Gabrielle had woken with a start. Her eyes were opened, but she could see nothing.
Her arms were restricted and she quickly realised that she was tightly wrapped in a blanket. She had no idea how long she had been asleep. She tried to remember. Xena had been talking to her. What about?
She was going to lead the hunting party away. That was it. She had to stop her.
She extricated herself from the blanket and stood on wobbly legs. Suddenly realising how weak she was she shot her hand out to try and find something to lean against. Her hand found the ladder.
Slowly climbing it toward the small chink of light she saw, she came to the trap door. There was something heavy holding it down.
Balling her hand into a fist she banged on the door.
"Xena! Xena I`m fine now. Don`t leave me in here, let me go with you."
A sudden wave of nausea hit her and she slowly descended the ladder. She sat heavily on the floor and buried her head in her hands.
A noise above her made her look up, she squinted into the light. There were two figures peering down at her, she couldn`t make them out against the blue sky.
She stood, swayed a little, and started to climb the ladder, taking the offered hand when it came in reach.
When she reached the top of the ladder she threw her arms around the Amazon. "Did Xena find you?"
"No, we found her."
Gabrielle looked over Solari`s shoulder. "Where is she?" Then back to Solari`s face.
Gabrielle immediately saw the pain there. "Solari, where is she?"
The Amazon lowered her eyes to the ground. "She`s badly hurt, Ephiny`s with her."
"Then we must go to her."
"No Gabrielle, Ephiny said you were to go back to Amazonia with us."
"I can`t, I can`t leave her. If she`s hurt I want to be with her."
"She`s not just hurt Gabrielle, she was dying. I`m sorry, I have my orders from Ephiny. I have to take you back." Solari hated herself when she saw the pain in the bard`s eyes.
"I won`t go. I want to see her. I overrule Ephiny, you know that Solari."
Solari closed her eyes, she was in a no win situation.
"Gabrielle, by the time we get to her she could be gone. Do you really want to see her like that?"
"What happened?" Gabrielle`s eyes were cold.
"Mastacles caught her somehow."
"What did he do to her?" The voice flat and emotionless.
"Gabrielle, you really don`t want to know."
Solari had never seen her Queen like this. All the warmth that was Gabrielle was gone.
"He stuck a dagger in her side and let her bleed."
"Was she dead when you left?"
"Then there`s a chance." Gabrielle looked around her. "Alyssia," she walked across to the woman who was talking to the younger Amazon.
"Alyssia, I`ll never be able to thank you enough."
"Gabrielle, go find your warrior, she`s a strong and wonderful woman."
Gabrielle smiled her thanks. "I will find her, and we`ll be back one day, I promise."
Alyssia pulled the young woman into an embrace feeling her wince slightly as her arms made contact with the welts on her back.
"Gabrielle, will you be alright?"
"I`ll be fine," she turned to the two Amazons, "come on."
Ephiny held Xena tightly. She knew the warrior didn`t have much longer. There was nothing she could do. Xena had lost too much blood. She held the rag against the wound, but it still bled. She knew she couldn`t carry the large woman out of the forest, and her only hope lay back at the Amazon village in the healers hut.
A noise made her look from the pale face to the forest beyond.
Three figures emerged from the trees.
"Solari! What did I tell you?" She cried seeing Gabrielle running towards them.
Gabrielle threw herself to Xena`s side and Ephiny allowed her to pull the fallen warrior from her arms.
"Xena. Xena please, open your eyes." Gabrielle`s tears were flowing freely.
Ephiny still held the rag to Xena`s side.
Gabrielle brushed back the hair from Xena`s face and wiped away the blood with her fingers.
"Ephiny, we have to do something."
Ephiny couldn`t look at the pain in her Queen`s face. "There`s nothing we can do." She shook her head.
"We need to get her back to the village, but we couldn`t get her there quickly enough, even with all of us carrying her."
The bard`s eyes snapped down to the pale face below her. "Xena?"
Xena`s eyes were open, though unfocussed. The warrior lifted a shaky arm, her hand went behind the bard`s head, her fingers entwining themselves in the golden hair.
With the last of her strength she pulled Gabrielle`s face down to hers, the bard`s lips to her own. Slowly she kissed her.
"Love you." It was nothing more than a whisper.
"Xena, I love you too. Hold on, please hold on."
Gabrielle looked up at Solari with a tear stained face. "Solari, whistle."
Solari frowned her confusion."What?"
Solari did as she was asked.
"Again." Another inquisative look. "Please."
After a few more whistles they heard it. A crashing sound, then there she was, to Gabrielle the most beautiful sight she`s ever seen.
Gabrielle pulled Xena to a sitting position. "Ephiny, we need to get pressure on this wound. Get a belt or something."
Ephiny pulled a belt from one of the dead men and some more cloth.
Placing it against the wound they tightened the belt until it held fast.
Gabrielle looked up to the big war horse. "Argo down."
Argo lowered herself allowing the amazons to seat Xena in the saddle, Gabrielle climbed up behind her.
Wrapping her arms around the warrior and taking the reigns she turned back to Ephiny.
"Try to keep up, I`ll have to keep going, though."
"Gabrielle, are you strong enough to do this?"
"I`ll have to be Eph, for her sake."
With that Gabrielle spurred Argo forward, the three amazons following in her wake.
The call was relayed from the outposts. The Queen was coming, and the healer, Saras, was to prepare. Saras didn`t know the nature of the emergency or who was injured, but she readied her hut for any eventuality.
The huge war horse suddenly thundered into the village. Half a dozen Amazons rushed forward to take the uncoscious warrior from the horses back.
They carried her to the healers hut under the watchful gaze of Saras. Before entering the hut Saras looked back at Argo.
The Queen hadn`t moved. She approached the girl, then saw Ephiny and the two other Amazons run breathlessly into the village.
"See to the Queen." Saras said to Ephiny. Ephiny walked round to the side of Argo. She looked up at Gabrielle, the bard was staring straight ahead.
Gabrielles eyes slowly closed, her body slumped forward, then sideways. Ephiny caught her before she hit the ground and carried her limp body to the healers hut.
Saras was bent over Xena when Ephiny got to the hut.
"Over there." Saras said without looking up. "Just exhaustion I think."
Ephiny took Gabrielle to a pallet and lay her down. Then taking a cloth she dipped it in water and held it to her Queens forehead.
They had already gotten Xena out of her leathers and were stitching the wound.
Ephiny walked over to the healer. "Will she be alright?"
"The blood loss is bad. But this is Xena. Anyone else would have been dead by now. If she`s survived this long, she may well pull through."
Saras bent to inspect the cut above Xenas eyebrow. "That won`t need a stitch." Then she found the cut on the back of her head. "But that will." Turning the warrior on her side she stitched the wound, then held a dressing against it and lowered her head back onto the pillow.
She spoke to her two helpers. "Clean her up, and try to get some water in her. Put some cold compresses on the bruises." She then turned her attention to the bard.
"She`s exhausted, do you know what happened?"
"No, we haven`t had time to talk about it."
Saras began to examine her Queen.
"Arrow wound, looks clean. She`s been beaten, nasty cut up here." Saras pointed out the cut on the bard`s forehead to Ephiny. Saras turned Gabrielle so that she lay on her stomach. Both women drew a breath when they saw the whip marks.
"Whip salve." Said Saras, immediately one of her assistants appeared with the preparation.
"You know," said Saras, "she was virtually unconscious when she got here." Saras spread the whip salve on the bard`s wounds. "I don`t know how she did it."
The healer finished and wiped her hands on some cloth.
"Will Gabrielle be able to take losing her?"
Ephiny shrugged. "Let`s hope we don`t have to find out."
"We`ll let them both sleep. You too Ephiny." Ephiny smiled at her friend.
"Yes I`ll sleep, watch them for me."
It was dark when Gabrielle awoke. She found she was lying on her stomach, she tried to move.
Every muscle screamed in protest. She realised she`d been operating on adrenalin alone when she brought Xena in. Now she felt weak and ill. She needed water.
Saras noticed the movement and was at her side in an instant.
"Water." Gabrielle managed to croak.
Saras brought a waterskin to her, helped her roll over and sit up. Gabrielle took the waterskin from her but didn`t have the strength to lift it. "Here, let me help." Saras held the skin while Gabrielle drank.
"I think she`s going to be fine. There`s no fever, she weak and pale, but her breathing`s steady, as is her heartbeat."
"I want to hear it."
"You are staying in bed."
"No." Gabrielle swung her legs over the side of the pallet. "I want to hear her heart."
Saras knew there was no arguing with her Queen. She helped her across the hut to where the warrior lay. Pulling a chair up Gabrielle sat beside her love. She watched her face for long moments, then watched the steady rise and fall of her chest beneath the blankets.
She traced the dark bruise on her friends left cheek, and the cut above her eye.
Then she lowered her head to the warriors chest and listened to the steady heart beat.
She felt the pressure of a hand on her head.
"That belongs to you." A weak voice.
When Gabrielle looked into her loves eyes her own were filled with tears. "And my heart is yours, always."
She took the warrior`s hand and placed it on her own chest.
"You`re everything to me, Xena."
She kissed the warriors palm.
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