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By: B. Doyle
"Gabrielle, stay put." Xena sternly warned the girl behind her shouting over the raucous clamor being raised by the fierce fighting not far from their position.
"NO! Xena, if you're going out there I'm going with you!" The girl shot back defiantly.
The warrior spun around facing the bard. "You'll do as I say!" She threatened fiercely. "We're outnumbered and outclassed. I've got to get to the other side and find a way out of here. I can't do that if I have to worry about you. You're safe here!"
"I'm coming with you, Xena!" The girl was adamant.
"You're staying right here, Gabrielle!" Xena's voice became cold and feral.
"RIGHT HERE, right where you are. And if you aren't right where you are when I get back, I'll find you. I'll find you, take a switch to your backside, and flail you until you can't see straight! Ya got that?"
Xena wasn't kidding. Gabrielle nodded and sat back under the cover of the thick brush, suddenly much more afraid of the warrior's wrath than the battle she could hear below them. Xena turned to leave then looked back at the bard. "Don't worry," she said reassuringly. "I'll be back before nightfall." She reached out taking the girl's smaller hand in her own. She squeezed gently, smiled then turned and left before the bard could see her apprehension.
Gabrielle watched until her best friend's figure disappeared into the surrounding foliage. She pulled back into the thicket and wiped the tears from her cheeks. She listened to the screams of battle and death and tried not to think about the horrors taking place not far from her hiding place. She considered, briefly, defying the warrior and following her across the battlefield. She wasn't afraid, but from another time and place Xena's words echoed in her memory, "If you won't be afraid of what they'll do to you, then you will be afraid of what I'll do to you!"
It had been so long ago. She had only been with Xena for a little more than a full phase of the moon. The warrior had told her repeatedly that she would send her home, take her home, as soon as circumstances allowed. But, something always came up. On this particular morning they had come across an encampment of warriors. No fighting, no pillaging, no anything, just a band of men camped outside of a rather large prosperous town. Something wasn't right. Xena wanted a closer look. She wanted to see who was in charge and what he was planning. It was still during a time that the warrior princess could be her 'old self' without raising any suspicion. Not many people knew yet of her change in lifestyle.
Her plan was simply to stride into the encampment and ask. No one, in his right mind, would dare to question her motive. She'd find out what was going on and take it from there. She explained this to the bard and told her to stay where she was.
Gabrielle was full of excitement and curiosity this close to such a place. She had never seen a warlord's camp or tent or anything. Now, how did Xena expect her to be able to tell a tale about something if she couldn't see it first hand? She watched the warrior make her way toward the camp and decided to herself that it wouldn't be hard to sneak in and get a first hand look.
She did quite well; after all she was small and did have a little bit of experience. She was one of the very best hide and seek players as a child. She'd just put that skill to practical use. Once or twice she almost gave herself away, giggling at the soldiers' failure to notice her presence. She ducked and slipped across the camp and made it to the largest tent, figuring it was probably the head guy's place. It wouldn't be smart to just go barging in, what excuse could she use? No, she'd just stay back, maybe look under the flap catch a quick glimpse then slip away to where Xena left her and be there when the warrior returned. She stood quietly, holding her breath and listening to the exchange going on inside the tent. She could hear Xena's husky voice and the nervous voice of the warlord to whom she spoke. She leaned closer to catch more of the conversation. Xena was telling the guy he was invading her territory and he would be wise to move on. Boy! She was good. She could convince a warlord with an army of at least 200 men that she was in charge and have him shaking in his boots. She covered her mouth to suppress a giggle, a giggle she swallowed when a large hand landed on her shoulder.
Gabrielle turned with a start and looked into the face of a large, dirty, yellow toothed warrior. He smiled an evil smile and grasped her by the scruff of the neck lifting her well off the ground. She kicked and swung at him. "Let go, you oaf! You don't know who you're dealing with!" The man laughed a real laugh. He was amused by the girl's boldness. "I know Xena, Warrior Princess and she doesn't take kindly to ruffians like you holding me this far off the ground!"
"I beg your pardon." The man mocked her. "Let's see what Elaius has to say about that, little spy!"
"Spy? Spy! You think..." Gabrielle pointed a finger at the soldier. It was her turn to laugh. "You think I'm a spy? Boy, do have a lot to lear...HEY!" Before she could finish he thrust her small form over his shoulder like a sack of grain and set off toward the entrance of the main tent.
"What's the meaning of this! You better have a good explanation Garron!" Elaius bellowed as they entered.
Garron dumped his cargo on to the floor at Elaius' feet. "Found this little spy sneaking around behind your tent, sir. My men have tracked her all over the camp this morning."
Xena was seated at a small table facing the warlord who seemed a lot smaller and less experienced than she was. She almost choked on her wine as she recognized the bundle on the floor, but remained calm and stoic.
Gabrielle looked at the man wide eyed. "You mean you knew I was here all along? Why you!" She started to get up, but was pushed back down with a shove from Garron's boot."
Ignoring her Garron continued. "She claims to be a friend of Xena, sir."
"Does she?" Elaius sneered. "Well, well, well how lucky she is then, that Xena just happens to be here. Or perhaps," he rose quickly knocking over the small table between him and the warrior princess. "Perhaps she is telling the truth!" He drew his sword and pointed at Xena's chin. Xena remained calm, brushing off the bits of food and particles that had landed on her from the overturned table. She casually reached up and pushed the sword away, then stood. Gabrielle smiled as the warlord's hands trembled. Slowly Xena walked to the girl then grabbed her upper arm and gruffly yanked the girl to her feet. She squeezed the girl's arm so tightly that Gabrielle could do no more than make little breathy noises.
"Now," Xena began. "What would I do with a little thing like this?" She shook the girl to emphasize her point. Gabrielle felt that was overdoing it just a bit, but felt it was wise to go along with the rouse.
Elaius and Garron laughed knowingly. "Give her to Garron," Elaius nodded toward his lieutenant. "He'll know what to do with her!" He laughed again as he sheathed his sword. Xena laughed too as she swiftly raised her fist and smashed it into Garron's face as he stood laughing behind her. The man looked shocked for a second before he crumpled to the floor. Elaius moved to grab his sword again, but never made it. A fierce kick from the warrior landed in the center of his chest effectively knocking out his breath as well as his consciousness.
Xena moved with lightening speed, pulling Gabrielle behind her. She knew Elaius would not be down long. She whistled for her horse and before the bard could protest threw her up and onto the saddle, mounted herself and urged the horse into a full gallop. Gabrielle grabbed the saddle horn and held on for dear life. Xena managed to control Argo with one hand holding the reigns, while she held onto Gabrielle with the other. The ride was fast and furious taking them far and away from the encampment. Gabrielle felt as if every bone in her body was jarred loose. Her teeth banged together so hard she was afraid she might bite off her tongue. Xena pressed against her back forcing her to lean forward and in doing so, it seemed Argo galloped even faster. Farther and faster they sped into the hills.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity to Gabrielle, they slowed to a stop in a small clearing. Xena dismounted and pulled Gabrielle roughly to the ground. While Xena paced furiously back and forth across the clearing, Gabrielle bent over with her hands on her knees in an effort to catch her breath. Argo snorted loudly, her breath steamy. Xena continued to pace, clenching and unclenching her fists and cursing under her breath.
"Wow! What a ride!" Gabrielle exclaimed with a smile between breaths. "Did you see the look on that guy's face when you..." Gabrielle stopped when she noticed Xena had stopped pacing and was coming toward her. The look on Xena's face was not one of relief or excitement.
"What the hell did you think you were doing back there!" Xena bellowed.
"I...I just wanted to see a real warlord's camp." Gabrielle explained wondering what all the fuss was about.
"You just wanted to see? Do you realize what could have happened back there?" Xena demanded.
"Nothing happened. Geez, what are you so upset about?" Gabrielle stated still failing to see the seriousness of the situation.
"I told you to wait!" The warrior's voice was deep and throaty. I came through clenched teeth.
"Come on, Xena. You always say that, then you go off and have all the fun while I..."
"Fun? Fun! Gabrielle, this is not a game! You could have been killed!" Xena interrupted with an intense growl.
"I'm not afraid of them!" The bard said with pride.
Xena paused for a moment contemplating her next move. She took a deep breath and made her decision. "Well then, if you won't be afraid of what they might do to you, you will be afraid of what I will do to you!" With that she grabbed the bard's arm and jerked her across the clearing to a large flat rock.
"Ow!" The bard protested. "Okay, okay you made your point. You don't have to pull my arm off! Again!" She tried to pull away, finally grasping the perilous nature of the moment. Prying the warrior's strong fingers with her own she continued her verbal objection to being yanked by her limb. "Come on, Xena! You're really hurting my arm. Let go." The girl tried not moving her feet, but found her self being dragged across the leafy ground anyway. She dug her heels into the dirt, the warrior yanked even harder. "Xena! I think we need to ta..."
The warrior dropped down on the rock quickly pulling the girl across her knees and landing a firm hard whack across her backside. Gabrielle screeched, kicked, and squirmed in an effort to escape, but was unsuccessful. Xena's grip was like a vice; her punishment was swift and brutal. The girl squealed as she struggled to free herself from this castigation, but the lashing only came quicker and with more force. Her protest turned to plea as she realized this spanking would be measured in time rather than mere number of smacks.
When Xena was more than satisfied that Gabrielle had fully paid the price for her insurrection, she grabbed the girl and stood her in front of her. Then the warrior pointed a finger close to the girl's face. "DON'T you EVER pull a stunt like that again!!" She stomped across the clearing flexing her right hand and still muttering curses under her breath. She quickly crossed back and spun the girl around to face her. "Now, you STAY PUT while I see if we were followed!" She walked to the giant warhorse and patted her nose. "Watch her, Argo. If she so much as moves, EAT HER!" With that she turned on her heel and left.
Gabrielle stood shock still holding her breath. She watched the warrior disappear into the dense woods. Only after she was sure Xena was out of sight and out of earshot did she let out the breath and the tears that came behind it. She rubbed her scorched backside with both hands actually feeling the heat radiating there. She sniffled and let her tears fall freely. The tears fell not only because she had just received the worst walloping of her entire life, but also because she was now sure Xena would make her go home. Heck, she'd probably hand deliver her on her mother's doorstep. She'd never seen anyone so mad in her life. She'd never made anyone so mad in her life. 'Oh, no.' She suddenly thought. 'Maybe, she won't come back.' The sound of Argo's whicker made her realize the absurdity of that thought. 'No, she'd never leave her horse.'
She took a small step forward and stopped when the great horse whickered again, louder this time. The girl looked over her shoulder at the horse. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket and turned to face the animal. "I wasn't going anywhere." She sniffed looking into the horse's large brown eyes. She swallowed hard and walked toward the animal. Argo pawed the ground and shook her head. Gabrielle reached out a small hand and touched the horse's muzzle. "Guess you're pretty mad at me too, huh girl?" The horse nodded and whickered again, but allowed the girl to pat her head. Gabrielle laughed and sobbed at the same time. "Oh, come on Argo, horses don't eat people, do they?" The horse stared at the girl with such intensity that Gabrielle thought, just for a moment. 'Naw.' The girl shook her head and decided it was time to try to make amends. "Guess, I'll just make things a little more comfortable for when Xena returns." She began unpacking the saddlebags and setting up camp for the evening.
Xena backtracked the route she had taken to the clearing until she was sure no one was in pursuit. Her anger still unabated, she worked it off hunting down gameand arrived back at the clearing just as the sun began to set. The warrior was impressed with the camp the young and still inexperienced girl had managed to set up. Gabrielle had even managed to get a fire going and remembered to keep it small so as not to attract attention. But, the bard and the horse were nowhere in sight. Xena suddenly felt her worked off anger beginning to resurface. She took a deep cleansing breath dropping the field dressed game hens near the fire. 'I don't believe it.' She thought as she scanned the small clearing and cocked her head to listen to all of the sounds around her. 'What do I have to do to make her do as I say? That wasn't enough? Fine! I'll cut a switch and take it to her bared bottom, then...oh then she'll know I mean business!" She pulled a dagger from her boot and reached up to cut a thin birch branch when she heard the soft familiar voice of Gabrielle.
"See, I told you there was water nearby. We can't go without it you know and don't worry Xena won't be mad, you stayed with me all the way." The girl spoke to the horse as she led it back into camp. She smiled when she saw the warrior had returned. "Xena, you're back! I got camp set up and found water, too. Well, actually Argo found the water and I..." her voice trailed off and her eyes went to the ground at the sight of the still very angry expression on the warrior's face. Gabrielle bit her lip and traced a circle on the ground with the toe of her boot. She fiddled nervously with the reigns in her hand, but refused to let herself cry again.
Xena saw the girl's puffy eyes and red nose and realized she must have cried most of the day. She dropped the switch in her hand to the dirt and kicked it aside. She shook her head and let out a long sigh. "Ya did fine." She said softly and moved to take Argo's reigns from the girl.
Gabrielle looked up suddenly full of remorse. "I'm really sorry Xena. I know I was stupid. I won't do it again, please don't send me away. I'll do better, I mean I'll really try harder. I will listen. I'll do anything you say. I'll stay put, when you say stay put. I'll..." Xena raised a hand. A signal Gabrielle knew meant silence.
"No." The warrior said simply and without emotion. Gabrielle choked back a sob, sure that the next statement Xena would make would pertain to how fast the girl could get back home. "No, you'll improve and you will not try, you will do as I say." Xena finished in a very parental no nonsense tone. Gabrielle sighed with relief and quickly wiped an errant tear from her cheek. Xena looked into that innocent smile and the remainder of her anger disappeared.
"I'm not sorry, Gabrielle and I'll do it again if I have to." The warrior explained placing a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"I know." The girl agreed rubbing her still smarting backside. "But you won't have to remind me any time soon."
Xena half smiled and pulled the girl into a bear hug. "Gabrielle, I'd rather see you unable to sit for a few days at my hand than see you hurt or...worse...by anyone else." The warrior's show of affection surprised the girl, but she took full advantage of the rare endearing moment.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, remembered the moment, and wished Xena was with her right now instead of somewhere out there. She noticed that the sounds of the battle had died down, or rather moved off into the distance. She mentally chastised herself for daydreaming, for not paying attention to what went on around her. Slowly, the girl parted the brush concealing her hiding spot and peeked out. She was surprised to see...nothing. Not a warrior in sight. She made a move to exit her hide away and was stopped short by a strong hand pulling her back. Suddenly, she was held tightly, a strong arm locking her head against a strong body. Her right arm pulled up and back behind her. She felt warm breath close to her head and for a split second panic rose within her.
"I thought I told you to stay put!" A familiar, soft, husky voice said into her ear.
A wide grin replaced the alarmed look on the girl's face as she was released and spun around. "Xena!" Gabrielle squeaked as she threw her small arms around the warrior's neck, then stepped back and lightly backhanded her across her middle. "I hate it when you do that!"
Xena laughed and tousled the girl's hair. "Daydreaming again? I thought I told you that could get you killed? Not thinking about leaving here, were you?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" Gabrielle laughed. "Thinking about what would happen if I did!"
Xena raised an eyebrow and shook off the fleeting memory. "Ya, well. It's time to go. It seems this battle is over, at least for the time being. And I found a quick and easy path up and over that mountain and far away from this mess. Any questions?" The warrior asked before giving a soft whistle for the warhorse.
"Yeah, just one." Gabrielle replied climbing out of the brush and into the clearing. Xena arched her eyebrows as she reached out for Argo's reigns. "Horses would never eat people, would they?"
Xena mounted the steed and reached down for the bard's hand. As Gabrielle settled behind the warrior, Xena replied, "Only warhorses that are left to mind stubborn, insubordinate bards."
Gabrielle laughed and held on tightly to Xena's waist as the warhorse broke into a full gallop.
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