DISCLAIMER: Nope! These characters aren't mine. Last time I heard, they belonged to Universal and since the company's name is Universal, I figured that might apply to me and it'd be okay if I just borrowed them for a short while, as long as I return them later.
Gabrielle's Solstice Surprise
The Bard of New Mexico
For days, Xena had been noticing Gabrielle's lack of enthusiasm for things she could talk about for hours on end and it had Xena a little curious, if not quite on the edge of worry. She'd been eating okay and didn't appear sick, but if something was wrong with Gabrielle, she wouldn't usually say anything to Xena. The bard didn't dawdle behind Xena, muttering to herself and making expansive gestures like she usually did when she was creating a story or practicing one, either. Finally, on a cold but sunny winter's day as they were taking the road to the Amazon village, Xena mentioned it to Gabrielle.
“You've been awfully quiet these last few days,” Xena observed.
“I said, you've been awfully quiet these last few days. What's going on?”
“Apparently, you haven't been thinking about your stories.”
Gabrielle turned to Xena. “How do you know?” she accused.
Xena grinned and lightly poked Gabrielle in the ribs. “When you do, you mutter to yourself. Sometimes I can make out some of the words. -- So what was that about Gaia's wedding night? Never mind. -- You also make these big, wild gestures as if you're actually living the story. You nearly knocked my head off once.”
Gabrielle blushed hotly. “I didn't know I was bothering you so much.”
“No, no. It's okay. It's an amusing – I mean amazing – thing to see a real bard in preparation.”
Gabrielle huffed. “Okay. Cut it out, Warrior Jester.”
Xena mock frowned for a minute, then let her face return to its normal expression. “So, dinar for your thoughts?”
Gabrielle half smiled. “Funny. Seems like I'm usually asking you that one.”
“Are you changing the subject or do you want to tell me about it?”
“As I said before, I was just thinking.” Gabrielle paused so long that Xena didn't think she'd continue.
“Since when did you take up philosophy?”
That earned Xena an eyeroll from Gabrielle, so she tried again. “What were you thinking about?”
Gabrielle finally said, “This past year.”
“What about it?”
“We've seen a lot of death this year. We always do. But I've come to realize just how easy it is for most people to die, and a lot of those don't get to tell their loved ones how they feel about them or even make amends if the last thing they did when they saw their loved ones was argue and leave things in a bad way.”
Xena took advantage of Gabrielle's pause to reply, “It's just the way of things sometimes, Gabrielle.” She added, “Well, that's still not quite necessarily true. The dead can hear your thoughts and by those thoughts, they can come to know what's in your heart.”
“But the dead can't usually talk back,” Gabrielle protested.
Xena gently tugged on her golden palomino's reins to stop her and then took Gabrielle by the shoulders so they were standing face-to-face. “Thinking about such a big thing like that is opening up a real can of worms, Gabrielle. People like us? We have to live minute-to-minute to survive and we've done a good enough job so far that you just can't let those thoughts drive you crazy now.”
Gabrielle turned a soft green look on Xena. “I know. I've promised myself to let it go because it can't be helped. BUT there is still one thing that we can do.”
It was Gabrielle's turn to smile widely. “Let's stop in the next town and I'll show you my idea.”
Xena, however, was impatient. “Come on. Tell me now.”
Gabrielle wouldn't budge. “It's only another candlemark to the next town. Just wait and see.”
They didn't talk anymore for the next candlemark. Xena's impatience amused Gabrielle and she was also getting excited about her idea and wouldn't doubt it if sometime in the future, someone would still think it was a great idea.
* * *
When Gabrielle and Xena got to the next town, Gabrielle gave some coins to Xena to get them a room at the inn for the night and then she hustled herself off in the direction of the town market. She quickly found the food stalls and bought some supplies they were low on, and then she found a parchment maker who sold parchment by small sheets or scrolls. He also had a new item that Gabrielle had never seen before.
“What are these?” she asked him.
“My dear lady, these are the newest things! Can you imagine it? Sticks of color! My cousin's invention. He mixed crushed herbs with wax and formed them. Look!” He took out a spare piece of parchment and a set of those colorful sticks that someone had already opened. He rubbed the end of a green colored stick on the parchment and made the outline of a mountain ridge. “They can add color and flair to your works!” Gabrielle took a piece of red and drew the character for delta. She liked the way the colored stick felt as it glided over the parchment.
“Ten? I don't care if it is new. That's practically robbery.”
He raised his thick, dark eyebrows. “Would you suggest seven?”
“I would suggest five,” Gabrielle said without hesitation.
“My dear lady, I can't go any lower than six. I have a family to feed.”
“Five. If I use these and my friends see it, you might have more business than you can handle,” Gabrielle smoothly suggested.
His eyes lit up greedily at the thought of doing a brisk business. “Okay, five. But only if you promise to show them to people. Let's call it a promotional deal, shall we?”
“Yes,” Gabrielle replied, again without showing any emotion. She dug into her pocket, pulled out a small number of coins, and counted out what she owed for the colored sticks and the few smaller sheets of parchment.
When the exchange was made, she headed back to the inn and found Xena finishing taking care of the horse, Argo.
“What room are we in?”
Xena replied, “It's up the stairs and second door on the right.” She started following Gabrielle up, but Gabrielle held out a hand to stop her.
“Why don't you go enjoy a drink and I'll be with you in a while. I have some things to do.”
“Go on,” Gabrielle prodded her. “I promise to show you later, okay?”
Gabrielle went into their room and found a very plain chair and small table set where the sunlight could fall onto them and she took out the sheets of parchment, her quill, and the colored sticks and quickly got to work. In two candlemarks, her work was finally done and she was on her way downstairs to join Xena.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, though, she saw a young Amazon sister and the young woman's eyes widened with recognition. Gabrielle put a finger to her lips and motioned her out a side door.
“Just who I wanted to see!” Gabrielle announced.
The young Amazon dropped to a knee and bowed. “What can I do for you, my queen?”
Gabrielle pulled a smaller dispatch bag out of her larger leather satchel. “Please just call me Gabrielle. Send these ahead to the village and hand them out to our sisters. Xena and I should be along in another day or two.”
“Very well, my queen,” the young Amazon replied, in spite of Gabrielle's directions. Still on one knee, she took the dispatch bag, jumped up, and hurried off to carry out her orders.
Gabrielle ordered a drink and found Xena at a table talking with a town resident who asked her for news. At Gabrielle's approach, the man got up and took his leave.
Xena said, “You took your sweet time. Now, are you going to show me what this is all about?”
Gabrielle looked around the room. “Hmmmmmmm..... No cracked heads so you must've been behaving yourself.” She turned her eyes on Xena. “Okay. You've been good. Time to share.”
Gabrielle almost laughed at the way Xena's face brightened. She paused one more minute, however, as the barmaid brought her drink and left. Gabrielle took a big gulp, then set it down and opened her leather satchel. She took out a parchment folded in half and a small leather case. “Remember when I said there was still one thing we could do about letting others know how we feel and making amends for an argument? Those things are really hard to say in person, even for me sometimes. So, well.... I created these things I call Solstice greeting cards. She gave the folded parchment to Xena and Xena's eyes widened as she saw the colored picture of a chakram looped over a staff. Then, she opened it. Inside was a picture of a sunset at one of the lakes they'd passed by the day before yesterday.
“How did you do that? How'd you get the color?” Xena asked in amazement.
Gabrielle unfolded the leather flap on the case. “These are the newest things!” she announced like the salesman did. Colored sticks.
Xena took the purple colored stick that had been one of the ones used on the front of the card and examined it. She rubbed the end over her thumb's pad and watched some of the color come off. “Nice. And you're a good artist, too.”
“It's not just about the art,” Gabrielle patiently explained. “It would be good if at least once a year, we could write a little note to our friends and family and those who we may have wronged. You know, apologize or let them know we're thinking about them. It'd be a good way to clear the mind and start a new year fresh.”
Xena opened her card and quietly read aloud, “Dear Xena, This has been another incredible year with you. Of course, some of the worst moments of my life were spent with you,” Xena paused and chucked, then continued more seriously, “but mostly, the best moments of my life have been with you. Thank you for that and happy Solstice! Love, Gabrielle.”
Xena gazed at Gabrielle with an amazing expression of warmth in her eyes that were as blue as Gabrielle had ever seen them. She held up her mug of ale. “Happy Solstice, Gabrielle!”
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