by planet solin
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle and Argo unfortunately belong to someone else. My use of them is for everything but monetary gain.
Sex/Violence: Nothing overt but a loving relationship is implied. As for the violence, nothing more then the usual stuff.
Other: This is just a short story that I penned one afternoon when I was bored. It wasn't a major effort so be kind with your comments firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabrielle was rousted from her slumber by a gentle tap against her foot. She was annoyed at being awakened from her dreams and ignoring the summons, she snuggled deeper into the warmth of the bedroll, pulling the fur over her head.
The next tap wasn't so gentle but she refused to move. They had travelled a long distance the previous day and she was not particularly anxious to continue the journey to Arcamen, uncertain of what awaited their arrival. Besides, her muscles were still sore from being thrown off that donkey in Bodaia, but that was a whole other story.
"Gabrielle," Xena hissed, prodding her booted toe against the lump beneath the fur. It was well past dawn and she was impatient to get back on the road.
Her frustration with the young bard grew, though she knew she could never really be angry with the one who filled her heart so completely. A hint of a smile cracked the corners of her lips, knowing that this was a typical reaction from her friend, just as she knew despite the small annoyances she wouldn't want anything to be different. But she could never let the bard know that.
"Ah well," she sighed as if resigning herself to defeat.
Gabrielle smiled triumphantly beneath the blanket, momentarily believing she had finally bested her friend. She should have known better for Xena never liked coming in second. Just as she remembered that, the bedroll was tugged back and an icy splash of water cascaded down over her warm, drowsy features.
"Ahh," she shrieked bolting to her feet. A delightful chuckle radiated from the dark warrior and echoed through the steamy tirade that followed her action.
"Xena!" the bard stomped her foot angrily as she stared up at the tall Warrior Princess. For a long
moment blue eyes met green. There was an innocent look upon the stoic face as she held the
offending waterskin behind her back.
"You've got my shirt wet and it's the only clean one I have left."
Xena cocked an eyebrow at her friend. Gabrielle looked so cute when she was angry that sometimes she purposefully gloated the little bard. A twisted smile toyed with the corners of her lips as she reached out and flicked a droplet of water from the tip of the girl's nose.
"As long as that's the only thing that's wet," she snarled playfully before brushing past the younger woman.
"Xena!" Gabrielle stomped her foot again, a deep blush colouring her face.
"Hey, I don't know what you do under those blankets," the Warrior Princess tossed a smirk over her shoulder and the bard knew it would be a long time before the older woman let her forget about what happened in Coralus.
She watched the straight back of the Warrior stroll across the campsite to where Argo was quietly grazing. She sighed. As much as she tried, she found it impossible to remain angry at the woman. Instead she knelt down on the ground and started to roll up the bedding, mentally preparing herself for the journey and the uncertainties that lay ahead.
Xena glanced over her shoulder at her friend and smiled. She loved to tease the bard, aware that Gabrielle could never stay angry for long. It was one of the woman's traits that was so endearing. Feeling a moment of guilt, she retrieved some nutbread and an apple from one of Argo's saddlebags.
"Here, have some breakfast while I pack the rest of our things," she said extending the peace offering. "It will be awhile before we stop again."
Gabrielle glared up at her for an instant, pretending to be angry. Xena only smiled with those coaxing pink lips and cobalt blue eyes that seemed to swallow her whole. The woman nudged the bard on the shoulder with a smooth thigh. Both enjoyed the contact of bare skin touching and it lasted a second longer then was necessary.
"I'm sorry, I promise I'll be nice," the tall woman sighed resigning herself to make the apology.
Gabrielle's face broke out into a pleased grin as she put down the bedroll and accepted the food. She sat down on a nearby log and eagerly devoured the meal. Xena always knew the best way to her heart.
Her stomach growled hungrily as she feasted on the simple fare, her eyes following the Warrior Princess as she quietly packed up the rest of their possessions and stowed them with the saddlebags on Argo's back.
She watched the tall woman move about the campsite, each movement as graceful as the last. It was like an elegant dance where she was the only audience. Her heart started to pound as a faint flush crept up over her whole body as images of the dark haired woman in various stages of undress popped into her head. A lump caught in her throat and for a moment she found it difficult to breath, let alone swallow the food in her mouth.
Hastily she grabbed the waterskin, hoping the icy liquid would wash down the food and cool the fever that had begun to build in her body. But the water only worsened the situation as it slid down her wind pipe.
She sputtered, coughing and gasping loudly, and instantly Xena was at her side, bending on one knee as she looked at the bard with genuine concern. For a moment Gabrielle couldn't speak and that was all the time it took for the Warrior Princess to move swiftly around her body and lift her up in a tight embrace, her fisted hands pressing against the small woman's abdomen.
"Xena!" the bard finally managed to sputter and the tall woman immediately released her grip.
"I thought you were choking," Xena explained gruffly in an attempt to hide her concern and embarrassment. She didn't want the smaller woman to know that she would use any excuse to envelop her in an embrace.
"I'm okay," Gabrielle assured her friend, feeling acutely aware of the blush that coloured her cheeks. It was a warmth that was refusing to dissipate.
She had always known her friend was strong but it had never been so evident until now when the Warrior had held her in this casual embrace. It was funny but she only ever felt secure when Xena was nearby, aware that her friend would do anything to protect her.
"Come on, it's time to go," the Warrior Princess growled, not unaffected by the confused look she saw on her friend's face. She felt the temperature of her own body begin to rise as she walked off towards Argo leaving the bard to trail slowly behind.
Xena hopped up onto the horse and then extended her hand down to Gabrielle. In one swift motion her friend was behind her, nestling comfortably with her arms tightly looped around the Warrior's waist, her warm breath fanning the bare skin of her shoulder. Though neither were brave enough to admit as much, they both enjoyed travelling this way, their bodies touching in rhythm to the beat of the horses hooves as they bounced along the road.
Arcamen was a small town, little more then a village nestled at the entrance to a green valley. Today as they rode through the front gates it was peaceful but Xena could sense an undercurrent of tension seething through the population that moved quickly along the streets. She looked about, seeing the charred ruins of burnt buildings and the rubble of others that had been destroyed.
She stopped on the main street and Gabrielle slid off the horse. She followed suit, taking Argo's reins and leading him through the marketplace. It did not go unnoticed that everyone hurried past without bothering to glance up at these strangers. She paused at one of the stalls.
"Can you tell me where I might find the Mayor?" she asked with one of her warrior type voices, startling the merchant.
He looked up at the tall dark haired warrior, the Adam's apple in his throat working profusely as he met the glare of a the pair of pale blue eyes. He knew without asking who this exotic creature was for the whole village had been expecting the famed warrior and her bard. He cast a brief glance at the smaller blond woman standing off to the side.
"The council is meeting in the tavern," the man stammered and Xena merely grunted before moving on. Gabrielle frowned at her companion's retreating back, wondering if she would ever get the warrior to use some manners.
"Thank you," she chirped sweetly to the merchant dazzling him with her smile before trotting off after the Warrior Princess. She knew that Xena was in her battle mode but she still thought her warrior could be more polite. She said as much.
"Gabrielle, we're not here to shop," Xena snarled back but the words had little bite. She could not ever really be angry with her bard.
They dropped Argo off at the stables before continuing on to the tavern. Already Gabrielle's mind was at work. She didn't know what kind of feat these people were going to ask of the Warrior Princess, but whatever it was, there was no reason for them not to take advantage of their surroundings. After many days on the road the thought of a soft bed and a hot bath made her step more buoyant, though she tried not to show it.
It was useless for Xena could see what her companion was thinking. A smile played at the edge of her lips as she glanced out the corner of her eye. She thought for an instant how she could tease her friend.
"We'll see what the mayor has to say and then grab a bite to eat before heading out," she said in her best warrior voice. "I saw a good campsite just outside the village."
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open and the expression on her face was completely crestfallen as her step faltered. Xena chuckled to herself and would have received a good smack on the arm from the bard's staff if she hadn't reacted swiftly. She grabbed the stick with her left hand and held it, aware of the power behind the thrust. She smiled, inwardly proud that the smaller woman had become such a good fighter.
"You always like to torment me," Gabrielle said with a hurtful expression. Her lower lip trembled and it was almost the tall woman's undoing. She didn't want to see her friend hurt yet was afraid to do anything less. She could not tell the bard that the torment was an attempt to mask her true feelings.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle," Xena began to apologize as she released her grip on the staff. It seemed that was all she ever seemed to do lately. Apologize to the other woman.
"Gotcha," the bard chirped gleefully, tapping the warrior on the rear end before scooting out of reach.
The Warrior Princess growled but it was without force. She knew she needed to let the bard have her small victories just as she knew she would never deny Gabrielle the chance to have a few luxuries. The younger woman put up with so much from her that it was the least she could do.
The tavern was dark and though it was crowded there was little in the way of noise. Xena stepped through the door and paused, allowing her eyes the opportunity to scan the scene. Instinct told her that the small group huddled around an older man in the far corner of the room was were she needed to go.
"Get us something to eat," she said over her shoulder to Gabrielle before moving in a straight line across to the group. All discussion stopped and many pairs of eyes followed each step.
"I'm looking for the mayor of this village," she announced in a commanding voice and five pairs of eyes glanced up.
"I am the mayor of this town. My name is Percules," a grey haired man stood up.
"Xena," she introduced herself without extending a hand. "Your messenger said you had a problem."
"Yes, yes," the mayor replied eagerly, relief flooding over his features. "Please sit down."
He motioned to a vacant chair but Xena ignored it, settling down on a wooden bench by the wall. She needed to have full command of the room, an old habit that would never die. She hooked a foot around another chair and dragged it to the table as Gabrielle appeared balancing two mugs of ale.
"This is my friend Gabrielle," the Warrior announced and the men nodded politely as the bard sat down. Xena fixed them with a cold stare. "So what's your problem?"
"About ten days ago Gilda returned, and she comes every day to cause more damage. You probably saw it as you entered the village," the mayor said in an ominous voice.
"Who is Gilda?" Xena wanted to know, a frown creasing her brow. She was unfamiliar with any warlord or giant by that name.
"A great dragon that appears from the north every year to terrorize our village," Percules said.
"The creature only leaves when everything has been destroyed, our crops, our homes," another man concluded hastily. He stopped, fusing with colour. "My name is Cerces."
"But dragons usually only reside in Britannia," Xena mumbled thoughtfully.
"Yes and no one knows why it comes down here," Percules sighed heavily troubled by these matters.
"There is a local legend that says many years ago a local warrior heard tell of these monsters and took a journey to foreign lands. While there he slayed one before returning home to Greece," Cerces related the tale. "Gilda, the dragon's mate, witnessed the murder and came in search of vengeance but the warrior had already been killed in another battle. So every year the dragon returns to avenge her mates murder."
"Why do you call the dragon Gilda?" Gabrielle asked curiously.
"Gilda was the name of the warriors' wife and on the first visit she went out to the meadow to meet the dragon, to try and explain that her husband was already dead," Cerces continued the story. "She hoped to save the village but the dragon did not believe her and instead swallowed the woman and destroyed the village. The dragon keeps coming back in search of the warrior."
"Can you do something before someone else is hurt?"
All eyes were fixed on the mute Warrior Princess. She had never fought a dragon and wasn't certain how she could go about doing that. The moment of repose must have annoyed one of the men at the table. A man sceptical of her abilities.
"Perhaps the Warrior Princess is afraid, after all a dragon is a formidable opponent," the man snorted and before Xena could speak Gabrielle jumped to her defense.
"Xena is scared of nothing," the bard intoned indignantly and Xena felt a wave of pride sweep over her. "I've seen her charge alone into battle against an entire army."
Xena knew she needed to step in before Gabrielle's tale became to exaggerated but it was hard. She liked the way the bard defended her. It revealed much about the way the younger woman felt and she revelled in the emotions that were evoked by the defense.
"Can you help us?" Percules asked rousting the dark warrior from her thoughts.
"Of course Xena can help you," Gabrielle continued to fume halted only by the gentle hand that was laid upon her arm.
"I'll see what I can do," the Warrior Princess replied and Gabrielle smiled proudly.
Before anyone could say another word the tavern door banged open and a flood of people poured into the room. There were expressions of terror on their faces.
"What's wrong?" Xena was on her feet, her entire body tense, her hand ready to grab the sword off her back.
"Gilda's back," a terrified merchant exclaimed and immediately the Warrior Princess was moving against the flow towards the door. She paused only once she reached the courtyard and felt a jolt as Gabrielle bounded into her. Instinctively she grabbed the bard and both glanced up as a cloud passed over them.
The creature was huge with a long wing span and green reptilian scales that glittered in the sunlight. It shrieked and bellowed, belching fire as it flew overhead, casting it's fiery breath upon a shop setting it a blaze before flying on. Xena stared in awe at such a magnificent creature before her attention was diverted by the frantic screams and shouts of terror. Instinctively she raced towards the burning building with Gabrielle right behind.
"My baby, my husband," a woman wailed and while the bard hastily gathered people for a water
brigade, Xena dove for the doorway of the burning shed. She raced into the fire and emerged
moments later with a child under one arm and a man under the other. She placed them on the ground next to the wife before bending over, gulping heavily for fresh air, her blue eyes watching the joyful reunion.
"You see what we face," Percules said quietly as he approached the warrior, diverting her attention from the joyfully reunited family. "Gilda does not come but once. She will visit us several times a day for many weeks, destroying us slowly before returning to her home in Britannia."
Xena nodded and then trotted off to join the fire brigade which was throwing water on the fire. Only once the flames were out did the pair wander back to the tavern.
"You have to help these people Xena," Gabrielle said as they walked back across the market. "A village woman told me that two years ago five people died and that three of them were children."
"Mmm," the Warrior Princess said.
"Xena?" Gabrielle felt the warrior was distracted and wanted to know what she was thinking.
"Get us a room and have yourself a hot bath," Xena said pausing to look at the bard. There was a faint smile on her lips. She flicked a fingertip across the smaller woman's sweaty cheek drawing a line across the soot covered face.
"I don't want ash on the sheets tonight," she joked with a crooked smile and then steeled her resolve as images of just such a situation flitted through her mind. "I'm going to check on Argo."
Gabrielle did not protest. She could see by her friend's expression that her stoic companion needed time alone to think. She caught hold of the warriors hand and squeezed it tightly.
"I'm ready to help with whatever you need," the small woman said softly.
"I know you are Gabrielle," Xena replied with a pounding heart. There was so much she wanted to ask of the bard, yet she never could. The last thing she wanted was to risk losing their friendship. So instead she pushed down all those feelings and went about her business as if she had no emotions at all.
While Gabrielle went back to the tavern to enjoy it's luxuries, she found Argo and took him out for a ride. She tried to remember everything she had heard about those mythical creatures from the land of Britianna and beyond, and if she guessed correctly then she would find the dragon in the nearby caves. She rode as close as possible before dismounting and leaving the mare to graze in the nearby meadows.
Stealthily Xena crept up the hill and into the caves. They were a large series of caverns and she moved steadily forward in the darkness, her ears straining to listen for the slightest of noises. She could hear the dragon breathing, its laboured snore filling the silent cave as it slept. She could feel it's warm breathe heat the darkness. After only a short reconnaissance she knew that she could not fight the dragon in its lair.
It was dark by the time she returned to the tavern in the village yet there was a tub of hot water
awaiting her return. She stared at the welcome sight and then at her friend with a raised eyebrow.
"I always know when you're around," Gabrielle answered the unspoken question and headed for the
door. "Ring the bell when your done and I'll send up a hot meal."
Xena glanced at the goat bell on the table by the bed and then at the bard's receding back. She hadn't wanted to be alone. She had been looking forward to the woman's company as she always did at the end of each day.
"Where are you off too?" she growled softly, masking her disappointment and Gabrielle turned flashing her a brilliant smile.
"Someone has to pay for all this luxury," she said impishly, waving a hand mischievously at their surroundings before strolling out the door.
Xena allowed herself a smile knowing that Gabrielle was up to her old tricks. If matters worked out right the Innkeeper would probably end up paying them to stay there.
Dismissing all thoughts the Warrior struggled out of her armour and leathers before slipping into the tub of hot water. It felt wonderful and she realized that she was growing as fond of these small luxuries as her bard, though she would never admit as much. It was something Gabrielle would take great delight in teasing her about.
She allowed herself the pleasure of soaking in the water for a long time before grabbing the soap and scrubbing herself clean. After drying off, she dressed and instead of ringing for her meal, she returned downstairs to the tavern.
A smile came unbidden to her lips as she spotted Gabrielle at the front on the stage in the midst of a tale about one of their adventures. It did not surprise her that the tavern was packed and she was hard pressed to find an empty chair. But finally she did, settling her frame on a bench pushed against the wall. A serving maiden brought her a piece of mutton and mug of ale and she snacked on the food contentedly as her blue orbs tracked the bard as she floated across the stage, her arms waving dramatically as her voice rose and fell in a steady cadence.
She loved to watch the Amazon Queen, memorising each line and curve, each motion of the slender, muscular body, until she was certain she could mimic every move and every infliction of the blond woman's stance. It was a body that she could trace in her sleep and did on a fairly regularly basis.
"Do you know how you are going to kill Gilda?" a man asked slipping into a vacant spot near her seat. Xena was annoyed by the interruption and fixed the man with one of her lethal stares, admitting a low feral growl. The man immediately took the hint, scurrying away as quickly as he had appeared.
The Warrior Princess hated to frighten people like that, well she really didn't hate it, but she wanted to listen to Gabrielle. It didn't matter how often she heard the story, she still loved the soft sound of the bard's voice tracing the history of their adventures.
When the stories were done there was much clapping and begging for more and Xena was quietly proud. Gabrielle always had them eating out of her hand, leaving the audience wanting more, just as she wanted more. Abruptly she slammed the door on her thoughts, appearing casual as the younger woman dropped into the seat beside her. A small hand settled nonchalantly on her bare thigh.
"I thought you might be getting some sleep," Gabrielle said brightly, her face shining. The bard was clearly pleased by her successful night.
"What, and miss your performance?" Xena asked mockingly, hiding her feelings but intensely conscious of the hand on her exposed skin.
The bard only smiled and then turned her attention to the doe eyed young man who had followed her across the room. Xena knew with one glance that the man was smitten with the bard and at one time she would have been jealous but she no longer cared. She knew Gabrielle liked to flirt but since
Perdicus she had been uninterested in having another relationship.
That realization brought both joy and sadness to the Warriors heart. She wanted to see Gabrielle happy and was afraid that after what happened to her husband, the bard might be afraid to fall in love again.
Not that she minded, for she hated the idea that some day Gabrielle would leave her, though it was obvious that eventually the woman would get tired of travelling and want to settle down. That was only if her enemies didn't catch up to them first.
"Xena do you know what you're going to do?" Gabrielle asked later when they were lying in bed with the covers pulled up over their bodies. They were dressed in thin hemp sleeping shirts.
The bard was lying on her back with the Warrior Princess stretched out at her side. The dark head was resting gently against the bard's shoulder and though the blue orbs were closed, the older woman was not asleep. Instead she was quietly absorbing the feel of intimacy that came with her fore head touching the other woman.
"Mmm," Xena said and nothing more.
"It seems like this creature is an emotional thing, maybe we could capture it and persuade Gilda to leave the village alone?" the bard suggested.
"You don't want to hurt anything do you," the warrior mumbled with a yawn.
"It's just that I can understand the poor creature missing it's mate."
Xena cocked an eyebrow and opened an eye, a smile tugging at her lips. "Well then maybe it wants someone to kill it so it can join it's mate."
"You would think of it that way," Gabrielle sighed slapping her friend's arm affectionately. "I wonder what it would be like to have someone love you so much that they would want to die to be with you."
You don't have to wonder, Xena thought but didn't dare say the words. She knew that Gabrielle thought her unromantic but the truth be told she would probably shock the young bard with the
intensity of feelings that assaulted her on a regular basis.
"Do you ever think about that Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"Sure all the time," the Warrior Princess replied honestly but with the same drawl she always used
when she was humouring the other woman.
"Yeah, right," the bard snorted and there was silence.
After a moment Xena opened an eye to see that her young friend was sleeping. For an instant she watched the steady rise and fall of the woman's chest before raising herself enough to lean forward and place a tender kiss on her soft cheek.
"I would gladly die to be with you Gabrielle," she said softly before settling back onto the bed.
Gabrielle woke to find that Xena was already awake and dressed. She watched quietly as the long elegant fingers finished lacing up the boots. A shiver raced up her spine at the image of those skilled digits touching her flesh.
"Where are you going?" she asked hastily in an attempt to defuse her thoughts.
"Dragon hunting," Xena announced standing up.
"How are you going to do that?"
"I don't know yet but I'll think of something," the warrior said.
"You always do," the bard agreed propping herself on her elbows. "Do you think you'll have to kill it?"
"Probably," came the quiet response.
"You know what I was thinking," Gabrielle began.
"Oh, oh," Xena said rolling her eyes and the small woman stuck a foot out of the bed and tried to kick the Warrior Princess in the leg but the tall dark haired woman was standing just out of reach. Xena growled.
"Well, you never listen to my ideas," the bard complained.
"Because they usually end up by getting one of us into trouble," was the genlte reminder.
"Yeah, well maybe someday it won't," came the hurt reply and Xena immediately felt contrite.
"Okay Gabrielle, what is your idea?" the Warrior sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.
The bard smiled impishly and Xena knew that the other woman could play her like a flute. Of course then that was because she allowed her too and she was the only one allowed that privilege.
"According to the villagers this dragon seems to understand when someone talks to it," Gabrielle said pleased that the Warrior Princess was listening. "Maybe if you tried to reason with it, tried to explain the truth. Maybe if you gave it one of your looks it might be frightened enough to leave and never come back."
The ex-warlord growled. "Maybe I should send you out to tell it one of your tales. The creature would fall asleep and then I could pounce upon it and kill it."
"Xena," Gabrielle protested slapping at her arm but the Warrior caught her wrist before she could make contact.
"Mmm," Xena nodded thoughtfully, the bard's suggestion had given her an idea. "Perhaps."
"Are you seriously considering my idea?" the bard was genuinely surprised.
"Yes," the dark haired woman said standing up and tossing off the blanket. "Get up it's time to go."
"Now you're just humouring me," the blonde woman said in a huff snatching back the blankets. "If you don't want my help then I'm just going to stay in bed."
"Then do that," Xena replied in the same voice before strolling out of the room.
The Warrior Princess stalked through the tavern aware that the mayor and his friends where already there. She barely cast them a glance before strolling out of the building and heading straight for the stables.
Gabrielle didn't go back to sleep, but instead, as soon as Xena had left the room she got out of bed and got dressed. She wandered down to the tavern and sat down alone at an empty table where she ordered breakfast. She glanced around the room noticing the mayor and the council grouped together in a corner.
She knew that she should go over and say hello but there was something in their manner that indicated that they did not want to be bothered. They cast fugitive glances in her direction and then whispered amongst themselves. Before long they stood up and strolled out of the tavern. The handmaiden appeared with her breakfast and she forgot about everything else but the need to satisfy her hunger. She had barely begun to eat when a man burst into the tavern and headed straight towards her.
"There's been an accident. Xena's been hurt," the man breathed heavily.
"Where is she?" Gabrielle was immediately on her feet, the food in front of her forgotten. She recognized the man as one of the councillors, the one who had questioned the Warrior's fighting ability.
"This way," the man motioned towards a courtyard and Gabrielle dashed after him. By the time she realized that something was wrong it was already to late. She felt a bump on her head and then
nothing more as she slumped to the ground.
Xena was still in the stables brushing down Argo and considering what to do next when the door burst
open and a young man rushed into the barn. She recognized him as the doe-eyed lad who had tried to court Gabrielle's attention the night before.
"You must hurry, they have taken Gabrielle," the boy said breathing heavily.
"What?" Xena was instantly alert.
"They took Gabrielle."
"Who?" the Warrior was puzzled not knowing who would want to bring harm to the bard.
"Because she looks like Gilda, the dead warrior's bride," the boy replied and automatically took a step backwards at the feral expression that overtook the warriors face.
"I think you better explain and quick," Xena growled.
"The mayor and councillors didn't tell you everything." the young man stuttered. "The Dragon never leaves the village until a maiden resembling the Greek Warrior's widow, Gilda, is sacrificed. Every time the dragon comes they find some who looks like the woman. One of the councillors had seen Gabrielle perform in another village and saw that they looked alike. They didn't really want you here, they wanted Gabrielle."
Xena didn't wait for any more explanation before throwing the bridle over Argo's head and mounting the great creature. She dug her heels into the horses flanks and galloped through the village and out towards the meadow. She rode fast and furiously and as she did an idea formed in her head.
"Forgive me Gabrielle," she whispered as a feral smile tipped the corners of her lips.
Instead of riding straight to the meadow she headed through the forest and up the mountain. She slipped off the horse and then raced to a plateau near the top. From her vantage point she could see the townspeople tying Gabrielle to a pole in the middle of the meadow. They were noisy and several of them beat on drums and she knew that they were trying to disturb the sleeping creature.
"Forgive me, my love," she repeated to herself hoping quietly that she was not making a mistake.
Without another word she slowly began to crawl down the side of the mountain until she was positioned directed over the mouth of the cave. She hoped that her plan would work, for Gabrielle's very life depended on it. There was a great roar and she knew the sleeping giant was awake.
Gabrielle woke slowly, feeling an unhealthy pounding at the back of her head. Her sight was blurry but her vision soon cleared and she realized that she was tied to a pole in the middle of an open field. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the village people fleeing towards the woods. It was then she heard the great roar and she glanced up to see the dragon thrust it's ugly head out of the
dark cave. In that instant she realized what was happening.
"Xena, this wasn't what I had in mind," she said to herself and hastily began to work on the ropes that bound her wrists behind her back. Fortunately the men who had tied the ropes were in a hurry as they were loose. She worked furiously to free herself.
As Xena had hoped the dragon paused at the entrance to the cave and looked out to discern what had disturbed it's slumber. The Warrior Princess stared down at the meadow, seeing the fleeing villagers and the bard tied to a stake.
The dragon roared again and timing her movement perfectly, Xena jumped onto its back as it flew out of the cave. She straddled its neck and unsheathed her sword aware she had only a few precious seconds before the creature would swoop down and devour her friend.
Balancing precariously on its neck she lifted her sword and brought it down, thrusting it deep into the dragon's neck aware of the creatures thick skin. The dragon screamed in agony as blood began to spurt from its wound but it determinedly continued to dive for Gabrielle.
The bard managed to work herself free just in time to dive and roll out of the way as the dragon swooped down. She felt its hot breathe against her skin as it roared passed and then flew back into the air.
Xena withdrew her sword and then thrust again, stabbing the creature a second time, ducking as another spurt of blood pumped from the wounded neck. Now two fountains of red were sprouting from the dragon but it still turned and circled as it hastened for another try to capture the bard who was sprinting across the meadow towards the trees.
Xena lifted the sword, her hands and face covered in the sweet sticky water of life. With a great cry she plunged the sword once more into the dragon as it swooped down upon Gabrielle.
The bard once again dove out of the way but the dragon, weakened by the loss of blood was unable to pull up again, it's huge body crashing into the earth with a mighty thud that sent up a huge cloud of dust. Gabrielle stared with stricken eyes at the cloud, her heart pounding erratically.
"Xena!" she called unable to see the warrior anywhere nearby. The dragon let out a wounded cry as blood continued to pour out of its body and seep into the surrounding ground.
"Xena!" Gabrielle was unable to keep the panic out of her voice
"Gabrielle," came a corresponding plea and the bard looked in front of the giant creature to where the Warrior Princess was sitting in the meadow.
Unable to contain her relief the bard bounded across the meadow and flew into the Warriors arms,
embracing her with unconcealed affection. She hugged her friend tightly as she planted several warm kisses on her brow.
Xena was silent for a minute enjoying this attention but she halted her thoughts and grabbed the
bards arms that had been flung around her neck, gently disengaging herself. She pushed the smaller woman away.
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle immediately turned her attention to the practical side of matters.
She saw the blood that covered the Warrior and was now concerned. She was not a healer but she
gingerly ran her hands over the warrior's limbs in an effort to discern the damage. Xena was okay, except maybe for a few bruises, but she was enjoying the attention. She liked the feel of the woman's hands upon her body and involuntarily a sigh escaped from between her lips.
"Are you okay Xena?" Gabrielle asked again aware the warrior had not yet spoken.
"Mmm," was all she said and the bard knew that her friend was all right.
"You killed it," the smaller woman said quietly glancing back at the dragon which now lay completely still in the middle of the open field.
"It wanted to die," Xena said. "Otherwise it wouldn't have kept coming back."
"I suppose your right," the bard agreed and looked at the bloody Warrior Princess a grin on her face. "I was worried that you wouldn't make it on time."
"I will always be on time for you Gabrielle," the Warrior Princess said.
"For what?" Xena asked surprised.
"For always being there."
"Mmm," the tall woman swallowed not trusting her voice to say any more. She struggled to her feet and glanced down at her stained leathers.
"Are you beginning to soften my Warrior Princess?" the bard asked playfully realizing that her words had struck a cord in the other woman.
"No, I'm just beginning to stink," Xena said flatly and whistled for Argo. "I need a bath and I remember a stream not far from here."
"What then?" the younger woman wanted to know.
"Then I think we will go back to the village and have a nice chat with the mayor and his cronies," the dark haired woman smiled with a hint of anger.
It wasn't until much later that they walked back through the gates of the village and this time the villagers fled from the pair for other reasons. In spite of what these people had tried to do to her the bard was not angry, her thoughts already on other matters. Gabrielle glanced at the Warrior Princess proud that she had once again accomplished their task. She would have another story to add to her repertoire.
"It's been rather a busy day..... do you think we could stay just another night?"
Xena knew what was going through the bard's head; hot baths, soft beds, fresh food and maybe time to tell another story or two. A tiny smile came to the corners of her lips. It might be nice to stay an extra day or two to remind these townsfolk never to mess with the Warrior Princess again.
"Mmm, I think after I speak with the mayor and the other villagers I might like a hot bath," she agreed as they marched towards the tavern.