Part 9


“Mama, want to help Boo.”

Gabrielle looked up from the fire. “You are, honey. Just keep putting the green stuff on Boo’s neck. That’ll make her feel better.”

Dori examined her slime covered hands dubiously. “Yes?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle assured her. “Go on.”

The strong smelling eucalyptus salve was pungent enough for the bard to smell from where she was, and she only hoped it was doing her sick partner some good. Xena was lying still on the couch with her eyes closed, though she knew the warrior wasn’t asleep. Dori had crawled up on the edge of the couch and was getting the salve more or less where it needed to go, patting Xena’s pale skin gently with her small hands. “Boo?”

One blue eye opened and looked at her.


Xena nodded.

“Make better?” Dori held up her hands.

The warrior smiled, just a little. “Sure did.” She whispered huskily. “Thanks, Dori.”

Dori scowled. “No good.”

Xena glanced past her to where Gabrielle was messing with something in a pot. “Dori, you’re acting just like your mama, you know that?”


The bard gave them both a severe look. “Don’t even start with that, Warrior Overprotective Princess.” She pointed her spoon at the sick woman. “If I had a dinar for every time you fussed over me when I had the sniffles, we’d own Athens.”

“Why’d we want to?” Xena closed her eye again. “What is that you’re making?”

“Can’t you tell?” Gabrielle inquired.


Uh oh. The bard exhaled silently. Even with her worst case of head sickness, Xena never lost her senses. This wasn’t a good sign. “Acorn broth.”

Xena managed a faint snort.

“Mama!” Dori had run out of goop to put on her beloved playmate. “More!”

“Honey, that’s enough for right now.” Gabrielle sniffed the steam coming off the pot, nodding a little as the sharp, tangy scent made her mouth water. “Why don’t you get Boo some water?”

“Waver?” Dori looked up at the warrior. “Boo, you want waver?”

Xena forced her eyes open to regard her daughter. “Yeah.” She took one of Dori’s hands and wiped the salve off it’s small fingers. “I’d like that, Dori. Okay?”

“Otay.” Dori clambered off the couch and rambled over to their gear, putting both hands around a full waterskin and lifting it with difficulty, half dragging half carrying it back to the couch. “Boo Boo Boo….”

“That’s me.” Xena took the skin and uncapped it, letting it rest on her chest as she sucked at the spout. After a few mouthfuls she stopped and put the cover back on with lightly shaking fingers, the fever once again getting to her very core. “Damn it.”

“Bamn it.” Dori repeated.

One blue eye popped open, looked at the toddler, then rotated to meet her mother’s gaze from across the room.

Gabrielle  studied her, then sighed. “Just don’t teach her the ones from Sparta, okay?” She tested the heat of the soup she was making, then carefully poured some into one of their travel bowls. Adding a spoon, she got up, pausing halfway as her back protested, then straightening slowly before crossing over to the couch.

Xena edged over, clearing space for her to sit down and enforcing the matter by taking hold of Gabrielle’s arm and pulling as she started to kneel. “Ah ah ah.”


“Sit.” The warrior insisted.

With a faint sigh, the bard complied, easing down onto the couch and finding herself enfolded in a living support as Xena rolled over onto her side and curled her body around Gabrielle’s back. “Mmph.” She set the bowl down while Dori clambered up and settled herself behind Xena’s knees. “Cozy.”

Xena put her head down on the pillow, glad of Gabrielle’s warm presence. She closed her eyes against the pounding in her skull and felt a simple sense of relief that the herbs had at least stilled her coughing.

“Hon, you need to drink some of this.” Gabrielle told her.

“Not really hungry.” The warrior replied.

“All the more reason. You’d never let me get away with that.” Gabrielle dipped the deep bowled spoon into the broth and scooped up some. She waited for her partner to opened her mouth, then poured the contents inside, managing to get it all in without spilling a drop.

Xena mouthed the soup, then swallowed it. To her tongue it was tasteless, but the warmth felt good and the spices seemed to be perking through the fog that had descended over her. She put her right hand on Gabrielle’s back and started a gentle massage, feeling the painful stiffness all up and down her spine.

It salved her conscience a little, being able to do something other than just lay here being spoon fed. The sickness had sapped everything out of her, though, and she knew she could really do little else. She’d never been this ill before, and it was starting to scare her just a bit.

Another spoonful of soup found it’s way into her mouth.  She could feel Dori’s head resting on her hip, and she was glad their daughter was behaving for once and not scrambling around all over the place. “Gab?”

“Mm?” The bard shifted a little under her partner’s probing fingers. “Damn, that feels good.”

Ah, a distraction. “Where are you hurting?”

Gabrielle sighed, just a little. “Everywhere.” She admitted softly, offering up another spoonful. “When I move, I get these sharp pains down my arms and legs.”

Xena’s eyes popped wide open. “When did that start?”

“On the way here.” The bard replied.


“What?” Gabrielle snapped at her. “Xena, you’re a wreck, and I’m a wreck. What would you like me to do? Get Dori and Ares to take care of us?”

Xena didn’t answer. Instead, she let her fingers work their way higher, her sensitive touch reaching a tense knot just in the center of the bard’s shoulderblades.

Gabrielle’s brows contracted, and she looked away. “Sorry.” She murmured. “Pain’s getting to me.”

“Mama?” Dori slid down and toddled over, putting her arms around her mother’s knees. “Mama mad.”

“I’m not mad, honey.” Gabrielle said.

“Mama yell. Mama yell at Boo.” Dori objected. “No good!”

The bard merely sighed and fell silent.

“Why don’t you lie down.” Xena suggested quietly, reaching over and taking the bowl from her. “Go on over to the bed and…”

“I don’t want to lie down on the bed.” Gabrielle muttered.

“Okay.” Xena lifted the bowl to her lips and swallowed down some soup. The hot liquid felt good in volumes, and she continued drinking until it was done, lightly rubbing the bard’s back in the meanwhile. She licked her lips when she was finished and set the bowl on the floor. “How about this.”

“How about you spank the poo out of me for being a cranky whiner.” Gabrielle had taken the few moments to collect her temper, lying in tatters by her feet. “Dori, don’t you listen to me, okay? I’m not mad at Boo, I’m just owie.”

“Boo fix.” Dori put her hand into the bowl her parent had set down and clutched a fistful of vegetables, which she stuffed into her mouth. “Boo, make mama good, so we c’n go get fishes and play.”

Xena shifted a little, making more room  on the couch next to her. “You…” She addressed her soulmate. “Need some heat to loosen up those muscles.”

“Should I go sit in the soup?” Gabrielle asked, in a wry tone.

“On the other hand, I need someone to make me stop this damned shivering.” The warrior continued blithely. “So, here’s the plan.” She wrapped an arm around Gabrielle’s middle and very gently tugged her down. “You give me some body heat, and I’ll keep your back nice and warm. How’s that?”

The minute Xena’s body curled around hers, she felt the vice grip of pain in her back relax. “Unnngh.” Gabrielle stretched her legs out and fit them along her partner’s, the ache in them easing as the warrior’s body heat penetrated her skin. “Xena?”


“Have I ever told you you’re the best hot water bottle going?”

“Well.” Xena put her head down on the pillow again. “In that case, my life’s goals are complete. What am I gonna do now?”  She extended a hand to Dori, who gripped it as Gabrielle chuckled. “Hey, shortie. What’cha doing?”

Dori was climbing precariously up onto the couch, ending up sprawling over Xena’s head and over her side. “Make Boo better.” She explained.

Well. Xena exhaled. At least she was a lot warmer now.  She steadied her daughter as she found a comfortable spot, and had to smile as the toddler gave her as much of a hug as she could given the position she was in.


“Mm?” She could feel Gabrielle’s body relaxing, and hoped that would relieve the symptoms she’d described. She didn’t want to contemplate the alternative. “Better?”

Gabrielle’s fingers wound around hers, as she draped her arm over the bard’s side. “Yeah.” She replied quietly. “You rock.” She paused a few breaths. “Thanks.”

A faint smile appeared on the warrior’s face.

“Have you thought about what’s going on here?” Gabrielle asked. “I mean… does it makes sense to you that Rufus would do.. what he did… to me… and then just leave?” She added. “I mean…. On the one hand, I can sort of see it because he knew I survived.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah.” Gabrielle cleared her throat gently. “I.. um.. made sure he knew how I felt about it. So anyway…he knew.. and I guess he also knew I’d find you, so him running off makes sense that way, but…”

“You think he figured I’d kick his ass for that?” Xena inquired.

“Wouldn’t you have?” Gabrielle asked, with a touch of hesitation.

“Damn right.” The warrior replied. “If I’d seen him do it, I’d have gutted him from crotch to neck and scattered his parts from here to Amphipolis.”

“A good reason to run.” The bard commented. “But… he didn’t know if or when we’d make it back out of that valley, did he?”

“No.” Xena said.

“So, why didn’t he come back here?” Gabrielle gazed at the fire, exhaling in relief as the last of the tension flowed out of her body under Xena’s gentle touch. She felt a bit ashamed of herself, to be honest. Despite the days of pain, she knew she’d seen Xena deal with far worse and she felt she’d let her partner down by giving into it.

Even knowing Xena would probably spank her for thinking that didn’t help any. After all, here Xena lay, so sick she could hardly keep her head up and she’d wasted her precious energy trying to make Gabrielle feel better instead of taking care of herself.

Rats. Gabrielle scowled at the fire.

“Well, I’m damn glad he didn’t right at the moment.” Xena admitted.

Gabrielle turned her head and looked back over her shoulder, seeing the pale skin and bloodshot blue eyes. “Me too.” She whispered, squeezing Xena’s hand gently. “Let’s hope he’s still running the other way out there.”

Xena stifled a cough, and nodded, her eyelids closing briefly in weariness.

“We need time.” The bard murmured. “That’s all.” She pulled Xena’s hand up and placed it over her heart, feeling the last of the anger and frustration slip away from her. This was not the place for it. Right here, in these arms there was only room for love, and for healing, and for her to bask in the knowledge that once again, they’d made it out together.

Dori was draped over Xena’s side, small fingers idly playing with a bit of the blanket as she sucked the thumb on her other hand.

Together. Gabrielle nodded to herself. Everything would be all right, now.


It was dark, and Xena was glad of it. She pulled the hood of her cloak more closely around her head and continued on her way towards Lestan and Wennid’s house, cursing the unsteadiness of her steps under her breath.

Sleep, and another big dose of herbs had at least allowed her this much activity, but it was a struggle and she knew it. Regardless, Lestan had needed to speak to her, and her instincts were urging her forward to check her old friend and make sure all was well with him.

She hoped Gabrielle would forgive her. Xena grimaced slightly. She’d given the bard a cup of herbs carefully calculated to put her down for the balance of the night, and after they’d taken hold she’d left her soulmate curled up with their daughter in the big, round bed.

After all, she wasn’t planning on being gone long. Xena glanced down at the black wolf trotting beside her, his ears pricked and alert. “Right boy?” She rasped. “We’ll just check things out, then head back.”

“Roo.” Ares licked his chops, having enjoyed the last of Gabrielle’s soup.

Xena cleared her sore throat and continued on, emerging from the small path that led to their cabin into the central square of the village. The big fire was lit, and spreading crimson tinged shadows through the darkness to catch on forest dwellers crossing the square in small clumps.


The warrior slowed, turning her head as Tucker hurried across the ground towards her. She paused until he caught up to her, then resumed her slow, relatively dignified pace.

“Feeling better?” The young forest dweller hazarded a question.

Xena shrugged.

“You had us really worried there for a while.” Tucker went on in a rush. “Boy, I thought that kid of yours was going to go nuts! All she kept saying was ‘Go get mama. Go get Boo. Go get mama Go get Boo.”

“I get the idea.” Xena interrupted him.

“She’s really sorta cute.”

“Thanks.” The warrior stifled a cough.

“I mean, for a human.”

Xena looked at him.

“Well, c’mon. You gotta admit ours are cuter.” Tucker grinned at her.

“Not bad for fuzzballs.” The warrior uttered, wishing her walk was over. Her breath was coming shorter, and she felt a little dizzy. But Lestan’s window wasn’t far ahead, so she just bore down and got on with it. The air was getting colder and she folded her hands together under her cloak, chafing her chilled fingers.

“So.. what happened down there?” Tucker asked curiously. “I mean, did you find what you went for?”

Xena was silent for a few steps. Then she turned her head and regarded him from inside her hood, the fire catching bare glints off her pale eyes.

“We’re all kinda wondering.” The forest dweller scrunched his muzzle up, appearing slightly embarrassed. “I mean, I had a couple of cousins who went to the valley.”

And I probably killed them.  Xena realized. “Why not go see for yourself?” She asked.

He shrugged. “They didn’t want any part of us.” He answered. “So we said, fine. Go eat berries and raw meat and get worms from it. See if we care.”

They were at the steps up to Lestan’s house. Xena steeled herself for the effort to climb them. She put her hand on the railing, then she paused and looked at Tucker. “I found something.” She told him. “I don’t know if it’s what I went for.”

“Huh.” He grunted.

Xena turned and walked up the steps, her boots sounding with light scuffs against the wood. As she reached the door she squared her shoulders, and then rapped lightly on the surface.

“Come in, Xena.” Wennid’s voice traveled from inside.

With a twitch of her eyebrows, the warrior complied, pushing the door open and walking into the cabin. It was warm and quiet inside, with a distinct scent of venison in the air.  Xena walked through the outer chamber to the inner door, and peered inside.

Wennid was seated on the bed, with Lestan’s head and shoulders in her lap. The injured forest dwellers’ eyes were open, and as Xena entered he turned to look at her.

It made Xena smile in pure reflex. After all the death and anguish she’d been through the last few days, seeing this tangible example of her healing talents put a patch on the darkness floating around her soul. “Evening.”

“Xena.” Lestan’s voice sounded rough, but clear. “Welcome back.”

The warrior walked over to a sturdy chair near the bed and sat down. “Thanks.”

“What happened?” Wennid studied her. “You look terrible. How is Gabrielle? I heard she was hurt. We felt…” She hesitated. “Her emotions were very strong.”

Strong. Xena leaned back. “She’s all right.” She said. “Lestan, Gabrielle told me she came looking for me because you wanted to talk to me.”

“Yes.” The forest dweller took a breath. “But it is too late. You have already been where I would have warned you to stay clear of.” He painfully shifted, to get a better look at her. “And you have paid the price, I fear.”

Xena studied him for a moment. “ Your people paid a worse one.”

Wennid exhaled, her eyes drifting off to the fireplace. Then she looked back at the warrior. “What did happen? Gabrielle said you went in search of the raiders.” She added. “And, by the gods, Xena, can I get you something to drink?”

Xena could only wonder what she must look like for the forest dweller to ask. “I’m fine.” She said. “I followed the track of the horses. Found a way down to the valley.”

Lot of crazy minds down there.” Lestan sighed. “Ares’ sword, I’m no progressive, but they’ve gone over the edge with all that back to origins stuff.”

The warrior felt very tired suddenly. She didn’t want to expend the emotional energy to explain to their friends that those crazy minds they were shaking their heads at were now just so many corpses. The renegades had seemed harmless to them.

“Xena?” Wennid slid out from under her soulbond and approached the silent woman, kneeling and putting one large hand on the chair arm.

With an effort, Xena looked at her. “They attacked me when I got down there.” She said simply.

“Ugh.” Lestan let out a small snort. “As I said. Idiots.”

“Did they say why?” Wennid asked gently.

Xena had to think about that. The experience had faded a little, already. “Said humans weren’t allowed in the valley.” She finally replied. “Not much talking.”

“Bull’s balls.” Wennid snapped. “That old horse story. Damn that Rufus.”  She put an unobtrusive two fingers around Xena’s wrist, keeping them there when a pair of pale blue eyes focused on her. “Xena, I think you should just go and rest. The story can wait.”

The warrior studied her quietly. “I killed most of them.” She said.

Wennid’s lips tightened, but she nodded. “Keep that to yourself for now. There were many here whose children went down there.” Her eyes traveled over Xena’s face. “You are sick.”

“Mm.” Xena nodded agreement. “Spent too much time wet.” She gathered her reserves. “Gabrielle… got hurt when she followed me.”

Lestan inhaled audibly. “Xena, I never meant for her…”

The warrior lifted a hand. “Don’t. Gabrielle would follow me to Hades for no reason at all.”

“Yes, she would.” Wennid murmured. “Was that what frightened her so?”

“No.” Xena relaxed a little, studying her hand lying open on her thigh. “Something happened to me. We got clear of it, though.” She shifted again. “She’s got a neck injury. I’m going to need to keep her quiet in bed for a while.”

Wennid and Lestan exchanged glances.

“Xena, you know you are welcome here for as long as it suits you.” Lestan rasped. “Whatever happened in the valley – that will wait for you to be well, and for your Gabrielle to heal her wounds.”

“Exactly.” Wennid agreed. “Let me take you back to be with her. You both need rest.”

And that, the warrior had to acknowledge, was the absolute truth. She could barely keep her head up, and she knew delaying much longer might result in something unacceptably embarrassing like having to be carried back to her cabin.

Damned if she was going to have that happen. “I don’t think Rufus is going to give up that easily.” She met Lestan’s eyes.

“He’s … got some strange ideas, but I always felt he meant the best for our people.” Wennid said.

Xena considered. “Maybe.” She put her hands on the chair arms, and prepared to stand up. “But he doesn’t mean the best for my people. He tried to kill Gabrielle.” She carefully pushed herself upright.

Wennid inhaled. “He dared?”

“He failed.” Xena found a tiny smile somewhere. “Gabrielle doesn’t kill easily. But I won’t forget that.”

Wennid and Lestan exchanged another, longer look. Then Wennid stood up and joined Xena as she started to leave. Neither of them said anything; the silence more telling than words would have been.  They walked to the door and across the outer chamber, exiting the warmth of the cabin into the cold of the night.

Far off, a storm rumbled.


She was lying on the ground, looking up as rain fell on her. It was cold on her face, but she had to endure it because no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t move any part of her body save her head.

It was terrifying. Gabrielle found herself gasping, water filling her mouth as it rained down harder and harder and all she could do it lie there. 

Her body seemed dead. She could feel the water hitting it, but though she willed herself with all her strength to move, nothing did.

Water started filling the ground around her, creeping up her body.

She opened her mouth to call out, but even that was denied her as her breath barely responded enough to produce a gasp.

It rained harder. She could barely see now, the world around her just a mass of gray rain and dull green forest. Frantically, she looked around, blinking the water out of her eyes, her gaze falling on a tall stone statue nearby, its surface darkened almost to black from the storm.

Her heart stopped in her chest, as even through the rain she recognized the noble, chisled features on the statue, it’s eyes tilted skyward.

She knew somehow, seeing that – seeing the somber statue here in this clearing meant Xena was dead.

And as the realization hit, so did the grief.   Gabrielle forgot about the rain, not caring if it covered her or not as her heart shattered, and her soul screamed out in searing memory.


The voice, and the rush of emotion broke her out of her nightmare and pulled her up out of the gray, icy ground into firelit warmth, from the barren hollowness of grief to the vivid reality of Xena’s blue eyes drilling into hers as they opened.

After a shocked moment, she lifted her hand up and touched her partner’s cheek, pale but very much alive and released a shuddering breath as her body relaxed into Xena’s arms. “Gods.” The bard whispered. “Oh gods.”

Tears ran down her face as she was pulled against Xena’s body, aware of Dori’s anxious tugs on her sleeve on the other side of her. She pressed her ear against the warrior’s chest, hearing the rattling of her breathing but also the thunder of her heartbeat, powerful and rapid but slowing even as she listened.

“Mama? Mama!”

“Shh. Dori. Quiet. Mama’s all right.” Xena told her. “She just had a bad dream.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and soaked in that voice. Just a bad dream, after all. She flexed her hands, which obeyed her readily as they’d always done and reflected that there were some times when it really was hard to tell the difference between her life and a nightmare.

This, fortunately, was not one of them. “Wow.” She sighed into Xena’s chest. “That really sucked.”

Predictably, Xena gave her a kiss on the top of her head, one of the warrior’s instinctive, favorite ways of giving comfort to her. It always had, too – from the very first time she’d felt that touch, until this, the latest of them.

The river! Gabrielle tried to catch her balance, but her momentum was just too much and she stumbled off the bank and into the raging waters.

A ghost of a yank at her back, or was it just her imagination?  She scrambled around in the water trying to find a way out, yelping as she crashed into a set of boulders in the middle of the rapids.

“Help!!!!” She yelled as loud as she could. “Xena!”

For a moment, a very horrible, nasty moment, she wondered if the warrior wouldn’t hear her. Not couldn’t, but wouldn’t, using this as an excuse to rid herself of a troublesome responsibility.

They’d been fighting a lot lately, after all. She’d gotten Xena in to just the worst pickle that very morning, and the warrior hadn’t spoken to her all day.

Another rock slammed into her, and Gabrielle realized she had no time to be thinking about that. She ducked a big branch sweeping down the overfed river with her, and tried to grab a passing stump, only to smack her hand into it instead with brutal force.

She saw stars.

Then she saw the rapids ahead turn into white terror, and faced the possibility that this might really be the end of her.

Oddly, she wished more than anything that she’d at least said goodbye to Xena.

The water tossed her over and she went under the surface, taking in a lungful of water before she could claw her way back up to the sunlight again.

Then a branch slammed her from behind and she went under again. She was getting very tired. Things started getting a little dark.

She realized she was drowning.

She was scared.

She wasn’t ready to die, yet.

Then a powerful grip took hold of her, and she was pulled out of the water so fast all she could do was close her eyes and hope she wasn’t going to hit the trees. She felt the leaves whip against her, and steeled herself for the impact, but…

But the next thing she knew she was on the ground, shivering, with a pair of warm arms around her and the smell of wet leather and brass overshadowing everything. “X….xena?” She gasped, her teeth chattering.

“Yeah. You’re all right.” Xena’s voice answered her.

“I… d…didn’t want to die…. “

“Wasn’t going to let you.” The warrior said.

And then Gabrielle felt Xena’s hand shift off her shoulder and cup her head, warming her wet scalp just above her ear. It felt… she’d never felt anything like it.

It was gentle and loving, two things she’d never expected from Xena.

She felt a light pressure against the other side of her head. It was warm. She couldn’t imagine what it was. Then she heard Xena sigh, and felt her breath against her scalp and she realized Xena had just kissed her.

Xena? Kissed? Her?

“You’re gonna be fine.” Xena said. “I just gotta learn to keep you away from those damn rivers.”


What river?

Gabrielle’s eyes looked past the leaves of the bushes all around them, and in the shadows somewhere there between the flickers of sunlight, she spied her future.

She just hadn’t know it at the time.

“Are you all right, Gabrielle?” Wennid’s voice came from nearby.

Gabrielle shook off her daze, and put that together with the feel of Xena’s cloak on her. She realized the warrior had left her sleeping, and that, at least, explained why her dreams had rambled and gotten the better of her. “Yeah… “ She peeked out past Xena’s shoulder. “More or less.”

“Yamma.” Dori clambered past her mother to the edge of the bed.

With a soft groan, the bard sat up a little, freeing one hand from it’s grip on Xena’s body to clear her hair out of her eyes. It was dark, but the fire gave her enough light to see Wennid’s concerned expression and to catch the shaken look on her partner’s face.  “Sorry about that.” She patted Xena on the leg with quiet affection. “It doesn’t happen often.”

“Mama otay?” Dori crawled into her lap and hugged her.

Gabrielle gave her a kiss on the head. “Mama’s okay, honey.” She reassured her daughter. “I just had a bad dream, like you have sometimes.”


“Yeah.” Gabrielle agreed softly, feeling Xena exhale behind her. “How’s Lestan, Wennid?”

“Doing well, little sister.” The forest dweller said. “He is speaking, though he is in much pain, and I fear he will be very sick for a very long time.”

“He’ll make it.” The bard told her with quiet confidence. “He’s a fighter.”

Wennid sat down on the plain, rugged chair from the worktable, pulling it next to the bed. “As are the denizens of this cabin, eh?” She put her hand on the edge of mattress. “You had us all very worried. I am glad to see you both, safe if not so very sound.”

Gabrielle felt Xena stifle a cough, and she looked over her shoulder at the warrior. “Honey, you look awful.”

“Thanks.” Xena muttered.

“I will have a meal sent over here, Gabrielle, and our healer.” Wennid told her.

The bard smiled. “I have a healer.” She laced her fingers with Xena’s.

“Yes, but your healer doesn’t have a healer, and methinks she needs one.” The forest dweller pushed herself to her feet. “We have a sickness, common to us in the wet season that resembles what you are suffering from, Xena. It’s nothing to trifle with.”

Her head hurt too much to protest. The wild dash she’d been spurred to on feeling Gabrielle’s terror had taken every last ounce of energy from her and right then, all Xena wanted to do was lie still. She rubbed her thumb against the bard’s fingers and closed her eyes.

“Thanks, Wennid.” Gabrielle felt a definite jolt of concern. “Xena took something for this, but if you’ve got other ideas, I know she’s got an open mind about things like this.”

A blue eye appeared. Open mind? About this?

“We’ll see what we can do for her.” Wennid patted the warrior’s leg. “How are you feeling, little sister?  I’m sorry it was one of my kind who caused you pain.”

Gabrielle took a moment to take stock of herself. After her long sleep, the sharp pains had once again faded, and only the dull ache around her neck wound remained. “Better.” She watched the forest dweller leave, then she turned her head to regard Xena. “Hi.”

Dori rolled over onto her back and yawned. “Boo no feel good mama. Make all better.” She climbed down off the bed and ambled over to Gabrielle’s pack, tugging the bag open and fishing in it for a toy.

Gabrielle studied her partner’s face.

“What she said.” Xena kept her eyes closed briefly, then cracked them open. “You all right?”

The shadows chuckled nastily at her, and a ghostly memory of her dream swept over her thoughts again. She buried her face into Xena’s shoulder for a long moment, breathing in the warrior’s scent as she waited for it to pass.


“Bad dreams really stink.” The bard finally sighed. “Sometimes I really wish I had your imagination instead of mine.”

Xena blinked. “Make telling stories kinda tough.” She remarked pragmatically. “Went there, did this, killed that, went home. Bam. The End.” She idly scratched Gabrielle on the back of her head. “No fun, right Dori??”

“NO fun?” Dori looked up from the floor, where she was busy mashing Flameball’s head into the rug. “Mama tells good stories.”

“Mm.” Gabrielle wiped her eyes. “Oh, damn. I haven’t had one like that in a really long time.” She murmured. “All the stuff from the last few days caught up to me.”  She flexed her hand again. “Damn.” A soft exhale escaped from her. 

“C’mere.” The warrior pulled her closer. “Forget about the damn dream.” She tilted Gabrielle’s chin up a trifle and kissed her, the light gesture unexpectedly deepening into a long moment of intense passion that left them both breathing hard.

“Dream?” Gabrielle whispered, giving into it. “What dream?”

Sick or no, Xena managed a smile.

And in that smile, Gabrielle saw her future; only this time she fully knew it. She lifted Xena’s hand and pressed her lips against the palm, watching the smile broaden and warm the warrior’s pale eyes. The cobwebs of her dream melted away in the face of reality. “Know something?”

Xena’s eyebrow twitched upward in question.

“I love you.”

“Gush.” Dori whacked Flameball’s tail against the bottom of the bed. “Gush gush gush”

“I love you too.”



Gabrielle stepped out onto the cabin’s porch just as dawn’s light started to filter through the trees. She watched it a moment, then she sat down on the rough bench against the wall and pulled one knee up to wrap her arms around it.

It was quiet. The trees rustled nearby, and she could faintly hear the stirrings in the center of the village but the early morning seemed so far to be one of solemn peace.  She could feel it sinking into her and she welcomed it wholeheartedly.

The forest dweller’s healer had, as promised, come by last night. She’d brought with her a bag of herbs and a lot of advice for her very sick partner, and after investigating the offering thoroughly Xena had thanked the woman and actually taken them.

Gabrielle hoped they worked, and hoped the night’s rest had helped. She’d left Xena still asleep in bed, with Dori curled up next to her and decided to try and get a few of the kinks out of her very stiff body.

Xena’s breathing had seemed less labored when she’d woken, and a hand on the warrior’s forehead had shown that her fever had reduced. Gabrielle had known a sense of relief surprisingly profound and she made a note to ferret out the healer and thank her.

As for herself…. Gabrielle drew in a breath, then released it. Physically she felt better. Her body had lost some of it’s aches and the injury on her neck, though very tender, wasn’t bothering her that much. However, she found that she still felt a little unbalanced emotionally and she knew there were parts of their recent adventure that she had yet to deal with completely.

Maybe that was what triggered her dream the night before. With a soft sigh, Gabrielle got up from her bench and went to the railing, cautiously stretching her arms out to either side and flexing her fingers. That worked, so she glanced over head and reached up, catching one of the crossbeams and feeling her shoulders pop into place.

“Ick.” The bard grimaced, but kept stretching, twisting her torso first one side and then the other to loosen up the long muscles on either side.  She tensed her thighs, then relaxed them, feeling the blood start to pump and bring a warm flush to her skin.

In the chill of the dawn, it felt good. Gabrielle deepened her breathing, dropping her hands off the crossbeam and letting them rest on the railing as she lowered herself into a crouch, arching her back just a bit as she straightened back to her full height, raising herself up on her toes and then relaxing.

Not bad. Gabrielle rested her hands on the rail and gazed out over the peaceful scene. She still felt a bone deep exhaustion at the fringes of her awareness, but there was now a certain level of comfort she felt in her own skin, a sense of normality that was a step on her path back to herself.

She decided to take a walk through the village, and stop to get some fresh tea herbs to bring back for her soulmate. Waking sick was always a trial, but she’d found when she had the coughing sickness that a hot cup of tea went a long way towards soothing a body cranky on getting up.

Accordingly, she walked down the steps and onto the dirt path, her cloak settling around her with a solid warmth as the breeze ruffled her hair.  A hint of smoke filtered through the trees, growing stronger as she angled her steps towards the center of the village.

Forest dwellers were already at work when she emerged from the leaf shrouded path, and her presence was noted as they turned to greet her.  She lifted a hand and waved back, continuing around the fire and heading towards the big dining hall.

The entrance had been rebuilt, sturdy new timbers caught her eyes as she pushed the swinging doors open and slipped inside. Two of the cooks looked up as she came in, and one straightened and turned towards her.

“Gabrielle!” She exclaimed. “Wennid said you’d be abed the whole day. We were putting together a basket for you.”

“Well…” Gabrielle walked over. “I mean, thanks, but…”

“Gabrielle.” Wennid herself entered. “What are you doing here?” She put a furred hand on the bard’s shoulder. “You should be in bed!”

Both of Gabrielle’s blond eyebrows twitched, drawing together over a furrow that appeared in her forehead. “Um… we slept all night.” She protested. “I just came over to get some tea…”

Wennid took the basket the cooks had made up, and steered Gabrielle towards the door. “We have some here. Let’s get you back where you belong.”

“Wennid…” Gabrielle almost laughed as they left the hall.

“You don’t understand, do you?” The forest dweller asked her. “No, we never really did get to sit down and talk about what being as we are means, did we?”

Gabrielle thought back to the last few times she’d seen the older woman. “No.” She gave a half shake of her head. “We’re always so busy.” She said. “I know… I remember when we were here last time… when Xena was hurt. Lestan seemed to say it was okay for me to be with her but…” The bard paused. “How does that really work?”

“How?” Wennid asked, in a surprised voice. “The gods only know how, little one.”

“I mean, I guess, why does it work?” Gabrielle rephrased the question. “Does it really do anything, or is it just all that rest?”

Wennid was thoughtful for a while as they walked. “We think…. “ She stopped, then started again. “At least, I, and some of the others think it has to do with a sharing.” She said. “A sharing of that which makes us.”

“Ah.” Gabrielle murmured.

“In one who is not as we are, there is a force of life.” The forest dweller said. “But it is that one’s alone, you see? It is not given to another, just it is, what it is, and that is what that one has.”

“Okay, I think I understand what you’re getting at.” Gabrielle said. “Go on.”

“There is no way for one such as that to share.” Wennid replied. “So if they have a loved one, a mate, or a child – even if that mate or child is in need of some of that force, there is no way for a sharing to happen. There is no.. “ She waved her free hand. “Path.”

“I see.”

“But with us it is different.”

Gabrielle slowly nodded. “Sometimes, you need some of that energy.”  She said. “When you don’t have enough of your own.”

“Yes.” Wennid nodded. “So, if one of us is in need, then the other can give them part of that force, and that will help them heal themselves. Without enough of that force, no matter how good a healer attends you,  you cannot survive.”

Gabrielle stopped in mid walk. “But then… what if we both need it?” She asked. “Is that why Xena’s still sick? Because she’s giving me energy that she needs, so that my neck will heal?”

Wennid also stopped, and gazed at her. “Goodness.” She murmured. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Well, DUH. Gabrielle almost slapped herself in the forehead. “Okay, well… my neck feels a heck of a lot better, so I think it’s time for me to stay out of Xena’s arms and feed her lots of hot tea and herbs instead.” She started towards the cabin again. “Gods.”

The forest dweller hurried to catch up to her. “Gabrielle, please understand. You’re both so different from us, that I sometimes…  I mean, really now. Most often it is not both partners who need this gift at the same time quite so often as you two do.”

That was probably true. “I know.” The bard sighed. “The trouble is, we’re always together, and always in trouble. That usually leads to one or both of us getting knocked around.” They passed from the central area onto the leafy path leading to her and Xena’s haven.

Wennid regarded her somberly. “Do you regret the need, at times?”

Gabrielle lifted a hand and let it brush through the leaves as she walked along, feeling their soft, yet rigid surfaces. “Sometimes?” She asked, in a soft voice. “I never regret what we do… because what we do is what has to be done.”

“And yet?”

They were at the steps. Gabrielle paused, her boot on the bottom one. “And yet, I sometimes wonder how much of our life’s coin is going to be spent on paying the price of the greater good.” She turned her head and looked squarely at Wennid. “Yes, it  gets old sometimes. I don’t like hurting.”

Wennid placed her hand on the bard’s shoulder and squeezed it. “You know, if I live to know you for a score or two more years, Gabrielle, perhaps I will grow to understand the smallest part of your kind.”

They turned and walked up the steps together. Gabrielle paused outside the door and let her hand rest on the latch, turning it softly and inching it open in total silence. She peeked inside.

Blue eyes were watching her, with just the faintest hint of wry amusement, and as she smiled in response, a shaggy dark head popped up over the edge of the bed and spotted her.


“And then again… “ Gabrielle opened the door and motioned Wennid to follow her. “Sometimes I wonder how one person could be as blessed by the gods as I am. It balances out.” She knelt to receive Dori’s enthusiastic charge and felt her world settle into more familiar colors around her. “Anyone want breakfast?”  She glanced up at Xena.

The warrior lifted and waggled a hand noncommittally.

“What about you?” Gabrielle addressed her daughter. “Hungry?”


“That’s my girl.” The bard stood and took her daughter by the hand. “Join us, Wennid?”

The forest dweller set the basket down. “For a small bit, yes.” She said. “I need to talk to you both, while we eat, though.”  She said. “It’s about Rufus.”

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, eyes meeting in swift, but profound communication. “Bout time someone started explaining him.” Xena commented, in a hoarse voice.

Wennid sighed.

Gabrielle wondered just how enlightening the day was going to end up being, with a start like this. Sometimes, she’d discovered, you got the darndest answers to the most innocuous of questions.

She suspected Rufus, however, was going to be anything but innocuous.


“Once up on a time.” Wennid began.

“Mama, a story!” Dori alertly pointed out. “You tell story too?” She was seated on her mother’s lap, sharing some bread and fruit. “Tell Boo and arrow.”

“Shh.” Gabrielle bounced her a little. “Listen to Wennid’s story, honey. We have to take turns, okay?”

“Boo and arrow?” Wennid allowed herself to be momentarily sidetracked.

From her nest of warm furs and hot tea, Xena uttered a hoarse chuckle. “Gabrielle’s signature tale.” She rasped. “It’s got everything. Amazons, bad guys, centaurs…”

“Xena saving my life.. you know, the usual.” Gabrielle gave her partner a tolerant look. “Go on, Wennid. If you get them started, we’ll never hear your story.”

The forest dweller fiddled with a biscuit. “As I was saying, once upon a time when our people had just begun to be, the way we lived was very different.”

“So we were hearing.” Xena commented.

Wennid glanced at her. “From those in the valley?” She watched Xena nod. “They’re full of pig’s dung. What they told you was just so much nonsense.”  An annoyed expression formed on her face. “Foolish.”

“They told us you lived like animals.” Gabrielle said.

“Trash.” Wennid shook her head. “We did not. We never did live that way.” She studied her hands. “But we didn’t live as we do now, either. We had no villages.” She said. “We had no places we came to at the end of the day. We went through the forest collecting what it was we needed to live and at night we made ourselves a shelter.”

“Sounds familiar.” Xena said, mildly.

“Mm… been there, done that.” Gabrielle agreed.

Wennid was silent for a moment. “We did not have leaders of wisdom.” She went on, quietly. “We lived in a very… fierce… way.  The one who was the strongest, lead the rest. There was no contention.” Getting up, she paced before the fire. “That one got the mate he wanted, he took the tribe where he wanted, and if anyone argued, they got beaten until they obeyed. Simple.”

“Ick.” Gabrielle made a face.

“It was a long time ago.” Wennid muttered. “But it happened that the strong ones started to bring up their sons to be as they were, and eventually one clan would be the leaders, always.”

Xena sipped her hot tea, breathing in the scent of the herbs gratefully as it penetrated the painful stuffiness of her head. “Sounds pretty human to me.”

The forest dweller frowned at her.

“No offense.” The warrior muffled a wan smile.

“Hmph.” Wennid resumed her pacing. “That way continued for many, many generations. Always, the leader’s clan produced many children, and the strongest of them would be picked to be the next leader.”  She gazed at the woven mats on the walls, reaching out to touch one with her fingertips. “It was a much simpler time.”

Gabrielle cut up a pear and gave Dori a slice. “Well, you know… sometimes it’s a lot easier when you have someone else to make your decisions for you.”

Xena remained silent at that, sipping her tea with a thoughtful expression.

“Mm. That is true.” Wennid sighed. “But you are as a child, then.”

The bard nodded. “Most of the time, children can’t wait until they grow up. I know I couldn’t. But then you find out growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” She put a slice of pear in her own mouth, then offered another to her daughter. Dori took it, stuffed it into her mouth, then reached up to pull her mother’s nose. Gabrielle smiled at her, looking up when the silence in the room made her realize she was being watched. “But it has it’s own high points.” She smiled.

“Very true, little sister.” Wennid said, gravely. “And so, we learned that lesson as well. One day, when we were still as children, a tribe of my kind met their first one of your kind.”

“Ah.” Gabrielle murmured.

“The legends tell us she was gentle, and kind.” The forest dweller sat back down, resting her hands on the table. “We had never known anything like her.” Wennid continued. “She was found injured, in the forest and though the one in charge wanted to kill her, others hid her and cared for her until she was well.”

Gabrielle offered Dori her cup of cider, aware of Xena’s silence.

“The writings say she didn’t speak for many days, but when she did, she spoke with such beauty it captured our souls, and made us think in a different way.”  Wennid said. “She told stories.”

A chill ran down Gabrielle’s back. “One of the ones in the valley… he said I was more dangerous to them than Xena was. Is that why?”

Wennid stared at her in surprise. “They spoke with you? I thought Xena said…”

Memories of the ordeal flashed before her eyes. “They spoke to me.” The bard answered. “They kept harassing me… following me… I guess they knew I’d lead them to Xena.” She rested her cheek against Dori’s head. “They told me they knew where she was, but they were lying, and I told them I knew that.”

Xena exhaled audibly.

“Well.” Wennid echoed the sigh. “Yes, in a way, Gabrielle, they did understand more than I thought they did because you are more dangerous to their way, if not to them, than Xena is.”

“Was.” Xena spoke the word with precise enunciation.

Gabrielle turned. “Honey, you’ll get better.” She reached out and tweaked the warrior’s ear.

“That’s not what I meant.” Xena told her quietly.

The bard’s smile faded. “Oh.” She felt a little stupid. “Sorry. Right.”

They were all very quiet for a minute, while Dori slurped up her cider and looked at them, with a puzzled frown.

Wennid cleared her throat. “So, it was written that this meeting, with this one, lone human changed us.” She said. “Those who had grown tired over the generations of always being the second best, or those who wanted a life other than what the leader wanted yet were beaten for that, or those who wanted to try a different way. A gentler way – they saw this human as the maker of a path for them. A new path.”

“Someone broke the cycle of violence.” Xena said.

“Just so.” Wennid agreed. “It took many years after that, and it was just a few at first. They stopped roaming, started building… things changed.” She removed another biscuit and took a bite of it, crumbs tumbling lightly down to dust the tabletop.  “We became farmers, and builders, and in the fullness of time, with a measure of peace in our lives, we were given the gift of the soulbond.”

Measure of peace.  The words echoed a little in Xena’s mind. Was that what had allowed her own bond with Gabrielle to finally grow?

“You mean, you weren’t before?” Gabrielle asked, curiously. “I thought it was a gift to your people.”

Wennid smiled, wrinkling her muzzle. “We like to believe that.” She remarked. “But the truth is, before this change, it was unknown to us.”  She rested her chin on her fist. “To make an increasingly long story short – when we uncovered some of those old caves while you were here the last time we also uncovered ancient writings of our people, from that period.”

“Ah.” Xena grunted.

“Rufus was the one who found them. He brought them back and spent the winter after that restoring them and studying their contents.”

“Ah.” Gabrielle’s tone matched her partner’s. “And he decided he wanted to bring back the old days.”

Wennid nodded. “True.”

“Why?” The bard queried.

Xena hitched herself up in the bed, the motion triggering a cough that lasted long enough to leave her breathless. She paused a moment to make sure it was over, then she leaned on her elbow and eyed the other two women. “He’s from the clan leader’s bloodline.”

Wennid smiled thinly. “He likes to think he is.” Her lip curled. “He claims he has proof – that’s why he’s collected such a following. It… “ She lifted a clawed hand. “Legitimizes him in some eyes.”

“Really?” Gabrielle murmured.

“Those who are young, or who do not have power, find him worthy of following.” Wennid told her. “And there is, still, a great number of such here.” She shifted. “So, again to make stories shorter, I am very concerned for both of you. Many people here had friends, loved ones, who went to that valley to follow Rufus’ new way.”

“He tried to kill Gabrielle.” Xena said.

There was a sad look in Wennid’s eyes. “His teachings… would be that since Gabrielle is human, it does not matter.” She put a hand out and covered the shocked bard’s. “To us, to the soulbonded, no manner of teaching could change how we feel about you.” Her eyes shifted. “About both of you.”

Xena’s eyebrows lifted.

“You saved my son.” Wennid told her, very simply. “Even if you were not as we are, and you were truly the enemy of my kind that so many believed you to be, I would love you for that, Xena.” She lifted a hand again. “For me, it is simple. For others, less so.”

Gabrielle released the breath she’d been unknowingly holding. “You think he’ll be back?” She asked. “Rufus, I mean?”

The forest dweller nodded. “Lestan fears exactly that.” Her eyes went to Xena again. “Especially now.”

“Taking advantage of my being sick?” Xena said grimly.

“Exactly.”  Wennid said. “I don’t know if we could stop him.”

Silence followed her words. Only Dori’s unconcerned burbling stirred the air as three sets of worried eyes met over her head.


Gabrielle sat on the couch, with Dori in her lap. Xena was resting in the bed nearby, dosed with another cupful of herbs that mercifully stilled the coughing that had started to get much worse again.

The bard suspected the worry left by Wennid’s words had something to do with that. Certainly the tension she now felt was aggravating the wound in her neck, sending small jolts of pain across her shoulders as she tried to relax them.


The bard found herself very glad of the distraction. “Sure. What story do you want to hear?” Gabrielle asked her daughter. “You don’t really want to hear Boo and the arrow again, do you?”

Dori giggled. “You like dat one.”

“You know, I do.” The bard settled back, wrapping her arms around Dori. “I like it because it was a very different thing for me to have to do, with the Amazons and because your Boo was so amazing when she came and rescued me.”

“Boo mazin?”

Gabrielle glanced to her right at the sleeping warrior. “Yes she is, Dori.” She told the toddler. “Sometimes she doesn’t even know how amazing she is. But we do, right?”

“Yes.” Dori squirmed around and faced her mother, looking up at her with big, green eyes. “Mama, you tell bout what you do down dere?” She pointed in the general direction of the valley. “Make good story.”

The bard gently pushed aside the thick, dark hair that obscured Dori’s forehead. “You need a haircut, my little scamp.”

Dori scowled. “Mama! Story!”

Gabrielle exhaled. “Dori, I can’t tell you the whole story.” She said. “Bad things happened. I can’t tell you those parts, because they’re very scary and they’ll make you owie.”

Dori put her thumb into her mouth and leaned against her mother. “No owie.” She said. “Mama owie, dat no feel good. Tell that?”

“That’s one of the really scary parts, Dori.” Gabrielle explained. “But I’ll tell you the parts I can tell you and not scare you, okay?”


The bard collected her thoughts. “You know I went to the valley to find Boo, right?”

“Yes. Mama find Boo.” Dori answered. “You find Boo and bring back.”

“Right.” Gabrielle agreed. “So I went to find Boo. I had to climb up a big, high mountain, but I knew it was okay because I knew Boo had already gone there, and I was just following her.”

Dori watched her face intently.

“I got to the top of the mountain, and I saw a place where there was no way to get down from.” The bard rubbed a bit of berry juice off Dori’s cheek. “But I knew it was okay because even though I couldn’t get down, Boo could. You know how?”


“Right.” Gabrielle said. “So I got a big rope from a tree, and I tied it really tight, and I climbed down so I could go and find Boo.”

Dori’s eyes widened. “Mama!”

It made the bard grin, seeing the wide eyed adoration. “You think that’s good, huh?”


“Yeah, I thought it was pretty clever, myself.” Her mother confided. “But you know what? My rope broke, and I fell!”

“Oh!” Dori covered her mouth. “Dat’s a bad thing, mama!”

“You bet. I fell down, and I hurt my back.” Gabrielle said. “But I still had to find Boo, so I kept going and going, and going… I walked for a very long time through the grass and the trees. I past waterfalls, and little animals, all because I had to go find Boo.”

“Mama go find Boo.” Dori nodded. “You said. You said to bring Boo back.”

“That’s right.” Gabrielle said. “I had to search and search, and finally I went into a big , dirty, smelly cave. I knew that Boo was close by. Do you  know how I knew that?”

“Mama knows Boo.”

The bard smiled. “Yes, I do. But Boo was someplace that I couldn’t get to, and that made me very sad.”

Dori blinked, squirming around a little more and looking at her with some apprehension. “Mama owie?” She touched her chest.

Gabrielle stroked her hair gently. “Yes. Knowing Boo was someplace I couldn’t get to made me very sad, and very scared, honey. I didn’t want anything to happen to Boo, and I promised you that I’d bring her back.”

Dori hugged her. “Mama owie.”

The bard remembered that moment. Her eyes stung with tears. “Yeah.” She said, before she had to pause and swallow to clear the lump in her throat. “But you know what, Dori? Boo knew how scared I was, and she wasn’t going to let anything happen that was bad.”


Gabrielle smiled in reflex. “So Boo knocked the mountain down, and made the water clean the dirty cave all up, and we climbed down the mountain and came back to get you.”

“Boo make the mowtain go down?” Dori’s eyes went wide.

“Yep.” Gabrielle assured her. “She sure did. She knocked that mountain right down, and we got out of the cave, and then we came back here.”

“Goh!” Dori bounced up and down. “Goh Boo! Goh Boo!”

Gabrielle grinned. “She sure did, honey. But Boo was in the water the whole time I was looking for her, and she caught a cold. Remember when you caught a cold?”

“Ick.” Dori made a face. “Bck.”

“That’s exactly how Boo feels about it, too. So we should be real quiet, and let Boo rest, so she’ll get better fast, right?” The bard gathered her up and hugged her. “We have to take really good care of Boo, because she’s very special, and there’s no one else like her.”

She felt Dori snuggle in close, and she rocked her a little as her eyes turned to her right towards the bed. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised to see Xena watching her from half-opened eyes as she lay curled upon her side with a pillow tucked under her head.

“Well, you are.” The bard correctly interpreted the twitch of her partner’s expressive eyebrows.

Instead of tossing the suggestion off, Xena smiled, and closed her eyes.

Dori turned her head and peeked at the warrior. Then she looked up at her mother. “Boo?”

“Shh.” Gabrielle rocked her again. “Boo’s sleeping, like a good girl.”

“Boo is good.”

“Yes, she is.” Gabrielle agreed. “How about you and I go over to the kitchen, and see what trouble we can get into. Would you like that, Dor?”

Dori wriggled happily. “Like to go with mama.” She stated. “Mama, c’n we go see baby horsies? And get buppits?”

Baby animals. Well, Dori loved creatures of all kinds, and it seemed an innocent enough request. “Sure, honey. First we’ll go see who we can talk to in the hall, then we’ll go see the animals.” She planned her strategy. Hopefully Wennid was wrong, and Rufus would just keep on going.

But if he didn’t, they had to be ready. Being ready for her meant finding out who were their friends, and who were their foes here, and just how many of the forest dwellers really believed Rufus’ claim.

And if he did come? Gabrielle glanced at her soulmate.  Fighting in the condition she was in would be suicide, no matter how extraordinary Xena’s battle skills really were. Not fighting was….

The bard stilled her thoughts along that line. If he did come, then what?

Gabirelle sighed inwardly as she stood up and took Dori’s hand. If he came, they’d have to deal with it. Just one more in a long series of things that she and Xena had been forced to deal with over the course of their lives.

But first things first. “C’mon, munchkin. Let’s go. You can watch mama do her bard thing.”

“Bart Ting.” Dori pattered after her contentedly. “Go mama!”

They left the cabin, shutting the door carefully behind them.


Continued in Part 10