A Year In Tartarus





Xena and Gabrielle suffer through their worst year together with near fatal wounds, illness, drought, blizzard, fire, flood, death, and separation.

Part One


Chapter One


“Wake up Sleepyhead! It's your birthday!”

And without another word Xena emptied half a water skin onto the sleeping Gabrielle. Spitting and sputtering, and laughing, Gabrielle jumped up from her sleeping skins and chased Xena around the campsite, vowing to do untold damage to her if she ever caught her. When they were both somewhat winded, a temporary truce was called, but Gabrielle swore only until she was able to pay Xena back for the dousing.

“You know, it's not my birthday.” Gabrielle told her.

“Sure it is. You don't think I'd forget THAT, do you?”

“Well, you must have, because it is NOT my birthday.”

“Gabrielle, it IS! I've been keeping track of the seasons, the stars, and the moon. Believe me, it's your birthday.”

“Xena, there's no way I'd forget my own birthday.”

“Okay! If that's the way you want it – it's not your birthday.”

Xena paused, but her tone of voice let Gabrielle know there was something else coming.

Xena continued. “Then I guess you don't want your birthday present. I suppose I can save it for Meg.”

“Well, if you insist – then I guess it IS my birthday after all.”

“Oh no! You said it wasn't.”

“I was mistaken, so hand it over.”

“You're sure, now? It IS your birthday?”

“Of course it is. YOU'RE the one who's been charting the heavens, remember?”

With a smug and satisfied look on her face, Xena went to her saddlebag and brought out the gift, wrapped in parchment and tied with a thin leather string.

“It's heavy!” Gabrielle commented as she took it from Xena. Then she hurriedly untied the string and opened it.

“Oh, Xena! It's BEAUTIFUL! Thank You! Thank you so MUCH!”

And clasping the silver pendant necklace with a blue crystal in the center, she threw her arms around Xena's neck and hugged her tightly.

“So you like it?” Xena asked unnecessarily as Gabrielle stepped back from the embrace.

“Are you kidding? I LOVE it!”

“Turn around.” Xena told her. “Let's try it on.”

Gabrielle turned her back to Xena and reached back with both hands to give the ends of the silver chain to Xena, who fastened the clasp. As she looked down at it, Gabrielle felt her eyes begin to tear.

“I'll never take it off. NEVER!” She declared. And gave Xena another hug, and an affectionate kiss on the lips.

“Since it's your birthday, I suppose you'll expect me to fix breakfast as well.”

Gabrielle laughed. “No. I'll do it. This necklace is more than enough for my birthday.”

“You're positive it's your birthday?” Xena teased.

“One hundred percent sure.” And Gabrielle began to build up the fire.


The two women had barely finished breakfast when Xena said quietly to Gabrielle, “Get ready.”


And she innocently took her sword from its scabbard and began cleaning it, her eyes and ears searching and listening to the surrounding forest for the attack she knew was coming. Gabrielle withdrew her sais as if she was about to do the same. Then without warning, a half dozen arrows rained down on them. Xena managed to dodge one of them and batted away two more. The fourth hit off to one side of Gabrielle, but she tripped as she ducked away from the fifth, and the sixth arrow penetrated her back, just above her right shoulder blade.

Gabrielle fell to one knee, but hearing the screams of the attackers, she forced herself to her feet, grimacing with the pain as she moved. Xena, seeing Gabrielle was injured, put herself between Gabrielle and the six men who ran at them. Gabrielle readied herself for battle, but could barely move her right arm. She gripped her left sais as one man was able to avoid Xena's sword and closed in on her. But Xena saw him from the corner of her eye and before he could swing at Gabrielle with his sword, Xena spun around with her own, cutting deep into his neck, and slicing through the back half of it, severing his spine.

The attacker fell forward onto Gabrielle, knocking her to the ground, driving the arrow deeper into her shoulder until the point was nearly penetrating the front of her upper chest, and breaking the shaft at the same time. The pain caused Gabrielle to pass out, unaware of the weight of the dead man on top of her.

Xena finished off three more of them, and the last two ran away. She then ran to Gabrielle, pulled the man off her, and knelt down to make sure she was still alive. Gently turning Gabrielle to one side, Xena saw that the wound was packed with bloody dirt, and she knew it needed immediate attention. Looking around for the water skins, Xena saw that neither was of any use to her. The one she had used to awaken Gabrielle had fallen to the ground and had been stepped on, forcing out the remaining water. The other one had been slashed during the fight and its contents were spilled onto the ground.

Thinking hard, Xena remembered the nearest water, a small stream, was a day's ride away. She gently laid Gabrielle down on one of the blankets, and then began to break camp. She knew she couldn't get Gabrielle up onto her horse, so she made a litter out of two small saplings and using leather twine, wrapped and tied blankets around the saplings to form a crude stretcher. She then tied the two ends of it to either side of Gabrielle's horse and laid Gabrielle down on it, making sure she was secure and wouldn't fall off. Then climbing into the saddle of her own horse, Argo 3, and taking the reins of Gabrielle's, Xena headed in the direction of the stream. It was a rough day and a half ride back to the small stream. Gabrielle moaned with every bounce and jostle. More than once Xena stopped to check on her.


Once they arrived at the stream, Xena saw that it was smaller and muddier than she remembered. After making Gabrielle as comfortable as she could, Xena filled the one good water skin with the muddy water, and then filtered it several times through one of the blankets into Gabrielle's frying pan. After carefully cleaning the wound, Xena realized that the broken shaft was imbedded too deeply to be pulled out from the back. And to make matters worse, infection was already beginning to set in.

“Gabrielle,” Xena said softly to the barely conscious young woman. “I'm going to have to cut into the front of your chest to get to the arrowhead. And it's going to hurt, a lot.”

Gabrielle was barely aware of what Xena was saying, but at the words “hurt, a lot” she nodded that she understood.

Then she asked through the aching pain, “But what about your nerve pinch? Can't you stop the pain like that?”

“Not this time. That works fine for the arms and legs, but the nerves to the chest are buried too deeply in the body.”

Gabrielle nodded again, then said, “Do what you have to. Just give me something to bite down on and I'll just have to suffer through it.”

Xena cut a piece of branch from a tree and after stripping the bark and washing it, she put it in front of Gabrielle's mouth.

“Here, bite down on this. I'll work as quickly as I can.”

Gabrielle opened her mouth and Xena placed the wood between her teeth, and she bit down on it. Xena quickly started a small fire with her flint and sword, then passed the blade of her breast knife through the flames, hoping to prevent any further infection.

“Ready?” She asked. Gabrielle nodded, closed her eyes and balled up both fists.

Xena gently pressed down near Gabrielle's shoulder until she felt the point of the arrow. Gabrielle flinched at the pain, then braced herself. Xena quickly cut an “X” across the spot, and peeling back the skin exposed the point of the arrow. But she had to cut deeper and wider to get her fingers onto the arrowhead. Twice she had to rinse away the blood to see. But the blood was making the arrowhead too slippery to pull out.

“Gabrielle, I have to try to push the arrow from the back side. I need to turn you over onto your side.”

Gabrielle barely nodded, then lifted her right shoulder up so she could be turned. Xena splashed the last of the water over the back injury. Then putting one finger into the wound, she pushed against the broken end of the arrow's shaft as she pulled the arrowhead from the front side. At the excruciating pain, Gabrielle mercifully passed out.

When Gabrielle woke up, dawn was breaking. She had been out since noon the previous day. But the pain was still there. Xena was instantly at her side with filtered, but still not particularly clean water for her to drink. Gabrielle coughed as the water choked her and she screamed out in pain. Xena held her until the coughing spasm ended. Gabrielle was dripping with sweat from the fever and was panting. She was getting dark rings around her eyes and her lips were pale. The infection was getting worse. Xena had a few herbs in her saddlebag and had made a poultice to try to draw out the infection, but it was too little too late. She knew they had to find a Healer or Gabrielle would surely die.

Once again Gabrielle was loaded onto the stretcher and Xena led her horse as they rode west toward a village Xena knew of. Xena only stopped when it was too dark to travel any farther. And broke camp when it was barely light enough to see.



Chapter Two


Well past midday Xena and Gabrielle entered the village of Midlos. After asking, she was directed to the Healer's hut.

“She's in bad shape.” The old man said after a quick examination. “Don't know how much I can do for her.”

“Whatever you can do, do it!” Xena demanded. “If she dies, I'll die with her.”

The old Healer nodded in sympathy, then went to work. He first made Gabrielle drink a painkiller and sleeping potion combination. Next, he cleaned the wound with the strongest wine he had. Then he sliced open the one in her back, cutting away the now-decaying flesh. And taking a narrow, pointed, red-hot iron rod, he forced it into the open wound, cauterizing and, hopefully, killing some of the infection. After dressing that wound, he performed much the same for the front injury. Despite being unconscious, Gabrielle trembled and cried out at the painful treatment. Xena could only hold her, watching, and hoping it would keep her from dying.

For three days Xena sat by Gabrielle's bed, trying to get her to drink chicken broth or water whenever she thought she needed it. By the end of the third day improvement was obvious. Gabrielle woke up on the fifth day, weak as a kitten, but asking for something to eat.

“She's not completely healed you know.” The old Healer told Xena. “She'll need bed rest for a half month at least. And she should keep that her arm in that sling until all of the feeling comes back and she can start building up some strength in it.”

“I suppose there's an inn in town where we can stay while she gets better.”

“There's one here. But it won't be cheap. Room and board for the two of you will cost you four dinars per day. Figuring fifteen days at least, that's sixty dinars. You have that kind of money?”

“Not even close.”

“Xena,” Gabrielle said weakly, “If we have to we can always sell my horse and saddle.”

Xena smiled down at her ailing friend. “No. You love that horse too much. We'll figure something out.”

Turning to the Healer she had a questioning look on her face.

“There may be something else.” He said. “Not too far from town, about a quarter of a day's walk, there is an old abandoned cabin. No one's lived there for a couple of years so I'm sure it's still empty, but it probably isn't in very good condition.”

“If it has four walls and a roof, it'll be fine. After all the time we've spent sleeping under the stars, any shelter at all will do.”

“I'll come by in a couple of days to check on your friend. But the way she came through I'm sure she'll be all right.”

“That's good to know. So – what do I owe you for the medical help, the room, and the food?”

“Is six dinars too much?”

Xena opened her money pouch and poured seven dinars into her hand.

“Here,” she said handing over all of it. “One dinar for your next visit.”

“You're sure? What will you do for food?”

“Hunt, like I do when we're on the trail. And I can always barter fresh game for whatever else we need.”

“Very well, then. I wish you both the best of luck.”

Then looking down at Gabrielle, he said, “Rest as much as you can. I have two potions I'm giving you. I want you to take them twice a day, at daybreak and at dawn. And I will see you in two – three days.”

“Thank you.” Gabrielle said.

“Yeah.” Xena echoed. “Thank you.”

The Healer helped Xena put Gabrielle back onto the litter and watched as they left toward the other side of town.


“Well, he was right.” Xena said as they arrived the ramshackle, broken down hut. “Four walls and a roof is about all it is.”

“Let me see,” Gabrielle requested.

Xena helped Gabrielle sit up, then stand. Slowly, as Xena held Gabrielle around the waist, they walked up to the cabin. There was neither porch nor overhang to protect the doorless opening. When they got inside, a single window let in the afternoon sun since the shutters had long since been torn off by the wind when the leather hinges rotted away. It was a one-room hut with a dirt floor. A three-legged table barely stood on the uneven floor, caused from holes dug by wolves or other animals searching for burrowing moles. A single bench, with a broken leg lay on its side. Only the fireplace seemed to be okay, provided the chimney wasn't blocked by nesting birds.

“If I can shore up the table, you can use for a bed until we can get you a real one.” Xena said as she helped Gabrielle sit on the good end of it.

“Don't be silly.” Gabrielle replied. “I can sleep on the floor just like we always do.”

“Well, we'll see. If you'll be all right, I want to unsaddle the horses and tether them near some grass. And I need to locate some water. Maybe there's a well or river nearby.”

“I'll be fine. Go do what you have to. I'll see if I can get a fire started.”

“And just how are you going to do that with one arm in a sling? You still can't even feel your fingers.”

“Okay! I'll gather some firewood. I can do THAT with one arm.”

“Just don't bend over too much, you're still weak and could pass out.”

“Go tend to the horses. I'll wait right here, not moving a muscle!”

“I'm just worried about you, that's all.”

Gabrielle's voice softened. “I know you are. I'm just not used to being so helpless.”

“Give it a month or so. You'll be as good as new.”

“I know.”


Chapter Three


“So how's the shoulder this morning?”

“Not bad. It still hurts if I stretch it too much, and sometimes my fingers tingle a little bit. But as long as I keep it in the sling most of the time, I can use it pretty well once in a while.”

“Well, it's only been about a month. Another couple months or so and it should be as good as new. And since you are doing so good, I thought I'd go out do some hunting.”

“I thought we had enough smoked venison and rabbit to last us for a while.”

“We do, but we could use some salt, and maybe some flour and a few other things. And since we still don't have any money, I think if I bring in a freshly killed deer I can trade it for them.”

“Then after you make the kill you're going straight to town?”

“Don't worry, I'll be back long before dusk.”

“I'm not worried, I just like to know where you are, that's all.”

Xena mounted up.

“What about breakfast?”

“Got some of the rabbit I'll eat later. Don't do too much while I'm gone. Give that shoulder a chance to heal up.”

“I'll be fine. If you think about it, maybe you can find a loaf of nut bread in town?”

“I'll see what I can do.”


Gabrielle ate her own breakfast, then did what she could to restock the firewood, and bring a few buckets of water from the stream. Not long before midday she heard a horse. Going outside she saw it was Xena, without any freshly killed game.


“You've already been to town?” she asked.

“Got bigger problems.” Xena asked, obviously troubled.

“What?” Gabrielle asked, expecting to hear an army was approaching.

“I broke my leg.” Xena said simply.

Then sliding down off her horse and landing on right leg, she hopped into the cabin, trying not to put any weight on the injured left limb. Gabrielle followed her in and after Xena sat on the repaired bench, started unlacing Xena's left boot. After removing it, the break, which was half way between Xena's knee and ankle, was obvious – a sliver of bone was breaking through the skin despite the swelling around the site.

“How did this happen?”

“I was tracking a nice buck along the river bank when I stepped down through a tangle of roots. I lost my balance and when I grabbed a limb, it broke and I went down. I heard it when it snapped.”

“Doesn't it hurt?”

“It did at first, but I speared my thigh, which stopped the pain but paralyzed my leg, so it took me a while before I was able to get to where I had tethered my horse and then get back here.”

“Do you want me to fetch the Healer?”

“No, we can set it ourselves. I've done it before. All you have to do is pull on my foot until the bones align themselves, slowly release it, and then put a splint on my leg.”


“Now's a good a time as any.”

Gabrielle grabbed Xena's heel with her left hand and tried to use her right hand on the top of her foot, but the pain in her shoulder wouldn't let her pull hard enough to do any good.

“So now what?” Gabrielle asked.

Xena thought for a few moments, then said, “Let's go outside. We'll need some rope.”

Xena's plan was to tie two ends of the rope around her ankle, with rope passing inside and outside of her foot. She would brace herself with her other foot against a tree, and Gabrielle would loop the rope around the tree and then around her back, then pushing with her feet against the tree, would pull on the rope until Xena thought the bones were lined up correctly.

It took three tries before Xena was satisfied. Gabrielle put the splint on Xena's leg and they went back into the hut so she could dress the wound. Gabrielle fixed Xena some of the smoked venison for lunch, then sat thinking, wondering what they were going to do.

“I had planned on us leaving here in a few days.” Xena said. “Looks like we'll be here a little longer.”

“You think?” Gabrielle answered, now starting to really get worried. “How about a few more months? Xena, what are we going to do? I can set some snares and catch some fish, but if we're going to stay here much longer, we're going to have to start thinking about stockpiling supplies for winter. And if you can't hunt, what are we going to trade with?”

“Who said I can't hunt?”

“Come on, Xena, if you can't walk how can you hunt?”

“All I have to do is to see some game, and let my Chakram do the rest.”

“And I suppose the deer are just going to walk right up and let you kill them?”

“I have a horse, Gabrielle, and I can still ride.”

Gabrielle shook her head, still not convinced.

“I'm sorry, Xena, but I've got a bad feeling about this. We've never both been – disabled, together.”

“Gabrielle, we're not disabled, we're just temporarily out of sorts.”

Xena started to say something else, but moaned instead, with a grimace on her face.

“What?” Gabrielle asked, alarmed.

“The feeling's coming back to my leg. Starting to hurt.”

“Can't you spear it again?”

“I could, but too many times and the nerves get paralyzed and then I'd lose complete use of my leg. No, I'll just have to tough it out.”

As the day turned into dusk, the pain reached a peak, then seemed to level out, and then slowly ebb. But it never completely went away.

“Kind of like a tooth ache.” Xena said. “A dull, aching throb. By tomorrow it should be better.”

Gabrielle tried to make Xena comfortable as they settled down for the night. She hung a blanket on nails over the top of the door opening and moved the table in front of it, laying it over on its side; a makeshift barrier to keep out nosy, or hungry, animals. The next morning Xena said her leg was better, but showed signs of fever herself.

“Did you hear that?” Gabrielle asked.

“I'm not sure, I think I did.”

Gabrielle went to the doorway, moved the table and took down the blanket. A dozen paces outside the door, lying on its side was a large doe, breathing her last. Gabrielle went out to look at it. As she knelt down, she heard someone shouting at her.

“Hey! We'll just be taking that deer!”

Gabrielle looked up to see three men with bows and arrows hurrying toward her and the deer.

“That's our kill.” One said, and he turned the deer onto her other side to show the stub of a broken arrow sticking out of the deer's side.

“Well, I guess it is.” Gabrielle agreed. “Wouldn't want to share some of it would you? After all, she did die here in front of our cabin.”

“Don't think so.” The man answered.

Another man stepped up.

“You said ‘our cabin.' Somebody else here? Husband maybe?”

“No, just me and my friend.”

Just then Xena hobbled out of the doorway using her sword as a cane. The second man glanced at his companions with an evil smile.

“Just you two, huh? And no man around. Kind of dangerous, isn't it, all by yourselves?”

“We can take care of ourselves.” Gabrielle replied, now becoming wary.

“One with a broke leg and you with a bum arm?” The third man said.

“I think maybe you two could use some male companionship,” he added with an unpleasant tone of voice.

“And I think it's time you three took your deer and got out of here.” Xena said.

“I don't think so.” The first man said. “I think we might just stay around a bit longer. So we can get to know each other better.” And he laughed along with the other two.

Without warning, Xena's other hand came out from behind her and she sent her Chakram sailing out past the men, who turned to watch it as it flew high up toward the trees then circled back around toward them. They barely had time to dive face first down into the dirt to keep from being killed. Xena snagged the Chakram out of the air and before the men could recover, she had her sword at the throat of the first man.

“Either of you move and he dies.” She said to the other two.

No one moved.

“Gabrielle, get their weapons.”

Gabrielle retrieved their bows, arrows and knives.

“Now get up!”

When the men were up on their feet, Xena said, “Get your deer and get out of here. You come back again and you'll be pulling your own arrows out of each other. Now GET!”

Hurriedly, the men hoisted the deer onto the shoulders of the largest man and quickly walked away from the cabin, muttering low to each other. As they barely got out of sight, Xena threw her Chakram again, cutting off several tree limbs behind them as a final warning.

“You know, you could have had them leave the deer.” Gabrielle said.

“Then they'd just be that much madder, and would come back that much sooner.”

“You think they'll be back?”

“Maybe, maybe not. But at least we can hunt now. I never was really happy with the thought of using my Chakram to kill game with.”


Chapter Four


Gabrielle and Xena had finished loading up two freshly killed deer onto Gabrielle's horse and Xena was about to climb into the saddle of Argo 3. Xena's leg wasn't completely healed, but she knew just how much she could use it without further damage.

“You're sure about this?” She asked Gabrielle.

“Sure as I'll ever be. She's been a good horse, but we need the supplies. Once things get better again I can always get another one.”

“Okay. I should be back in a couple of days; three at the most.”
“I'll be here. You take care.”

Xena mounted up and over her shoulder as she rode off she yelled back, “Don't forget to fill the water barrel!”

“The water barrel.” Gabrielle muttered. The one job she hated – walking through the woods to the small river carrying two buckets to fill up and then walking back to the cabin. It took four such trips to fill the water barrel. This time only three were needed, but her right shoulder ached constantly since they had acquired the bows and arrows. Gabrielle was determined she was going to become an expert with them, and all her practicing kept her not-quite-healed shoulder achy all the time.

“I'll do it tomorrow,” she said to no one. “Or the day after. There's enough for me right now.”

As she puttered around the cabin -- straightening up, putting away the salted pork and venison, washing the two wooden bowls they had used for breakfast, she decided, for the hundredth time how much she hated it when Xena was gone.


Medlos, the village where the Healer lived, just didn't have everything they needed, so Xena was going to the next closest village, upstream of the small river where they had been getting their water, to try to get more supplies.

Xena's leg was healing, but not as quickly as she had hoped, and they had come to the conclusion that they just might end up spending the winter where they were, and they needed more blankets, more salt, more flour, a couple more water skins, and anything else Xena thought they could use.

The next morning Gabrielle checked the water barrel and concluded she could go one more day without plodding down to the river. She could go the next morning and have the barrel full by the time Xena got back. She spent the day outside, practicing with the bow until her shoulder began to ache. Then she went looking for berries, wild onions, carrots, turnips and other edible greens. The next day when she got to the river she discovered it was no longer a clean running stream. The water level had dropped to one third of what it had been, and the water was no longer clear, but muddy.

“Great! That's all I need. I KNEW I should have gotten the water when Xena told me to, I KNEW it!”

Gabrielle scooped up two buckets of the muddy water and headed back to the cabin. She decided that if she let the dirt settle out of the water while it was still in the buckets, she might get enough clean water out of it. And as an added bonus, it would give her shoulder time to recover before the next trip.

After a while Gabrielle dipped the wooden ladle into the water, but there were still fine granules that were still floating. So she folded one of the coarse-woven blankets in half two times, for a total of four layers, and gently poured the water through it, trying to keep the mud on the bottom from stirring up. Then she made another trip to the stream.

Just as she got back Xena rode up, without the deer and without Gabrielle's horse, but with full saddlebags, and with a large bundle tied on behind her saddle.

“So how was it?” Gabrielle asked.

“Good. Got plenty of everything. I sure hope you got that barrel filled.”

“Why?” Gabrielle asked, feeling guilty.

“Because the town is damming the river and they're really churning up the water in the process.”

Knowing Xena would find out soon enough, Gabrielle confessed her laziness about fetching the water, and her use of the blanket as a filter.

“Sorry, Xena, I just messed up.”

“Don't worry about it, in a few days the water should mostly clear up.”

“I thought you said they dammed the river. How are we going to get any water at all?”

“They can't dam it one hundred percent or it'd flood the village. We'll still get water, just not as much.”

After unloading the supplies, they filtered the two buckets of water and Gabrielle headed back to the stream for the last two.


“Xena, something's wrong. There is almost no water in the stream. I thought you said we'd still get water even though they dammed it.”

“Must be this dry spell. There hasn't been any rain for what, a month, or more? I guess there isn't enough of the river to make it past the dam. I wouldn't be surprised if they dammed the river every fall. That's probably why this cabin was abandoned.”

“We have to do something! We can't live without water.”

“I could take the three water skins we have and hope they'll let me fill them up. But three skins won't last us more than two or three days, and it's at least a two-day ride there and back again.”

“Well, thanks, that makes me feel a LOT better!”

Xena smiled at Gabrielle's sarcasm, but she was also worried. She knew Gabrielle was right, something had to be done.”

“There's no water at all?” She asked.

“A trickle here, maybe a stagnant pool there.”

Xena thought for a while, then an idea came to her. She instructed Gabrielle to find something to use for a shovel, then the two of them headed for the river.

“We'll find the strongest trickle and then dig a hole for it to fill up. With any luck there will be enough running into the hole that it all won't just soak down into the river bed.”

There wasn't any one small dribble of water that was delivering enough water, so they diverted three of them into one and then dug a small pit that was as deep as Xena's arm was long, and twice as big around. The water filling the hole was muddy, but in a day or two the sediment should have settled out to leave mostly clear water at the top. They got water, not much and not really clear, but water, for another half month.

“Let me ride upstream for a while. If I can find where it disappears into the river bed,” Xena said as she saddled her horse. “Maybe I can find enough to fill the skins.”

After Xena rode off, Gabrielle checked the water barrel again; barely half full. Xena didn't return until just after dusk.

“I don't know what we're going to do. As far as I could tell the only water to be found is behind the dam.”

“Maybe we should move there.” Gabrielle suggested. “We should be able to find something to do to earn our keep.”

“Maybe. But the whole time I was there trading for the supplies I got the feeling that traders were welcome, but not settlers.”

“What about Medlos? They should have a community well.”

“They might. I'll check it out tomorrow morning.”

“Why don't you let me go? You should stay and rest your leg. I've seen you favoring it. I can ride your horse.”

“Sure. Just don't get upset if they refuse.”

“You know me, Xena, I'm the epitome of patience.”


“. . . And they had the NERVE to tell me not to come back! Can you believe that?”

“Well, Gabrielle, it's not a good policy to call the people you're essentially begging water from ‘stingy, loud-mouth morons.' You shouldn't have let them get to you like that.”

“But they didn't even give me a chance to offer anything in trade. Just as soon as I mentioned water . . . .”

“Yes, I know. You've told me, three times now.”

“But, Xena . . . .”

“Don't worry Gabrielle, we'll figure something out.”

“Like what? Steal water from them?”

“Not them, but there is a dam a day's ride from here, and there's more water there than in Medlos.”

“So when are we going?”

We aren't going anywhere. I am going after the water while you stay here.”

“But . . . .”

“There's only one horse, and if I'm going to bring back enough water to last us a while, then I can't have you taking up space behind my saddle that can be used to carry a barrel of water.”

“How are you going to carry our barrel? You'll slosh it all out by the time you get back here.”

“I'm not taking the one here. I'm going to ‘borrow' one I saw near the dam. It may leak a little, but not enough to hurt.”

“Well, if that's the way it has to be, then go on. I'll be here, waiting as usual.”

“You might want to see about stocking up on firewood. I can feel a change in the air, and winter isn't that far off.”

Before Gabrielle could answer, Xena mounted up and rode off upstream to get the water they needed. Even before Xena was out of sight, Gabrielle turned back toward the cabin.

“ ‘You might want to see about stocking up on firewood.' ” Gabrielle repeated in a petty tone of voice.

“ ‘ I'll go get the water alone,' ” she continued. “ ‘I don't have room for YOU!' ”

The more she talked to herself, the angrier Gabrielle got. But nevertheless, she spent the afternoon gathering and piling up firewood. More than once she wished Xena had gotten an axe along with all the supplies back when the nameless town started damming the river.


Chapter Five


“When is this drought going to END?!” Gabrielle complained, for the twentieth time.

“It'll end when it ends.” Xena replied patiently, for the twentieth time. She couldn't fault Gabrielle. She wondered the same thing, for the hundredth time.

“So how many times have you had to fetch water?”

“Ten – twelve times. I lost count. Doesn't matter. They don't know any is missing.”

“But how many more times are you going to have to do that? When is it going to RAIN?”

“It'll rain when it rains.”


Xena came running into the cabin, it was barely light outside.

“Gabrielle! Wake up! The drought is over!”

Gabrielle was up in an instant. She ran outside, expecting to be soaked with cold, refreshing, wet rain. Instead, she saw only a dark gray, overcast sky.

“So where's the rain?”

“Look up! Hold your hand out! It's starting to snow!”

Gabrielle was vaguely aware of a few flakes drifting down to land in the palm of her hand.

“That's IT? That's the end of the drought?”

“Yes! It's snowing! And we can melt the snow to get water. Hurry! Get all the pots and pans and bowls and anything else we have to catch the snow.”

Gabrielle shook her head in disappointment, but went inside to comply. Gradually the few flakes turned into a steady snowfall that lasted all day, and all night, and all the next day, and longer. The water barrels were full for the first time in more than a month. Gabrielle was glad she had gathered up so much firewood. The cabin didn't hold much heat so it was being burned up pretty quickly.

“Just as soon as the snow lets up we'll have to get as much wood as we can. I have a feeling it's going to be a pretty cold winter.” Xena said at supper on the fourth day as it continued to snow.


“Xena, is it EVER going to stop snowing?”

“It'll have to stop sometime.”

“That's what you said about the drought.”

“I was right, wasn't I?”

“Well, sure, but the question was more rhetorical than anything. I know it's going to stop, sometime. I just wish I knew when. And DON'T say ‘it'll stop when it stops.' I know that!”

Xena smiled, but she was just as worried now as she was during the drought. The only relief from the drought was the snow. And now, the drifts were getting so high it was becoming harder and harder to find enough wood for the fireplace. And she couldn't remember the last time she could feel her toes.

“I think we need to let Argo run free,” Xena said without warning.

“What? Why?”

Because there isn't enough grass left around here for grazing. If we let her run loose, she can find food on her own.”

“But what'll we do without a horse? What if we need to – to . . . .”

“We'll get by, we always do. But if I keep her tied up she'll starve to death.

“I suppose you're right. So, when?”

“I should let her go now. That way she'll have most of the day to find food.”


“Xena, do you think it was this cold in those ice coffins Ares put us in?”

“I don't know. Since we were sleeping the whole time it's hard to say. But if I had to guess, I'd say it's colder now. Inside the coffins we were about the temperature of the ice. But it has to be colder than that in here.”

“Maybe it's just the cold, but I really don't feel so well, like I'm starting to run a fever. What do you think?”

Xena put her chilled hand on Gabrielle's forehead.

“You feel like you're burning up, but I think it's just because my hand is so cold.”

“Well, put it back! It feels so good.”

“If that's the case, then I think you are running a fever.”

Then suddenly Xena sneezed, four times in a row.

“That made me dizzy,” she commented. And sneezed three more times.

“Oh, great! This is all we need.” Gabrielle said, coughing slightly. “Getting sick. The fun just never stops.”

“Then I think we should start making plans. I'll go out and find as much wood as I can. In the meantime, you need to start preparing food we can eat without having to cook. If we get too sick, we won't have the strength. And find everything we have to put water in, and start melting snow.”

Without a word, Gabrielle started to work, fighting the dizziness, and the more and more frequent coughing. Xena went outside to find firewood.


“Here, Gabrielle, drink this. Come on, sit up. That's right, now drink it down. All of it. Good.”

“Xena, it's so cold in here. What happened to the fire?” Gabrielle managed to say between her frequent coughs.

“You just lay back down and I'll throw more wood on it. Don't you worry.”

Xena staggered toward the fireplace, shivering, and her head spinning from the fever and her blurry vision. She found the last piece of wood they had, from the table she had broken up the night before. Or was it the day before that? Then finding her way back to Gabrielle, she crawled under the pile of blankets and furs, curling herself around her Soul mate, adding her body heat to Gabrielle's, hoping when they woke up, the bone-chilling weather would be over.


Chapter Six


Gabrielle slowly woke up, drifting in and out of sleep. Each time she was a little more awake than the time before. And the more conscious, and aware, she became, the more she realized something was different; wasn't quite right. The first thing she noticed was that the cabin smelled differently. She couldn't tell exactly why, but it did. Then she found she wasn't cold anymore. In fact, she was almost too warm. And as she moved the covers, she realized she wasn't on a pallet on the floor; she was in a bed. Gabrielle opened her eyes to find a hazy-looking Xena smiling down at her. She blinked her eyes a couple of times and Xena's face became sharp and clear.

“Where are we?” she asked, her voice sounding hoarse. “This isn't the cabin.”

“We're back at the Healer's. He said we've been here for six days. I just woke up a little while ago, myself.”

“The Healer's? How did we get here?”

“He found us while we were sleeping. He said we almost died.”

Gabrielle sat up with a little help from Xena, and put her legs over the side of the bed. She was still a bit woozy.

“Died? I don't understand. Did someone try to kill us in our sleep?”

“Not someone,” Gabrielle heard the Healer say, “But some THING.”

Gabrielle shook her head, still not completely cognizant.

“It was the smoldering fire,” he continued. “The snowfall blocked off most of the chimney, and the smoke from the fire had filled up the cabin. Good thing you two were on the floor, most of the smoke was up near the roof. But another day or two and I'd ‘a been too late.”

“You found us?” Gabrielle was still trying to make sense of what was being said. “Why were you looking for us in the first place?”

“It was Argo.” Xena explained. “While she was out looking for food, she found her way back to this village.”

“Yup.” The Healer agreed. “And when we saw she was wandering around like that, we figured something must have happened, so me and my apprentice rode on out to your cabin. And there we found you two, sick as you could be, and almost suffocated. So we brought you back. I managed to get some medicine down your throats, and here you are.”

“I don't feel so good.” Gabrielle declared. “I think I'm going to be sick.”

“Not in my house, you aren't. And not in my bed, either.” The Healer shot back at her. “You lay yourself back down.”

Xena helped Gabrielle to lie down, but supported her head as she gave her a drink of water from a wooden goblet on the small table next to the bed.

“You get some rest.” Xena told her. “I'm going back to the cabin to get some of our things. By the time you wake up again I'll be back.”

Gabrielle gave her a weak smile, took a ragged breath, and was asleep before Xena left the room. The water contained a sleeping potion.


Xena and Gabrielle spent another three days in the Healer's house until Gabrielle was well enough to travel.

“By the gods, Xena, just the thought of going back to that cabin is enough to make me want to throw up. Do we have to?”

“Until we can figure out how to pay the Healer back for everything he's done for us, we don't have a choice. We don't have any money, so we can't stay at the inn . . . .”

Gabrielle put her hand up, cutting Xena off in mid-sentence.

“I know. You don't have to say anything else. I just wish . . . .”

“Maybe it won't be so bad. It's not that cold any more, and I saw fresh deer tracks, and with the stream flowing again there may be some fish . . . .”

“I said OKAY! Okay? You don't have to try to convince me. I know it's the only option. Let's just get our stuff and go.”


Xena threw the dead deer over the back of her horse then mounted up.

“Should be back before the day is out. Fresh meat doesn't take long to sell,” she said looking down at Gabrielle. “Third one in twice as many days. At this rate we'll have everyone paid off AND buy you a horse before you know it.”

“I don't suppose there's room for one more up there, is there? “

“Getting restless?”

“A little. There's just something about being here by myself . . . You know what I mean?”

“Sure. Come on. There's room, if you don't mind holding the deer in your lap.”

With a big grin, Gabrielle grabbed Xena's waiting hand and in less than a heartbeat was up behind Xena on the horse.

It was getting close to midday when both Xena and Gabrielle sensed something somewhere wasn't right. Xena stopped the horse to better hear. She and Gabrielle realized at the same time what it was.

“The village!” Xena exclaimed. “I hear horses and the sounds of women and children screaming.”

“You're right! Sounds like it's under attack!”

Without giving it a second thought, Gabrielle threw the deer to the ground as Xena kicked her horse in the flanks with her heels, urging it into a distance-eating gallop. The closer they got, the better they could hear the sounds of battle – men yelling as they fought, women and children screaming and crying, and the smell of thatched roofs and huts as they burned. Arriving at the edge of the village, Xena slowed only long enough for Gabrielle to jump off, then whipped her horse into the thick of the fighting.

The townspeople were trying their best, but most were armed only with shovels, rakes, pitchforks or axes. Only a very few had swords or pikes. And they were no match for the well-armed, and armored, warriors. Xena flipped off the front of her horse as it came to an immediate stop. Her Chakram was singing its way toward several mounted Spears-men, lopping off the iron blades from the shafts before returning to her. As she landed, sword drawn, she yelled back at Gabrielle to protect, and to lead to safety, the children and women.

Gabrielle, sais drawn, battled through foot soldiers until she was at an old building than once was the jail. But the thatched roof was on fire, and large chunks of burning thatch were falling off.

“Is there somewhere away from here? Somewhere safe?” She shouted at an old woman.

“Into the woods!” She shouted back. “A long way off there is a cave. I think I remember the way.”

Gabrielle nodded, then began to issue orders to the ten or fifteen who were huddled in the farthest part of the building. She convinced them to follow her out of the front, and only door. And as the old woman led them and into the woods, Gabrielle stayed behind to protect the rear.

She found that she could better fight the warriors who tried to pursue them by using a spear she found as a battle staff. The last one managed to avoid the staff and tried grabbing at her with one hand, ready to run her through with his short sword. But as Gabrielle instinctively jerked backward, his hand closed around the pendant necklace Xena had given her for her birthday a half-year before. As the silver chain broke, Gabrielle went to one knee, smoothly drew her sais, and plunged them both into the man's belly.

As he died, he fell forward onto his face, the hand with Gabrielle's pendant underneath him. Gabrielle started to turn him over to retrieve it, but out of the corner of her eye she saw two more soldiers had gotten past her and were chasing the group of refugees. Putting her sais back into the leather loops on either side of her ankles, she picked up the spear and ran after them. She would have to come back later for her pendant.


With Xena's help, the tide was slowly turning back in favor of the townspeople, but still too many were being wounded and killed. As she fought, she kept looking for the warlord or general in charge, anyone who might be leading them. If she could take him out, it might demoralize the rest of the soldiers. But they all were dressed the same. And she didn't recognize the armor or the weapons they used.

Just when she thought she and the villagers were winning, volley after volley of fire-tipped arrows began to rain down on them all. Some of the arrows were hitting the very soldiers she was fighting. But the worst of it was that so many of the huts and cabins were beginning to burn. And the heat of the conflagration was causing an influx of swiftly moving air, and the fires roared higher and with more ferocity until the only alternative was to evacuate the town. The uncontrollable raging fires incinerated everything and everyone left behind.


Chapter Seven


Early the next morning Xena reentered the village. The scene was like something out of a bad dream. Smoke still lingered, mixed with clouds of ash and dust raised by the winds. There was no color, only grays and blacks. As Xena and a few of the villagers made their way through what used to be a town, they were stunned at the total devastation. Not one building was left standing; everything had burned to the ground. The trees of the forest that had surrounded the village were burned to the point that the area of the town looked to be twice the size it actually had been.

There were carcasses of horses, cows, goats and other animals, and human remains, all charred beyond recognition. And despite all of that, Xena's trained eye noticed something odd – there was not one weapon or piece of armor anywhere to be found. The bodies had been stripped of all weapons, chain mail, helmets; anything that was used for battle. Even the farm implements had been taken.

“Hey!” Xena said to one of the dazed villagers. “The women and children – where were they when the attack came?”

The man gestured toward the trees. “Somewhere over there, I think. It's where the jail was.”

As he wandered off, Xena walked in the direction he had indicated. She saw only more charred bodies. She stopped and scanned the trees, looking for . . . Gabrielle.

“Where are you, Gabrielle.” She said quietly. “I know you took them somewhere safe.”

She looked down at the bodies at her feet, wondering which were the villagers and which were the attackers. She was about to head into the woods when a gust of wind blew up ashes, swirling them around her and into her eyes. As she blinked and rubbed her eyes, looking down, she saw the glint of something shiny and metallic. Xena knelt down to get a better look. It was a small bit of melted silver. And it was partially hidden in the burned hand of the body lying next to her.

Fearing the worst, Xena gently opened the hand and the silver pendant fell to the ground. With a trembling hand she picked it up, not realizing tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“Oh, Gabrielle.” She barely managed to get out. “No. Not you. Not this way.”

Xena gently caressed the crisply burned skin covering the skull, then slumped to the ground, sobbing and struggling to breathe as if the breath of life had left her body. Even the death of her dear Solan didn't cut into her soul as this did.

For almost half the day she stayed where she was, unable to think or to move. Only when she felt the cold drops of rain did she begin to react. She looked up and saw that heavy thunderclouds had gathered, and were so thick that day was turning into night. Next the wind picked up, churning the ashes and dust until it was almost impossible to breathe. And then in the next breath, the deluge began; hard, pounding, cold rain that exchanged the dust laden air with water so thick it was possible to see the nearest trees only when the frequent lightning flashed. And the thunder was so loud it was deafening.

“I've got to get you out of here.” Xena said to the figure lying next to her. “You deserve a decent burial in Poteidaia.”

But how was she going to transport the body? Xena had no idea of where her horse was. And there was nothing to wrap the remains in. Xena realized she had only one option. She scooped up the body in her arms to carry it as if it were a child. She would walk all the way to Poteidaia if she had to. But it wasn't to be, for the unusual solid roll of thunder she was hearing, wasn't.

Xena looked toward the area where the village used to be and saw a waist high wall of water rushing towards her. It was as if Poseidon had decided to wash the every trace of what had happened to the peaceful little town completely away. Before she could take three steps, Xena was knocked from her feet, dropping the corpse she carrying. And before she could recover, it was swept away from her. But that was the least of her worries as she was also swept along with the rushing waters, tumbling over and over in the churning torrent.

Once, twice, she was thrown against the trunk of a tree, nearly knocking the wind out of her. Then with a valiant effort, she managed to get her head above the top of the water and her feet on the ground beneath her. And with a mighty lunge, she jumped high enough to catch the lower limb of a tree and managed to pull herself up out of danger. She climbed higher until she found the crotch of two large branches where she could set herself somewhat comfortably and wait it out.

How long the storm continued to rage, and how long it was before the small flood abated, Xena had no way of knowing. But it was dawn of the next morning before she climbed back down to the ground. It was like a different world. The grass and weeds were covered with gray-red mud. It was so thick with each step she sunk up to her ankles. Xena turned in a complete circle – which way to go? She looked deeper into the woods, but there was nothing there for her. She opened her cramped right hand. She was still holding onto the pendant, her only memento of her dead Soulmate. How she managed to climb the tree with only her left hand, she didn't know.

Xena took a ragged breath and started in the direction of the village that was no more. Eventually, the mud thinned out until she left only boot prints in it. And then Argo 3 trotted up to her. The saddle was gone but she still was wearing her bridle. Xena put her arms around the horse's neck and leaned her head against her, grateful for the comfort and consolation.

“Come on, Girl.” She eventually said. “Let's see what's left of the cabin. And after that – I don't know. Take the bad news to Lila and Sarah about Gabrielle, I guess.”

Xena leapt onto the horse's back and they galloped off to the cabin that had been their home for so many months. There wasn't much to see when she got to the cabin. The storm had filled it with mud and what few possessions they had were either gone or ruined. Xena found one remaining water skin and remounted Argo for the ride to Poteidaia.

She momentarily thought about checking the town she had been “borrowing” water from, but she realized there was no reason to. Besides, she thought to herself, as it was, she would have to go out of her way to go to the Amazon camp to tell them that Queen Gabrielle was killed defending the lives of the old, the weak, and the helpless.

Next, she would go to Poteidaia to deliver the bad news. And then she would sit down and read the scrolls Lila was keeping for Gabrielle. She would read them every one, just as Gabrielle had always told her she should.

She knew she would like them, and she knew she would cherish them.


To Be Continued


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