Disclaimer: You know how it goes Xena and Gab and anyone else you recognise arent mine, they belong to those lucky, lucky ever-so-nice-Im-sure people at Renaissance. The corrupted Sucker song comes from the musical Barnum.
There is some violence in this but its nothing serious. There is no intentional subtext although Ive thrown in a half nekkid Amazon for good measure.
I suppose this is set somewhere in the second season
Please feed the bard. All tasty tidbits can be sent here. Nothing indigestible, please, unless its wrapped in nut bread.
To Guard the Bard
By Karen Dunn
I am in pain.
From the throbbing in my head to the ache in my ribs all the way down to the incomprehensible agony of the little toe I stubbed jumping out of that last tree, I am not a happy warrior.
And when I get her alone, I am going to kill Gabrielle.
It all started in a village.
This is not uncommon. Most of these misadventures start in perfectly normal, peasant-ridden villages in the middle of nowhere. If it werent for the fact that, without my weekly mug of port, I would revert to Warlord type quicker than blinking, we wouldnt go within a mile of the places.
So there we are, walking towards the tavern with Gabrielle trying her hardest to look old enough to drink, when I hear a shout of: Princess! followed by running footsteps.
I set my expression to aloof and slightly impatient and turn with a casual grace to raise an eyebrow at whomever it was who called me.
I planned on taking them down a peg or two for the over-familiar use of the word Princess but secretly I am pleased.
Usually all I get is Hey, Xena on a good day or Oy, scum sucking murderer, have you got a minute? on a not so good day.
On a bad day we tend to avoid other people all together. There are only so many arrows I can catch in one go.
Anyway, the woman running towards us is showing slightly more skin than is strictly necessary, even in these enlightened times, and I realise she is an Amazon.
She ignores me completely and throws herself to the ground at Gabrielles feet, supplicating herself to the bard who is grinning a little too much for my liking.
Princess, she says and I try not to sulk, You are needed at the village.
Gabrielle helps the panting woman to her feet, Why? she asks, Whats wrong?
The Amazon tries to catch her breath, The Queen is working on a treaty with our neighbours, she says, and its not going too well.
How can I help?
The Amazon looks at her feet, Well some one mentioned that you can talk the hind legs off a centaur and the Queen thought that was quite apt for the situation. So Ive been sent to fetch you.
I cough into my hand to hide a grin as Gabrielle tries to work out whether or not shes just been insulted.
Well she says, If its really important then Ill have to go. She regards the sweating, half naked Amazon, Why dont you rest up here for the day and follow me when your pulse rate returns to normal?
The Amazon nods, Thank you, Princess and staggers off towards the tavern to collapse face down in a mug of ale.
Gabrielle watches her go before turning to me and saying, Well, cheerio then, Xena. Ill meet you back here in a few days.
And she strolls off down the street as calm as you please.
I start to wave fondly before good sense hammers at the door and I tear off after her, stopping her in her tracks. What do you think youre doing? I ask.
She gives me a look, Im going to help Melosa with that treaty she says in a placating tone.
Well, could you wait a minute I say, I have to fetch Argo from the stables.
She gives me another look, They asked for me. she says, They didnt ask for you. They didnt say Save us, Xena, we need your help, and feel free to bring the sidekick if you have to. They didnt say This is a task only the Warrior Princess can handle. No. They asked for me and Im going alone!
I take a deep breath. Shes been like this for moons now. Just because she got made into an Amazon Princess and was given one questionable staff lesson by a teacher with less co-ordination than she has, she thinks she can take on the known world.
Gabrielle I say in that tone that makes bandits call for their mummies, Lets be sensible here.
As usual it has absolutely no affect on the bard, Xena, she says, I am being sensible. Its only half a days walk along quiet roads and half of those will be inside Amazon territory. Its the perfect opportunity for me test the skills youve taught me without actually being in any danger.
She smiles at me and we both know shes won. The centaurs dont stand a chance.
All right, Gabrielle, I say, But if youre not back here within two days Im coming to look for you. And if youve gotten yourself killed I will be very annoyed.
She gives me a hug and then bounces off down the road, swinging her staff around her head.
I can almost hear the local thugs sharpening their daggers at the thought of an easy mark.
I wait until shes out of sight and then I count to one hundred.
And then I count to one hundred again.
Then I follow her.
Im not afraid of losing track of her. Not in the least. Gabrielle may be many things - bard, Amazon Princess, widow of a totally hopeless yet strangely attractive farm boy turned soldier from a village with an unpronounceable name - but she is down right hopeless at covering her tracks.
Rampaging centaurs would make a better job of being stealthy.
No, she may as well carve: Gabrielle woz ere into every other tree. Id find her just as easily.
Now, I know what youre thinking. Youre thinking I should listen to her earlier argument, arent you?
Shes not a child, youre thinking, You should trust her, youre thinking, You dont half hit the high notes when she belts you in the happy sacs with that stick, so whats the problem, youre thinking.
Believe me, you know nothing.
Gabrielle is a trouble magnet. Its not her fault and I swear to all the gods that shes completely unaware of the fact but if theres a bandit looking to mug someone or a thief on the take, you can guarantee that my Gabby is the first person theyll come across.
If theres a warlord on the rampage in need of a hostage or a king who wants a virginal bride, theyll cross continents to find her - though the virginal part is questionable to say the least.
I tell you, moths and flames have nothing on this girl.
And when shes talked her way out of one mess or bashed her way out of another, what is the first thing people say?
Not: Why didnt you stay with Xena, Gabrielle?
Not: You really should stick closer to the warrior, Gabrielle, its a dangerous known world out there.
Not: In the name of Zeus, girl, cant you stay out of trouble for once?
Oh no, they will say none of these things.
What they will say is: Xena, how could you leave her on her own?
Or: And where were you when our Princess was being battered?
Or: Im going to cut you up with a blunt farming implement and feed you to the chickens.
While she gives me the kicked puppy look.
Its not fair.
I dont think anyone realises just how tough she is. When shes ticked off and testy even I stay out of staff range.
I know what it is. Its because Im tall, dark and husky and shes short, blonde and dopey. People just assume Im as menacing as rumour would have them believe.
I bet Callisto would never have this trouble.
I bet shed go through sidekicks like Gabby goes through scrolls.
Thered be none of this protection nonsense. None of this apologising for razing the village or denting the peasants.
Theyd just blame it on the blonde in her.
I wish some one would hurry up and invent peroxide.
Or perhaps I could wear a wig.
So anyway, she disappears round a bend in the road and I finally set out after her.
I really really have to have another talk with her about being aware of her surroundings. Im not even trying to be quiet and yet shes completely unaware that Im here.
Shes strolling along, twirling her staff and chatting away to herself like theres no tomorrow.
I try to get closer to hear what shes saying.
No sooner have I moved than I spot them. Or rather, I smell them and my nose waits for my eyes to catch up.
A gang of the scruffiest looking bandits I have ever seen are crouching behind a large bush at the roadside waiting for Gabrielle to pass so that they can jump her.
Well, Im having none of that.
As she passes, completely oblivious to the danger as usual one of them draws a dagger and makes to get up.
I pull my breast dagger and hurl it through the trees. It strikes him neatly on the side of the head, hilt first and he drops like a stone.
Gabrielle disappears round a bend in the road just as the others pile on top of me and start to use me as a punch bag.
I break a nail sending them off into the arms of Morpheus.
That bard is going to pay for this, big time.
Those bandits got in one or two good hits and I am favouring my ribs by the time I catch up to her.
I slip into the undergrowth, glad my suffering is over.
I should have known better.
That sound that terrible sound
Oh gods, shes singing again.
Weve talked and talked about her singing and I thought I had finally convinced her to stop.
It frightens the animals.
Now, Gabrielle has nearly as many skills as me she can cook a mean rabbit, she can make fish taste good, she knows which herb will cure a sniffle and which one will chemically castrate a man with as much pain as possible, she can take out men twice her size with that staff, she can charm the birds out of the trees and she knows more dirty limericks than anyone else alive.
Singing, though, is not her strong point.
To put it bluntly, weve been chased out of more villages due to her singing than my barbarian rampages of years gone by.
Apparently the hens stop laying, the cows dry up and the hunting is all scared away.
She has nearly as many wanted posters out for her as I have. But none of mine come with as many gags as you can carry.
She promised me she wouldnt sing within ear shot of another living creature again and from the startled, almost comatose-with-fear, look on the face of the deer I just passed, there are definitely living creatures around.
I shall have to have a word with her about keeping promises and cruelty to dumb animals. (Dumb animals which are also wishing they were deaf to boot.)
But if I do that shell know I followed her and Id end up on the wrong end of a bardic hissy fit.
A low growl drags me back to the present and I spot a large black puma prowling through the undergrowth towards the warbling bard.
It has that look on its face. You know the one. The Im a down to earth, solitary creature who usually only shows his face to hunt. I have never hurt a human being but that godsawful sound has driven me over the edge look.
It watches through slitted yellow eyes as she approaches and it prepares to pounce.
I like to think it is my stealth that catches it off guard as I throw myself onto its back and bear it to the ground.
Have you ever tried wrestling a puma quietly?
Its not easy.
I have one hand clamped round its huge jaw to keep it from both roaring and biting, while the other hand is frantically looking for my breast dagger.
Its only when I get my arm caught in my own breast plate that I remember I left it next to the unconscious bandit back up the road.
Next thing I know, the puma cuffs me a good one and Im flying through the air with one arm down my front as the big cat races off after the caterwauling bard.
As it speeds back along the road towards Gabrielle, I am forced to use my final weapon.
I hurl my trusty chakram and watch as it bounces off of the animals head. The puma falls to the ground in a whimpering ball of fur, inches from the bards feet.
Gabrielle turns and spots it finally.
Ooo, she cries, arent you the cutest thing in the whole world?!
And she pats it on the head and tickles its ribs.
Then she trots off down the road, humming tunelessly.
I reattach the chakram to my belt, adjust my body armour and follow her.
The somewhat dazed puma gives me a slightly betrayed look as I walk past.
I almost apologize to it.
An hour passes with no further surprises as I nurse my bruises and plan many many none-lethal yet highly humiliating ways of getting back at the bard without giving myself away.
My warrior senses start tingling seconds before a rather tuneful voice can be heard singing in the distance. I squint into the sunshine and spot the familiar face of Falafel the trader pushing his rickety cart along the road towards us.
Gabrielle pulls herself up to her full, not very substantial height and says, Shes not here. Im on a solo mission.
I sit down behind a tree and sigh heavily.
Falafels eyes light up, Ah, he says, So youre on an adventure!
I can see that Gabrielle likes the sound of that and can picture our hard earned dinars making their way into the traders hand, Yeah, she says, Us adventurous types need to spread our wings occasionally and try something new.
Red rag. Bull. Lets get acquainted.
He plucks a box from his cart and holds it out to her along with a large spoon, Here. This is perfect for adventurous types.
Gabrielle opens the box and sniffs the contents, What is it?
Its a happy brown bean all the way from the depths of the unknown world, says the trader, a few mouthfuls of this will make you brave and bold. Perfect for adventures. He looks around cautiously, I have heard that some folk have taken to mixing it with water to drink but, between you and me, that kind of dulls the effect.
Gabrielle takes another sniff at the box, How much, she asks.
Falafel claps his hands, For you, little bard person, three dinars.
I watch as Falafel waves goodbye, kisses the two shiny coins Gabrielle has placed in his palm and pushes his cart back along the road to look for another sucker.
Gabrielle, for her part, strolls along without a care in the world, crunching on generous spoonfuls of the happy brown bean and waiting to become brave and bold.
This is ridiculous.
This half-day journey is going to end up taking a week to complete.
I know she says a person should take time out to smell the flowers but does that have to mean every single flower? And does she have to talk to every blessed cutenfurry animal that crosses her path?
Shes got her staff tucked under her arm while she scoops up Falafels happy brown bean concoction like its the best thing since Pocket Pita. Shes darting from one side of the road to the other examining things that dont need examining and chatting to herself nineteen to the dozen.
If I didnt know better Id say shes been at the henbane again.
Without warning, she comes to a complete halt and lets her staff fall to the ground. I manage to conceal myself in a bush not ten feet away from her, my senses alert for danger.
No bandits come haring round the corner; no Cyclops is on the look out for lunch. As far as I can tell there is nothing threatening within a mile of this place.
I frown over at Gabrielle. She is staring at the spoon in her hand.
A squirrel ventures out of the undergrowth and sits and twitches its nose at her.
I shall have to ask her what went on on her wedding night. Only virgins and sorcerers should have this kind of affect on animals and as far as I know, she sure aint no sorcerer.
She looks at the squirrel and then back at the spoon. You know, she says to the squirrel, When she hasnt got her chakram, Xena can make anything ricochet off of trees. I mean, look at my best frying pan.
The squirrel wiggled its nose at her.
Shes told me how she does it, she says, She said some of its in the wrist but most of its in the head. She gave her arm a flex and grinned at the squirrel, I bet I can do it. I bet theres no big secret to it. Thats why she wont let me near it. Its not because Ill cut my own hand off, its because she knows Ill be as good as her.
I shake my head, and make a mental note to have a long talk with her later.
With an awful imitation of my battle cry, Gabrielle hurls the spoon at the nearest tree.
Blow me if it doesnt ricochet neatly off an overhanging branch and hurtle onto the next tree where it does the same again.
At this point Gabrielle is jumping up and down shouting, Yeah! You and your so called secrets Xena Warrior Faker!
I frown at her, a little hurt, and take my eye off the rocketing spoon for a second. I look back just as it flies towards me and hits me right between the eyes.
I hear Gabrielle say: Oh bugger, Ive lost my spoon then everything goes black.
By the time I wake up it is almost dark and Gabrielle is long gone.
I fight back a feeling of panic and hare off down the road expecting to find her battered and bruised body at every turn.
A candle mark of running later and the air is filled with birdcalls as masked, heavily armed Amazons swoop down from the trees and surround me.
I clasp my hands above my head in the sign of peace and manage to croak, Wheres Gabrielle?
One of the Amazons lifts her mask revealing a mess of blonde curls and I recognise Ephiny. She hands me a water skin and I gulp down a much-needed drink.
Gabrielle is at the village, she says.
Is she all right?
Shes fine, says Ephiny, Its the centaurs I feel sorry for.
She talked them into submission. Ive never seen anything like it. I dont know what shes on, but after two candle marks of listening to her, I think they would have agreed to give up their lands and become followers of Pegasus if shed asked them.
I follow them back to the village and spot the bard standing next to a sparkling lake, chatting to Queen Melosa and a somewhat frightened looking centaur prince.
Gabrielle comes running over and gives me a hug, my bruised ribs making themselves known, What are you doing here? she asks.
I shrug, Thought Id stop by for a visit.
She drags me over to Melosa and the wide eyed centaur, chatting none stop, Weve sorted out the treaty, she says, theyre allowed to hunt on our lands so long as they surrender a quarter of the catch. In return they will agree to provide us with weapons and supplies during time of war and we promise not to feed them hay at Council meetings.
Oh good, I mutter, well done.
She looks up at me with a frown, I thought youd be happy.
My head is aching and I check to see whether the spoon is imbedded in my forehead, I am happy, I tell her, deliriously.
She sniffs and turns away, You know what your problem is, Xena? Youre just annoyed that I was right and you were wrong. That was the easiest journey Ive every taken. No bandits, no thugs, no accidents. Youre just getting fussy in your old age and you cant bear to admit that I can take care of myself.
I want to smack her one, I really do, but one or two things stop me. Gabrielle would cry, Id never forgive myself and the Amazons would string me up, cover me in honey and let the ants and crawly things eat me.
And believe me, that may sound kinky but it bloody well hurts.
So I take the only option left open to me. I push her in the lake and leave her subjects to pull her out.
You have no idea how good it felt.
Disclaimer: Xena was battered, bruised, bopped and beaten during the writing of this fiction. Being a warrior, though, she soon recovered and was last seen chasing Gabrielle through the streets of Athens waving a spoon in a rather threatening manner.
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