Between the Times:
Lesson 1 - Swords are NOT Toys
by Brigid Doyle
Disclaimer: The characters within do not belong to me and I make no claim to them. No spoilers ahead and no subtext either. If you see it there you created yourself. Just a bit of closure for some of those little comments that go forever without explanation. This one comes from a line in Hooves and Harlots as Gabrielle tells Ephiny she doesn't like swords at all.
Gabrielle sat on a large flat rock briskly rubbing a towel over her damp hair. She stretched out her legs and wriggled her toes in the bright summer sun. It felt so good to be clean and cool and to rest her weary feet. Xena did a lot, an awful lot, of traveling and it was great when they could just take a day and rest. Her feet had been killing her after that walk from the mystics' village and it seemed like it was entirely uphill. She leaned back on her hands and shook her hair loose letting it fling the remaining droplets of water in a wide arch. She closed her eyes and let the late afternoon sun warm her face then slowly rolled onto her stomach resting her chin on the back of her hands. The twittering of the birds and sounds of cicadas filled the air with a cacophony of sound. Honeysuckle and lilac scents mingled together in a fresh summer perfume. Gabrielle smiled and opened her eyes fixing her gaze on an object that fascinated her more than any bit of Gia's nature.
The girl stretched out her hand very slowly reaching for the forbidden object. A quail let out a sudden shriek and she quickly pulled her hand back under her chin. She turned her head left and right searching for the dark warrior and waiting for her stern chastisement. But the only sounds that met her ears where the soft reverberations of nature. She smiled and shifted into a sitting position crossing her feet in front of her then resting her elbows on her knees. The object seemed to call out to her, to beg her for attention. She arched her neck trying to see past the large crop of trees below her perch. Xena was still in the lake soaking out some stiff muscles. Gabrielle had volunteered to start a fire if the warrior would bring back a stout trout. Xena agreed readily sending the girl to shore with a curt 'say outta trouble' that she uttered without even opening her eyes.
'Trouble,' Gabrielle thought. "What kind of trouble could find me here?" She commented out loud then leaned forward and tenderly stroked the leather sheath that held the warrior's sword. "I can't get in any trouble just touching the silly thing can I?" She asked herself with a smile as she rose to her knees and placed one small hand around the weapon's hilt. Getting to her feet she listened carefully for the warrior's approach and looked again over the edge of the large rock. Xena was still nowhere in sight. "Thank you mister trout!" She giggled and stood without losing her hold on the cold metal.
Covering that hand with the other she carefully drew the weapon from its holder not allowing it to make the usual quick swish that accompanied its exit. She held it up in front of her squinting as the sun glinted off the polished metal. It was so beautiful, so powerfully magnificent. Why wouldn't Xena teach her to use it? Why was Xena so determined to keep her from this wonderfully magic blade? She frowned for a moment turning to face the lake.
"Well I've watched her do this enough and practiced it over and over in my head. I bet if I showed her I could handle it she'd have to teach me." Gabrielle reasoned as she turned the sword in a pendulum type motion watching as the sun highlighted its myriad of scars. She stopped the movement and passed her hand over one of the deep notches on its flat edge. "I wonder which evil no gooder met his match with this one?" The girl's eyes grew wide with wonder and pride. She swung the weapon in a vicious move but lost her grip sending it crashing to the ground with a resounding clang. Gabrielle froze certain that the warrior would appear in seconds and begin yet another long boring lecture on the evils of swordplay. That was one thing she couldn't understand. Xena always called it play, but never allowed her to join the game. "Why is it okay for her to swing the shiny broadsword, but absolutely taboo for me?" She prepared to defend herself verbally at least until the warrior's voice drowned her own. She waited feeling the hairs on the back of her neck raise in anticipation, but no warrior appeared. No lecture began. For a moment she wondered if Xena had taken to the trees just to see what she was doing, just to 'check on her'. She looked up in spite of her self. No, she was sure she was quite alone in the meadow.
Xena had said there was a better chance of catching a good-sized fish near the base of the falls that spilled into the lake on its opposite shore. Gabrielle reasoned that the sound of the falling water covered the noise made by the clanging sword. AND if Xena was all the way across the lake it gave her the opportunity to do a little 'practicing' of her own. The girl reached down and retrieved the weapon. She smiled her most evil imitation of Xena's battle glare and began swinging and thrusting the sword at invisible opponents. Careful to keep her battle cries just above a whisper, Gabrielle defeated warlord after warlord leaving a pile of whimpering illusions in her wake. She finished her imaginary battle with a grand flourishing of a sword twirl grabbing the hilt in one hand and thrusting it mightily into the ground in front of her. "Now you've seen the wrath of " She began boasting to the defeated 'army' but was stopped by a sudden intense freezing burn in her right foot.
The girl looked down wondering what could be causing such an odd sensation. The sight of the warrior's sword tucked neatly in the small space between her first and second toes caused her to swallow hard and blink a few times before reacting. The feeling was strange, cold and hot at the same time. She stared at the site for a moment before taking the hilt once again in both hands and pulling it up and out of its resting-place. The sword came away easily. At first there was little sign of damage but slowly and steadily the blood began oozing from the wound quickly covering the damage with its crimson flood. All Gabrielle could do was watch as it ran over her toes and onto the soft dirt she had taken her battle to a few moments before. Her mouth dropped open as she noticed her own blood on the weapon's tip and she wondered why she felt no pain. The world seemed to move very slowly until one thought ran across her mind.
'Xena . Xena's gonna kill me.'
Gabrielle turned and grabbed the towel that only minutes before she had used to dry her hair. She stabbed a hole through the fabric with the edge of the sword and tore away a long strip. After wiping the blood from the edge of the weapon she quickly balled the material into a small wad and jammed it between her small toes. The blood soaked through it quickly and she tore a second strip away to use as a bandage wrapping all of her toes together then shoving her wounded foot into her boot. She quickly kicked the soil into a swirl of dust stomping the dirt over the small pool of blood then ignoring the pain in her toes ran back to replace the sword in its sheath. She was careful to put it back the way it was found. Taking one quick glance over her shoulder toward the lake she gathered what was left of the towel and headed back to camp.
"Me and my bright ideas." She admonished herself as she grabbed dry sticks and firewood on her way.
"How's this catch?" Xena beamed as she dropped a large filet on the rock in front of Gabrielle. "I even gutted and cleaned it before I brought it to the fire. Now it's your turn to do some magic."
Gabrielle sat cross-legged in front of the fire poking it with a long stick. She glanced at the fish then back at the warrior desperately trying to mask the pain she was feeling.
Xena wrinkled her forehead. "Whatsa matter, not big enough?" She reached down and tousled the girl's hair. "There's plenty more where he came from but " She smiled and squatted down to meet Gabrielle's eyes. "On the other side of the lake I found the biggest patch of berries you've ever seen. Yep, they were as big as Argo's eye! After dinner we can go over and pick some for dessert or for breakfast." The warrior waited for the girl's reaction.
Gabrielle picked up the fish and placed it on the spit she had fashioned with a few well-placed rocks and some green sticks. "I don't know Xena, this looks like plenty." She answered without looking at the warrior.
"Passing up fresh berries? What's wrong Gabrielle, don't you feel well?" Xena cocked her head to one side in disbelief.
"No, no I'm fine." Gabrielle smiled weakly. "Just tired. It was a long walk to get here. I think I want to turn in early tonight. Can we go tomorrow?" She told herself that her foot would be fine in the morning.
Xena stood up and looked toward the sun. "I guess that would be a better idea, it'll be dark soon. I would have brought them back with me just now, but as it was I had very little to carry them in." She laughed at her small joke then frowned when the girl just looked back at the fire. "Hey, Gabrielle?" She leaned to the side to see into the girl's face. "Really, are you okay?"
Gabrielle fidgeted nervously and replied quickly. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just have to to I mean I need to go " She squirmed uneasily.
Xena nodded in understanding. "Ah right, there's a good spot right back there." She pointed to a thick growth of brush with a jerk of her thumb.
Gabrielle blushed, even after being with the warrior for these past months it was still embarrassing to have to discuss such necessities. She pushed herself to her feet and turned to the spot Xena pointed out. The dull throb in her foot made walking difficult.
"Are you limping?" Xena asked more curious than concerned.
"Huh, guess my foot went to sleep." The girl lied as she gently slapped the side of her leg. "It'll be fine in a minute."
"Don't go too far." Xena called after her as she entered the brush. "It'll be dark soon."
Once she was out of the warrior's line of vision Gabrielle practically hopped across the small opening in the center of the brush and plopped down on a fallen log and pulled her injured foot onto the opposite knee. For a moment she merely hugged the limb to her and rocked back and forth trying to ease the pain. From the soft squishy feeling inside her boot and the dark stain on the outside she could tell the bleeding had continued for some time. She could only hope that it had subsided by now. Slowly the girl unlaced her boot weighing the notion of confessing to the warrior and hoping she would receive some bit of mercy before her persecution. Then again it was probably just a bad cut and she'd had those before. Xena's discipline would be far more painful that this little scratch. She could take care of it herself. She wasn't a baby.
Gabrielle pulled off her boot and winced at the blood soaked cloth that covered her toes. For a moment she was afraid of what she might find underneath, but after taking a deep breath she peeled the material away and examined the damages. It wasn't what she expected. It was far worse. Apparently the tip of the sword had taken a thumbprint size chunk out of the inside of her big toe, the edge of the blade had bitten into the flesh at the base of the area between that toe and the next leaving a deep gash. The bleeding from both wounds was considerably less, but they continued to weep steadily. The girl fought the queasy feeling that began to rise and threaten to overtake her.
"Gabrielle? You okay?" Xena's voice came from the campsite.
The girl jumped, nearly falling backward off the log. "I'm fine, Xena." She answered quicker than she had intended. She pulled a strip of towel from inside her sleeve smiling at her foresight in stashing it there. After wrapping the dark colored damp cloth around her toes she quickly shoved her foot back into her sodden boot. She pulled the laces tight hoping it would help to squash the pain. In doing so she noticed the blood that stained her fingers and brought both hands up in front of her face. "Great," she mumbled. "How are you gonna explain this?"
She grabbed the discarded bandage from the ground hoping to find at least one dry corner to wipe her hands clean but there were none. Glancing from side to side she noticed a good-sized rock, fell to her knees, and began to pry it from the ground. It came away easily in the damp ground and she tossed the cloth under it. The mud was better than nothing to hide the crimson stains on her fingers. She grabbed a handful of soggy soil and dropped the rock on the evidence of her 'crime'.
"GABRIELLE?" Xena's voice was closer. She was coming.
"On my way!" She answered hoping she sounded better than she felt. Quickly Gabrielle rubbed the mud across both of her hands and then slid them across the drier topsoil as she crawled away from the rock. She stopped dead when her hands brushed against a pair of leather boots. Slowly the girl looked all the way up into the warrior's quizzical scowl.
"What are you doing?" Xena shook her head, as usual totally confused by this youngster's antics.
The girl smiled a silly smirk as she brought herself up to her knees. "Huh, bootlace." She pointed toward the ground. "I tripped."
Xena shook her head. "Yeah well so much for the bath." She reached down and grabbed the girl's wrist. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up again." The warrior dragged the girl to her feet and pulled her back toward the lake. Gabrielle had to run to match Xena's determined stride. "Can't leave you alone for a minute!" The warrior grumbled.
After a quick trip back to the lake the warrior and the young girl made their way back to camp. Xena strode a full ten paces ahead of the straggling Gabrielle glancing over her shoulder at regular intervals to be sure the girl was still following.
'What's wrong with her anyway?' Xena growled to herself suddenly angry with the young girl. 'She was fine this morning. Now what? And they say I'm moody! They never met this kid!' The warrior shook her head and turned back to the girl. "Are you going to get a move on or do I have to come back there and push you back to camp!" She complained.
Gabrielle looked around at the gathering gloom, watching as the dark shadows of night formed in the surrounding forest. She wanted nothing more than to hurry up, to walk closer to the warrior, to be protected from all the unseen forces of evil lurking behind every tree in this wood. Her throbbing foot had other plans. If she walked slowly she could almost get away with it. Hastening her step would only aggravate the injury. "I'm fine!" She called back to Xena. "You keep going, I'll be along."
Xena expelled a loud breath, then turned and stormed back to camp. 'She's probably mad because I dragged her back and scrubbed her hands and face. Gotta remember she isn't a kid, Xena.' She scolded herself. 'Isn't a kid?' A voice in her head asked in surprise. "Of course she's a kid." She mumbled back answering her own question. "A still wet behind the ears, gotta keep your eyes on her all the time KID!" She stepped into the campsite and dropped down on her bedroll. She was tired, mentally and physically. This caring stuff was a bit more than she asked for.
Gabrielle followed the same route back to their camp and made her way around the fire careful to stay behind the warrior until she had but a few steps to the spit that held the now cooked trout. She was well aware of the deep blue eyes that followed her movements. She knelt slowly and removed the fish from the fire, divided it equally, added a few dates and the last of their dark bread then handed half of the meal to the warrior. She smiled brightly, hoping to mask her agony.
Xena took the offering and both consumed their meal in an uneasy silence. When finished, Gabrielle quickly cleaned the small bit of scraps away tossing them into the fire as Xena rose and stretched mightily. The warrior splashed a small bit of water on to her fingers from their waterskin rinsing the sticky residue from them then tossed the bag to the girl so she could do the same. Gabrielle sat cross-legged on the opposite side of the fire, the bag landed in her lap. She repeated Xena's action then corked the leather sack and set it next to her.
"What the " The warrior broke the silence with her half-formed question.
Gabrielle's head snapped toward Xena's voice. The woman stood holding what was left of the towel Gabrielle had used after their afternoon bath. The bottom edge was ragged and uneven with long trails of string dangling from its end. She peered accusingly over the top of it at the girl.
"It got caught on a branch." Gabrielle lied quickly. "I guess I shouldn't have pulled so hard." She shrugged her shoulders and grinned.
"I guess." Xena agreed examining the item still held in front of her.
Gabrielle tossed a log on the fire and poked at it with the long stick she had been holding.
"So where is it?" Xena asked as if she shouldn't have needed to. Years on the road had taught the warrior that every scrap of material and every piece of every item had some use. Scraps of towels could be cut into bandages or used for polishing rags. 'Or face cleaning rags,' she huffed to herself knowing how often the girl fell asleep with dirty smudges on her cheeks or nose.
Gabrielle looked at her blankly then wrinkled her brow. Xena shook the towel's edge as a reminder. "Oh I I," she turned back and peered into the flame licking at the new wood. "I dropped it into the fire."
"You did what?!" Xena exclaimed snatching the towel in one hand and stepping closer to the girl.
Gabrielle scooted back a few inches. "It was an accident Xena! It fell out of my hand. Accidents happen! I didn't mean it!" She explained, wincing at the irony in her words. The intense ache in her foot gnawed at her resolve and turned pain into anxiety. "Don't you ever have accidents?"
"Gabrielle," The warrior expelled her name in a breath. "How many times have I told you we can't afford to replace supplies? We need every bit of every thing we have, no matter how insignificant you may think it is." She scolded the girl.
For a moment Gabrielle ignored her pain. She was indignant. Xena was speaking to her like she was an irresponsible ten-year-old. The girl reached out and grabbed the tattered rag from the warrior. "Forgive me, I didn't know it was so important to you. I'm sorry. I don't care if it's torn. I can use a smaller towel anyway." She twisted the material around her arm and pulled it close to her chest. Her tone was short and sarcastic.
Xena stood staring at the small person seated before her. She was EXASPERATING! The warrior thrust out one finger and opened her mouth to begin a stern lecture but was cut off immediately by the furious youngster seated before her.
"I don't want to talk about it Xena. If this dumb towel is so precious to you I'll fix it. If you want I'll even replace it as soon as we get to the next village." She shook the material at the warrior. "But right now I'm tired. So just leave me alone." And with that last comment she rolled over and away from her larger companion still clutching the rag to her chest.
Xena still stood with her mouth open and her finger pointing toward the girl. She made an effort to collect what was left of the thought this imp had scattered to the four winds. "You you " She shook her finger trying to put together some sort of repercussion. "You're lucky you're on that mat!" It was all she could force out of her frazzled mind. She shook her finger again then turned and fumed away from the girl taking up a position on the farthest side of the camp. She drew her sword and began calming her nerves by honing its edge.
Gabrielle let out a loud sigh and reached behind herself to pull a blanket across her shoulders. She squeezed her eyes shut practically willing herself to go to sleep. Sleep would be escape from this throbbing torture that wracked her right foot. Sleep would be escape from that bossy warlord that had no idea of just how difficult it was to keep up with her many, many ridiculous rules. She took a deep shaky breath and exhaled slowly.
'Oh, Gabrielle you really got yourself in deep this time.' The girl chided herself. The pain in her foot almost caused her to cry out as she pulled her knees to her chest. If it didn't get better she would have to tell Xena. Xena would yell, a lot, but she would also make the pain stop. This situation was getting a lot worse a lot faster that she could control it. She should have told Xena as soon as it happened and just taken whatever loud reprimands the warrior saw fit to bestow on her. As it was everything that happened since her little experiment with Xena's sword had only made things worse. 'I can't believe I lied to her four times. FOUR TIMES in less than three hours! Even if I do tell her about it now I'll never get out of explaining that. Xena doesn't take lying very well.' She shook her head and tried to pull it farther under the blanket. Thoughts and pain teased her mind alternately until she finally fell into a restless sleep.
Xena watched the girl until she noticed the steady rise and fall of her breathing and knew she had fallen asleep. "Something is definitely up with that one." She muttered out loud. She shook her head slightly. She could figure out the most complex strategy of the most enigmatic warlord. She could match wits with the most egotistical god. She could stand and fight next to heroes and legends, but this kid, this simple village girl drove her to madness. NOTHING this kid did made any sense and that small fact infuriated her! "You sleep well little one," she smiled as she nodded slowly at the girl. "Tomorrow I get to the bottom of this." She pushed her sword back into its sheath then carried it to her own bed roll where it would be within easy arm's reach should she need it. Dropping onto the blankets she let out a long frustrated breath and allowed sleep to take her away from this insanity that was adolescence.
Gabrielle yawned and rubbed the last of the dream troubled sleep out of her eyes as she squinted at the rays of sun that flickered through the leaves over her head. A quick look around the campsite told her Xena was already up and off somewhere drilling or hunting or fishing or whatever it was she did every morning before the sun even climbed over the horizon. The ache in her foot seemed to have quieted and she smiled with satisfaction. 'I knew it wasn't as bad as it looked!' She thought as she yawned again and reached into a mighty stretch. The awakened agony screamed as her toes extended and she sprang up immediately grabbing the aching limb and rocked it back to 'sleep'. "Oh brother." The girl groaned as she gently massaged the outside of her boot. "What was I thinking! What a dope I " She quickly lowered her voice fearing that Xena could be within earshot. Half expecting to find the warlord standing behind her, she turned slowly all the way around and found that she was still quite alone. Slowly she undid the laces on of the boot that covered her hidden injury, then stopped again remembering that Xena could walk right up to her without making the slightest noise. Should she dare a second trip to the brush to examine the wound? Right now she regretted her little rouse from the night before because nature was calling, no screaming, for her to make that very trip.
She pushed herself up on her 'good' foot and gingerly placed the other on the ground. If she make absolutely certain to keep all of her weight on the outer edge of her foot she could just about walk with a noticeable limp. Gabrielle tossed her head back and whined a little squeak of frustration. "Oh, I'm never gonna get away with this! I should tell her and get it over with already." She took a few faltering steps toward the brush weighing the consequences of 'fessing up'. "How mad can she get? After all I'm injured, she's gotta have some bit of pity, right?" She asked herself, stopping to rest her foot. She looked at the distance to the brush and sighed hoping she'd make it before nature took it's course then started hobbling again. "Yeah right! She'll take pity on me, after she takes a layer of skin off my hide! Oh why can't I just listen to what she tells me? Why do I always have to do things the hard way?" Just a few more steps and she'd be close enough to the brush to no way! She picked up the sore foot and hopped the remaining distance to her destination as quickly as possible.
Xena stepped into the clearing just as Gabrielle exited their temporary latrine. They met each other's eyes for a second before either spoke, both a bit leery of bringing up the incidents from the previous evening. The warrior uncharacteristically was first to break the uneasy silence. She held out a leather pouch brimming with deep purple berries.
"I was up." Xena shrugged her shoulders. "I thought well, I guessed I knew you'd like these for breakfast." She smiled a very tiny smile at the girl.
Gabrielle smiled back touched by the stoic warrior's attempt to make amends. She swallowed hard then took a tentative step. "That was very thoughtful." The girl said quietly, taking very small steps. Suddenly she felt very guilty.
"Foot still asleep?" Xena turned her head a bit and narrowed her eyes, just a bit suspicious.
Gabrielle stopped, immediately searching her mind for a quick reply. "A a sleep n-no no, not asleep. I I think I slept on a rock." She patted her backside for emphasis. "Yep, on a rock. You know how that can be." She knew she shouldn't have lied again but with that explanation she felt safe in limping past the warrior back to her bedroll where she dropped back down relieving the pressure on her swollen foot. She didn't take the time to examine it in the brush. She couldn't take that risk twice. If Xena had returned and not found her on her blankets she certainly would have come searching. No, that would have to wait. Until when? She wasn't sure. Xena didn't seem to leave her alone very often. Yesterday was a rarity.
"Don't get too comfortable." Xena warned as she handed the girl the berry pouch. "We have a long way to go today and I want to get started." The warrior turned and began packing up what was not needed immediately. "There's tea in that mug for you, it should still be warm. The pouch has a strap, you can take it with you and eat on the way."
The girl blew a soft breath over her top lip causing her bangs to flip upward. The hint was to get up and get moving. She had no choice. Once again she got to her feet and did her best to gather her share of their supplies and prepare for another day on the road. The warrior wasn't too pleased with her speed, but at least she didn't ask about her limping again.
Xena rode her steed at a slow canter growing more and more frustrated at the girl who dallied behind. Gabrielle did her best to stay far enough back that the warrior couldn't see her distress. When Xena wasn't looking she even managed a few hops to keep her weight off her injury. She even used a strong stick as a cane for a bit before Xena got a little too curious and started to turn back toward her. The girl tossed the pole to the side of the road and continued on her way without looking into the warrior's eyes.
But, Xena had had enough. After two hours of waiting for Gabrielle to 'catch up' she was out of patience. She stopped Argo and turned in the saddle watching the girl who was at least 500 paces behind. "That's it." She growled to the animal. With an almost unnoticeable flick of the reins she pulled the horse around and set out at a gallop toward Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stopped as Xena approached. She steeled herself for the worst.
"I don't have all day to wait for you. Get up here!" She ordered holding out a hand to the girl.
For once Gabrielle was glad to hear that command. She took Xena's hand and was pulled, rather roughly, up behind the warrior. She squirmed a bit finding a comfortable spot on the back of the saddle and wrapped her arms around Xena's waist. The warrior rolled her eyes waiting for the girl to get situated then without another word urged Argo back down the road in direction she had come.
The sun was beginning to make its descent when Xena started to look for a place to make camp. She had been surprised when Gabrielle said she would rather keep going than to stop for a meal. There were the berries, they could share and some trail rations in the saddlebags. Xena had dropped from the saddle to give the horse relief, but Gabrielle remained there even when Argo stretched her head down to drink from a small stream. The girl's eyes had grown wide and her knuckles turned white on the saddle horn, but she did not get off the animal. There was a reason that the girl was getting this chummy with Argo and it had to do with with . Xena ran over the events of the last few days. Two things gnawed at her. One was this sudden desire for riding the other was that Gabrielle had said she tripped over her bootlace last night, but both laces were tied, rather tightly Xena remembered.
Xena led Argo into a wide clearing bordered on two sides by a heavy thicket and a line of briar bushes on the third. A small stream ran from beneath the brush. 'Perfect,' the warrior thought. 'Lots of natural protection and water too.' "We'll stay here." She announced without emotion as she dropped the reins. "Stream's too shallow for fish. I'll have to do some hunting." She said with her back to Gabrielle as she started walking away.
Gabrielle gritted her teeth fretting about dismounting the tall war-horse. She would either have to rest her injured foot in the stirrup and lower herself or use the other foot then land full weight on the tender toes of the former. In either case she wasnt sure she could mask her distress. Her decision was to wait.
Xena stopped at the stream and placed both hands on her hips. She smiled as she asked, "So ya gonna get off my horse and get this camp set up, or do I have to do all the work?"
Gabrielle chewed her bottom lip and took a few quick breaths. 'Okay you can do this.' She told herself. She'd seen Xena dismount this way dozen's of times. Throwing her right foot over the saddle she perched sideways on the horse's back. Her plan was to simply slide off the animal and land on the ground placing all of her weight on the left foot. Xena would go off hunting and she would be fine. It was a good plan. It should have worked. It would have worked for Xena. Gabrielle was not so practiced in getting off of a horse and she was quite a bit smaller than the warrior therefore had a longer drop to the ground.
"OW!" It slipped out before she could stop it and she went immediately to the ground clutching her sore foot. The injury combined with the time she had spent in the saddle made the landing even harder than it should have been. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and sucked air through her teeth rapidly. "Oh, ouch, ouch, ouch!" The words escaped in rapid succession.
"So you wanna tell me about it?" Xena's voice was dangerously close and perilously deep.
Gabrielle peered at the warrior's boots then slowly, very slowly raised her eyes to meet Xena's. The warrior's expression was not one of amusement. The girl gulped and swallowed hard. "I'm in trouble, huh?" She questioned meekly.
Xena glared, nodding slightly.
After carefully removing the boot, Xena made a quick examination and an even quicker diagnosis. She scooped the girl up, despite her protests and deposited her next to the stream sticking the swollen discolored toes into the frigid water. Immediately Gabrielle jerked it out. Xena pushed it back and gave the girl a look that said 'keep it there or else!' Gabrielle decided not to take any chances.
Satisfied that the wound had been rinsed clean, Xena examined it again. There was little she could do for the gouge out of the big toe, but the slash between the toes would have to be stitched. The cold water had washed the area clean and numbed it as well. From the amount of blood on the dirty rag Gabrielle had used as a bandage and that of it in her boot combined with the fact that it was still seeping the warrior knew it was the only way to stop the flow. Normally a wound such as this would be sown shut within minutes but the girl had made that impossible. Xena knew that the continuous flow of blood was a good thing since it had served to wash the wound. Stitching a wound after so much time could prove deadly. It might seal inside the very things that caused infection. She hoped it wasn't too late.
For the second time that evening the warrior pulled the girl into her arms and carried her back to the campsite. It would be much easier to work in the light of the fire. Her movements were gentle as she placed Gabrielle on the blanket. Her voice was not so soft. "HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?" Xena demanded as she pulled the girl's foot into her lap and gently wiped it dry.
Gabrielle leaned forward, grabbed the warrior's wrists and squeezed as tightly as possible almost trying to pull Xena's hands away. She opened her mouth to explain, blinking away tears of pain and guilt.
"The truth, Gabrielle!" Xena warned through her teeth.
The girl met the warrior's eyes and tried desperately to look past the anger that looked back. "It was an, an ac-accident." She stammered no longer caring what the consequences of her recent actions might be. "I I was just, just ow, ow, it really, really hurts, Xena. OW." She squeezed the warrior's wrists tighter as Xena patted the wound dry then stopped to allow the girl a bit of rest. Gabrielle's attempt at bravery was waning quickly.
"It should hurt!" Xena barked at the girl. "You're lucky you didn't cut it off! What did you ." Her voice trailed off as a recent memory came to light. She held the small foot tightly around the arch and spoke directly to her squirming patient. One firm tug on that limb brought the girl closer and stopped her frenetic movement. "My sword! I knew it was moved. I thought you just nudged it a bit when you picked up your clothes. You touched my sword?" Now the warrior's eyes flashed with new anger.
"I only just just wanted to I didn't think ." Gabrielle tried to push herself away, but was held fast by the warrior's now firm grip on her ankle.
"No, you didn't think and look where's it's got you!" Xena looked down again at the deep red, almost purple toes on the small foot. Signs of infection were already showing in the drastic discoloration of the girl's big toe. She reached with one hand for her medicine pouch fishing out a sharp bone needle and a long thin piece of what she had called catgut.
Gabrielle didn't want to know why it was called that or what it was really made of, she never asked. She gasped at the sight of the tools and desperately tried to pull her foot free. "NO! No, Xena it's okay." Her voice squeaked with fear and betrayed her youthful anxiety. She held her palm up in front of her almost like a shield or a barrier that could hold back the truth of the situation. "It will be okay. Please, Xena." She pulled mightily against the warrior's hold.
"Gabrielle." The warrior's voice gently called through the girl's panic. "It is too deep to be all right."
The girl stopped and sniffed, hanging on the comfort of the gentle tone.
Xena regretted having to cause the girl more pain, even though the little brat deserved a good dose of castigation. But there was no other choice. She had seen men with untreated wounds that turned their limbs black. For some that meant a slow death, for others it meant a living death. To lose a limb or part of a limb was a death sentence anyway. She couldn't bear to think of Gabrielle being disfigured in that way.
"Lie back and don't watch." Xena told the girl firmly but softly then reached out and pushed her back toward the blanket. "I'll be quick, but you have be very still."
Gabrielle pushed herself up on her elbows, "please Xena don't please "
Again the warrior pressed the girl back to the ground. "Be still." She whispered and took a better hold on the shaking foot in her lap.
It didn't feel quick to Gabrielle. Xena pushed the sharp needle through the skin on her foot. Gabrielle gasped loudly trying to grit her teeth. Xena looked at the tight-faced girl and shook her head. The kid was really suffering this time. Part of her wanted to comfort the child. Another part wanted to throttle her for getting herself into such a mess!
The second stab of the needle caused Gabrielle to draw a deeper gasp and release a loud sob that dissolved into a panting cry. Xena tried to work faster, ending the punishment of dealing with this wound, but it was in such a difficult location. The girl's whimpering continued to grow with each stitch. Every now and then she would emit a soft scream followed by a string of squeaky sobs.
The last of the stitches had to be placed in the tender area just under the girl's toes. Xena quickly brushed a tear from her own eye knowing the torture the little rogue was being put through. She finished quickly then gently massaged either side of the girl's small foot. "Shh, shh." She comforted, wondering where it was coming from. "It's okay, almost done. Shhh, just a little bit more." For a moment she almost laughed imagining herself doing such a ridiculous thing with one of her soldiers.
"I'll never touch your sword again, NEVER." Gabrielle opened her eyes and promised through her tears. "I really mean it, Xena really." The girl's penitence was tearing away the warrior's resolve. She continued her work quickly, wanting this to be over perhaps more so than her patient.
Xena applied a dark salve to the open wound on the girl's toe. Its sting matched the agony left by the needle. And once again Gabrielle's squeaking whimpers cut the night air. It felt like forever, but after six neat stitches, what seemed like a pot full of smelly ointment, and a lot of screaming it was over. Xena bandaged Gabrielle's foot with white cloth while lecturing her on the value of using clean dressings when covering any wound. The girl nodded in agreement unable to speak through her sobs. But eventually the sobbing relaxed into intermittent sniffles as the warrior propped her foot on a pile of soft furs set atop Argo's saddle.
The warrior helped the girl into a sitting position and held her comfortingly against her chest. Gabrielle was exhausted. She rested her head against Xena's shoulder, grateful for this bit of compassion. Xena rocked her a bit, like a mother comforting a small child then pushed a foul liquid under her nose.
Gabrielle took a tentative sip of the vilest tasting tea she had ever allowed past her lips. Then pushed it away pinching her face tight and swallowing hard. The warrior gently moved the mug back to the girl's mouth. "To stave off infection." Xena whispered close to Gabrielle's ear. "And you drink every last drop!" She warned as she kept her own hand over the girl's and helped her to get the medicine to her lips. "There's lots more where that came from." She threatened with a crooked smirk.
Gabrielle took a long drink, gagged a bit then swallowed with a small cough.
"Get used to it. You'll be drinking it quite often for the next ten days." Xena smiled at the girl's pained expression.
Gabrielle grimaced but did as she was told. She had a feeling this wasn't over yet.
The next few days confirmed that thought. The infection was slight, but enough to bring on a fever that kept the girl on her bedroll and in a deep sleep most of the time. Xena kept the wound clean and administered the salve twice a day. She also spent quite a bit of time getting the medicinal tea into Gabrielle. As time passed and the fever lessened the warrior spent even more time keeping the impatient patient off the injury as it healed completely. Gabrielle protested until she was reminded that the incident had still not been resolved and that there was much to 'talk' about.
A week later the stitches came out. Once again Xena had to keep a firm hold on the girl's foot, but this time it was because Gabrielle insisted the warrior was tickling her too much and she just couldn't be still. Xena narrowed her eyes and shook the girl's foot with a silent warning then continued her task without interruption.
Gabrielle wriggled her toes and smiled when it was over. "Good as new." She grinned happily. "Can I walk all by myself now?" Wide green eyes looked up at the warrior.
Xena shook her head at the girl's antics. "Later." She answered with a sigh then turned to hide her own grin at the girl's immediate pout.
After a meager dinner that consisted of dry bread, dates, and the last of their cheese Xena allowed the girl to walk unassisted to the brush but waited within earshot 'just in case'. She then led Gabrielle back to the fire and motioned for her to sit down on a fallen log.
"Time for the 'talk'." Gabrielle groaned as she dropped down next to Xena.
"Oh, yeah." Xena agreed as she pulled her sword from its sheath and turned it over in her hand examining its surface. Gabrielle swallowed hard and scooted a bit away from the warrior, wondering what she had planned. "You should have told me you were injured, Gabrielle." The warrior sounded more hurt than angry. Gabrielle felt tears growing in her eyes and blinked them away. "Not telling me could have cost you your foot, or your life. Don't you know that?" Xena's voice was soft almost a whisper. It made Gabrielle feel worse than if she had yelled, ranted and raved.
"I'm sorry, Xena. It was stupid. I was stupid." Gabrielle could think of nothing more to say. She placed her hands in her lap and fiddled with her fingers. "I learned my lesson, Xena really I did. You were right." She added quietly.
"Now," Xena hesitated. Gabrielle drew a breath preparing herself for the warrior's disciplinary decision. " you better get some sleep." Xena pointed to the girl's blankets with the tip of the sword.
Gabrielle exhaled, wrinkled her brow and stared at the warrior. "That's it? That's all? You're not gonna yell, you're not gonna give me some awful punishment for not following orders? Nothing?" Gabrielle was more afraid of this quiet form of admonishment.
Xena shook her head. "You've already been punished enough by your own hand." She stood slowly swishing the sword in front of her then bringing it up to examine it again. "It will be a while before you're well enough to gather all the firewood "
Gabrielle's shoulder's fell as she let out a rush of breath through her bottom lip.
"And to make sure Argo is brushed every night ." Xena continued swishing the sword again.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and whined inwardly.
"And to make sure all of our clothing and bedding is washed and cleaned regularly ." Xena added without turning toward the girl.
Gabrielle wanted to cry. This was getting worse.
"Of course you'll be on that bedding every night as soon as you clean up all of our after dinner mess." Xena smiled at her sword.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and waited for the next in her long line of penalties. There wasn't much left she could do. Xena just stood next to her gently swishing her sword. Gabrielle took it as a sign that the 'talk' was over and that she should go to bed before Xena thought of anything else. 'Oh well,' she sighed to herself, 'I guess I deserve it. It could have been a lot worse.' She stood and started a slow walk to her bedroll.
"Oh and Gabrielle?" Xena called after her. Turning her sword so that the edge was flat she swung it hard landing a sharp quick sting across the girl's backside.
Gabrielle gasped as she stopped and stood soldier straight. Her hands went immediately to her indignation. She blinked twice and braced herself for whatever was to come.
"A sword is a weapon. It is meant to kill, to maim or to bring stinging pain. It is NOT a toy. Right?" Xena finished and pushed the blade into its sheath, with a soft swoosh.
"Right. Not a toy, definitely not a toy!" Gabrielle agreed quickly, rubbing the sting off her posterior and limping the short distance to her blankets.
"Of course if you're not convinced I could show you just how much it can sting." Xena smiled and raised her eyebrows.
"No, no, no." Gabrielle turned to face the warrior and held both hands in front of her. "I'm convinced, totally convinced, absolutely, positively, convinced. Swords are definitely NOT toys and people who don't know how to use them should not even try. I am one hundred percent enlightened!" She elaborated.
Xena smiled after the contrite girl then moved to her side. The warrior put a gentle arm around the girl's waist and helped her to the bedroll. "I'll have your tea ready for you at first light." She commented as Gabrielle lowered herself onto the blankets.
"Good night, Xena." Gabrielle mumbled as she crawled into the bedroll. 'Swords are not toys. Don't ever touch the warrior's sword,' she repeated to herself. The woes of the day caught up to the young girl quickly and she gratefully surrendered to the lords of sleep.
The warrior gently tucked a soft cover over the girl, silently thanking whatever had protected the kid from the tragedy this situation could have been. One hand went carefully to Gabrielle's forehead relieved that no fever had crept into her sleep. Brushing the soft wisps of hair from that forehead, Xena sighed and looked down on the face of innocence.
"Good night, Gabrielle." She whispered softly.
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