Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess and all other associated with the television series of the same name are owned by: Oh who the hell knows who owns it at this point. It could be Studios USA, but I’m not sure. This is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended.

Subtext: You know me, I truly believe in it, but this story doesn’t have much.

Sex: No.

Violence: Yes.

Other: This is set in the VERY early Xena years. The first part of season one. I felt the need to get back to my roots<G>.

Warning: Will have spoilers for various early episodes of Xena. If you haven’t seen them by now, where have you been for the last seven years? Under a rock?

In the Strangest Places

By T. Novan

Aka SlackerBard

 

 

Xena sat watching. Watching Gabrielle during her restless slumber. The girl had gotten sick two days before and she had only gotten worse, even though Xena did her best to take care of her and give her the herbs that should have made her better.

The warrior sighed; continuing to sharpen her sword, her eyes and ears alert for anything that would tell her, the Warlord Andrus was in the area. The last thing she needed on top of Gabrielle being sick was a confrontation with him.

Andrus had learned that Xena had outsmarted Draco once again, which wasn’t really difficult, given it was Draco, but Andrus was mad and he had put a ten thousand dinar bounty on Xena’s head.

She took inventory of everything that was wrong in her world at the moment. She had no army and was on her own. Several of the men had felt betrayed when she disbanded the camp and they quickly allied with other warlords in the hopes of exacting some revenge.

She had no money and fewer hopes of getting any anytime soon. It had been so long since she had to actually earn money, the concept was a strange one.

Supplies were running low and the addition of her new ‘friend’ didn’t help that situation at all. Gabrielle couldn’t do much, but she could certainly eat. And the inclement weather over the last few days had made hunting for food challenging.

Xena scratched her cheek as she watched the young woman start fussing again. Quietly, she rose from her perch on a log and moved across the camp. She placed another couple of pieces of wood on the fire before kneeling next to her patient.

Feeling Gabrielle’s forehead, she wasn’t surprised to find that her fever was raging again. Taking a cloth from a pile next to the fire, she wet it from a skin then placed it on Gabrielle’s head.

"You silly thing. You have no idea. No idea of what I am or what you want." She slowly ran the cloth over the fevered brow. "I should take you home. I don’t care if you do runaway again. You wouldn’t be my problem."

Gabrielle stirred and opened her eyes; they looked swollen and bloodshot from lack of rest. "You should sleep."

"I can’t."

"Why?"

"For one, you need someone to look after you and two, Andrus or some of his men could very well be lurking about."

"I’ll be all right."

"That still doesn’t change the fact that we could get ambushed by a band of blood thirsty warriors." She took a moment to fix another dose of the medicine in a cup of warm water. She helped Gabrielle sit up and put the cup to her lips. "Drink."

Gabrielle hadn’t been with Xena long, but she knew already it was best not to argue, even if the concoction was the worst thing she had tasted since her mother had made her take medicine as a child. Dutifully she swallowed the mixture, even managing not to gag.

"So," Xena sat the cup to the side. "Is this the adventure you had in mind?"

"What do you mean?"

"Sleeping on the hard ground, in the cold. Very little to eat. Sick as a dog while we’re being chased by someone who wants me dead."

Gabrielle managed to muster a small smile. "Sure. This is the stuff great stories are made of."

Xena just shook her head, while she pulled the furs up to her companion’s chin. "You know, you may not be the little girl your parents wanted, but you sure are something else."

"Something else in a good way or a bad way?"

"I haven’t decided yet."

"Thanks," she answered wearily.

"My pleasure. Go back to sleep, Gabrielle. We need to be able to move on at first light."

"Will you try to rest?"

Xena couldn’t help herself; a smile crossed her lips all of its own accord. "I’ll try."

"’Kay."

Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes, quickly returning to the realm of Morpheus. Before moving, Xena ran her hand over the top of Gabrielle’s hair. "Rest well. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow."

Taking a small fur, she leaned against her log, covered her legs, crossed her arms over her chest, and closed her eyes.

When Gabrielle woke, she noticed that camp was nearly packed up and that the fire was nothing more that smoldering embers slowly drowning in the water Xena had just apparently dumped there. She promised herself there and then she was going to do whatever she could to be less of a burden and more help. Slowly she sat up, feeling a little dizzy with the attempt, but she pushed it off quickly, knowing she had to get moving or risk being left in the next town, or worse, sent home.

She was rolling her bedroll when Xena came back into camp. Gabrielle looked up to see her friend holding a bundle. "Whatcha got there?"

"Well, not much really, but I figured you’d be hungry. Just some nuts and berries, but it’s better than nothing."

Gabrielle got to her feet and accepted the proffered cloth. "Thanks. That’s really very sweet."

"Gabrielle, I am many things; sweet is not one of them."

"You have your moments." She lifted the bundle. "Like it or not, this was sweet. You didn’t have to get it. You could have made me wait until later."

"You’ve been sick." She bent over and plucked the bedroll from the ground. "You need to eat."

"See. Sweet." Gabrielle teased as she watched Xena go to Argo and stow the last of the gear. She decided not to push it when she heard a low growl come from the same direction and she had never known a horse to growl.

Instead of riding, Xena walked next to Gabrielle, keeping a watchful eye in case her friend got sick again. "How ya’ feeling?"

"Not too bad. My stomach is a little upset."

"That would explain the two dozen stops to use the bushes."

"Yes, it would. No need to remind me."

"Well, that just means whatever was wrong is working itself out of your system."

"Oh, that’s a lovely thought. Thanks."

"That’s what I’m here for. To teach you the ways of the road." Xena couldn’t resist, she gestured to the open area around them, "To show you the whys and whatnots of surviving on your own."

"I don’t have to do it on my own."

"No?"

"No. I’ve got you."

"Until somebody kills me."

Gabrielle took Xena’s arm and pulled her to a stop. "Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be fine. We’re going to be fine. We’re friends, we take care of each other."

"You have to face the fact that not all that long ago I wasn’t a very nice person and lots of people want me dead."

"Are they better than you?"

"What?"

"Are they better than you? Can they fight better than you?"

"If they could, I’d have been dead a long …" she stopped and scowled at her friend. "That was sneaky."

"Okay then, just chalk that up as on of my burgeoning skills. I’m capable of being sneaky."

"Good thing for us. We might have to turn you into a thief to survive."

Gabrielle perked up right away. "I could do that."

"Right," Xena began walking again and Gabrielle followed like a wayward puppy. "Then I’d be breaking you out of jail."

"You would, huh?"

"What?"

"Break me out. You mean you wouldn’t just let me rot there?"

"Have you ever been in jail?"

"Is that a serious question? Do I look like I’ve been in jail?"

"It’s not a pretty place to be."

"You’ve been there?"

"Yup. A long time ago, I was riding with a warlord named Cantus. I was young and stupid and I tried to steal a horse when mine went lame." She looked up to watch a hawk fly over. "He left me there."

"How did you get out?"

"I killed the jailer and escaped."

"Oh."

"I told you I wasn’t a sweet person."

"Maybe not then, but…"

"Don’t say it."

They entered the village just before sundown. Xena managed to do a little trading in order to get Argo stabled and a room with a meal for her and Gabrielle.

Once they were inside, Gabrielle threw herself down on the bed, groaning with undisguised pleasure at the feel of a soft down fill mattress. It certainly didn’t matter to her that the ropes in the frame were old and not giving as much support as they once did; it was a soft bed and that’s all that mattered.

"Oh, this is good."

Xena tossed the saddlebags on the floor, tugged off her bracers and tossed them on top. "I’m sure it is. Enjoy it, it’ll be the last one you have for a while. I just trading my last spare piece of tack for it."

Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbows and watched Xena sit on the floor next to the fire to remove her boots. "Why did you do that?"

"We needed a warm place to stay."

"We could have stayed in the stables."

"Gabrielle, the stables are cold and they stink. I’d rather be warm tonight and without the smell of dung assaulting my every breath."

The young woman watched the warrior place her boots next to the saddlebags then pull out a bedroll, getting it ready.

"What are you doing?"

"Same thing I do most nights, Gabrielle. I’m getting ready to go to sleep."

"On the floor?"

"Yes?"

Gabrielle got up from the bed and crossed the room, standing over Xena with her hands on her hips. "Well. Now, that makes a lot of sense. You get us a room so you can sleep on the hard, cold floor."

"There’s only one bed."

"And we’re adults. I’m pretty sure we can share it."

Xena looked past Gabrielle at the rickety old bed. "I’m not sure it will hold us both without collapsing."

"There’s only one way to find out. Come on Xena, I already feel guilty that you traded to get this room. Don’t make it worse by sleeping on the floor."

"You really should stop feeling guilty about the little stuff."

"Maybe when I can help you more, I will. But right now you’re taking care of me and I’m not doing much."

"That’ll change, don’t worry."

Gabrielle smiled. "Really?"

"It had better. That was my last piece of tack."

"Come on Xena, let’s go to bed."

Gabrielle climbed in first and tried to hold herself on one side of the bed while Xena carefully got into the other side. Xena settled in and Gabrielle relaxed. Suddenly the bed finally gave way and they found themselves sharing the very middle of the sagging mattress. Gabrielle looked into Xena’s chest, where her eyes were leveled and gulped loudly before saying, "Guess we’ll be warm enough."

"Wait a moment." Xena moved around in the bed until she was lying in the sag and Gabrielle was on top of her.

"Oh, yeah, this is better."

"Would you relax? This is fine."

"Xena, I admit I’m just a woman from a small village, but I know when something is not fine. We look like we’re…we’re…" She blushed, unable to finish.

"Well, we’re not. So just find a comfortable spot and go to sleep."

Xena waited patiently as Gabrielle squirmed around in the bed, finally coming to rest with her head on the warrior’s shoulder. "Is this okay?"

"It’s fine, Gabrielle. Go to sleep."

"You know, I’ve had to share a bed with my sister before. This is kinda like that."

"Just remember, I’m not your sister."

Gabrielle settled more on top of Xena and grinned. "No kidding."

"Go to sleep."

When Gabrielle woke the next morning, Xena was gone. Everything was gone. Panic set in. She scrambled out of bed and quickly put on her over blouse, then found her half boots and tugged them on. Looking herself over, she realized she looked like she slept in her clothes, which she had, but she really didn’t care. She needed to find Xena.

Charging out of the room she stopped at the end of the hallway when she heard the raised voices. Slowly she peered around the corner to see Xena in the main room, surrounded by six rather large men who didn’t look they were friends of hers.

"Well, Xena, now, looks like Andrus will be turning over the dinars to me."

Xena chuckled humorlessly. "You don’t really think he’ll pay off, do you?"

"He gave his word."

"And he’s always been so true to his word before."

"Take her," He commanded his men, who looked at Xena then back to their boss. "She’s just a woman. Take her!"

The warrior just shook her head before she proceeded to start busting their heads. Gabrielle could only watch in amazement as she tossed around the five men like they were nothing more than sacks of grain. While she was dealing with two of the thugs, Gabrielle could see that the leader was about to attack her from behind.

"Xena, watch out!" Gabrielle yelled as she ran into the room and then realized she didn’t belong there in the middle of the fight and tried to decide was to do next.

Xena warded off the attack from behind with little effort, and when she turned around, she ran the leader through quite efficiently. Looking around she found Gabrielle holding off on of the men with a chair, but losing ground quickly as she was being backed into a corner.

The warrior went to the man from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. The second he turned around she hit him hard with her fist, sending him crashing to the floor. "Next time, pick on someone your own size."

She reached out and took Gabrielle by the wrist. "Come on, its not safe here."

"Ya think?"

"Come on!" Xena gave her a tug and they were on their way out the door before Gabrielle could think twice.

Once they were outside, things went from bad to worse as they came face to face with Andrus and his men, about twenty in total.

"Great!" Xena growled as she took a defensive position and moved Gabrielle behind her. "When I give you the all clear, run."

"I’m not leaving you."

"Oh, yes, you are."

"No, I’m not."

"Don’t argue, just do what I say. When I tell you, run for the back of the inn."

Andrus grinned down from his horse as he watched the exchange. "Oh, Xena, tell you what, I’m feeling generous today. You put down your sword and I’ll let your little friend go."

"Right, and I suppose the lower levels of Tartarus have just frozen over."

"Couldn’t say. The offer is an honest one. I have no interest in your current distraction."

"What?" Gabrielle asked as she moved to stand beside Xena. "Her what?"

"Never mind, Gabrielle. He’s making a reference to something a long time ago."

"Yup." Andrus leaned forward in the saddle, looking down at Gabrielle with a lascivious grin, "Xena’s exotic tastes in companionship."

"There’s nothing exotic about me. I’m from Poteidaia!"

The men burst out laughing and Xena wondered if it were possible for Gabrielle to be any more na´ve.

"What?"

"Nothing. Please don’t…"

"All right, time’s up, Xena." Andrus dismounted his horse and drew his sword in one fluid motion.

She sighed and twirled her sword. "You really should just leave, Andrus. You couldn’t beat me before, and you can’t beat me now."

"Yeah, but I hear you’ve gone all soft."

"You heard wrong."

"We’ll see." He threw his cloak to the side and squared off. Xena took up the challenge and the fight began.

Andrus was a fit man, well trained and a competent soldier. Xena just used her innate skill. Over the years she had, of course, learned many things riding with and commanding armies. However this woman was simply a natural with a weapon in her hand.

Gabrielle watched as the two battled back and forth. She flinched at the sound of the swords clanging together. She had become accustomed, in the short time she had been with Xena that this was a normal part of her life but the noise still hurt her ears and scared her to her very core.

Xena used the end of Andrus’ cloak to wipe the blood from her blade, as he laid face down in the dirt with a large pool seeping out from under him. Xena looked to the rest of his men.

"You all have about ten seconds to vacate before I give you a taste of what he just got."

The men turned their horses and rode hard and fast out of town. She watched them leave and then she turned to Gabrielle, who was leaning against a wall, looking at the body and turning slightly green.

"I had no choice," Xena said softly.

"I know." Gabrielle pushed off the wall and gestured to the body. "What are we going to do with him?"

"He’s not my problem any more. Let the villagers bury him."

"Xena, umm, well…I think we should take care of it."

"You would." She sighed as she slid her sword back in its sheath. "All right, we’ll bury him at the edge of town." She leaned over and rolled him up in the cloak. She picked him up and slung the body over the back of his horse, grateful that his men had neglected to take it with them. Fear made normally bright men do stupid, stupid things.

Taking the reins, she led the horse, stopping to look back at Gabrielle who was staring at the large pool of blood in the dirt.

"It won’t get any better if you stay with me."

Gabrielle swallowed hard and looked up. "Yes it will."

"Optimist."

They walked to the edge of the village and Xena set to collecting rocks for the burial mound. Gabrielle stood near the horse looking at the body. Something on the saddle caught her eye. Slowly she reached for it, almost afraid that Andrus would reach out and grab her. She removed the small bag and opened it, finding it contained dinars. A lot of dinars. She looked at Xena as she hauled two more rocks into the clearing. She dusted her hands and looked to the blonde.

"What’s that?"

"Un, well, it’s his money pouch."

A dark brow rose and she approached her holding her hand out for the bag. Gabrielle placed the bag in her hand, causing the sack to jingle a little. Xena opened the bag and peered inside.

"Well, this will be useful."

"We’re going to keep them?"

"They’re certainly not going to do him any good, now are they?"

"I suppose not."

"Gabrielle, think of it as the spoils of war. I killed him and we got his dinars."

"What if he had killed you?"

"They would have taken you."

"Excuse me?"

Xena sighed and sat on the ground, patting it so her companion would join her. "They would have taken you and used you for their own purposes or sold you as a slave. Or both."

"Oh."

The tall woman turned to face her smaller companion. "Gabrielle, please let me take you home. This just isn’t safe."

"And home is? Xena, remember where I was when you found me? Draco? Ring any bells?"

Xena picked a flower from the ground and began pulling the petals from it slowly. "All right. You can stay for now, but the moment you find some place you’d rather be, will you please leave?"

"You act like you don’t want my company."

"Now what gave you that idea?" The question was extremely sarcastic and gave Gabrielle reason to consider her desire to travel with Xena.

"I’m sorry." The blonde whispered. "I really don’t want to be a bother. I just wanted to get away. Can you understand that?"

Xena nodded, sighing as she did. "Yeah, I certainly do." She looked back up at the woman that was quickly becoming a friend she wasn’t sure she wanted. "And you’re not a bother. Its just that I’m not used to having someone around me who just wants to be with me because they can."

"Well, I do. I’ll try harder. I promise."

"I know you will."

Xena tossed a coin at the innkeeper and placed her hand in the small of Gabrielle’s back. "Let’s go."

She gently guided Gabrielle to the back of the inn and into the room she had just paid for. It was well appointed with two large beds and a fireplace that already had a small fire in the hearth.

"There’s a tub for a bath in the next room. I can fill it if you want?" Xena dropped her sword in the bed closest to the door.

"I can fill it. I used to haul water all the time at home. It’ll be nice to have a bath and wash my clothes."

"Yeah," Xena scratched her chin. "We should get you some new clothes, so you can change them once in a while."

"Was I starting to offend you?" Gabrielle sat on her bed and began removing her sandals

"No. It just seems that you’re probably not used to wearing the same thing day in and day out. And we need to get you a pair of boots too; sandals aren’t good for the kind of traveling we’ll be doing."

"All the traveling we’ll be doing?" A blonde brow rose.

"Yeah, but I mean it Gabrielle, if you find a place…"

"You’ll be the first to know."

"Go on, get a nice hot bath. And enjoy it. It might be the last one you get for awhile."

"Thanks."

Xena watched her companion leave then began removing her own boots. She wondered, as she tossed them in the corner, why she was letting this girl stay with her. It wasn’t safe, it wasn’t logical and it wasn’t right.

Because she is your friend. Her mind offered as she slipped out of her leathers and lay on the bed. And you need a friend. More than you’ve ever needed one before.

She sighed and rolled over, staring at the door that separated them. "You’ll figure it out and when you do you’ll leave. I just hope you figure it out before you get hurt. I don’t need another innocent to get hurt."

Gabrielle exited the bathing room with a large linen wrapped around her body. She noticed the fire was slowly burning down and went to attend it, trying not to wake Xena, who appeared to be asleep.

"Are you hungry?"

The question started the blonde who proceeded to drop a log on her foot. "Ow! Damn!" She stopped as soon as her brain connected to the obscenity. She sat on her bed and rubbed her foot as tears sprang to her eyes.

Xena sat up, finding surprisingly that she was concerned. "Are you all right?"

"No. I hurt my foot, I cussed and you scared me."

At that point Xena burst out laughing. She knew right away it wouldn’t make Gabrielle feel any better and would actually probably make it worse. Finally she managed to stop and knelt down, taking Gabrielle’s foot in her hand. "Here let me see it."

"It’s not funny."

"I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you."

"I thought you were asleep."

Xena carefully examined the blonde’s foot and rubbed it were it was starting to bruise. "It’s not broken, but it’s going to be sore for a couple of days."

"I’ll live. As my mother used to say, ‘It’s too far from your heart to kill you’."

"My mother used to say, ‘It’ll go away before you grow up and get married."

Gabrielle smiled, looking down at the foot Xena was still rubbing. "Guess that goes to show our parents don’t know everything, huh?"

"You’re mom was right. It is too far from your heart to kill you."

"Thanks." Gabrielle slowly pulled her foot back and tucked them under her. "There’s still hot water if you want a bath."

"Am I starting to offend?" Xena grinned when Gabrielle’s eyes dropped. "It’s okay you can tell me the truth."

"Umm, well, yeah Xena you’re a little ripe."

"It’s warrior sweat. It’ll do that to ya." She patted her friend’s knee. "I’ll go get cleaned up."

"Okay. I’ll give building the fire another shot."

Xena started to tell her not to bother, that she would see to it after her bath, but stopped and nodded. "All right you do that. Then after dinner I’ll show you how I make a nice lamb stew." She lifted her chin to a package they had purchased prior to arriving at the inn, which contained all the required ingredients.

"I can cook." Gabrielle offered quietly.

"Really?"

"Yeah, I’m pretty good at it too."

"Well then, I think that’s your new job for us. Make you a deal. I catch it. You cook it. Is that fair to you?"

"Absolutely. No problem. I want to do my share."

"I know, but in this situation, your share will have to grow over time. It’s going to be an interesting adventure."

"It already is."

"Seems to me that I find those in the strangest places."

Gabrielle smiled because the type of conversation was beginning to change between them. Xena was getting less grumpy with each passing moment and she hoped it would continue. "Go get a bath. I’ll fix dinner.

The warrior winked and turned for the bathing room.

Gabrielle placed everything in a small pot and set it to cook on the hook over the fire. Then her natural curiosity got the better of her and she started looking around the room. Opening the doors of a small cabinet on the wall she found a leather bag, which had apparently been left be the last tenant of the room. She removed it, noticing that it was covered with a good bit of dust. Sneezing, she took the bag to her bed and sat down before opening it.

Inside she found a couple of quills, a vile of ink and some parchment. There was also a letter, which looked rather old and cracked loudly as she unfolded the paper. Moving nearer the fire, she held the letter so it could be read.

Sometimes things happen in your life that you would never expect.

That you could never predict, that you wouldn’t believe if Zeus himself came down from Olympus and told you.

This has happened to me.

I am but an old man, a storyteller of some repute in my home region. Now I am far from home and at the end of my life. I shall not leave this lovely little inn.

Gabrielle looked up at her surroundings that were adequate, but not by any means lovely. "Been a while since you were here, too." She lifted the paper again and continued reading.

I only have a few things, most of which I have given the people of this town in payment for their kindnesses to this old man. The only thing I have left is this bag and these few tools of a bard. No one here wants them, so I am leaving them for you.

Please take this gift you have discovered. Maybe inside you there is a bard just waiting to come out. Maybe tonight is the night that your muse lands delicately on your shoulder and whispers quietly in your ear. The voices that will guide you to tell great stories and make your contribution of change to the world, through words.

In the bag you will also find a coin. Remember always to keep one with you so that you may always have luck in your adventures.

Carpe Diem

Gabrielle was still looking at the last phrase with was unfamiliar to her when Xena entered the room. She was wrapped in one of the large linens and using another to dry her hair. "Dinner smells good."

"Thanks. Look what I found."

Xena settled on the bed next to her and looked at the bag. "Whatcha got here?"

"Looks like someone’s old scroll bag. I think its been here for a while. Look at this." She handed Xena the letter and watched at she read it. "What does that mean?" She pointed at the last two words.

"Carpe Diem. It’s Latin, it means ‘Seize the day’."

"Sounds like pretty good advice."

"Depends on who’s seizing it and why."

"What if it were just to live? Just to enjoy life? Would that be worth it?"

"I suppose." Xena shrugged.

"It’d be worth it if someone might like to turn their life around, too."

Slowly, a smile crept across Xena’s face and she looked sideways at Gabrielle. "It would, huh?"

"Sure. And you know what would make it even better?"

"What?"

"If that person who wanted to do that had a friend who wanted to go with them and help."

"Yeah, I suppose that would make the difference."

"All the difference in the world, I think."

Xena gathered up all the items and handed the bag to Gabrielle. "Keep this. You’ve got a way with words. You’re a natural bard."

"Does this mean I can stay?"

"Yeah, yeah, you can stay."

"Thanks. You won’t regret it, I promise."

"I know."

 

The End…actually it was the beginning…


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