A Xena/Gabrielle campfire story. This tale takes place at an indeterminiate point after Gabrielle becomes a short haired warrior.
Disclaimer: All characters and everything else relating to Xena is property of Renaissance Pictures, MCA Universal, etc and I have no rights to them.
". . . And then Aphrodite made them all vanish! All ten of them! What do you think of that, Xena?"
"Urth—" Xena grunted, coming out of a slight doze. "Only ten! Was she losing her tou—What'd ya say, Gabrielle? Wassat?"
"Gorgeous gowns all decked out with the sweetest lace and ribbon. Beautiful! You haven't been listening as usual, have you Xena? By the Gods! Aphrodite knows how to put on a fashion show! Do you kno-"
"Yeah." Xena secretly thought her friend had returned only just in time, by the sound of it, from her jaunt with the Goddess of Love. But she wasn't fool enough to say so. "I love it when she takes you to her realm for some girl talk. Must be fun."
Gabrielle shook her head. She knew perfectly well Xena would have looked on an invitation to one of these parties as equivalent to spending a week in Tartarus, but she didn't care. It was amazing how refreshing a day with Aphrodite could be, every now and then. And Aphrodite always treated her with gentleness and something almost like deference, though she could be rather boisterous at times.
"So what's been happening in my absence, dear heart?" Gabrielle liked to niggle her friend occasionally. "You haven't saved any cities from imminent destruction, I know; because I wasn't there to help. But maybe an old lady across a stream, or something!"
"Gabrielle! Light and Boundary of all the Horizons of my life!"
"Yes, Highness." said Gabrielle contritely, giving a little curtsey.
Their present journey had brought them into the high tundra amongst foothills covered in miles of thick rolling perpetual grassland; divided only by hundreds of sparkling streams rushing down from the higher levels and hurrying merrily over their gravel beds.
Hardly any trees could be seen across the undulating and seemingly unending vista; but many of the streams had carved themselves deep channels, crevices, even small steep sided valleys. And in these were stands of thick timber, their foliage protected by the enclosing grassy slopes.
Today Xena had picked a little stream whose grass covered slopes rose from the tinkling water some 40 feet to the tundra plain itself. The site was thereby almost completely protected from the often viciously cold winds which swept across these grasslands in the course of the long nights.
Establishing camp had long become a well rehearsed routine. So much so, in fact, that often when they had someone travelling with them for a few days their visitors would be astonished at how fast the site came into being.
"What are your plans for killing the local wildlife? I only ask because you seem to have forgotten to pack our bows and arrows! Or am I mistaken?"
Thirty feet away in the shade of an old oak, where she was having some difficulty unravelling a broken girth-strap, Xena shrugged her shoulders.
"If they're not wrapped in those grey blankets, then they must be in the long rolled canvas wraps with the clothes."
After a pause Gabrielle's voice rang out in the silent mountain air once more.
"They aren't, you know. You have forgotten them. You know what that means. This stream is a God send. It'll be my fish stew for the next few days."
Xena was at her friend's side so fast Gabrielle pretended to rock in the wind, making the warrior woman punch her gently on the arm.
"Oh, Gods. Why did I forget them?"
"You forgot them, dearest, because I wasn't here. But don't despair. Knowing what you're like I took the brilliant warrior's precaution of packing my own bow with my own gear before I left you to fend for yourself. When was it? Two days ago!"
"I can get on by myself." Xena was easily miffed at the accusation, often put forward by her friend, that she would be a menace if left to organise the simplest journey from one place to another. "What do you suppose happened before I met you?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the thought. "The world trembled, I suppose, at the shocking language echoing from the mountains every time you discovered you had forgotten something else."
Eventually a kind of calm descended on the small clearing. The fire was made up with stones and broken branches, but not lit yet. Their equipment had been covered with the oiled canvas wraps they used for their lighter bits and pieces. Xena had given up her struggle with the broken leather gear and come to sit beside the fire where their saddles lay.
Gabrielle stood beside her as Xena finished undoing her tunic on the left side to expose the 3 inch gash caused by an outlaw's sword 5 days previously. Gabrielle stepped up and gently peeled away the small linen pad, stained slightly red, to reveal the wound itself.
"That's good. The sides are closing together nicely." Gabrielle turned to a small dish at her side then brought a damp cloth up to Xena's ribs. "This will sting a little. You know the drill. Try not to cry, and no swearing."
Xena shook her head in mock disgust at this oft repeated jest.
"Do I ever cry? Why, the last time I cried I was still a girl-Ouch! A girl who had lost her favourite spinning-top—Ouch! Are you doing that deliberately? And the very last time was, if you remember, on the occasion you insisted on making that fish st- OW! OW!"
"Don't be a cry-baby. That's the wound cleaned and dabbed with that solution I was given at the Asculepian Temple. They're very good with medicines, you know. It'll work wonders, if you don't thrash around with your sword for a few days more." Gabrielle spoke calmly and efficiently. When she attended to Xena's wounds her usual light attitude disappeared and someone who was totally in control took over. "Now. We come to the difficult bit. This pad is a little thicker and wider than the last. We don't want an infection setting in. So I'll need to press it quite tight against the flesh, and hold it with a well wrapped bandage round your chest. Now, this will hurt quite a lot."
Gabrielle bent over her companion, working gently and slowly, but with expertise and great knowledge. The gentle breeze played amongst the branches of the nearby trees and the light ripple of the stream could be heard a few yards away. Nothing else moved around them. As Gabrielle worked Xena kept her arm raised steadily above her friend's head but showed no further sign of discomfort as her wound was dressed, though the real pain was much greater now.
"There! That should do for a couple more days, Xena." Gabrielle stepped back to put the old swabs in the dish at her feet. "Your physician now says she thinks you'll do OK. No sweet foods. No wine. No heavy lifting. No—"
Xena's reply was made so softly and gently that Gabrielle stopped talking suddenly, gave a brief nod, and picked up the dish silently to take the used bandages away.
A few minutes later Gabrielle had put on a deerskin jacket with a full quiver slung across her back. The bow, her own bow, was an Amazon design of yew and very powerful; taking some strength to bend it. Though of a small frame Gabrielle still surprised even Xena with her great reserves of actual physical strength. The muscles that played across her arms and back were genuine and strong, giving her more power than people realised. With her heavy boots, each with a gleaming sai strapped to it, and her straight, clear gaze she looked every inch the warrior she really was. Xena had long realised that now, when Gabrielle went out hunting, she always returned with her quarry. Xena had also come to realise in recent months that Gabrielle's involvement with, and her love of, the Amazon nation had helped to change and mould her character. Probably as much as her friendship with Xena. When she thought about this the feeling Xena most experienced was pride for her companion.
Gabrielle gave some last orders before she set off across the wide open tundra. Xena was not to think of lifting a saddle; or carting equipment around; or suddenly deciding to wash down one of the horses. Gabrielle's anger would be fiery and highly personal.
"Yeah. I hear ya. Go! Go! There are rabbits getting bored waiting to die out there. Go!"
After a while the camp began to seem very quiet and slightly unsettling to the Warrior Woman. The absence of her friend had actually played rather heavily on her mind when Gabrielle was away with Aphrodite; resulting in Xena having one mainly sleepless night plagued by bad dreams. She had been careful not to let Gabrielle realise this on her return. Now alone again, even though knowing her friend was only a mile or so away, Xena still could not stop a curious nervousness overtaking her. The base line, she could admit to herself, was a great need for Gabrielle's presence in her life. Her absences recently had begun to make Xena feel not simply alone but empty, almost abandoned.
Because Xena's wound slightly hampered her movements Gabrielle had taken it upon herself to do most of the heavy work around camp in the last few days. She unsaddled the horses; dragged the saddles over to the fire; unpacked most of their equipment; and broke out the blankets from their oilcloth wrappings. She never complained; instead covering the sometimes really hard work with light chatter and a tendency to chide her travelling companion gently in a silly way.
Xena, normally rather lacking in humour and jittery under her friend's light-hearted quips, now showed an easy-going attitude and even managed to respond in kind, in an amateur way. She well knew how much strain Gabrielle was under. Indeed that had made Xena almost push her into accepting Aphrodite's invitation two days ago, though Gabrielle had not wanted to leave her alone.
An hour later Gabrielle returned from her foray and triumphantly threw two large rabbits on the ground near the fire and, coincidentally, Xena's feet.
"That's what I call a real meal, eh!" She gurgled with glee at her success. "Not often you find wildlife in such good condition as that. Of course, you have to have the expertise. Can't do anything without the expertise."
Xena looked at the rabbits lying by her feet then up at Gabrielle.
"So who did you meet who is a great hunter round here? Isn't he coming to say hello?"
"Har-de-har, Warrior Princess. Just for that you're skinning them. I'm off to clean up in the stream. Give me a call when they're ready."
After her bathe Gabrielle had politely refused Xena's offer to cook their supper.
"I hunted them; I chased them; I caught them; you skinned them; I get to make a fricasee of them. That's what I call fair. You go and attend to my saddle strap. I don't want to fall on my whatsit tomorrow when we're riding across those mountains."
The sun was close to the horizon half an hour later when Gabrielle came to stand at her friend's side. Xena was sitting on a fallen branch, struggling with needles and thread to repair the broken buckle and strap.
"How's it going?"
"I'll get there, Gabrielle. I've decided that it's going to be either me or this girth strap who wins. And it ain't going to be the strap!"
"That's the spirit. Obviously my care and attention have pulled you through. Attagirl!"
She walked on a few yards, while Xena was still searching for a reply, and placed some pans beside their other equipment before crossing back again.
As Gabrielle passed she placed a hand tenderly, just for a second, on Xena's shoulder. "Don't forget to bring the plates over when supper's ready. I'll give you a shout, my Love."
Xena let her carry on across the clearing, then glanced quickly at the retreating figure before turning to the saddle-strap again.
These moments—she thought, blinking a little in the waning sunlight—when Gabrielle says 'my Love' to me, just quietly in passing. These are the best moments of my life!
The warrior bent lower over her work; but her hands were trembling now.