Day Three (after ‘Sins of the Past’)
‘And then came Xena, descending like a storm or blackest night, over the landscape....’
The raven-haired warrior woman riding on the palomino mare sighed. She’d been trying to ignore the chattering of the blond woman jogging along by her side, but she found that she couldn’t tune it out any longer. ‘What are you talking about, Gabrielle?’ She sounded more exasperated than she meant to.
Not that the girl noticed. She paused mid-sentence and looked up at Xena, wide green eyes meeting more suspicious blue ones. Xena was the first to look away. Gabrielle’s innocence was disconcerting. ‘I was just planning my new scroll.’
Because clearly you can’t plan them silently. Xena stopped herself from saying it out loud. The girl always looked a bit like a wounded puppy when Xena spoke to her harshly. And then Xena would feel guilty. That was the worst thing about this being good lark; the feeling guilty. In all her years as a warlord, Xena had never had to deal with guilt before.
‘What’s the scroll about?’ Xena asked, mainly because it was impossible to stay quiet when confronted by those all-too-gentle eyes.
‘Just what happened yesterday. With those bandits.’
Xena thought back to the previous day, trying and failing to remember descending anywhere like a storm. Unless... ‘Wait,’ she said, ‘you’re talking about when I fell out of that tree?’
‘You didn’t fall, Xena. You heard the bandits approaching and you descended from the tree like blackest night.’
‘No. I fell. I climbed the tree to steal honey, then a bee stung my hand and I lost my grip and fell. It was just coincidence that those bandits happened to be passing and I landed on one of them.’
But Gabrielle wasn’t listening. ‘And then you reigned blows upon them with fists of steel...’
‘I punched one of them in the nose. Not even that hard.’
‘You overcame the foe in a mighty battle...’
‘They ran away, Gabrielle. They were the most cowardly bandits I’ve ever met. It was literally one punch and then they ran.’
‘You wrested their ill-gotten bounty from their arms and returned it to its rightful owner.’
‘They dropped a bag of money when they ran away. I picked it up. It was all of 10 dinars.’
‘And the poor orphan girl rejoiced to have her life’s savings returned to her.’
‘How do you know she was an orphan? She was just some kid who came running after the bandits saying that they’d stolen the money she was going to use to buy some new hair serum.’
Gabrielle stopped then and turned to fully face Xena. ‘You have no sense of drama,’ she declared.
‘Maybe. I have a sense of truth instead. I fell out of a tree and accidentally helped some kid get shinier hair. Hardly the stuff of legend.’
‘Everything’s the stuff of legend. Take Hercules; he swept out some old bag’s stable and suddenly it’s a heroic deed.’
‘That ‘old bag’ was Hera and she didn’t exactly make it easy for him.’
They had resumed walking, but now Gabrielle stopped again, eyes flashing with delight. ‘That’s what he says!’ There was a triumphant tone to her voice. ‘If Hercules sweeping some dusty old stable can be heroic, then you falling out of a tree can be just as heroic.’
Xena could think of a thousand reasons why that wasn’t true, but, for some reason, she didn’t want to hurt the girl’s feelings. ‘Fine, fine,’ she muttered. Then, looking around her, added ‘maybe we should camp here for the night.’
‘I’m like your public relations team,’ Gabrielle was saying as Xena dismounted and started to pull the camping things from Argo’s saddlebags. ‘I’ll be responsible for your image...’
But Xena had tuned her out again. Seriously, the girl did nothing but talk. All day. She even talked in her sleep. It was like having an insect constantly buzzing by your ear. Maybe she should send her home; Potidaea wasn’t that far behind them, only a day’s ride or so. And the road was no place for one so young and innocent.
‘Gabrielle...’ Xena said, aware that she was interrupting, but then, Gabrielle talked so much that you had to interrupt to say anything at all.
‘Yes, Xena?’ There was a pause then, an actual pause, the first in days, during which Gabrielle looked at Xena with such eagerness and enthusiasm that Xena’s calloused old warlord’s heart melted into a small puddle of goo.
‘I’m...I’m going to collect some firewood.’
And with that the warrior literally fled into the trees. I’ll send her home tomorrow, she thought, but, even as she thought it, her mind’s eye filled with the image of those big, green eyes, just looking at her in that way that Gabrielle had.
She shook her head a little to try and rid herself of the image and, as she did so, one of the plants growing nearby caught her eye. It was a herb and before she had quite realised what she was doing, she had bent down to pick it. ‘I can use it to flavour that deer we have left over from yesterday. Gabrielle would like that.’
She paused, mid-movement, realising what she’d just thought. You’re going soft,’ she whispered to herself and then she carried on picking the herb anyway.