servant entered with Gabrielle's satchel and a sleeping gown over her arm.
" I though maybe you'd like something a little warmer to wear. It gets rather chilly here at night."
"Thank you. You're very thoughtful. What's your name?" she asked.
"Meg? I knew another Meg once, she was a wild one! "
"Aye, it must be something that comes with the name," she said with a smile, "My mother has often said the same for me!" Both girls laughed. "Well, I best be leaving you to your rest. A good night to you," she said while walking through the doorway. Meg quietly shut the door.
Xena punched her pillow once more, unable to relax. The bed was too comfortable. The room was too quiet. She was used to the night noises of sleeping outdoors, or the muffled sounds of inns. The quiet of the chamber was driving her insane. She tossed some more, aggravated. She tried to silence her thoughts, to will herself to sleep, but couldn't. Throwing off the bed covers, she got to her feet and left the room.
She went in the direction Gabrielle had gone before, figuring her room couldn't be far. As she approached a door, she silently cracked it open to peer inside. The gods were in her favor, she'd found her room on the first try. She walked quietly to her bed. Gabrielle was sleeping the sleep of the innocent. A dainty snore filled the air. Xena stifled a laugh and crawled in beside her. Her friend's snoring a lullaby, she fell asleep within moments.
Gabrielle woke slowly, her body unwilling to give up its slumber, but she became aware of an arm touching her back. She carefully turned over, to see Xena sleeping peacefully beside her. Gabrielle almost laughed at the sight of her friend's takeover of the bed. She was on her back, arms and legs taking every inch of available space (though one leg was hanging over the side), the bed covers pushed down to her waist. Gabrielle slowly lifted the arm off of her, placing it on the bed. She got up and started to dress, tickled that for once, she awoke before Xena.
She left the room with some uneasiness, unsure she could find her way around. Luckily, a servant was nearby. Recognizing Meg, she called out to her.
"Meg! Good morning. Am I glad to see you! I thought I'd get lost and would be forever wandering around."
"Aye, it is confusing at first, but you get used to it. What can I help you with?"
"A meal would be nice. I'm starving!" she admitted.
"Would you like to eat in your room, or the dining hall?"
"I think my room would be best. Could you bring enough for two? I'm sure Xena will want something as well."
"No problem. I'll have someone bring a tray to her room while I bring you yours," she offered.
"You don't need to, She's in my room," at Meg's wondering look, she smiled,"Xena snuck in sometime in the middle of the night. She probably had a nightmare, and decided she didn't want to be alone. She just won't admit to it. She's funny that way," the bard confided.
"Humph! It's always the big, bad ones that act that way. My husband is the toughest thing in the land--if you listen to him--but he's a baby when it comes to fending to himself. Oh, well. I'll be bringing that tray in a few minutes."
"Thank you, Meg." *Now if I can only find my way back!* she thought.
Gabrielle found her room after several tries, and found Xena still asleep. She put her hands over her mouth to smother a laugh at the sight. Xena was now on her stomach, the entire bed now claimed by her as she laid there spread eagle. The younger woman didn't want to waken her, the poor thing probably needed it. The warrior rarely slept this hard or long. A soft knock on the door alerted Gabrielle of Meg's return.
Gabrielle opened the door and helped Meg with her overflowing tray. The tray was placed on a table near the window. Meg turned to look at Xena.
"By the Gods, She's a tall drink of water, isn't she?" she said with a smile, "You ought to wake her before the food gets cold, young lady."
Gabrielle approached the bed and carefully placed a hand on Xena's arm, not wanting her reflexes to send her across the room. "Xena, wake up."
With the speed of a galloping horse, she spun in place while grabbing the offending arm that woke her. Gabrielle found herself laying across Xena's lap with a hand to her throat. "Hey! It's just me Xena! Let go!"
"Sorry" She released her friend and helped her sit up.
"You and your blasted reflexes are going to kill me one day," she commented with mocking dryness, looking over her shoulder.
"You two are better than watching a pair of monkeys at play!" Meg commented. Xena glanced her way, then gave her friend an inquisitive look. Meg continued. "Aye, several of us listened at one of the doors last night while the little Bard told her story.--Now don't you look at me with that tone of voice! Servants easedrop all the time. You can have privacy or you can have servants, but not both. Are you two ready to eat, or shall I take the food away?"
Xena laughed at Meg, deciding she liked her wit. "You do, and this *little* bard will probably tackle you and beat you senseless. She has the appetite of a small army," she teased.
"One day..," Gabrielle promised.
Gabrielle watched as Xena ate heartily for once. She had been worried for a while that she was ill. She piled more food onto her plate, without her arguing about it.
"Well, Xena, now that we're here, what next?"
"What do you mean?"
"How long are we staying? The wedding is over and done with, no troubles in sight, and you're not the visiting type. It doesn't take long for you to get restless."
"Probably a day or two, at most. Dracian would probably let us stay for as long as we wanted, but I don't want to stay too long," Xena informed her.
"I guess two weeks of enforced vacation was enough for you, huh?" she said with a grin.
Her friend shot her a stern look while running her tongue along the inside of her mouth.
"Watch it, Gabrielle! I could always drop you off on that island again, you know." Xena did her best to keep a straight face, but was in too good a mood to hold it. She cracked a huge smile and threw a piece of food at her smaller friend. Gabrielle looked at Xena, then down at her own plate, considered retaliating, and shook her head at her wayward thought. She didn't want to start a food fight that left her hungry. Besides, Meg would probably grab them both by the scuff of the neck and chew them both out for childish behavior. She'd find another way to get even.
She got up and walked to the bed, taking a pillow, an evil grin on her face. Xena watched her actions with an equally large grin. "Now Gabrielle...You don't want to start anything like that here do you?" she said as she got to her feet. <Wham> A blow to the face gave her the answer. Gabrielle took another swing at her that left her unarmed as Xena grabbed it away from her. The bard ran back to the bed for another pillow.
Blow after blow, the two women swung at each other. Then a pillow tore, spilling feathers into the air. They continued until exhausted. They fell where they stood onto the floor, panting from their fight, too tired even to care about the cold floor. They sat panting and laughing at their own antics, watching the feathers rain down on them. Xena blew a feather away from her nose, and pulled several from her hair. They jumped as a door slammed shut.
"What in underworld is going on here? I turn my back on the two of you for just a few moments and look at you! This room! I would think the two of you should be ashamed of yourselves, acting like a couple of children. Well, the two of you can clean up this mess yourselves. I'm not going to," Meg scolded. She gave them a angry mother look as Gabrielle and Xena just looked at her with blank looks before bursting into laughter. "Well, I can't say it'll be boring around here during your stay!" she said with a laugh in her voice. She left the room with a bouncy step and slammed the door behind her.
They began their cleanup, sweeping up the many feathers and stuffing them back into the pillowcases. They avoided each other's eyes, knowing that if they looked at one other, the laughter would begin anew. Gabrielle picked feathers from her hair and clothing and giggled.
"Gabrielle, if you don't stop laughing, we'll never get this finished. Besides, my stomach can't take much more!" Xena complained.
"Me? Who started this whole thing anyway? You're the one who threw food at me! You'll just have live with a sore stomach like me. But you have to admit it was fun. I like the changes in you."
"Me? what are you talking about?" Xena asked.
"You. I think our island *vacation* was the best thing that ever happened to us. After our talk, you've become more impulsive and relaxed. I like this side of you. If that's all we needed, I would have arranged it myself," she stated.
"Was I that bad?" Xena asked, hurt in her voice.
"Oh, Xena! NO! I'm sorry. It's just...you never were so playful before. You kept so much of yourself hidden away, that I was never sure how you felt about me. I know, I know. I knew that you cared, but you only showed me pieces of yourself--glimpses of the girl that once existed. You held back so much, that I was afraid to show too much as well. Friendship can't last under those conditions, Xena. Sooner or later, something had to give. Either we trusted each other--or drifted apart."
"Gabrielle...it's not I didn't want to, but..," she sat down on the bed, her sorrow and regret evident, "...it was like this giant weight on me, suffocating me. I've been such a loner for so long that it was hard to open up, and I guess I didn't want to share with you because of the ugliness of my past. In spite of your strength and goodness, I didn't want the blackness touching you. I wanted to protect you in my own warped way," she confessed.
Gabrielle sat next to her friend, placing a warm hand on her back, stroking the tight muscles there. "Did you think I would run away screaming or something? You forget I know a lot about your past. I don't think anything about you could frighten me off. You'll just have to resign yourself to being stuck with me," she said with a smile and a pat on the shoulder.
"If I must", Xena said with a teasing defeated tone.
A sudden pounding at the door startled both women. Xena jumped to her feet and ran for the door. Pulling it open, she saw Dracian. He looked panic stricken, his breathing a gasp, sweat pouring down his face. "Xena! Theadora is missing!"
"What do you mean--missing?" Gabrielle asked.
"She's nowhere to be found. My men have been searching for hours. Her personal servants haven't seen her since she got dressed this morning," his voice cracking from the strain.
"Dracian," Xena said calmly, "Come sit down. Take a deep breath, and tell me what you know---and try to stay calm."
He did as she suggested, sighing heavily. "No one has seen her since early this morning. Normally she takes a walk in the garden before breaking her morning fast."
"Any sign of a struggle?" Xena asked.
"No. Nothing.---Except a handkerchief found on a bush near the outer gate."
"OK. Let us get dressed. I want to see this gardens and the bush where the cloth was found."
Xena kneels down, forearms on her knees, as she carefully scanned the ground around her, noting every detail. For minutes, nothing was said. Finally Gabrielle said, "Well!? What do you see?"
She rose to her feet, almost in slow motion, and turned to Dracian. "She's been taken by one man_light build--he's not any heavier than myself_peasant shoes or boots. The marks show that she struggled for a while, then he picked her up and carried her. Whether or not she was conscious, I don't know." She walked slowly towards the outer gate, eyes glued to the ground. Upon reaching the gate, she noticed no guard.
"Is there normally a guard stationed here?" Xena asked.
"Only at night. The gate isn't known by many, and hard to find from the outside even during the daytime," he told her.
"Hmmm." She opened the gate and motioned Gabrielle and Dracian to stay put. She looked at the gate from the outside, then at the soil at her feet. Once again she offered only silence. Satisfied there was no more to see, she spoke. "She was carried off on horseback towards the sea. I suspect she's no longer on the island."
The three of them sat in the king's private chamber. They discussed the possibilities in soft tones, avoiding the ease droppers.
"No one saw them leave--it could be anyone!" Dracian said stiffly.
"I think it was that Polaran you were talking about," said Gabrielle.
"Unless you can think of someone else, Gabrielle's idea should be followed. It's the only one we have. She and I can go to this man's home area, and check it out," Xena told him.
"At least take some of my men with you, they can...."
"No! What do you want to do? Announce to one and all that we're there?" Xena said in an exasperated tone.
Dracian thought it over and nodded wearily. "Very well. At least take some of my money. You might have to use it for bribes or other expenses," he handed Xena a purse of coins--gold by the sound. She took it, acknowledging the need. Pride normally would have made her turn it down. Taking money for helping people made it seem dirty.
The two women were once again on a vessel. Xena had prepared a medicine for Gabrielle's stomach, not wanting her to suffer again. The drug had made Gabrielle quiet, but otherwise, seemed to be working fine. Her friend joined her by the railing--but refusing to look at the water. She leaned on Xena's arm and just stood there, saying nothing. Xena looked down at her small companion, a little curious. At first, then realized the smaller woman just needed to be near her. She lifted her arm up and around her, drawing Gabrielle closer and returned her eyes to the sea.
Athens. Gabrielle was grateful for the sight of it. Sea travel was beginning to loose its appeal. It seemed to take forever for the ship to dock. She and Xena walked down the gangplank to the peer and headed for the stable where Argo was being boarded.
Turning a corner, they were faced with a single man, dirty and unkempt, and smelling of old ale. The two women attempted to go around. He stepped sideways to block them. Xena met his eyes, a bored and feral look made him change his mind. He stepped aside. They continued uninterrupted to the stables. Gabrielle was carrying the purse, and entered to find the owner and settle the bill as Xena went to fetch the horse.
"I thought the two of you were never returning," the owner said. "We heard the vessel didn't make it, and the crew and passengers perished. I was about to sell the horse to pay for its keep. Good thing you showed up when you did." Gabrielle smiled and said nothing as Xena walked up with Argo.
" Good for you, you mean. If my horse had been gone..," Xena's voice trailed off, leaving the threat unspoken. The owner's Adam apple bobbed up and down. He bid them a good day and quickly went back inside.
"Xena, you are a wicked creature sometimes!" Gabrielle scolded half-heartedly. Xena only smiled.
After purchasing some supplies, they were on the road to Ampalt, home to Polaran. The journey would take two days--three if there was trouble. They spent time talking about possible game plans, but Xena wouldn't commit to anything as yet. She wanted to just get there first. Xena distracted her friend's mind by asking her questions about her childhood.
Gabrielle was taken aback at first, realizing Xena's intent, but not willing to cause Xena to relapse into her old, quiet ways. She told Xena many things left unsaid in previous conversations, and asked many in return. She was even more surprised when Xena didn't seemed to mind, and only occasionally asked for a subject to be left alone. Gabrielle respected her wishes, and left the dark warlord days for another time. It would come in it's own way when Xena was ready.
"I don't believe it. Tell me you didn't!!" Xena said in awe, " YOU?"
"Don't sound like it never occurred to you! I bet you've done worse."
"Of course, but I'm more..."
"Daring? Brave? Stupid?" Gabrielle said with a wicked tone.
"Hey!" Xena lightly smacked her with the back of her hand. She turned and resumed walking, muttering under her breath, "I just don't believe it. Gabrielle..!!??"
"Come on, Gabrielle. Wake up." Xena nudged her friend for the third time that morning. She was being a real slug-a-bed today. Gabrielle grunted/moaned in her sleep, unwilling to release Morphius' hold on her. "Gabrielle! If you don't get up this minute--I'm going to throw you in the pond!" she threatened.
"Wha ..? I'm up, I'm up," she muttered as she slowly rose up to her elbows. She opened her eyes, only to grimace as the sun hit her in the face. "Stupid sun. Doesn't it know better than to do that?" she complained unreasonably.
Once again on the road, they walked in silence. Gabrielle was unusually quiet, too groggy to speak much. Xena didn't complain though. She felt as though she had spoken more in the last few weeks than she had during the rest of her life. Silence was good.
The sun pounded down on the sweat-soaked travelers, making them miserable. Skin burned and spirits sagged. Even Argo's head hung pitifully. Xena's gaze searched for a good spot to stop for a while, hoping for a place with fresh water. She didn't see anything, but minutes later, Argo perked up and snorted. Attune to her mount, she released the reins and let her lead the way. Soon they stood by a small pool. The two women took one look and acted.
Clothing was hastily thrown down, leaving a trail behind them. Argo headed the water herself, standing in the cool water that came to her chest. The pool wasn't deep, but it would do. Xena and Gabrielle sat back and relished the break from the sun's heat. They sighed in unison, and laughed.
"By the Gods! This is great. Can we stay here all afternoon, Xena? " she suggested already knowing the answer.
"As tempting as it seems, no."
"I knew you'd say that."
"Well, I'm nothing if not consistent," Xena told her.
"Ain't that the truth!" Gabrielle kidded.
"If I had more energy, I'd wallop you," she complained.
"Yeah , yeah. The big bad warrior threatening a poor helpless girl. They ought to take away your hero membership," Gabrielle retorted.
"You gotta sleep sometime," she warned.
The sun neared its setting, the sky a brilliant collage of colors. The heat of the day now cooling to a pleasant and welcoming temperature. The women neared a sleepy village and decided to look for an inn They wanted to question people quietly in hope of finding if Polaran had passed through. The pathway leading into the village was well traveled, and they followed it until they saw the markings of an inn. Xena tied Argo to a post, then she and her friend entered the building.
It was fairly quiet inside. No wild and loud travelers had stopped here, just the locals seemed to gather there that night. The pair sat at an empty table, and was greeted by a apple-cheeked man. They asked for whatever was handy along with cool drinks. He returned shortly with plates of fruit, chicken, and fresh bread.
"I thought you ladies would like something light. It's been hotter than an oven today," he said. They thanked him and ate in weary silence. Xena listened carefully to the conversations around her, hoping to overhear something useful. No luck.
Halfway through their meal, a couple walked up to their table.
"Hello. We don't see many strangers in town this time of year. We thought perhaps we could sit with you and talk for a while--if you don't mind?" the man asked. His wife smiled in agreement. Gabrielle took an instant liking to them and motioned them to join them. They introduced themselves. The couple's names were Palth and Folessa.
"So, do you often approach strangers here?" Gabrielle asked.
"Not really," the young woman replied, "But the two of you seem so different from most. You don't look like raiders. You don't look like merchants. We were just curious I guess."
Gabrielle's humor got the best of her, and decided to pull Xena's leg a little. "I'm a traveling Bard, *this* woman is my protector," she said, indicating Xena with a pointing chin motion. Xena shot her a look, but didn't say anything--she didn't need to--her eyes promised revenge.
"Oh! How interesting. Is it that dangerous on the roads that a Bard needs protecting?" the man asked. "If it is, why a female protector? Why not get a huge ugly man to scare off the scum?"
"Would you want to be a woman in the sole company of a big ugly man, day after day? Of course not. That's why I chose her," Gabrielle said, digging her grave deeper and deeper. Xena pursed her lips, and tilted her chin upwards. She was not a happy woman.
"Were you heading for anywhere in particular?" Folessa asked.
"Not really, we're just heading west for the moment."
"The next sizable town is Ampalt. Have you ever been there?" the husband asked.
"No. Know anything about it or the people there?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's a fairly quiet place until recently. The town leaders are upset with one of their own. He dragged a woman into town with him. When they questioned him, he told them to mind their own business. She was his. The woman claimed to be the wife of a king. People thought she was demented, because she was dressed as a peasant girl. Polaran locked her up in his home, and no one has seen them in days," Palth informed them.
Gabrielle spoke longer with them, enjoying their company. Xena spoke only when spoken to. She was glad for the information, but was tired and wanted to leave to make camp. She glanced out the window and saw that the sun had completely set. They would have to make camp in the dark or find a room for the night. Gabrielle noticed the path of her friend's eyes and guessed her thoughts.
She made their excuses and asked the apple-faced man if a room was available. He told them there was, and lead them to a small room. He bid them a goodnight. Gabrielle offered to fetch their belongings and quickly made her escape. She lingered longer than necessary, hoping Xena would be asleep when she returned.
Gabrielle returned with their belongings to find Xena sitting back against the bed, her arms wrapped loosely around her bent legs. A look at leashed impatience on her face.
"Uh...I have our things. I'll get ready for bed now," she stammered
"I know! I'm dead meat. Just get it over with!" Gabrielle closed her eyes and braced herself, unsure what form of punishment was heading her way. She heard Xena get to her feet and walk towards her. She felt the heat of Xena's body as she drew closer, then her warm breath as she bent closer to her ear. Xena let long seconds pass, causing anxiety in her small friend.
"It'll come when you least expect it. You'll never see it coming. The wait will cause you to suffer as never before Never knowing when the time will come--waiting_worrying_agonizing," Xena's voice a low murmur in her ear. Chills ran down Gabrielle's spine. She knew Xena was right. Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked up at Xena. A smug look on her face told her she wouldn't like it.
Gabrielle was still awake. Her heart refused to slow down, her mind reeling from her imagination. *What will she do?*, her thoughts asked. *Damn my mouth! I just had to bait Xena, didn't I? Now look at me. Sweating in fear. Unable to sleep. This is stupid. She's my best friend--what would she actually do to me? It's not like she would harm me--if she was--it would have happened by now. Shut up, Gabrielle! Get some sleep!* Xena listened in the dark and smiled.
A hand shook Gabrielle awake. "Get up, Gabrielle!" Xena commanded. She opened her eyes, her breath a gasp as she woke from a dream of consequences and revenge. She staggered out of bed and washed her face from a bowl of water on the table. Next to it was a plate of food. The bard thought to herself that even angry, Xena wouldn't make her starve.
She helped herself to the food while getting dressed at the same time. Gabrielle gathered her things and packed them into her bag. Xena's things were already gone. She went out to the dining area, but didn't see her, so she continued on to outside.
Xena was tightening the cinch to Argo, ready to leave. She mounted the horse. She looked down at her friend, noting the dark circles under her eyes. She felt a little guilty--but not much. Gabrielle tied her bag to Argo, and collected her staff from saddlebag and assembled it. They were ready to leave.
A day and a half later, Gabrielle and Xena walked into the town of Ampalt. It was medium sized town. Small enough that you knew many people, but large enough to have some privacy from the gossipers. They passed a fountain in the center of town. It seemed to be a gathering place for many. A market place was nearby. A few questions later, and they found where Polaran lived. They headed for his home.
They found it without difficulty
"Gabrielle, stay here with Argo while I look around," Xena asked.
"What?" she asked confused. Gabrielle had slept very little, still waiting for Xena's revenge. She was jumpy and tired. Xena repeated herself.
"OK. No problem"
Xena headed for the back of the house.
The warrior spotted a set of barred windows on the far side of the house. She carefully looked around and saw no one. Xena moved in closer, using as much of the shrubs and trees as coverage as possible. Finally, she neared the window. Peering inside, she saw a large room. Inside was a figure sitting in a chair facing away from her. The figure shifted slightly, and sunlight captured and sparkled off copper tresses. Theadora!
Xena grabbed the bars to pull herself upwards. "Psst...Psst.." The Queen jumped and turned to the window. "Theadora!" She whispered loudly.
Theadora's relief shined from her face. She ran to the window. "Xena! How did you ever find me?"
"Wasn't hard. But there's no time for that. I need to figure a way to get you out of there without fighting my way through. How many people inside? Where's Polaran?" she asked.
"Polaran is probably in his quarters getting drunk again. There's about six or seven servants inside. Mostly women. He's kept me isolated from everyone. He usually brings my meals. He doesn't want anyone knowing who I am. This room is part of his quarters. No one can reach me except through him."
"When does everything go quiet at night--when do they all sleep?" Xena asked.
"About three hours after sunset," said the queen.
"OK, I'll see you shortly after that. Be ready!" With that, she left the same way she came in.
Gabrielle was standing by Argo, a dazed look in her eyes.
"Come on, let's find a inn and rest awhile. Gabrielle followed quietly.
Once in their room, Xena ordered Gabrielle to get some sleep. She gave her a short explanation of what would happen. "We'll probably be traveling all night. You need your rest. You look like death warmed over."
"And who's fault is that! I'm still waiting for that axe to fall," she confessed.
"Don't worry about it. I promise it won't fall until Theadora is safe. OK?"
"Yes, didn't I just say so? Now, go get some sleep."
Xena woke Gabrielle .She gazed at her face, relieved that she looked more alert, and the bags under her eyes were gone. She got her to eat a light meal and they headed for Polaran's home. Xena gave her game plan as they walked.
"This ought to be a simple break in and snatch, Gabrielle. I'll pick the locks into the house. The servants should be asleep. The only real obstacle should be Polaran himself. If he's drunk like Queen Theadora suggested, he might sleep through the whole thing. If not, I'll have to fight him. It would be better for his sake that he stays asleep--I'm in a fighting mood, and he's made me mad. We'll get Theadora back to her husband. We'll travel most of the night, and stop for a while. I want to make sure we have a large head start on anyone that may follow," she explained.
"What if something goes wrong? If you don't come out?" she asked.
"Then go to the other town leaders. Explain what happened. They wouldn't be happy knowing one of their own kidnapped a queen. They'd probably be all too happy to help break us out. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine," she told her friend, doing her best to put her at ease. She handed the reins to Gabrielle and disappeared into the shadows.
Xena carefully picked the locks to the kitchen door and softly walked in. Listening to the sounds of the house, she couldn't detect anyone up and about. The household was asleep. There were a few lights burning throughout the house, making movement easier. She had been worried the place would be dark, leaving her to stumble inside.
She made her way to Polaran's chamber door, and slowly tested the door. It was locked. Taking out her dagger, she slid it between the door and the jam. Lifting gently, she lifted the tilt-bar lock. She pushed open the door. The only light in the room was from the fireplace, where a low fire was burning. Xena glanced at the bed and saw a large man asleep. Polaran. She walked closer, until she could detect the smell of strong wine. He was drunk.
She made her way to the door she believed Theadora to be kept and carefully picked the lock.
"Xena?" a whisper came from the darkness.
"Yes." She opened the door and found the Queen waiting there fully dressed in peasant attire. She took her hand and led her out of the house. They met with Gabrielle moments later.
"Thank the Gods and Goddesses! It didn't take as long as I thought it would, Xena," said Gabrielle.
"I told you it would be simple. Now, let's get out of this town. We have a long ways to go."
They traveled by moonlight, often stumbling over rocks and tree roots, but didn't stop until almost sunrise. The queen was riding on Argo, but seemed to be in worse condition than the other two women.Xena called a halt.
"We should be far enough ahead by now. We'll stop and rest here for awhile."
"Good. My behind feels like it's been riding on a bumpy mule cart," the queen complained. Argo snorted.
"I'm starved", said Gabrielle
"I'll try to hunt down a rabbit or two. Take Argo off the road and stay out of sight. Make a small fire and stay put," Xena commanded as she walked away.
"Is she always this pushy?" said Theadora.
No, sometimes she's worse," quipped Gabrielle.
They sat around the small campfire, eating the rabbit Xena caught. Gabrielle had offered cheese , olives, and bread to the queen as well. The Bard was telling poems to the queen, trying to get a smile from the road weary woman. Gabrielle squelched the impulse to ask what happened to the queen while she was Polaran's captive, but it didn't seem right to ask a queen such questions.
Xena tuned out most of the chatter, staying alert to her surroundings instead. It seemed there was no one following them, but that could change soon. They broke camp shortly after their meal, and continued on the journey.
They passed by the sleepy village later that evening, but Xena was unwilling to stop there. Too many people would put two and two together, and someone would talk. The less people saw of them, the better. They continued until dark., stopping only because of the clouds covered the moon. Xena didn't want Argo breaking a leg--or anyone else for that matter.
Xena and Gabrielle waved to goodbye to the Queen as the King's ship left port. It had been waiting for them when they reached Athens. Gabrielle looked at Xena with a worried expression on her face. Xena looked at her friend with puzzlement. "What?"
"The axe," she said.
"Oh. That." she turned and walked slowly along the peer.
"Oh, that? Xena! I can't take it anymore! Just get it over with!" she pleaded.
"Gabrielle, it's been over with. Your imagination has caused more suffering for you than anything I could ever think of. Hasn't it? she smiled a crooked grin.
"You mean that..."
"Why you, bi...," Gabrielle never finished. Xena pushed her off the peer.
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