Between the Times
Lesson 4: Dont Leave the Bard BehindDisclaimer: Same as usual. I don't own the characters and I don't profess to, I just kinda borrow them to get these stories out of my head. Now this one comes from a comment made in 'Ulysses'. When he asks Xena if Gabrielle will mind following him to Ithaca she replies that she learned a long time ago not to leave Gabrielle behind
Subtext: It does not exist in this realmViolence: Nope more of a hurt/comfort thing.
"Last time, Gabrielle." Xena warned with a twinge of frustration in her voice. "If you're not up by the time I saddle Argo " She let the threat go unfinished as her voice rose with her hostility.
"Mnnnmm." Gabrielle half moaned, half whined as she rolled away from the irritating timbre and pulled a blanket over her head. The added warmth made her bed even more comfortable and she snuggled down to bask in its nest-like tranquility.
Xena stood glaring at the young girl, her hands planted on either hip. She shook her head -- this was getting old very quickly. "Gabrielle " She growled in a one-word admonition. Still the girl did not respond. "Fine! Have it your way!" Xena's patience was exhausted with the girl's reluctance to rise and get in gear. An evil smile spread across her face.
Seconds later a very wide-awake bard gasped and coughed her way to the surface of the waist deep pond a few feet from their campsite. She stood spluttering a string of terribly vulgar comments as she flipped her wet hair away from her face.
"Oh, nice. Verrrry nice! What would your mother say?!" Xena almost laughed.
"XE-NA!!" The girl shrieked hoarsely before adding a few more of the obscenities she had so often heard the warrior use.
The warrior crossed her arms over her chest and raised one eyebrow in a silent warning. "Keep it up ."
Gabrielle slapped both palms against the water's surface let out an angry squeal then started anew only to be cut short by a dull thunk against her middle. Instinctively she grabbed then held up a large bar of soap.
"I suggest you stay in there until you cool off and use that to get cleaned up as well." Xena announced as she turned to walk away. Gabrielle opened her mouth to continue. "And, keep in mind that soap can wash certain words off a bard's tongue as well as the dirt off her face ." She added at the girl's sneer. "Get a move on!"
Gabrielle heard the seriousness in the warrior's tone and watched as she moved back into the campsite picking up items and tossing them into their respective carrying containers. She splashed a huge arc of water in that direction and stuck out her tongue at the warrior's back.
"If that's a dare ." Xena warned without stopping or turning around.
The girl wisely chose to end the altercation at that point. Xena had disregarded the explosive language bit because she probably figured she was half-asleep and not even aware of her own words. "Huh, that's what she thinks." Gabrielle mumbled to herself as she waded out of the cool water.
Xena tossed her soft chamois. Gabrielle caught it then rubbed her damp hair before squeezing the moisture out and swiping the drops off her arms and legs. "You know," she began. "Now, I'm going to have to walk half the day in these wet clothes. You're lucky I didn't have my boots on too."
"Well, that's the price you pay for being so difficult in the morning. And you're lucky you didn't have your boots on!" The warrior retorted as she swung the saddle up on to her palomino. Gabrielle let frustrated sigh escape loudly through her pursed lips. Xena turned back. "You're also lucky I saved your breakfast or you'd be hungry half the day as well."
Gabrielle plopped down on a large rock grimacing at the cool tea and dry bread that made up her morning meal. "Lucky me." She grumbled.
"Take it with you." The warrior frowned as she pulled up on the reins her steed. "We going to be late as it is." She clucked a few times and tugged the animal toward the dusty road.
The soggy, now miserable girl watched for a moment expecting the warrior to at least turn to be sure she was following. Deciding she really wasn't all that hungry she tossed the bread into her pack and dumped the weak tea on the smoldering embers of their fire. "Hmph! Let her think I'm not coming! Hmph!" She told the trees as she pulled on her boots. "YOU BIG DUMB PAIN IN THE " Well, no sense pushing her luck too far. Anyway yelling like that seemed to make her throat feel a bit raw this morning. 'Probably all that fuss in the pond before,' she told herself. Xena was in one of those moods and she could feel the beginnings of a full sized bang-a-roo headache gnawing at the very top of her head. She grabbed her staff and followed the path to the road and the Warrior Witch-ness. "Oh yeah, looks like it's gonna be a wonderful day." She sighed.
Gabrielle watched the stiff backed warrior from a safe and self determined distance behind. The day was mild, the sky cloudless, the sun end of summer warm yet the girl felt a chill that she could not shake. She blamed the warrior for the dip in the pool that morning and in her mind plotted a just as sinister revenge. The pain in her head had grown into a sharp throbbing and the raw feeling in her throat had turned dry leaving her with a tickling cough that no amount of water seemed to quell. She narrowed her gaze at her tall friend and deliberately slowed her pace putting an even wider distance between them.
"She's always in such a hurry, always rushing off somewhere and yelling at me because I don't share her need for haste. So what if another one of her dumb warrior friends has some dumb warrior problem! It's not like it won't wait for her and anyway she'll only stick me somewhere 'safe' while she does all the fixing anyway." The girl complained to no one as she trudged along the dusty road rubbing the ache that had suddenly become part of her right elbow. It was an odd pain, not like a cramp more like someone tried to wrench off her limb. However, compared to the ache in her head it was mild.
Xena cast a quick glance over her shoulder and immediately noticed the girl, who had been twenty paces behind, was now more than forty strides in back of her. She also noticed as Gabrielle ducked behind a large cropping of thick hedges. Oh, that little bard was really pushing it today. "First she won't get up, then she refuses to stay close enough that I don't have to worry about her and that has to be the twelfth time this morning she's needed to make a trip into the woods." The warrior grumbled impatiently. "I really don't have time for her nonsense today. If that's the way she wants it ." She pulled the horse to a stop and stood in the stirrups looking for familiar landscape. Satisfied that she was exactly where she thought she should be, she turned the horse and sauntered back to the spot where the bard had disappeared. Argo pawed at the ground and tossed her huge head from side to side, clearly confused by her mistress' change in direction. Apparently the horse was a bit disgusted with a certain young blonde's behavior as well.
The warrior leaned forward and patted the steed gently. "I know, girl, but I have the perfect solution." She whispered to the animal.
Gabrielle stepped from the hedge brushing leaves from her hair and smoothing her skirt back into place. She stopped with a gasp, nose to nose with Argo. "Cute." She sneered at the warrior.
Xena thrust her hand down toward the girl. "Get up here!" She commanded in a no nonsense, no other choice tone."
Gabrielle stared at the limb for a second then stepped back and folded her aching frozen arms across her still damp covered chest. "What if I don't want to?" She glared back at the warrior daring her to do whatever she was probably going to do anyway.
The warrior took a deep breath and gritted her teeth. Stubborn was one thing, but obstinate was something else. This kid was really pushing it this morning. She pulled her hand back and rested it on the saddle horn raising an eyebrow at her young friend. If she wasn't so angry she would probably had seen how comical the disheveled girl seemed trying to stand up to the tall warrior. As it was, she only saw someone that was trying her patience and grating on the last nerve she had that morning. Gabrielle had been slow yesterday, dragging herself behind the horse, refusing to ride, whining about the rocky ground, grumbling over trail rations, tossing and turning most of the night. She was lucky the warrior didn't toss her into that pond half way to midnight. She took a second breath and held out her hand again. "Now, Gabrielle."
The girl shook her head and took another step back. "No Xena, I don't want to ride your stupid horse. If you're in such a blasted hurry then just go!" She swished a hand in front of her as if shooing the darkening warrior away. "Go! Go on! I can manage on my own."
Mentally the warrior counted to ten three times before letting out a long exasperated breath. She had visions of snatching the little brat by the scruff of her neck and tossing her across the back of the saddle like a sack of grain. Oh yeah, that would teach her a lesson! Instead she drummed the fingers of one hand against the back of the other and looked off into the distance sorting the obscenities out of her next comment. It was apparent the girl had heard one too many as it was. "Fine!" She let out in more of a huff than a word, turned the horse back toward her original destination and glared back at the girl who still stood with arms akimbo. "There's a glen just over the next rise. I'll see you there!" With that she kicked the horse into a full gallop and disappeared in a cloud of tawny colored dust.
Gabrielle stood allowing her anger to fume as she watched Xena and Argo grow smaller and smaller in the distance. Her cheeks burned with emotion as she realized the implication of the warrior's words. More than likely she was in for a severe dressing down when she 'caught up' to the warrior. "Go ahead, you big grouch, yell at me all you want. I should be used to it anyway. Always pushing me around. Go to sleep, Gabrielle. Get up, Gabrielle. On the horse, Gabrielle. Hurry up, Gabrielle. Well, ya know what? I'm tired of it and it's about time she listened to me. I'll be the one giving the lecture this time. Oh, you just wait warrior ." It was easy to stand up the warrior when she was a league away. Gabrielle continued her tirade as she stomped down the road following the horse's tracks.
Two hours later a very weary and twice as miserable bard stumbled off of the trail and through the wooded area following signs the warrior had left for her benefit. Xena had already set up a make shift camp, complete with a small fire that burned in an large alcove formed by the outcropping of one of the ledges in the granite wall. One bedroll lay on the ground, along with a small portion of the supplies they had collected at the last village. Gabrielle made her way to the fire's edge and held her hands over it for warmth then rubbed them against her arms. A sudden clunk caused her to jump as the warrior dropped one large trout and a skin of fresh water behind her. She tossed an empty skin at the girl who caught it easily.
"This should hold you over, but just in case " She tilted her head toward the right. "The water runs out over the rock, over there."
Gabrielle stared at the skin in her hand and then back at the warrior who had moved toward her mount. "Where are you going?" She asked around a dry cough. The road had been dustier than she imagined.
"I have an appointment to keep, Gabrielle. You'll be safe here." She said evenly as she mounted the horse.
The warrior's plan settled quickly around the girl. She moved quickly to snatch the animal's reins. "Xena! You can't leave me here!" Her own voice, at that pitch, sent waves of pain through her already stabbing headache.
Xena stared down at the girl through a look of mock surprise. "Oh Gabrielle, not only can I leave you here, but you are to stay right here until I get back." Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply but was cut off quickly. "Since all you've done is moan and groan and whine and complain the last two days about how tired you are and how much you need a rest, think of it as a reprieve." The warrior clucked a small noise in her throat and brought the horse around. "Maybe that way you'll be all that much more rested by tomorrow and ready to move a little faster." Horse and rider left the girl standing in the center of the large grotto as they disappeared through the tall thicket that bordered the one open side of the area.
For a moment Gabrielle considered following then recalled the consequences she suffered the last time she'd made such a choice. She balled her hands into tight fists and let out a squeak of frustration that once again turned into a round of that rotten tickly cough. Only now the cough seemed to make her headache much worse and the pains that had grasped her elbows had moved to her shoulders and back. Her hips and legs were achy as well. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to take a day off and just sit here until Xena returned.
The bard picked up the cleaned trout by its tail. The girl had not eaten at all since yesterday, yet she wasn't feeling very hungry. She stared at the shimmering silver form dangling in front of her and noticed its one black bulging eye staring back. The fish's pouting mouth was opened in a state of eternal surprise. Gabrielle's stomach lurched once in what she thought might be a strange hunger pang. The second time it did the same she was sure it was not. The biggest mistake she made was dropping the trout and throwing her hand over her mouth that fishy odor did nothing for the queasy feeling that had suddenly come upon her.
After emptying the contents of her stomach until it felt as though her ribs might follow, Gabrielle faltered back to the alcove and the warmth of the small fire. Now every muscle in her body was screaming in agony as she spread out her bedroll as well as a person in her condition could. Her arms ached as she threw more wood onto the flames then crawled onto her blanket and pulled the furs around her shivering form. She rested one hand across her tender middle and pulled herself into a tight ball resting her flushed cheek against her other, very cold, hand. The girl drifted into a plagued sleep listening to the steady tympani that played behind her eyes.
Xena pushed the large horse to her limit as they ate up the mile between the glen and her destination. Several times she absently looked back to see if the little bard had followed. It was odd not to have the girl dreamily strolling along behind, chattering endlessly to herself. Xena wouldn't admit, even to herself, how much she enjoyed that little voice and the many questions and comments it sent her way. Maybe she'd been too tough on the girl. It really wasn't all that important that she get to Terebinth. The message had asked her to come at her convenience, not that it was an emergency. It was her need to help this friend who had once sacrificed his family to keep her alive that pushed her to her limit. Was it fair to push the girl as well? She slowed the horse and looked back toward the setting sun.
Argo dipped her large head forward to drink from the small stream that cut across the path. She pranced side to side sensing the warrior's anxiety. Xena patted the mare's shoulder to calm her. Something had been tugging at the edges of her mind since she had ridden out of that grotto this afternoon. Something wasn't right, her anger and frustration with the obstinate bard had clouded her ability to see it. Gabrielle had that effect on the warrior and it grated on her nerves incessantly. The horse expelled a loud snort and shook her head causing her mane to flop back and forth. The sound was so familiar to the warrior she barely noticed.
"When did she get that cough, huh girl? And how long did she have it?" The warrior asked the animal as Argo turned herself to face the west. "Did she seem a little more flushed than she usually does when she has one of those tantrums?" She nudged the horse into a slow walk. "And how's it she was so cold when the sun is so warm?" The horse trotted faster. "Her voice was a little gravelly too. Don't you think?" Argo tossed her head once before breaking into a gallop toward the western horizon.
Argo pulled to a halt a fraction of a second after the warrior had dismounted. She chewed her bit as her breath came in deep pants. It would be a while before her mistress tended to her, she was patient. The small one needed the warrior's skills much more.
The distance across the glen was insignificant to the warrior who covered it in three long strides. She glanced briefly at the dying flame that had been a fire, knowing the girl would not normally let it diminish. Quickly she added tinder to the flickering embers and blew the fire back to life beneath them. She cast two thick logs on the small flame and watched to be sure that it licked at their edges before turning to the bundle of furs near the back of the alcove.
"Gabrielle?" She crooned softly as she knelt next to the girl. When there was no response she pulled back the fur. Xena placed a hand on the rose colored cheek and shuddered at its warmth. Quickly she bent forward and re-tested her opinion by placing her lips against the girl's forehead. Sure it was more of a mother's ability than a healer's skill, but it was tried and true. It never failed. It gave her a more accurate opinion, but that opinion was worse than the first.
Gabrielle was burning with fever. Her body shivered with the chill that accompanies such a rise in body temperature. The warrior raced back to her saddle to retrieve her medicine pouch then back to the young obstinate girl who had quickly become a patient. She turned the girl onto her back and held both sides of her face to bring her to consciousness. "Gabrielle?" She shook her gently.
The girl's red rimmed, bloodshot eyes fluttered open then rolled back and closed again before she managed to hold them partially open and weakly blink at the warrior. She mouthed Xena's name but no sound came from her lips. "It's okay." The warrior assured her. "You're okay I'm here now." She kept her voice calm not allowing her true feelings to betray her fear and guilt. She had called the kid stubborn when it was her own inflexible pride that pushed her into leaving, into rushing off to some place she didn't need to be in such a rush. Guilt pecked at the edges of her mind as she mentally ran through the steps she would need to take and the supplies she would need to do so. Gabrielle coughed a deep croaking cough followed by a painful moan. Clearly the girl was desperately ill.
Gabrielle's hair was damp and plastered to her cheeks and forehead. Her clothing was dark with sweat. Xena quickly pulled the garments from the girl, amazed at the heat they held. 'Didn't help to throw her in that cold water this morning.' A voice sneered at her from the depths of her dark mind. 'Probably has pneumonia, people di .' NO! She wouldn't let even the darkest thoughts she harbored travel there. The warrior pulled a small jar of bluish ointment from her pack, which she used to rub into the burning young bard's back and chest, hoping it would loosen the tightness and relieve some of the pain. She laid thick folded cloths against both areas, bound them with long strips that usually served as bandages then wrapped the girl in a light blanket. The warrior had steeped a strong tea, using dried yarrow and hyssop. She poured it into a mug and allowed it to cool just enough not to burn but so that it was still a bit hot. Carefully, Xena pulled the girl into a sitting position and leaned her against her chest. She put the cup to Gabrielle's lips and forced a few sips of the bitter liquid into her. Then she laid the girl back onto the mound of furs and blankets she had arranged and covered her with even more.
Gabrielle's teeth chattered despite the amount of blankets that swaddled her. She forced her eyes opened, groggy with fever and the medicine Xena had administered. The ointment burned and its heady scent crept up to the girl's mouth and nose. The warmth felt good despite the odor. Xena's presence was even more warming. More than once in her fevered delirium Gabrielle had apologized for her behavior and begged for the warrior's return. She fumbled with the blankets in an effort to reach her hand out to what she hoped was not another dream. She knew tears were running across her cheeks. Maybe from the smelly stuff Xena had put on her, maybe from the fever that felt like it was actually melting her eyes, but most likely from the fact that she was safe again. "Don't leave me here, please." She whispered in a painfully hushed voice.
"Never again, never." Xena promised taking the small outstretched frighteningly warm hand into her own larger one. "Never. I promise." She was glad the girl was too tired and too sick to notice the tear that sneaked across her cheek. She brushed it away quickly. "Never." She whispered again as she placed a soft kiss on the fevered forehead. Gabrielle's eyes closed again as she drifted off into an uneasy slumber. Xena held the small hand in both of hers and leaned back against the hard stone. There would be little sleep for the warrior this night.
For three more days and nights Xena paced with worry between massaging the bluish ointment on to the girl's back and chest in order to ease her breathing and encouraging her to drink more of the strong bitter tea. She forced the infusion of yarrow and hyssop into the girl along with a weak broth that rarely stayed down much longer that it took to swallow it. Gabrielle alternated between sweating with fever and shivering with chills. The pain in her head had grown so fierce she could not help crying like a little girl and begging the warrior to take the pain away. Xena kept cold compresses ready for those times when it became unbearable. She crushed mullein flowers with hyssop and licorice root then boiled it into thick black syrup. It helped to quell most of the wracking cough that aggravated the pain in her patient's chest as well as the one in her head.
When Gabrielle was resting comfortably Xena washed poultices, bandages, clothing and blankets that had become sweaty and stained. She hunted for more herbs to replenish her supply and made sure the yarrow tea was brewed continually and tried endless combinations of herbs to help qualm the girl's stomach. In between she rested herself and managed to eat a few pieces of fruit and the rest of the dry bread in their packs.
On the fourth morning the warrior woke to a weak smile and an even weaker, "Good morning," from her young patient. Gabrielle had propped herself up on her elbows then began to push away the heavy covers until she realized her lack of clothing underneath. She blushed and dropped back on to the makeshift pillows. Xena smiled back then moved to test the girl's temperature. Gabrielle grimaced a bit as the warlord once again brushed her lips across her forehead, but allowed herself to be mothered. Somehow it seemed she'd had this odd dream about Xena looming over her like some great bird then announcing that she was burning. In the dream the looming warrior then forced some horrid potion into her gullet and covered her with scalding oils. Gabrielle shuddered at the memory of the last few nights' recurring nightmare.
Xena paused at the girl's sudden shiver, fearing another episode but was soon satisfied that the fever had broken. The warrior tousled the girl's limp hair. "You gave me quite a scare." She admonished halfheartedly, then added almost inaudibly, "I shouldn't have left you alone."
"Xena?" Gabrielle stared wide-eyed.
The warrior rolled her eyes then looked away from the only eyes that could see through her stoic demeanor. "AND," She added tapping the girl on the nose. "YOU should have told me you weren't feeling well."
"Sorry." The girl dropped her head and sighed with a small pout that turned back to a smile as soon as she saw that she had already been forgiven. Her voice was still not its normal tonality but still hoarse and raspy. The girl started to rise again only to be pushed back down. She looked back to the warrior with a wrinkled brow. "You're the one who is usually telling me to get up." She smiled in that little way that usually got her to have things her own way.
"Not so fast, little girl." Xena warned, immediately seeing through the still much too weak girl's ploy. "I think one more day of rest won't do any of harm. Besides," she raised her eyebrows and smiled broadly. "I'm the only one who knows where your clothes are!". Gabrielle frowned but before she could reply a fit of coughing forced her to sit up abruptly to ease the pressure. She pulled the blankets quickly to cover herself. "Mm Hmm! See!" The warrior shook a finger at the girl then reached for the thick black syrup, poured a spoonful and held it in front of the girl's lips. Gabrielle sniffed, it didn't smell too bad. She was actually partial to licorice. The girl glanced up at the warrior who motioned for her to take it with a little flick of the utensil. Gabrielle took the spoonful and grimaced at the extra flavors the licorice failed to cover. She swallowed quickly then fell back and growled her distaste.
"Don't worry, I've got some special tea here for you to wash that down with." Xena smacked her lips as if to imply the mixture was something Gabrielle would enjoy.
"Yuck," was the girl's throaty reply.
For a moment the two friends simply stared at each other in a comfortable silence. Xena moved a stray hair from the young girl's eyes. Gabrielle grasped the hand and held it close for a moment.
"I'm glad you came back." She mumbled, keeping her eyes cast to the blanket that covered her. She looked at the warrior through her tangled bangs and added, "I'm sorry I was such a brat."
Xena lifted the girl's head placing one finger under her chin. "I will ALWAYS come back." She stated simply, mentally chastising herself for leaving in the first place. "Now, get some sleep."
"I'm not tired." The girl yawned as she rolled onto her side and tucked her hands under her chin.
"Of course not." Xena agreed as she stroked the already half-asleep girl's hair and began to hum a song that her mother had sung to comfort her so many years before.
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