DISCLAIMERS: Please see "Step 1" for specific disclaimers.
COMMENTS: Feedback is always welcomed. "DJWP" <email@example.com>
WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF?
They hadnt come up with much of a plan, but they did decide that Chemeclees needed to rifle through Paracelsuss notes to see if he could find a remedy before they schemed any further.
Gabrielle and Chemeclees solemnly related the conspiracy they had uncovered at the castle. It was obvious that the king and Paracelsus were in it together, conducting alchemic experiments in the creation of new life and that, in all likelihood, the missing villagers were probably used in previously failed experiments.
Lakme sat quietly, listening intently to every detail. The implication of what this meant for her mother left the young woman horrified and afraid. Mallika reached over and took her friends hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. They all agreed that the king and Paracelsus had to be stopped and brought to justice.
The question was how. Who would they inform about the missing villagers and the experiments? Who could they trust with the information and who, in the entire city, would aid them against their own king?
And, of course, of the greatest importance, especially to Gabrielle, was how were they going to get Xena back to battle-ready size?
The conversation could have gone on for hours if Mallikas father, Naderus hadnt hammered on the door, yelling for the young women, wondering where they were, what they were doing and that a tavern full of customers was waiting to be served.
The unexpected pounding sent Xena scurrying behind an empty jar on the table causing her to lose her simple covering once again.
She sat crouched in hiding, shivering in the cold air, waiting for Mallikas father to stop yelling at them all and leave the room. When he finally ushered both Mallika and Lakme away, it left Chemeclees and Gabrielle to stare at one another.
"Ill go back to the shop and see what I can find."
"Right." The bard agreed. Xena popped out from her hiding place and got their attention.
"Dont forget, once the king or Paracelsus goes back into that laboratory, theyll see that Im missing. The first thing theyre going to ask the guards is who was in the castle. That will point to you. Theyre gonna be looking for you."
The warrior warned Chemeclees.
Both Chemeclees and Gabrielle nodded in agreement, heeding the warning.
"Ill sneak into Paracelsuss study, grab what I can find and come back here right away."
"Listen," Chemeclees shifted nervously from foot to foot, "Im sorry about what happened in the castle. About kissing you. I was only trying to keep us out of trouble. It was the first thing I could come up with."
He looked nervously at the table, hoping both Gabrielle and Xena would accept the apology.
"Its all right, Chemeclees. Next time, just try to think of something else, all right?" Gabrielle replied, for both of them.
"There wont be a next time."
Only Gabrielle heard Xenas mumbled comment.
"Thanks, Gabrielle." Chemeclees answered humbly and then reached for the door, "Ill see you later then."
"Well be here."
"Right. Ill be back as soon as I can." Chemeclees nodded and started to leave the room.
"Oh, Chemeclees?" Gabrielle called after him.
The boy turned in response.
"Be careful." Gabrielle smiled warmly, clearing the air once and for all.
Chemeclees smiled back, very relieved.
"I will. Thanks."
The young apprentice closed the door and then he was gone.
Gabrielle looked down at Xena. The warrior had the piece of torn blanket clasped tightly around her body, but it did not appear to be providing much warmth. The bards expression filled with worry.
"Xena, are you all right?"
"I dont know,"the warrior answered softly, "Im feeling very cold. A lot colder than I should."
Gabrielle became concerned when she saw Xenas shoulders tremble slightly. A faint pallor tainted the warriors skin.
"Lets find you something warmer to wrap around your body."
Gabrielle grabbed her staff and peeled off the white fur from its tip.
"Oh, Gabrielle! Dont ruin your fuzzy, white merkin!"Xena protested.
"Dont be ridiculous. I have plenty of extras in my amazon bag."
She laid it out on the tabletop.
"Here, sit on this."
The warrior stepped onto the fur wiggled her toes in the fuzzy softness, smiling.
"What else do you keep in that amazon bag of yours?"
Xena wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"Thats for me to know and for you to find out.....when you get a little bigger." The bard retorted with a smirk.
"Lets keep the small jokes to a minimum, shall we?"Xena responded despondently.
The worry returned to Gabrielles face as she tore a larger square of blanket and pierced a whole in the center with a dinner knife. She handed it to Xena, who slipped her head through the opening, draping the blanket over her body like a poncho.
The bard tore a strip of leather string from her staff and handed it to Xena and she tied it around her waist. Then, the warrior sat down on the soft fur and tucked the smaller piece of blanket around her legs.
"Is that better?" Gabrielle asked, pulling a chair over to sit next to the table.
"Yeah, it is. Thanks."
Xena sighed, relieved to finally be feeling somewhat warm. She looked up at her bard and managed a smile.
"Gabrielle, you must be hungry. Why dont you go get something to eat? Ill be fine here."
Gabrielle could not help but smile. As small as the voice was, the sound of Xena saying her name still warmed the bard to her toes.
"What about you, Xena? Are you hungry?" The bard asked softly.
The warrior thought a moment and shook her head.
"No. No, I have no appetite at all."
Gabrielle slid a hand slowly and carefully along the table closer to Xena, wanting in the worst way to touch her, but not knowing if doing so would hurt her.
"Im so worried about you Xena." She said, stopping her fingertips just short of the edge of the white fur.
Xena reached out a hand and petted the bards pinkie.
"Dont be. Ill be fine."
"Xena, what if theres no way to get you back......"
"There has to be a way, Gabrielle. There always is. And if theres a way, well find it.....together......just like we always do."
She patted the bards finger and Gabrielle smiled, finding reassurance even in the small touch.
"Now, go and get us something to eat."
"Im starving."Xena lied.
"Ill be right back!"
The bard jumped up, more than happy to have something to do while they waited. She grabbed her staff and headed out of the door, pausing briefly before she exited.
"Stay right there, Xena. Dont go anywhere."
"I wont move a little muscle!"
The warrior promised with a smirk.
The bard smiled back and hurried out of the room.
Xena huddled deeper into the pieces of blanket and thought about wrapping the fur piece around her as well.
She was so cold, so very cold.
Xena waited quietly for Gabrielle, a small bundle sitting on a piece of fur, shivering out of control.
Continued in Step 11
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