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LEGAL DISCLAIMER: 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. Absolutely no aspect of this story (e.g. ideas, images, dialog etc.) contained within may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent 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.
EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of extreme 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.
HURT/COMFORT WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story may be best classified as a Hurt/Comfort Story involving the characters Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.
LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: 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.
PLEASE NOTE!!!!! Warnings/Disclaimers are included with this piece of fan fiction to enable readers to judge whether it is of interest to them. Their inclusion is an attempt by the author to prevent any individual from being overly disturbed or distressed by this story and are intended to be taken seriously as a comment about the nature of the story. After reading the Warnings posted, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether this piece of fan fiction is of interest to them or whether it might be more appropriate for them to read something else instead.
Feedback and comments are more than welcome and should be directed to email@example.com.
The Third Wheel
(c) February 1997 (Revised Fall 1997)
Author’s Note: This story takes place shortly after the X:WP episode A Day In the Life.
Gabrielle tried not to laugh at the terrified expression on the face of the grubby little man standing before her. She couldn’t keep a smile entirely off her own face, though, as she rose to stand beside her friend. Only moments before, the poor fool had been threatening Gabrielle, as she sat beside the road waiting for Xena to return. Now he looked as if he expected to be on his way to meet Hades at any moment. The funniest part about all of this was that when she’d arrived, Xena hadn’t said a word to him. She had completely ignored him, turning her attention to Gabrielle instead. Pushing past the man, she had asked the bard if she was ready to go, before helping her to her feet. The man had tried to stop them from leaving, apparently under the mistaken impression that two women would be as easy a target as one. Xena, however, had simply stared at him silently, a cold, malevolent gleam in her eyes and a feral sneer on her lips. Within seconds, the man was hastily backing away, as he found himself keenly aware of his own mortality.
Xena was silent until they were out of earshot of Gabrielle’s would-be harasser. "Are you alright?" she finally asked gruffly.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior with a touch of surprise. "I’m fine. I don’t think he actually got there more than 30 or 40 seconds before you did."
Xena paused for a moment to take a careful look at her friend. Her eyes searched the young woman’s face to ensure that she was telling the truth. Gabrielle smiled to herself when she saw the warm look Xena gave her, but frowned inwardly when she saw that look vanish almost as soon as it appeared. It was replaced by a distant, almost cold expression. Nodding silently, Xena began walking down the road again, leaving Gabrielle to follow behind.
Gabrielle sighed to herself in frustration. This had been going on for months. There were times when she thought she was finally getting through to the warrior, and she felt she had been accepted into Xena’s life. Unfortunately, these times were nearly always followed by periods in which Xena locked her emotions tightly inside and threw up an impenetrable barrier between them. She had tried time and time again to figure out what had started all of this. At first, she had thought it might have had something to do with Perdicus and Callisto; those events had taken their toll on the both of them. But further speculation convinced her that, even though that situation might have aggravated the problem, it wasn’t the actual cause. Xena had been acting like this long before Perdicus had come back into their lives. On several occasions, Gabrielle had tried to ask Xena about what was bothering her but, as usual, the taciturn warrior refused to admit that there was anything wrong.
Lately, Xena seemed to be even more temperamental than usual. Gabrielle suspected that this was due, at least in part, to the fact that they had been experiencing a rather high degree of inaction. Other than a few bands of thieves and ruffians who had foolishly tried to bother them, the past few weeks had been rather uneventful. Now they were headed to the village of Trezine to buy a few supplies and, if Gabrielle had her way, to get a hot meal and spend the night in a clean bed.
"Xena, I’ve been thinking. We’re in no hurry to get any place in particular are we?" Gabrielle asked.
"Not really. Why?" Xena responded absently.
"Oh, I just thought that maybe we could spend the night at an inn. I could tell my stories to someone else for a change, give you a break for awhile."
"Tempting offer," Xena replied, hiding a grin. "I guess it wouldn’t hurt to spend a night in the village, but let’s wait ‘til we get there and have a look around before we decide." Xena saw Gabrielle nod in agreement, and the pair continued their steady pace towards the village.
It was late morning when the two women neared Trezine. Suddenly, Xena stopped short and stood absolutely still.
"Xena wh....," Gabrielle began, but stopped when the warrior held up her hand in warning and turned her head to listen intently.
As Gabrielle fell silent, she heard faint shouts and screams coming from somewhere up ahead. Looking up, she saw a thin trail of smoke arcing towards the sky. It seemed to be coming from the village they had been approaching.
"Come on!" Xena yelled, as she swung onto Argo and began to race down the road, leaving Gabrielle to follow as fast as she could on foot.
It didn’t take long for Xena to reach the last hill overlooking Trezine. Her lips curled into a sneer when she saw the "soldiers" who were raiding the village. "Butchers!" she muttered angrily, as she urged Argo to greater speeds. Screaming her battle cry, she charged down into the village. Vaulting off her horse, she landed between a soldier and a young girl he was chasing. As the stunned soldier froze in astonishment, Xena backhanded him into the side of a building, knocking him unconscious. "One down, 20 or so to go," she murmured, before drawing her chakram and looking for a target.
Gabrielle arrived at the village several minutes after Xena. Looking down from the hill, she could see more than a dozen soldiers were still fighting, although here and there she saw a man lying on the ground. Catching her breath, she ran into the village as fast as she could and began laying into the attackers with her staff. Catching sight of a soldier beating an old man, she cracked her staff over the soldier’s back, driving him to the ground. When he struggled to rise, she quickly hit him on the side of the head, knocking him out cold. Another warrior attacked her and she swiftly brought up her staff, parrying his sword. Spinning around, she drove her weapon into his midsection, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to gasp for air. Moving effortlessly, she used her staff to sweep his legs out from under him. He was left lying on the ground, lacking the strength or the will to attack anyone anymore.
The battle continued, but it was soon obvious to Gabrielle that the tide had turned. She frequently caught sight of Xena moving rapidly from one spot to another and occasionally heard her voice as she taunted her opponents. The soldiers, though, had had enough, and began a panicky retreat, not even bothering to try and recover their wounded comrades. Smiling in relief, Gabrielle turned to look for Xena. She caught sight of her leaning against a building, looking tired, but otherwise fine. As she wandered over to join the warrior, she was forced to detour around the smoking remains of a burned out house, momentarily losing sight of her friend. When she stepped back around the debris, she froze in shock at the scene being played out before her. Xena had dropped her sword and was kneeling on the ground, while a large armored man loomed over her. The Warrior Princess was looking up at her attacker, her eyes reflecting utter astonishment. As Gabrielle moved forward towards the two, she realized that her friend was struggling to speak, but was having extreme difficulty doing so. Suddenly, the man spoke....
"I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You’ll be dead in seconds unless I release you. Tell me Xena, can you give me a single reason why I should?"
Xena struggled to stay focused, as she felt the life draining from her body. "Cor?...Cor it’s not...what you think...."
Stepping forward, Gabrielle brought up her staff to threaten Xena’s attacker. "Release her...NOW!" she ordered, fear and anxiety giving force to her words.
The man glanced at her in surprise and looked her over carefully. Then, with a speed Gabrielle wouldn’t have thought possible, he reached out and grabbed her staff. Effortlessly twisting it out of her grasp, he tossed it away. "This doesn’t concern you," he said calmly, as he turned back towards Xena.
Glancing at her friend, Gabrielle realized that she didn’t have much time left. She looked around desperately for a weapon to use and saw Xena’s sword lying on the ground. Quickly, she reached down to pick it up and then pointed it towards the man.
"No Gabrielle!" Xena gasped, fear for her friend’s safety lending strength to her voice. "Don’t do it! Drop the sword!"
The man turned to face Gabrielle. "I don’t know who you are," he said slowly, "But I won’t let Xena go free to continue attacking villages. Her men will just have to do without her."
Desperation and hope flared within Gabrielle. "No you’re wrong! She wasn’t attacking this village. We came to help."
"Xena, Warrior Princess, helping villagers?" he scoffed, but he looked at Xena appraisingly while he said it.
Gabrielle dropped Xena’s sword, realizing that it would do no good to threaten this man. Tears began to fall down her cheeks, as she saw the light beginning to go out of Xena’s eyes. "Please, you have to believe me. She’s changed. Ask the villagers if you don’t believe me, but first let her go."
"Is it true Xena? Have you really changed? Do you swear by Ares that you are no longer the warlord I once knew?" he asked her, the intensity of his gaze burning deep into her soul.
"Coriath, I swear...by Athena...that I have...have finally found...my way," Xena choked out, as her eyes began to close.
Coriath breathed in sharply and his arms flashed forward. His fingers struck Xena’s neck, releasing her from the grip of the deadly touch he’d placed on her. As she began to fall forward, he caught her arm to support her, earning a grateful look from the Warrior Princess. "I’m sorry my friend, I had no idea," he murmured regretfully.
"It’s all right, Cor. I understand," Xena said hoarsely.
"Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle asked. Moving to her side, she deliberately placed herself between Xena and her attacker, forcing him to relinquish his hold on her friend.
"I’m fine Gabrielle, just give me a second okay?" Xena smiled reassuringly at Gabrielle and then started to rise, leaning against the bard as she did so. With a bit of difficulty, she managed to stand. When she tried to take a step forward, however, she staggered and fell once again.
"XENA!" Gabrielle cried, reaching out quickly to catch her friend, before she could fall to the ground. As she caught Xena, the warrior moaned in pain. Pulling back the arm she had wrapped around Xena’s waist, Gabrielle saw that her hand was covered in blood. "What did you do to her?" she hissed at the stunned man standing next to her.
"No Gabrielle, Cor didn’t do it. He didn’t even know about it," Xena whispered weakly. "I got careless, a soldier got lucky. It’s a minor injury. I’ll be fine. Just let me rest a moment."
Coriath moved towards the two women. "Let me check your wound, Xena. Come on, sit down over here while I take a look." Ignoring Xena’s protests and Gabrielle’s icy stares, he reached out to support her and to help Gabrielle move her to a place where she could sit down comfortably. Before they had gone more than a couple of steps, however, Xena collapsed completely.
"Xena! Xena wake up!" Gabrielle begged frantically, as she dropped to her knees beside her friend. She watched suspiciously as Coriath placed two fingers gently against Xena’s throat. "Her pulse is a little weak but it’s steady. I’ve got to get a look at that wound." Without another word, Coriath swept Xena up into his arms. "Come on," he ordered Gabrielle tersely, as he walked as rapidly as he could towards the inn.
Gabrielle was torn with indecision. She had no intention of trusting this man who, moments before, had nearly killed Xena. But for now, she couldn’t see that she had any other options than to accept his help. Frustrated, and almost out of her mind with worry for her friend, Gabrielle had no choice but to follow. As she reached down to pick up Xena’s sword, she caught sight of Argo standing off to the side. She ran over to the mare and grabbed her reins. Leading the horse to the inn, she took care to keep Xena and Coriath in view at all times. Reaching the tavern, she hastily tied Argo to a railing and grabbed the saddle bags. "I promise that I’ll be back to take care of you as soon as I can," she reassured the horse, before hurrying into the inn after Xena.
"Tobin? Tobin?" Coriath called out, as he stood in the main room of the tavern.
The innkeeper came out to where they were standing. "Yes, Coriath, what do you....what happened to her?" he asked anxiously when he saw Xena.
"She’s hurt. I need hot water sent up to my room, along with a bottle of the strongest stuff you’ve got."
"Of course, anything at all. I’ve already heard stories of her heroism during the fight. She saved many of my friends and neighbors from the soldiers and for that I’m in her debt."
Coriath nodded emotionlessly as he turned towards the stairs, but Gabrielle thought she noted a flash of relief cross his features. "Thanks, I’ll let you know if I need anything else," he called over his shoulder as he reached the stairs. He climbed them rapidly, his long legs taking them two at a time, while Gabrielle ran to keep up with him. Reaching the landing, he walked a short way down the hall and then waited outside a door for Gabrielle to catch up and open it for them. Moving inside, he carefully placed Xena down on the bed, then rolled her over to examine her wound. Gabrielle could see a jagged tear in the leather on her right side, just above the waist. The leather was stained dark with Xena’s blood. Coriath shook his head. "I can’t see anything with all her armor on. Come on, help me get it off."
Moving as swiftly and carefully as they could, they removed Xena’s armor and leathers. Gabrielle swallowed hard and tried to remain calm, despite the fact that she could feel a dagger twisting deep within her soul. When Xena was wearing nothing more than her shift, Coriath looked up at Gabrielle. "She has more of these, right?" he asked, pointing to what Xena was wearing. Gabrielle nodded at him, a bit confused by the question. "Good, then this won’t matter. No sense letting anything get in the way." Drawing a knife, he reached down and cut the garment away from the wound. Making several more cuts, he removed the shift completely, leaving Xena lying prone and naked on the bed before them. He smiled wryly, as he bent over Xena to examine her injury. Gabrielle started to protest, but then changed her mind. After all, Xena wasn’t exactly known for her modesty. But, she decided, this man needed to be watched closely.
As he began to gently use his fingers to inspect the wound, they heard a knock on the door. Glancing first at Coriath, Gabrielle rose to answer it. Tobin was standing there with a bottle and a large bowl filled with hot water. Thanking him, Gabrielle took the items, promising to let him know if anything else was needed. Turning back to her friend, she saw that Coriath was leaning back waiting for her. "We need to clean the wound first. I think I’ve got some clean rags in that pack over there," he said, gesturing towards a worn backpack sitting in the opposite corner.
"That’s all right, there are some in this bag," Gabrielle said, opening up one of the saddle bags she had brought in. Reaching inside, she drew out several strips of cloth and dipped them in the hot water. Seeing Coriath’s outstretched hand, she hesitated for a moment before reluctantly handing him one. "How bad is it?" she asked quietly.
"Actually, not bad at all. She was right, it’s a minor wound. A few stitches and she should be fine. She probably only passed out because of what I did to her." He grimaced as he said the last part and Gabrielle thought she saw an expression of regret on his face. ‘Oh no you don’t,’ she thought to herself. ‘Just because you’re helping her now, doesn’t mean I’m ready to forgive you for trying to kill her earlier.’
"Okay, we need to get this sewn up. Do you have a needle and thread in that bag too?" Gabrielle nodded and wordlessly pulled out the needle that she had seen Xena use on so many others. Handing it to him, she watched him carefully. She grudgingly admitted to herself that he knew what he was doing and was certainly trying to be as gentle as possible. Assured for the moment that Xena was in good hands, she took the opportunity to study the man who had first nearly killed, but now was working to save, her best friend. He was a large, powerful looking man, nearly as tall as Hercules. He was graceful too, she realized, as she watched his nimble hands quickly sew up Xena’s injured side. He was also rather handsome. In fact, if she was honest, she’d have to admit that he was drop dead gorgeous. His long black hair and green eyes would, under normal circumstances, be more than enough to catch her eye. These, however, were most definitely not normal circumstances.
Before she knew it, he had finished stitching the wound and had begun to dress it. Finishing the task, he rose to stand beside Xena’s sleeping form and, much to Gabrielle’s relief, pulled the sheet up to cover her. "There, that should take care of it. Now all she needs is some rest and she should be fine." He watched Gabrielle as she silently took over his place at Xena’s side and reached down to take the warrior’s hand. All the while, she watched her friend’s face intently, a worried expression on her own.
Stepping over to the table where the bowl of water was sitting, Cor began to wash the blood from his hands. "I’m going to go check on the rest of the town, to see if anyone else needs help," he said. When the young woman didn’t answer him, Coriath sighed inwardly, as he realized that Gabrielle wanted nothing to do with him. It was strange to see Xena with someone like this. He never would have pictured her voluntarily spending time with as gentle a soul as this young woman seemed to be. The two of them were obviously extremely close, and he realized that, with his attack on Xena, he had completely alienated her friend. ‘Xena must really have changed to have a friend like this,’ he thought to himself.
"Gabrielle? That’s your name right? Gabrielle?" he asked, trying a different approach with the young woman.
"Yes, that’s right," Gabrielle answered, after several seconds of silence.
"Well Gabrielle, do you need anything while I’m out? I assume you aren’t leaving here before Xena wakes up."
"No, I don’t need anything," she replied curtly. As he turned to leave, the young woman spoke again. "Actually, could you get someone to take care of Xena’s horse and, if you see my staff, could you bring it with you when you come back?" she asked.
"Sure, no problem. I assume Xena’s horse is the one you grabbed before we came in here right? I’ll take care of her myself if I have to. As for the staff, I think I should be able to recognize that," he said smiling contritely. "Anything else?"
"No, just the horse and the staff. I....thanks," she finished abruptly, glancing briefly at him for the first time since he had started talking to her. Coriath smiled warmly at her before nodding and leaving.
Gabrielle sat beside Xena, watching for any sign that she was hurt worse than Cor had led her to believe. She still wasn’t certain what to think about Coriath, but she had to give him at least a little credit for helping her friend. On the other hand, if he hadn’t attacked her in the first place....
Gabrielle felt her anger rising again and deliberately rose to walk around the room. Breathing deeply, she focused her thoughts. ‘It won’t do any good to get mad now. As soon as Xena wakes up, I’ll find out from her what’s going on here. Until then, I’ll just have to accept him.’
Sitting back down next to Xena, Gabrielle reached out to trace a finger along the warrior’s cheek, marveling at the look of peace on her friend’s face. She wished that she could see that expression sometime when Xena was awake. She sighed as she admitted to herself that it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon; peace was perhaps the single most elusive thing in the world for her friend. Knowing that she was only going to upset herself if she continued to think like this, she decided to try and do something useful while she waited for Xena to wake up.
Leaning down, she brushed a kiss across her friend’s forehead. As she started to rise, she hesitated. Looking down at Xena’s face, she was struck yet again by how beautiful the Warrior Princess was. Reaching out to place a hand tenderly against Xena’s cheek, Gabrielle studied her friend’s face intently, recommitting it to memory for perhaps the hundredth time. As her eyes continued to move across the planes of her friend’s face, they came to rest on the full, slightly parted lips, and she wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to kiss them. Shaking her head slightly at the direction of her thoughts, she forced herself to rise and move over to sit in one of the chairs at the table. She and Xena didn’t have that kind of relationship. They were just friends. She knew that she was only curious about what it might be like to kiss Xena because of their recent visit with the Amazons, and the kiss the two had shared when the warrior had been in Autolycus’ body. After all, even if she was technically an Amazon Queen, that certainly didn’t mean that she had any particular interest in women.
"Gabrielle?" she heard Xena ask softly.
"Xena!" Gabrielle dropped the leathers she had been cleaning and quickly moved to her friend’s side. Brushing back a lock of hair that had fallen across the warrior’s eyes, she smiled as she gazed down on the face that was more precious to her than any other she’d ever known. Reaching down, she took hold of her friend’s hand. "How are you feeling?"
"Kinda like I got stabbed in the side and then someone used the pressure points in my neck to cut off the flow of blood to my brain. Other than that, I feel pretty good." Shifting slightly, she winced as pain shot through her side. Looking down, she saw the dressing covering her wound and paused to examine it, before lying back. "Coriath?" she asked, indicating the bandage. Seeing Gabrielle’s nod, she exhaled softly. "Well at least I won’t have to worry about that for awhile."
"Xena, can I get you anything? I put your sword and your chakram here next to the bed." Gabrielle reached down to pick up the weapons. "Will that be okay?"
"That will be fine Gabrielle. Thanks for thinking about that." Xena gazed at her friend fondly, touched by the concern that clearly showed on the bard’s face. She briefly wondered what she would do without Gabrielle, but immediately stopped that line of thought. She didn’t even like thinking about what life would be like without Gabrielle at her side. "I could use a drink, though. Whatever’s available is fine."
"The innkeeper brought up a fresh pitcher of water a little while ago." Reluctantly, Gabrielle released her hold on Xena’s hand. Moving to the table that she had set the pitcher and mugs on, she poured a cup full of water. Returning to her friend’s side, Gabrielle was relieved to find that the warrior’s strength was rapidly returning and that she needed only a little assistance to sit up and take a drink.
As Xena lay back down on the bed, Gabrielle helped her to get comfortable once more. Looking down at her, Gabrielle hesitated a few moments more before breaking the silence. "Xena, how do you know Coriath?"
"Coriath? Coriath was in my army several years ago. It’s been three or four years since I saw him though." As Gabrielle watched, she saw several emotions flash across Xena’s face: anger, joy, regret. "He was a good warrior, an honorable man, and one of the few people who I’d be hesitant to go up against in a fight."
Gabrielle’s eyes widened slightly at the last comment. "Xena, he tried to kill you...Can you trust him not to try again?"
"Gabrielle, Coriath and I....it’s hard to explain. He...he thought I was trying to hurt these people. He couldn’t let me do that, so he tried to stop me. But yes, I can trust him not to try again, because now he knows we’re fighting on the same side once more." Xena finished speaking abruptly, frustrated by her inability to explain herself better. Words had definitely never been her strong suit. She could see Gabrielle was unconvinced, but she had no idea what to say that would reassure her friend about Coriath, yet wouldn’t involve a lengthy, complicated story. "If you can’t trust him, Gabrielle, trust me," she finally said. "I know him. He won’t try to harm me again."
"I’ll try Xena, but I just don’t see how you can so easily trust someone who tried to kill you."
"I tried to kill both Iolaus and Hercules, Gabrielle. They both were able to learn to trust me, and I know a lot more about Coriath than they have ever known about me." Seeing Gabrielle nod in agreement, Xena smiled. "Look, I promise that later...." Her voice trailed off as the door opened and Coriath walked in carrying Gabrielle’s staff and the rest of their belongings.
"Ahh...my favorite patient is awake. Excellent!" He smiled broadly as he set their gear down next to the door. "One moment please," he said, stepping back into the hallway. Gabrielle and Xena could hear him speaking to someone, before he walked back into the room. Noticing Xena’s arched eyebrow, he grinned. "Just getting some hot water for some tea. Now that you’re awake, you get to drink my magical mixture of healing herbs. They’re sure to get you back on your feet in no time at all."
"As long as it tastes better than your magical hangover cure. I still owe you for that one," Xena replied, smiling at the memory.
"Ahhhhh...but it did get rid of your hangover, didn’t it? Now, let me check that wound of yours." Crossing the room, he handed Gabrielle her staff. After giving her an apologetic smile, he turned to sit on the bed. Drawing the sheet down, he carefully pulled back the edges of the bandage and examined Xena’s wound. "Not bad, not bad at all," he said. "The bleeding has stopped and that is one fine job of stitching." He grinned wickedly up at her, as someone knocked on the door. Pulling the sheet up to cover her again, he smiled mischievously. "Can’t be sharing that sight with just anyone now, can we? Come in," he called, as he reached for a fresh bandage.
Tobin entered with a pitcher of hot water and several more mugs. He placed the tray he was carrying on the table and then walked back to the door. "Will you be needing anything else?" he asked, smiling when he saw that Xena was looking well.
"No Tobin, that will be fine, thanks," Coriath replied. He watched Tobin leave and then stood and walked over to his pack to get out several small pouches. Pouring two mugs of water, he looked up as he asked, "Would you like something to drink Gabrielle?" Seeing her nod, he poured a third mug of water and then began emptying the contents of the pouches into them. Cor glanced at Gabrielle and saw that her attention was solely focused on Xena. Turning back to the mugs, he slipped something extra into one of them.
After handing a cup to Gabrielle, he picked up the other two and walked back to where Xena lay. Hearing Gabrielle’s sounds of appreciation, he smiled and then handed Xena her cup. "Drink it all," he commanded in his best doctor voice.
Giving him a wary glance, Xena took a drink. Immediately she began choking, as an unmistakable expression of revulsion crossed her face. "By the Gods Cor! I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but this is worse than your hangover cure!"
"Flattery will get you nowhere Xena. Drink it. All of it. Now." Setting aside his own cup, he began to put a fresh bandage on her wound. As he did so, Xena set her jaw and began drinking down the rest of the tea, glaring malevolently at Coriath over the rim of the mug. Finishing with the bandage, Coriath rose and, taking Xena’s empty mug from her, he crossed the room to make another cup of tea. Returning to her side, he handed it to her. "Thought you might want something to get rid of the taste."
Nodding her thanks, Xena took the mug and gratefully sipped the liquid. Leaning back against the wall, she regarded Coriath thoughtfully. "So Cor, who were we fighting out there earlier?"
Sitting down, Coriath stretched his long legs out in front of him. "They were a raiding party belonging to a larger army run by the warlord Varanis. Ever heard of him?"
"Varanis. Yeah. I’ve never actually fought him but I’ve certainly heard about him."
Cor nodded. "He sent that group in, figuring this village wasn’t even worth the effort of attacking with his entire army. He didn’t expect there would be much resistance. He’d have been right if his timing had been a bit better." Coriath smirked at the thought.
"From what I know of Varanis, he’ll attack the village in full force now. His ego will demand it," she said
"You’re right, but not ‘til tomorrow morning, a little after sunrise."
As Xena nodded, Gabrielle interrupted the conversation. "Why tomorrow morning?"
Xena chuckled. "Varanis is one of the most superstitious people you could ever meet. One of those superstitions is that he can be defeated in the dark, but not in the morning hours. He thinks that he’s ‘blessed’ during the time between sunrise and noon," she continued sarcastically, "Whenever possible, he always attacks after the sun comes up. His army has already suffered one defeat in this village, now he’ll be going for the sure thing."
Shifting once again, Xena started to get out of the bed. Before she could make it very far though, Gabrielle had rushed to her side and put her hands on her shoulders, pushing her back down. "Xena, what are you doing?" she demanded.
Scowling at the bard, Xena replied, "I have to get up. Varanis will be attacking tomorrow and we have to get ready. We have to scout out his army, set up the village’s defenses, round up men to fight...."
"You’re right Xena. We have to do those things, but you do not." Coriath stood up and moved to stand behind Gabrielle. "You need to rest and let your wound heal."
Xena continued to struggle but, to her growing frustration, she found that Gabrielle was more than strong enough to prevent her from getting up. She couldn’t understand what was wrong. Either her wound had taken more out of her than she’d thought, or Gabrielle had gotten a lot stronger than she’d ever imagined. "Look, I’m not going to stay here when we have so much to do...."
"Xena, don’t be foolish. You’re not alone here. You don’t have to do everything yourself. I’m here and I’m more than capable of scouting out Varanis and his army. Gabrielle can take care of the village while I’m gone."
"He’s right Xena, I know how to set up defenses for a village. I’ve done it before remember?" Gabrielle looked her friend in the eyes, pleading silently with her to lay back down and rest. She knew she should never be able to hold Xena down as easily as she was and she began to grow more and more concerned about how weakened her friend was from her wound.
"That’s not the...." Xena stopped her argument to yawn several times, as a wave of weariness overcame her. Glancing up at Coriath, she saw a gleam in his eyes and suddenly realized what was wrong. "You son of a Bacchae! It was in the tea, wasn’t it? No wonder you made it taste so bad!" Laying back down in defeat, she gritted her teeth as she closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Gabrielle stared down at Xena in shock for a few seconds and then spun around to face Coriath. "What did you do to her? What was in that tea?" she demanded accusingly. As she rose to face him, she felt Xena’s hand grab her arm. Looking down, she saw that through her heavy-lidded eyes, her best friend was smiling at her.
"Gabrielle, it’s all right. I’ll be fine. It was just a sleeping herb, like the one I gave to King Silvus. Go take care of the villagers. I guess you two win this argument after all. But Cor, I will get even." Xena closed her eyes once more, as she began to drift off to sleep.
"She’ll be fine Gabrielle, honestly," Coriath said, trying to make her understand. "I knew she’d insist on getting up to help prepare for tomorrow and that she’d never agree to stay here while we went out to take care of things. She’ll sleep for a couple of hours, and by that time it will be too late for her to start trying to do everything."
Gabrielle nodded and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. "Okay. I understand why you did it. I just wish you had told me first."
"Gabrielle, I know this must be hard for you to understand, but I really do care for Xena. It’s hard to explain, and we don’t really have the time now, but believe me, I won’t try to hurt her again." He waited for Gabrielle to reply, but she simply nodded and remained silent. Sighing, he said, "All right, there were a couple of soldiers who were captured alive before. I’ll tell you what I got out of them. That should help you set up the defenses while I go scout out Varanis. I’ll have Tobin’s wife come up here and stay with Xena while we’re gone." He stopped to grab a few things out of his backpack, before walking to the door. "I’ll meet you downstairs," he said, as he left the room.
Gabrielle nodded to him once again and then reached for her staff. Checking on her friend, she was relieved to see that Xena’s breathing was slow and even. She reached down and squeezed the warrior’s shoulder, as she whispered, "Be safe Xena, and be here when I get back." Then she turned and walked out the door to find Coriath.
Gabrielle sighed with relief, as she entered the tavern once again. She and the villagers had been working hard for hours to set up the defenses they would need against Varanis. They still weren’t quite finished, but there wasn’t much left to do and she needed to check on Xena. She needed to see, with her own eyes, that the warrior was all right.
As she crossed the tavern towards the stairs, the innkeeper’s wife came out from the kitchen carrying a mug and a small tray with some food on it. Seeing Gabrielle, she broke into a cheerful smile. "Your friend woke up a little while ago. I was just getting ready to take this up to her."
"Thanks, I’ll take it for you," Gabrielle said, as she smiled back, relieved to know that Xena was awake and feeling well enough to eat. Taking the tray, she climbed the stairs and walked down to the room. Opening the door, she saw Xena sitting up in the bed, a sheet wrapped around her as she carefully examined her weapons. "Don’t worry, I already cleaned them for you. I suppose you’ll need to spend the next hour sharpening the sword though, won’t you?" Gabrielle teased, grinning from ear to ear.
Xena smiled when she saw Gabrielle in the doorway. "Actually, I was more concerned about the armor. How much damage did the two of you do to it when you took it off me earlier?"
"Actually, not much. It shouldn’t take long to fix, but first you need to eat." Gabrielle placed the tray on the bed next to Xena. "So how are you feeling?" she asked, watching her friend carefully.
"I’m fine Gabrielle, really. You don’t need to worry so much about me." Xena reached out and placed her hand on the bard’s shoulder fondly, "But thanks for caring."
Surprised by Xena’s show of affection, Gabrielle sat and looked deeply into the warrior’s startlingly blue eyes, suddenly too overcome by emotion to speak. Reaching up, she placed her hand over her friend’s and held it momentarily, before rising to get Xena’s armor. As she crossed the room, she realized that her heart was pounding as if she had just run ten miles. ‘What in Hades is wrong with me?’ she thought to herself. ‘To be affected like this, I must have been more worried about her than I realized.’
Picking up the armor and one of the saddle bags, she walked back over to Xena, trying to calm the beating of her heart. Setting them down next to the bed, she began to tell Xena about the defenses they had set up. She also told the warrior everything else that she had learned that might be important. By the time she was done, Xena had finished eating and had started to work on repairing her armor. Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle looked directly at her friend as she asked, "Xena, you said Coriath was in your army a few years ago. What exactly happened between you two?"
The warrior winced inwardly when she heard Gabrielle ask the question. She knew it had been on the young bard’s mind, ever since she’d realized that Xena and Coriath had known each other in the past. She had to admit though, that Gabrielle had been remarkably patient about the whole thing, and it would probably make things easier if she knew the whole story anyway. The only problem was that Xena didn’t like talking about her past. At least this time, though, she was fairly certain that there wasn’t anything in the story that was particularly gruesome or horrendous.
"Cor was in my army several years ago. He was one of my lieutenants and a remarkably skilled warrior. He was also an honorable man and, because of that, I was able to trust him. He might have been able to defeat me in combat, but he had sworn allegiance to me. The thought of betraying me would never have crossed his mind." Involuntarily she thought about Darphus, a former lieutenant who had betrayed and nearly killed her, and she felt a momentary flash of anger course through her veins.
"Cor and I were friends and I was as close to him as I was to anyone back then. We worked well together and learned a lot from each other. I taught Cor how to use pressure points and he taught me everything he knew about healing which, believe me, was considerable. We were extremely successful. We had good warriors, and victory after victory was ours. I guess I was as happy as I ever was back then. I was focused and everything was going perfectly."
"Unfortunately, that same honorable streak that made it possible for me to trust Cor, started to get in the way. Cor had been bothered for a long time by what we were doing. As time passed, it became more and more difficult for him to continue. I knew that and did my best to hold on to him, convinced that it was just a ‘phase’ he was going through and that he’d come around soon."
"But he didn’t. And there was someone else who had come along by that time. Someone who gave Cor the strength to turn away from the path we were on and to change, kinda like Hercules did for me." Xena’s face reflected the anguish that the memory of losing Cor brought her. Gabrielle’s heart contracted painfully in her chest at the thought of what Xena must be feeling.
Shaking herself slightly, Xena continued. "Anyway, I knew what Cor was going through, but I had no intention of letting him go. After all, no one, not even Cor, was allowed to just leave my army." Seeing the look on her friend’s face, the warrior shook her head. "No, I didn’t have The Gauntlet back then, I just didn’t permit anyone to leave. So Cor was stuck. If he really wanted to leave he’d have to fight me, and his honor wouldn’t allow him to do that."
"Then one day we were in battle. We were outnumbered but still holding our own. During the battle, I was injured and nearly killed. Cor saved my life, beating off my attackers and then getting me on a horse and riding out of there with me. We won the battle but I was unconscious at the time. Cor stayed by my side for days, nursing me back to health when, by all rights, I should have died. If he’d been any less skilled a healer, I would have. During this same time, he also managed to keep my army in line, preventing the mass desertions that otherwise might have occurred."
"When I’d fully recovered from my injuries, Cor came to me and told me he’d decided he couldn’t stay with my army any longer. He told me that he’d finally ‘found his way’ and that he had to leave. Then he knelt in front of me and told me he wouldn’t raise a sword against me and that if I wanted to stop him, he wouldn’t defend himself. I just looked at him for a few moments, trying to figure out what I could say to change his mind, but I realized that nothing I said would make a difference. I told him to leave and promised that I wouldn’t stop him. He stood up and started to go, and then he stopped. He tried to tell me that he knew there was good in my heart, that I could just give all of it up too and walk away with him. I laughed at him and told him I was happy where I was. I was perfectly content doing what I was doing. He just sighed and walked away, and I never saw him again until this morning."
"So you let him go because he saved your life?" Gabrielle asked, after several seconds of silence had passed.
"No, I let him go because I knew that if I didn’t, then the code I lived by meant nothing. Cor saving my life in battle was ‘meaningless.’ I had saved his life before too. I would expect him to do that just like he’d expect me to do it for him. But it was what he did afterwards. The way he stayed with me and kept my army going. He could have just left and let my army scatter to the four winds. I was in no condition to stop him. But he didn’t leave and he waited until I was completely healed before he tried to go. I had to let him leave, but we had an unspoken understanding. When I allowed him to go, we both knew that neither of us would seek the other out to try and hurt them. I could let him go because I knew I could trust him not to come seeking my head."
"But he tried to kill you this morning," Gabrielle protested.
Xena nodded. "I would have done the same in his place. Just because he wasn’t going to seek me out didn’t mean that he would sit idly by while I slaughtered innocents in front of him." A pained expression crossed her face as she added, "I fought against Goliath for the same reason Gabrielle, and he was my friend too. I couldn’t let him kill innocent people just because we had once fought on the same side."
Gabrielle sat quietly for several minutes, considering Xena’s words. She realized the truth in them. Smiling at her friend, she said, "Okay, I guess I can understand what he did and why you can trust him now. I suppose maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all."
"Good, because you’re going to have to fight alongside him tomorrow and it’s never good to go into battle with someone you don’t trust." Xena reached out to grasp Gabrielle’s arm and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "Now, how is my horse?"
Gabrielle started to reply but was interrupted by the opening of the door. Cor walked into the room, dirty and a bit ragged looking. "I’m back. Anyone miss me?" he asked, obviously in good spirits.
"Terribly," Xena said dryly. "You’re looking as dapper as ever my friend. You losing your touch?"
"Hardly. Is it my fault that the area around here is 90 percent brambles? I’m lucky that I have any skin left on me at all." Finding a chair, he sat down heavily, stretching his legs out and leaning back to get comfortable. "Varanis is definitely getting ready for a morning attack. I’d say he has 65 men or so. They look reasonably well trained but don’t appear to be particularly skilled. I’ve already talked to the head of the town’s militia and told him what I know. He was wanting to talk to you though, Gabrielle, about the final preparations they’re making."
"Hmmm, all right, I guess I’ll go do that now. I’ll check on Argo for you Xena." Standing, she held Xena’s hand briefly and then picked up her staff.
"I checked on the defenses as I was coming in Gabrielle. I couldn’t have done better myself. You’ve done an excellent job," Cor said sincerely.
"Thanks Cor, I appreciate that." Gabrielle couldn’t think of anything else to say. She was still trying to reconcile what Xena had told her with what she had seen earlier that day. Nodding to Cor, she walked out to find the militia leader.
Cor chuckled. "Your friend doesn’t talk much, does she?"
Xena exploded into laughter, grabbing her side at the pain it caused her. "Cor, I think you must have a truly unique perspective of Gabrielle!"
Puzzled, Cor looked at her, his confusion showing clearly on his face. "Why?"
Eyes still brimming with laughter, Xena replied, "Because Gabrielle is a bard and probably the most talkative person I’ve ever known in my life. Normally the problem is getting her to be quiet for long enough to get a word in edgewise."
Cor smiled ruefully. "I can barely get her to speak more than a few words at a time to me."
"Give her some time, Cor. Once she gets to know you, she’ll come around. Then you’ll be longing for quiet again," Xena said, grinning as she said the last part.
Cor nodded. "Okay. Well, I promised Tobin I’d be back down to talk to him, as soon as I checked in on you. Is there anything you need?"
"No, I’m fine. And, before you ask, so is my wound. So don’t worry about it."
Cor chuckled. "All right. I’ll expect you to be asleep by the time I get back. I’ll see you tomorrow."
Cor stood and walked out. Checking her armor one last time, Xena decided that she had done an adequate job of repairing the leather. Hesitating for a moment, she swung her long legs over the side of the bed and stood up carefully. Relieved that she was able to do so without too much pain, she crossed the room and hung the armor across the back of one of the chairs. Moving to the saddle bags, she rummaged through them until she found a clean shift, which she quickly donned before walking back and getting into bed. Carefully arranging her weapons so that they would be within reach, she pulled the blankets up and began to drift off to sleep.
Gabrielle arrived back at the room well before Cor. Since Xena appeared to be asleep, she quietly got undressed and began to lay out her bedroll. "Gabrielle, what are you doing?" she heard Xena’s sleepy voice ask.
"Nothing Xena, just getting ready to sleep."
"Why are you bothering with that bedroll? Just get into bed with me. There’s plenty of room."
Gabrielle froze at the suggestion. Giving herself a mental shake, she asked herself what in the world was wrong. After all, it wasn’t like she and Xena had never shared a bed in an inn before. For some reason, though, Xena’s nearness was affecting her in strange ways lately, and she wasn’t certain that she wanted to be that close to her at the moment. Realizing she had to say something, she said the first thing that popped into her head. "I uh...I was just worried about your wound...." Gabrielle’s voice trailed off uncertainly.
"I’m fine. You need to get a good night’s rest before tomorrow and you’ll be more comfortable here than on your bedroll."
Realizing the logic of what her friend was saying, Gabrielle slipped into the bed, taking care not to disturb the warrior any more than she had to. "Better?" she heard Xena’s tired voice whisper.
"Mmmhmmm," Gabrielle mumbled, not trusting herself to speak. Her skin tingled as she brushed up against her friend. Telling herself she was just upset because she had been frightened by the idea that she might lose Xena, she ordered herself to relax. She told herself that everything would be fine if she could just relax. "Goodnight," she whispered, as she began to focus on breathing slowly and deeply, determined to drive away all these unusual thoughts and emotions.
Gabrielle awoke in darkness to find herself alone in the bed. Pushing aside the strange feelings of loneliness that began to overcome her, she looked around the room. Despite the lack of light, she could see Xena standing in the middle of the room putting on her armor. "What time is it?" she asked sleepily.
"A little before dawn," the warrior answered absently. "I want to check on the defenses, scout the layout of the town for myself. I didn’t get much of a chance to see it yesterday."
"Have you seen Coriath?"
"He got up and left a little while ago. He wanted to go check on Varanis, make certain he was coming into town the way we figured he would."
Gabrielle rose from the bed and lit a lamp, as she went to get dressed. When she finished, she turned to look at Xena. "How are you?" she asked, not bothering to hide her concern.
"Not as good as I was this time yesterday, but a lot better than I was last night," Xena replied, trying to get a smile out of the bard. When she saw that none would be forthcoming, she smiled gently at her young friend. "Relax Gabrielle, I’m fine. I’m a little sore but it won’t slow me down much. I’ve had to fight with a lot worse wounds than this."
"Just promise me that you’ll be careful. Try to keep the number of gravity-defying, death-defying maneuvers to a minimum, okay?" Gabrielle asked, a gleam appearing in her eyes as she smiled for the first time.
"I promise, if you promise to stay near Cor during the battle."
"Cor? Why near Cor? I thought you trusted him." The confusion Gabrielle felt was apparent on her face.
Xena chuckled. "I do, that’s why I want you near him." The expression on the warrior’s face grew serious. "Gabrielle, 60, maybe 70 men are getting ready to attack this village. I know better than to try to convince you to stay out of the battle. Besides, you’re a skilled fighter and we’re going to need you. But in case you get into trouble, I want you close to someone who can help you out."
Gabrielle was touched by the concern she heard in Xena’s voice, as well as amazed by the compliment. As far as she could recall, it was the first time Xena had ever admitted that she was actually a help in the battles. "Okay, but why Cor? Why not stay near you?"
"Because Cor and I have different fighting styles, especially when fighting against large groups. He tends to be a bit easier to stay close to. I feel more comfortable moving around from place to place. That’s why I want to get a feel for the layout of the town." Xena picked up her sword and slid it into its scabbard and then grabbed her chakram. "Promise me?"
Gabrielle nodded her head. "I promise."
Xena smiled at her as she reached out to grasp her shoulders. Looking at her friend, the warrior struggled to find the right words to express what she was feeling. She finally gave up and pulled Gabrielle into her arms, holding her tightly. After a few seconds, she pulled back and placed her hand gently to the bard’s cheek. "Be safe," she whispered, before walking quietly out of the room. Gabrielle watched Xena leave, her emotions in a state of complete and utter upheaval, as she tried to understand what had just happened between her and her ‘friend.’