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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
All works remain the (c) copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of graphic violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
As always, I really appreciate comments about my work. Let me know what you think.
Xena: Warrior Princess
MY LOVER'S KEEPER
by Fu Bard
CHAPTER 1: A BORED BARD
Gabrielle's back arched as another wave of shuddering pleasure surged along her nerves, originating deep within her. Xena flexed her long fingers inside her lover once more, stimulating that certain spot and extending the orgasm even further. The bard began to grind her hips against her dark-haired soulmate - her movements keeping time with the spasms that contorted her muscular body. This was the culmination of their lovemaking, which had begun over an hour ago. The Warrior Princess slowly slid her fingers from inside Gabrielle, letting the girl catch her breath at last. She slumped forward, spent, and then rolled to the side to lie on the bed next to Xena...
"I love you," Gabrielle said, as she lay there stroking her lover's long hair.
Xena locked hands with her chosen lifemate and turned her head to look in the young girl's eyes. "I know you do. I love you too." She pulled the bard to her and they shared a lingering, deep kiss as they lay holding each other on the damp sheets...
They were eating breakfast in the royal dining room, having bathed and dressed after their morning of pleasure. King Dorian had not yet arisen, so they talked while they waited for him to join them, prior to beginning another day of negotiations. Xena had been helping the king through some very difficult talks with Karilius, one of the many warlords she had fought in her dark past.
"How much longer are we gonna be here?" Gabrielle asked, as she shoveled in another spoonful of eggs, washing them down with cool, rich milk from the king's dairy.
"I dunno," Xena replied, as she watched her lover eat. "It'll probably take at least another week."
"Another week?" Gabrielle looked mildly irritated as she contemplated seven more days of the same routine. She'd grown bored with the endless meetings, in which she had no part. She had just been sitting there, while Xena, the king, and the warlord talked about land, army sizes, weapons, and all sorts of other military and strategic matters - which the bard found incredibly dull.
Xena, sensing her friend's reluctance to withstand more of the military discussions, offered her an idea. "Poteidaia isn't too far from here. Why don't you go see your family for a few days, while I finish the talks? I know you aren't really interested in them."
Gabrielle considered the idea and then rejected it. "Xena, it would take me at least a week and a half just to get there and back, and we need to leave from here to meet Ephiny at the edge of Amazon territory next week. I'd love to see them, but there's just not enough time."
"There is if you ride Argo," Xena replied.
"Oh, no - I'm not comfortable with Argo and you know it." Gabrielle took another drink of her milk, and then licked her lips to remove the rich cream that was left on them. "I know we get along better now, but she and I, alone together on the road for days - I don't think so."
"Come on, Gabrielle - if you take her, you could get home in less than three days, spend two or three days with your family, and still get back here in plenty of time." Xena reached over and took her lover's hand. "I'll tell Argo to behave herself."
It took Xena a while, but she finally convinced Gabrielle to go. She saddled Argo and made sure that her soulmate had plenty of rations for the trip. As the warrior led Argo from the stable to meet her friend in the courtyard, she whispered in her mount's ear. "Now, Argo, you take good care of Gabrielle for me - and try to do what she asks. OK?" She scratched the horse behind her ear as Argo snorted a reply.
Xena handed the reins to Gabrielle, and then pulled her lover close for a goodbye kiss. "You be careful. Just follow the road to Vasilika, turn south, and then..."
Gabrielle cut her off. "I know the way," she said. "Remember, I used to live around here. I've been down these roads more than you have." She squeezed Xena's hand, leaned her staff against Argo's side, and then slipped her foot into the stirrup, pulling herself up onto the waiting horse. "I was thinking. If I cut through the mountain pass near Mesimeri, I could knock at least a day off the trip and..."
"NO!" Xena said, shaking her head. "I've been through it before and it's a dangerous route. Just stick to the regular roads, Gabrielle. You've got plenty of time."
The bard shrugged her shoulders. "OK then. I'll stick to the normal route - if it'll make you happy." She smiled down at Xena and grabbed her staff. Gabrielle turned Argo toward the castle gate and urged the horse onward. As she rode over the drawbridge, she turned to wave goodbye, watching her lover until she passed from sight behind the castle wall...
CHAPTER 2: A FATEFUL DECISION
Gabrielle and Argo made the trip to Poteidaia in just over two days. The bard was surprised at how well she and Xena's mount got along during the journey. Argo was well behaved and gave her rider very little trouble. Gabrielle rode into town and surprised her mother - walking in while Hecuba was preparing the mid-day meal. It was a happy reunion. She spent three days with her family, reliving old times, visiting friends, and just enjoying the time with those who were closest to her. Well, maybe not closest - but of all her family and friends, only Lila knew for sure that Gabrielle's soulmate was the closest of all. Lila had resented Xena at first - jealous of the woman who'd taken her sister from her life. Now, however, she'd realized that Gabrielle was in love with the beautiful warrior, and she accepted it without question...
The bard broke from her thoughts about Lila and her family as Argo approached a small waterfall next to the road. She was already a half-day's ride away from Poteidaia and making good time. "Whoa, girl. What do you say we stop and have lunch?" Gabrielle climbed down from the horse's back and began rummaging through the saddlebags. She pulled out some apples and grapes that her mother had sent along, as well as a small sack of molasses soaked oats that Lila had prepared for Argo. She threw down a blanket near the pool at the base of the falls, among a large field of wildflowers. The beautiful blossoms were evidence that spring was definitely here, but Gabrielle was still forced to sleep with several blankets at night - especially without Xena to snuggle up to. She sat down to eat her lunch, after putting some of the grain and a couple of apples onto a flat rock for Argo.
While she ate, Gabrielle was thinking about her Warrior Princess. Even though she'd thoroughly enjoyed her visit with her family, the bard began to realize just how much she missed Xena. It would still be two more days and nights before she saw her lover again - unless... Gabrielle looked beyond the small waterfall toward the nearby mountain peaks. If she took the pass, she could get back to her soulmate in only one day and night...
Gabrielle urged Argo off the road to the left - heading down a seldom-used trail that her uncle had told her about years ago. He used to enjoy hunting the deer that lived in the mountains, before he'd moved on to Sparta. He'd often spoken of his trips through the pass and of the adventures he and his friends had shared there. Though the bard had never been this way before, she knew that she could follow this trail and would wind up on the other side of the mountains by this time tomorrow. It was sure to be cold tonight, sleeping at altitude in the pass, but she had extra blankets, sent by her mother, so she knew she'd be warm enough.
Argo balked, once she realized that Gabrielle intended to leave the road and follow the rough path instead. She planted her feet and tossed her head from side to side, snorting as she did so.
"What's the matter, girl?" Gabrielle asked, as she leaned forward over the horse's neck.
Argo looked toward the road and stomped her forefoot in the direction that they'd been going.
"I know," the bard began, "Xena told us not to go this way, but I'm sure we can make it. My uncle told me all about the pass. Just think how proud Xena will be when she realizes that we got through it all by ourselves and..." Gabrielle stopped talking and rolled her eyes, looking toward the heavens. "Gods - now I'm doing it. I'm talking to Argo like she's a person." She pressed her knees into the horse's sides and snapped the reins gently. "Let's go, Argo." The horse stood her ground, not moving. Gabrielle was about to get angry, when a thought struck her. She leaned forward again, whispering into Argo's ear. "Xena told you to listen to me, didn't she? Well, I'm telling you that I want to go this way - so let's go."
Argo lay her ears back to express her displeasure with the bard's decision, but she began to walk forward, slowly...
Xena rode away from King Dorian's castle on the horse he'd given her, at her request, in thanks for her part in the negotiations. They'd successfully set the boundaries of his kingdom, getting Karilius to agree to the terms. Since the talks ended early, Xena had decided to set out to meet Gabrielle on her return trip. She should pass the bard somewhere between here and Poteidaia, if Gabrielle kept to her schedule. The warrior hoped that her lover conformed to her plans. If so, Xena could be making love with her by tomorrow night. She smiled at the prospect, as she sent her mount into a run...
Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Argo were beginning to head into the mountains, working their way along the rocky trail that wound up toward the snow covered pass above them. The bard wanted to make the top of the pass by sunset, so that she could camp at the summit and have all day tomorrow to make her way down. With the mountains behind her, she'd be back to Xena the next day...
Gabrielle ducked, allowing the remainder of the branches to pass over her head. Her cheek stung from the impact of the small limb. "Argo, you did that on purpose!" she said, as she rubbed the side of her face. The horse had been finding all sorts of ways to show her displeasure with Gabrielle's decision to come this way. She'd stopped to eat grass, resisting the bard's urging her to keep moving. She'd tried walking very slowly, until the frustrated girl had gotten angry and shouted - reminding the horse again of Xena's statement that she should listen to Gabrielle. Once, she'd nearly thrown her rider off when she chose to jump a log, rather than go around it, as the bard had wanted.
Despite all of the horse's stubbornness, they succeeded in reaching the pass before dark. Even though the sun had not yet set, Gabrielle was already wrapped in a cloak and was considering getting out a blanket as well. The temperature was dropping rapidly as the day began to fade into night. The bard pulled on Argo's reins, bringing the horse to a stop in a flat spot between two groups of trees. She dismounted and looked around her. Some dry wood was in the area and the trees would provide shelter from the wind for her and Argo. A nearby cliff promised a wonderful view of the sunset, which should be quite beautiful from the mountaintop. "We'll set up camp here," she said, as she patted Argo on the neck. "I told you we could make it - no problem."
Gabrielle began collecting firewood as she watched the sun approach the western horizon. She was walking among the evergreens, enjoying their fresh scent as she gathered wood. Stopping to pick up a piece of wood, she looked behind her. The sun had reached the horizon now, illuminating the wispy clouds with brilliant splashes of colors. Red, orange, gold, and yellow were all there, in every shade that the god's could have created. Gabrielle threw down her latest armful of wood, grabbed her staff, and walked over to the edge of the cliff. She leaned on the staff as she watched the colors change and intensify. "If only Xena could be here to watch it with me," she thought...
... And then her world collapsed beneath her - literally! The edge of the cliff, having been weakened by the constant freezing and thawing of years of snow and ice, suddenly crumbled beneath her feet. Gabrielle dropped her staff and clawed desperately for a handhold, as the ground gave way beneath her! She managed to grab an exposed root and clung to it while rocks, soil, and her staff fell to the rocky ground fifty feet below her! Gabrielle began pulling herself up, slowly, as Argo moved to see what was happening. The bard got one foot up on the edge - and then the root she was holding on to snapped off! She fell backward and plummeted to the bottom of the cliff, bouncing off of the rock face several times before she hit the ground with a loud thump!
Argo walked over to the edge and looked down, nickering softly. She saw the bard lying at the foot of the escarpment - unmoving...
Miles away, Xena sat by her campfire, polishing her chakram. She suddenly had a cold shiver run up and down her spine, which caused her to sit upright, quickly! There were only certain times that she experienced this feeling - in the presence of one of the gods or when something was terribly wrong! She was lost in thought, sitting absolutely still and trying to identify the sensation that filled her being...
"Gabrielle," she whispered, after a few moments. Somewhere, somehow, she knew that her soulmate was in trouble. Xena began packing things onto her mount, quickly...
CHAPTER 3: A DIFFICULT START
Argo walked up to the bard, who hadn't moved since she'd fallen. The horse had managed to make her way down a nearby slope and get to Gabrielle, where she lay at the base of the cliff. Argo nickered softly and nudged the girl with her nose, trying to get a response. Despite several more attempts, the horse could get no reaction at all from the injured bard. Argo's breath condensed in a vaporous cloud as she snorted loudly, still trying to get Gabrielle's attention. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the girl's body was mostly uncovered, exposing her to the sub-freezing temperatures. Argo gently took the edges of Gabrielle's cloak in her lips and pulled it around the unconscious bard as best she could, then she lay down, carefully, beside the injured girl - trying to warm her as much as possible while watching over her helpless form...
Xena watched the sun break the eastern horizon, as she continued her journey to Poteidaia. She'd ridden hard all through the night, desperate to find out if her gut feeling was true. For once, she hoped that her instincts were wrong. She knew that if Gabrielle had kept to the schedule they'd discussed, the bard should already be on the road home. If Xena didn't pass her by mid-day, she'd know that something had happened. But, deep inside, she already knew that something had...
It was mid-morning when Argo woke up and got to her feet. She looked at the still unconscious bard, then reached down and nuzzled her gently, trying to wake her. Despite nudging her, snorting in her ear, and even stomping her feet beside the girl's head, Argo couldn't wake her. She sniffed near the bard's face and detected the faint odor of her breath - she was still alive, at least. Argo knew that she had to wake Xena's friend somehow - but how? After a few minutes of mulling over the problem, she walked away toward the bottom of the ravine...
Gabrielle woke at last, as a shower of ice-cold water drenched her body, shocking her system and causing her to jerk upright! She looked up and saw a strange sight, which, after a moment of confusion, she realized was Argo's hair-covered belly. More water dripped down on the bard as she sat there - still somewhat dazed. Argo carefully moved to the side and looked down at the bard, cocking her ears forward as she did. The horse had gone to the stream below them, submerged herself in the icy water, then returned and shaken the water onto the unconscious girl.
Gabrielle reached up and felt her head, which was throbbing intensely. She was very dizzy and nauseous. "Head injury," she thought, recalling Xena's teachings. The right side of her chest was very sore as well, so she reached under her cloak and felt the site of the pain. A large area, just beneath her right breast, was swollen and very painful to the touch. "Broken ribs too." She tried to get to her feet... and screamed as a white-hot pain shot through her left leg! She reached down and slowly unlaced her boot, pulled it off carefully, and saw the source of her agony. Between her ankle and her knee, she saw a piece of jagged, white bone protruding from the side of her calf. Blood was pooled beneath her feet - much of it frozen from the cold of the night. "A broken leg too - when I mess up, I really mess up."
Argo bent her head down and nuzzled the bard once more. Gabrielle patted her neck and spoke to her, as she began to shiver from the cold. "Well, girl - what would Xena do in this situation?" She thought for a moment, trying to form a plan through the fog that filled her mind. "I think the first thing I need to do is set this leg and bandage it. After that, I'd better start a fire and dry off, or I'll freeze in these wet clothes." She pulled herself up, using Argo's bridle as a handhold. Grimacing with pain from her many injuries, she began to search through the saddlebags for the items she was going to need. Gabrielle suddenly stopped looking and hobbled to the horse's neck, throwing her arms around it and squeezing. "Thank you girl, for sticking with me and finding a way to wake me - even if it was cold." She scratched Argo behind the ear as she'd often seen Xena do, then returned to the saddlebags...
Gabrielle was sitting back against a boulder with her legs extended in front of her. She'd bandaged the area where her leg bone protruded and stopped the bleeding. Now came the fun part. She had put two short sections of wood on either side of her calf and stretched some leather cording around them, looping the ends together. Now all she had to do was pull them tight and, hopefully, set her bone back in place. She looked up at Argo and smiled. "Well, girl - here goes nothing." She grabbed the ends of the first cord... and pulled them!
Gabrielle screamed as she felt the bone snap back into place and a surge of unbelievable agony shot through her leg! She almost passed out again from the pain, but managed to stave off the darkness. She lay back for a moment, then leaned forward and tied the ends together, cinching them up tight, as she ground her teeth and inhaled sharply. She grabbed the ends of the other cord and pulled. This time the pain was much less, since the bone had already returned to it's correct position. By now she was numb and close to shock anyway, from the overload her nerves were being forced to endure. She lay back once again, forcing herself to stay awake, despite the overwhelming desire she felt to just fade into the comforting arms of oblivion.
Gabrielle lay there for a while, gathering her strength, then she crawled over to where her staff lay, at the base of the cliff. She used it to help herself to her feet, then leaned on it as she stood. "Now I need to make a fire and dry off some, before we get started down the mountain." She began moving around the area slowly - gathering wood with one arm as she leaned on her staff with the other...
Xena pulled on the reins, bringing her mount to a halt beside a clear, fast flowing stream. She dismounted and got on her knees, cupping her hands and taking a drink of the cool water. It was mid-day now, and she hadn't found Gabrielle yet. No one on the road had recalled seeing her either, so Xena was pretty sure that the bard was not following the route that she should have been. It was possible that Gabrielle was still in Poteidaia, but Xena's instincts said no. Where, in all of Greece, could she have gone? The warrior mulled over the question in her mind... then her eyes focused on the snow-capped peaks in the distance. "The pass," she said quietly. "I told her not to take it. So, of course, that must be what she did." She quickly flipped backwards, landing on her temporary mount, and took off in the direction of the pass at a gallop...
Gabrielle warmed herself by the small fire she'd made and ate some of the fruit that her mother had given her. She took a drink of water from a skin, then suddenly leaned to the side, retching violently! After a few moments, she raised back to a sitting position and wiped her mouth on the cloak she was wrapped in. Her nausea was increasing and her dizziness refused to go away. She was getting worse. She made a decision and pulled herself to her feet, leaning on her staff to do so. "Argo, we'd better get started down now - I don't know how long I'll be able to last." Her leg was throbbing and her ribs hurt terribly as well.
Argo walked over to her and stood still. Gabrielle climbed onto the horse's back, leaning her staff against Argo's side as she did, then pulling it up behind her. She put her right foot in the stirrup and then draped her left leg around the saddle-horn, much as she'd done when she'd sprained her ankle before Xena's battle with the Persians. She urged Argo onward and they began to make their way up the ravine, while Gabrielle fought the urge to throw up once more.
They made very slow progress, since Gabrielle had to stop often to be sick and she was getting weaker by the hour. She'd noticed ugly, red streaks were beginning to run up her leg from the point where the bone had broken through her skin. One minute she felt hot and the next she would be shivering with chills - obviously she was running a high fever. If she didn't get help soon, disease within the injury would begin to overwhelm her. Just before sunset, they'd barely gone halfway down the mountain. Gabrielle pulled Argo to a halt in a small clearing, near the remains of long-dead, fallen tree. "This is a good spot to camp, girl. I won't have to worry about firewood with all these dead limbs around." She got down off of Argo, carefully, then began to gather wood from the rotting tree...
Xena was halfway up the mountain's other side, when it became too dark for her to follow the path any longer. If she continued along the rocky, cliff-lined trail, she'd only kill her mount or herself, so she decided to stop for the night. She'd found signs of Gabrielle's passage all along the way - recognizing Argo's hoof-prints from years of seeing them every day. At least she wasn't on a wild goose chase. Gabrielle was living up to her stubborn streak - she had gone this way in spite of Xena's warning. The raven-haired warrior dismounted and began to set up camp for herself, gathering wood and getting a fire going. In a short time, she was sitting beside the fire, thinking about her missing lover. Xena tried to focus on her soulmate, hoping that somehow she could sense her presence. Maybe Gabrielle was already... No, her lover was still alive. Xena would know if she weren't.
"SON OF A BACCHAE!" Xena threw the piece of wood she'd been holding against a nearby tree, spooking her mount! She felt so helpless. Gabrielle needed her, but what could she do? Xena watched the moon come up over the eastern horizon. As the glowing orb rose higher in the sky, Xena, who'd often condemned and fought against them, considered praying to the gods...
CHAPTER 4: FROM BAD TO WORSE
Gabrielle moaned in ecstasy, as Xena plunged her tongue deep in between the bard's open thighs once more. She squirmed and arched her back as wave after wave of shattering orgasm passed up and down the length of her body. Gabrielle screamed out her pleasure as the warrior ran her hands along the girl's muscular thighs and thick calves.
Xena sat back on the bed, regarding her lover with a smile. "Did I make you feel good?" she asked.
"Gods yes, Xena." The bard reached up to take her lover's hand, but Xena stood, now fully dressed - in a wedding gown!
"I have something to tell you," Xena said, her dress blowing in the wind that came in from the ocean. They had been at an inn, but now the bed Gabrielle lay in was on the seashore. Gull's raucous cries filled the air and the surf pounded noisily behind the warrior, as she stood looking down at her lover.
"What is it, Xena?" Somehow the idea of suddenly being on the beach didn't seem so strange, at the moment.
"I have to leave you," Xena said. "I'm in love with someone else." She extended her hand to the man who had somehow walked up without the bard seeing him. It was Ulysses! "I'm sorry, Gabrielle," Xena continued, "but you just don't fulfill my needs anymore. I'm going away with Ulysses forever." She leaned over and kissed him, then they began walking away, down the beach - looking back at Gabrielle and laughing.
"No, don't leave!" Gabrielle begged. She jumped from the bed - and collapsed to the ground in agony! The bone in her leg protruded from an ugly wound in her calf. She began to crawl slowly and painfully in the direction that Xena had gone. "XENA, PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME!" she screamed. "I NEED YOU..."
"You don't need her," a voice said, from behind the bard. "You can be my sidekick."
Gabrielle was now standing, her leg unbroken, in the middle of a green forest. She looked back to see who had spoken, and saw Joxer emerge from behind a tree. He was clad in long red underwear and wore a fake nose and face paint, much as the circus performers she'd seen before had done. "Where did you..."
Joxer cut her off, as he began juggling three red balls and started tap dancing. "We can be great together, Gabby. What do you need Xena for anyway?" He pulled several more balls from out of his mouth as he juggled, and added them to the ones he already had circling before him. As Gabrielle watched, the balls began to change color. They turned brown and began to sprout fur, which grew longer as she watched. Suddenly, fang-filled mouths opened on the orbiting spheres! One of them leapt from the circle they were following and latched on to Joxer's neck, dragging him to the ground as he kicked and screamed! The rest tumbled from the air and bounced to a stop in front of Gabrielle - growing and changing shape as they did. In moments, they had all become huge, red-eyed wolves. They glared at the bard and growled menacingly! She began to back away, and then she heard an evil, yet familiar voice call to her.
"You can be MY partner. HA, HA, HA, HA..."
She saw Joxer rise up, his head now framed by spiraling horns and his long underwear had turned to scaly, red skin. He laughed evilly as he sprouted fangs and continued to grow larger - changing into a strange, yet familiar form.
Gabrielle kept backing away slowly. Then she recognized the figure that now stood before her, surrounded by snarling wolves. "Bacchus!" The bard found that she could no longer move! Her feet seemed to be stuck in glue! She tried and tried to turn and run, but she couldn't budge!
"Soon, you will be one with me!" Bacchus said, in his deep, booming voice. He began to laugh again, as the wolves leapt at Gabrielle, their fangs bared and dripping blood...
Gabrielle jerked awake and looked around her wildly...
Beyond the mountain pass, Xena suddenly sat up - her eyes wide open instantly! "Gabrielle," she mouthed, as she wiped sweat from her forehead. She knew she couldn't stay here any longer. She sensed that Gabrielle was in danger, in terrible pain, and except for Argo, she was alone. Deadly cliffs or not, Xena was going ahead to find her lover. She got to her feet and began making preparations to leave. Fifteen minutes later, she lit one of the torches she'd fashioned and took the halter of her mount, leading him along the rocky, twisting trail into the darkness...
The bard sat up, her body soaked with sweat and her mind muddled by the fever that raged through her. Argo was snorting and stomping her feet, trying to alert Gabrielle to the danger that she'd sensed. She moved close in by the fire, watching the shadows warily.
Gabrielle saw many pairs of glowing eyes watching her from the darkness around the campfire. She heard snarls and growls as the wolves closed in, snapping their jaws and salivating, in anticipation of the kill! Reaching over to the wood piled near her, the bard began throwing sticks onto the fire, causing it to grow and exposing the pack of snarling beasts to her view. She reached for her pack, as one of the animals moved toward her - its head lowered and its deadly fangs protruding from its mouth. It was a huge wolf, black in color, and it moved with the confidence of a fearless warrior. Gabrielle couldn't help but compare its movements to those of her lover - calculated, graceful, yet promising death to its enemies. She shook her head to try to clear her mind and then reached into her pack, grabbing the item she'd been searching for. Suddenly, the dark wolf charged her, growling viciously as it came!
Gabrielle withdrew her hand and tossed the bottle between herself and the animal as it raced toward her! The glass shattered and liquid spilled to the rocky ground! The bard immediately heaved a burning stick from the fire into the cooking oil she'd thrown and it blazed up, creating a wall of flame between her and the pack leader! He skidded to a halt, then turned and ran back to the tree line, the other wolves following him as he did.
Gabrielle quickly began to build the fire larger, very glad now that she had found the fallen tree and camped next to the ready source of wood. She was direly sick and had to stop and wretch several times while she gathered wood and tended the fire. Her leg was now hugely swollen and she was so dizzy and weak that she was unable to stand much of the time. She had to crawl to get most of the wood that she needed. In half an hour, she had enough wood to keep a large fire burning until morning, which should keep the wolves at bay. She watched the tree line, but saw no sign of movement. The predators were still out there though. Argo's uneasiness told her that, and Gabrielle's inner senses seemed to confirm it...
Having scented blood and seen the weakness of their intended victim, the pack waited just outside the range of the firelight. Their dark leader watched the movements of the blond girl, his lip curling in a silent snarl. He'd hunted humans before, enjoying the kill and the pleasure of feasting on their sweet-tasting flesh. His instincts told him that this human was sick and weakening rapidly - making her easy prey. All he had to do was bide his time...
CHAPTER 5: A DESPERATE FLIGHT
Gabrielle watched the eastern sky as it lightened, announcing the start of another day. She hadn't slept at all, except for some fitful dozing, since the wolves had attacked. She was cold - so very cold. Even though she was wrapped in her cloak and two blankets, huddled right next to the fire - the chill refused to leave her body. She knew that she was slowly going into shock from her injuries and blood loss. If she didn't reach help soon, the wolves would not be denied much longer.
"Well girl, we'd better get going," she said, as she pulled herself up by the stirrup hanging from Argo's side. She threw her blankets up behind the saddle, securing them and her pack to the horse's back. Leaning her staff on Argo's flank and grabbing the saddle horn, she struggled to pull herself up. It took her five minutes and several attempts before she was able to do so. She grabbed her staff and held it in the crook of her left arm, balancing it on Argo's neck, and then she snapped the reins and urged her mount onward...
As they started down the mountain toward the rising sun, many pairs of eyes watched them from the nearby trees. The black wolf moved into the campsite, smelling the area where Gabrielle had been lying. His keen nose told him that the girl was getting weaker rapidly. He growled throatily at one of his kinsmen, then took off at a trot, following the horse's scent as the other members of the pack moved along behind him...
Xena topped the pass and came into the sunshine at last. She'd followed Argo's tracks to this point, then stopped - noticing that Gabrielle had dismounted here. The warrior got down from her horse following the bard's tracks in a haphazard pattern, until they led her to the crumbled edge of the cliff. She examined the fresh rock face and the broken root - and then she saw the remains of the fire below her.
Xena walked with her mount down the nearby slope, following the same path Argo had taken after Gabrielle's fall. She checked the fire for hot coals and found none. "Must've been from the night before last," she surmised, silently - then she noticed the red stain at the base of the cliff. It was the bard's blood, still frozen from the chill of the mountain air.
Xena followed Argo's footprints as she made her way through the gorge and started down the other side of the mountain. Just as she was about to climb back onto her mount, she noticed something that made her blood run cold: wolf tracks - lots of them! The paw prints meandered around the area, then headed off down the mountain in the direction that Gabrielle and Argo had gone...
Gabrielle was clinging to Argo's back, as the horse made her way down the rocky trail toward the lower elevations. They were in an area of broken forest, which was strewn with huge boulders. The bard was so weak that it was almost more than she could do to balance herself in the swaying saddle. She vomited once more, splashing liquid onto Argo's side as they moved along the path. "Sorry, girl," she said, patting the horse's neck. "If I live through this, I promise I'll give you a nice bath and rubdown."
As they approached a narrow cleft between two of the huge, sandstone blocks, Argo began to nicker and act very nervous. She snorted and came to a stop, pawing the ground with her hooves. Gabrielle glanced around her looking for signs of danger. "What is it girl? Do you smell somethi..."
Even in her weakened state, Gabrielle reacted using the training and skills that Xena had taught her. As the black wolf leapt from the top of the sandstone boulder, she swung her staff and caught him in the side! The blow deflected him just enough to prevent his attack from toppling her from the saddle, as he'd intended. He hit Argo's rear end and slid to the ground, snapping viciously at the bard as he did!
Argo bolted between the boulders, accelerating quickly, then running all out toward the stream she saw in the distance! Gabrielle clung to the saddlehorn, while she swayed back and forth with the movements of the horse's body. She was unable to hold on to her staff, as they jumped rocks and dodged between trees, and it clattered to the ground in their wake. Behind them, she could hear the yips and howls of the wolfpack, as they chased the fleeing horse and her rider! In minutes, Argo reached the swift-flowing stream. With the wolves closing in behind them, she didn't hesitate and leapt from the edge, far out into the current! She hit the water, sending up a huge splash - and throwing the weakened bard from the saddle!
Gabrielle suddenly found herself submerged in the icy water and she struggled to get her head to the surface - hurting her leg once more as she planted her feet on the rocky bottom. She reached out blindly and her hand touched Argo's body. The faithful horse was standing chest deep in the water, downstream from the bard, trying to prevent her from being swept away by the swift current. Gabrielle grabbed the stirrup on Argo's side. "G...go girl," she said, weakly, through chattering teeth. The stream was bitterly cold, since it was being fed by the snowmelt from the nearby mountain peaks. She struggled to hold on with her numb fingers, as Argo made her way to the far side.
When they reached the edge of the stream, Gabrielle continued to hang on, while the horse climbed the embankment and moved across the grassy field in front of her. The near-frozen girl tried to pull herself into the saddle, but couldn't even keep her legs from dragging, so she just gripped the saddlehorn with what strength she had left. "Just keep going, Argo," she said, as she held on for her life. Behind them, she could hear splashes as the wolves leapt into the stream and began swimming quickly across!
Argo moved as fast as she could, while dragging the bard along with her. She tried to keep the girl over grassy areas and avoid the many rocks lying around the clearing. They'd reached the edge of the woods, when Gabrielle's strength finally failed her. The blood loss, infection, and now the numbing cold were just too much for her body to handle. She lost consciousness and released her grip on the saddle, falling to the grass-covered soil beneath her. In the distance, the black wolf topped the edge of the embankment and began running toward the horse and her helpless companion - followed closely by the entire pack...
Argo nudged the bard with her nose, trying to wake her, but it was no use. The horse saw the wolves coming and her instincts told her to run. With her superior speed, the snarling carnivores would be left behind - but Xena had asked her mount to take care of Gabrielle. The faithful steed could never allow Xena's friend to be harmed, if there were any chance she could prevent it, so she positioned herself between the unconscious girl and the approaching pack of wolves...
The predators slowed to a walk as they neared the horse and fallen rider. They used the tactics of the pack and began to circle their victims, some of the members slipping around to the sides and rear. The black leader hopped onto a boulder, watching the members of his band position themselves for the kill. He panted with the exertion of his running and saliva dripped from his jaws, as he studied the prone form of the human in front of him. He licked his lips in anticipation of tasting her succulent, tender flesh. Then, with an unspoken signal, the wolves began to close in.
Argo stood beside Gabrielle, watching the predators as they approached. She snorted loudly and pawed the ground, warning them to keep back. Several hesitated, but then began to move in once more. One of them charged forward and tried to grab the bard's outstretched leg, but Argo kicked backward swiftly, catching the wolf in the side with both hooves! The sound of bones breaking carried through the air, as the animal was hurled backward by the force of the blows! It hit the ground beside one of its kin and didn't rise. Its brother sniffed of it for a second, and then began slowly closing on the horse again.
As if on queue, the wolves charged as one, aiming for the horse! Argo lashed out with her front hooves, smashing the jaw of one of them, and it retreated emitting a series of pitiful yelps! Another latched onto the horses rear flank, tugging at the tough hide with its sharp teeth! Argo whirled around and threw the wolf off, smashing it into one of its pack-mates and toppling both to the ground! More and more began to attack, trying to separate the bard from the horse, and Argo was slowly forced away from Gabrielle. The wolves threw themselves bodily on the outnumbered, but determined equine, and they soon had her sides running with blood - though many of their number were now dead or wounded from the horse's smashing hooves...
The huge, black wolf walked forward, sniffing Gabrielle's body as he watched his pack attacking Argo. While the stubborn horse was occupied, he'd finish off the dying human. He curled his lips, slavering in anticipation of the taste of her salty blood. Baring his teeth, he leaned down to sink them into the helpless bard's neck...
Suddenly, an unearthly, howling cry split the air! The terrifying sound caused the pack to stop their savage attack on Argo, as they and the alpha male looked back toward the stream.
Xena stood there...
The ear-shattering howl she'd emitted was as primal and savage as any that the wolves had ever heard before! Its meaning was clear... a challenge! The pack sensed, instinctively, that this was the mate of their intended victim. This one was not prey, however, and they sensed that as well. On some primordial level, they knew that THIS human was as much of a hunter as they were - and that it was prepared to defend its mate with its life...
The pack began to back away, sensing that they were no match for Xena - all but the huge, black leader. He'd never known defeat and he was determined not to be deprived of his hard-earned prize. He turned from Gabrielle and raised his head, growling and moving slowly toward the Warrior Princess.
Xena drew her sword, as she watched the giant wolf approach. She studied his careful, purposeful movements and recognized the creature as another of her kind - an experienced, capable killer. She braced herself, bending her knees slightly, as she focused on his savage, staring eyes.
The wolf suddenly leapt forward, aiming for her throat, and Xena moved her sword to counter the attack, but he truly was an experienced fighter, and the lunge had been a feint! He twisted his body in the air and slipped around her weapon - surprising her and locking his teeth around the warrior's wrist! Xena's sword clattered to the ground as she was spun around and dragged down by the weight of the huge wolf! He released his jaws and tried to go for a killing grip on her neck. Xena punched him in the snout and tried to heave him off of her, but he was too heavy and pressed her to the ground with his weight. He tried to bite her once again, but the warrior pushed him off balance, and they rolled and tumbled down a slight incline. When he jumped on her once more, she managed to keep the deadly teeth at bay, pushing against his throat with her forearm. Xena was on her back now, lying in a puddle of icy water. The wolf's deadly jaws approached her neck as his animal strength began to overpower her warrior muscle!
Argo and the wolfpack stood motionless, awaiting the outcome of the struggle as mere spectators. Each side waited to see whose champion would emerge victorious.
The black wolf lunged downward, letting out a snarling howl, and Xena screamed loudly! When the sound of their cries had faded, both of them lay unmoving - locked together in a deadly embrace in the small pool of water. The wolves and the horse walked forward, trying to see which was the victor and which the vanquished. The black wolf moved as they watched. He raised up slowly, and then his body was suddenly cast aside, as Xena sat up. She got to her feet, covered in the wolf's blood and holding her red-stained dagger in her hand. She looked up at the members of the pack, staring each down as she scanned the entire group - a feral look in her eyes.
Slowly, the wolves began to turn and slink away into the underbrush, their tails between their legs in a sign of submission. There was easier prey to be found and a new leader to be chosen...
CHAPTER 6: JUST LIKE A HUMAN
Xena sheathed her dagger as she watched the pack slip away into the forest. She moved quickly up the incline, stopping to pat Argo on the neck and praise her for her defense of Gabrielle, then rushing over to kneel beside the unconscious bard. Xena immediately saw the splinted and obviously infected leg, the huge bruise on the girl's chest, and the lump on her head.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, as she shook her lover gently. She at once noticed the coolness of the bard's body. Despite the more obvious injuries she saw, the warrior knew that the most immediate threat to Gabrielle's life was the cold. She whistled for Argo and when the horse came over, Xena reached up and untied the blankets from her back. She began to undress her lover, removing all the wet clothes before rolling her onto one of the blankets and covering her with the other. Xena then began to remove her damp armor and clothes. When she was naked, she got under the covers with her lover and began rubbing the girl's body as she pulled her close - trying to transfer her body heat to the near frozen bard...
Within a few hours, Gabrielle was warm enough to be out of danger from the cold, so Xena began to treat her wounded leg with an herbal paste, which, hopefully, would stop the disease before it spread any further. She re-splinted the leg after she'd replaced the bandage. Once she'd done all she could for her lover's injuries, Xena gathered some wood and built a fire right next to the blanket-wrapped girl.
The warrior then treated Argo's wounds, though none of them were very serious. After Xena smeared the paste into a shallow gash in the horse's head, she reached around her mount's neck and gave Argo a hug. "Thank you, girl," she said, with tears rolling down her cheeks. "Thank you for protecting Gabrielle for me." Xena released Argo's neck and looked into her eyes, while she scratched her faithful steed behind the ear. "I owe you big for this one."
Argo snorted loudly, as if in agreement...
The next morning, when Xena was replacing the bandage on her lover's leg, she noticed that the redness was much decreased around the wound. Her color was improved and she seemed to be breathing easier too. With a little luck, Gabrielle would be just fine.
"Good morning," a weak, but familiar voice said, cutting off the warrior's thoughts.
Xena turned her head and saw Gabrielle looking up at her with an embarrassed grin on her face. "You were right, y'know - I shouldn't have taken the pass."
The beautiful warrior smiled broadly and immediately moved over, hugging her lover close.
"Oooh, Xena - the ribs," Gabrielle said, still grinning.
Xena pulled back and continued to smile, as she stroked Gabrielle's long, golden hair. "Serves you right for not listening to me." She then bent down and kissed her lover passionately, hugging her close once more - this time a little more gently...
After several days, Gabrielle was well enough to get around the camp under her own power. She made her way over to the fire while leaning on her staff, which Xena had retrieved from the other side of the stream. She sat down beside the warrior on a flat rock, near the fire - watching Xena sharpen her sword while the sky darkened to night around them.
Gabrielle glanced over toward Argo, watching her munch on some grass with the other horse, near the edge of the firelight. "I guess I owe Argo big time, huh?" she said, as she put her arm around her lover. "It's bad enough that I owe YOU my life more times than I can count, but now I owe your HORSE my life."
Argo snorted loudly and stomped her foot twice.
"OK, ok," Gabrielle said, "I owe you my life two times." The bard recalled how Argo had saved her from that warlord several years ago, when she'd pretended to be Xena while the warrior was suffering from poison. She continued watching Argo eat for a moment, then looked back over at Xena again. "How did she know what I said, anyway? Horses can't understand human language - so how did she know?"
Xena stopped sharpening her sword and looked Gabrielle in the eyes. "Argo can understand our language."
Gabrielle laughed, and gave her lover a squeeze. "That's just not possible, Xena. No animal can understand language. She must be able to read our minds or something."
"No," the warrior replied, "she really knows what the words mean."
The bard laughed once more, as she tossed a few more sticks on the fire. The night was beginning to get really cold as the remaining sunlight disappeared. "Right, Xena. The next thing you know, you'll be trying to convince me that she can tell jokes."
"Well, she does have a sense of humor." Xena began sharpening her blade once more.
Gabrielle just shook her head and smiled.
Xena sounded perturbed as she spoke again. "Argo really does have a sense of Humor."
The bard spoke again, as she smiled even more broadly. "Xena, she's very brave and very smart, but I can't believe that you think she has a sense of humor - horses can't do that"
Across the fire from the two women, Argo laid her ears back, snorted, and walked out of the firelight, heading in the direction of the stream.
Xena shook her head and frowned. "See - now you hurt her feelings."
Gabrielle got to her feet and leaned on her staff. "Oh, Xena - first you say that she has a sense of humor and now that she can have hurt feelings. I still think that you try to make her out as more human than horse."
The bard walked into the nearby bushes to relieve herself. She limped along on her staff, making her way to the large log she'd used before. She couldn't support herself on her bad leg, so she had to sit on the log and maneuver her backside into position to take care of her need. She leaned her staff against a nearby tree, balancing on her good leg, while she removed the black, wolf-skin cloak Xena had made for her, to prevent it being soiled. "Brrrr, it's getting really cold," she said quietly. She lowered her undergarment, raised her skirt, and sat down - trying to hurry. As she sat there, shivering, she heard heavy footsteps coming through the forest and Argo's familiar form emerged from the darkness - moving to stand behind the bard. Gabrielle heard a dripping sound and noticed in the dim light that Argo appeared to be soaked in water from the ice-cold stream...
Xena was tending the fire, when suddenly, from the bushes where Gabrielle had gone, she heard a familiar sound - the sound of Argo shaking herself dry!
Gabrielle's screams echoed around the quiet mountain peaks!
Xena smiled as she listened to the stream of unbardly expletives Gabrielle was now unleashing. She began to build the fire bigger - knowing her friend was going to need it. She laughed quietly to herself, as she threw more limbs into the crackling flames.
"And she says Argo has no sense of humor..."
Let me know what you think...
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