Disclaimer & Notices: See Chapter 1.
by Red Hope
It was two or maybe three candlemarks after sunset, Xena wasn’t really sure as she’d lost track of time awhile ago. She hadn’t moved much from her position in the chair. Her eyes never left their mark. She was now bent forward, her elbows on her padded knees, and her chin rested in her laced hands. She’d had all day to plan out what to do and now she only needed to be on her way.
Just then there was a booming knock at the door.
“Xena, are you in there?”
The warrior was already headed for the door before she even heard the familiar voice. She threw open the door and a faint smile touched her at seeing the faces in the hallway. “Solari.”
“We came as soon as we got your message.”
“Thank you.” Xena stepped aside and let the two Amazons into the room. She recognized the second Amazon with Solari but didn’t know her name.
“Xena, this is Alexa.”
“Nice to meet yah,” offered the Warrior Princess.
The quiet Alexa dipped her head but gave a small yet true smile.
“What’s happened?” cut in Solari.
“Gabrielle has the sleeping sickness.” Xena directed the two Amazons over to the bed.
Solari stood at the foot of the bed, her hand on the post, and her eyes resting on the queen. “What can be done?”
“The healer says nothing.”
Both the Amazons’ heads shot around faster than an arrow towards Xena.
“What?” asked the suddenly upset Solari.
Xena bit her lower lip for a moment then replied, “There is no cure for the sleeping sickness.”
Solari’s eyes narrowed at the tall warrior and she curiously asked, “But you have an idea?”
“I do.” Xena’s eyes moved away from Solari and focused only on the sleeping bard. “I’ve heard of an amazing herb discovered by the centaur Chiron.”
“What is it? What about it?”
“It’s called betony… wood betony. Chiron discovered it and it’s said to cure anything.”
“Where do you find it?”
Xena licked her lips, her arms now folded over her chest, and her eyes now locked on Solari. “It only grows in July in wooded areas.”
“But its March,” reminded Alexa.
“I know,” murmured Xena, “I have to find it.”
Solari could tell that Xena already had some plan in mind. She decided it was best not to waste time asking about the plan and found it more important to get Gabrielle to a safe haven, namely the nation. “We will take Gabrielle back to the nation.”
“Yes, I need you to,” agreed Xena. “I will arrive there when I’ve found the betony. How many Amazons traveled with you?”
“There are six of us total,” answered Solari. “We brought a traveling pallet, furs, and medicine for Gabrielle’s journey back.”
“Good. Let me tell you what you need to do, her symptoms, and best way to handle them.”
Solari nodded her head but she turned her attention to Alexa. “Go tell the others to ready the pallet then meet us in here.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Alexa quickly left the room.
Solari stepped up to the Warrior Princess while she reached to her right side. “Before you begin that, I am to give you this.” She held out a medium size leather bag.
Xena took it from Solari and realized it was a bag of dinars that probably could amount to at least a hundred dinars. “Solar-”
“Ephiny’s orders. She wanted to make sure you had dinars incase you had to buy something for Gabrielle. She didn’t want you scrounging around for them while Gabrielle was on her death bed.”
The warrior knew the Amazon was right so she accepted the help. She then began briefing Solari on Gabrielle’s condition and how to care for her. By the time Xena finished the four of the give Amazons arrived in the room and quietly awaited. Earlier in the day, Xena had already gathered her things to leave but first she wanted to make sure the Amazons left with Gabrielle.
“It’s best that we go now,” decided Solari.
The Warrior Princess nodded her agreement. “Is the pallet prepared?” She gazed over at the young Amazon, Alexa.
“Yes, it’s ready.”
Xena nodded, went to the bedside, and she pulled the sheets away. When she slid her hands under Gabrielle’s body, she realized just how warm the bard was despite her earlier position was of her huddling. She collected Gabrielle into her arms, straightened up, and carefully adjusted the sleeping bard. “Alright, lead the way.”
Solari nodded, left the room with Xena on her heels, and they were followed by the Amazons. Solari now led the group through the tavern, outside, and only a hundred or so paces to where an Amazon stood at attention next to a horse. Xena immediately saw the traveling pallet that was on wheels behind the horse. She noted how it was heavily padded, which she was thankful for as she lowered her friend onto it. Her head quickly turned to Gabrielle’s face when Gabrielle softly moaned. “Gabrielle?” she murmured. She received no response and this caused her shoulders to faintly slouch.
Solari clasped Xena’s left shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’ll get her to the nation as soon as possible.”
“I know,” quietly responded the warrior. She was carefully pulled the heavy furs over the bard. “I won’t be far behind.”
Solari squeezed once more then pulled her hand away. “Be careful, Xena. Gabrielle is in safe hands.”
The Warrior Princess finally had her friend tucked into the now warming pallet. “I know, Solari.” She faced the Amazon and held out her arm. When Solari clasped her arm, she warmly said, “Thank you.”
The second in command offered a promising smile. “See you soon, Xena.”
Xena nodded, broke the arm shake, and quietly hurried back to the inn.
Solari did a quick check over the queen then ordered everybody to move. She stole one last glance towards the inn behind her and she caught sight of Xena’s shadow quickly moving about in the room’s window. She sighed and murmured, “Don’t fail her now, Xena.”
The Warrior Princess forced Argo to ride even harder. She’d been riding all night since she’d left the inn back at the small town. She was hard pressed to make it to Athens by tomorrow evening as she could only hope that Athens would carry the betony somewhere in her markets. And she was certainly thanking Ephiny for the dinars that the nation had provided her with since she knew how much betony could cost. Yet it wasn’t so much the price that Xena was completely concerned about but whether anybody would be willing to sell any. She decided to concern herself with that when and if it came up later.
Right now, her fears and thoughts were completely centered on the bard. She imagined the Amazons were either at the nation or almost there. She could only hope that the journey went smoothly for them.
“We should arrive at the borders in another two candlemarks or so,” announced Solari to the group. She took a quick glance behind and nodded at the continued formation that the Amazons held around the queen. Solari was in the lead, Alexa rode the horse, two Amazons walked beside the front of the small wagon and two Amazons at the back of the wagon.
“I don’t think quite in two candlemarks,” corrected Alexa, who was starting to pull on the horse’s reins.
Solari stopped and reached back at her sword. She wasn’t exactly in the mood for dealing with road scavengers tonight but she did expect it. “Archers at the ready,” she called, “Alexa and Gloria at my side.”
Alexa had already dismounted the horse and had her sword out as she approached the second in command’s right side.
Solari caught from the corner of her eye Gloria coming to her left side. She then put her full attention on the eight bandits approaching them. She was thankful for the full moon lighting the road and the small skirmish ahead of them. “Listen, we don’t want any trouble,” she called down to them.
The bandits all laughed together and one bandit stepped ahead of the rest, presumably the leader. “Neither do we so just put your little weapons away and hand over anything of value.”
Solari had her left hand behind her and she gave a hand signal to the three Amazons that guarded the sleeping queen.
The three Amazons took the signal, strung up their arrows, and aimed for the bandits.
“We don’t have anything of value,” yelled back the second in command.
The leader unsheathed his sword from his side. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be traveling this late or with this many… girls.”
Solari narrowed her eyes at how he insulted them. She then saw the bandits advancing them and she loudly ordered, “Fire!”
The three archers fired and made their marks then they strung up their bows again yet they couldn’t fire until they had clear shots.
Solari was thankful that the archers had swiftly taken out three enemies. She was now caught fighting two bandits at once, Gloria had two as well, and Alexa had only one.
Gloria suddenly became overpowered by one of her opponents and her other opponent slipped away. She tried to get the archers’ attention but she quickly lost her chance when her enemy brought his sword across her chest. Gloria felt the tip of the sword cut just the upper layer of her skin causing it to bleed. She growled at the bandit and went into an angry attack.
One of the archers realized that a bandit was coming towards them. The archer, Triona, knew the bandit was too close for her to shoot so she threw her bow and arrow to the ground. She had her sword unsheathed just as the bandit took a swing at her. She stopped his blade just in time, a smirk on her face, and she teased, “I don’t think so.”
The heavy breathing bandit growled at her and continued his attack.
Another archer quickly realized she had a clear shot and she took it.
Solari had heard the screaming arrow coming at her from behind. When her enemy swiped at her, she dropped down and watched as one of her opponents went falling backwards from the blow of the arrow. She then bounced up to her feet and attacked her last enemy.
Alexa was having less luck with her bandit. She was losing ground with him as he pressed down on her. She was much smaller than him and he was better trained than her. Yet Alexa was holding her own for the most part. She’d just parried off two stab attacks then she made her own slash for his stomach but missing.
The young Amazon ducked from a swipe at her head yet she didn’t anticipate the next attack. She was suddenly kicked in the stomach and she went flying onto her back. Her sword was lost sometime while she was in midair and it skittered across the road. Alexa partially sat up just as the bandit came over her and he kicked her back down.
The bandit smirked down at her and then he lifted his sword for his final blow.
Alexa sensed fear course through her for a second but she held hope. When her gaze refocused up on the bandit, she saw his stunned expression and she followed his gaze down to this chest. Her lips curled into a grin at seeing the arrow resting in his chest, directly through his heart.
Alexa didn’t hesitate to kick him off of her and she made sure to kick him between the legs. She rolled up onto her feet and saw which archer had saved her. She smiled and called, “Thanks.”
The archer winked at her.
Alexa collected her sword and noted that Solari had just finished off her last enemy.
Gloria had already killed hers as well as Triona.
The second in command stared at the leader bandit as his weight rested on her sword. She slowly extracted her sword out of his belly and watched him fall to his knees then on the ground. She shook her head at the senselessness of the fight. She faced the others, approached them, and quietly asked, “Everybody okay?”
“Yes,” answered each Amazon together.
“The queen is safe,” added Triona.
“Good.” The second in command quickly scanned the situation around them then she made a decision. “Let’s travel up here for several hundred paces then we’ll take a break. Everybody okay to do that?” After everybody nodded, she ordered, “Let’s go.”
“I second that,” muttered Gloria.
Alexa mounted the horse and spurred it into a walk again.
The four other Amazons fell back into their positions around the sleeping queen. The escort group continued their march down the road but not for very long. Solari led them off the road and into a fairly open area in the woods where everybody could rest. Triona actually retrieved the medical kit that was at the foot of the wagon and she hurried to Gloria.
Gloria smiled gratefully for Triona’s concern. She followed Triona over to a decent size rock partially buried in the ground. She sat on it and Triona knelt down off to her side with the medical kit.
Solari had briefly been studying the pair but she then turned her focus to the wagon. Quietly she approached the right side of the wagon, her hands now resting on the edge of the wagon. She stared at the peacefully sleeping queen. “We’ll have you in the nation in a couple of candlemarks,” she murmured despite she knew Gabrielle wouldn’t hear her. For a moment, she adjusted the furs over the bard.
Alexa silently appeared at the second in command’s side. “Everything will work out.”
“I know,” whispered Solari. She turned her head to the young Amazon. “How are you feeling?”
“A little tired,” she admitted.
“I am as well.” Solari tilted her head to one side. “Did you eat a little something?”
The older Amazon faintly grinned, shook her head, and touched Alexa’s closest arm. “Come on.”
The group of Amazons continued their break for about half of a candlemark. They then collected themselves and proceeded with the rest of the journey to the nation. And it was roughly another two candlemarks before they arrived at the borders of the nation with their precious cargo. When they entered the village, they didn’t hesitate to continue directly to the queen’s hut where Ephiny, the healer, and Eponin were waiting.
Alexa stopped the mare when the wagon was next to the hut door. She quickly dismounted and went to the back but the other four Amazons were a step ahead of her.
Triona and Gloria were carefully sliding the wood pallet down the wagon while the two other Amazons waited for the head of the pallet to come to the edge of the wagon. The four Amazons had carefully slid the queen and pallet out off the wagon and carried her towards the door.
Ephiny had been there for awhile now and she’d already had the door open when the group had arrived. She then sensed the second in command at her side. “How’d everything go?”
Solari folded her arms over her chest while she watched the four Amazons delicately carry the queen on the pallet through the doorway. “It was okay.”
“I see you ran into some trouble.” The regent directed to Gloria’s injured chest as she went past.
“We ran into a small gang of bandits.”
Ephiny gave the second in command a curious expression.
“They’re dead,” quietly reported Solari.
The regent merely nodded, headed for the entrance of the hut, and Solari was right behind her. After two Amazons carefully lifted the queen out off the pallet and onto the bed, she saw the healer approach the bedside.
Eponin had been waiting in the hut with the healer but she now came to Ephiny and Solari. “She looks perfectly fine,” she murmured to the pair.
“Like she’ll wake any minute,” quietly added Solari.
The three head Amazons stared at the queen.
Ephiny then moved away from the pair and went to the bedside. She turned her attention to the healer. “How is she?”
“She seems to have a slight fever.”
“Xena said her fever comes and goes,” informed Solari, who was at Ephiny’s side again.
The healer, Eilis, slowly nodded her head. She then began closely inspecting the queen’s body starting at the head. She also moved Gabrielle’s halter around some then her skirt to check over her. She then came to quick stop when she shifted the skirt around some. “Sweet Artemis… it’s true.”
Ephiny’s eyes squinted a little as she looked closer at the purplish rash that covered Gabrielle’s hip side. “What is that, Eilis?”
“It’s a type of rash… only associated with sleep sickness.”
The regent sighed. “Is there anything we can do?”
“No,” quietly answered the healer, “beyond making her comfortable until Xena arrives.”
“Do you think wood betony will really work?” inquired Solari.
The healer didn’t respond at first while she pulled the covers over the queen. She straightened up and studied the two Amazons. “Its said to be able to cure anything.”
“But you’re not sure,” concluded Solari.
The healer shook her head. “There is no known cure for sleeping sickness.”
“How much longer does she have to live?” asked the regent.
Eilis glanced at Gabrielle then back to Ephiny. “It’s hard to say. Nobody is sure what exactly kills the person. They merely go into this deep sleep, never awake again, and die within seven days… in some cases even less.”
“How do you think she got it?”
Eilis sighed and folded her arms over her chest. “Typically somebody drinks dirty water or eat something that’s gone bad or turned.” Her lips pressed together for a moment. “People that travel on the road a lot are most susceptible than others.” She then dipped her head a little and said, “Excuse me though; I need to finish up here.”
Ephiny and Solari understood the healer’s request so they moved away from the bed. They rejoined the weapons master and silently watched the healer care for the queen.
“Xena won’t be long,” decided Eponin.
The other two Amazons gazed at Eponin.
The Warrior Princess almost fell off her mare from being so saddle sore. She needed a break though, Argo needed a break. She led her horse off the road and onto the open grasses that rested ahead. She could make out the Gulf of Corinth no more than a thousand paces ahead or so. She knew she wasn’t far from Athens, maybe another six candlemarks ride or so.
She came upon a few lonely olive trees and stopped next to them. Argo came up to her and she removed the facial tack off of Argo.
The mare was grateful for it and lowered her head into the grass.
Xena grazed her hand down Argo’s side as she went to the saddlebags. She unlashed a waterskin and went to the nearest olive tree. With her back against it, she uncorked the skin and hungrily drank from it. She figured the skin was still half full by the time she was finished drinking from it. So she went to Argo and maneuvered the flow of water into her horse’s mouth.
Argo happily drank from the little waterfall of water. Her tongue came out and sloshed the water about in the air. She whined when the water stopped flowing out but she was content so she lowered her head back into the grass again.
Xena patted her mare’s neck then returned the waterskin to the saddlebag. She then decided it was best to stretch her legs more so she took a short walk to the cliff side that overlooked the gulf. She came to the edge and immediately she noticed the winds were stronger here. For awhile, Xena merely looked out over the gulf and listened to the waves crash against the rock shore far below her.
“Gods,” she murmured, “I wish you were here, Gabrielle.” The warrior knew exactly how much her friend would love to see this now. She also realized she’d never really shown Gabrielle the cliffs of the Corinth Gulf since they’d always rushed through here to get to Athens. This was something Gabrielle would truly appreciate and Xena decided this would be the first place they’d come to after Gabrielle was better.
Xena turned around and her mare had her mouth down in the grass. She slightly smiled but her smiled was lost on her thoughts about her best friend. I never realized I could be in such pieces without her near me, mentally decided Xena. She shook her thoughts off then went back to gazing out over the gulf. After her short break, she returned to the olive tree near her mare. She picked up the face tack from the tiny branch and went back to Argo.
The horse sighed but she lifted her head. She then felt the bit enter her mouth then the leather tighten around her face.
The warrior now led her mare back to the main road then mounted the horse. She decided to start in a walk then eventually she pushed Argo into a trot and finally a gallop.
The sun was dipping midway in the western sky so Xena figured she had another three candlemarks or so before nightfall hit. She wanted to make Athens before then if she could help it but she knew it was impossible. She decided the best thing to do was get into Athens, find a room, rest up, and in the morning hit the market first thing. Argo would certainly need the night to recover and she would need her own rest if she could sleep.
The innkeeper had his head down some yet he knew what everybody was doing in his inn. He finished drying the mug with his cloth and tucked the mug under the counter. He heard the door open and close but he didn’t bother to peer up. He listened to the heavy booted footfall come directly to him and only then did he lift his head. He was remotely surprised but his expression remained neutral.
“Can I help you, warrior?”
“Yeah, I need a room for the night.”
The innkeeper grunted at the curt attitude of the warrior but as he turned away to get a room key, he said, “Ten dinars.” When he turned back with the key that hung on the wall behind him, he found the money resting on the counter. He collected it while the warrior picked up the key. “Down this hall, fifth room on the right.”
“Thanks,” answered the warrior.
The innkeeper watched the dark warrior disappear down the hall.
Xena opened the door and stepped into the warm room. She did a quick visual scan and decided the room was fairly nice. When she went to the bed and pressed her hand into it, she found it amazingly soft. “Maybe I will get a few candlemarks of rest,” she muttered. That was one thing about Athens, she’d come to decided, everything has more class than any local town. She now situated her belongings on the floor next to the table.
The Warrior Princess decided first she would need to eat, find out when the market opens, and where any prominent healers are located. So she left the room and returned the small tavern portion of the inn. She threw a quick glance at the innkeeper then found a small table off in a corner. It wasn’t long before one of the two barmaids arrived at her table to get her order.
“What can I get yuh?”
“Before you take my order can you tell me some things.”
The barmaid shrugged and steadied herself instead of seeming like she was in a big rush. “Ask away.”
“The market still opens at first light?”
Xena nodded then asked, “Do you know which healers here are the popular ones?”
The barmaid chuckled and shifted a bit closer to the warrior. “Are you looking for the popular ones or the good ones? There’s certainly a difference.”
The Warrior Princess slightly grinned at the woman’s mild joke. “The good ones.”
“Well they actually happen to be close to the market.” The barmaid straightened up and turned some to her right. “The market is this way, right? Well when you get to about the mid market, you’ll see a big cobble street called Dionysiou Areopagitou and you go to the left.” The barmaid faced the warrior again. “You just follow it a little ways. You’ll eventually see all the signs hanging from the buildings with the healers’ names.”
Xena nodded her head. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The barmaid offered a smile then asked, “Now what can I get you?”
“Whatever the special is tonight. Then just some water will be fine.”
The barmaid nodded then quietly left.
The Warrior Princess sat back in her chair and studied everybody in the tavern. It was a fairly small tavern she’d decided but it was packed mostly with local people. She only picked out about three other warriors in the bunch, who didn’t seem like much of a threat at all. It wasn’t long before the barmaid returned with her meal and water. And Xena found she was rather hungry since it been almost an entire day since she ate.
The warrior hungrily ate her meal then washed it down afterwards. When the barmaid came back over to get her dishes, she paid her with a tip for her extra help. Xena then decided it was best to get ahead start and see where all the healers resided near the market. Besides that, she needed a small walk to wind down and walk off her meal. She slipped out of the inn and went down the cobble road towards the dead market. There were still many people walking about the streets or stumbling if they were leaving taverns.
Xena easily found Dionysiou Areopagitou Street because it was much larger than all the side streets plus it was cobbled as well. She began her journey down the well lit street and it wasn’t long before she saw signs with names and either pedestals in mortars or a caduceus. After following the street some, she was satisfied that she was ready for tomorrow’s mission to find the wood betony between here and the market. All she could do now was hope that one of these healers would have betony and sell it to her.
Xena made her way back towards the inn but chose to go see Argo first. She took some time to pat Argo down then checked her feed and water. She gave her mare a kiss between the brows then she faintly smiled as she left the stables. Finally the warrior entered the quiet inn and went down to her room for some rest. She knew this would be a very long night but she could only hope that a few candlemarks of sleep would come to her.
“How is she doing?” quietly asked the regent.
The healer acknowledged Ephiny with a quick glance then continued her inspection of the sleeping queen. “The same.” She began pulling the sheets back over the chilled queen but she took a moment to touch the bard’s forehead.
Ephiny took a small side step to the right because the early morning sun was shining in her eyes from the window across the room. She neared the side of the bed and hunched over her friend. “Fever?”
“Yes,” murmured the healer, “they’re coming and going in cycles.” She sighed and pulled her hand away from Gabrielle’s forehead.
“Are the cycles becoming shorter or longer?” Ephiny paused then added, “Between the periods.”
“They seem to be getting shorter.”
“More fevers then,” murmured the regent.
Eilis nodded at the regent. “I’m afraid it’s not a good sign.”
Ephiny slightly cleared her throat and whispered, “I wouldn’t think so.”
The healer faced Ephiny and bowed her head. “I’ll leave you with her, regent.” She straightened up then quietly left the hut.
“Thank you, Eilis,” called Ephiny then she heard the hut door close but not before somebody slipped in as Eilis left. Ephiny already figured who it was so she stepped up to the head of the bed and studied her best friend’s soft face.
“How is she?” murmured a concerned voice.
Ephiny didn’t take her eyes off of the queen. “Eilis says she’s progressing… for the worse.” Finally she lifted her head and looked at the other Amazon.
Solari frowned and stepped closer to the regent. She slipped her arm around her lover’s waist. She knew Ephiny was very scared to lose Gabrielle but she also knew nobody would suffer more than Xena.
Xena rushed around the block and hurried down Dionysiou Areopagitou Street in search of an open healer. The sun was half of candlemark over the eastern horizon. She was hoping for all of the healers to be open but she knew only a handful would most likely be open. She’d already taken note that the market was just beginning to open so it would be her ‘all else fails’ stop if no healer had betony.
The Warrior Princess was in luck to find the third healer’s building open so she hurried up the three steps and entered. She was instantly greeted by the smell of incense burning around the lobby room.
It was only a few heartbeats before the healer came out of a side room from the hallway. He offered a light smile to the warrior and softly said, “Good morning. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Good morning,” offered back the warrior, “I am looking for wood betony.”
The very young healer dipped his head some while he was in thought about his herbal inventory. When he lifted his head again, his answer was, “Betony is very hard to find this time of the year.”
“Yes I know,” replied Xena, “but it’s important that I get some.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any and I can guarantee that none of these healers here will have any either.” He paused then quietly added, “At least none for sale.”
The Warrior Princess sensed her body tensing with stress. “The market wouldn’t either,” she decided aloud.
“No it wouldn’t,” agreed the healer. He tilted his head to one side. “What did you need the betony for?”
Xena was about to leave the building but she paused and decided to answer. “My friend… she’s dying of sleeping sickness.”
The healer opened his mouth but he said nothing. He closed it while he considered a few things.
Xena was extremely curious as to what he was thinking about because she could tell he had something in mind.
The healer focused back on the taller warrior again. “A fellow healer of mine… he’s about ten houses down on this side of the street. He told me he has some betony leftover from this past summer. Its possible he may still have it.”
The Warrior Princess suddenly had a smile and she moved for the door. “Thank you very much.”
The healer then shook his thoughts away to see the woman leaving. “Be sure to tell him that I sent you. Tell him that Hippocrates sent you.”
“I will. Thank you again.” Xena slipped out of the healer’s building with the door closing behind her. She then hurried down the sidewalk until she came to the tenth small building and she climbed up four steps this time. She opened the door and as she did so, a bell on the inside of the door sounded her entry.
“Just a minute,” called a deep voice.
The Warrior Princess impatiently waited but was relieved when a middle-aged healer came into the lobby room.
“How can I help you?” inquired the healer. He brushed his right hand on his pant leg and held out his hand. “I am Empedocles.”
“The name’s Xena.”
Empedocles nodded his head and released the woman’s strong hand. “Now, how can I help you?”
“I just came from Hippocrates,” started the warrior, “I am looking for wood betony.”
Empedocles expression faintly shifted into surprise. He nodded his head. “I see.” His hands went behind his back. “You’re in search of betony for…?”
Xena sighed at having to go through the explanation again. “My friend is dying from the sleeping sickness.”
Empedocles slightly hung his head and quietly stated, “You do realize there is no known cure for sleeping sickness?”
“Yes,” hastily answered Xena, “trust me. I’ve dealt with it before and haven’t succeeded.”
“But you’re hoping that the betony can perform a miracle?”
Empedocles’ headed bobbed a little. “I would offer the betony to you for a price however I have already sold it.”
Xena took a deep breath to calm herself.
“It is possible though that you may be able to buy it from who I sold it to.” Empedocles noticed the instant change in the female warrior. “I sold it to the priestess of the Aphrodite temple.”
Several curse words flew Xena’s mind just then yet she remain collective. “Where is the temple?”
Empedocles stepped around the warrior and went out of the building.
The Warrior Princess now stood in the open doorway as the healer spoke to her.
“Right up there.” Empedocles pointed to the large, extravagant temple resting upon a hill that overlook the city. “You’ll want to ask for Priestess Hermione.”
“Thank you,” replied the warrior. She stepped around the healer and went down the couple of steps.
“Good luck,” called the healer.
Xena merely glanced back at him but continued her fast pace down the streets towards the temple. As her fast walk pushed into a jog, she began to wish she’d brought Argo. She knew every heartbeat was valuable to her best friend and that thought made her break out into a full run. It wasn’t but a quarter of a candlemark that Xena arrived at the doors of Aphrodite’s Temple. Xena had paused for a moment and dropped her head back some to take in the immense size of the temple, which was apparent by the scale of the pillars and doors.
“Almost as big as her breasts,” muttered the warrior as she walked through the open doors. She quietly made her way through the temple that was littered with statues and artwork of Aphrodite. At the other end of the temple was the large altar and a woman kneeling behind it, her head dipped down. Xena came up to the altar, stopped, and folded her arms over her chest.
Slowly the priestess came out of her solemn pray and greeted the warrior. “Welcome.”
“I’m looking for the priestess Hemione.”
“You’re quite forward aren’t you.” The priestess rose up to her short height. “Let me find the head priestess. Please wait here.”
Xena only nodded and watched the priestess disappear behind a nearby current. She realized she was alone in the temple so she took a moment to study the temple more detailed. She now picked up an odd but familiar scent, which led her to go to the wall on the far left. She approached the incense bowl that protruded from the wall and when she peered over the bowl, she realized it was wood betony that was burning.
“Can I help you?” called a deep voice.
The Warrior Princess turned around to face the tall priestess that she assumed was Hemione. “Yes. I am looking for wood betony and Empedocles told me he’d just sold his supply to you.”
The priestess glanced at the burning bowl of betony then back at the warrior. “Yes, he did.”
Xena’s frustration was mounting but she tried to remain calm. “May I purchase some from you?”
Priestess Hermione now turned and strolled off while asking, “And why do you require it?”
Xena followed after the priestess. “My best friend has fallen ill due to the sleeping sickness.”
The priestess stopped and faced the warrior again. She was silent but then asked, “What is her name?”
Hermione dipped her head down in consideration of her thoughts. “And yours?” Her head lifted back up.
The Warrior Princess wasn’t hoping for this part but she did answer. “Xena.”
The priestess’s head bobbed a couple of times. “I see.” Her hands fell to her side from being crossed at her chest and she walked up the few steps onto the alter floor.
“I’m willing to pay for it,” offered the warrior.
“Let me see how much we have… wait here.” Hermione twirled around and quickly disappeared through the red current.
Xena let out a faint sigh since this was her first light of hope since she’d left the Amazon Nation. Yet the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly jumped up and Xena tensed up, her hands slightly lifting up.
“What’s up, warrior babe?”
Xena slightly relaxed as she neared the goddess. “I figured you’d show up.”
“Of course.” The goddess remained sitting on the alter, her legs crossed, and her pink sparkly dress flowing over her legs. “So the bard is sick?”
Xena’s hands went to her hips as she sized up the goddess. “She has been.”
“You really expect that betony to work huh?”
“It’s her last hope,” answered the warrior then she muttered, “My last hope.”
“Well I sure hope you’re right, warrior babe.”
The Warrior Princess lifted an eyebrow and now folded her arms over her chest.
“See the problem isn’t whether my priestess has that betony but it’ll help your little bard.” Aphrodite now slid off of the altar table and sashayed up to the warrior.
“And what stake could you possibly have in Gabrielle living?”
The Goddess of Love suddenly had a shocked expression. “By me… how could you be like that? She’s like a friend.”
Now Xena’s eyebrow lifted even higher. “I can’t imagine you’re still not slightly being peeved about the Mystic Diamond?”
Aphrodite chuckled and flashed her pearly whites. “Of course not, warrior babe… that was so long ago.” She turned away and walked back to the altar table.
Xena sighed. “It was only a few moon cycles ago.”
“Duh! My anger lasts for all of a candlemark.” Aphrodite sighed and waved her hand at the warrior even though her back was to Xena. “Besides… who needs a stupid constellation to be remembered by?”
Aphrodite began picking up the offerings on the altar with her fingertips. “I hate fish,” she growled when she smelled it before she saw it.
“What do you want Aphrodite?” cut in the irritated warrior.
The goddesses faced the warrior again. “No need to be hostel, warrior babe.” She now had her hands on her hips. “And who says there’s a catch? I actually happen to like Gabrielle.”
Xena sighed and rolled her eyes. She hated playing any god’s game like this. “I can’t-”
“Warrior babe, I take it you can’t accept real help when it’s given to you?”
The warrior’s eyes narrowed. “Nothing is free in this godsforsaken known-world.”
Aphrodite’s lips puckered but loosened as she neared the tall warrior. “True.” She came a few steps closer to Xena and her voice was now very low. “But here’s my secret Xena, I have as much to lose by Gabrielle’s death as you do or the Amazons.”
The Warrior Princess was confused but she wasn’t sure she exactly wanted to know either.
“So… call this a free-be, warrior babe.” The Goddesses of Love took a few steps backwards and lifted her right arm. “Let me see to my priestess.” She grinned as the pink sparkles fell from her fingers over her head. “Toodles.”
Xena felt her body fully relax now and it was only in a few heartbeats that the red current pulled open and the priestess appeared.
“You are in luck, warrior. I have enough to spare.”
The Warrior Princess felt relieved and she approached the priestess by the alter table. “How much will it cost me?”
Priestess Hermione held out the three leather bags and when Xena lifted her open hands, she replied, “A dinar a bag.”
Xena curiously studied the priestess. “Are you sure?”
The warrior decided not to argue so she pulled out the three dinars from her small pouch at her side. She handed them over and took the three pouches from the priestess. “Thank you,” she gratefully stated.
“I hope she makes it,” offered the priestess. She bowed her head then turned to leave through the current.
Xena paused only for a moment then hurried out of the temple, through the heavy doors. After she was well on her way down the road back into Athens, Aphrodite’s figure appeared against the doorway of the temple.
Aphrodite smirked at Xena’ receding form. She straightened up from leaning against the door, patted the door, and looked back at the warrior. “As big as my breasts… we will see who has those, warrior babe.” She laughed and disappeared in a puff of pink sparkles.
“How much longer?”
The healer shook her head as she turned away from the bedridden queen, instead she faced the regent. “It won’t be much longer before she slips away.” She paused in thought then quietly added, “Its amazing she’s lived this long.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” quietly whispered the regent.
Eilis dipped her head in agreement then quietly slipped away with her bag of medicine.
Ephiny stepped up to the bed and gently touched the bard’s forehead. “Hang in there, Gabrielle. Xena is on her way.” She sighed a deep breath then silently left the hut. She received a brief nod from the guard at the hut then she continued on her way back towards her hut to start on her scroll work for the today. As she took the quiet stroll across the village, she started calculating exactly how long it’d been since Xena had left. Today was the sixth day that the Warrior Princess had been gone. She knew it was a long journey down to Athens and back but she prayed Xena would hurry.
The regent finally came to her hut and went inside to find her hut empty. She gazed over at her desk then after a faint sigh, she went to her desk and sat. At first Ephiny did nothing as she stared blankly at her scrolls that she needed to go through. Something in the pit of her stomach told her that today was it, today was Gabrielle’s last day to be with the living and there was nothing Ephiny could do to stop it. She would have rather fought Ares’s greatest army right now than this because at least she stood a chance then against some mysterious sickness.
“Ephiny!” bellowed an Amazon’s voice from outside. “Ephiny!”
Ephiny jumped from her seat and raced to her door. When she flung it open, there was Solari before her. “What is it?” she called out to her second in command.
Solari was sprinting across the village but she yelled out, “It’s the queen!”
The regent didn’t hesitate, she ran out of her hut without even thinking to close the door. She met Solari and the pair ran back across the village to the queen’s hut. “What’s happening?” she demanded.
“The queen is having an attack. Eilis and Eponin are in there already.”
“By the gods,” murmured the regent. She picked up her speed and the guard at the queen’s hut saw her coming.
The guard threw open the door for Ephiny and Solari and they breezed past her. The royal guard stole a glance into the hut at the convulsing queen before she closed the door. For a second, the guard sighed and leaned against the hut and her body was slightly sunk in worry.
“Oh gods,” whispered Ephiny at seeing Gabrielle’s body flailing all over in the bed; the sheets long gone on the floor.
“Help me!” called Eponin, who was trying to hold down Gabrielle’s entire body with no success.
Eilis was over at the nearby table and scrambling through her supplies.
The regent and Solari hurried to either side of the bed and helped Eponin gain control of Gabrielle. Ephiny noticed how the queen’s body was soaked in sweat and her breathing was incredibly heavy. “Eilis, come on!” she demanded.
The healer was too frantic to yell anything back as she hastily coated a spatula probe on one end with a pasty form of jimsonweed. She then rushed over to the bedside and ordered Eponin to hold the queen’s head still. Eilis was lucky enough that Gabrielle’s mouth was already open and she carefully inserted the spatula end of the probe into the queen’s mouth and laced her tongue with the jimsonweed. After she quickly pulled the probe away and forced the queen’s mouth closed. “Just hold onto her.”
Eponin grunted while trying to keep Gabrielle still in the bed. She then slowly noticed the gradual calming of the queen but it took up to a quarter of a candlemark.
Finally all four Amazons released Gabrielle and took a step back.
Eilis placed her spatula probe onto the nearby nightstand and took a moment to inspect the bard.
Ephiny bent down and picked up the bed cover; with Solari’s help she managed to get it back on the bed perfectly.
Eponin noticed the very worried look on the healer’s face. “What is it?” she quietly asked.
Eilis said nothing but instead she picked up the queen’s right arm. Her fingertips pressed into Gabrielle’s pulse point and she did a count. “Her pulse is slowing.”
“More than normal?” questioned the second in command.
“Its not the medicine doing it?” countered Ephiny.
“Yes and no,” answered the healer, “The jimsonweed is suppose to stop convulsions.” She then lowered her ear against the queen’s chest.
Just then, there was a loud knock at the door and before anybody could respond the door shoved open.
“What is it?” asked the annoyed regent to the guard.
“Xena has been spotted at the borders,” answered an Amazon that had raced up to the guard’s side in the doorway.
Ephiny looked at Eponin. “Escort Xena here and hurry.”
The weapons master didn’t hesitate and she darted out of the hut and took the Amazon with her. “Was she on horseback?”
“Yes,” answered the Amazon.
Eponin and the Amazon made a beeline for the gates. “Get the gates open!” ordered the weapons master.
The four guards at the gates suddenly scrambled to open the large wooden door, which was always a slow process.
Eponin then stepped through the gates and gazed down the dirt path that disappeared into the thick woods. She tilted her head and finally made out the distinct sound of hoof beats. A sigh of relief filtered between her lips then her confidence about the queen’s health was suddenly revived when she saw the Warrior Princess galloping with Argo.
Xena came to a fast trot and had Argo halt next to the weapons master. “Where is she?”
“In the hut still.”
“She’s still with us,” answered Eponin. “Go.”
The warrior nodded then spurred Argo into a gallop towards the queen’s hut. Her heartbeat was as fast as her mare’s gallop. She hadn’t slept or eaten since she’d left Athens but it was of little concern to her right now. She jerked Argo to a stop in front of the hut then jumped out of the saddle. “Take care of her,” she ordered the guard.
The guard blinked and stepped up to the horse to get the reins from Xena.
The Warrior Princess hastily pulled out the four bags of wood betony and entered the hut.
“You’re back,” announced Solari.
“Finally,” happily breathed the regent.
“Did you get the betony?” questioned the healer.
Xena nodded and said, “I need your help, Eilis.”
The healer met Xena at the table but before she could even ask, Xena spoke.
“Crush these two bags up. I want one for burning and the other as a paste.”
Eilis didn’t hesitate to reach into her medical bag and removed the pestle and mortar, two bowls, and some white paste. Xena handed her several leaves of the betony and she began grinding them up hastily with the pestle and mortar. She then pour the finely crushed leaves into one bowl next to her. Next Xena handed her more betony leaves, which she began to crush finely also then she put some of the white paste into the mortar. After she the betony paste into another bowl, she searched in her bag for another spatula probe.
Xena however took the crushed leaves in one bowl and put it on the nightstand. She then picked up the lit candle next to it and lowered the burning tip into the leaves.
Eilis came over to the bedside with the coat spatula probe tip. “Ephiny, can you open her mouth?”
Ephiny bent over the bed and gently opened her friend’s mouth and held her jaw. She watched as Eilis coated the back of the queen’s tongue with the light green paste.
Xena then dipped carefully coated her index and middle finger with some of the paste from the rim of the bowl. She then gently rubbed the betony paste over her best friend’s chest until it was well rubbed into her skin. Even from where she was standing over Gabrielle, she could smell the scent of the pungent herb and she could only hope it was quickly entering the bard’s system.
“I hope this works,” murmured Solari.
“It will,” stated the optimistic regent.
“It’s going to take some time,” stated the healer, “so I suggest we all leave the hut for awhile. There’s nothing else we can do.”
Ephiny nodded her head.
Solari came around to the other side of the hut and went to the table to assist Eilis.
Eilis and Solari quietly gathered up mostly everything but the pestle, mortar, and bowl with the betony paste since Xena may need them again. Solari also picked up the spatula probe from the nightstand and handed it to Eilis.
Xena was quiet and her gaze locked on the bard. She touched Gabrielle’s wet bangs and pushed them back.
“She’d just had several convulsions before you walked in,” mentioned Ephiny.
The warrior only nodded her head.
The regent now came around to the other side of the bed and touched Xena lightly on the shoulder. “She’ll be fine. If she’s held out this long then she’ll beat this.”
“I know,” whispered the warrior.
Ephiny nodded and looked at the other two Amazons. She signaled for them to leave and she followed behind them. Once Eilis and Solari were out of the hut, she turned her head back to Xena and gently said, “Just give her some time, Xena. She’ll be awake soon.”
The warrior looked over at Ephiny and offered a faint smile then she looked down at the bard again.
Ephiny silently left the hut with the door closing behind her.
Xena picked up a chair from the table and placed it close to the bed. She sat down and her entire body melted into the comfortable chair. After a heavy sigh, she bent forward then captured Gabrielle’s hand into her own. “Don’t leave me, Gabrielle,” she whispered, “Don’t you dare.”
Eilis gingerly knocked on the door before she entered the queen’s hut. She poked her head in first and spotted the Gabrielle still asleep and Xena was seated on a chair but bent forward with her head down and on the edge of the bed. Eilis slightly grinned at the scene but she knocked on the door a little louder because she knew Xena was out cold.
The warrior now lifted her head and spotted the healer in the doorway.
Eilis now entered the hut and approached the table to settle her bag onto it. “How is she?”
Xena brushed her hair back and peered over at her partner. “She’s been fine all night.”
Eilis went to the opposite side of the bed and began checking over the bard. “How are you feeling, Xena?”
The warrior nodded and simply replied, “Fine.”
The Amazon paused and skeptically peered over at the other woman. She decided not the question the answer and went back to checking over Gabrielle. “Did you get much sleep?”
“I nodded off here and there,” mentioned Xena. She stood up from the chair and gave her body a good stretch then went to the table. She collected the betony paste and went back to the bard. She placed some of the betony on Gabrielle’s chest then carefully smoothed it in.
Eilis had finished checking Gabrielle’s pulse and noticed it was steady now. She pushed the heavy cover back and did a visual inspecting of her body. She checked the same spot where she’d first discovered the purple rash. “Well this is a good sign.”
Xena had just finished rubbing the paste in and now studied the rash that had shrunk down to about the size of a child’s palm.
“She’s coming around,” happily concluded the healer. And she could certainly see some of the tension release from Xena at that point. “I don’t know how that betony worked but I’m not complaining,” she stated. She then went to the nightstand next to Xena and picked up the bowl. She’d noted it’d stopped burning so she went to crush more betony leaves.
“Xena, why don’t you go to the dining hut and eat?” Eilis turned around with the bowl now refilled with crushed leaves. She placed it back on the nightstand and lit it with the candle. “I’ll stay and watch the queen.”
Xena hesitated while she debated with herself.
“Just go,” ordered the healer. “I can tell you haven’t really eaten since you left for Athens.”
The warrior knew Eilis was right so she gave in. “Thank you. I won’t be long.” She left the hut but not without giving one last look at her partner.
Eilis now took Xena’s chair and stared at the peaceful queen.
The Warrior Princess marched across the village and went to the dining hut. When she went inside she found it was somewhat busy but she entered into the short line for the food. She then sensed somebody behind her.
“Good morning, Xena.”
The warrior slightly faced the Amazon. “Good morning, Triona.”
“How goes the queen? I heard you made it with the betony.”
Xena’s head bobbed a little as she moved ahead in the food line. “She’s getting better.”
Triona smiled now. “I’m glad to hear. You made it to Athens and back in record time.”
Xena sighed at the thought. “Nothing like a deadly sickness to speed somebody along.”
The Amazon grunted and followed Xena through the food line. After she had her plate of breakfast food she joined Xena at a table and settled down. She noticed how Xena didn’t hesitate at all to begin eating her meal. “When did you eat last?”
“A few days ago in Athens. I had a quick dinner.”
Triona sighed and started on her food. “Solari mentioned that Ephiny was really worried about the queen.”
“They are close,” explained the warrior.
Triona slightly smiled. “Not as close as you and the queen.”
Xena smiled back at the Amazon. “Exactly.”
Triona had her head dipped down now and randomly she started to shake it. “How’d the queen even get sick?”
Xena paused in the middle of her meal and touched her mug of water. She lifted it slightly off the table but answered the question first. “Gabrielle and I were caught in a rain storm while we were traveling on foot. Our packs were soaked, which means our food was soaked. The only thing we had to eat that night was really cheese and fruit.”
“You think she caught it from the cheese… it went bad?”
“I think it was that and she was cold and wet that night. It was a bad combination of things.”
Triona stopped eating and tilted her head at the warrior. “Why weren’t you sick?”
Xena cleared her throat after she’d taken a drink. She placed the mug down first. “My body is stronger than most people’s… its very rare I get sick.”
“Don’t jinx yourself,” teased the Amazon.
Xena grunted and went back to her breakfast. It wasn’t long before she was finished then she decided to quickly check on Argo. She didn’t want her mare to feel misused especially after the hard ride to and from Athens. After she visited with Argo she went back to the hut and took Eilis place. She tried to get comfortable in the chair with her legs spread out and long in front of her then she leaned back deep into the chair.
It felt really good for her belly to finally be filled. She just stared at her best friend but then she sensed her eyes becoming heavy again. She tried to control it yet it seemed so impossible and almost unnatural. Finally she gave in without knowing it and her head fell back, she was out cold.
Xena suddenly shot up straight in her chair, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. Her head thrashed from side to side as she thought she sensed some threat in the room. That eerie feeling finally dissipated from her then she realized she was being stared at now. Her eyes lowered and met worn but lively green ones.
“Hi,” whispered Gabrielle.
Xena instantly bent forward; her tired face was lifted by the largest smile. “Gabrielle… gods.” She reached out but the bard met her halfway, their hands interlocking on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel?” she hastily asked. Her freehand now brushed back Gabrielle’s bangs.
The bard cleared her throat a little and adjusted herself more while she was on her side. “Better than… yesterday… whenever yesterday was.” She slightly grinned.
Xena said nothing but her expression showed utter relief and happiness.
Gabrielle could tell Xena had been through a lot lately. She could only imagine what’d happened and why she was now in her hut in the Amazon Nation. She knew though that Xena needed to hear something light. “I still want us to go to the market you know, Xena.”
The warrior now finally laughed and felt all her worries wash out of her. She gave a warm squeeze to Gabrielle’s hand then leaned in to place a light kiss to the bard’s forehead.
The bard had a huge smiled on her face when Xena pulled back. She went a little more serious now. “What happened, Xena?”
Xena sucked in a deep breath then slowly let it out. “You got the sleeping sickness.”
The bard’s lips puckered some and she gazed about the room before looking back at Xena. “How’d I end up in the Nation?”
“When you didn’t wake up and the local healer in the town told me you had sleeping sickness, I asked for the Nation to send help. Solari showed up with a few other Amazons… they brought you here while I went to Athens.”
Gabrielle had a worried face but she asked, “How long have I been… out for?”
“About eight days,” whispered the warrior. “Do you feel up to seeing a few people? I know Ephiny has been worried.”
“I think so,” answered the bard, “but not for too long.”
“It won’t be,” Xena promised as she stood up from her chair. She went to her the door and cracked it open some. She asked the guard to let Ephiny know that Gabrielle was awake and the guard didn’t wait for another word. Then she went back to her chair beside her best friend and seemed to stare at Gabrielle in faint disbelief.
“What is it?” quietly asked the bard.
Xena dropped her gaze then lifted it again. “I thought I was going to lose you.”
“But I’m here,” countered the Amazon Queen. She reached out and rested her hand on Xena’s closest knee.
“Amazingly,” murmured the Warrior Princess, “I’ve seen sleeping sickness before… you’re the first I’ve known to survive it.”
Gabrielle squeezed the warrior’s knee then loosened her grip. “I know people usually die from it.”
Xena only nodded her head.
Before Gabrielle could say anymore, she heard a knock at the door and Xena called for whoever to enter.
Ephiny, Eponin, and Solari each came in with the door closing behind them.
Ephiny immediately went to the bard and gave her a cautious hug. When she pulled back, she smiled happily. “How do you feel?”
“A little tired,” admitted the bard.
Eponin snorted. “You’ve only been sleeping for eight days.”
For a quick response, the regent smacked the weapons master in the stomach. “Ignore her.” Ephiny lifted an eyebrow at Eponin for emphasis.
The weapons master smirked but her focus lowered to the queen. “Glad to have you back.”
“You really had us scared,” piped in Solari.
“Ah… Ephiny was ready to take over as queen.”
“I don’t think so,” refuted the regent.
Gabrielle merely smiled to her Amazons.
“Get some rest, Gabrielle.” Ephiny offered a warm smile now. “We’ll stop in later today to see how things are. I’m sure Eilis will be in too.”
“I figured.” The bard now adjusted herself so that she sat up some. “Thank you all for taking care of everything… of me.”
“That’s what family is all about,” stated Solari.
Eponin though rolled her eyes and again she was smacked in the stomach but by Solari this time.
“Let’s go,” ordered the regent. She and the Amazons marched out of the hut.
“I’ve really been asleep for eight days?”
Xena slightly grinned. “Only you, Gabrielle.”
The bard huffed with a glare coming over her face. “I hardly ever get to sleep so maybe this was just a really big nap.”
“Big nap doesn’t cover it.” Xena shook her head and slouched back in her chair.
“Xena, you look really exhausted.”
The warrior shrugged in response.
“I’m serious.” Gabrielle sat up a little more and noticed it didn’t bother her head at all. She coughed some and felt a small amount of mucus run down her throat. She made a faint face at this but ignored it nonetheless. “How about this….” She waited for Xena to look at her again then she continued her idea. “You help me get a bath then we’ll take a nice long nap together.”
“Are you sure about moving around right now?”
“I won’t know until I try.” Then the queen started to move about and she twisted her body around so that her legs now hung off the bed. She then scooted to the edge of the bed until her feet touched the floor.
“Hold on.” Xena got up quickly and put the chair back beside the table. She then stood next to the bard but let her try to stand on her own.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and lifted herself up and off of the bed. “Gods. I’m really weak.” She instantly wrapped her arm around Xena’s waist for support.
Xena put her arm around the bard’s upper back. “How’s your head?”
“Okay. Let’s go into the washroom. I’ll get the bath ready for you while you clean up.” The warrior helped her partner slowly get to the washroom. She then let go of the bard yet before she left the washroom, she asked, “Do you think you can eat?”
“Yes… I can feel how hungry I’m already getting.” The queen caught Xena’s smile then when Xena left, she went to the chamber pot first.
Xena went to the door, cracked it open, and asked the guard to bring them some food and hot water for a bath. When she turned around, she found the bard sitting on the foot of the bed.
“Take your weapons off, Xena.” Gabrielle folded her arms in her lap. “Stay awhile.”
The warrior had a slight grin but she took her friend’s advice. She removed her sword from her back then her chakram and placed them on the floor but near the bed. She realized it’d been awhile since she’d had a bath herself and she figured she probably needed it. So with that thought in mind, she began stripping off her armor then finally her boots.
“Going to take a bath with me?” prompted Gabrielle.
“Yeah I think so.” Xena heard the knock at the door so she answered the door. She stepped aside as several Amazons came pushing through, into the washroom, and pouring buckets of steaming water into the large bathtub. They then disappeared back out of the hut but a fifth Amazon entered with a tray of food.
“I got it.” The warrior took the tray from the Amazon. She took it to the table and lowered it but it wasn’t but a heartbeat later that Gabrielle appeared at her side and she was picking at the grapes. “Your appetite must be back.”
“Mmmm.” Gabrielle grinned. She then heard the march of Amazons come through again with buckets of warm water. She turned towards them as they were leaving. “Thank you,” she called.
“You’re welcome, my queen,” replied each of the Amazons.
“Nothin’ like the royal treatment,” stated the bard after her Amazons left.
Xena snorted and said, “Come on, your royal highn-ass.” She didn’t leave Gabrielle’s side as they made a slow trek to the washroom. “Why don’t you get in first.”
The Amazon Queen nodded then began removing her nightshift. When she had it off, she slipped carefully into the warm water. It wasn’t long before Xena joined her and the pair took a long and well needed bath. After their bath, they changed into their clothes and sat at the table together. Xena watched in complete amusement as her best friend cleared the tray of any food. She was so relieved to see the changes even if they seemed slightly quick. She could tell though that Gabrielle still had a wet cough but that was to be expected.
Gabrielle leaned deep back into her chair, her hands on her full stomach. She took in the amused expression on her partner’s face and she partially glared. “Its been eight days since I ate. I have an excuse.”
Xena chuckled then smiled. “I’m not complaining a bit.” Now she went a bit more serious. “I think we’re going to stay here for a few days. I don’t want us traveling until you’re back to your full strength.”
Gabrielle didn’t argue at all. She stretched her legs out in front of her and said, “I feel like a nap… then a walk.”
“A nap sounds… really good.” The Warrior Princess felt pretty tired herself since she still hadn’t caught any sleep yet. She got up and went to change out of her leathers then into her nightshift.
Gabrielle carefully got up then she had a few coughs rack her body but it settled down. She went to the bed and crawled into it. It wasn’t long before Xena got into bed next to her and settled in. “And I promise to wake up in a couple of candlemarks.”
Xena didn’t find the joke funny at all, she never looked at her friend.
Gabrielle sighed, rolled onto her right side, and threw her arm over Xena’s stomach. “I’m teasing.”
The warrior grasped the bard’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I know,” she whispered, “just give me some time.”
Gabrielle leaned in, placed a kiss on Xena’s cheek, and snuggled down into the bed.
Xena sensed her cheek burning some from the soft kiss but she ignored it. Instead she closed her eyes and slowly went to sleep.
Xena and Gabrielle remained in the Amazon village for several days after Gabrielle had finally awaken. Gabrielle could tell after about the second day that Xena was feeling restless but at the same time, Xena insisted they stay. The bard never felt more grateful than now for her best friend or else she’d be seeing the Elysian Fields by now. The first day the pair merely took long walks and Gabrielle felt her strength returning to her. By the second day, they were on the sparring field in the morning and just before sunset; the practices extremely light. However by the third day, the pair were doing three practices and they were a little longer.
On the morning of the fourth day, Gabrielle woke up early but for once it was Xena that grabbed her and before she got up. The bard was locked by Xena’s arms around her waist.
“Go back to sleep,” muttered the warrior.
The Amazon Queen had a smug look and quietly asked, “Since when did you ever sleep in?”
“There’s always a first,” came the muffled response.
Gabrielle didn’t debate anymore and snuggled down into the warm bed and body behind her. She drifted off again. When she woke up again, she found herself alone but she heard Xena in the washroom. “What time is it?”
“I’d say about two candlemarks before the sun is high.”
The bard stretched a little then swung her legs over the side of the bed. She peered over at the washroom as her best friend came out. “Can I put in a request?”
The Warrior Princess’s only response was a raised eyebrow.
“Can we leave today?”
Xena sighed and ventured over to her partner’s side of the bed. She sat down and after awhile of silence, she asked, “Are you sure about traveling?”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle gazed at her friend. “I’m ready to go… you know?” She paused then added, “Besides I know you’re itching to go.”
“I am,” confessed Xena, “but I want you to be a hundred percent before we go.”
“To be honest, Xena I don’t think this small cold I have won’t leave for awhile. Personally I don’t want to stay here until it leaves.” The bard grabbed Xena’s hands. “I’ll be okay.”
“The last time I believed that look where it got us.”
The Amazon Queen let out a dramatic sigh, her gaze falling to the floor now. “I know.” She brought her attention back up. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have done that. I promise I’ll be honest about how I’m feeling.”
Xena studied Gabrielle and knew she was being sincere. She gave in and nodded her head.
“We can go today?” asked the excited bard.
“Yes,” replied Xena.
Gabrielle squealed some and instantly engulfed Xena with a large hug. “Thank the gods.”
The warrior smiled when her friend released her. “We’ll leave early this afternoon. We won’t travel too far.”
“Okay.” Gabrielle wasn’t about to argue since she was too happy to finally be leaving. As much as she enjoyed her time at the Nation, she better enjoyed her time alone with Xena and the adventures they had together. “Can we go through the canyon pass? Something a little different.”
Xena considered it then nodded. “Alright… after we get through the pass, we’ll make camp.”
“Great.” The queen was so thrilled and she bounded up onto her feet to start getting ready.
Xena smiled at all the energy her best friend had now. She felt extremely relieved to have Gabrielle back to her old self. She also knew exactly where they’d go first – to Athens, which was Gabrielle’s favorite place.
By the afternoon, Gabrielle and Xena were in the stables and saddling up Argo for the trip. Argo was also grateful to be leaving her stall after so many days. She whined happily when the door opened and she was led out of the stables. When the group was out of the stables, they were greeted by Ephiny, Solari and Eponin.
“Are you ready?” asked the regent.
“I think so,” replied the queen, who was now leaning against her staff. “Thank you for everything, Eph.”
“Make sure you come and visit soon,” added Solari.
“We will,” promised Xena. Then a thought occurred to her and she went to her saddlebags while Gabrielle talked to the Amazons. When she came back to the group, she held a leather pouch in her right hand. “I meant to return this sooner.”
Ephiny smiled at the bag of dinars and took it from Xena. “Thank you. How much did you use?”
“Only four dinars.”
“It was only four for the betony?” inquired Eponin.
“Surprising yes.” The warrior gave a faint shrug.
“Just as long as it worked.” And everybody nodded their agreement to Solari’s statement.
“We should go,” informed the warrior to her partner.
Gabrielle chuckled and stepped up to Ephiny for a long hug. She then gave Solari and the weapons master each a hug.
Xena however gave everybody a brisk arm shake except the regent forced her into a hug. Xena paused a second but then returned the hug to Ephiny and when she pulled back she had a smile. She turned to her friend. “Ready?”
“Whenever you are, partner.”
“Let’s go.” The Warrior Princess started their trek towards the gates.
Gabrielle hurried along side Xena but she gazed back at her friends and waved. She then turned ahead as they came through the slightly opened gates. When they were outside of the village, the gates began closing behind them and they entered the forest.
It took the pair a solid candlemark to reach the entrance of the pass through the canyon. To pass the time, Gabrielle had began a game with Xena and was already becoming frustrated with it.
“You better not be pulling that trick on me again like you did with Theodorus.”
The warrior chuckled and glanced back at her friend, who was lagging behind. “I would never, Gabrielle.”
The bard’s teeth grounded together some from her frustration at the game. “Gareth?”
“No,” called back Xena.
Gabrielle sighed then picked up her pace so that she’d catch up with Xena. As she walked faster, her mind raced faster through all the people that Xena had fought. “Minya?”
Xena suddenly stopped and looked back at her friend. “She’s still alive, Gabrielle.”
The bard stopped beside Xena, looked at her, and smirked. “Damn.” She then started walking again. “So this person is dead dead?”
“Versus what?” pressed the warrior.
“Versus dead and now alive again.”
“They’re dead,” answered Xena.
The bard saw a large stone ahead so when she came up to it, she kicked it down the path. “And they were a warrior?”
Gabrielle stole a quick glance at her partner and saw the smug look on Xena’s face. “You’re really enjoying yourself.” She sighed and kicked the stone ahead. “Is he… a monster?” She waited for a response but never got one so she skeptically looked back at her friend. She realized Xena had come to a stop so she did too. “What is it?”
Xena tugged on Argo’s reins and she jogged up to Gabrielle’s side. “I’m not sure.” She felt that eerie feeling again like she had when Gabrielle first woke up from the sleeping sickness.
Then suddenly Gabrielle felt the ground shaking under her feet. “Oh gods!”
Argo whined and Xena let go of the reins. “Go, girl!” She hit Argo on the side as she galloped away then she dropped her head back to see several boulders rolling down the canyon side. “It’s an avalanche!” Xena acted quickly by grabbing Gabrielle and pushing her backwards.
The bard was stunned but she let Xena take control of the situation. She suddenly felt her back pressed tightly against the canyon wall. She lifted her head just as Xena pressed her body hard against her.
“Duck your he-” Xena’s voice was washed out by the loud roaring boulders slamming into the pathway that either came to a stop or continued over the next ledge.
The bard had her hands pressed against Xena’s stomach and her face was conveniently buried in Xena’s breasts. She shut her eyes tightly and could only hope that none of the boulders would strike them. For a moment she thought she heard Xena growl and wince in pain but then everything was going quiet.
Xena lifted her head from having it hunched over, her hands though stayed on Gabrielle’s waist. She now scanned around and took in their situation but at first she couldn’t see much from all the dust.
The Amazon Queen had also lifted her head and was poking her head around Xena’s body. When the dust settled she was stunned to find they were completely surrounded by a gigantic rock pile that wrapped them. Amazingly none of the rocks or boulders had hit them and neatly left an opening where they stood but it was a tight opening.
“You okay?” asked Xena.
The bard blinked and dropped her head back some. “Yeah. You?”
The warrior only nodded her head. She then realized exactly how close their bodies were and she tried to make some room but she had no success. The pile of rocks around them gave them no room to move about and they were pretty much locked into place.
“Um, Xena… how are we getting out of this?”
The warrior twisted her head left and right so she could determine the best way to get out of this mess. She noted the rock pile was just about level with her mid torso and she had a clear view over the rocks. Just then she heard a whine and nicker to the right, which made her smile when she saw Argo waiting for them.
“Any ideas yet?”
The Warrior Princess now glanced up. She lifted her hands up and grabbed a few sturdy rocks that poked out of the canyon wall. “I think we’ll have to climb up.” She rested the palm of her hands against the rock wall as she lowered her gaze to her best friend.
Gabrielle had her head slightly tilted back and she stared back at Xena. She felt her stomach drop down then quickly lift back up. She didn’t know what it was exactly but she loved how Xena’s strong body was positioned over her and against her.
Xena noted how Gabrielle was at an even level with her breasts. She tried to ignore everything but she couldn’t when her desire controlled her. Her left hand came down to Gabrielle’s cheek then she leaned down most of the way. She was only encouraged to lean in the rest of the way when Gabrielle’s eyes closed. Finally her soft lips met Gabrielle’s and the kiss started out as something simple but just as Gabrielle started moaning, Xena realized what was happening.
Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered open when she lost contact with Xena’s lips. She quickly caught Xena with her hand behind Xena’s neck. “Don’t stop,” she whispered.
At first Xena was cautious but she returned to the kiss that went from being simple to much more deep. Her tongue began brushing across Gabrielle’s and she instinctively moaned. Gabrielle now had her right hand tangled in Xena’s hair as she continued the kiss. Finally they broke away from the kiss, both breathing heavily and their foreheads against resting against one another.
Xena straightened up as her left hand now rested down on Gabrielle’s hip. She cleared her throat then said, “Perhaps we should try to get out of this.”
Gabrielle at first debated whether to saying anything and she decided it was best to let it go for now. “Who’s first?”
“You are.” Xena had her head back and studying the canyon side. “You should be able to climb up a bit then get on top of the rock pile here.”
“I’ll lift you up and try to grab a hold of whatever you can.” Xena now returned her attention to Gabrielle. “Okay?”
“Leave your staff here. I’ll hand it up to you.” Xena now put both of her hands on Gabrielle’s hips. “Ready?”
“Yup.” The bard suddenly felt herself lifted high up and she scrambled to grab the canyon wall. She just managed to since Xena could only twist her around so much. She caught her feet into small foot holes and held tight to some rocks that protruded out.
“Can you get onto the rock pile?”
“I think so,” called down the bard. She now stretched out her right leg since she was closest to that side. The tip of her boot touched the rock pile, she took a deep breath, then pushed herself off. She neatly landed onto the top of the large rock pile.
“Here’s your staff?”
The bard grabbed it from Xena then tossed it off towards Argo.
The mare whined at Gabrielle.
“Sorry, girl,” called the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle then stepped back on the pile as her friend began climbing up then easily jumped onto the pile next to her.
“Let me get down first then I’ll help you.” The Warrior Princess sucked in a deep breath, leapt into the air, flipped, and landed neatly on her feet.
“Show off,” chided the bard.
Xena smirked up but she came to the edge of the pile then held her arms up. “Alright come on.”
Gabrielle would have rather jumped down but she knew Xena was too concerned about her health. She had to do it the whimpy way so she sat down and scooted down the pile until Xena helped her off. “Thanks”
“Was it Ming T’ien?”
Xena sighed but she was grinning. “No.” She walked off yet she made sure to pick up the bard’s staff.
Gabrielle came up to Xena’s side and was given her staff back. “Was it somebody recent?”
The warrior had Argo’s reins and started walking down the path again. “Yes.” She noticed how Gabrielle didn’t say anything about the kiss but she knew it’d come up later. She also found it amusing how they continued down the canyon path like nothing had happened earlier.
“Xena, your back.”
The warrior stopped when she sensed small hands on her back.
“One of the rocks must have scrapped you.” The worried bard went to the saddlebags quickly.
“Don’t worry about it right now. I want to get out of the pass.”
“I know but let me wipe some of the blood off.” Gabrielle had a rag and was now gently wiping off the blood despite it was already drying up. “You’re sure you’ll be okay ’til then?”
“I’ll be fine.”
That bard gave a sigh to the dry response but she held her tongue. She felt she cleaned it as much as she could for right now. “Alright.” She tucked the cloth away and continued her walk beside Xena. She dipped her head down and thought more and more about who the mystery person was. “It better not be somebody you killed while I was sick.”
The warrior smirked. “It wasn’t.”
“I do,” answered Xena.
Gabrielle’s lips now pressed tightly together while she thought hard about whom. Her mind then became side tracked and before she could stop herself, she blurted out, “I knew your breasts were big but gods.” She suddenly stopped and started laughing. “Oh gods I can’t believe I just said that to you.”
Xena had stopped too and folded her arms over her big breasts. “I get that a lot.”
“I’m sorry, Xena,” hastily stated the bard however she was still giggling.
“It’s okay,” brushed off the warrior. Her head dipped down some but she looked at Gabrielle again. “About back there….”
Gabrielle came closer to Xena. She grabbed Xena’s freehand with her left hand. “That’s okay too… we’ll talk about it tonight.” Yet she could tell Xena was fighting some internal battle so she did what she thought would help. She leaned in and gave a tender kiss. “Its okay, promise.” She squeezed Xena’s hand.
“As long as you’re with me… it always is,” murmured Xena.
Gabrielle smiled at Xena’s confession and she gave one last squeeze before letting go. “Crassus?”
“I didn’t kill him,” was Xena’s quick answer and she began walking again.
Gabrielle stood there with her freehand on her hip. She huffed in complete annoyance. “Alright, fine!” She threw up her hand. “Who in the Hades was it?”
Xena and Argo stopped and they both looked back at her. Xena had the smuggest expression on her face. “Tahmores.”
Gabrielle’s eyebrows furrowed tightly together. The name didn’t ring a single bell. “Who?” she growled at her friend.
Xena’s smug expression was suddenly added by a grin as she realized Gabrielle was thinking about the name.
“Wait!” bellowed the bard, “That’s a Persian name.” Her eyes darkened in complete frustration when she realized how her friend tricked her again. “How did you even know any of those Persian soldiers’ names?” She marched up with furry in her stride. “You’re making that up!” she hissed.
“I killed over a hundred soldiers that day while you were on your ass up in that loft.” Xena saw the growing anger in her friend’s eyes so she had to push her off the edge. “You think I didn’t get one of their names before killing them?” Before she got any response, she quickly mounted her horse and took off at a trot.
Gabrielle yelled at her friend and threw her staff a ways but made sure she’d miss. “You’re such a cheater!!”
Xena pulled Argo to a stop and turned in her saddle. “You need to make some rules then, Gabrielle.”
The frustrated bard grumbled to herself while she walked down the path and picked up her staff. “I’m not playing with you anymore,” she finally stated when she came up beside Argo and Xena.
“The warrior chuckled and held out her hand.
The bard accepted and was helped up into the saddle behind Xena. She wrapped her free arm around her friend’s waist. “You’re a brat, Xena.”
“I try my best.” Xena gave a clicking noise and tapped Argo in the side.
Argo happily continued the walk down the path.
Gabrielle now rested her chin on Xena’s shoulder and whispered, “You know what though?”
“It’s one of the many things I love about you.”
The warrior couldn’t stop her smile so she squeezed Gabrielle’s hand that was on her stomach. She settled deeper into the saddle and Gabrielle’s warm body. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“For what?” inquired the confused bard.
“For always being here and not giving up on me.”
A happy smile broke across Gabrielle’s expression. “Thank you for the same.” She placed a warm kiss to Xena’s shoulder. “We were made for each other.”