What Happens Now?
(Death Of A Nation: Book II)
by: Katelin B. firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimers: Okay... how many times do we bards have to go over it before it sinks in? Don’t own ‘em. Wish I did.
Warning: This is Xena, not that damn purple dinosaur. None of this ‘I love you, You love me’ bulls***! Just war, blood, fighting, sex... and lots of it!! heh heh.
People At Universal Studios: Don’t get your panties in a bunch. I’ll put them back when I’m done playing with them, okay??
Another Warning: Yes it is violent. Wars and their after effects tend to get that way. Duh! Some of it IS disturbing.
Sexual Content: I’m not telling. *raspberry* You’ll just have to wait and see. Nyah! Nyah! But... just to be safe... if you’re under 18... DON’T READ THIS!!!!!
Yet Another Warning: People with pacemakers... don’t read this without a qualified Emergency Medical Technician present... or at least a car battery for the jumpstart.
Author’s Notes: Um...... er........ ah....... don’t really have any. I just like being able to call myself an author. heh heh. oh yeah.... this picks up right after Book I called ‘To Rescue A Friend’ and you MUST read it to understand what’s going on in this one.
One More Warning: Okay... I’m shutting up now. *grin* (actually, that’s
not really a warning is it? More of a relief.)
. . . from ‘To Rescue A Friend”. . .
“Head south, we should be there by dawn,” the bard said and the wagon lurched into motion.
Tyldus and Kraylor took up positions walking on either side of the bed, the elder centaur yelling to a nearby warrior that they were going to the nearest town to see the healer. A thought occurred to him that he didn’t know where Gabrielle had directed them and looked down at the little bard. She was bathing Xena’s face and neck with rags cooled in water from the skin he had retrieved, having finished treating the infected wound to the best of her ability and wrapped it in fresh bandages. “Where are we going, Gabrielle?” he asked softly, and watched her gaze lift to meet his, her eyes full of pain and fear for the warrior princess.
“Potedeia,” was all she said.
. . . and now, the story continues . . .
Helios was just beginning his ascent in the eastern sky when the small troupe of Amazons and centaurs found themselves within sight of Gabrielle’s home town. Rounding a soft bend in the road, Tirin steering Argo around the worst of the uneven dirt, she managed to avoid the largest ruts, making sure the wagon wouldn’t be jostled any more than necessary.
The light haired Amazon shivered slightly in the cold morning air, huddling closer to Jayla as the little guard slept, having snuggled up against her sister, unconsciously seeking the body heat of another to ward off the chill. Tirin did her best to ignore the twitching muscles in her arms and legs, moving constantly to speed the flow of blood to her fingers and toes even though she remained immobile on the driver’s seat. She had done well for nearly two candlemarks, but the chill had been joined by a light mist, that settled on everything it touched, creating a bitingly cold dew that condensated on her bare skin and raised gooseflesh all along her body.
“Cold?” a hushed voice reached her ears, and Tirin turned her head to meet Tyldus’ questioning look. For a moment, she thought about denying it, acting tough, but knew the centaur leader would see right through her lies. So she nodded mutely, allowing her body to shiver for emphasis.
Tyldus trotted ahead a few steps, until he was pacing Argo. He talked soothingly to the skittish mare while he rummaged in the saddlebags that she carried, finally pulling out what he had been looking for. One of Xena’s bedrolls. He held it at arms length and studied it for a moment. A little thin, he thought, but it’s better than nothing.
The aging centaur stopped for a moment, bringing himself along side the wagon again and casually wrapped the blanket around Tirin’s shoulders, his action nearly covering Jayla from view completely. “Better?” he asked, watching as the blonde Amazon tucked the folds of fabric tighter around her body and Jayla’s.
“Yeah,” Tirin replied with a sniff, clucking her tongue at Xena’s horse to increase her speed a little on the now straight and fairly even road, “Thanks Tyldus. This is much better.” The centaur merely nodded, and an awkward silence fell over them.
On the other side of the wagon, Kraylor watched what had transpired between the two and looked at his hooves, shaking his head. Cupid must be working overtime, he mused silently, wondering at all the mushiness going around. It could have been just a friendly gesture from one person to another, but Kraylor didn’t think so. He had seen more of this behavior in the last few days than he had at the last Dyonisus festival in his village. And they were in the middle of a war! Metreus had been defeated, yes, but the warlords who had been his allies were still out there, and had to be stopped before they joined with someone else who wanted to see the Amazons dead. Or the centaurs for that matter.
The young centaur gazed down, in the growing light of dawn, at the sleeping bodies in the wagon bed and sighed, thinking of how determined they had been to reunite with their loves. Ephiny and Xena had found the strength of will to survive the terrors of Metreus’ dungeon, and Gabrielle had found the strength to lead an entire Nation into battle. Kraylor could never remember hearing the little bard raise her voice at anyone, but from what Solari and Jayla told him on the journey, their Queen had been a pillar of strength for each of them, planning and executing the battle with an iron will that matched even Xena.
Now he watched the bard, curled up against the dark warrior, and sleeping peacefully, a contented expression on her young face. It seemed to Kraylor that no matter how grim the situation, Gabrielle felt comforted in Xena’s presence. And even though the warrior princess lay motionless, in the same position that they had placed her in, sweating and flushed from the terrible fever that raged through her injured body, her face expressed the same emotion. Peace.
He found this more than a little shocking, because of the fact that not more than two candlemarks earlier, the warrior’s fever had spiked, and she thrashed and moaned pitiously, nearly clobbering everyone within reach. All Gabrielle had done was soak the cloth she held with water and press it to Xena’s throat, and laying the other hand on her searing forehead. The fevered fits had stopped almost immediately, and Kraylor was left to wonder if it was the cool compress on her throat, or the gentle touch of the bard that had calmed her. Even now he wasn’t sure.
A part of the young centaur’s mind knew that fevers as bad as the one that held Xena usually spiked once or twice every candlemark, but after that first time, Gabrielle had refused to take her hand away, staying in constant contact with the warrior. And there had been no more thrashings, or fevered moans. Her eyebrows hadn’t even so much as twitched in dream since Gabrielle had grown too tired to hold her head up any longer and maneuvered carefully in the wagon bed to lay beside her warrior.
The little Amazon Queen had mumbled her protests when Solari quietly told her to get some sleep, but they were no more than a token effort. After a few moments, she had submitted, smiling gratefully at the warrior, and slid down to hold Xena, resting her cheek against a warm, but otherwise normal shoulder. Unable to resist, she had relaxed quickly in the comfotable position, falling asleep to the soft creaking of the wagon’s aged boards as they headed for her home village.
Kraylor watched the little bard sleep, marvelling at the strength she had shown, even though the odds were against her, and was jolted out of his musings by a rough, but hushed voice calling his name. He looked up and caught his leader’s gaze. “Yes Tyldus?” he responded just as quietly, not wanting to wake the injured, or the ones who needed their rest just as badly to heal the inner wounds.
“We’re coming up on Potedeia,” the elder centaur commented idly, but Kraylor knew there was a point behind his remark, there always was.
“Yes?” Kraylor answered, suddenly realizing where this was going.
“The people here might not accept us too easily,” Tyldus said finally, after a long pause.
Kraylor stiffled a yawn that would betray how tired he was becoming after so much exertion in the battle, and later the walking. “I know, Tyldus,” he said softly, letting his features soften slightly, “It won’t be the first time I’ve dealt with humans that didn’t like me. And it probably won’t be the last. I’ll deal with it.”
Tyldus nodded. “Good lad. But remember, this is Gabrielle’s birthplace. Her family is here. So...” He let the statement hang in the air, knowing the brash young warrior was aware of his meaning.
“Don’t worry, Tyldus,” Kraylor responded, holding up his hands with a smile, “I won’t pick any fights because someone tells a rude joke in my earshot. I’ll behave.” That brought a small chuckle from Tyldus and Kraylor relaxed, knowing the tension of the moment had been broken.
“I hate to interrupt,” Tirin stated softly, not breaking her gaze from the road in front of her, “But don’t you think we’re going to look pretty strange walking into this village? No one knows us here.” She clucked at Argo again and waited for one of them to answer.
“I don’t see how it can be helped,” Tyldus replied with a sniff, imagining the terrified and hateful stares they would probably be on the recieving end of when word got around that they had arrived.
“Well, shouldn’t we wake the Queen?” she wondered, used to following orders, not making the decisions, “It might help ease the shock a little.” A half-hearted shrug accompanied the remark and Tirin fell silent again, mentally chastizing herself for the dumb sounding words.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Tyldus said after a moment, surprising her. The elder centaur nodded to Kraylor, and picked up his pace a little to keep abreast of Tirin. He wanted to discuss options should the villagers decide to be less than hospitable with them.
Kraylor understood his leader’s action and stepped a little closer to the wagon bed, not wanting to wake the slumbering bard, but knowing he had no choice. Balancing so he could reach down while keeping pace with the wagon, the young centaur extended his arm... and yelped in surprise and pain as his wrist was siezed in a vise like grip. He could feel the bones grinding together as he looked deep into the foggy blue eyes of his attacker.
Both Tyldus and Tirin whipped their heads around, their conversation forgotten, to see what had happened. The centaur leader’s eyes widened in alarm when he saw a very fevered Xena holding on to Kraylor’s wrist in a white knuckled grip and struggling to sit up straight. Gods, he thought, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. He bolted to his warrior’s aid, as Tirin pulled Argo to a stop, knowing that a delerious Xena was more dangerous than the one they were aquainted with. This Xena didn’t know friend from enemy, and would lash out at anything that came close enough to feel how deadly she was.
“Xena, no!” Kraylor pleaded, seeing the murderous look in the warrior princess’ eyes, “Gabrielle, wake up!!” He tried tugging his arm away, pleading with the Gods to rouse the little bard from her exhausted slumber.
Xena’s unfocused eyes simply got colder at the mention of Gabrielle’s name and her grip tightened, as she used that arm to haul herself up, her good arm jostling the bard for a moment as she moved. Even this tiny action roused the sleeping redhead, and she blinked drowsily for a moment, wondering where she was.
“Xena, please don’t!” Kraylor’s paniced voice reached her ears, and instantly, Gabrielle remembered the rescue. She bolted upright and looked for her opening, wanting to have as much contact with Xena as possible when their bodies met. She had used the same tactic when Xena was fevered from her last serious injury and it had calmed her quickly. That, and hearing the bard’s voice.
“Leave Ephiny alone!” Xena growled, and Kraylor understood that she thought she was still in the dungeon of Metreus’ castle. She released the centaur’s rapidly bruising wrist and drew her left arm back for a strike. The bard saw her chance and lunged.
“Xena!” she shouted above the warrior woman’s snarling, diving in and wrapping one arm around her mid section, the other catching her tensed arm. Gabrielle buried her face in Xena’s neck and whispered reassurances into her ear, sighing in relief when the warrior princess began relaxing, her heavy body sagging against the bard’s smaller one.
“Gabrielle?” she whispered, her healthy left arm curling around the smaller woman in familiar protectiveness. Xena saw everything through a haze of pain, but the feel of the woman in her arms was unmistakable. She believed what the bard told her, that everything would be fine, and that they were all safe. It was instinct to her. Gabrielle would never lie to her. Xena felt herself weaken, the adrenaline wearing off after the shock and shivered, noticing how cold the air was.
Gabrielle felt Xena’s heated skin against her cheek and knew that the sudden motions had caused her fever to rise in retaliation. “Rest Xena,” she said softly, supporting the warrior’s head as she lowered her weak body back onto the furs, “It’s okay now, my warrior. I’ll take care of you. Just close your eyes.” She felt tears well up in her eyes, knowing that there was no way she could do this on her own. The bard had to admit that she had never seen a fever run so high in Xena before. Or anyone else for that matter. And she didn’t know how to treat it. She didn’t even know if Xena would survive.
Gabrielle was shocked to realize that she had never considered the posibility of Xena dying from a fever before. She hadn’t been prepared at all when the warrior had crossed over last year from the injuries caused by that log trap. She tried not to cry as she pulled the heavy furs over Xena’s shivering body, remembering the pain she had felt. I can’t survive that again, she thought soaking the rag with water and dabbing at the warrior’s face and neck.
All the jostling in the wagon had roused Solari and she peered through half lidded eyes at her Queen, troubled at the worry she saw on the young woman’s face. “Gabrielle?” she spoke softly, placing a comforting hand on the bard’s shoulder.
Gabrielle looked up briefly at her name and met Solari’s troubled gaze before returning to her task. “I’m okay, Sol,” she said quietly, trying to sound reassuring, but the doubt crept into her voice.
“Don’t worry, Gabrielle,” the Amazon said, forcing a smile and trying to lift her Queen’s spirits, “Potedeia is just over the rise. Soon you’ll be back in the village of your birth. We’ll get Xena and Ephiny to the healer and all will be well.”
Gabrielle’s heart sank more with each word out of Solari’s mouth as she remembered the harsh words traded with her father the morning she had left to rescue Xena. She regretted them the moment they had been spoken, but she couldn’t bring herself to go back and beg his forgivness. Herodotus had been wrong to say those things about the Amazons, and he had to know that. But Gabrielle admitted silently that she could have handled it a lot better than she did.
Now she returned to the same village. Asking help for Xena and the very Amazons that her father hated. She didn’t know if the healer, Yarilis, felt the same way about her people, but she didn’t think so. The old woman wouldn’t have tried to help the mortally injured Urisa if she held contempt for the Amazons.
Gabrielle continued bathing Xena’s exposed skin with cooling water, worrying even more as it soaked in and dried up the moment it touched her. She wondered silently who she would be able to count on to help her, if her father refused her apology when they arrived. Kalitar and Arianna would help her. She almost smiled remembering how the big blacksmith had done everything he could to help Urisa. Even carrying her nearly across the village so that she could deliver her message before Celesta’s touch claimed her. He was a true friend.
“Potedeia, ahead,” Tirin informed them from the driver’s bench as she guided Argo down the gentle slope in the road to the village gate. The blonde Amazon jerked her shoulder a little, waking the slumbering Jayla so she wouldn’t be the only one on the look out for trouble. She knew this was her Queen’s home village, but old habits die hard, and she wanted to be careful.
Gabrielle tensed and looked up from her warrior again, peering between Tirin and a very groggy Jayla at the cluster of still quiet houses not far away. Her fear grew again as she worried about the villagers’ reaction to the Amazons and centaurs accompanying her, but she batted it down firmly, trying to be strong for the others. None of them knew the people here, and they needed her to be their go between.
“Kraylor,” Gabrielle said quietly, resting a freshly soaked rag against Xena’s throat and sitting up a little straighter, “Can you take me into town? I want the healer to be ready when the wagon gets there.”
The young centaur nodded grimly and offered his arm to the little Queen, hauling her onto his back. “Hold on, okay?” he said and waited for her affirmative response before kicking up his hooves into a quick canter.
Solari watched them depart for a moment, but tore her eyes away at a soft moan. She turned her full attention to the injured Regent, a warm feeling of love and tenderness taking over her heart. “It’s okay Eph,” she whispered, brushing a curly lock of hair off the blonde Amazon’s face, “We’re taking you and Xena to a healer. We’re almost there.”
Ephiny’s eyes opened only a fraction and gazed up at her, wincing slightly at the dim sky, so bright after her eyes had been used to the darkness of the dungeon and of sleep. She struggled to free her arms from under the warm furs and managed to get one free before Solari reached out to hold her down. “Don’t move too much, Eph,” the dark haired woman scolded gently, “Are you uncomfortable?”
Ephiny nodded and reached up with her free arm, not even bothering to work her other arm loose, and expend energy she didn’t have. “Up,” she rasped, her voice thick with sleep and weariness. She smiled a bit when she felt Solari’s strong hand under her shoulders, tipping her upright and then pulling her nearly limp body onto her lap. The dark haired Amazon cradled the woman she loved tenderly against her chest, holding her tightly and rubbing her back. She pulled the furs up over the Regent’s arm again, tucking them around her as Ephiny nuzzled her face into the crook of Solari’s neck, sighing softly.
The Amazon warrior held her breath for a moment at the sweet contact, feeling the steady puffs of warm air across her chest as Ephiny breathed. “Better?” she asked softly, knowing she liked this position much more that the previous one, but not daring to say so out loud.
“Yeah,” Ephiny breathed sleepily, her lips brushing against Solari’s throat as she spoke, “Much. I... thanks, Sol.”
Solari shivered at the sensation of Ephiny’s soft lips moving against her skin, but kept control. Barely. “You’re welcome,” she replied, turning her head to place a soft kiss in the Regent’s blonde curls, “Sleep now. I’ll stay with you. I promise.”
When no response was forthcoming, Solari listened to Ephiny’s breathing. Hearing the slow deep rhythm, she knew the Regent was already asleep, and sighed quietly, holding her a little tighter, revelling in the all too rare sensation for as long as she was permitted.
Kraylor raced into Potedeia, following Gabrielle’s direction to the healer’s house. His already tired hooves nearly came out from under him as he skidded to a stop when the little bard shouted at him to. He felt her hands press into his back as she vaulted off him and landed on the ground.
He was amazed at Gabrielle’s speed as she darted around him and began pounding on the door, shouting almost at the top of her lungs. “Yarilis!!” she yelled, her fists slamming on the wood so hard that they were starting to hurt, “Yarilis!! Wake up!!”
Gabrielle paused for a moment, and looked back to Kraylor with a frown, debating whether to ask him if he would mind kicking the door in. The bard shook her head slightly and pounded on the door again, making her knuckles bleed. “YARILIS!!” she bellowed, her face reddening with the strain.
Muffled curses filtered through the door, reaching the bard’s ears, and she fell silent. “Hold on! Miserable spawn of a Satyr!” the old woman called through the door, “Yer makin’ enough noise to wake blessed Hades!” The words got louder as Yarilis aproached the door, and finally, as the last words were fading, the heavy latch was pulled and the door was flung open.
“What’s so flamin’ important that...” Yarilis stopped ranting when she came face to face with Gabrielle. Her eyes widened and her old face registered shock as she stared at the nearly frantic bard. “Gabby? Child what is it?” she asked, wondering what could have happened to turn the quiet girl she knew into such a loudmouth.
“I need your help,” Gabrielle sputtered, trying to catch breath lost from the exersion and fear, “My friends...” She pointed back, over Kraylor’s shoulder to the hill where the wagon was slowly approaching.
Yarilis started a little at the sight of the centaur standing right in front of her, but her good sense told her not to mention it for now. She knew Gabby would explain everything when things had settled down, but right now, she needed a healer. And very quickly, if her shouting had been any indication.
“How many, how bad?” the old woman clipped, shuffling back inside to prepare for wounded. Her healer training took over immediately and she listened to Gabrielle with one ear wihle she rooted through the shelves and jars for what she might need.
Gabrielle explained Xena’s injures first, elaborating on a few things when Yarilis asked a question or two about how the shoulder wound looked and felt. When she tried to explain Ephiny’s lesser injuries, the old woman held up her hand for the bard to stop.
“We’ll deal with the worst of it first, child,” she said quickly, setting an armful of jars on the table, next to a wooden mixing bowl, “Then I can see what is wrong with the rest.” She handed Gabrielle a small pail and shooed her away. “Go get me some emerald moss from the rocks in back of the house.”
The bard rushed out the door and dodged Kraylor again, kicking up dirt as she raced for the garden around back of the house. She didn’t pay attention to the small crowd of people that had come out to see what was gong on, having been jolted awake by her shouting. Many of them had heard of the bard’s arguement with her father the morning she left, and were more than a little surprised at her sudden return. It had to be something important if she was willingly back in Potedeia, and pounding on the healer’s door before the rooster’s crow.
Kraylor tried to ignore the stares of the villagers, and focus on the steadily approaching wagon. None of the people seemed hostile towards him, but he didn’t want to take his chances, and refrained from answering the curious questions about Gabrielle’s appearance that villagers asked their neighbors. And so he waited, trying to keep his hooves from stomping and prancing, as they had a habit of doing when he was nervous. And he was plenty nervous now.
Down the narrow street, inside a dimly lit house, Lila was busy preparing tea for her mother. She had awakened to the sound of Hecuba’s coughing not long before, and immediately helped the woman to sit up and calm her raging lungs before daring to leave her alone.
Gabrielle’s younger sister had taken over in caring for her mother when the bard left three days ago, grateful that the worst of the sickness from the snakebite was over. She took her father’s place, sleeping beside Hecuba at night, in case the coughing started again, so that she would hear it and wake up. Like this morning, Lila thought grimly, pouring hot water over the herbs and letting them steep.
She had lit a single candle from the fireplace to see by in the kitchen and padded around silently, not wanting to wake her father. Herodotus had been moody and irritable since Gabrielle’s departure, and though he wouldn’t talk about what they had said to each other, Lila knew it hadn’t been pleasant.
The little brunette remembered coming back into the house after Gabrielle had ridden away just in time to see Herodotus smash one of the chairs that sat by the fireplace. Lila knew her father was given to random bursts of anger and violence, but to this point, thank the Gods, he had never taken his anger out on any of them. He had remained silent for the rest of the day, fixing the chair he had destroyed and busying himself around the house, inside and out, doing the chores that he had put off for some time. And even some that he made up on the spur of the moment. Anything just to keep his mind occupied.
Lila strained the leaves and herb parts out of the tea and poured it into a mug when it was dark enough to do it’s job. She carefully lifted the heavy mug in one hand and the candle in the other, padding back towards her mother’s bedroom. After making sure her mother was alert enough to hold the mug in her own hands, Lila drew breath to blow out the candle, when the shouting started.
“What in Hades?” her mother grumbled, steadying the mug in her hands, “Who is crazy enough to be making such noise at this ungodly time of morning?”
Lila shruged, but stood up from the bed and started to dress like the dutiful daughter she tried to be. “I’ll go see what it’s about, mother,” she offered, and saw Hecuba nod absently, blowing on her tea.
“Don’t be long, daughter,” she informed her youngest, “You still have to make the morning meal for your father before he heads to the fields.”
“Yes mother,” Lila replied, straightening her skirt a little and heading for the door, “I’ll only be a moment.” And she hurried across the common room of the house. Past the door to her bedroom, where Herodotus’ snoring could be heard, nearly as loud to her ears as the shouting down the street.
Lila closed the door behind her, and shivered in the cold morning air, noting that the sun still hadn’t cleared the trees to the east. Gods it’s early, she grumbled silently with a frown. Though Lila liked to sleep late, as did her whole family, none of them were as bad about it as Gabrielle. Running down the street, Lila stiffled a giggle as she thought about how her older sister would react to the commotion being made now.
When Lila was close enough, she could see that she wasn’t the only one who had heard the racket being made, but she was one of the few that had taken the time to dress properly first. Most of the curious watchers that gathered around the healer’s house were still in their night clothes, grumbling and questioning each other as to what was going on.
She raked her eyes over the crowd that had formed, looking for someone that might know what was going on. Two strange men she had never seen before were standing in the middle of the crowd, a head and shoulders taller than the largest men in the village, and seemed a part of whatever was going on.
Lila tried repeatedly to see through the growing crowd of villagers, wanting to catch a glimpse of whoever the tall men were with. Finally giving up because there was just no way to see from where she was, the little brunette began politely pushing people out of her path. She knew it had to be important for someone to have started pounding on the healer’s door so early. But who was injured?
Gods, she thought frantically, please don’t let it be Gabrielle. Lila squeezed around the last body in her way and nearly screamed in relief when she saw her elder sister standing relatively unharmed by one of the tall men. Which she now realized weren’t men at all. They were centaurs. My sister knows the centaurs? she thought, stunned for a moment, until Gabrielle’s voice snapped her out of it.
“Okay, Kraylor,” Gabrielle’s voice was strong and commanding, and nothing like the look of fear and panic on her face, “Help Solari down from the wagon.” Lila knew which woman her sister was talking about from the story she had told the night before leaving. “Sol, you’re going to have to help me get Xena inside. Kraylor and Tyldus won’t fit through the door.” Lila wondered how her sister and an obviously injured Amazon were going to lug the warrior princess inside without making her injuries any worse, but kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to be seen right now, not until she knew what was going on.
“I’ll help,” a booming voice called from the crowd, and Lila looked over to see the blacksmith, Kalitar, stepping forward. He was the man who had brought the dying messenger to Gabrielle before she left. The Amazon he later helped Gabrielle build a pyre for.
Gabrielle looked up from Xena’s flushed face and smiled in relief when she saw Kalitar approaching. She said nothing, not trusting her voice, but nodded her thanks to him. Before he could get very close, though, Jayla had risen from beside Tirin, dispite her injuries, and drawn a dagger. “It’s okay Jayla,” Gabrielle soothed, nodding at her when she looked back to make sure she had heard right, “He’s a friend. He helped me honor Urisa after she crossed.”
Jayla eyed the big man for a moment, then nodded grimly and sheathed her dagger, allowing him to pass. She didn’t like any man as a rule, but if the Queen commanded it, she obeyed, no matter what her personal feelings. This was Gabrielle’s birthplace after all.
“Where is she injured?” Kalitar asked, looking down at the warrior princess, wrapped tightly in furs. He could tell just by looking at her face that she was in the grip of a terrible fever, and he didn’t want to make it any worse.
“Shoulder and broken arm,” Gabrielle clipped, stepping back to give him room. She glanced over at the healer’s house to see Yarilis standing in the doorway, wiping her clean hands on a rag. The bard watched Kalitar lift Xena as easily as though she were a child, and cradling her as such, as the two centaurs cleared a path for him.
Gabrielle remained silent and still, watching the big blacksmith as he disappeared through the doorway carrying his precious cargo. She wanted to break down and cry right there, but closed her eyes and forced back the tears, knowing she had to be strong for the others.
A muffled curse, followed by something breaking filtered out from the still open door of the healer’s house. “Gabrielle!” Yarilis called, her old voice rising with something akin to fear, “Get in here!”
A quick glance at Solari, and the bard shoved through everyone, darting inside. The sight that greeted her made her bite her lip to keep from screaming curses to the Gods. Xena’s senses had told her that she was being carried by a stranger, and she reacted, thrashing and groaning, even after Kalitar had laid her down on the cot. The warrior’s good arm had lashed out, shattering a chair that was within reach, and was still flailing, as if searching for something else to destroy.
Yarilis and Kalitar had stepped back, well out of her way, and refused to even try calming the delerious warrior down. They had seen the sturdy wooden chair shatter at the strike, and neither had any desire to end up like the battered furniture.
Gabrielle stepped forward, intending to go to Xena, but Kalitar’s large hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Gabrielle,” he said softly, eyeing the warrior carefully, “That woman is dangerous. Don’t get near her.”
“Kali, thank you for your concern,” Gabrielle replied, patting his hand, then removing it, “But Xena won’t hurt me.” She smiled reassuringly and turned back to the fevered warrior, taking a few more cautious steps. “Xena,” she called, hoping she would be able to get through the haze in the dark woman’s mind, “Xena, calm down. It’s Gabrielle. I’m here.”
The thrashing lessened visibly, but didn’t stop and Xena’s groans were accompanied by little whimpers. Gabrielle stepped even closer. “Xena, please stop moving,” she said softly, wanting desperately to hold her warrior, and take the pain away, “Let the healer see your wounds. I’m right here.” Gabrielle took the final steps and knelt down beside the cot, catching the flailing left arm and holding it against her chest.
Kalitar and the healer watched in amazment as the warrior calmed instantly and completely when Gabrielle touched her. He stood transfixed at the sight, almost sensing the love that the little bard had for the warrior. In that moment, he knew that Gabrielle loved the dark warrior just as much as he loved Arianna. And that thought made him smile.
Yarilis, however, didn’t waste time mooning as the blacksmith did. She moved forward, quickly peeling away layers of bandages to expose the horribly infected wound she needed to treat. The old woman winced visibly at the sight of it, knowing at first sight that it was worse than any she had ever seen. She seriously doubted the warrior would last through the night, but wasn’t going to tell Gabrielle. To be honest, she was amazed the warrior had survived it this long.
While Yarilis set to cleaning out the poison of infection, Gabrielle murmured nonsense to Xena, not caring what she spoke about as long as the warrior knew she was still there. She didn’t dare cast a look at the healer or the wound, knowing how serious it was. The bard didn’t know if she could face that reality right now.
Only when Yarilis was wrapping up Xena’s shoulder again, did Gabrielle dare to look up. The warrior had dropped into unconsciousness again, and was resting quietly, but her fever was still raging nearly out of control. “Well?” the bard asked, her brow creasing with worry.
“It’s bad, child,” Yarilis grunted as she eased the broken bones of the same arm back into alignment, “If the infection was in one of her extremities, I’d just cut it off and be done with it. But it’s in a bad place, so close to her heart.”
“What can you do?” Gabrielle asked, her voice getting softer as she faced a possibility she wasn’t ready to accept, “Will she die?”
Yarilis was silent for a moment before responding. “I don’t know, child,” the old woman said finally, splinting the arm and tying off the bandages , “But even if she survives, the poison from the infection has already set itself into her arm. Time will tell if the bones heal properly, but...” She trailed off, not wanting to dash the bard’s hopes at such a painful time.
“But?” Gabrielle pressed on, wanting to hear the whole truth from the old woman.
Yarilis faced her, grim acceptance in her eyes. “I don’t know for certain, Gabby,” she said, “But I would lay odds that she never regains the use of that arm. Not after an infection this bad. I don’t know how she’s survived this far. I truly hope she’s made her peace with the Gods.”
Gabrielle looked down at Xena, tears springing to her eyes. She forced them back once again, and brushed a few sweaty hairs away from the warrior’s face as she spoke. “Xena is very strong, Yarilis,” she nearly whispered, not looking up, “She’ll be fine. We’ve been through worse than this before.” Though for the life of her, Gabrielle couldn’t remember when.
Outside the healer’s hut, Lila watched the strangers with keen facination. The Amazons were stunning, but the centaurs seemed like mythical heroes, more out of a child’s bed time tale, than the reality of everyday life. She strained her ears, listening to their hushed voices as they talked softly amongst themselves about some battle. The battle they were injured it, she guessed, noticing that every one of them had some kind of wound, even if it was merely a shallow slice to the arm.
She cast her eyes about the crowd, noticing the different looks worn on the villagers’ faces. Some, like Arianna, holding a still sleeping Dolath, were in awe, just as she was. Others scowled with hatred. At the Amazons, or centaurs, Lila couldn’t be sure. Some just stared blankly, shocked by what was happening in the normally quiet village.
Several moments passed and nothing happened. The people began to shift impatiently, waiting for any word on what was going on, but no one was brave enough to approach the strangers. Finally, the crowd began to disperse, the villagers heading back to their homes to start the day like any other, until only a few remained, having nothing better to do.
Lila also stayed, moving to stand beside Arianna, who was busily trying to hush a, now very awake and, fussy Dolath. The two women exchanged looks, acknowledging each other’s presence, but said nothing, both waiting for some word on what was happening inside.
Jayla watched the two women carefully from her perch on the wagon bench, trying not to jump down and start pacing the ground. She had been worried when the healer called for Gabrielle, her fear escalating nealy to panic when she heard the Queen’s nervous voice calling to a delerious Xena. The little Amazon guard had moved to stand, her training making her forget all but the need to protect her Queen, and failed to recall the gash in her leg. Only Tirin’s strong arms had kept her from landing on her face in the dirt at Argo’s heels.
The older Amazon convinced Jalya to stay outside, reasoning that the Queen would call them if she needed them. So the little guard leaned against the side of the wagon, taking the weight off her injured leg and peered over the side at Solari. “How is Ephiny?” she asked, a small frown appearing when she looked at the Regent Queen bundled up in furs.
“Tired,” Solari replied, holding the slumbering woman closer to her chest, “She’s been through a lot. The head wound worries me, but there doesn’t seem to be anything life threatening wrong with her.”
Jayla nodded and relaxed a little, relieved that for the moment, the lives of her Queen and Regent were safe. She finally allowed herself to feel the pain of her injury and winced at the throbbing that pulsed clear up to her hip.
Solari noticed the expression on the little red head’s face. “Jayla, has the bleeding stopped yet?” she asked, worried that the little guard was not thinking of her own well being at such a time.
Jalya shrugged briefly and decided that it might be a good idea to check her wound under the soggy bandages. A quick look confirmed her suspicions as fresh blood escaped the edges of the cloth and trickled down her thigh. “It needs stitching,” she informed the warrior matter-of-factly, not really bothered by the blood or the thought of being sewn up. It was just the fact that she couldn’t do it herself, being nearly cross eyed with exhaustion.
Lila had stood silently beside Arianna, listening to the noises from the hut, with one ear, and the Amazons with the other. She recognized the name Ephiny, remembering what Gabrielle had told her about the woman who lead in her absence, and also that she had been captured along side Xena in the battle.
“Um... can I help?” Lila finally asked, working up her courage to face the strangers. She ignored Arianna’s frantic whispers, taking a few steps toward the standing Amazon she had heard called Jayla. She kept her hands clasped in front of her, trying not to look as nervous as she felt, and willing her heart to stop thumping in her chest.
At Lila’s words, Jayla spun around, one hand firmly gripping her belt knife. She had barely managed to restrain her frayed nerves from simply letting the dagger fly first and looking to see what she speared after. One look at the terrified woman made her glad she did. The poor thing looks like she’s ready to keel over dead from fright, the little guard thought as she lowered her hand from the sheathed weapon and smiled to reassure her. “Thank you, but no,” Jayla said, wondering why this simple village girl looked so familiar, “We just need your healer and then...”
“Yarilis has been teaching me,” Lila interrupted, feeling a little more confident when the fierce little Amazon didn’t attack her, “I’m not an accomplished healer, but I know enough to clean and stitch your wound.” Lila nodded a little to the clumsy bandage on Jayla’s thigh.
The little guard glanced over at Solari and saw her nod. “Okay,” Jayla shrugged, limping over to the back of the wagon and hopping up to sit. The young woman had made a generous offer, and she didn’t really want to offend the villagers of her Queen’s birthplace.
Jayla handed Xena’s healing kit to the young brunette, studying her serious expression as she carefully tended the wound. She had a gentle touch that spoke of innocence and kindness, touching something inside her that the little guard had thought was no longer there. She had never had many griends growing up, even after escaping her abusive father to live with that Amazons. The little redhead buried herself in the training, finding a natural talend to knife throwing and honing the skill, never bothering to make any friends.
“What’s your name?” she asked, just as surprised as the girl when the words sprang from her mouth.
“Lila,” the brunette answered quickly, looking up at the startlingly emerald eyes for only a moment before dropping them back to her work, her fingers making tiny little stitches along the gash.
“I’m Jayla,” the little Amazon said, then frowned and mentally slapped herself for how dumb she had sounded.
“I know,” Lila replied, not looking up from her work this time, her voice soft and shy, “I heard you talking. There, all finished.” She sat back and admired her stitches, twelve incredibly tiny sutures in a straight line, closing the long gash.
Jayla looked down at her thigh and smiled. “Thanks,” she murmured, flexing her leg to see how much mobility she would have. To her mild surprise, Lila had left her a lot of stretch in the stitches, so she wouldn’t have to remember not to bend it too far. These stitches wouldn’t rip out before it was healed, even if she had to protect the Queen in battle. She was about to compliment the girl’s skill when a bellowing shout of her name came from down the street.
“Coming, father!” Lila called back, straightening up and smoothing out her skirts. She quickly packed up Xena’s healer kit and closed the flap while the Amazon’s watched and then turned to leave.
“Wait,” Jayla put a hand on her arm, then drew it back as if burned when she realized what she had done, “Um... the Queen will no doubt want to thank you for your help when she comes out of the healer’s hut. Where can she find you?”
Lila smiled brightly for a moment, then the expression disappeared at Herodotus bellowed again. “She’ll know where to find me,” she replied, “It was nice to meet you, Jayla.” With that, she turned and hurried down the street to where the gruff older man was scowling. Lila knew she was going to get in trouble for even being in the presence of the Amazon’s, but also helping them? She winced at the thought. Her father hated them with a passion, but for the life of her, Lila couldn’t imagine why. Even when Gabrielle was their Queen, he still would rather disown her, then accept them. Lila shruged it off and bore her Herodotus’ shouting as she went inside to fix his breakfast.
Less than a candle mark later, Gabrielle emerged from the healer’s hut, looking haggard and weary, her eyes rimmed with red from crying. Both Tirin and Jayla jumped to come to her aid, but she waved them off without a word. She quietly padded over to where Tyldus and Kraylor were talking in hushed tones about the village defenses should their enemy come looking for them. They quieted immediately when they saw the little Queen and how soul sick she looked.
“Gabrielle,” Tyldus said, breaking the silence first, “How is Xena?”
“Tyldus I need Kraylor to do something for me, if that’s all right?” she replied, dodging the question so obviously that he knew it was bad.
“Anything, Gabrielle, you know that.”
The little Queen nodded her thanks and turned to the young centaur. “I need you to ride south to Amphipolis,” she said, her voice rough and strained from the crying she had done, “Go to the village tavern and give this to the owner. A woman named Cyrene. She’s Xena’s mother.” She handed him a rolled parchment with the wax seal of Amazon Royalty clear on the tied ribbon.
Kraylor nodded dutifully, tucking the parchment into his vest. “Anything else, Queen Gabrielle?” he asked softly.
“Bring her back with you,” she said, turning to head back inside the hut, “Accept no refusal, Kraylor.” The young centaur nodded once again and took off at a gallop, kicking up dirt and dodging villagers as he sped out of the village.
Tyldus wanted to go with him, but knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the young warrior, so he settled for trying to get an answer to his question. “Gabrielle,” he asked again, “How is Xena?”
Gabrielle stopped at the door of the hut and looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes hollow and dim. “She’s dying.” The little bard disappeared back inside, and the rest were left to stand by the door as an uncomfortable silence fell over them.
To Be Continued....