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Truth or Dare
by Word Warrior
This story contains scenes of a sexual nature between two adult women.
If that sort of thing bothers you, then please don't read any more. It
also contains violence, so if you're squeamish about that, best not to
read. Some of the violence is emotional/psychological, and can be disturbing.
People under 18 years of age should not read this story as it contains
adult themes, so if that's you, just wait until you're older, okay? Thanks.
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo are owned by MCA/Universal and
no copyright infringement is intended. The characters of Widgie and Jorgos
are owned by me, and are © copyright 1997 WordWarior.
"In here!" shouted Xena over the roaring of the wind. Quickly,
she led Argo into the mouth of the cave, hurrying Gabrielle who had fallen
a bit behind. The wind tore at her flesh, the rain stung as it slashed
in slanted fury. Gabrielle's face was white with fear and the cold. She
was shivering uncontrollably and Xena gave her a worried glance before
coaxing Argo into the black maw of the cavern. Lightning streaked the sky,
the thunder instantaneous. She heard a tree crack and watched over her
shoulder as flames erupted from the forest they'd left only seconds ago.
"Wh... what's g... g... going to ha... happen to uh... us?" asked
Gabrielle, her teeth chattering so violently Xena could barely make out
"Nothing. We're safe here."
Suddenly, the interior of the cave was illuminated by a bright flash. The
thunder echoed and rumbled through the cavern with such volume both women
held their hands to their ears, grimacing. Argo reared, pawing the air
in fear. The rumbling changed tenor slightly and Xena looked around, her
eyes wide, suspecting what was about to happen.
She stared at the entrance to the cave as wave after wave of boulders spilled
in front of it. Another flash and a tree crashed into the rockfall, jutting
partway into the cave, missing her by inches. But the cascade of rocks
and debris didn't stop. Endless amounts seemed to fall, each building on
the other until the entrance was completely obscured. When the last echoes
finally died, they were in absolute darkness. Even the sound of the storm
was muted and distant. Their safe haven had, in the flash of a single bolt
of lightning, possibly become their tomb.
PART ONE: THE CAVE
"Gabrielle? Are you all right?" asked Xena quietly, her words
sounding hollow and small.
"Y...yes... I'm f... fine..." came a whispered answer.
"Don't worry. We're in no danger. I'm sure there are other ways out
of here. We just need to make some torches and then we can start following
all the tunnels until we find daylight." Xena thought of Argo, knowing
the horse wouldn't be able to maneuver through narrow passages. The idea
of leaving her trusty mare behind to starve -- trapped and alone in a cave
-- was too horrible to contemplate, so she turned her attention back to
"S...sure. Th... that's what we'll do," said Gabrielle, unable
to control the shivering.
"Need to make a fire," mumbled Xena. "Have to get you warmed
up." Carefully, she felt her way toward the entrance until her hand
encountered a jutting branch from the tree that had fallen amidst the rubble.
The sibilance of steel being drawn from a scabbard sounded loudly in the
deathly quiet of the cave, then with a whoosh, she slashed a couple smaller
branches free. "Speak to me, Gabrielle, so I can find you."
"Oh... I... I'm o..o...over... here..." she said.
"Good. Keep talking."
"H...how do y...you know th...there'll be o...other w...ways out?"
"Because I *want* there to be other ways out. And what I want I get.
Always have," said Xena with a smile. She waited for an answering
chuckle from Gabrielle but there was only silence. Xena laid the branches
down and removed her fire tools from the pouch at her waist. "C'mon,
Gabrielle. Say something." Silence. "Gabrielle? C'mon! Here's
your chance -- I'm *asking* you to talk."
Striking flint against iron, a spark flew onto the small pile of tinder
she had retrieved from her pouch and died. Xena stopped a moment to consider.
They needed the fire. They needed light and warmth. The temperature in
the cave was uncomfortably cold and Gabrielle showed signs of slipping
into hypothermia. But the utter blackness told Xena she needed to be careful.
If there was no natural chimney in the cave, the smoke from the fire --
especially fire using wet wood -- could overwhelm and kill them. She decided
to make a small torch instead. It wouldn't give off much smoke and at least
she could explore the cave and get Gabrielle settled.
Xena gave a low whistle and heard Argo's answering snort. Moments later
her muzzle nudged her shoulder. "Good girl," she whispered, then
felt along the mare's neck to the saddlebags. Xena withdrew a small bolt
of cloth. It was the one Gabrielle had purchased only that morning, the
one she had planned to make a new top with, having finally tired of the
ugly green 'carpet' she had been wearing. Xena sighed as she ripped off
a length, hating to see that project delayed. She attached the cloth to
one of the wet branches then lit the head of the torch.
Taking a moment to adjust her eyes, she held the torch high, looking around
her. Gabrielle was sitting on a small rock, curled into herself as she
shivered uncontrollably. Quickly, Xena grabbed all the blankets they owned
and wrapped her friend in the lot of them. Gabby smiled up at her, unable
to speak, but thanking her with her eyes.
"Better?" asked Xena. Gabby nodded.
Xena was grateful for the small warmth of the flame as she started on a
careful circuit of the cavern. She would've liked to have kept one of the
blankets for herself, but instead would wait until Gabrielle was out of
With meticulous attention, she studied every crack, crevice and inch of
the cavern. To her dismay, there was nothing but solid rock. The entrance
was the only way in or out. Carefully, she examined the rockfall which
blocked the opening. The tree had wedged several large boulders into immovable
positions. She doubted even Hercules could clear this mess.
"D... did you find a tunnel?" asked Gabby.
"How are you feeling?"
"Good. Stay wrapped up. I'll be there in a minute."
"Okay," Gabby said, watching Xena as she scrutinized the rocks
at the entrance. "Um... you didn't answer my question. Why are you
looking there? Isn't there a tunnel?"
"No. No tunnels. This is our only way out," said Xena, her voice
speaking none of her fear.
"Oh. That's bad, huh?"
"Yeah. That's bad."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment. "But... it's gonna be okay, right?
I mean, you've probably already figured out a way to get us out of here,
Xena turned away from the wall, a headache settling in just above her eyes.
She squatted next to Gabrielle who had begun to regain the color in her
cheeks. She touched one of the blankets and with a lifted brow, Xena silently
asked if she could take it. Gabrielle nodded.
The warrior wrapped herself in the blanket. The torch was already beginning
to sputter and wouldn't last long. Xena walked over to the pile of wet
branches she had made earlier and placed the torch under them on the tinder,
hoping it would burn long enough to dry the wood so it could catch. She
planned to watch the fire carefully, knowing that if a natural chimney
existed, the smoke would find it easier than she would.
"Come over by the fire," Xena said, helping Gabrielle stand then
lending her strength as they walked over. She knew she was doing it more
for herself than for her friend. Xena needed to feel strong and useful,
because contrary to Gabby's prediction, she had no idea how they would
escape their current trap.
"Is that the cloth I just bought?" asked Gabby.
"Yes. I needed something to make the torch."
"Wish you'd said something. I have an old shift that I wouldn't have
minded saying good-bye to."
"Sorry. It was the first thing at hand."
"I just wish you would've asked, is all. Not like you ever do, of
course. I don't know why it should surprise me," grumbled Gabrielle.
Xena stared at her, trying to figure out if she was really bothered or
if it was simply the tension of their predicament. "I think a bolt
of cloth is the least of our problems."
Gabrielle didn't answer. She picked up what remained of the cloth and ran
it through her fingers. It was sturdy homespun, but had been dyed a delicate
shade of peach which had immediately caught her eye. She'd never seen cloth
exactly that color before and had been overjoyed at the prospect of something
new to wear. Now there wasn't enough to make anything but more torches.
She knew Xena was waiting for her to say something conciliatory, as Gabby
always did. But she just didn't feel like giving in. A bolt of cloth may
not seem like much to Xena, but it had meant something to Gabrielle. Yet
the warrior had torn it without a thought; without even thinking of asking
if there was an alternative.
The torch under the branches was burning low but a couple of the sticks
of wood had begun to sizzle away their moisture. Smoke was floating upward
toward the cavern ceiling and gathering at the rock-filled entrance.
A muffled crash sounded outside and the cave shook as if by an impact.
Xena reflexively threw her arms around Gabrielle, protecting her as bits
of rock and dust fell from the ceiling. The rubble at the entrance shifted
as something very large hit the tree outside. Several stones tumbled into
the cave itself and Xena feared they might be buried alive if the barrier
didn't hold. Soon the deep echoing rumbles stopped and it was silent again.
"What was that?" whispered Gabrielle, still holding onto Xena.
"Another rock slide. Don't know if it helped us or hurt us, though."
"How long is this storm going to last? I've never seen the skies this
angry. It can't go on for long, right? It has to end sometime."
"Yeah, it'll end," said Xena, disentangling herself from Gabrielle.
She poked at the wood with the torch, and blew on the flame, brightening
it. Gabby's fearful face jumped out in sharp relief. "We're safe in
here," Xena lied, stealing a glance at the rockpile.
"Oh, sure, I'm not worried about that. We're safe in here. But it
gives me the creeps, all that muffled thunder. It reminds me of the stories
I used to hear about Zeus's temper. I was always afraid of storms when
I was a kid. I used to think Zeus was mad at *me* and I'd think back on
all the things I'd done that might anger the king of the gods. Every storm,
I'd run to my room and worry about having pulled Lilla's hair or stolen
an extra dessert -- stuff like that. As if Zeus had nothing better to do
than punish a little girl's mischief."
Xena smiled indulgently. Idly, she wondered what it would've been like
to grow up with Gabrielle. Would they have been friends? Probably not,
she admitted to herself. She'd had little patience for girls like Gabrielle
when she was a child. She had preferred the company of her brothers and
their friends. Never one for playing house, she was always found outside
whooping and screaming in neighborhood war games, practicing with the small
wooden sword that her absent father had made when she was a baby. She had
loved that sword. When she was five years old she had fashioned a scabbard
out of bits of discarded leather she had found at the tannery. She used
to swagger down the streets of Amphipolis to the indulgent smiles of the
adults, her sword at her side.
"I never had a chance," Xena muttered, realizing that her fate
had been set from the beginning.
"A chance?" asked Gabrielle.
"No, c'mon. A chance at what?"
Xena sighed. "At being afraid of thunderstorms." Xena rose and
walked over to the tree, cutting off another bundle of branches. They needed
to conserve wood, but she may as well get this group drying. Then she chose
a sturdy limb to use as a more permanent torch.
She unsaddled Argo and placed their packs against a wall. The horse nickered
softly, telling her she was thirsty.
"Sorry, girl, you'll have to wait a bit. Let me figure out how to
get out of here, first."
"Can we wait until the storm is over?" asked Gabrielle.
"Don't worry. We won't be leaving that soon."
"Oh. Good. I think." Gabrielle stared as Xena rummaged through
the packs, placing their water skins in a pile, starting another stack
for food. "Is there something you're not telling me?" she asked,
unnerved by the tense set of the warrior's shoulders.
"No," said Xena curtly. Then she stopped what she was doing and
returned to sit next to her friend. "Look. That wall of rocks over
there isn't going to be easy to move. And there's always the danger that
loosening the wrong one will cause a worse slide and we'll be buried in
here. You need to understand this and prepare yourself. We've got a lot
of work ahead of us."
"I see," said Gabrielle, fearing Xena's worried expression more
than her words. "Thanks for being honest. I can take it, you know.
Don't worry about panicking me or something. And I'm pretty strong,"
she said, making a muscle. "I'll help all I can."
Xena smiled. "I know you will, Gabrielle. We both will. We'll get
out of this."
"Because you want to?"
"Because I want to."
Gabrielle smiled, but couldn't help thinking of the tunnel Xena had wanted,
yet didn't exist. Not everything happens because you will it to be so,
"Not too much. That's all the water we have," said Xena.
Gabrielle stopped mid-sip and looked at the skin. It wasn't full, but there
were two others that were. Still, for an extended stay, it wasn't a great
deal of water. And they had Argo to consider as well. What would the horse
eat and drink?
"What are you going to do about Argo?" she asked.
"What about her?" asked Xena, curtly, not wanting to think about
Argo. Even if they could clear a passage for the two women to slip through,
the problem of her horse still existed. How could Argo ever escape this
"You know, food and drink and stuff."
"Oh. I have some oats. And she'll share our water."
"But there's not much of either. We're lucky we just bought new food
stores today, aren't we?"
"Yeah," said Xena, her back to Gabrielle. She had just gone through
and taken an inventory of their possessions, weighing each item for its
possible uses. They had adequate food and the water might last if stretched.
They had medicine and cloth for bandages and torches, thanks to the unwanted
shift and the peach homespun. As long as they were able to devise some
means of escape in the next couple of days, there wouldn't be any problems.
Xena walked over to the rock wall again, staring at it as if trying to
unlock its puzzle. The tree was the wild card. How much weight was it supporting?
And why did no light shine in from the pockets that had to be there? Were
there so many rocks piled beyond the entrance that a year's worth of digging
wouldn't dislodge them all?
"We're lucky to have the tree, huh?" piped in Gabrielle, standing
at her shoulder.
"Well, we have wood for fires and torches. And maybe we can make braces
out of some of the branches. You know, to shore up any digging we do."
Xena looked at her companion and smiled. "Yeah, maybe we can."
Gabrielle beamed under the implied praise and returned to the fire, feeding
it another branch. The stew pot was simmering and filled the cavern with
a rich, beefy aroma. There were no fresh vegetables to cut in, but she
had added some dried herbs to the jerky soup and it looked like it would
be a satisfying meal. Best she could do under the circumstances, she mused.
Xena had climbed several of the rocks and was searching the mosaic, looking
for a starting point. She noted again the place where the smoke was disappearing,
and decided to climb to it. Delicately, she took her time, testing each
boulder before putting weight on it. Finally, she reached the top of the
cavern and put her hand in the line of smoke. She felt a cold draft.
"Fire's going to be okay," she said.
"What? Why wouldn't it be?"
"There's a strong draw here. For the smoke. We don't have to worry
about suffocating, as long as we keep the flame low."
Gabby glanced worriedly at the new branch she'd just put in. Did that make
the fire too big? she wondered. Should she have waited until most of the
others had burned down more?
"Soup's ready," she said nervously, wanting Xena off the wall
and back with her, telling her what to do. She watched as the warrior clung
like a spider to the rocks. To Gabrielle, it seemed very dangerous to crawl
around up there.
"In a minute," Xena said, tugging on a small rock. It came loose
and she tossed it to the ground. She peered into the hole but just saw
more rocks. She worked another free, then another, but still there was
no end in sight. The smoke continued to curl lazily through the wall, finding
a passage she couldn't track down.
"I'm gonna eat, okay?" asked Gabrielle.
"But you should too, y'know. You can do that after dinner. You haven't
eaten all day."
Gabrielle had eaten a large falafel sandwich for lunch in the village.
But Xena had skipped the meal, listening instead to the problems of one
of the village men. It turned out to be something that had no need of a
warrior. Xena had advised him to take it to the city elders, giving her
own opinion of how to solve things amicably. 'Something about an unruly
neighbor,' she'd muttered to Gabrielle's inquiry. After buying supplies,
they'd left, trying to beat the brewing storm.
Things like that happened a lot, Gabby mused. Xena's reputation as a hero
for everyday people had been spreading. And some people tried to take advantage
of her change of heart, asking her to solve problems with the violence
of her sword instead of using negotiation and compromise. Strangely enough,
Xena had more patience with these fools than Gabrielle. It bothered the
bard to see people try to use the warrior for their own selfish means.
But Xena took it all in stride with a shrug of her broad shoulders.
"Why don't you get angry with them?" Gabby asked as Xena began
the climb back down.
"With the rocks?" Xena asked quizzically, stopping her descent.
She'd found no further clues to the draft and the soup really did smell
"No," Gabrielle said, laughing. "With the villagers who
try to take advantage of you. Why don't they make you more upset? They
sure get me mad, and you have a much quicker temper than I have."
Xena resumed her downward climb. "Most of them genuinely think their
problems are too big to solve," she said, jumping the last few feet.
"But they're usually so silly!"
"Not to them." Xena sat next to Gabby, helping herself to a cup
of soup. "Don't make any more soups. They use too much water."
"Well, I'd started this before you mentioned the water. I wasn't thinking.
"It's okay. Now you know."
"But I should have thought of it. I mean, it's not like there's a
stream in this stupid little cave. Now I've wasted all this water and we
could die because of my foolishness."
"First of all, it's not wasted. We're getting the moisture through
the soup. Second, we're not going to die because of a small mistake like
that." Xena looked at Gabby who refused to meet her eyes. Xena sighed,
put down her meal and turned to face her friend. "Look at me."
Gabrielle refused to comply, but said softly, "why?"
"Because I want to talk to you."
"I can hear you. You're sitting right next to me."
Gabby looked up reluctantly. Xena had a small smile on her face, her eyes
tender. "Okay," the bard whispered.
"Good. Now listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once.
The biggest danger in here isn't water or rocks or food or anything like
that. What is far worse -- what is deadly, in fact -- is loss of hope.
If we give in to our fears; if we stop trying to find a way to escape,
then we will surely die. No one is going to come crashing through that
wall to rescue us. No hidden passageway is going to be mysteriously found.
We need to accept what's happened and then figure out a way to help ourselves.
And there is a way. We just need to find it. Okay?"
Gabrielle looked into the clear blue eyes of the woman who meant more to
her than anyone ever had in her life. Not her mother, her father, her sister,
Perdicus or any other living soul had ever given Gabby as much as Xena
had; had ever shown her the respect, friendship and love that Xena had
shown. Slowly she nodded her head. "Okay."
"Good. I'm not going to keep reminding you, because I don't want that
burden. I don't want to have to hope for the both of us. I need your help."
"Anything, Xena. You know I'll do anything for you."
"For us. Just stay optimistic and tomorrow, we'll start clearing those
rocks. We could both use a good night's sleep tonight, so clean up here
and get in your blankets."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to finish my soup, take care of Argo then hopefully, have
a dreamless night."
"Okay," said Gabrielle with a smile. She poured the last of the
soup into Xena's cup then used some of the sand that covered the cave floor
to wash the pot. Without water she wasn't very happy with the results.
Not that it mattered, she realized. There would be no more soups, or cooking
until they escaped the cave. From here on, it was jerky, fruit, cheese
and the sticky sweets she had tied up at the bottom of her pack -- a surprise
she would save for later, she decided. Xena had a bit of a sweet tooth,
and Gabrielle delighted in tempting her with various savory treats she'd
find in the markets.
Gabby stretched, removed her clothes and slipped into her remaining shift.
She glanced over at Xena, who was cooing softly to Argo. Feeling much more
optimistic than she had since the rockslide, the bard pulled her blankets
up and faced the fire, letting the mesmerizing flames lull her. Everything
would be okay, she decided. No way were a bunch of rocks going to defeat
the Warrior Princess.
Xena lay on her bedroll, unable to sleep. She kept puzzling through the
jigsaw of the rocks, trying to see a way to clear enough of them to escape
without tumbling the whole mess in on top of them. And what about Argo?
How was she supposed to get out? The only way to save all three of them
would be to clear the entire entrance. But some of the boulders were huge,
weighing hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds. And what about the tree?
How was she supposed to move an entire tree?
Xena restlessly turned to her side. She looked across the glowing coals
at Gabrielle, sleeping soundly and undisturbed. I'm sorry I led you into
this trap, she thought. It's my fault we're in here. I should have foreseen
the possibility of a rock slide, but all I cared about was getting you
out of the rain and warmed up. You are my weakness and my strength. Such
a heavy role for one so young and innocent.
The warrior stared at her traveling companion and best friend. Yet again
she wondered why Gabrielle stayed with her. I'm as hard, cold and unrelenting
as this cave, Xena thought. I don't tell you what you want to know. I don't
share my confidences. I walk a knife edge every single day, fighting the
darkness that's forever threatening to overwhelm me. And yet you stay by
my side, putting up with my silences. You weather my tempers with calm.
You accept me no matter what horrors hide in my past. How can that be?
How can you not fear me? I struck you and you stayed with me. I've left
you behind for days at a time yet I always found you waiting patiently
for my return. My enemies have attacked me through you, threatening any
manner of unspeakable acts, yet you remain steadfast in your trust that
I will prevail. How can that be? What holds you here -- tied to a used-up
warrior desperate to atone for a lifetime of sins? What force is great
enough to keep you trudging by my side, your life so often in danger, your
blood innocence threatened at every turn? All this and so much more, yet
still, here you are, trusting me, helping me, and remaining true to your
code. How can that be?
I'll never understand you, Gabrielle. I'll never understand why you chose
me as your friend.
Xena closed her eyes and immediately saw the puzzle of the rocks. As she
drifted to sleep, she continued to search for an answer.
Gabrielle opened her eyes but the change was imperceptible. The cave was
in darkness again, a cold breath of air chilling her beneath her blankets.
She looked at the fire and saw one glowing ember, barely alive on the ashes.
Quickly, she wrapped her blanket around her and felt along the cave floor
for more wood. She put it on the ember and blew on the coal to fan it.
Slowly the branch began to smoke, then a lick of flame shot upwards.
Soon she had the fire burning to her satisfaction. She glanced over at
Xena who was mumbling in her sleep. Gabrielle tried to distinguish what
she was saying but couldn't make it out before the warrior faded into a
Perhaps Xena would remember her dream in the morning and tell her what
Fat chance, thought Gabby. Xena never talked about her dreams. Even when
Gabrielle had shaken her awake to drown the warrior's screams, her friend
had remained silent about what had happened in her night terrors. Not that
there was anything Gabby could do to help. These were Xena's personal demons
and far beyond the touch of the young bard.
Gabrielle watched the fire for a moment, then let her eyes drift back to
Xena's now peaceful, sleeping face. In her warlord days, there was little
Xena wouldn't do in her quest for power. She had used her body to seduce
friends and enemies alike. She had used her cunning to betray and destroy.
She had set herself up as a prize to be sought -- rewarding those who served
her well; killing those who hadn't. Gabrielle found it difficult to reconcile
this with the woman she now knew. Although today Xena was often cold and
distant, she was always fair and never cruel. Yet she kept such a tight
lock on herself. Sometimes Gabby would touch her in an offhanded, friendly
way and Xena would freeze up, shaking off the contact. The warrior seemed
to conserve all her passion for the battlefield.
Oh, there were exceptions, Gabrielle realized. Hercules, for instance.
Gabby had seen the doe-eyed looks from Xena, so uncharacteristic in her
stern friend. And she had seen the passion with which they had kissed good-bye.
But Gabrielle suspected that Xena's relationship with Hercules was more
that of gratitude for his having set her free from her life as a warlord,
and hero-worship for someone who was as much a god as a man. Xena admired
Hercules; his ideals and his goals. He had taken a chance on her, and Xena
never forgot a kindness like that. And although Gabrielle firmly suspected
that they had been lovers at some time in the past, Xena didn't act like
a woman who mooned over a lost mate.
And then there was Marcus. Gabrielle wasn't quite sure what to think about
Marcus. Had he been the love of Xena's life? The man destined to be her
soulmate? Somehow, Gabby didn't think so, though she was unsure why. Yes,
Xena had loved him. And his death had wounded her. This had become obvious
when the shade of Marcus had sought the warrior's help against Adamineus
in the Underworld. When Xena had emerged from the lake, alone again, she
had cried in Gabby's arms -- something rare enough to shake the bard to
her core. Had Marcus stolen the passion from Xena's life? Had he received
the last of her love? Gabrielle sighed, wishing she knew the answers to
questions like these.
And why must you know the answers? she asked herself. Tell the truth. Whisper
it aloud in an empty field so no one can hear, but tell the truth. Because
I am in love with Xena, she answered in her secret heart.
Gabrielle stared at Xena's sleeping face, willing herself to stop, but
failing because this was the only time when it was possible to do so. Gabrielle
harbored one very deep, very dark fear -- a fear she kept so quiet and
hidden that if it ever saw light, she knew she would die on the spot. Her
fear was that Xena would find out that Gabby was in love with her, and
would send her on her way. So Gabrielle played a game with her emotions
every single day. She hid the love in her eyes; tamped down the passion
in her heart and kept her distance from the dark warrior.
She knew that letting this secret out would be the end of their friendship
forever. Didn't Xena sometimes pull away when Gabby touched her? Didn't
the warrior forever keep secrets from Gabrielle, rarely letting her in
on plans, dreams, or feelings? Sure, Xena liked her company. And they were
friends. Xena had said that often enough for even Gabby to believe her.
'My best friend' the warrior had said. Oh, the joy I'd felt the first day
she had said that! thought Gabrielle. 'My best friend.' There was sweet
music in the words. Knowing she could never have what was in her secret
heart, this was almost enough to compensate.
And Xena does show her friendship in many ways, reasoned Gabrielle. She
protects me, helps me, teaches me, smiles at my jokes -- she lets me know.
Still... sometimes I wonder why she keeps me around. I know I occasionally
get on her nerves. And it wasn't like she asked me to join her in the first
place. I really forced myself on her. But by a miracle of the gods she
let me stay and now I think she would miss me if I were gone. She sure
seemed to miss me when I went home to Poteidaia or when I went to the Academy
in Athens. And when I married Perdicus...
Gabrielle stared at the fire a moment, letting the flames calm her. Then
her eyes inevitably strayed back to Xena's sleeping face. Perdicus, she
thought. I think I hurt your feelings when I did that. I threw away our
friendship, didn't I? Wish I could tell you why I did it. Wish I could
explain that it hurt too much to be around you every day and every night
and not be able to tell you how I felt. And then he came and he offered
me safety, and love and we had always gotten along when we were kids and
I wondered what it would be like not to be in danger anymore. I wondered
what it would be like not to spend my life afraid that I'd slip up and
be banished from your life forever.
And when he was killed because of me, well, I felt so guilty. I had used
him. I wasn't in love with him, but I had married him anyway. To make you
jealous? Maybe. To force you to talk to me -- to make you tell me not to
go? Maybe. To pretend I was like all the other girls in the village and
not feel so alone and different? Maybe. To keep myself from screaming out
my love for you? Yeah. All of these and more. What choice did I have? What
choice *do* I have? I can stand anything but you hating me, Xena.
And now we're here in this cave and there's no way out and I'm going to
die without ever telling you. Aphrodite will probably insist I go to Tartarus
for my sin.
In her mind, Gabby heard Xena's strong, low voice. 'The biggest danger
in here isn't water or rocks or food or anything like that. What is far
worse -- what is deadly, in fact -- is loss of hope.' How had she forgotten
this lesson so soon? Gabrielle wondered.
She looked over at the puzzle of the rocks. I'm not letting you beat us,
she thought. We'll win this fight, like Xena wins all her battles. We'll
use our strength and our cunning and our sweat and we'll solve your puzzle.
Don't think we won't. And when we do, we'll head off to another adventure;
another challenge. Just see if we don't.
Gabrielle lay back down in her blankets, content that the fire would last
until morning, and fell asleep with a smile on her face.
Xena was balanced precariously at the top of the rubble, meticulously loosening
and throwing down rocks. Gabrielle's job was to carry them over to a pile
at the back of the cavern. It was hard work and both women were sweating
despite the chill of the cave. They had been working for over four hours
without a break and Gabby kept opening her mouth to ask if they could rest
when yet another rock would slam into the cave floor.
Suddenly, there was a low rumble and the pile shifted, throwing Xena off
her perch. She spun in the air, finding her feet just as all her hard work
was erased in a matter of seconds. The hole she had so carefully excavated
had disappeared, filled in completely with a new batch of rocks. Gabrielle
stared despondently, wondering if this sort of thing was going to happen
Xena let off a few choice curses, left over from her days as a warlord,
then brushed her hands on her leathers. "We'll break for lunch then
get back to it."
"Why did that happen?" asked Gabrielle, staring inconsolably
at the new cave-in.
"I must have loosened a keystone. I was afraid of that, but there's
really no way around it. Without knowing how this thing looks from the
outside, it's going to be difficult to judge."
Disheartened, Gabby took out a few strips of jerky and a wedge of cheese.
The first water skin was empty, so she grabbed the second, cursing herself
again for having made the soup. Argo needed so much water to wash down
the oats that the bard feared they'd run out of supplies before ever solving
the riddle of the rocks.
"Here. Start with this. I'm going to bake some bread," said Gabrielle.
"Mmmm," muttered Xena, staring at the wall. She took the food,
then set it down without tasting it. Instead, she began clearing the rocks
that had fallen into the cave when the wall had collapsed.
Gabrielle looked up from her bread mixture and frowned. "Can't that
wait? You need to eat."
Grunting, Xena carried a large rock that the bard wouldn't have been able
to lift, toward the corner. She tossed it down then returned for more.
"In a bit. Just want to finish this first." Gabby rose to help,
but Xena stopped her. "Make the bread."
With a shrug, Gabby went back to her mixing. Don't lose hope, she told
herself. Don't lose hope. Don't lose hope...
"Was it okay? I'm missing some of the stuff I usually put in."
"It was fine," said Xena, finishing off the last of her meal.
"When we get out of here, I'm going to give you the best dinner you've
ever had. That's a promise," said Gabrielle resolutely.
"Your meals are always good."
Gabby brightened, her smile lighting her face. "Really? Thank you
for telling me that."
Xena shot her a quick glance, eyes narrowed. "Am I that bad? I thought
I've said it many times before."
"Well... not exactly in words. But you always eat everything, so I
sort of guessed I was doing okay."
Gabby watched as Xena studied her for a moment, her thoughts disguised.
Nervously the younger woman waited to see if she had said something wrong.
To her surprise, the warrior smiled and sat down next to her, throwing
one muscled arm around her shoulders.
"Well, that's my fault, then. I *do* appreciate you. You're a big
help, an excellent cook and the best friend I've ever had."
Gabrielle was silent, staring at the wonderful woman who could make her
feel so much joy with so few words.
Xena looked back at the wall. "And you've worked very hard today.
Those rocks are heavy and you never once complained."
Embarrassed by this sudden praise from the taciturn warrior, Gabby hid
her blush of pleasure. "Well, getting out is both our problem, so..."
Xena squeezed her shoulder. "I know. But that doesn't make the rocks
Gabrielle felt a lump in her throat and fought to swallow it, not wanting
Xena to see her tears. Since becoming trapped in the cave, Gabby had found
tears were always near the surface. The smallest thing would make her want
to weep. "Thanks," she mumbled, unable to say more. I should
be making some silly joke, she thought. That's what Xena expects -- for
me to lighten the load; to make her smile. She glanced up and found Xena
staring intently at her.
"What's this?" Xena asked softly, putting a finger to her cheek
to trap a tear. "Feeling kinda bad, huh?"
"I'm sorry," Gabby said, looking away. Xena gathered her in her
arms and held her gently.
"I know how difficult this is," said Xena, her voice a low rumble.
"And frustrating. All that work this morning and we're no closer to
getting out. But you're being very brave, as you always are. You have such
strength, Gabrielle." Xena paused a moment, staring deeply into Gabby's
eyes. Then she smiled her crooked smile and, rubbing the bard's back affectionately,
said, "And I'll make you a promise. We *will* get out of here. And
when we do, we'll go off on another adventure so you can fill a scroll
with it. No more petty village problems for us. We'll find something daring
and epic so you can write about it."
Gabrielle tried to think of something wonderful to say, but found herself
without a voice. Somehow, hearing Xena promise that they would escape,
made her feel so much better. Then Gabby heard the soft melody of an old
folk tune. The warrior hummed quietly, continuing to hold the bard in a
loose embrace, her eyes far away. Gabrielle snuggled just a bit closer
and closed her eyes, soothed; cared for; safe; hopeful.
That afternoon, there were two more cave-ins, but at the end of the day,
a small hole was visible, shored up by several branches. And although it
only led to more rocks, the sight of progress, even this minor, was enough
to cheer the women up.
"Gods, but I could use a bath," said Xena, rubbing a tatter from
the discarded shift over her arms. She would have liked to have wet it,
but was afraid to use water for anything other than drinking. With the
amount of dust and strain they had been through, both women had sipped
more than they would have liked throughout the day. Argo nickered disconsolately
in the corner, begging for more water. Xena turned away, knowing it couldn't
be spared. The horse had already finished her ration.
"You and me both," said Gabrielle, sitting against the wall,
trying to catch her breath. Every muscle in her body was screaming in pain
from carting rocks all day. Her hands had several cuts and her big toe
throbbed from a hit during one of the cave-ins. She looked over at the
pile of rocks in the corner and marveled that she had managed to carry
"How is our food holding out?" asked Xena.
"Okay. There's still salt pork, some apples, another wheel of cheese
and the last of the bread I made earlier."
"Good. But no salt pork for either of us. It'll make us thirsty. And
we should start to conserve on the rest of it."
Gabby frowned. She had been looking forward to a hearty meal. She was famished
from all the work she had done and to her eye there was plenty of food.
Xena saw her expression and smiled. "Don't worry, you can still eat
a good dinner. And afterwards, why don't you tell me some of your stories,
to make the time go. If you're not too tired, that is."
A huge smile lit the bard's face. "Oh, I'm not too tired! And I won't
eat too much. I'm just hungry. Soon as I get a nibble or two I'll be fine.
Which stories did you want to hear? Anything in particular?"
"Whatever you want to tell."
"Okay. I'll think about it and choose some good ones."
Xena nodded then went over to the tree and hacked off some more wood. They
were almost out of the smaller branches. Soon she'd need a way to cut into
the larger limbs without disturbing the wall. Another puzzle.
They ate their small portions ravenously, and both women finished without
feeling satisfied. Gabrielle jumped up, rummaged in her pack and brought
back two of the sticky savories she had bought in the village.
"Where'd you get these?" Xena asked in surprise, her eyes lighting
"Just a little treat I bought to tempt you."
"It worked!" She took a bite and closed her eyes. "Oh, yum.
It's the best I've ever tasted. This *is* a treat!"
Gabrielle beamed, loving the fact that her surprise had met with such enthusiasm.
She looked at the one she had picked out for herself, then put it back.
Better to save them for Xena, she thought.
"What story are you going to tell? Or is it going to be poetry to
start?" asked Xena, licking her fingers with delight.
Gabrielle looked over at her friend and was struck again by her beauty
and self-assurance. Here they were in a situation where it was almost impossible
to find optimism and yet she had never once shown anything but. And despite
the lack of baths and the hard work, Xena was as breath-taking as she always
was, her face unmarked and lovely. Without realizing she was saying it,
"She stood alone
Her face in shadows
Cheekbones strong and high
Against the bone
Her lips were meadows
With eyes that tasted sky"
"That's beautiful," said Xena. "Who is it about?"
Startled that she had spoken aloud, Gabby searched her mind for a lie.
"Um... it's about this princess. From a castle. A castle princess.
Her father was a king, which is, of course, why she was a princess. Not
like being a warrior princess. Forged in battle and all that. No, she was
just an ordinary princess. Who was very beautiful and couldn't find love
and when she did, he died and then she was sad so she killed herself and
I'll tell you a different story, because that one is kinda icky."
"Okay," said Xena with a smile. "Though I don't remember
ever hearing that one."
"It's very obscure."
Gabrielle immediately launched into the tale of Narcissus, telling the
familiar story with verve, but inwardly screaming at herself for making
such an error. If Xena had figured out the poem was about her, she would
have surely seen what was in Gabby's heart. And then she would never hold
her again, like she had earlier, humming softly and keeping the demons
at bay. She would never smile at her in friendship and treat her as an
"Very sad," said Xena when the tale was finished. "But so
stupid. To love yourself so much you never look for it in another. Especially
when it's so satisfying to be loved."
Gabrielle looked carefully at her friend. What was she saying? Who was
she thinking about? "Xena..."
"Are you in love with Hercules?"
Xena's smile was wry. "What brought that on?"
"Well," said Gabby, flustered. "I was just wondering."
"I love him as a friend. And will always love what he did for me.
But I'm not 'in' love with him."
"But were you ever 'in' love with him? Like when you and he were,
"Why the sudden interest?"
"C'mon! Girl talk! Can't we ever just talk about stuff? You never
do, and sometimes it drives me crazy."
Xena sighed. "I drive you crazy, huh?" Her expression was hurt
and Gabby jumped in immediately.
"No! *You* don't drive me crazy. Well, sometimes, but everyone does
sometimes -- you changed the subject on me. Very clever. Now will you answer
my question? Were you ever in love with Hercules?"
"When do I drive you crazy?"
"Oh for!" Gabby said, exasperated. "Look, I'll answer your
question if you answer mine. We'll play 'Truth or Dare,' okay?"
"What's 'Truth or Dare?'"
"You never played that game as a kid?"
"The only games I know are war games."
"Well, you have to pick: truth or dare. And if it's truth someone
gets to ask you a question -- any question -- and you have to answer truthfully.
And if it's dare, well, you have to do whatever the person says."
"It can be, yes. You need to trust who you're playing with."
"I don't think I like that game."
"Fine, no one's forcing you. I just wanted to find out something about
you. You can be very secretive, y'know?"
Xena looked at Gabby, silently. The bard squirmed under the frank stare
until finally, Xena looked away. "I do trust you, Gabrielle. Okay,
we'll play your game. But be nice."
"I'm *always* nice. Now, pick one: truth or dare?"
Gabby looked up in surprise. What kind of dare was she supposed to give
her? All the silly things they used to dare as kids came back to her, but
none of them was appropriate for Xena. "I dare you to tell the truth
about Hercules," she said lamely.
"Isn't that cheating?"
"Kinda. But I can't think of a dare right now."
"Told you this was a stupid game."
"All right, all right. Give me a second and I'll come up with a dare."
"What sort of things did you dare when you were a kid?"
"Oh, the usual. We'd dare Timiphus to talk to Old Man Cratea, or make
Kicker take down his pants, or dare Lilla to kiss Darvon. Silly, stupid
"Why did you make 'Kicker' take down his pants? That seems cruel."
"Because he had bow legs. And yes it was cruel, but we were kids."
"And Lilla didn't want to kiss Darvon?"
"Actually, she was dying to. So she made me promise to dare her."
"Why didn't she just kiss him without playing a silly game?"
"Because Lilla was Lilla and she was too embarrassed to do it unless
it was part of the game. This isn't helping, Xena. I can't concentrate
on a dare if you keep talking like this."
"First you complain I don't talk enough, and now it's too much. Make
up your mind, my little bard."
Gabrielle laughed. "You're right. This *is* a silly game. Forget I
"No, now I'm intrigued. What do you want me to do? There's no old
man to talk to, and I'm not wearing pants, nor do I have bow legs. So I
guess that leaves kissing. Am I playing this right? Or do you want to think
up a different dare?"
A deep blush instantly covered Gabby's face. She tried to cover it but
knew it must be obvious. "Um... okay, I dare you to kiss me."
Xena leaned over, put her hand behind Gabby's head and put her lips softly
on her cheek. "That was easy. Now is it my turn?" Xena asked.
Gabby nodded silently, unsure if she was happy or upset that the kiss was
"Truth or dare?" Xena asked, getting into the spirit of the game.
"Why do I drive you crazy?"
"It's your game," Xena said logically.
"Right. My game. Okay. It's just that sometimes I wish you'd open
up with me. We're together all the time and yet there are things about
you that I... well, I don't know anything. Important things, like stuff
in your past and if you're in love with someone and like... that..."
she said, trailing off.
"Is that everything? Or is there more?"
"Well, sometimes you treat me so good. And I know you consider me
your best friend. And that's wonderful. But other times I get the feeling
you wish I'd just go away. Not so much anymore, but sometimes you look
at me and it's as if you're angry with me. Like I've done something wrong,
only I don't know what it is."
Xena dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry. I... there are a lot of things
about me I don't want anyone to know. It's tough to face them sometimes.
And you're so gentle and innocent and well, I don't like the idea of you
knowing about them. Then I look at you and get angry that some of 'me'
might rub off on you. Some of my darkness."
"I can handle it, you know. I'm a big girl. I know there's a lot of
bad stuff in your past. But have you ever thought that it just makes me
admire you more? That you were able to put it behind you and become who
Xena was silent for long minutes. Gabrielle put another branch on the fire
and straightened the blankets, though they were already perfect.
"Your turn," said Xena, softly.
"Oh. Um, truth or dare?"
"Were you in love with Hercules? Did you sleep with him?"
"That's two questions."
"Yeah, I guess it is," said Gabby, trying to figure out which
one she wanted answered.
"I'll take one on account. No, I wasn't in love with him. I think
I might have imagined so at the time, but I was really in love with what
he represented. The honor and purity of his life and deeds. And yes, I
slept with him. My turn. Truth or dare?"
"Dare." So she *had* slept with Hercules.
"Back to that, are we?" asked Xena with a chuckle. Her flustered
friend smiled sheepishly.
"That's okay. Another kissing thing, right? Then I guess I dare you
to kiss me. On the lips," said Xena. Gabrielle's eyes opened wide.
Xena lost her smile and said, "you don't have to, of course. We could
stop the game if you're uncomfortable. I just couldn't think up a good
dare, either, but I had to do something to best yours."
"Oh, no, I'll do it. It's part of the game, right? Sure, I'll play,"
said Gabrielle and leaned over. She kissed Xena softly on the lips, trying
not to linger, though not quite succeeding.
"Very nice. Very sweet. How many women have you kissed, Gabrielle?"
asked Xena, slyly.
"No fair. It's not your turn," she said, blushing.
"You're right. I'll take truth."
"How many women have *you* kissed, Xena?"
Instead of the reaction Gabby expected, Xena laughed and said, "You
want the actual number? Or just--"
"Rough estimate will do," said Gabby, trying to sound sophisticated.
She's kissed women? she wondered. This put a whole new light on things.
"Around six. Though only four with passion. Okay, my turn--"
"Waitasecondhere!" broke in Gabrielle. "You've kissed four
women with passion? Does that mean, y'know..."
"Well, that you've been with... that is, that you've, um, with women
as well as men?"
"Does that thought frighten you?" Xena asked seriously.
"No! No, of course not. Why would it?"
"You look a little scared. That's why I asked."
"I'm not scared. Honest. Heck, it's very interesting. I didn't know...
This is exactly what I was talking about, though. Telling stuff and letting
me know better who you are. What makes you tick."
"Does the possibility of my having been with women give you clues
to my 'ticking?'"
"Sorta," said Gabrielle. She was unnerved by the conversation
and Xena's openness. She didn't know what to think. There'd be no sleep
tonight despite her utter exhaustion, because she had to replay this interesting
evening over and over in her mind, gathering clues, figuring out exactly
what had happened and what had been said. Absently, she asked, "Whose
turn is it?"
"Mine. Truth or dare?"
I want another dare! her heart screamed. But Gabrielle knew that she had
to pick truth. She was too close to so many of Xena's secrets now, and
didn't want to ruin the mood of honesty that was all around them. "Truth.
Ask me anything."
"Okay," said Xena, staring at her speculatively. "I have
a two-part question."
"You only get one."
"Ah, but you asked a double earlier and now I'm calling it even."
"Oh. You're right. Go ahead."
"Do you have any secrets you're keeping from me?"
Instantly, tears formed in Gabby's eyes. This was it. The moment she'd
dreaded since she'd discovered the truth of her own heart. Xena's next
question was obvious and she would be forced to tell her everything. In
a whisper she replied, "yes."
"You're crying. Let's stop this game right now. I don't want to see
you hurting," said Xena. Immediately, she crawled into her blankets
and turned her back.
Gabrielle didn't move at first. She was mortified that she had ruined the
intimacy of the evening with her tears. Finally, she pulled up her blankets,
hiding her face from the fire.
A whisper. "Gabrielle?"
"It's okay to keep *some* secrets. Isn't it?"
"Yes. Some things shouldn't be told, I guess."
"That's what I thought. Goodnight."
Both women pretended to sleep.
When Gabrielle awoke, Xena was already hard at work. She had used the last
of the branches to shore up the hole and the fire was dying. Gabrielle
looked at the remains of the tree and wondered how they could slice off
more wood without disturbing the wall. Especially with the tools they had.
A sword wasn't an ax or a saw.
"What about the fire?"
Xena threw another large rock onto the cave floor with a grunt. "What
"What do we use for fuel?"
The warrior stared at the dying flames and sighed. She leapt off the wall
and walked over to the tree. The smallest of the large remaining branches
was the size of her waist. Xena grabbed her sword and swung at the base
of the branch. The sword buried itself a few inches into the wood. Using
a seesaw motion, she eased it out and swung again. After each cut, she
would wait to see if the vibration had penetrated the wall. Minute after
minute of painstaking blows and waiting passed as she gradually made progress.
After what seemed hours to Gabrielle, Xena made the final cut and the branch
fell off. The sweating warrior swayed, staring at the wall while she wiped
her forehead with a swatch of cloth. She returned her sword to its scabbard
and tossed it over by her chakram, easing the tension in her shoulder muscles
now that her hands were free. Gabby stood next to Xena, looking at the
large branch and wondering if she was supposed to carry it alone.
Suddenly, there was a low rumble. Both women stood stock still for a moment,
frozen by the ominous sound. Then Xena grabbed Gabrielle and leapt toward
the far wall. When they hit the ground, the warrior covered her friend
with her body. Dust blew up in clouds as the giant rock wall shifted. The
wooden bracers in the hole snapped and flew like projectiles through the
cave while rocks filled the cavern, spilling like water into their living
space. Argo whinnied wildly, bucking in fright.
When the last rumble finally faded away, there was silence in the cave.
The only movement was Argo's bobbing head. Both women lay still as death.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered, dust choking her. "You can
get off me now, I'm fine."
There was no answer. Gabby squirmed and twisted until she was able to face
her friend. Xena's eyes were closed. Blood ran out of her hair across her
face in grimy, flowing streaks.
"Xena!" Gabby gasped. "Oh gods, Xena! Wake up!" No
movement answered her plea.
Carefully, she eased herself out from under her friend, making sure not
to move her too much. Quickly, she searched her for wounds, but other than
a few cuts and bruises, the laceration on her head was the only serious
damage. Then it occurred to the bard that she was able to see without benefit
of fire. She looked up at the entrance and saw a small pathway to the outside
at the top of a cascade of loose rocks and boulders. Bright sunlight shone
in, bringing with it the cool autumn air.
"Look, Xena. The sun. We can get out." The warrior didn't move.
Gabby searched for their remaining water skin but it was buried somewhere
in the rubble, along with their packs. Argo neighed softly and she noticed
a trickle of blood running down her flank. It didn't look serious, so she
turned her attention back to Xena. Ripping off a piece of her skirt, she
held the cloth to her friend's head, trying to staunch the flow of blood.
Xena's usually bronzed face was colorless, the skin standing out in stark
relief against the bloody frame of black hair. "Wake up, Xena, please!
I don't know what to do!"
Gabrielle knew she needed to get Xena to a healer and fast. She looked
up at the rock wall, her eyes fixed on the spot of sunlight. If she could
widen that, she could scramble out and go for help. But that would mean
leaving Xena alone in the cave, hurt and vulnerable. What if the rocks
fell again? It was too risky. No, somehow, she had to clear a space big
enough for both of them and carry the warrior with her.
The blood on Xena's head was beginning to clot under Gabby's constant pressure.
When she was sure it had stopped bleeding, the bard slowly lifted Xena's
head off her lap and tried to arrange her in a comfortable position in
the small space left in the interior of the cave.
She needed to find water. The wound had to be cleaned and the blood replaced.
Water was the only thing that could help. Gingerly, Gabby climbed onto
the sloping rockfall to the place where their supplies had been kept. Trying
not to move too many rocks, she studied the area, looking for a bit of
leather poking up, or the edge of a pack -- anything. There was nothing.
Everything had been completely buried.
Gabrielle glanced toward the opening at the top of the slide. Cautiously,
she began climbing the sloping wall of rocks. Half-way up, some stones
shifted loose. She glanced back to make sure they weren't headed for Xena.
Luckily, the opening was at the opposite corner. Argo wasn't happy, but
she was unhurt by the few pebbles that had rolled her way. The horse neighed
and stamped her feet.
"What do you want me to do?" asked Gabby, impatiently. Then it
struck her. How was Argo going to escape? This must have been the reason
Xena always changed the subject whenever Gabrielle had brought up the horse.
There was no way for the animal to get out of the cave. "I'm sorry,
girl. I guess I was so worried about Xena and me that I didn't think...
Reluctantly, Gabby turned back to her climb. When she reached the small
opening, she was shocked by what she saw. Everything within her narrow
view outside the cave was burned black, the trees only wounded stalks.
A forest fire had ripped through the area, killing everything in its path.
"The cave-in saved our lives..." Gabby mumbled in awe. There
was no way either of them would have been able to outrun a fire of that
magnitude. And had the cave been open instead of protected by the rock
wall, they would probably have suffocated from trapped smoke.
A sparkle amidst the charred landscape caught her eye. About 50 yards away
was a small stream, catching the sunlight as it tripped along the rocks.
Instantly, Gabby felt her thirst assault her. It felt like it had been
a lifetime since she had tasted the cool, fresh water of a free-flowing
Xena groaned softly in the corner. Gabby scrambled back down the rock slope,
unable to hide her relief that the warrior was alive and gaining consciousness.
"Xena? Xena, can you hear me?" the bard asked as she picked her
way over the last of the rockfall.
Xena opened her eyes, her pupils dilated and unfocused.
"Xena -- it's me, Gabrielle. You're safe. You got hit by a rock or
something, but I'm going to get us out of here. Look! There's sunlight.
There's a hole in the rock puzzle, Xena -- we're going to be okay."
"Gabrielle...?" Xena said weakly.
"Yeah, I'm right here," she replied, sitting next to her friend,
stroking her face. "You're going to be fine. We're okay now. We can
"We will, soon as I clear us space."
"No. *You* go..." Xena said, the tiniest thread of her strength
returning on the emphasis.
"Oh right! Like I'm going to leave you behind."
"Not safe," Xena said, swallowing several times to lubricate
her dry throat. "Too risky... to stay."
"I know, I know, that's why I'm going to get us out."
"No... Please. Go. Too risky..." The words faded as she passed
"Xena? C'mon, Xena! Stay with me!" Gabrielle wanted to cry in
frustration. It wasn't like Xena to give up. Ever. Was she hurt as bad
as all that? Did she know something that Gabby didn't and was trying to
spare her? "You listen to me! I know you can hear me, so you better
pay attention. I am *not* going anywhere without you so you're just going
to have to deal with it. And I'm not taking any guff from you, okay? I
won't be leaving unless you're right there beside me. Now, I have some
work to do. I need to open up that space so I can crawl out to the stream.
So you're going to have to sit here and keep your self-sacrificing, warrior,
over-protective hoo-doo to yourself, because I'm not listening."
Xena's still form gave Gabrielle the strength to add, "and do you
want to know why? Because I'm in love with you. That's why. I'm so crazy
in love with you I can barely breathe when you're near. Every word you
say, every glance, every smile, every frown, every whisper, every gesture,
every deed -- it all adds to the fire which is raging out of control inside
me. That's right. Your best friend is head over heels in love with you
and you're just going to have to deal with that. And that means dealing
with the fact that I would rather die right here than live without you,
so get ready to travel."
Gabby stood up with new determination and scaled the rockfall with a minimum
of trouble. Immediately, she began pushing stones through the hole, widening
the passage. When she was able to pull half her body through and look around
outside, she was astonished at the size of the barrier which had entombed
them. The wall must have been several yards thick -- way too large for
them to have ever burrowed through before dying of thirst. It would've
taken at least a week or two to forge a passage large enough for them to
escape. But with the new slide, Gabby was finding her progress swift and
satisfying. Within a few hours, she had a hole large enough for her to
crawl through and emerge on the other side.
Gabrielle foraged among the charred stalks for something with which to
weave a quick water holder. There was very little that hadn't been burned
to charcoal, but eventually, she gathered enough material to make a crude
water carrier. Thankfully, she had found some pitch to seal it so it would
last until she had cared for Xena. She attached it to a loop on her skirt
and scrambled back into the cave.
"Xena? Xena!" she called. "Answer if you can, Xena, please!"
"Gab... rielle?" came a faint reply.
"Oh, Xena, I'm so glad you're awake!" said the bard, settling
next to her friend. "Here's some water. Drink as much as you can,
there's plenty more."
"I've got a passage to the outside now. Soon, I'll have it wide enough
for both of us."
"I told you I was strong. Strong like Cyclops!" Gabby said in
a silly accent, hoping to cheer her up. Xena's lips twitched in a semblance
of a smile, and Gabby beamed back at her. "Now drink, please."
Xena took several sips. "Thanks. Better..."
"Good. Now let me clean that gash on your head. This, um, could hurt,
"Why didn't... you leave?"
"You still owe me seven dinars for the cloth you ripped up. I always
collect on my debts. So I had no choice."
Gabrielle poured some of the water on Xena's head. Old blood oozed onto
the sandy floor and the bard grimaced. "I'll bet that hurts, huh?"
"Not... too bad. Can't really feel anything."
"Ah. Okay. So while I'm working here, let's play another round of
truth or dare. I think it's my turn. Truth or Dare?"
"Dare," said Xena, a small smile on her lips.
"Hmmm... Dare, you say? Well, I can think of lots of things to dare
you right now. I dare you to feel better. I dare you to hang on until I
can get you to a healer. I dare you to regain your strength. I dare you
to stop telling me to leave. Yup, lots of dares. But I think I'll dare
you to accept another kiss from your best friend." Gabrielle leaned
down and kissed her softly on the lips, stroking her face tenderly. "There.
You're a brave woman, to have allowed more of my kisses."
Xena focused on the bard for a moment and the shadow of her former self
settled into her eyes. "That wasn't bravery. Truth or dare?"
"Truth," said Gabrielle, concentrating on cleaning the wound
without breaking it open.
"Why won't you save yourself? And no jokes."
"Because you're my best friend. You're going to be fine. And I love
you too much to let anything happen to you. Want another drink?"
"Yes." Xena took several more sips of water. "I love you
too, best friend," she said.
"I know," said Gabby, trying not to read anything into the statement.
"Truth or dare?"
"Truth..." Xena was tiring, her voice breathy.
"I think I'll save my question for later. You should rest. I've got
this cleaned up as best I can for now. The medicine kit is buried or I'd
be able to do more. So I guess I'll go work on clearing a bigger passage."
"Okay..." Xena said, closing her eyes.
Gabrielle bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "Sleep well,"
she said then returned to the rocky slope.
Gabrielle worked through the day and into the night clearing the passage.
She was lucky there was a full moon so she was able to see, though the
chill of the evening seemed to seep into her bones. Unfortunately, their
blankets had been lost and Xena shivered with both cold and shock at the
back of the cave. Gabby built a small wall of rocks around her to cut the
wind that whipped through the opening, but it didn't improve things much.
Finally, she tore down the wall and coaxed Argo to lay next to her mistress,
the steed providing the warmth she couldn't.
When Gabby realized she was too exhausted to be careful, she wearily climbed
down the rockfall. Argo had left Xena's side a few minutes earlier so Gabrielle
took her place. She lay next to the warrior, gathered her in her arms and
tried to give her whatever warmth her body had left.
The two women shivered together for several minutes until finally their
closeness warmed them.
"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered.
"What is it, Xena? Do you need something? More water? I'll go get--"
Gabby said, beginning to rise.
Gabby lay back down, delighted not to have to go to the stream again, enjoying
the warmth and closeness of lying with Xena in her arms. "What did
you need?" she asked.
"I took truth. Ask me my question."
Gabby smiled. She was utterly exhausted and knew she could be asleep in
seconds, but all thoughts of herself left her instantly, knowing that Xena
needed her; needed to talk.
"The truth, then. How do you feel? Really. No fair being brave."
"Terrible. My head is pounding, I can barely see, and this is the
first time I've stopped shivering for hours. There's no way I'll be able
to walk out of here. I think you should go for help."
"Can't. The rockpile is too sensitive. The slightest thing could tumble
it all again and you'd be buried. Sorry, but it's me or nothing. Truth
or dare me."
"Gabrielle -- you can't--"
"Don't tell me what I can or cannot do, Warrior Princess. You're in
no shape to be giving orders. Besides, I'm an *Amazon* Princess and that
means I outrank you. Now c'mon, it's your turn to ask."
Xena smiled and squirmed a bit closer. "Truth or Dare?"
"How did you get this strong?" asked Xena, seriously. "How
did the wide-eyed, talky little Gabrielle who joined me on my quest become
this woman of power?"
Gabrielle wished the moonlight was bright enough to illuminate Xena's face.
She wanted to see her; to see her expression, the tilt of her mouth, the
arch of an eyebrow -- anything to gather clues behind this question. Does
she mean it? wondered Gabby. Does she really see me that way? I'm so frightened
I can barely think and so terrified I'll fail, I'm nearly paralyzed.
"How? From being with you. You have all the strength and power in
the world, Xena. Some of it had to rub off on me. I just kept thinking
'what would Xena do?' and went from there. But it's not real. I don't have
any strength. I'm just so afraid for you that I'll do whatever I have to,
to make you well."
"That wasn't the truth, Gabrielle."
"No, the power *is* real. I can feel it."
Gabrielle was silent, digesting these words. Was it true? Had she changed
from who she used to be? Her arms tightened. Now the important question,
she said to herself. Do I have enough strength to tell her how I feel?
"I think we both need a dare," whispered Xena. Gabrielle felt
Xena shift in her arms then warm lips were pressed on hers. But instead
of ending almost as soon as it had begun, like all the others, this kiss
deepened. Gabby felt Xena's tongue touch her lips, parting them. It caressed
her teeth and when the bard opened herself to its exploration, she became
lost in sensations of tenderness and passion. Endless moments passed, as
the two best friends, united through fear and injury, worry and love, both
gave permission for a change in their relationship. There were no more
silences, though no words were spoken. There were no more secrets, though
no game was played to divulge them. They simply accepted the reality of
their love and expressed it in a single kiss.
And when at last it ended, Xena's head went back to its cradle in Gabby's
arms and she slept. Gabrielle took a bit longer to find the haven of Morpheus.
But eventually, the taxing day of physical labor claimed her muscles and
I need Argo, Gabrielle realized. She had opened enough of a passage for
her to drag Xena and herself through, but once outside the cave, there
was no way she could carry the warrior all the way back to the village.
She needed Argo for that.
She had spent the morning working on the rockpile, yet her mind never stopped
thinking of ways to get the horse out of the cave. Only one plan kept occurring
to her. A plan so ridiculous and impossible that she had already dismissed
it several times. But no alternative was forthcoming.
Instantly, she had eliminated the idea that she could clear a path to the
cave floor so that Argo could walk out on her own steam. That would takes
weeks of labor. And they would all probably be killed in the process. So
somehow, she had to get the horse through the passage at the top of the
cave and that's where she was stumped. It would be impossible for the animal
to navigate the rocks. And the passage would have to be widened much more
to fit her height.
No, the only plan that had even a possibility of working was the crazy,
silly, stupid idea that she kept pushing out of her mind. Well, she thought,
time to face it. It's all I've got.
Gabrielle was so exhausted she could barely move. She had worked all day
widening the hole so that it would be large enough not only to carry Xena
through, but to execute her stupid Argo plan. She should have rested hours
ago, she knew. She was stumbling and clumsy and ready to pass out. But
she didn't care. The only thing that mattered was getting out of the cave
Standing back, she looked at the hole she had cleared. It would have to
do. She walked through it, able to do so almost without stooping, and looked
at the charred forest. She shivered in the brisk autumn wind which whipped
through the hole, watching as daylight slipped away. Time to get Xena.
Her legs barely obeyed her commands as she stumbled down the rocky slide
toward her friend. She had made the trip so many times, she no longer heeded
which stones were loose, and which could bear her weight. She knew them
all by heart.
Or so she thought. She took a misstep and her foot went out from under
her. She was barely able to keep herself from tumbling down and realized
that she needed to remember to respect the danger at all times. Shaking
her head, she looked down and saw that she had dislodged several stones
in her carelessness. They tumbled down, picking up others and as Gabrielle's
eyes grew wide in horror, headed straight for Xena.
Xena looked over at the rock wall when she heard the patter of the stones
and saw the onrushing danger. Unable to move out of the way, she twisted
her body, trying to cover herself as she was pelted by the stones at the
front of the fall. The majority of the slide missed her, but several found
their mark. One hit her on the shoulder and she yelped in pain, her arm
coming away from its protective grip over her wound. At that moment a large,
jagged rock smashed into her unprotected head.
Gabrielle was shaking with fear for her friend as she tried to descend
amidst the tumbling stones. Thankfully, the wall itself still held firm,
enabling her to pick her way down. Small stones at the tail end of the
avalanche continued to strike Xena, but the wounded woman gave no indication
that she even felt them. She lay unmoving at the back of the cavern, as
still as a corpse.
"Xena?" cried Gabby, finally reaching the cave floor. "Xena!
Say something!" There was no answer.
Gabby saw where the stone had struck her shoulder and touched it gently,
stroking the muscled arm to try and awaken her friend. "Xena, please..."
Then she looked at the warrior's head and gasped aloud. Blood was flowing
from the wound, which seemed to have doubled in size. "Oh, Gods, Xena,
I'm so sorry..." she said, grabbing the edge of her skirt, tearing
off another strip. "Water, I need water," she said, looking for
the carrier she had woven. It lay in a puddle of mud, smashed by one of
the rocks. She turned her attention back to Xena, applying direct pressure
on the wound, willing it to stop bleeding, knowing her friend couldn't
spare what she had already lost.
With a single-minded determination, Gabby stayed with her friend, working
on sealing the wound, bandaging it with the strip of cloth. When she could
do no more, she carefully climbed the rockfall to get water.
By the time she returned, dusk had settled in. She knew she needed full
daylight to climb the rockfall while carrying her friend. So she spent
the night holding Xena, lending her warmth and comfort, talking to her
in low tones, telling her one story after another. But by morning, the
warrior still hadn't regained consciousness.
"Please, wake up," said Gabrielle, shaking Xena by the shoulder.
A few minutes earlier, she had heard a groan. Gabby continued to prod until
the Warrior rolled her head slightly, grimacing.
"Time to go," insisted the bard. "I need you awake, Xena.
I need your help.
Xena moaned again.
"I'm going to carry you out of here, but if you could put your arms
around my neck, it would help a lot. I'm not sure I'm strong enough without
your help." There was no response from her friend, but she was moving
slightly, which gave the bard hope. "You don't think I can do it,
do you? Well, just watch me." Still on her knees, Gabby managed to
maneuver Xena until she was leaning on her back. The warrior appeared to
waken somewhat at the movement. "Come on, I'll hold you as best I
can, but I need you to use what strength you have to grab onto me. There
are places where I need both hands to get past."
Xena moaned a protest, but Gabrielle ignored it. Instead, she hoisted the
large warrior until she was in position then stood, almost buckling under
the strain, for Xena was bigger than she had imagined and weaker than she
had hoped. The warrior had no strength at all, not to hold onto her friend,
nor to keep herself conscious. So with both hands gripping muscled thighs
and stooping to maintain balance, Gabrielle began the climb up the rockfall.
Carefully, Gabby picked her way across the treacherous slope. One misstep
could tumble them both, she knew. And although she had gotten used to scrambling
up and down while digging and taking care of Xena, she knew that this was
a very different trip. She no longer had the balance she was used to, nor
the use of her hands. She shook with the strain of the dead weight on her
back but never paused in her climb toward the open passage to freedom.
Those parts of the journey where she had always needed her hands she took
as slowly and carefully as possible. Somehow, she maintained her balance,
always thinking in terms of her next step, instead of the many steps yet
to go. Sweat fell freely from her brow and chin, the muscles in her legs
and arms shaking; threatening to cramp at any minute, but still she persevered.
Gabrielle did not need the strength of the warrior's arms around her neck.
She was in control. And her determination was impossible to break.
Finally, she found herself on the other side of the rocks; staring at a
cool, sunny autumn day and a charred forest. Without resting, she began
Gabrielle laid Xena on the bed of bracken she had scrounged painstakingly
from the burned forest. She placed a woven basket of water next to her
in case she woke. For long minutes, Gabby did nothing but stare at her
friend, too exhausted to move, but too fearful of Xena's cold, white silence
"Xena?" So far, nothing had penetrated the warrior's wounded
sleep. "Please, Xena, I can't move. I've lost all my strength. I need
you. I need to hear your voice before I can go on."
There was no reaction. Xena's chest rose and fell in shallow breaths but
otherwise she appeared lifeless. Her pallor had grown worse. Somewhere
in the climb, the head wound had reopened. Both women were sticky with
blood. And although Gabby had once again halted the flow, she feared this
time it was too great a loss.
"I'd give you my blood if there was a way. I'd connect our hearts
and let it flow into you. C'mon, Xena, you never let anything stop you
-- how can you give up now? Not after what just happened! Don't you get
it? I'm in love with you! And you're in love with me -- don't try to tell
me otherwise. That has to be worth fighting for!" Gabby fell to her
knees next to her friend. Tears flowed freely in sudden release. "Damn
you! Damn you for finally letting me know how you felt and then just giving
up on life! I'll tell everyone that Xena, Warrior Princess, ran away from
the biggest fight of all. Just see if I don't!" Then the very last
of her strength left her and Gabrielle crumpled into a ball, nothing but
shaking limbs and tears. "Damn you, Xena..." she moaned.
How long she remained like this, she never knew. But finally, something
penetrated her grief. It was the softest of sounds, and yet somehow it
cut through the noise of the forest and her own wailing torment.
"Dare..." was all she heard.
She looked up and saw Xena's eyelids flutter for just a moment before she
returned to unconsciousness.
"Xena...? I heard that! You're in there, aren't you? You know. You
know you have to fight. You know you have to live, don't you?" This
time, Gabrielle didn't need an answer. Instead she lowered her head and
gave her friend a tender kiss. She felt no response, but that didn't matter.
Wherever Xena's mind was, Gabby was convinced the warrior would know her
dare had been answered.
"Look, I'm going to have to leave you, but don't worry. It won't be
for long," Gabrielle whispered. "And I'll come back and check
on you as often as I can. You should be okay here. No one can see you from
the path, so you're safe." She pressed the water basket into Xena's
limp hand. "There's water here, and I'm nearby. I wish I could have
found your sword and chakram for you, but they're buried with the rest
of our stuff. I know how much that's going to hurt when you get better.
To lose your weapons, well, that's got to be one of the worst nightmares
of a warrior. But don't get too upset, okay? They're just things. You're
much more important. Better to lose your chakram than your life, right?
So don't think about that. Rest and feel better and I'll be back soon."
Gabrielle lifted herself painfully and turned away from the warrior, hating
leaving her but knowing she had no choice. Argo was still in the cave.
"This is a stupid, stupid plan," said Gabrielle to Argo. "You
agree with me, doncha girl?" The horse nickered, as if understanding.
"I know, I know. And if you've got any better ideas, I'm quite willing
to listen." There was silence. "Huh. That's what I thought. Not
that good at creative problem-solving, are ya, Argo?"
Gabrielle walked the horse through it one more time. It had taken nearly
half the day to clear the necessary path inside the cave, especially with
her frequent trips to check on the still unconscious Xena.
"That tree makes a lousy ramp, huh girl? Well, nothing we can do about
that. But the turn. It's way too tight. You need more room in that corner
if you're going to be able to do this." Gabby set about moving still
more rocks. "I hate rocks," she grumbled. "If I never see
another rock as long I live I'll be the happiest bard in Greece. Rocks
should all be sent to hello... what's this?" Quickly, she cleared
more rocks away and uncovered a bit of leather. Curious, she dug further,
unable to figure out how any of their stuff, which was stored on the other
side of the cave, had gotten near Argo's sleeping place. Finally, she rolled
aside a rather large stone and saw it. Xena's scabbard. Of course! she
thought. Xena had stored her weapons near the saddle, which wasn't with
all the rest of the stuff. It was near Argo. Quickly, she uncovered enough
of the scabbard to withdraw it from the rockpile. The sword was still sheathed
within, undamaged. Smiling happily, she continued to burrow until her patience
paid off. Reverently, she removed Xena's chakram.
"Oh, you are going to owe me big time for these, Xena!" she said
happily. Immediately, she set to work on the tree.
After over an hour of hacking, chipping and sweating, she knew it was as
good as she could do. Her strength was again near depletion. Argo snorted,
pawing at the ground. "Restless? Okay. One last time around and then
it's all up to you."
She walked the horse through the cleared rubble and this time, the corner
was wide enough and the tree had some purchase.
"Okay girl. Remember: on my whistle." Gabrielle hugged the horse
and patted her neck for perhaps, the last time. "Visualize, Argo.
You're Pegasus. You're a magical winged stead. You can do this. You belong
Gabby glanced at the remains of the tree. It had taken Argo's strength
to shift it into place, and her perseverance to carve its shape, but in
the end it may not matter at all. Knowing there was nothing more to do
in the cave, she scrambled up the rock wall and slipped through the large
passage she had excavated to the outside. Then she descended as quickly
as was prudent, anxious to see if her insane plan had even a chance at
With a final prayer, she whistled.
Inside the cave, Argo's ears perked up and she whinnied. There was silence
for awhile and then it came again. The whistle. She pawed the ground, anxiously,
looking at the rock wall. Another whistle. Argo reared and neighed loudly.
Whistle after whistle could be heard, driving the stead into a frenzy of
Finally, unable to remain standing when her mistress needed her, she began
to trot around the track the small blonde woman had cleared. With each
whistle, she picked up speed, her fury at being trapped and away from her
Dark Goddess driving her legs.
The last whistle was strong, clear and demanding. Argo did a final circuit
at full speed, ran up the flattened tree, then leapt for the hole at the
top of the cave.
Gabrielle knew that she had failed. What had made her think that a plan
as stupid as this would work? Argo was just a horse. She wasn't Xena in
equine form. She couldn't do the impossible. She couldn't fly...
Through the hole at the top of the cavern sailed the most beautiful, magnificent,
amazing sight Gabrielle had ever seen. Her legs tucked tightly, Argo passed
through the opening and stretched for the ground beyond the rubble. Her
back legs hit some rocks and she kicked off, giving herself just enough
height to clear the danger and land on the forest floor.
Argo, the Pegasus of war-horses, had done the impossible. She had escaped.
PART TWO: THE VILLAGE
When Gabrielle returned to Xena, the warrior still hadn't regained consciousness.
Her color was frighteningly pale and her pulse so faint, Gabby had to try
three times before she found it. Suddenly, it occurred to her that Xena
may not be able to survive the trip to the village. There was so much at
stake, the bard thought. One error and Xena could die. What do I do? Argo
snuffled her nose next to Xena's arm, urging her mistress to rise. Gabby
looked at the horse, knowing what she had to do, but fearing the decision.
Using a different whistle than she had before, she commanded Argo to her
knees. The horse instantly complied. As carefully as she could, Gabby lifted
Xena onto the mare's back, then climbed on behind, cradling the warrior
with both arms. Argo rose and walked back to the path. Gabby grabbed the
reins in one hand and directed her toward the village.
"I have to do this, Xena. I know it's not good for you to bounce around
like this, but I have to. I have no medicines, no poultices, no bandages
-- no knowledge! You need a healer, Xena, not a bard. And this is the only
way to get you to one."
Argo seemed almost humanly aware of the danger to her precious cargo. Her
gait was as smooth as she could make it, and although it was a hurried
walk, she never tried to jump into a trot or canter.
Gabby held onto her flanks tightly, not used to riding without a saddle.
She hummed in Xena's ear, trying to soothe her; to heal her with music,
love and touch. Keeping a close eye on the head wound, she never let her
grip falter, holding the larger woman by shear strength of will.
The villagers stared as the two women entered town. They had assumed them
dead in the fire, having seen the direction they had traveled just before
the storm struck and the forest had been set ablaze. And although the warrior
appeared to be a corpse, the younger woman held her as though she was still
"Get Widgie," said the innkeeper to a nearby village boy. "Over
here, girl!" he shouted to Gabrielle. "I'll set up a room. The
Healer's been sent for."
"Thank you," she said, ready to fall off the horse at the slightest
provocation. Gingerly, she helped the innkeeper take Xena from her, then
slipped gratefully from Argo's back.
"Name's Jorgos," he said, carrying the wounded warrior into the
inn. "Where're your things?"
"Thanks, Jorgos. But no things. We lost everything. Got caught in
a cave-in the day we left your village."
"Don't say? How'd you get out?"
"Moved some rocks. Xena got hurt, though. Really bad."
"Looks that way. In here," he said opening a door with a kick
then laying the warrior on a clean pallet. "I'll have some men go
to the cave and see if they can't dig up some of your stuff."
"Don't. It's too unstable. A saddle and some possessions aren't worth
"Suit yourself. But we know how to deal with caves in these parts.
You got nothing of value?"
Gabrielle thought of her scrolls, on which she had been painstakingly recording
all of Xena's adventures. She remembered her staff, a treasured gift from
an Amazon sister. Argo's saddle, the barrilis token they'd found near the
Temple of the Fates, their bedrolls, spare clothes... So many things. So
many memories. And although Xena was still wearing her leathers, she had
removed her breastplate armor and it was lost with the rest. That was going
to be hard to admit to her, Gabby realized. "No, nothing of value.
Not to anyone but us."
"I see," he said, looking hard at Gabrielle. "Been rough,
"Yeah. It... I... I'm worried about my friend."
"She worth worrying about?"
"More than you'll ever know."
"Then I'll tell the wife to pray to Hermes for you."
"Thank you. I'd appreciate that."
"She's got a touch of the oracle, my wife. It'll help."
"Thanks. Is there water around here? I need to wash her up and I could
use a bath myself."
"I'll have it brought." He was silent a moment. Then he looked
toward the door. "Healer's here." He left.
Gabrielle knelt next to Xena and stroked her face. "Hear that? The
healer is here. You're going to be fine. Just hang on a little longer and
she'll fix you right up, okay?"
An enormous woman wearing a bright yellow tent-like dress, covered in bangly,
clinking jewelry, waddled into the room. Her face was flushed red from
the walk, and she was humming a tuneless melody.
"This be her, then? The Warrior Princess her very own self, aye?"
asked the woman.
"This is Xena, yes. She was hit on the head by a rock. She's lost
a lot of blood."
The healer glanced at the wound. "Been open more'n once then?"
"Yes. Can you help her?"
"Aye. But 'tis up to the Warrior to make the healing work in time,
Gabrielle was tired to the bone. She noticed everything the healer said
sounded like a question, and it didn't instill much confidence. "She's
a fighter. If anyone can survive this, Xena can."
"Good'n then, aye? That be as it be. Lemme take a looker at the head
then. Run tell Jorgos t'get me a chair, aye?"
Gabby left the room reluctantly to go in search of the innkeeper, Jorgos.
When she returned with a large, sturdy chair, the healer was humming again,
bent over Xena, dwarfing her in size. The healer was probably four inches
taller than the warrior and weighed six times as much.
"Here," said Gabrielle, placing the chair near the pallet.
"Aye, then. You've got naught to do?"
"I want to stay with Xena."
"Your lover then, aye?" Gabrielle looked at her in surprise.
The healer laughed, jiggling from head to toe. The jewelry clinked and
clanked musically. "Oh, have I shocked you then? Don't worry, Chit.
I saw't when you two was here last. 'Twere the way she lookt on you, put
the thought there, aye? Such a hard, cold woman but when you was in her
eyeline, she softened like cream."
This was before the cave? Gabby thought. Xena looked like that before the
crisis; before she was hurt; before the threat that they would both die
alone? Gabrielle turned the thought over in her mind as the healer cleaned
the wound with a tenderness the bard hadn't expected.
"Poor little mite," the healer whispered to Xena. Gabby almost
laughed aloud, having never heard anyone call the warrior a 'little mite'
"So..." said Gabrielle. "You, um, think that Xena is in
love with me?"
"Aye, that I said, t'ain't so?"
Before the cave, thought Gabby. And suddenly the doubts she had been holding
at bay, refusing to voice even to herself, rushed in and as quickly, departed.
She had, in her secret heart, feared that Xena's show of affection had
been due to circumstance. Maybe the warrior feared she would die alone
and had reached out to whomever was near. Or maybe she had sensed Gabby's
need and wanted to give her a final gift, knowing that soon nothing would
matter. Xena had been hurt, hit in the head -- Gabby had wondered if the
rock had scrambled something in Xena's mind, making her do things she never
would. She could think up so many excuses for Xena's actions, but the one
she had wanted -- the one she had needed -- had seemed less and less likely.
Now, though, she had a prayer; a chance. If the healer had seen it. If
the healer told the truth. If the healer knew love when she saw it in another's
eyes. If... if... if...
"Just a bit more, Warrior, and then ye'll waken, aye?" said the
healer to Xena, in a sweet, caressing voice. She had cleaned, treated and
sewn Xena's wound with remarkable skill and her low rumbling voice was
almost like a lullaby in its soothing tone. Her touch, Gabby noticed, was
both coldly efficient and caressingly tender. "She be a beauty though,
t'ain't so?" the healer said to Gabrielle. "Looka th'bones and
th'lips. Strange one, though. T'have all that and not trade on't. I'd've
picked her for a beguiler of men and a conqueror of women. But you be no
pet, be ya Chit?"
Gabby reddened, not quite sure what the healer meant. "We're... she's
my best friend."
The healer laughed and jingled and shook. "Oh aye, that what they're
calling't now?" Then she seemed to forget Gabby was there as Xena
stirred. "Bold One, don't fight't so, let't happen. Put away the dreams
and find yer mind, then. Take't slow, Warrior, don't be pressed. We be
here, and we be waitin' 'til you'm ready."
Xena moaned. "Gab..."
"She's here beside. D'ya think she'd be leavin' ya then? Her 'best
friend' and all? Where's yer trust, Warrior?"
"Who...?" Xena croaked.
"They call me Widgie, silly name though 'tis."
Xena appeared agitated, until Gabrielle took her hand. The stress left
"Hi, Xena," Gabby said. "Welcome back."
Xena opened her eyes then shut them tightly. After a moment, she opened
them again. They darted about, a touch of panic in them that Gabby couldn't
"What's this then?" asked Widgie. "Share yer thoughts, Warrior."
"I can't... It's... nothing," Xena mumbled.
"Feh. Keeping secrets from Widgie, areya? That be a stupid idea, t'ain't
so? I could leave, could I. Fend for yerself you will, keeping secrets
from yer healer." Widgie's words were harsh, but her manner was soft
and cajoling. Gabrielle stared at the woman, trying to understand the mind
of this unusual mountain of a person.
Xena frowned. "How did... the cave...?"
"I finished the passage," said Gabrielle.
"You...? But how...?"
"I carried you," Gabby answered, anticipating her question.
Widgie chuckled silently, the only sound that of her jewelry. "A wee
puppet as yerself? Carried the Bold One on yer back, didja?" She leaned
down to talk to Xena. "What do you think of that, Warrior? Wager y'thought
you be the strong one, t'ain't so? Now the truth are out. You be helpless
and the Wee One be the strength of ya. Think on't. And keep no secrets
from yer healer, ere the Chit give ya a strike t'keep ya in line!"
Widgie laughed fully, the folds of her body rippling in waves setting off
a cacophony of jangling.
Gabrielle smiled at the absurdity of the thought, but she noticed Xena
just closed her eyes, her expression closed and unreadable. "Xena?
C'mon, Xena, don't--"
"Let'er be, Chit. She'll come round, t'ain't so, Warrior? Aye, t'so."
Then Widgie did a most extraordinary thing. She leaned down, picked up
Xena as if the warrior weighed no less than the feather blanket on the
bed, and cradled her in her arms like a newborn. Softly humming, she rocked
Xena, using her generous body as the ultimate mattress. And to Gabrielle's
surprise, Xena not only allowed this, but appeared to sink into the folds
willingly. As if she had indeed given up her strength and surrendered to
the comfort of the healer's warmth. "Get gone then, aye?" Widgie
whispered to Gabrielle. "This be a private thing and not t'be witnessed
by yer eyes. She'll not thank ye for seeing it, mark that. So get gone
afore she's no dignity left."
Gabrielle fought herself into a standing position, every inch of her crying
out to stay with Xena. But she knew that the healer spoke the truth. It
wasn't something her friend would want witnessed. Surrender was so difficult
for the warrior.
Gabrielle was sitting against a tree in back of the inn, exhausted. She
had carried the burden of their survival for so long, it felt strange to
have nothing to do. She looked up as a twig cracked and saw Jorgos carrying
a large bowl and a loaf of nutbread.
"Thought you might need food," he said, placing them before her.
"I'm not hungry," Gabby replied, knowing that she should be starving,
having not eaten for almost two days. But her mind was in such turmoil,
she wasn't sure if she would ever be hungry again.
"Well, you might consider it anyway. The wife made it and she gets
powerful upset if her food is refused."
Gabby frowned and broke off a corner of the bread, stuffing it in her mouth
for show. She chewed slowly, the rich, sweet taste enticing her palette.
"It's excellent," she said, taking another bite. She dipped the
spoon in the stew and brought it to her mouth, her taste buds exploding
on contact. Before she had realized it, the stew was gone along with the
entire loaf of nutbread.
"I... guess I was a little hungry at that," she sheepishly admitted.
"Aye, I guess," replied Jorgos with a smile. "I'll tell
the wife her plan worked."
"She knows herself, she does. Knows her talents. And food, well, she
can do things no other can with it. 'Get her to taste and she be mine'
she told me."
Gabby laughed. "I think I need to meet your wife," she said.
Jorgos looked up in surprise. "That you have! 'Tis my Widgie taking
care of your friend."
"Widgie? You're married to Widgie?"
"Aye," he said, pulling away from her, his eyes narrowed.
"Oh, but that's wonderful!" she said quickly and saw him relax.
"I didn't know because, well, you called her the healer and everything."
"When she's got a patient, she's the healer. When she's got a prophecy,
she's the oracle. When she's got a stewpot, she's the cook. Widgie is many
things and to keep it all straight, we name her for them."
"I see," said Gabby, not quite understanding but marveling anew
at the woman who had held Xena like a child, rocking her gently; healing
her just by being near. "I think Xena was very lucky to have been
hurt near this village."
"She was that," Jorgos chuckled.
"When do you think I can see her again?"
"Widgie will let us know. This part of it isn't for your eyes."
"Yeah, so she said."
"Don't fret about it. Widgie can draw things out of folks that, well,
no one should see. There is a great darkness in your friend. Widgie has
to get through that before she can heal. My wife can't abide darkness;
'specially not when lives are at stake."
"Well, Xena does have a past..."
"The Warrior Princess. Aye, we've all heard of her, of course. Most
famous warlord around a few years back."
"But she's not like that anymore. She's good now. A hero. She spends
her time saving people," said Gabrielle, defensively.
"Aye, we've heard that as well. After all, you two came here at the
quest of a neighbor, remember?"
"Oh yeah. That's right. Did he solve his problem?"
"He did. Xena showed him the path."
"I hope she's okay..." Gabrielle whispered. They were both silent
for several minutes, the bard's mind preoccupied with worries about her
"Get the Wee One, Jorgos!" came a bellow from the inn.
"There'll be your answer," said Jorgos.
Gabrielle leapt up and ran back to the room.
Xena was asleep on the palette. Widgie lifted herself from the chair amid
much jangling, jiggling and grunting.
"Let her be. Sleep is curing."
"Okay. Is she all right? Will she live?"
"Aye. The strength of her be immense, t'ain't so? That weren't the
problem. She's another worry now."
"What?" asked Gabby, stricken with fear.
"'Tis her eyes. Poor little mite's all but blind..."
"Blind? Xena is blind?" gasped Gabrielle.
"Aye, 'tis near that. She can see shapes and colors but naught else.
And e'en that be leaving her, swiftlike. Soon t'will be only darkness.
Odd that, t'ain't so? Darkness inside and darkness without now, aye?"
"No... I won't believe it. It's just temporary, right?"
"Only time and the warrior can tell us, t'ain't so?"
"No! You know, don't you? Tell me! Will she see again?"
"Rest a bit, Wee One. 'Tis a shock to hear of a friend afflicted thus.
Lie beside yer lady and hold her, then. She needs yer touch, aye? Aye."
With that, Widgie waddled out of the room, deaf to Gabrielle's continuing
spate of questions.
Defeated, Gabby sat on the edge of Xena's palette. The warrior was sleeping
soundly, her face relaxed and unworried. Gabrielle straightened some stray
hairs, then gently stroked her cheek. "Oh, Xena. Don't let this be
true. It can't be. You're going to be all better and then we'll ride off
on another adventure. You promised, remember? Once we got out of the cave,
everything was supposed to be okay. No more cold darkness. No more walls
in our way. No more worries. Just the two of us..." A tear slid down
her cheek, unnoticed. It wasn't fair. Everything *was* supposed to be okay.
Surely the cave-in was torture enough -- they didn't need any more trials.
Xena couldn't be blind. Not the Warrior Princess. What would she do? How
would she deal with such a blow?
"It should've been me," Gabby whispered. "I should've been
hurt. You would've found a way to save us without anything bad happening.
It's all my fault. If my foot hadn't slipped and started the rockfall which
reopened your wound... That's the one that did it, isn't it? It wasn't
the lightning that caused this, or the tree shifting -- no, it was *me*!
*I* was careless and let myself forget about the loose rocks and there
you were helpless, unable to do anything. You were hit because of something
I did and it... it blinded you! Oh gods, Xena, I'm so sorry. I'd understand
if you never forgave me. I would."
Gabby laid down next to Xena and gathered her in her arms. "I should
go away. Before you wake. I should leave so you never have to see my...
hear my voice again. You won't want the person who did this to you to be
around all the time. I should go..."
"Gabrielle," came a soft whisper.
Gabby opened her eyes slowly. The room was bathed in orange shadows, lit
by a single candle which had burned low. She was lying on the palette,
wrapped in Xena's arms, her head cradled on her friend's breast.
"Gabrielle, wake up," she heard again.
"Xena? You're awake?" whispered Gabby.
"Yeah. My head is clearer now. Please... Where are we? It's so dark,
but this isn't the cave. We're on a palette..."
"We're at an Inn in the village."
"How did we get here? Who rescued us?"
"Um... I sorta did."
"I cleared the rocks and kinda carried you out. On my back."
Xena was silent for several seconds. "And... Argo? Did you leave her
enough water and food or..."
"Argo's safe. She got out as well."
"Argo got out of the cave? How?"
"I cut the tree into a ramp and cleared a space for her to run and
she was able to jump through the hole I'd made."
"You saved Argo..." Xena said, a crack in her voice. She hugged
Gabby was filled with self-disgust. She was supposed to be gone, but she
had fallen asleep. She had only wanted to hold Xena one last time. That
was all she had meant to do. But instead, she had fallen asleep and now
she couldn't just disappear.
"Hey, light a candle or something," said Xena. "I want to
see if you're okay. Dark as pitch in here. Where's the moon? Aren't there
"I'm fine, honest," said Gabby, glancing over at the still flickering
candle and the moonlight illuminating the corners. "I wasn't hurt,
"I feel much better. What did you do? Are you suddenly a healer as
well as a horse trainer?"
"No, the healer in the village took care of you. Widgie. She's...
unusual, but very skilled."
They were both silent for several minutes. Xena was absently stroking Gabby's
hair, holding her tightly. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Xena,"
"Me too. Haven't felt this good in days. Still pretty weak, but that'll
change. Please find a candle, Gabrielle. I want to look at you."
"Later, okay?" said Gabby, wishing she had the strength to tell
Xena about her eyes.
"Okaaaay," Xena said slowly then paused. "Truth or truth?"
"The game. Only I think you don't want to play. And if you did, you'd
keep picking 'dare' because you're hiding something from me. So truth or
"Cut it out, Xena. I'm not hiding anything."
"Truth or truth."
"I'm not playing. I'm too tired."
"Hmmm... two lies. You really stink at this, Gabrielle."
"I don't -- fine. Truth."
"What aren't you telling me?"
"We should wait for Widgie."
"No, I don't want to wait for Widgie. I want to hear it from you."
"Yes you can. You cleared a cave-in, carried me out on your back,
saved my horse, got me to a healer -- and now you're saying you haven't
the strength to tell me what's wrong with me? I'm not buying it."
"Damn you, Xena."
"I'm sure that can be arranged. Now talk."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, every muscle tensed. "It's your eyes,"
"What about my eyes?" said Xena, a note of apprehension in her
"Well, they're... Xena, I don't need to get a candle because there's
already one here," said Gabby, picking it up. She brought it close
and held up Xena's hand, to let her feel the small heat of the flame.
"This isn't right. How can there be a candle? It's black as pitch
in here," the warrior said in a commanding voice.
Gabby returned the candle to the shelf. "The second wound, when the
rocks fell while I was clearing the entrance, well... you're blind, Xena.
I'm so sorry," said Gabrielle then buried her head, weeping in shame.
"It's all my fault! I slipped and the stones started to fall and you
were so weak and the rocks hit you and it's all my fault!"
"Hush..." Xena said, holding her while she wept. "It sounds
like an accident."
"I was careless! I was tired and should've quit working but I didn't,
I just kept going. And I knew it was stupid but I did it anyway because
I was sick of being in the cave and just wanted to get out. I wanted to
get you to a healer because I knew I couldn't help and I wasn't paying
attention and I slipped!"
"Oh, Xena, now you're never going to forgive me and I'll have to go
away and I love you so much and I've blinded you because I was stupid and--"
"Stop it! Right now. You're not going anywhere," commanded Xena.
"Don't even think about it."
"But... how can you stand being near me?"
"Oh, I'll manage somehow, my love."
Gabrielle pulled away from her embrace. "How can you call me that,
after what I've done?" Gabby tried to rise, but Xena held her, pulling
her back. The bard stopped struggling, afraid she'd hurt her friend even
"Don't make me lose my temper, Gabrielle."
"I'm not -- I won't, but--"
"Listen to me. If I'm truly blind, then the one thing I'm going to
need more than anything else, is a friend I can count on. I was pretty
sure I'd found that. But if you're going to run away at the first sign
of trouble, I'm wondering if I have."
Gabrielle suddenly realized how foolish she had just been. How could I
have done that? she wondered. How could I talk about leaving just when
Xena needs me more than she ever has? Then, knowing it was time once again
to be honest, she admitted to herself that she had never seriously considered
leaving. She had been trying to be noble; to keep Xena from having to tell
her to leave. No, she thought, again looking only for truth. That wasn't
nobility. It was fear. I was afraid of what she'd think of me. Afraid that
this was a mistake she wouldn't be able to forgive. Afraid that I'd hear
her tell me to go, which would break my heart.
"I'm sorry, Xena," she said in a small voice, laying quietly
down on the palette. "I wasn't really going to leave. I guess I was
just -- I don't know what I was thinking."
"Well, I do. It's called 'guilt' -- and I know all about it. You did
something you regret and now instead of facing it, you want to run away.
Running doesn't help, Gabrielle. Trust me." Xena's voice softened.
"Look. I don't blame you for any of this, so please give yourself
a break, okay? Everything will work out. Somehow, we'll deal with this.
But I need you to be strong just a little longer. I know you're tired.
And being strong is hard sometimes. Very hard. But you've done so well.
You managed to save our lives and Argo's and get me to a healer. You did
all this on your own. And now this talk of leaving me..." Xena took
a deep breath. "I don't want to be alone now, Gabrielle. I *need*
"Of course, Xena. I'm here. I'll always be here. I'll never leave
you," said Gabby quietly.
"Good. Now get some sleep. I imagine you haven't had much lately."
Gabby felt Xena's hand move from her arm to her face, the fingers fumbling
to find her lips. When they had, Xena lowered her head to kiss her softly
goodnight. Then the warrior turned and closed unseeing eyes tightly, fighting
the tears that threatened to fall.
When Gabrielle returned from breakfast, she heard voices coming from their
"Did quite a job on the Wee One, didn't you, Warrior?" Gabby
heard Widgie say.
"What are you saying?" came Xena's threatening voice.
Gabby moved closer to listen.
"Settling her fears, givin' her th'all's right. You done well in that,
"I suppose. What's your point?"
"Not that I think you needs telling, as you is a sharpie, you is.
But you be holding back, t'ain't so? Forgot t'mention a wee fact, aye?"
"What fact is that?" Xena sounded as if she was keeping tight
control of her temper. Gabrielle shivered.
"A blind warrior be a useless thing, t'ain't so? Useless. No reason
t'live, much as I can tell."
"That's my business, Healer."
"Aye, 'tis that. I can fix what bleeds but not a soul what wants no
fixin'. Not that I'd try on you, Warrior. No, t'would be a waste of my
gifts, aye? You doesn't want fixin'."
"Perhaps you'd better leave."
"Aye, that too. Always best to chase away them bold enough to hold
a mirror, t'ain't so?" Gabby couldn't hear Xena's mumbled response,
but the healer's answer was clear and cruel. "You be pathetic, Warrior.
Not worth the waste of breath."
Gabby heard the jingling that preceded Widgie's rise from the chair. Quickly,
she slipped around the corner to hide until the healer had passed. Widgie
waddled through the door and without looking, said, "gw'on in then,
Wee One. See if'n you can reach her."
Gabrielle sheepishly showed herself. "What was that all about?"
Widgie didn't pause, just kept walking in her slow, jangling waddle, saying
over her shoulder, "ask the warrior, aye? Your friend be a fool, but
s'worth a try t'least."
Gabby slowly entered the room, putting a bright smile on her face. "Hey
Xena! The food here is fabulous. Have you tried the nutbread?"
"Morning, Gabrielle. No, I haven't had much appetite. And you can
stop smiling. It's not like I can see you."
"Oh," said Gabby, the smile disappearing. "Waitasec, if
you can't see me how'd you know--"
"It was in your voice."
"That's great! It means you're starting to use your other senses to
compensate for your... well... your--"
"--eye... think we need to talk, Xena. Just you and me. No healers,
"Yeah. I'll go first."
Gabrielle sat down on the palette next to her. She took her hand. Xena
pulled it away on the pretext of scratching an itch. She didn't offer it
"Okay, good," said Gabby with false brightness. "What's
on your mind, Xena?"
"I've been thinking about what you said last night."
"Yeah, I want to thank you for--"
"Please, it was an accident. Let's leave it, okay?"
"Good. That wasn't what I wanted to talk about. I was thinking about
you wanting to leave, to go out on your own. It's a good idea. You should
"What?" Gabrielle was stunned. She didn't want to go out on her
own. "But I--"
"Really. You're obviously able to take care of yourself now. You don't
need me anymore and I would be no good to you like this anyway. I think
you should go. Maybe back to the Academy or something. You shouldn't have
given that up."
"But I don't want to go to the Academy. I want to be with you."
"Well I don't want to be with you," said Xena harshly.
Gabrielle stared at her friend whose eyes were unfocused and drifting.
"Truth or truth, Xena," she said coldly.
Xena bristled then forced a smile. "Look, I'm not angry or anything.
I just... it's going to take awhile for me to recover. I have to get used
to living without sight and it'll be boring for you. There'll be no adventures
and what's a bard without adventures? It just seems a perfect opportunity
for you to take the classes you need. By the time you graduate, I'll be
an old hand at being blind and then we can get back together."
"Uh-huh," said Gabrielle, not trusting her. "What's this
really about, Xena? Truth or truth, what are you thinking?"
"I'm just being realistic. I talked it over with Widgie and she'll
help me get used to things. Help me learn to deal with being sightless."
"I could help you."
"Yes, you could. But I don't want that. I don't want to turn you into
some kind of servant, spending your days waiting on me. You're too talented.
You should be studying to be the greatest bard this land has ever seen,"
said Xena, her smile now genuine. "You have that potential, Gabrielle.
Live up to it. Be it. Tell the whole world about your adventures with the
Warrior Princess. Maybe that way, I'll always have sight. I'll be able
to see through your stories."
Gabrielle was quiet, digesting this. Was Xena being honest? Was this what
she really wanted? "You'd be lonely without me."
Xena's smile cracked but she fought her emotions and retrieved it. "Yeah.
I would be. But I'd survive."
"What about me? I don't know if I can live without you."
"Oh come on," Xena cajoled. "You'll be fine. I'll still
be around. You can visit me on breaks."
Gabby took her hand and Xena squeezed hers affectionately. "What about,
um, what we did in the cave?" asked the younger woman, shyly.
"I don't understand."
"The 'dare', Xena. What about the dare?"
Xena smiled tenderly. "That was both truth *and* dare, Gabrielle.
Nothing has changed. I still love you. More than I love myself."
"You do? Swear it?"
"I do. Swear it." Xena's hand fumbled for Gabby's face so the
bard leaned forward, into her palm. "Gabrielle, you are my heart.
Please, listen to me on this. Follow your dream. I'll be here when you
Gabrielle had no intention of leaving her friend, but she wanted to know
why Xena was suddenly so anxious to have her gone. "So... you want
me to go to the Academy but visit you, is that it?"
"And the only reason for this is because you want me to be a great
"That and I'll learn how to deal with my blindness. What's so difficult
about this?" Xena asked, curtly. She put a hand to her head, rubbing
the palm on her forehead, an expression of pain on her face.
"Nothing. Except I don't believe you."
"You're calling me a liar?" the warrior asked, beginning to lose
"No! Well, sorta but only because I don't understand why you'd want
me to go away. Last night you said--"
"Last night I said a lot of things. But I've had more time to think
"Oh," Gabrielle said, "I see. And this is what you want?"
"Yes. Now go take care of Argo or something. I need some time alone."
"Take care of Argo." Gabby's eyes narrowed as she stared at Xena's
face. Her friend looked ready to hit something, but the bard had no idea
where all this anger was coming from. "Okay, I think I will."
"Good," said Xena between clenched teeth.
Gabby stood and walked to the door. "But don't think this discussion
is over, Xena. I'm not leaving. And I don't think you're being honest with
me." Gabrielle noisily left then quietly returned to the door, watching
The warrior was beating her palette with balled fists, her expression dark
and fierce. "Damn you, Gabrielle," she growled in frustration,
continuing to mindlessly strike the bed. "Think, Xena. How do you
get rid of her? Think, damn it!" Gabrielle silently slipped away.
"Tell me what's going on with Xena," said Gabrielle, her voice
hard, her eyes steel.
Widgie glanced her way then returned to chopping vegetables. "She
been honey-talkin' ya, aye? Used that dazzle smile of her'n, made plans
for yer future, t'ain't so?"
"Add the dinars, Wee One. What be the total, then?"
"I don't know. That's why I asked you."
"Aye, that ya did." Widgie silently put handfuls of fresh cut
greens and roots into the soup pot. Without looking at Gabrielle, she grabbed
a freshly-caught rabbit and began to skin it expertly, using only a few
strokes then lifting the pelt off whole. She hummed her tuneless melody,
chopping the meat into small, nearly identical squares.
"Well?" said Gabrielle, her patience at an end. "Are you
going to answer me?"
"T'appears not, aye?"
"Oooh, you are so frustrating!" growled Gabby, her fists balled.
"Aye, s'been said afore."
"Why won't you help me?"
Widgie threw the meat chunks into the pot, dipped her hands into a bucket
of water, then wiped them on a clean cloth nearby. She turned to face Gabrielle,
her jewelry swinging and jingling. "You be an odd one, then. So much
you be doing when yer friend are unable, aye? Carried her on yer back e'en
though you be a wee chit."
"Now you be unwillin' t'use yer own mind on a simple puzzle, t'ain't
so? T'so. Stop relying on the warrior or me, Chit. Find yer own steel,
don't be borrowing ourn, aye?" Widgie turned back to her soup pot
and stirred, humming.
Gabrielle let out a small "hunh!" and spun around, stalking away.
Widgie's jewelry shook and jingled.
Gabrielle cautiously approached the room. Someone was making a great deal
of noise and Gabby readied herself, fearing it was an intruder bent on
harming Xena. She flattened herself against the wall, then peered into
Xena was on her feet, clumsily crashing into the sparse furniture. She
grabbed anything that came to her hand and threw it angrily, appearing
to be searching for something. She bumped into a small table and yelped,
then furiously upended it. A wooden bowl flew off and clipped her arm,
the impact startling her. She pawed at the air, spinning around, tripped
on some of the things she'd thrown earlier and fell to the ground. Defeated,
she crumbled into a fetal position, clasping her head in both hands. Gabrielle
could hear the sound of ragged weeping.
Slowly, the startled bard stepped into the room.
"Who is it? Who's there?" said Xena angrily, her tears forgotten.
Now crouching on the ground, her body a coiled spring, she was ready to
leap at the intruder.
"Xena...?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Oh. It's you," said Xena, easing herself out of fighting readiness.
"What do you want, Gabrielle?"
"I heard the noise and I--"
"I was loo-- searching for something," said Xena, her head turned
away. She hid her face, hastily erasing the evidence of her tears.
"What is it? Maybe I can find it," said Gabrielle, helpfully,
as she started to straighten the room.
"Yes, of course you could," said Xena sweetly, a false smile
on her face. "Be a dear and give me my sword and chakram, won't you?
You know how I hate to be too far away from them."
"Yeah, I know but--"
"Don't argue with me!" Xena snapped.
"Okay, I'm looking! I'm looking," said Gabby, worried. Xena was
never without her weapons if she could help it, so it made sense that she'd
want them near. But having blades around wasn't exactly a good idea when
Xena was this... volatile.
"Where are they, Gabrielle?" asked Xena. Though still smiling
there was a thread of desperation beneath her voice.
"I put them over here," said Gabby, rummaging through some of
the mess Xena had made. "They were buried in the cave-in, but luckily,
when I was clearing Argo's running path, I noticed the edge of the scabbard.
It took some digging but I found them both. Wouldn't do for a warrior to
loose her weapons, y'know? I knew it would've really upset you if they'd
been lost." As she rambled, she realized, despite the jumble Xena
had made of the room, that the weapons weren't where she had put them.
"Well? Where are they?" asked Xena, edgy and tense.
"Huh. They're not here. I guess Widgie must've taken them for some
"Yes, I'll just bet she did," said Xena, her sightless eyes narrowed,
her voice dripping with venom through her smile.
"I'll go ask her where they are," said Gabby.
"No! I mean, no reason to bother a woman as busy as Widgie, right?
You go look for them. I'm sure they're around somewhere. Just find them
and bring them back to me."
Gabrielle stared at Xena, who was still crouched on the ground, her head
cocked to locate Gabby by the sound of her movements.
"You shouldn't be out of bed," said the bard, approaching her
friend noisily so she'd know she was coming. She reached down and grabbed
the warrior's upper arm. "C'mon, let's get you back to your palette."
Xena threw off her arm. "I don't need to be led around. I can find
my own palette." Absently, she rubbed her forehead just above her
"Sure you can, I didn't mean you couldn't. I just wanted to help."
Gabrielle stood uneasily, watching as Xena slowly rose.
"You're always so helpful, aren't you, Gabrielle?" the warrior
asked with sickly-sweet sarcasm.
"I, uh, try to be. Look, Xena--"
"I *can't* 'look!' Get that through your head! I'm blind, Gabrielle.
Blind!" she shouted.
"I know that, Xena," Gabrielle said in a small, reasonable voice.
"It was just a figure of speech. I'll try to be more careful about
"Good. Do that." Xena swayed slightly on her feet, her fingers
now rubbing her forehead just above the bridge of her nose.
"How are you feeling?" asked Gabby, reaching for anything that
might keep the warrior from exploding again. "Still have a headache?"
Xena frowned, pulling her hand away from its ministrations hastily. "What
do you care?"
Gabrielle walked to within inches of her friend, not touching but making
her presence known in the very air around them. In a controlled voice,
she said, "Don't question my caring, okay? You know damn well I care.
You can try to scare me away, or whatever it is you're doing, but don't
you dare pretend you're unaware of how much you matter to me. You're my
best friend. And more than that, you're the woman I love. Seeing you like
this -- hurting and in pain, well, it's tearing me up inside, okay? Hurts
like hades. For the love of Aphrodite, Xena, I caused this! If I could
trade places with you I would! I would do anything in the world if I could
make you well again. Anything!"
Xena lowered her head, her expression contrite. The edgy darkness which
had almost crackled around her seemed to dissipate. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle.
I had no right to say that," she said softly, "I *do* love you.
You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I know," said Gabby softly. The warrior appeared to be
her old self again.
"Good. Always remember that, okay? No matter what happens, keep in
mind that my love for you is pure and very real."
"What's going to happen?" asked Gabrielle suspiciously.
"Nothing, I hope. I just want you to understand -- really understand
-- what you mean to me. I... I want to show you, Gabrielle. I want to show
you how much I love you." Xena found her friend's face and touched
it gently, closing the distance between them, kissing the bard with a fleeting
caress. "Will you let me do that? Let me show you how I feel?"
"Yes..." answered Gabrielle. "Please..."
Xena kissed her again, this time with passion and hunger. As her lips and
tongue demanded satiation, her hands roamed the younger woman's body, as
if memorizing every detail. Gabby felt her clothes being stripped away
and moments later, Xena's warm flesh touched hers, the warrior's body also
Gabby's head was spinning, the passion of her friend's caresses so sensuous
and arousing she could barely stand. She'd always known Xena had played
the role of seductress in her warlord days, but had never realized how
skilled she was. Every kiss, every touch, every movement of Xena's body
evoked such powerful responses in the bard, she lost her ability to think
and reason -- wanting only the satisfaction teasingly promised by the warrior's
"Gods, Xena..." whispered Gabrielle, allowing herself to be lowered
to the palette. With the satisfying weight of Xena on top of her, Gabby
closed her eyes, surrendering completely to the frenzied love-making of
Xena's hands and mouth seemed to be everywhere at once with a desperation
Gabrielle didn't understand, but welcomed just the same. Never rough or
harmful, the warrior managed to bring Gabby to the brink swiftly, appearing
to delight in the bard's moaning satisfaction, then started anew, bringing
her back to the peak all over again. Two... three... four... times Gabrielle
reached a state of mindless sensation until she was almost unable to think
or feel anything.
Her senses overwhelmed, Gabby managed to roll Xena onto her back and began
her own exploration. But the warrior's hands never stilled; her lips finding
and exploiting every inch of exposed flesh that came within their reach.
Eventually, Gabrielle brought Xena to thrashing satisfaction then collapsed
on top of her, her breath coming in gasps, her muscles weak, bones liquid.
Gabby felt herself drifting into sleep, still lying on top of Xena's naked
"Gabrielle," she heard whispered in her ear.
"Hunh?" she muttered sleepily.
"Don't forget to find my weapons."
She felt Xena's body relax beneath her and her last conscious thought was
surprise that the warrior could have been so tense after what they had
Gabrielle had searched every inch of the inn, except Widgie and Jorgos'
private quarters. She was loathe to intrude on their personal space, but
she needed to find Xena's weapons. Cautiously, she opened the door to the
Before her stood the largest palette she had ever seen. It almost took
up the entire room and Gabby marveled at the depth of the cushioning mattress.
It must have cost a fortune. Glancing around the room, she realized that
the weapons weren't there and was about to leave when an angry Jorgos entered.
"Hist! What are you doing here then?"
"Oh, is this your room? I must've taken a wrong turn, sorry. I do
that sometimes. Don't know where my head was. Well, I'll just be going."
She glanced out the door. "Oh look! Left, not right!" Gabby slapped
her forehead in mock dismay.
"You can play those games with the other villagers, but no man who
would marry Widgie could be so brainless as you assume, aye?" he said
Gabrielle gave up the act and with sincerity, said, "I truly am sorry,
Jorgos. I was looking for Xena's sword and chakram. They've disappeared
from our room and I promised her I'd find them. She's a warrior and she
never feels right if her weapons aren't at hand."
"Aye. That sounds closer to truth. But if Widgie took the blades,
then there'll be a reason for it, mark my words."
"Oh, I'm sure she thought it was a good idea. But she doesn't understand
-- Xena is a warrior! A warrior always has to have her weapons nearby.
They're like part of her clothing, you know? So if you'll just tell me
"You'll have to ask Widgie, then."
"Really? I don't want to disturb her."
"Who put that thought in your head, young'un?"
"Nobody! I just..." Gabrielle paused. It was Xena who had suggested
she not disturb Widgie. "Well, actually, Xena said--"
"Aye. As I suspected. Run along now. And stop looking for trouble.
Xena shouldn't have weapons now. She's in no danger from the outside, so
there's no need."
Defeated, Gabrielle slipped out the door.
"Is that you, Gabrielle? Did you find my sword and chakram? Give them
to me, please," said Xena when Gabby returned.
"I'm sorry, but--"
"Sorry? You don't have them? Why not? Did you look? C'mon, Gabrielle,
I'm not asking much." Xena rose from the pallet and used the table
to feel her way around the edge of the room, trying to approach the bard.
Gabby walked over, touched her friend's arm and Xena instantly grasped
her by the shoulders, her face tense, unseeing eyes narrowed. "Where
"Widgie hid them somewhere, I think," said Gabrielle. "I
looked everywhere, even in their bedroom. Oh, Xena, they have the biggest
palette I've ever seen! It's about--"
"Shut up!" Xena shouted, giving her violent shake.
Gabby tensed as Xena's hands bit deeply into her flesh. "Xena, you're
hurting me..." she said, suddenly afraid of her best friend.
Xena let go as if she had been burned, her expression rippling quickly
from surprise, to realization, to shame. "I'm sorry," she whispered
and held out a hand which found Gabby. The hand was gentle, caressing and
tender. "I... guess I'm a bit on edge. All this darkness. I can't
even see vague shapes or colors anymore. Haven't for awhile. There's nothing.
Like in the cave before I made the fire. I feel like I'm still there, sometimes.
Trapped behind a wall, living in the dark."
"Oh, Xena, I'm so sorry." Gabrielle put her arms around her and
they stood for a moment, comforting each other. Their lives were so changed,
thought Gabrielle. So many things were different. Xena, the strong, fearless
warrior who never backed down from any fight was in danger of losing for
the first time. It was a battle being raged in her own mind as she tried
to come to terms with her new limitations.
So many changes, she thought. They had finally shared physical intimacy
for the first time. It was a memory that Gabrielle dared not even explore,
her feelings were so awestruck and new. She had never imagined she could
feel the way she had when Xena had made love to her. The reality outstripped
anything she had dreamed of before.
And yet, for all that, there was a distance between the two women for the
first time since they had begun their voyage together. It was as if the
rockfall had cascaded between them, and every time Gabrielle tried to pry
away the stones, Xena sent more to fill the holes. This emotional barrier
was far more frustrating than the cave's had been. At least there, they
could see the problem and attempt to find solutions. With Xena, nothing
was clear anymore. Everything *should* be getting better. Xena's wound
was healing. She was out of bed and beginning to learn how to get around
without sight. They had finally lain in each others' arms. Gabrielle should
be feeling hope. Instead, she was feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
Suddenly, she remembered Xena's words in the cave. 'What is far worse --
what is deadly, in fact -- is loss of hope.' Did it apply here as well?
Could both women have lost their hope and it was that loss that was fueling
the break-up of their relationship? For despite the physical intimacy,
Gabby felt that emotionally, they were farther apart than they had ever
been. "There has to be something I can do," she said aloud.
"There is," said Xena, startling Gabrielle out of her thoughts.
"Somehow you have to find my sword or my chakram. And then you need
to leave for Athens."
"I thought we've already been through this. I'm not going anywhere,"
she said, testily. This was *not* what she needed right now.
"You must, Gabrielle," pleaded Xena. "I won't have both
our lives destroyed because of my helplessness."
"You don't need to be helpless," said Gabby, reasonably. "Lots
of people are blind and not at all helpless. Some of them do amazing things.
There was a girl in our village who couldn't see, and she used to play
the harp and the pan flute -- better than anyone I've ever heard. And she
could imitate birds just by whistling and she could--"
"I'm sure she was very special," interrupted Xena, "but
I'm not exactly the 'bird imitator' type." Xena absently rubbed her
forehead, making Gabrielle suspect that another of her headaches was settling
in. The warrior sighed. "There's not much call for warriors who can't
see. And without that, I have no way to atone for my past. I can't spend
the rest of my life sitting in a village, learning the pan flute while
others take care of me. I can't," she said, morosely.
"Drums'd be more yer speed, t'ain't so?" said a voice at the
doorway. Gabrielle looked over and saw Widgie. "Pan flutes? Feh. Them're
fer wee lasses and goat gods, aye?"
"How the Hades did you approach without my hearing?" asked Xena
"I'm light as a kitten, when I wants t'be, Warrior. S'not good always
t'announce the self, aye? You miss so many interesting things that way,
t'ain't so? T'so."
"What do you want?" asked Xena.
"Naught but to bring yer lunch, Bold One. I be but yer humble servant,
Though she couldn't see the healer, Xena still managed to assume a baleful
glare. Gabrielle cleared her throat.
"Um... Xena wanted to know where her--"
"Hush, Gabrielle!" Xena snarled. "We don't need to trouble
the 'servant' with that."
"Wee One, come put th'Warrior t'the table for her meal."
Gabby complied and Xena let her lead her to a chair. Widgie calmly placed
a bowl of rabbit soup and a loaf of new bread in front of her. From her
pocket, she withdrew a spoon. She grabbed Xena's hand and slapped the spoon
into it. "Try not t'use th'good china as a weapon, Warrior,"
she said with a smile.
Xena grinned maliciously and with lightning speed tried to stab Widgie
with the handle of the spoon. To her shock, the healer parried it easily.
Then the woman patted Xena gently on the cheek and turned to leave.
"Wow, did you see that?" said Gabrielle, awed.
"No, Gabrielle," said Xena, caustically
Gabby blushed crimson. "Oh! I'm sorry, I--"
"Never mind. They're just words."
Xena felt for the bowl so Gabby pushed it within reach. Xena found it with
the spoon and raised the utensil to her mouth. The bard could tell instantly
that she enjoyed it, though the warrior tried hard to hide the fact.
"S'okay," Xena grumbled, continuing to spoon the chunky broth,
hungrily. She fumbled for the bread, broke off a piece and popped it in
her mouth, a small moan of pleasure escaping as she chewed.
"Widgie's bread is the best I've ever had," said Gabby.
"It's a little dry," lied Xena, her mouth full.
Gabrielle smiled. "You really hate her, don't you?"
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "No, I don't care one way or the other.
I don't like her, don't hate her. She's pretty full of herself, though,"
she added, breaking off another piece of bread.
"Oh, I dunno. I think she's just very accomplished and knows it. Like
you when you're fighting. Like the way you are in the middle of a battle
and it's life or death and all the men you're fighting are scared or angry
and you just laugh this evil little laugh, knowing you're better than all
of them so you let them know it, too."
Xena didn't answer, just continued to eat the soup and the bread, concentrating
on not spilling or missing with the spoon. Absently, she continued to rub
her head and eyes, pain pulling down the corners of her mouth.
"And when you fight you're always smiling," continued Gabrielle.
"You get such joy out of your skill. I think that's what Widgie feels,
too. She gets a lot of pleasure at being such a good cook and such a gifted
healer. You should've seen her face when she held you like a baby, singing
to you and rocking you. Why she was glowing--"
Gabby felt a tight pressure on her wrist and looked down to see Xena's
hand grasping it, shaking. "When she did what?" Xena asked, her
voice low and barely controlled.
"Uh... Xena... my wrist..."
"Um... well... when we first got here and you were so hurt. Unconscious,
really. You sort of drifted in and out. Asked me how we got out, but I
don't think you remember any of that."
"I don't. Go on."
Gabrielle tried to move her hand, but Xena's grip was iron-strong, and
unyielding. Gabby started to sweat, the pain in her wrist overwhelming.
"Well, Widgie sort of picked you up and she kinda..."
"She held you -- cradled you in her arms like you were a newborn or
something. And you sort of allowed it to happen. Surrendered to her and
she just rocked you and then she kicked me out, saying you wouldn't want
me to see what happened. I don't know what she did after that. But the
next day you were so much better. It was like a miracle or something."
Gabby winced as the grip on her wrist deepened even more. "Please,
Xena, let me go... it hurts so bad."
Xena lifted her chin, fire in her eyes. "I'll kill her," she
growled, removing her hand from Gabrielle, without apology.
"No! Don't you get it? She *healed* you! You can't be angry about
Xena swept her arm across the table, sending the soup bowl and the remainder
of the bread flying across the room. "Oh can't I?" she shouted.
"Xena! Stop it! You're scaring me!"
"And you just let her! You let her humble me! Treat me like some sort
of child -- right in front of you! Gods, I'll wring her neck," Xena
said dangerously, knocking her chair back as stood. She paced in front
of the bard and Gabby noticed that Xena seemed more familiar with the layout
of the room, as she never neared any objects, keeping only to the cleared
spaces. "And she knew, didn't she? Knew that I was blind and still
she healed me. She forced me to survive so that I could live like this?
The most useless thing in the world! A blind warrior. Well, I'll show her
that blind or not, I can still kill. And I don't need my weapons to do
"No, Xena! I won't let you harm her!" shouted Gabrielle.
Xena spun to face the source of Gabby's voice. "You. Won't. Let. Me?"
she said with dangerous deliberation.
Gabby stood to her full height, her expression hard. "No. I won't
let you. You'll have to kill me too."
"That should be easy enough."
"Big talk, Warrior Princess."
"Get out of here."
"No, I'm stay--"
Xena fumbled on the shelf near her, grabbed a candlestick and threw it
at Gabrielle, shouting, "Get out! Now! Go!"
It was right on target, but Gabby ducked in time. She picked up the candle
and set it on the table, glad that it was unlit and the shelf was now empty
as Xena's hands searched for something else to throw. She stared at her
friend for a long moment. "I don't know who you are anymore,"
she whispered then left the room.
"Get the Hades out of my life, Gabrielle!" Xena shouted. "I
never want to hear your voice again!"
Behind her, Gabby heard Xena throwing things, breaking anything within
reach, roaring with unchecked rage. As the bard rounded the corner, she
heard Xena fall to the ground, the unmistakable sound of her ragged weeping
echoing through the hall. Gabrielle didn't look back.
Quietly, Gabrielle asked Jorgos if she could have another room. Without
a word he led her down the hall and into a room very similar to the one
she had shared with Xena. Gabby thanked him, and sheepishly admitted that
she had no dinars but would find some way to pay. Jorgos nodded in understanding,
offering to let her work off both women's debt by doing some chores around
the inn. Gabrielle happily agreed.
She needed to get her sparse belongings from Xena's room. One of the village
girls had given her a sleeping shift and another had loaned her a skirt
to replace the one she had torn for bandages. She waited until Xena fell
asleep, not wanting another confrontation. Quietly, she found her things
and turned to leave.
"Not even talking to me anymore?" asked Xena from the palette.
"Oh, I thought you were asleep. Sorry."
"Yeah. I'll bet that's what you thought. Probably waited all day for
Guilty as charged, Gabby paused, not knowing how to answer. "Of course
not, Xena," she said, lamely.
"Stick to the truth, Gabrielle. You are the world's worst liar. Even
a blind woman can 'see' that." Xena rose and stretched. Gabby watched
the play of muscles on her arms. The warrior's breasts were thrust forward
as she leaned to crack her back, the nipples standing out against the thin,
black shift she wore. Gabrielle swallowed once, fighting her own attraction.
"Well... I guess I'll talk to you later. You look... tired,"
said the bard.
Xena smiled a slow, sensuous smile; frightening and predatory. "So
soon? You just got here."
"Yeah, well, I have some stuff to do."
"Oh, too busy to talk to your lover anymore, is that it?"
Gabby backed away as Xena came forward. "No, not at all. If you feel
like talking I can stay a little bit longer..."
Xena maneuvered Gabrielle until the bard was standing with her back against
a wall. Slowly, the warrior reached out a hand and caressed Gabby's right
breast. "Yes. Talking. You love to talk," she said then dipped
her head, capturing Gabby's mouth. The kiss was unlike anything the younger
woman had ever experienced before -- slow, sensuous... cruel.
"Xena, stop...!" Gabby gasped when the warrior finally broke
off the contact.
"Stop? But you used to like my kisses. Kept daring me, remember? This
game was your idea, my sweet." Seductively, Xena removed the shift
from her body and stood naked before her friend. "Well, I dare *you*,
Gabrielle. I dare you to grow up. I dare you to take me right now. Show
me how strong you are, little bard. Be my master," she said, unlacing
"No, Xena -- this isn't you. This is wrong, you're not yourself."
The younger woman struggled against the warrior, but Xena was so much stronger,
she subdued her easily, stripping her to the waist.
"You don't find me attractive any more?" Xena asked innocently,
her expression feral and dangerous. She teased Gabrielle's nipples until
they were erect. "Oh yes, I can tell how much you hate my touch."
One hand dipped lower, snaking under the waistband of her skirt. "But
you're not excited by me. Oh no. You don't care about me at all..."
"Of... of course I do." Gabrielle fought her body's reaction
as Xena's hand slowly inched downward. She had never been so frightened
in her life. "I love you, Xena, but--"
"Always a 'but', isn't there? No one says 'love' without adding something
to dilute it. And I had such high hopes for you, Gabrielle," said
Xena, taking one of Gabby's nipples in her teeth and biting it.
"Ow! That *hurt*!"
"A little pain with your love-making adds some spice, don't you think?"
"No. I don't think that at all. You're scaring me, Xena. Is this what
you used to do when you were a warlord? Frighten everyone so no one could
get too close?"
Xena frowned. She shoved Gabby's top into her chest, pushing the younger
woman away from the wall toward the open door then stalked back to her
palette. "Get out of here, little girl. I don't need you to find satisfaction.
I don't need anyone." She rubbed her temples, her sightless eyes narrowed.
"You heard her. Git out then, Chit," said Widgie from behind
The bard spun around, startled. "How long were you--"
"Long enough t'step in, 'case the Bold One got dangerous w'ya."
Xena laughed. "Amazing, isn't it, Gabrielle? People are always protecting
you. Everywhere you go, someone steps in to fight your battles for you.
"Have ye no work t'do then, Chit? Are ya not helping Jorgos this eve?"
"Yes... I... yes, of course," said Gabrielle, hastily donning
her top. She glanced at Xena who stood and stretched her naked body. It's
almost as if she's trying to show off to Widgie, Gabby thought. As if she's
flaunting herself; showing how perfect and beautiful she is. Gabrielle
backed away, but stayed just beyond the door, wanting to see what happened
"Brought you sompin t'help ya sleep," said Widgie, approaching
"How thoughtful!" said the warrior, her every move a seduction.
"Aye. You'll be wantin' t'put yer shift on, t'stay the cold, aye?"
"I'm not cold at all, Widgie dear. I'm the 'Bold One', remember? The
Warrior. We never *feel* anything. No pain, no cold, no discomfort. Here,
see for yourself. Touch my skin," said Xena, taking Widgie's hand
and placing it on her bare breast. "See? Not cold at all, am I?"
Widgie frowned. With a speed that defied her size, she bent and picked
Xena up, throwing her roughly on the palette. For a moment, there was panic
on the warrior's face as Widgie leaned over her. Then the healer shoved
a small bottle of cloudy liquid in her mouth, forcing her to swallow. When
Widgie straightened, an outraged Xena started spitting and throwing punches
at where she thought her target stood. But the healer had moved and the
warrior found nothing but air.
"You cow! What did you just do? What was that?"
"Toldja. Sompin' t'help ya sleep. Want yer shift then?" Calmly,
Widgie retrieved Xena's discarded garment and tossed it to her. The warrior
started to stand, then fell back, a look of surprise on her face.
"You filthy, ignorant pile of horse dung! What gives you th'right
to..." Xena's words slurred and her eyes closed. "Sweating pile
"Aye, I's a large woman. 'Tis hard to take offense when ye speaks
the truth," said Widgie, chuckling and jingling. "Sleep well,
Warrior. And leave the Chit alone, aye? Ye'd have no stronger regret than
if'n ya was t'hurt the Wee One."
"Never... hurt... Gabrielle..." mumbled Xena as she fell into
a deep sleep.
As Widgie efficiently dressed Xena in the shift, Gabby turned, ran outside
and vomited until she was too weak to stand.
Gabrielle didn't go near Xena for two days and tried not to think about
her friend, sitting alone in perpetual darkness. Every time she felt sympathy
rising and wanted to go to her, she remembered that this Xena was a stranger.
A very dangerous stranger. Instead, she kept busy; cleaning, helping Widgie
with the evening meal, waiting tables at the dinner rush and doing general
chores, to help earn the price of their rooms.
Gabrielle knew that she would have to face Xena soon. She wasn't about
to give up on the woman she loved. But she had to have some distance first.
She had to recover her sense of self. Xena was so strong that it was easy
to get lost in the warrior's identity, feeling what she was allowed to
feel; doing what she was told to do. Now wasn't the time for Gabrielle
to let this happen. She needed her own strength now. The battle lines had
been drawn. And the bard knew that *she* had to win this one. Xena was
going to have to surrender, or Gabby would die in the attempt.
It was strange to think that Xena could actually kill her, but Gabrielle
knew that it was now possible. The rage inside the warrior was running
unchecked. She had become the darkness she had fought so hard to overcome.
Like an animal in a cage, there was no predicting her next move; no taming
her impulses. Widgie seemed uncommonly able to handle herself with the
warrior, but Gabrielle's heart was always getting in the way. She still
looked like her Xena. Occasionally, there were glimpses of the tender woman
who had loved and protected her for almost two years. It was this Xena
who stood between Gabby and victory. It was her memory of their adventures
together, their discovery of love in the cave and their shared passion
that had prevented the bard from fighting as an equal.
That has to end, she realized. From now on, it's me against the warlord.
I can't think of her as anything else, or I'll surely lose.
Gabrielle stood silently in the hall, watching her. Xena was prowling around
the room, picking up whatever came to hand and testing its weight and feel.
She found the chair and smashed it against the stone wall, breaking it
into kindling, then meticulously picked up each piece, thrusting and parrying
the wood like a sword. A leg appeared to have the proper balance and she
went to work rubbing the end against the stonework, sharpening it.
Gabrielle shifted her weight, the movement causing a whisper of sound as
her leather boots creaked. Xena stopped, instantly alert.
Gabby remained still, not even daring to breathe.
"Who's there?" Xena roared. "I can hear you!"
Gabrielle didn't move, suddenly afraid. Xena had the jagged piece of wood
in her hand and her feral smile on her face.
"Come to watch the show have you? Come to laugh at the blind warrior?"
Xena inched forward, spinning the wood in her hand like she used to twirl
her sword. "Come on in. I won't hurt you, whoever you are. After all,
what can I do? I'm just a blind woman with a stick. No harm there, right?"
Gabrielle turned and ran. As she rounded the corner she smashed into the
wall named Widgie.
"Whoosh! Slow down, Chit. What're ya about?"
"I... Be careful, Widgie. Xena's armed herself with the leg of the
"Aye, I thought she'd do as much. Good. Things be happening just as
they should, then. 'Tis time for't."
Gabrielle stared at her in surprise. "What? You knew this would happen?"
"Aye. D'ya think I'd leave the chair in't room 'thout thinkin' what
the consequences be then? T'would make me a foolish woman, t'ain't so?
"But why? Don't you understand she can hurt herself with it? I think
she wants to die, Widgie. I think she'll try to take her own life!"
Gabrielle said mournfully. She had realized this when Xena had been so
insistent about getting her weapons and about sending Gabby to Athens.
But she hadn't known how to deal with it, so she had searched for the sword
and chakram, buying time and trying to determine if they were hidden well
"Aye, t'so. She wants death. Or thinks she does, aye?"
"What are you saying?"
"Your Xena be a proud woman. And this be the lowest blow she's e'er
received, t'ain't so? It be a test of her, t'so. If the darkness wins,
she are beyond my help. But I doesn't think't will, aye? You knows her.
You knows her mind. You knows her strength. Does she cotton t'losing battles?
I thinks not, t'ain't so?"
"T'so..." mumbled Gabrielle, not realizing she was aping the
healer's speech. Widgie laughed and jiggled and jangled. "So what
happens if she wins?" asked Gabby.
"I helps her get her sight back, aye?"
"You can do that?" she asked, stunned.
"Aye. P'raps. But I need the Warrior's help and this woman, she aren't
a warrior. She are a coward. Cowards ain't no help to no one, t'ain't so?
Patience, Wee One. The battle's begun."
Gabrielle turned as she heard Xena laughing in the far room. Cautiously,
both women returned to watch. The bard was amazed at how silent Widgie
could be when she wanted. Not a jangle or a jingle could be heard. Gabby
made sure she was equally as discrete. No creaking leather this time.
Xena was furiously sharpening the stick, testing the tip every few minutes.
Her progress was amazing, the jagged edge taking shape under the firm muscles
and sensitive guidance of a woman possessed. After several minutes, the
chair leg had a very lethal point on the end. Xena cackled at the touch
of it, drawing a drop of blood on her forearm as she tested the weapon.
The warrior carefully scooped the blood on her finger, feeling the wetness
of it, then placed the finger in her mouth, licking it clean. There was
a palpable sensuality in the small act and Gabrielle shivered. Xena moaned,
throwing her head back, her lips parted, her tongue slowly sweeping the
edges of her upper teeth.
Gabrielle wanted to turn away. This was too difficult to watch, she thought.
I can't stand to see her like this. She's the most frightening person I've
ever known. Not even Callisto can scare me like this Xena. No wonder people
would quake in fear when we rode into a town that only remembered the warlord
she used to be. No wonder Xena fought so hard to contain the darkness inside
Gabrielle suddenly had a glimpse of the turmoil Xena faced each day and
every night in frightened faces and tortured dreams. How had she done it?
Gabby marveled. How had she changed? How could anyone find the strength
to keep rage like this bottled up inside?
Xena was sitting on the floor, fondling the wood reverently. She lifted
her face to the ceiling and whispered some words Gabby couldn't hear. Her
features were composed, almost peaceful. Her beauty never more evident
than at this moment.
Xena placed the pointed end of the stick under her breast, between two
ribs, positioning it carefully. Both hands held the opposite end.
Gabrielle's eyes grew wide and she opened her mouth to scream, but a huge
hand clamped over it, silencing her completely. She struggled to get away,
but she was held in the strongest grip she had ever felt. And with all
this, not a sound was made by either woman in the hallway, though one part
of Gabrielle wondered how that could be.
Xena, completely unaware of her audience, smiled serenely. "Good-bye,
Gabrielle. I'll always love you," she whispered, then she tensed her
muscles readying for the thrust.
Gabrielle strained against Widgie's arms, the tears flowing unchecked,
her heart beating so wildly she feared it would explode. Never in her life
had she felt such desperate torment. She was about to watch the woman she
loved kill herself.
Xena lost the serene expression as her muscles began to shake. Her lips
curled back and a wave of black rage twisted her face. Then, just as she
was about to plunge the wooden 'dagger' into her breast, she screamed and
dropped her weapon.
Widgie whispered in Gabrielle's ear. "'Tis the most important part
now, Chit. Watch closely, aye?"
Xena's hands were balled into fists and she pounded the floor until they
ran red with blood. She continued to scream, grabbing her head in her sticky
hands, wailing in pain. "Gods!" she cried. "Oh gods, make
it stop!" Frantically, she felt around on the ground until she found
the wooden spike. She threw it from her, the weapon barely missing Gabrielle
and Widgie as it sailed out the door into the hallway, and smashed into
the far wall. "Coward!" she shouted. "What does pain matter?
It's meaningless! Since when do you end a life that has worth? Since when
do you run away from problems and setbacks? Since when have you let the
darkness be your master? You stinking, worthless coward!"
Gabrielle watched, mesmerized. She still didn't trust the warrior, but
she was beginning to feel hope. Xena continued to mumble to herself, her
tone berating, though her words couldn't be distinguished. Then she dropped
her head, curved her arms around her body and rocked soundlessly.
"Now be your part, Chit. Have ye the spine t'accept her as is, then?
Y'know the darkness she has, aye? If it be too much, walk away now. You
be doing her no favors if ye stay 'thout accepting her complete, aye? Make
t'decision then, Wee One."
Widgie opened her arms and Gabrielle ran to Xena's side. "Xena? It's
me, Gabrielle," she said, touching her softly on the shoulder.
The warrior's head snapped up, her face a mask of pain, but at the sound
of the bard's voice, joy washed across her features like dawning sunlight
across a lake. "Gabrielle? Is it really you? You didn't leave me?"
"Of course I didn't leave you, Xena," she whispered. She took
her friend into her arms and was filled with wonder as the proud warrior
melted into her, holding her as if she was the anchor in an otherwise drifting
Xena's breath was gasping and shallow; tears spilling unheeded. "Gabrielle...
Can you forgive me?"
"Shhh... There's nothing to forgive. I love all of you, Xena. Who
you are, what you were and whatever you'll become. You can't frighten me
away or leave me behind."
Unnoticed, Widgie left them alone, an enormous smile on her dimpled face.
"But I'm such a coward. You don't know..."
"I know all about it. I was here the whole time. I saw what you almost
did. But I also saw you win your battle."
"You... saw?" asked Xena, raising her head. She reached out one
hand and felt the expression on Gabby's face. "You don't hate me for
it? Don't hate me for almost taking my life? For being such a coward?"
"You're the bravest woman I've ever known. Now stop worrying about
what I think and let's talk about you. I'm going to make some demands and
you're going to agree to all of them, got it?"
For the first time in days, Xena genuinely smiled. "You dare me?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "That's right. I dare you. One. You are going
to let me help you deal with your blindness."
"Two. You are never going to consider yourself worthless again. Do
you think being a warrior is all that you are? The woman with many skills?
Give me a break!"
"Okay. I'll remember."
"Good. Now we're making progress here. Three. You will never -- I
repeat *never* -- try to send me away for my own good again!"
Xena nodded, contritely.
"Four. Well, I can't think of four right now, but you better believe
there's going to be a four and a five and even more if I think you need
"Yes, ma'am!" Xena said smartly. She kissed Gabrielle on the
mouth; a kiss that was long, loving and tender.
"That would've been a good four, I think," said Gabby, marveling
at the depth of love Xena was able to express in so simple an action.
"You can have as many fours as you want," Xena replied in a low,
sexy murmur devoid of the feral undercurrents of their last meeting.
"Good," said Gabby, her voice cracking on the word. She took
a few moments to get herself under control, then cradled Xena's head against
her breast. "I think I'm going to like being a take-charge kinda woman.
I can really see the allure."
"Me too," whispered Xena, claiming the bard's mouth once again.
She's back, thought Gabrielle. My Xena is back. Thank the gods, it's really
Xena stood alone in a clearing in the small forested area behind the inn.
At a safe distance, Gabrielle watched her, afraid. Slowly, a man crept
up behind her, a sword in his hand. Xena appeared not to hear him, her
concentration on listening, with a cocked ear, to a woodpecker in the tree.
Suddenly the man charged, his sword raised. Xena leapt out of the way,
withdrew her sword and slashed at him, bruising his ribs. The man fell
with a grunt of pain. Three more men attacked and Xena quickly dispatched
each of them, miraculously 'seeing' them without the use of her eyes. The
four men abandoned their weapons, crawling out of the way of the tense
warrior, who waited in case there was another attack. Finally, she sheathed
her sword and said, "Thanks, guys. You can come out now, Gabrielle."
"Whoa," said Gabby. The four men clapped, whistling their approval.
Xena ignored them, walking directly toward the bard. "That was...
that was amazing, Xena!" Gabrielle said.
"Yeah. Quite a parlor trick, huh?" replied Xena, disdainfully.
"No, I mean it was-- like you were magic or something!"
"Nothing magic about it. When I trained to be a warrior, we did a
lot of work using blindfolds. Attacks could come at any time, from any
place and we had to be ready." Xena withdrew her sword, a crude wooden
facsimile of her weapon, similar to the ones her 'attackers' had used.
"Gods, even the feel of this thing brings back painful memories."
She threw it on the ground behind her.
"So... you're sort of prepared then. To be blind. You already know
"I know how to sense an enemy's attack. I know how to see without
sight. How to count steps, to hear breath, to smell distance, to taste
air. Yeah. I know how to be blind."
"You once told me how to listen for arrows. Was that...?"
"Yeah. Lesson number one. Basic survival." Xena's fist flashed
out, rushing millimeters past Gabrielle's ear and landing with a thud on
something right behind the bard. Gabby hadn't heard a sound, but when she
turned, she saw one of the village men holding his bloody nose and groaning
"Press hard, right here," Xena told him, demonstrating on herself
the best place to apply pressure. "And don't whine. You're the one
who decided to surprise me."
"Bid bistake," he moaned.
"I have got *so* much to learn," said Gabrielle.
"No. You don't need any of this, Gabrielle."
"But I do! Look at you! You're better blind than most warriors are
with sight! You're amazing."
"Yes, all that training saved my life more than once. And it might
do so again -- for awhile. But there'll come a time when someone with my
skills comes along -- only he can see. And then, I'm dead. It's over, Gabrielle.
My life can't be the same, not without sight."
Gabrielle looked at her friend. She stared at the beautiful, familiar blue
eyes of the woman who had stolen her heart. They seemed the same eyes she
had always known. Still crystal clear, still breathtaking, only now they
were just window dressing -- useless jewels on her perfect face.
"That damn blindfold," mumbled Xena. "I hated it. Hated
having it there, a barrier, a piece of cloth taking away half my world.
But I always knew I could take it off. Any time I wanted, I could untie
it and I would be able to see again."
"Did you? Take it off before you were supposed to?"
"No. I kept it on. For weeks, I lived in darkness, constantly under
attack. Always listening. Learning to live without. And when it was sliced
off in a final ceremony, I knew I'd never wear another. It was too hard,
Gabrielle. I hated it." Xena drew a deep breath. "And now it's
back again and somewhere, I have to find the strength to keep it on. Forever."
"Isn't that what you just did? Found the strength, I mean? You could've
taken it off. You had the means. You could've killed yourself."
Xena smiled a crooked smile. "Yeah. That was the plan. Only you messed
that up, didn't you?"
"I didn't do anything. You're the one who made the decision not to,
Xena. You're the one who found the strength."
"Only because I had your love as a tether. I tried everything I could
to get rid of you. Even in the darkness, I knew that I'd crossed every
boundary; and hated myself for doing it. Then, when you didn't come by
for days, I thought you'd gone. I thought I'd lost you forever. It wasn't
strength that kept me from killing myself, Gabrielle. It was you. I held
the weapon to my heart and suddenly I felt you. In the room with me. Felt
your anguish and your love. And I decided that wearing the blindfold was
better than causing you more pain."
Gabrielle reached up and tenderly caressed Xena's cheek. The warrior smiled
and bent to claim her lips. Gabby closed her eyes, lost again in the wonder
of being able to do this -- to just want the closeness and it was hers
for the taking. She heard another thud, opened her eyes and saw that, without
breaking the kiss, Xena's hand was raised in a fist and another villager
was falling to the ground.
"They just don't learn, do they?" Xena asked with a smile. She
turned and said, "go see Widgie. She'll sew that up good as new. And
you'll have a nice scar to brag about to your friends."
Gabrielle smiled as the man shambled away, holding his cheek with both
hands. "So you're going to be okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," Xena said. "I'll be okay. As long as you stick around."
"Oh, I think that can be arranged."
"It's a bad plan!" Xena shouted to the seemingly empty forest.
"Go help your friends instead." Two men shuffled out from behind
the trees, and gave Xena a wide berth. She turned back to Gabrielle. "Now
where were we? Ah, yes, we were doing something rather daring, right?"
Gabby smiled and offered her lips which were taken without a fumble. Having
rid herself of the headaches and the darkness, Xena's skill at being sightless
had expanded well beyond the warrior craft. Unless told, no one would guess
she was blind, Gabby realized. It was both a blessing and a curse. The
bard now feared the day when that nameless someone of equal skill came
to make a name for himself as the vanquisher of Xena, Warrior Princess.
Whether she remained a warrior or not, Xena's blindness could still mean
Over the course of the next few days, Gabrielle spent every day with Xena,
helping her to become accustomed to a 'permanent blindfold.' Now sharing
a room again, they spent each night in the much more entertaining pursuit
of discovering each other, filling each other with joy, pleasure and wonder.
Having decided to push away her fears, for just these moments in time,
it became one of the happiest weeks of Gabrielle's life.
Xena's victory over her internal demons was so vast that she was no longer
plagued by nightmares and slept peacefully the whole night through. Not
that the darkness was gone forever, Gabrielle realized. There were still
moments when she could see her friend struggle. But Xena had gained so
much strength and power over it, that the struggles were brief and the
outcome never in question. Gabrielle accepted these bouts, helping her
by being at her side, supporting her and loving her through the episodes.
And Xena finally was able to accept that support, willing to share the
battle with the gutsy bard.
"So, you'm thinkin' you be leavin' us, aye?"
"How did--" Gabby said.
"Whoosh, Chit. I be a oracle, t'ain't so? I sees things, I does."
"I forgot. Did you see anything about Xena and me?"
"Aye. 'Tis why you came to th'inn, t'ain't so?"
"What do you mean?"
"What are you two talking about?" asked Xena, walking casually
into the kitchen and plopping down on a chair with barely a touch to assure
it was in position.
"She knows we're going to leave," said Gabby.
"That so?" said Xena, slyly.
"Aye, Warrior. T'so."
"Nay, there be naught. Lessen you'd care t'have yer sight back, then."
Xena started. "What are you saying?" she asked in a carefully
"Be yer ears plugged?"
"C'mon, Widgie, don't play with us, okay?" said Gabrielle, a
bit shaky. If what Widgie said was true...
"Whoosh, Chit. Ye've no sense o'fun, t'ain't so?" said Widgie
chuckling and jiggling and jangling musically. "Course'n I can give
it back. 'Twas me what took it, after all!"
Xena was inches from Widgie's face within seconds, her fingers poised against
her neck. "Talk, Healer. And no more vague clues. I want the plain
truth or you'll find out one of *my* more fascinating tricks."
"Aye. Pressure points. H've heard tell of't."
"Good, then I won't have to explain. Now what is this about you taking
"Sit down, Warrior. I be tellin', aye? But yon fingers be pointin'
t'the wrong spot and I've no mind t'lose feelin' in m'left leg today."
Xena backed away, controlling her frustrations with having misjudged the
pressure point. Had to be Widgie's size, Gabby reasoned. It must've thrown
her aim off. Once again, the bard pushed away her fear, now focused on
Widgie's startling statement. If it was true...
Xena sat in the chair, her back straight and proud. Gabrielle stood behind
her, her hands on her friend's shoulders.
"Please, Widgie. Just explain, okay?" said Gabrielle.
"Aye." Widgie looked at Xena who stoically faced forward. "Felt
yer darkness I did. Alla way from th'cave. You was hit on't head in a bad
place, t'ain't so? Bad place. When you was to be woke, you'da kilt her
dead -- the Wee One," said Widgie pointing to Gabrielle. "Saw't
in a vision. Th'rock scrambled yer mind a bit. It needed healin'."
"I'd never hurt Gabrielle," said Xena.
"Well... that's not technically true, Xena," said Gabrielle.
"I mean, when you were in prison that time, you hit me really hard.
And you did throw the candlestick at me here at the inn. And I sorta got
the feeling you were searching for more ammunition when I ran away. And
then later you bit my-- well, you were scary, all right? Really scary.
Xena frowned. "Okay, but that's not the same as killing her. I wouldn't
"Aye, Warrior, *you* wouldna. But you was not yerself, aye? In t'vision,
I seen you come 'ere. Only I weren't t'be found, so you rode past, the
Chit thinkin' she could get healin' supplies and be yer cure. Stayed in
t'woods. Days passed and ye be fallin' deeper int' th'dark and the Wee
One, she tries t'help but you'm strong, Bold One. Too strong, aye? A misplaced
touch from the Chit and ya strikes her dead. I seen it w'me own eyes, t'ain't
so? And my visions be never wrong. Never, aye? It were truth."
Xena shifted uneasily in the chair. Having just experienced the depths
to which she could sink, she didn't doubt that something like that could
have happened. An accident, a careless touch when she was deep in the pit
of darkness and it would have all been over before she'd had a moment to
think. "Let's pretend you're right, Healer. What does that have to
do with my eyesight?"
"I knew t'was for me to save the Chit. So'm, I doesn't go 'way, like
I was plannin' and when you come 'ere, I sends Jorgos to wave ya inside.
Then I sends the Wee One t'get m'chair, so's I could use m'skill to block
yer eyes. Had to slow you down, Warrior, aye? Make't hard for ya. Can't
see, can't kill s'easy, t'ain't so? Aye, t'so."
Widgie plopped a bowl of sticky treats on the table, the same sweets that
Gabrielle had purchased in town that long ago day. Xena sniffed once and
reached for the bowl. "Okay, I understand that," the warrior
said, her mouth full. "But why didn't you just keep Gabrielle away
from me? That shouldn't have been too hard. And would certainly have been
"When I met yon Chit, I knew't'was more'n just th'darkness needed
fixin'. She wert in love with ya, Warrior. Deep and blind in love. But
she had no darkness. No experience w't it, t'ain't so?"
"Well, I knew Xena had a past when I met her. And I've seen her in
some pretty bad moods. I even whacked her with a pitchfork once, when she
tried to be a warlord again, so sure, I had experience with it," said
"No, Gabrielle," said Xena, understanding. "She means real
exposure to it. You never knew me at my worst. You've seen glimpses of
it. You've felt it in me, dealt with me when I was briefly overtaken, but
you've never had to deal with me when I'm like that for any length of time.
And never to the depths I'm capable of sinking. Widgie wanted you to know
all of me, before you committed yourself. Before we took our relationship
any further. Right, Healer?"
"Aye. Knew you was a sharpie, Warrior."
"Yeah, real sharp. I never even realized it was a problem."
"And you, Warrior, you needed t'see that she'd stick by e'en though
you was overtaken. Y'had doubts, aye? T'ain't so?"
"T'so," said Xena with an ironic smile.
"Aye. T'was that." Widgie smiled at both women.
"So why didn't you give me back my sight when the darkness passed?"
"Y'needed humbling, Warrior. Needed t'see yer blades dint be the only
piece o'ya w'worth. Ye've as much light in'ya as dark, Warrior. 'Member
that, aye? S'a balance. Findin' th'light -- s'tough, t'ain't so? 'Twas,
I should say. Now ye've access."
Xena smiled broadly. "Yes. I do. I've struggled for quite awhile.
Now, it doesn't seem so hard anymore."
"Aye. Ye've love now, Bold One."
Gabrielle caressed Xena's shoulder, lending her support. Xena put a hand
over hers, squeezing slightly to acknowledge.
"You be a strong one, Warrior, but now, maybe stronger, aye? More
balance twixt light and dark. Love and hate. Not so blind now, t'ain't
Xena laughed. "No, Widgie. I'm not so blind anymore." Xena stood,
putting an arm around Gabrielle's waist. "So how do I get my sight
"Simple, now that yer t'help, aye? Come." Widgie turned to Gabrielle.
"Stay here, Chit, n'stir th'pot." Widgie waddled out of the kitchen
with Xena close behind.
"Stir the pot, Chit. Don't watch, Wee One," Gabrielle mimicked.
"I'm *still* getting left behind." She stirred the stew, breathing
in the deep, rich aroma. "Damn, I wish I had her recipes."
Several minutes passed. Gabrielle had just decided to sneak up on Xena
and Widgie to see if she could witness what the Healer did, when Xena strolled
into the room, a huge grin on her face.
"Xena? Can you...?"
"Uh-huh," said Xena, looking into Gabby's eyes. "And you
are the best thing I've ever seen in my entire life." She grabbed
the bard in her arms and spun her around, kissing her deeply.
"Oh, Xena! I'm so happy for you! But what did she do? How did she,
you know, do the unblinding thing?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know!"
"I mean, I don't know. I went into the room and the next thing I know
I was waking up on the palette with my eyesight back."
"Whoa. You think she's magic or something?"
"Who knows? She's certainly a woman of many gifts. That stew smells
fantastic. Gimme the spoon."
"She'll kill me. *No* one taste-tests in her kitchen! I learned that
when I was working off our bill."
"When you were what?"
"Well, when you went sorta crazy, I worked at the Inn for a couple
days so I could pay them back for our rooms. We lost all our stuff in the
cave-in. Everything. Argo's saddle, my scrolls, all our money."
"T'ain't so," said Jorgos, entering and frowning at Xena who
was poised over the stewpot with a large wooden spoon. "I wouldn't,
Xena shrugged and put down the spoon. "You know something about our
"Aye. I sent some of the boys out to find it. Wasn't buried too deep
and they know their way about a cave. It's all there, less the dinars you
still owed me. I took off what the Chit earned, so weren't much."
"Everything? They found all of it?" asked Gabrielle.
"Aye. Your scrolls are there."
Gabrielle beamed at Xena. "Wanna go see?"
"You go. I think I'll take a walk around the village. There are a
lot of things I missed seeing when I was blind. I'd like to look in at
Argo. Sit beneath a tree, watch the clouds..."
"I understand. Okay, I'll get us packed and ready to go."
"Yeah. Tell Widgie I have something for her when I get back."
"Okay," said Gabrielle, wondering if she'd ever stop smiling.
Gabrielle found Xena standing in the woods behind the inn, watching a bird
peck a hole in a tree, looking for dinner. "Xena? We're all set to
"Okay. Beautiful day, huh?"
Gabrielle looked around. It was overcast and muggy, with rain threatening
to fall any minute. "Yeah, I guess it is," she said.
They walked toward the inn, taking their time. Xena's eyes were everywhere,
drinking in the details like a starving prisoner let loose at the king's
Standing in the door to the inn was Widgie.
"Wanted t'see me, t'ain't so?"
"Yeah." Xena walked over to Argo and searched through her pack.
She took out a small package wrapped in cloth. "Here. Another piece
of jewelry for your collection."
"Barillis token, then?" said Widgie, examining the contents of
"I was once reminded how good this life was. That used to help me
keep things in perspective. But this is a new life now. I don't need reminders
anymore. I have Gabrielle for that. So, keep it. To remind you of a visit
by a Warrior and a Chit."
"Bard! I'm a bard -- not a Chit, not a Wee One -- a bard! Sheesh!
You call her 'Warrior' and 'Bold One' but me? I'm a Wee Chit. I have *got*
to work on my image."
Widgie laughed, putting the token around her ample neck where it was immediately
lost among the other jingling chains. "Take care, Warrior. And you
Both women waved happily at the Healer. Then Xena jumped on Argo, helping
Gabrielle up behind and started back on the road to another adventure,
as Xena had promised they would.
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