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Legal Disclaimer: The main characters of this story belong to MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I am simply borrowing these characters and there is no implied or intended infringement of the copyright laws.
Violence Disclaimer: There is some violence in this story though it is not overly graphic. If the idea of one of the main characters falling victim to violence bothers you, you may want to reconsider reading this story.
Note: This story was originally written in Jan of 1997, but was revised in Jan of 1998. Copyright (c) 1998 D.R. Millard.
By chemmy (chem1)
Darkness shrouds the valley and a strange mist rolls along the forest floor. The mist moves as if alive, seeking it's final destination. It tumbles over a small hill and settles into the hollow at the bottom. It creeps along a stream bank and enters a small campsite.
In the campsite, the fire has burned down and only embers remain. Two figures can be see sleeping in the dim light. The smaller one is sleeping peacefully, her beautiful red-gold hair spilling out onto the blankets that are her bed. The larger form is thrashing around, her dark hair flying back and forth as her head twists from side to side. The mist swirls around the slumbering forms. It leaves one alone. The other it enshrouds and, with each new breath, the mist is slowly drawn into the sleeping form.
A man suddenly appears out of thin air.
"Xena, Xena, I've come for you!" he softly calls.
The thrashing stops and the dark haired woman sits up slowly and looks around. She sees the man, but something is wrong with him. He is not fully formed and the trees behind him can be seen through his translucent body.
"Xena, I've come for you," the man softly whispers as he motions for the Warrior Princess to follow him.
"Marcus? Is that you? What are you doing here?"
Marcus only smiles and beckons for Xena to follow him. She looks over at the smaller woman who is still sleeping soundly, and then back at Marcus. Grabbing her sword, she slowly gets up and starts to follow her beloved Marcus. She can feel that something is not right, but she follows him anyway. Deeper and deeper into the forest they wander. In the darkness, Xena stumbles and loses her sword. Sometime later, she realizes that it is not in her hand, but she doesn't care. The only thing she can think about is Marcus and she blindly follows him. He disappears around a huge boulder and the warrior follows after him. Suddenly she can't move.
Sticky strands cling to her face. She tries to wipe the sticky thing off of her face, but her hands won't move. The harder Xena struggles, the harder it becomes to move. A strange numbness penetrates her body everywhere the strands touch bare skin. The numbness spreads and Xena is overcome by an intense desire to sleep. She closes her eyes and gives in to the desire, unaware of the danger that lurks directly over her head.
The sun broke over the mountains and cast a warm glow over the valley. A small patch of sunlight fell on Gabrielle and caused her to stir.
"Just a few more minutes Xena," Gabrielle muttered as she covered her head with the blanket. After a few minutes, she realized that she didn't hear anything. She was sure that Xena had just told her to get up.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called out as she sat up and looked around. The bard crawled over to the warrior's blankets, they were cold. She must be out practicing. She looked over at the tree where Argo had been tethered last night and noticed that she was still there.
"I thought Xena usually took you with her when she went out to practice," Gabrielle said to Argo.
The mare nodded her head up and down as if she understood the bard.
She picked up the blankets and put them away.
"You stay here while I go find Xena!" the bard said as she grabbed her staff and walked away muttering about why she was talking to a horse.
Gabrielle expected to find Xena in the clearing south of their camp. "Xena!" she shouted as she entered the clearing, "Argo's mad that you left her at camp. Xena?" She looked around but could see no sign of the warrior. The hair on the back of her neck started to stand on end.
"Okay, calm down Gabrielle. Maybe Xena's just out hunting."
The little bard tried to push the doubts out of her mind but it wouldn't work. Something was bothering her, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She walked back to camp trying to think like Xena.
"If I disappeared, what would Xena do? I know, she would look for my tracks!"
Gabrielle started with the area where they had been sleeping and easily found larger woman's tracks. "Well, I don't see any other boot marks except for Xena's, that means she left of her own accord."
Gabrielle followed the tracks for a few minutes and determined that Xena was not hunting. The tracks were in a fairly straight line and had not veered off in places where game would probably be found. The panic was starting to rise in Gabrielle's throat and she could hear her heart pounding in her ears. She returned to camp and tried to calm down.
"Focus, I must focus."
Gabrielle thought back to the comments she had heard at the inn in the last village that she and Xena had stopped in. While they were eating, she had heard a couple of people at the next table talking about the strange things going on in the forest. Whole hunting parties had disappeared. No one who had ventured deep into the forest had ever come out. There were tales of weird animals and strange apparitions. Xena had dismissed it as nonsense, but the little bard was starting to wonder.
The sunlight glistened on the drops of dew that clung to the sticky stuff that held Xena prisoner. As she opened her eyes, she was confused. As she struggled to clear the fog out of her head she wondered where she was. Her body felt strange and was slow to respond. She moved her head slightly and realized, to her horror, that she was trapped in a giant spider web. As she struggled to get free, vague memories of the night before floated through her mind.
Suddenly the whole web started to vibrate. Looking straight up, the warrior spotted a huge spider slowly descending with its mandibles opening and closing. Anger surged through her. No spider was going to end the life of the Warrior Princess! By sheer will alone Xena forced her right arm free. Luckily her chakram was still dangling by her side. One by one, she cut the strands of web away. Just as Xena freed her legs the spider was on top of her. A sharp, burning sensation pierced her sides and she cried out in pain.
The burning sensation spread as she stumbled away. She turned around to see if the spider was pursuing her. It wasn't. The spider just sat there watching her, waiting for her to die. Xena threw her chakram, which was still in her hand, directly at the spider. The chakram hit the spider's thorax, severing it in two, and bounced off the rocks. With her head swimming and her eyes seeing double, it took all of her concentration to catch the returning weapon. As soon as it hit her hand, the warrior sank to the ground and her consciousness slipped away.
Gabrielle became increasingly uncomfortable as the minutes went by. It was obvious that Xena was not coming back.
"Come on Argo, we have to go find Xena," Gabrielle said as she saddled the mare.
Leading Argo by the reins, Gabrielle set off. She knew that her abilities to track were not as sharp as her warrior friend's, but Xena's trail was not hard to follow. The deeper into the forest they went, the tighter Gabrielle gripped her staff. Xena was out there somewhere and she was determined to find her, in spite of the growing fear that had turned her stomach into knots.
As Gabrielle and Argo were winding there way through a grove of old growth trees, the glint of sunlight on metal caught the bard's eye. Very cautiously, she approached the spot were the glint had come from. As she neared a tangled mass of roots, she could see the hilt of a sword sticking up between a couple of roots. She pulled the sword free and her heart sank. It was Xena's sword. She would never leave her sword behind! Gabrielle now had proof that something was very wrong.
She took a deep breath and tried to steady her nerves. She looked around, but could find no other trace of the Warrior Princess. She tied Xena's sword to the saddle and continued her search.
Hours later there was still no sign of the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle stopped Argo in a small clearing to rest and untied her friend's sword. Leaning back against a tree, she started wondering about what had happened to her friend as she traced the hilt with her fingers. It's not like Xena to leave in the middle of the night, especially without taking Argo. "Why didn't she wake me? Why didn't I wake? Was she trying to protect me? What if Xena's hurt? Or what if she's..." Gabrielle could not finish the thought. Xena was alive. She just had to be.
Xena could feel the sun beating down on her leather. Sweat poured from her body. She rolled over and held a hand up to block the sun from her eyes. She tried to focus but her eyes wouldn't cooperate. Out of reflex, she hooked her chakram on her armor. Her entire body felt like a pincushion that was on fire. She tried to stand but her legs buckled underneath her and she crumpled to the ground. She crawled over to a tree and leaned back. "I'm so thirsty. I've got to find water." Xena looked over at the spider's severed body. "Did I kill that spider? I don't remember." The warrior's head started spinning and she slumped back against the tree as unconsciousness claimed her again.
Xena's eyes fluttered open and she licked her dry, cracked lips. The prickly feeling had disappeared, but she felt so hot and thirsty. Her mind was numb and thinking was difficult. On a barely conscious level she knew she was in trouble. If only she could think clearly. She needed water and could focus on nothing else. Holding on to the tree, the warrior pulled herself to her feet.
Stumbling from tree to tree she searched for a source of water. Finally, after what seemed and eternity, she found a large stream. Kneeling in the middle, Xena plunged her head into the water and drank deeply. The cool water flowed over her cracked lips and down her parched throat. She was so hot and the water so inviting, that she rolled over on her back and let the stream run over her fiery body. The water felt so good and the warrior realized that she was exhausted. She closed her eyes and let the sound of the water lull her to sleep.
Gabrielle followed Xena's trail until she came to a huge boulder. As she neared it, a sickening stench filled her nostrils. Rounding the boulder the bard found the source of the foul smell. A huge spider that had been severed in two lays hanging from what was left of its own web. Gabrielle gagged at the sight and smell of the dead spider.
Inspecting the area she found the imprint of a body a short distance from the web. The circular print in the dirt must have come from Xena's chakram. Gabrielle felt panic welling up inside of her. "If Xena was on the ground, she may be hurt!" The little bard knelt down to study the imprint the warrior's body had left when she collapsed. On each side of the imprint, the ground was dark and wet. Gabrielle rubbed her fingers against the wet dirt and sniffed at the residue left on her fingers. It was blood. She swallowed hard, trying to force the panic back down. Xena was injured!
The little bard looked over at the spider and wondered if the warrior's wounds were from the spider or something else. She could not find a blood trail, so the wounds themselves were not serious Gabrielle surmised. But, if the spider bit her friend, how much time would she have? The bard thought back to the time the warrior fought off the poison from Callisto's dart. Xena survived, but that was just the poison from one dart. Vivid memories flashed through the bard's mind as she recalled those events. Her heart once again felt like it would explode. She did not want to lose her love again. She looked back at the spider and an involuntary shudder shook her body.
With a new sense of urgency, she set out to find Xena. The warrior's trail was not hard to follow. She had stumbled from tree to tree. Every few yards, she could see the imprints where Xena's legs had given out and she had slammed into the ground. With each step, her fear increased. She tried not to think about what would happen if she didn't find her friend in time.
As the sun sank deeper into the western sky, Gabrielle heard the sound of running water. As she cleared the brush on the stream bank, she stopped dead in her tracks and her heart leapt into her throat. There, lying face-up in the middle of the stream was Xena. The bard dropped Argo's reins and rushed to her friend's side. Xena's face was very pale. With a shaky hand, Gabrielle reached out and touched the warrior's cheek. She was warm! A flood of relief swept over Gabrielle and she threw her staff on the opposite stream bank. Grabbing Xena under her arms, the little bard carefully pulled her out of the stream and up onto the bank on the other side. Argo crossed the stream after taking a long drink and gently nuzzled her owner's hand. The Warrior Princess did not respond.
Gabrielle found a sheltered spot just a few yards from the stream. Laying Xena down in a grassy spot, she quickly gathered some wood and tinder, and started a fire. She placed one of the waterskins on a rock near the fire to warm in case she needed it. Argo stood there and simply watched Gabrielle at work.
With some difficulty, she pulled Xena's greaves and boots off. By the condition of the leather, Gabrielle knew her friend had been in the water for some time. Carefully, she removed the warrior's armor and the rest of her wet clothing. Tenderly, the bard dried her friend's wet body. After placing the warrior on a blanket, the young bard carefully inspected the puncture wounds. The wounds were sealed over and strange purple streaks radiated from the wounds. Gabrielle was puzzled. The wounds should not have healed this fast and the purple streaks were like nothing she had ever seen before.
As she covered Xena with her blanket, she noticed how hot the warrior felt. She gently kissed the warrior on the forehead and used her lips to judge Xena's temperature, just as her mother had done to her when she was a child. "She's awfully warm for being in the water for so long," Gabrielle thought.
The bard unsaddled Argo and tied her reins around a nearby tree. Searching the stream bank, she retrieved her staff and sat down next to the unconscious warrior. She then pulled off her own wet boots to let them dry. Tenderly she took Xena's hand in her own. Tears formed in the little bard's eyes as the day's events began to overwhelm her.
"No, I am not going to do this!" she said to herself, "Xena needs me and I won't let her down!"
Gabrielle sat back a little and tried to remember everything Xena had taught her about healing. She was so absorbed in her own thoughts that she almost didn't feel the warrior squeezing her hand. Gabrielle looked down and saw Xena's eyes slowly open.
"How do you feel?" Gabrielle asked with the concern showing on her face.
"Thirsty," she the weak reply.
Gabrielle grabbed a waterskin and lifted it to Xena's lips. The warrior drank greedily, gasping for breath when she finished.
"Xena, you've been poisoned by a spider and I need to find an antidote."
"A spider?" Xena looked confused. "Yes, I remember," she shook her head, "no antidote."
"What do you mean? There has got to be a way to treat this!" Gabrielle said with panic starting to show in her voice.
"There is...a moss...that..." Xena's eye's rolled back into her head and she lost consciousness.
"Xena! What moss?" Gabrielle gently shook Xena's shoulders, but the Warrior Princess would not respond. "Think Gabrielle!" the bard mumbled to herself as she racked her brain for the answer. Try as she might, she could not figure out what moss her was talking about.
Gabrielle sat beside Xena, watching over her friend. With each passing moment, the warrior's breathing became more labored. She folded Argo's blanket and carefully placed it under Xena's head and shoulders to ease her breathing. The little bard's heart began to ache. If she didn't figure it out soon, her best friend would die and she would be powerless to prevent it. Silently the tears streamed down her face and dropped onto the blanket below.
"I've failed you Xena, I'm so sorry!" Gabrielle whispered as she wiped the tears from her face.
Worn out from the extreme emotions, she lay down next to Xena and mumbled a small prayer to Athena to help her friend. Sometime during the night the exhausted bard drifted off. Suddenly she sat bolt upright with a strange look on her face.
"Argo, you watch over Xena," Gabrielle said as she pulled on her boots and grabbed a tree limb to use as a torch.
Silently she melted into the forest.
A short time later, the bard returned with a large hand full of a light colored moss. Gabrielle threw the torch into the fire and put the moss down on the blanket beside Xena. With a couple of logs tossed on the fire to increase the light, she grabbed a dagger and some rags out of one of Argo's saddlebags and returned to the warrior's side.
She uncovered Xena down to her waist and gently slipped a bandage around her. Taking a deep breath, she reopened the puncture wound on her friend's right side with the dagger. The blood flowing out of the wound was a strange purple color. Gabrielle quickly pushed some moss into the wound and reached over and repeated the process on the wound in Xena's left side. She tied the bandage to hold the moss in place.
Using the warm water and one of the rags she gently cleansed the sweat off the warrior's face, neck, and chest. She noticed that the purple streaks had spread across Xena's stomach and up towards her heart. Tentatively she ran her finger along one of the streaks and she hoped she had acted in time. She didn't want to think about what would happen if she hadn't. Carefully she covered her friend back up.
There was nothing to do but wait. She gazed at her friend's face as the firelight flickered across it. How many times had she looked at that beautiful face and wondered what was going on beneath the warrior's mask? Xena could hide her pain from most people, but not from Gabrielle. Even though the cause of the pain was not always evident, the little bard always knew when she was hurting. Sometimes she could even feel it. Softly she touched Xena's cheek with the back of her hand.
"Oh Xena! Why won't you let me in? I've tried so hard to show you that your past doesn't matter! You're so afraid that I will leave you if I see the real you. I will always be here for you! How can I convince you of that?"
The rest of the night, Gabrielle held Xena's hand and periodically stroked her hair. By morning, the warrior's breathing was even and deep. As the sun popped over the ridge in the distant east, Xena opened her eyes to find Gabrielle smiling at her.
"I'm glad you're back," the bard said as a single tear rolled down her cheek. Xena smiled weakly. Gabrielle held a waterskin to Xena's lips and gave her a drink.
"What happened?" Xena asked licking the water off her lips.
"You don't remember? For some reason you left camp in the middle of the night, two nights ago. When dawn came, and I discovered that you were missing, I followed your trail. A huge spider bit you and I found you lying in the middle of the stream over there. Beyond that, I'm not sure what happened. Speaking of spiders, I had better check your wounds."
Gabrielle pulled the blanket back and untied the bandage. The moss in both wounds had turned purple from the poison it had drawn out. She noticed that the purple streaks had receded from Xena's chest and the middle of her stomach. The warrior winced slightly as Gabrielle packed fresh moss into the wounds and retied the bandage. After covering Xena with the blanket, Gabrielle placed her hand on the warrior's forehead.
"Your fever has gone and your color looks better," Gabrielle said as she dropped her hand and let it rest softly on Xena's shoulder.
"Are you hungry?"
"No. Just tired."
Xena looked up at Gabrielle and noticed the dark circles around her friend's eyes.
"Why don't you get some sleep, you need the rest," Gabrielle said.
"You look like you could use some rest too. Why don't you lay down, Argo will warn us if someone approaches."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement and settled down beside Xena with her head on the warrior's shoulder.
It was mid afternoon when the bard felt her friend stir. She sat up and handed Xena the waterskin.
"You look better, how do you feel?" Gabrielle asked, taking the waterskin back.
"Much better. Gabrielle, how did you know what kind of moss would draw out the poison?"
"I had a dream," the bard said shyly. "I could see the cave that the moss grows in and I could see the moss. I just had a feeling that this was the moss you were trying to tell me about."
"So, you weren't sure it would work?"
"No," she said looking away from Xena. "But I had to try it. I didn't know what else to do. I...I was afraid you were going to die," Gabrielle said softly with tears silently running down her face.
Xena put her hand on Gabrielle's arm and gave a gentle squeeze. She knew the bard had turned away to hide the tears.
"Are you hungry yet?" Gabrielle asked without turning around. Without waiting for a reply, she continued, "I think I'll try to catch some fish."
Gabrielle pulled her boots off and waded into the stream. Xena watched her slowly work her way up the stream, feeling under the rocks for the fish. She wondered if she sometimes wasn't too hard on her young friend for being emotional. Sometimes she just didn't know how to handle it. She was getting better though. Slowly, she was learning how to comfort Gabrielle and how to let Gabrielle comfort her.
It had been a long time since Xena had opened her heart and allowed anyone inside. Long ago she had buried everything except the pain and the anger. Those were the only two emotions she felt with any intensity. Even the pain turned into anger, because that was the easiest way to deal with it. The emergence of long buried emotions was difficult to deal with. Without her friend's help, Xena knew she could not handle it. A tangible enemy is easy to deal with, but the one inside is not. Looking at Gabrielle, the warrior wondered where she would be without her. It was something that she didn't think about often, but ever since the bard was injured in Thessaly, she had thought about it more often than she wanted.
Xena closed her eyes and sank back down on the blanket. Her body didn't hurt as much and the fiery feeling was gone, but she was very tired. She must have fallen asleep, because she awoke to the sound of Gabrielle rummaging around for a knife. The bard noticed Xena open her eyes.
"The fish will be ready soon. Are you hungry? I'm starved!"
Xena smiled at Gabrielle and watched her string some of the fish on a stick to smoke.
"Looks like the fishing was good."
"Yes, we should have enough fish for several days."
"Gabrielle, will you help me get dressed?"
The little bard frowned, "I don't think you've healed enough to put your leather on, but I will help you with your shift."
Xena tried to sit up by herself, but the pain in her sides made it impossible.
"Let me help you!" Gabrielle chided as she wrapped the remaining fish in clean leaves and put it on to cook.
Grabbing the shift, she knelt down by the Warrior Princess. With her friend's help, the warrior sat up and put on her shift. As she looked up at the bard to thank her, the world suddenly went white and her head started to spin. Gabrielle knew from the look on Xena's face that something was wrong.
"Xena! Xena what is it? What's wrong?" Gabrielle screamed as the warrior fell backwards, her body starting to twitch uncontrollably while her face grimaced in pain.
"Hit me," the warrior said through the convulsions.
"Hit me in the stomach!"
Gabrielle jabbed Xena in the stomach, but the punch had little force behind it.
"Harder!" Xena growled.
The bard hesitated for a moment.
"Do it Gabrielle!" The look in Xena's eyes scared Gabrielle. There was only one other time that Gabrielle had seen such a wild look in Xena's eyes, and that was when Xena thought her father had been killed by the villagers in Lotia.
The young woman doubled up her fist and punched Xena in the stomach as hard as she could. The little bard fell backwards and watched in horror as mist poured from her friend's nose and mouth. The warrior's body rose part way off the blanket as if the mist were pulling her with it as it exited her body. As the last of the mist was expelled, it pooled together and disappeared into the ground.
Gabrielle sat there, not moving or speaking for several moments until she heard Xena hit the ground with a sickening thump. In a flash, she was at her side. The warrior's body was limp and she was barely breathing. The bard tenderly wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her into a close embrace.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called softly as she caressed the warrior's cheek.
No response. The young bard was starting to get anxious and unconsciously pulled Xena closer. "Xena?" A low, guttural moan escaped the injured woman's lips and she slowly opened her eyes. Gabrielle hugged the warrior tightly and held her close for a few minutes. She then gently laid her back down on the blanket.
"Are you okay?" the bard asked as she gently held Xena's face in her hands.
Xena nodded yes.
"What WAS that?" Gabrielle asked.
"I don't know," Xena said looking confused.
Gabrielle stayed close to her friend as they both calmed down. The smell of the cooking fish brought her to the present and she slowly got up and moved to the fire.
She pulled the fish off the fire and unwrapped the leaves to let it cool.
"Xena, are you hungry?"
The warrior nodded and let Gabrielle help her to a sitting position. The fish tasted good and the friends ate in relative silence as each thought about what had just happened. After Gabrielle had finished her fish, she looked at Xena and noticed that the warrior looked a little pale.
"Are you finished?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes," Xena said, the exhaustion evident in her voice.
As Gabrielle put her arms around Xena to lower her back down onto the blanket, the warrior put her head on her friend's shoulder and sank into her arms. The bard was surprised, but more than happy to hold her friend if that's what she needed. Sometimes even a Warrior Princess needs to feel safe.
Gabrielle held Xena until she fell asleep, gently rocking her back and forth. Carefully, she lowered the sleeping warrior onto the blanket and covered her up.
While Xena slept, Gabrielle took care of the smoked fish and tended to Argo. After a long drink and some fresh grass, she brushed the mare's coat and gave her some oats. With the sun poised to set over the mountains, the bard decided that she better find some more firewood.
With an adequate supply of wood now gathered, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and Xena's weapons and sat down beside the warrior. She didn't like the idea of spending another night in this forest and wanted to be prepared, just in case.
As the last rays of light filtered through the trees, Xena woke up.
"Hi, how do you feel?" Gabrielle inquired.
"Much better. Thank you," the warrior said as she looked deep into the bard's eyes. Gabrielle understood what her friend was trying to say and gently stroked the warrior's face with the back of her hand.
"I need to check your sides, okay?"
The bard pulled the blanket down around Xena's waist and gently lifted the warrior's shift exposing the wounds in her sides. She then replaced the moss in each wound and tied the bandage again. She was relieved to see that the purple streaks were almost gone.
"I think most of the poison has been drawn out. You should feel much better in the morning."
Xena smiled faintly and then her expression changed.
"Xena, what is it?"
"I remember something. It was Marcus."
"Yes, I followed him into the forest."
"I don't know, that's what troubles me."
"Do you think the mist had something to do with it?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out!"
Gabrielle added some wood to the fire and Xena arranged her weapons so they were in easy reach.
When the two had first started traveling together, the silence around the campfire at night could be quite uncomfortable. Gabrielle would often try to talk, but getting Xena to do so was impossible. The warrior was used to silence and often preferred it. Now, there was an easiness about the two friends that could only come from their closeness.
Both women were tired and it wasn't long before they were asleep.
The night passed uneventfully and the warrior woke up with the sun. There was a dull ache in her sides and her body felt stiff, but her senses were sharp. She shifted her body and accidentally bumped Gabrielle who jumped up in a defensive position with her staff in hand. The wild look on the bard's face was so funny that Xena started laughing uncontrollably.
"You think that's funny?" Gabrielle said nudging Xena with the end of her staff in feigned anger.
"Yes I do!" Xena said clutching at her sides as she continued to laugh.
The bard sat back down with a thud and smiled at her friend. "You must be feeling better this morning!"
Xena nodded her head and sat up. "Gabrielle, do you remember where that spider is?"
"Good. I want to go back there and take a look around."
"Xena, you're not well...."
"I'm fine Gabrielle."
The bard knew from the look on Xena's face that she was determined and there was no way that she was going to change her mind. With a sigh, Gabrielle relented and went to retrieve some biscuits from one of Argo's saddlebags and a couple of the smoked fish. She handed Xena a biscuit and a fish and sat down to eat her own breakfast.
The bard looked over at her friend; "You know something, don't you!"
The warrior looked up, "I'm not sure yet, but Ate may be involved."
"Ate? You mean another god is after you?"
"Goddess," Xena corrected, "She's the goddess of hate."
Gabrielle looked up and caught Xena's gaze.
"If Ate is involved, then this whole thing may have been a test," she said without breaking eye contact with the bard.
"What kind of test?"
Xena looked away from Gabrielle, unsure how to best answer her question. Discussing their relationship was not easy for her. "A test to see how close we are," she finally said.
"I don't understand?"
The Warrior Princess looked uncomfortable with having to explain.
"Ate is the goddess of hate. She wants people to hate. Before you, that was all I really felt," Xena's voice trailed off. After a moment, she continued, "I think she knows that if something happened to you, that I would..."
"No Xena! You promised me!" Gabrielle interrupted, grabbing the warrior by the shoulders. The fury in the bard's voice startled Xena. "You promised me that no matter what, that you would not become a monster!"
Gabrielle sat back a bit and watched Xena, trying to determine what she was feeling.
"Gabrielle, I want you to..."
"I'm not leaving Xena."
"Gabrielle, you could be in danger!"
"So could you!" Gabrielle's expression softened, "Xena you would have died if I hadn't been here!" The bard reached out and lightly caressed her friend's cheek. "I know that you are just trying to protect me, but my place is here, by your side!"
The warrior and bard locked eyes for a moment, and then Xena pulled her friend into a close embrace.
Gabrielle got up and went over to Argo's saddlebags and returned with some clean, soft rags. "Lay back," she commanded and softly pushed Xena back. An obedient patient, the warrior reclined and closed her eyes. She didn't want her young friend to see the worry there.
Gabrielle untied the bandage and removed the moss. She then folded the rags and covered the wounds. With the bandage secured, she stood up and offered to help Xena up. Slowly, the warrior stood.
With the bard's help, Xena put her leather and armor back on. The leather was stiff and there were a couple of holes from the spider, but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Gabrielle packed up their belongings while Xena watered and fed Argo. Usually the Warrior Princess saddled her mare, but this time the little bard did it. As she adjusted and tightened the saddle, she watched Argo nuzzle Xena as the warrior rubbed the horse's neck.
"Xena, do you want me to help you up?"
"No, I think I'll walk for a while."
They headed toward the clearing where Xena had killed the spider. The bard moved at a slow pace, but it wasn't long before Xena mounted Argo. It was less painful to ride.
They could smell the decaying spider long before they walked into the clearing. Xena could see the dead spider hanging in its web. She gingerly climbed off of Argo and stood by Gabrielle.
"Does anything look familiar?" the bard asked.
"Vaguely," Xena said as she knelt next to the imprint that her body had made in the soil two days before. She stood and walked over to what was left of the spider web. "This is where Marcus disappeared."
"Do you remember anything else?"
"No," the warrior said unsheathing her sword and cutting the web away from the boulder.
Xena mounted Argo and put her hand out for Gabrielle, "Come on, we're both going to ride." The bard gave Xena an inquisitive look but extended her hand and let the warrior help her up. She slid her arms around her friend's waist, mindful of her wounds, and held on.
"Where are we going?" Gabrielle asked.
"I want to know where Marcus was taking me," she said.
The trail they were following took them deeper into the forest towards the mountains. The hair on the back of Gabrielle's neck was sticking up again. She thought about saying something to Xena but didn't, thinking that her over active imagination was getting the better of her. Instead, she rested her head on the warrior's back and let the rocking motion of Argo's gait assuage her fear.
It was late in the afternoon when the trail started to wind it's way up the side of the mountain. The change in Argo's gait had brought Gabrielle out of her daydream and she could tell from Xena's posture that she was exhausted. Xena guided Argo off of the trail and over to a small, level area near the face of a small cliff.
"We'll camp here for the night."
Xena's voice was high and tight and Gabrielle could tell that she was in a lot of pain.
The bard slid off Argo's back and positioned herself to help her friend down. With great effort, the warrior swung her leg over and dismounted. Gabrielle quickly slipped her right arm around her friend's waist, while pulling Xena's left arm around her shoulders. Grateful for the help, the warrior let her friend lead her to a tree. With a slight wince from the pain, she sat down and watched as Gabrielle made camp.
Xena had mixed emotions about the young bard's presence. She knew the bard was in danger, and that bothered her, but she was also glad that she chose to stay.
The warrior closed her eyes and drifted off. The crack of rock against rock woke her up. She opened her eyes to see Gabrielle starting a fire. It would be cold tonight. The temperature had already dropped several degrees in the short time since they had stopped. Xena tried to move, but her body had stiffened up. She looked over at Argo, who was tethered to a nearby tree, happily eating oats.
Gabrielle blew on the smoking tinder and the fire sprang to life. With a pleased look on her face, she approached Xena and held her hands out. Grabbing the bard by the wrists, the warrior slowly pulled herself to a standing position and walked over to the fire to warm up. Gabrielle had already spread their blankets out next to the fire and Xena sat down on hers, laying her sword beside her. The bard sat down next to her friend and handed her a smoked fish and some berries that she had found while out gathering firewood.
While they ate, the little bard kept looking over at her friend. She was worried about her. The poison had been drawn out of Xena's body, but she was still weak and in no condition to fight.
"Are you in much pain?" Gabrielle asked.
Gabrielle didn't believe her. Xena ate the berries and some of the fish and then stretched out to sleep. The sun dipped below the treetops and the temperature started to drop. Gabrielle tossed some more wood on the fire and carefully covered the slumbering warrior up. She sat there for awhile as the light faded, watching her friend sleep. As was her custom, the bard was going to record the events of the past few days, but she was so tired that she put the blank parchment down. As soon as her head touched the ground, she was asleep.
In the dim light of the moon, a strange mist rolled down the face of the cliff and surrounded Gabrielle. Slowly, the mist disappeared into the young woman's body.
A cloud covered the moon and the night became very dark. Gabrielle was dreaming of Perdicus and the life they would never share. They were outside of Poteidaia in a beautiful green field having a picnic. Perdicus was gathering wildflowers to give to Gabrielle while she wrote a beautiful story on a piece of parchment.
"Gabrielle! Come with me!" Perdicus beckoned her to follow him.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and saw Perdicus standing there with an outstretched hand. Even though the bard's eyes were open, she still saw the green field outside of Poteidaia.
"I'm coming Perdicus!" Gabrielle put the parchment down and stood up, letting her blanket dropped to the ground. Perdicus smiled and took her hand in his.
"Come with me, I have something to show you," he said.
Hand in hand they walked off into the night. Perdicus lead Gabrielle along the same path that Xena and Gabrielle had been following. It was very cold but she didn't notice. In her mind they were in Poteidaia. The path went farther up the mountain and entered a narrow, deep canyon. The canyon path was barely wide enough for a horse, with the mountain on one side and a steep drop-off on the other. Perdicus and Gabrielle walked arm in arm and the bard didn't notice that her right foot kept slipping off the trail. Halfway up the canyon, the path was on solid rock. At a sharp bend in the path, Perdicus stopped Gabrielle and turned her to face him.
"I have to tell you something Gabrielle, but you won't want to hear it."
"What is it, Perdicus?" the bard said smiling at him.
Perdicus grabbed Gabrielle by the arms, "It's Xena, she's using you! She doesn't really care about you! She's just trying to get to the Elysian Fields!" Perdicus' voice had turned cold and full of hate.
"Perdicus! What are you talking about? Xena's my best friend!"
"No she isn't Gabrielle, I am!" said Perdicus, tightening his grip on Gabrielle's arms.
"Perdicus, you're hurting me!" the little bard screamed.
"Xena's just using you! If she really cared about you she wouldn't have let Callisto kill me, would she!"
The young woman looked stunned. She didn't know what to say. "No Perdicus! You're wrong! Xena IS my friend!" said Gabrielle as she tried to pull free of his grip. Right before the bard's eyes, Perdicus changed into Xena. The last thing she heard was "I hate you Gabrielle!" as she was pushed over the edge into the dark canyon below.
Gabrielle couldn't believe her eyes or ears and then she abruptly realized that she was not in Poteidaia and that she was falling backwards into the night.
As the first rays of light appeared in the valley below, Xena opened her eyes. The first thing she noticed was Gabrielle's absence. The warrior jumped to her feet despite the pain and stiffness in her body. Lying on top of the bard's blanket was a piece of parchment. She snatched it up and started to read
I'm leaving. I only joined you to find adventure and I can do that
on my own now. Don't come after me because you won't find me. I don't
need you. I can take care of myself.
The letter was left unsigned, but Xena recognized Gabrielle's handwriting. She stood there for a moment, not wanting to believe what she was reading. The letters on the parchment blurred as tears fill her eyes and she started to shake violently.
"Noooo!" Xena screamed as she sunk to her knees and buried her head in Gabrielle's blanket.
"This can't be happening!" she thought as sobs wracked her body. The one thing that she feared most had finally happened! Gabrielle had left her.
Xena could feel the numbness creeping into her heart and soul. It was the only way she could deal with her pain. She looked up with a tear stained face and stared at the valley below her.
"It's not real, it can't be!" There was a pleading in Xena's voice that no mortal had every heard before.
She looked at the parchment again. The handwriting was indeed Gabrielle's, but the words were not, they couldn't be.
"She wouldn't do this to me!" Xena looked around the camp and noticed that Gabrielle had not taken her staff or anything else.
"Ate!" the warrior screamed. "It won't work! I will not turn into a monster again! Do you hear me!" Xena rolled up the parchment and tucked it into her gauntlet for safekeeping.
The Warrior Princess quickly packed up camp and set out to find Gabrielle. She followed the bard's trail up the mountain and into the canyon. At the mouth of the canyon, she climbed off Argo. It would be easier to lead the mare by her reins. Xena noticed that Gabrielle had almost slipped off of the trail several times. In each of the places where the bard had slipped, she looked down into the canyon with trepidation, expecting to see her friend dead at the bottom. Halfway up the canyon, her trail disappeared. Xena followed the path a little further up the canyon, but she could find no trace of her friend. Coming back to the place where Gabrielle's trail ended, she stopped to rest and think.
Something was bothering Argo. She kept pulling at her reins and looking over the edge into the canyon below.
"What is it Argo?"
Xena stood next to the mare and peered into the canyon. At first she couldn't see anything but trees and an occasional glimpse of the stream that ran through the canyon. Then she saw her, lying at the bottom of the canyon in the branches of a huge tree.
"Gabrielle! Can you hear me? Gabrielle!"
There was no response. It was a long way down to the canyon floor and it was too steep for Xena to climb down. Frantically looking around for a way down, the warrior noticed that the canyon opened up a short distance away. Running as fast as she could up the canyon trail, she found a way down. There was not a trail in the bottom of the canyon so she had to follow the stream back down. Coming around a bend, she spotted Gabrielle.
The color drained from the warrior's face and her heart started to race when she saw her bard hanging in the branches. She was lying awkwardly across a large limb with the lower half of her body dangling free. Xena couldn't figure out how Gabrielle was staying on the branch until she saw the wood sticking out of her shoulder. She had been impaled on a broken branch. Blood ran down the little bard's right arm and dripped into a pool at the base of the tree.
A shudder shook Xena's body as she realized that it would be a miracle if Gabrielle were still alive. The warrior grabbed her whip out of Argo's saddlebag and with a quick flip of her arm, wrapped the end of the whip around a branch and pulled herself up to the impaled bard. Gingerly, she reached out a trembling hand to see if the bard was breathing. A sense of relief flooded Xena as she felt warm breath on the back of her hand. She knew that the tree branch was stemming the flow of blood from the wound. If she moved Gabrielle off of the branch, she might bleed to death before the wound could be cauterized.
There was no place to camp in the canyon, so she knew that she would have to move Gabrielle back to their old campsite. She threw her whip over a branch directly above Gabrielle and tied the end of the whip around her friend. Xena hopped out of the tree and drew her sword. Pulling down slightly on the handle of the whip exposed the base of the branch that Gabrielle was impaled on. With one carefully placed stroke of her sword, she cut the branch away from the limb and freed her friend. Xena gently lowered the bard, cradling her in her left arm while she untied the whip. She carefully examined the injured woman and found that she had a badly bruised ankle and a rather large bump on her head, but no broken bones.
Xena gently picked her up and laid her across Argo's saddle. By the time they made it out of the canyon, and back to the campsite, it was late afternoon. She gently placed Gabrielle on her side on a blanket and then started a fire, placing a dagger near the flames. She retrieved the necessary items to treat her friend's injuries from Argo's saddlebag.
Kneeling next to her friend, Xena loosened her top and slipped it off. She prepared to remove the piece of wood. With the hot dagger in one hand, she used the other hand to quickly pull the wood out. The wound bled profusely when the wood was removed and Xena could smell the searing flesh as she plunged the dagger in. She had done this many times before, but this time the smell made her sick.
With the bleeding stopped, she took a clean cloth and wiped the excess blood off of Gabrielle's shoulder and chest. She then bandaged the wound and covered the little bard with a blanket. She pulled Gabrielle's boots off and tightly wrapped her injured ankle. She then covered the bard with another blanket. Leaning back against the face of the cliff, the warrior fell into a fitful sleep as exhaustion over took her.
It was almost dark when she woke up. It would be cold again tonight and their supply of firewood was low. She fed and watered Argo after removing the saddle and left to find some more wood. After building up the fire, Xena sat with her back against the face of the cliff and pulled a blanket over her legs. In the flickering firelight, she removed the piece of parchment from her gauntlet and read it again. She was almost certain that Ate was behind this, but a nagging doubt lingered. The warrior looked over at her beloved bard and then back at the parchment before she rolled it up and tucked it back in her gauntlet.
Her last thoughts were of the injured young woman and the hope that her worst fear had not become a reality.
When Xena woke up in the morning, Gabrielle hadn't moved. The warrior revived the fire and grabbed a rag and the waterskin that she'd left by the fire last night. She wet the rag with the warm water and tenderly cleansed the dirt and dried blood from the bard's face and body. She slipped a large, soft shirt that Gabrielle often slept in over the bard's head and very carefully pulled her arms into the sleeves. The shirt had a large neck and a slit in the front so she could easily tend to the bard's shoulder without having to remove it. As she worked, an overwhelming sense of guilt filled her heart.
"It's all my fault Gabrielle! I knew you were in danger and I didn't protect you! I wouldn't blame you if you really did want to leave." A single tear rolled down Xena's cheek and dropped into the dirt below. Taking a deep breath, she tried to gain control of her emotions. She stood up and realized that she hadn't eaten in a long time. Looking for firewood last night, Xena noticed the bush where Gabrielle had found the berries a couple of days ago. Grabbing a waterskin to fill on the way, she went to gather some berries and fill the skin.
When she returned, the bard still had not moved. Xena ate the berries and sat down next to Gabrielle with the skin of fresh, cool water and a clean rag. The bump on the young woman's head had turned a nasty purple-black color and the swelling had not gone down. Xena soaked the rag in cool water and gently placed it on the bump.
Argo, who had patiently been waiting since last night, whinnied and pawed at the ground demanding attention. The warrior complied and brushed Gabrielle's blood out of the mare's coat. Xena then turned her attention to her saddle and removed the dried blood from it.
The warrior wet the rag on Gabrielle's head again. She was starting to get worried. The little bard should have regained consciousness by now. Xena sat next to her friend and let the emotional war inside of her rage. Fear, anger, frustration and guilt were tormenting her heart. With the back of her fingers, she stroked Gabrielle's cheek.
"Please come back!" she whispered.
With a heavy heart, Xena leaned back against the cliff and closed her eyes as she struggled to stop the tears. Her senses were so overloaded that she failed to notice Gabrielle move. With a start, the warrior opened her eyes to find the injured bard standing over her; her own sword leveled at her heart.
"You tried to kill me!" Gabrielle growled.
Xena sat there momentarily shocked. "Gabrielle, what are you talking about?"
"You pushed me into the canyon! You said you hated me and then you pushed me over!" Gabrielle screamed.
The warrior looked at the bard's eyes and realized that both eyes were entirely white. With a swift upward kick, Xena knocked the tip of the sword away and jumped to her feet. That kick should have knocked the sword from Gabrielle's hand but didn't.
"Gabrielle, you've got to listen to me! The mist is controlling you!" the warrior said as she picked up the bard's staff.
Gabrielle thrust the sword at Xena who easily blocked it with the staff.
"I didn't try to kill you, you've got to believe me! Ate is behind this!"
The two women circled around the fire pit. Gabrielle leapt over the fire pit to confront Xena.
"It was you! I saw you with my own eyes!"
The bard lifted the sword over her head and brought it down hard, attempting to bury the blade in Xena's skull. With two hands on the staff, the warrior raised it over her head and blocked the blow. She didn't notice the parchment fall out of her gauntlet.
With the warrior's arms over her head, her body was exposed and Gabrielle landed a solid roundhouse to her left side. Xena crumpled to her knees in pain. Out of reflex, she swept the bard's feet knocking her hard on her back. The warrior staggered to her feet as the bard jumped up. Gabrielle raised the sword above her head and ran at the warrior. Xena whipped the staff around and caught the charging bard hard in the stomach with the end. The little bard crumpled to ground and dropped the sword.
Xena swiftly picked her sword up and twirled it in her hand. The mist poured from Gabrielle's nose and mouth, lifting her limp body like a string puppet. As the last of the mist left the bard's body she crumpled to the ground in a heap.
The mist swirled around and formed into Marcus. Xena leveled her sword at Marcus' throat.
"It's not going to work Ate!"
Marcus dematerialized and the mist swirled again, changing into the goddess Ate.
"Xena, what happened to you? Your heart used to be filled with hate and rage. For every villager you killed, you left several behind to hate you. You might have worked for Ares, but you worshipped me! Come back Xena and I will once again fill your heart with hatred!"
The warrior looked over at the crumpled form of Gabrielle and back at Ate. "No," she said simply and threw her sword down.
Ate's face filled with rage. "This isn't over Xena!"
Xena stared at Ate as she dissolved into mist and disappeared into the ground. When the goddess was gone she knelt beside the injured bard. Worried that Gabrielle had re-opened the wound on her shoulder, she carefully peeled the bandage back. The wound was bleeding but probably would not need to be cauterized again.
Grabbing some clean bandages she packed the wound off. Tenderly, she picked up Gabrielle and cradled her in her arms. Worn out from physical exertion and emotional turmoil, Xena walked over and sat down against the cliff, still cradling her friend. Hugging the bard tightly, she let the tears flow.
"How many times have you been hurt because of me?"
Xena sat there a long time, holding Gabrielle and silently crying. When she could no longer cry, she stood and carried Gabrielle over to her blanket. As gently as she could, she placed the bard on the blanket and covered her up. She sat there holding her friend's hand until the last rays of light faded.
With the temperature dropping, she started a fire and gave Argo some oats and water. Xena returned to Gabrielle's side and slipped her hand around the bard's.
Late in the night, Xena opened her eyes to find Gabrielle watching her.
"Xena, what happened?"
"I found you in the bottom of a canyon, injured."
"How did I get there?"
"Shhh," Xena whispered, smiling at Gabrielle, "we'll talk in the morning!"
Gabrielle squeezed her friend's hand and closed her eyes.
Still holding her friend's hand, Xena snuggled up next to the bard and fell asleep. When she woke up, she didn't dare move for fear of disturbing Gabrielle. She gazed at her friend's face and gratitude filled her heart. Closing her eyes, and in a hushed voice, the warrior spoke,"I was lost in darkness Until you came, To lighten my life And restore my name. I lived in anger, And a world of hate. To Tartarus born I controlled my fate. With a heart of stone And a sword of steel, I sent to Hades Against their will. Reborn of sorrow For loss of life, To the world I come Full of strife. A beacon guides me On my way, As I strive for justice Every day. That light is you, My eternal friend. Our souls are joined To the very end."
Xena wiped the tears from her eyes. As carefully as she could, she let go of Gabrielle's hand and stood up. Slowly stretching, she winced at the pain in her side. The spot where she had been kicked was tender.
The cool morning air was invigorating and the warrior decided to take Argo for a walk. There was a small pond at the bottom of the ravine next to the campsite. Leading her mare by the reins, Xena headed for the pond. There was an abundance of sweet grass around the water's edge and Xena let Argo graze freely.
Dipping her hands into the cold water, Xena washed her face and arms. With Argo now watered and fed, she returned to camp. As the warrior came over the top of the ravine, she spotted Gabrielle sitting up with her head in her one good hand. Xena looped Argo's reins around a tree branch and approached the smaller woman.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?"
The little bard raised her head to reveal a tear-stained face. Xena was puzzled until she saw the parchment in the bard's lap. The warrior swallowed hard, she didn't know what to say so she sat down next to Gabrielle.
"Xena, I...where did you get this?" the bard inquired with fresh tears streaming down her face.
"I found it on your blanket the morning after you left," Xena said, turning slightly to face Gabrielle and trying not to let her voice quiver. The fear and panic from the first time the warrior read the parchment returned. She felt more tension in the air now than in any battle she had ever fought. She knew that Gabrielle didn't mean the things that were written on the parchment, but she desperately needed to hear it from the little bard herself.
Gabrielle sat there, trying to read the expression on her friend's face. She couldn't remember writing this, but she knew her own hand had penned it. She looked at the warrior and felt the hot tears on her cheeks increase.
"I feel like I've betrayed you," the little bard said softly.
Xena closed her eyes, unaccustomed to the intense feelings washing over her.
Gabrielle didn't know how to interpret the response, so she continued speaking.
"Xena, this is not how I feel! I would never say these things to you! Please say you believe me!"
The Warrior Princess closed her eyes tighter, trying to stem the flow of tears threatening to break free. It was a losing battle.
Gabrielle saw the tears rolling down Xena's face and realized that the words on the parchment had hurt her more that any physical wound ever could. She slipped her hand around the warrior's and gave a slight squeeze.
"Xena, can you ever forgive me?"
Xena tightened her grip on her friend's hand and slowly opened her eyes. The pain in the warrior's eyes broke the little bard's heart and she let go of Xena's hand and instinctively pulled her close.
"Oh Xena, I am so sorry," Gabrielle whispered.
Xena felt Gabrielle's strong embrace and all resistance melted away. She sank into the bard's arms and listened as their hearts beat in time together. For the first time since her childhood, Xena felt that someone loved her for who she really is. A sob escaped from her lips and Gabrielle held her tighter, knowing that for the first time, no walls stood between them. It was then that she realized just how much Xena cared for her.
Xena pulled away from Gabrielle and looked directly into her eyes. Taking the bard's hand in her own, she started to explain what had happened.
"None of this was your fault Gabrielle! Ate was behind this. She knows that I need your help to stay on the right path. Without you, she thought I would return to my old ways."
"Ate did this to me?"
Gabrielle dropped her gaze and looked at the ground, pulling her hand out of the warrior's.
"I remember that I tried to kill you," Gabrielle said, choking on the words.
"Gabrielle, it wasn't you! It was Ate! She turned into a mist and invaded your body just as she did mine. She was controlling you. It wasn't your fault! You have to believe that!"
"I know that, but I still feel guilty."
"Do you really think you could have killed me?" Xena said with a slight smile on her face.
Gabrielle looked up and smiled through her tears, "No!"
The warrior smiled and pulled the bard into her strong arms. Pulling back slightly, she wiped an errant strand of hair from the bard's face.
"How does your shoulder feel?"
"It hurts, but I'll live,"
"That arm will have to be immobilized for a while. I'll make a sling for you."
Xena went to Argo's saddlebag and took out a long piece of material and tied the ends together.
"Are you hungry?" Xena asked, putting the sling over Gabrielle's head and slipping her arm into it.
The bard bit down hard on her lip and waited for the pain to subside, "You know I am!"
Xena laughed and retrieved the last of the smoked fish and handed them to Gabrielle. While the hungry bard ate, the warrior saddled Argo and prepared to leave.
"Xena, where are my boots?"
"Packed, you won't be able to pull your boot over that ankle for a day or two. We'll both ride Argo."
Xena led the mare over to Gabrielle. The warrior scooped her friend up into her powerful arms and held her close before placing her on Argo's back. The Warrior Princess climbed on behind and slipped an arm around the bard's waist. Gently she pulled her friend back until the bard was resting against her. With a click of her tongue, she urged Argo to head west, grateful to be leaving this strange place behind.
I am but a humble bard and without your comments, I have no way of knowing the value of my work.
* This poem is called Whisper from the Heart. Copyright (c) 1997 D.R. Millard
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