High stone cliffs surrounded the temple on three sides offering a natural defense. Shortly before the battle a defensive wall had been hesitantly erected to protect the entrance. Darkness had already pushed the light from its domain as the wary horse and rider stumbled along. The Warrior was exhausted, she had arrived on the battlefield before sunrise and engaged the enemy shortly after dawn. It had been a hard won battle, but well worth it. Now the villagers would finely have peace from the raiding army.
Argo stumbled slightly jarring Xena from her thoughts. The motion brought a grimmest of pain to the Warrior's features. Though the battle had been won it had not been an easy victory. The raiders had been well trained and the Warrior's body bore wounds as proof of their skill. Mostly bruises and small cuts to add to the growing collection. At least one broken rib and a gash on her upper left shoulder had required a field dressing. 'Nothing serious but enough to keep Gabrielle hovering over me like a mother hen for the next few days.' thought the Warrior with amusement.
As the torches lining the temple walls illuminated the night the Warrior felt her amusement fade with the darkness. Part of the front wall lay in ruin. Dead enemy soldiers and village defenders lay scattered atop and at the base of the barrier. Urging Argo into a trot the Warrior pulled to a stop near the base of the wall. Several villagers where roaming through the rumble searching for wounded among the dead. They did not appear to be having much luck.
Slipping from the saddle the Warrior caught the arm of a passing man, whom she realized as the local blacksmith. "Georgeis, what happened?"
Wearily eyes stared back at her, for a moment it appeared they were looking through her. "Xena?" whispered the man as a glimmer of light came into his eyes. Suddenly he grabbed the Warrior by the arms, causing the large woman to tense at the pain in her shoulder. "Xena, your alive! When the raiders attacked we feared you and the others were dead."
Shaking off the man's hands Xena took a step back. "I'm fine, Georgeis. Detas and his army have been defeated." Motioning towards the wall. "What happened here?"
"A group of raiders tried to break through," pride entered his voice. "But, we drove them back." pride was quickly replaced with a sad weariness as he allowed his eyes to swept over the ruined wall. "A lot of good men fell today."
Xena allowed the man a moment to grieve. "Where is Gabrielle?" she asked unable to contain her growning concern.
For a moment she wasn't sure he understood the question. "I...I'm not sure. Last time I saw her she was fighting near the wall."
The Warrior felt her heart skip a beat. Gabrielle had been in the heat of battle without her. "Do you have any idea where she might be?"
"Try the temple that's were they're taking the wounded...and the dead."
Xena's jaw tightened at the last part. "Thanks." she whispered through clenched teeth. Quickly she turned and fludily mounted Argo, kicking the horse's flanks they trotted through the gateway toward the temple.
At the temple she hitched Argo to a small post near the door. Gently stroking the mare's head, she whispered in a listening ear. "Wait here girl. As soon as I find Gabrielle I'll be back to rub you down." Whinnying softly the horse pushed her nose against her mistress's good shoulder, agreeing to the offer. With an affective pat Xena turned toward the temple.
Stepping through the temple doorway the stench of the aftermath of war struck her full force. It was a smell she knew all to well. Stealing herself she began searching the Bard. Walking wounded and caretakers wandered through line after line of wounded and dead, their numbers covered the entire floor of the temple. Slowly Xena worked her way across the room in a zig zag pattern through the rows. Stopping occasionally to offer aid or to confirm another's passage to Hades. As she approached the end of the last row a mixture of emotions assaulted her. First was relief that the Bard had not be among the wounded, yet despair at her absence from the roll of caretaker.
As a young dark haired woman passed the Warrior stopped her. "Have you seen a young, blond haired woman, about this tall." Holding a hand out to indict the Bard's height. "She carries a staff."
"Oh, you mean Gabrielle." answered the woman.
A smile of relief crossed the Warrior's face. "Yes, Gabrielle." 'Should have known the villages would know her by name.' thought the Warrior. "Do you know where she is?"
"No, I haven't seen her." with an afterthought. "You might want to try the rooms in the back."
"Are there more wounded there?"
"A few." answered the young woman, swallowing hard she added. "But, mostly more dead."
Xena felt herself straighten involuntary. Seeing the Warrior's demeanor change the young woman backed away. "Try the back." she offered moving away.
"The back." repeated the Warrior wearily. A series of hallways lead to the rooms at the rear of the temple. Slowly the Warrior made her way down the dimly lit corrides trying to avoid the wounded and dead who lined the walls. Turning a corner the Warrior halted sharply. A lone figure lay near the far wall, the sight of whom caused the large woman's chest to tighten.
"Gabrielle." whispered the Warrior as she forced herself to move toward the prone figure. Dropping to her knees at the Bard's side, her heart sink. The petite blond lay on her back, one could easily have believed she were sleeping were it not for the blood. To the Warrior it seemed to be everywhere. Studying the younger woman from head to toe the Warrior could not determine the source of the blood. A gash on the Bard's forehead just at the hairline appeared to be one source but, it could not be the cause of the large amount of crimson.
Slowly the Warrior reached to caress a pale cheek, steeling herself for the coldness she expected to feel. Shock and relief caused her to release the breath she had been holding as the touch was greeted by a familiar warmth. "Gabrielle." she whispered. When the Bard did not respond she gently ran her finger along the smooth cheek. "Gabrielle."
Long lashes fluttered open, allowing their owner a look a the voice calling her name. "Xena?"
As green eyes fought to focus on her Xena broke into a wide smile. "Hey, don't try to move around till I get you cleaned up."
"Xena!" squeeled the Bard launching herself at the warrior. Strong arms encircled the startled warrior's neck.
Recovering from the Bard's resurrection Xena returned the embrace.
"Are you okay?" asked the girl pulling away. "Are you okay? Have you been back long? Where's Detas?"
Xena's smile widened at the barrage of questions. 'Yes, she's fine.' Aloud she answered the Bards questions. "I'm fine. Not long and Hades."
Gabrielle laughed. "Good, good and good, I think." Playfully the Bard slapped the back of her hand against the warrior's stomach.
Bright lights exploded in Xena's head as a sharp pain stole her breath away.
"Xena?" the bard reached for the quickly paling warrior. Placing strong hands against broad shoulders she kept the warrior from falling face first into the floor. "Xena, what's wrong? Are you alright?"
Through clenched teeth Xena forced a smile. "I will be."
"What's wrong?"asked the smaller woman moving to her knees and slipping an arm around the Warrior's back.
"I'm alright." insisted the Warrior. "It's just a cracked rib."
"Oh, is that all." mocked the smaller woman. "Come on, lay down."
"I don't want too.."
"Don't argue." ordered the Bard.
The Warrior allowed herself to be manuvered to the blanket Gabrielle had occupied moments before, as the Bard began the practiced ritual of removing the Warrior's armor.
"Where did all the blood come from?" asked the Warrior.
Gabrielle looked down as if noticing her appearance for the first time. "Oh, I was helping with the wounded. You're bleeding."
"It's just a stratch."
"Uh huh. Lay down."
"I need to tend to Argo first."
"I'll take care of Argo, after I finish with you." answered the Bard pushing the warrior down. "Lay still."
Laying down Xena allowed her muscles to relax as the blond hovered over her. Carefully Gabrielle removed the blood stained bandage, crinkling her nose at the thin stream of blood sepping from the wound. "This is going to need stitches." annouced the bard more to herself than her patient. Removing the necessary items from her pack she began cleaning the wound. As her hands skillfully tended to the task she began telling a story.
Xena settled into a comfortable position allowing the Bard's voice to lul her to sleep. 'Yeah,' thought the Warrior with amusement. 'Just like a mother hen.' Allowing herself a small smirk the warrior drifted off to sleep.
Just a fellow traveler on the road of life. May your journey be a peaceful one.