DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny and Solari are the property of MCA/Universal Renaissance Pictures and no copyright infringement is intended here.
GENERAL NOTE: In terms of Xenaverse time, this story follows the events of "Trust Fund", but the two scenarios relate only in terms of the loose structure of their creators mind.
I just figured everyone could stand a little whimsy about now so I decided, "What the hay ... why not?"
BTW: No fair sneaking a peak at the last few pages to figure out who the suffering party is; and I will know if you do. All us Xenite Bards have our own collection of many skills. So, start from the beginning and dont cheat!! Enjoy! MMG
"Will you hold still?? Gods!"
"Well, it hurts!"
"Im not surprised! Why did you wait so long to tell me about this?"
"It just got worse today. Yesterday, it wasnt ..."
"Yesterday, you said it was a bother. Today its a major injury."
"Well, today it hurts!"
"Tell me something I havent heard already. Let me look at it again."
"Ouch! You said look!"
"Gods, you can be such a baby, sometimes!"
"ME a baby??? This from the woman who shrieked like a green harpy when I put two tiny stitches in the fleshy part of her ...."
"It was THREE stitches and I didnt shriek."
"No, you just threatened me with a long, painful, horrible death."
"Well, I didnt shriek. I might have yelled a little, but ...."
"So open up and let me look at it again."
"You wont touch anything?"
"No, Ill just look, OK?"
"OPEN YOUR MOUTH!"
"You don't have to get huffy. OK, here ... look, then."
"I cant tell anything. It just looks like a ...."
"YEOW! You said you were just going to look!"
"Oh, for the love of ...! What a baby!
"Wowll, id herdts!"
"I said, it hurts!"
"OK, Ill accept that. The way youve been howling all day...."
"The way Ive been ...?"
"Why do you always wait until it gets this bad before you say something?
"I thought it would go away, thats all. It always has before."
"Except for this time, right?"
"Yeah. This time it ... got worse."
"Uh-huh. Did you try the medicine pouch?"
"No luck. Its not getting any better."
"So now what?"
"Nothing left to try ... except ...."
"It has to come out. Its the only...."
"There has to be something else we can try first."
"Believe me, Ive tried everything else I can think of. The usual stuff hasnt worked."
"Well, maybe if you hadnt waited so long ...."
"Look! I thought it would get better, all right???"
"But, it didnt, did it??"
"No, in fact its worse today than it was last night."
"You do know we have to be at the Amazon village by tomorrow night?"
"Yes, Im aware of that."
"To celebrate Ephinys birthday?"
"Yes! Thats why I was hoping this would get better before now."
"Well, it obviously hasnt."
"So where does that leave us, exactly?"
"It ... ah ... it has to come out."
"You dont mean ...?"
"Pull it. Its the only way."
"Oh, no you dont! I dont do teeth!"
"Well, I could do it by myself ...."
"You ARE kidding, right?"
"But, its tricky."
"Tricky? Look, whattya say we look for a healer? There has to be one somewhere between here and the Amazons."
"Maybe, but this is teeth, remember?"
"And you dont want to wait to find one, right?"
"I dont think it will help, thats all."
"Oh, swell. Well, all right, how?"
A long moment passed.
"Well, you dont have to bite my head off!"
"Sorry, I didnt mean to yell."
"Well .. OK."
"So, what did you want?"
"You were going to say something."
(De-e-p, c-a-l-m breath.) "I was just going to ask how we are going to do this?"
"Oh. Well, I have a few ideas."
"I figured that."
"The first one is ... Argo."
"Yeah. We can use the suturing thread from the medicine pouch. We tie one end to my tooth and the other end to the saddlehorn. Then we get Argo to take off and ... poof! Good bye, one throbbing tooth."
"Oh, I dont know about this."
"Cmon. Its worth a try, isnt it?"
"I guess. OK, Ill get the thread."
"And Ill get Argo."
A few minutes later, the heavy thread was tied, at both ends. The time had come to test the theory.
"OK, Argo. Go."
Nothing from the mare ... absolutely nothing ... except a long, disdainful, skeptical look.
This time the response was a loud, moist guffaw. Obviously, there would be no cooperation.
After several unsuccessful tries, it was clear whose will would win out in the present situation.
"I always said you were the most stubborn animal alive."
"Well, now what?"
"Lets try this rock."
"Tie the other end to this big rock. Well throw it off the edge of the ridge. That should do it."
"You are daft!"
"Are you going to help or not?"
"OK, OK. But I still think a healer would be able to ... all right, all right. Gods, I hate it when you pout."
"Im tying, Im tying. There. So, now what, again?"
"We take it over there and toss it over the edge. Thatll take the tooth out, for sure."
"Lets hope thats all it takes out. Ugh! This thing is heavy."
"All the better. This will work, I know it."
"Well, I guess its worth a try. OK, (hrmph) over the (grunt) edge, huh?"
"Right. On three, ready? One ... two .. three!"
The rock sailed into the air, but the ragged edges were less than kind to the heavy thread. Within the first few seconds of the boulders downward flight, the line attached to the giant stone snapped ... leaving the offending tooth precisely intact and exactly in place.
"I take it that means we try something else?"
"Still hurts, huh?"
"You got another brilliant plan?"
"Look, instead of being so negative, why dont you try and think of something?"
"I told you, I dont do teeth."
"Great. Havent you ever had one of these?"
"Cant say I remember one."
"Not even when you were a kid?"
"Oh, gods! Oww!"
A surpressed chortle greeted the exclamation.
"You find this funny!??"
"No ... well ... you do look kind of silly with that piece of thread dangling from your mouth."
"Thanks for the compliment."
"OK, Im sorry. So what else you wanna try?"
"Forget it. Youll say its a dumb idea."
"No, I wont."
"Yes, you will."
"I promise, I wont. Now whats your idea?"
Very long, nervous pause. Then ...
"We just knock it out."
Silence ... for another long moment.
"Say that again?"
"With the staff ... you could just take it and ...."
"THATS IT! Were going to find a healer! Right now!"
"If you just give this a try ...."
"Now! On the horse. No arguments!"
"But, nothing! Were going."
"It wont help. I just know it."
"Dont get stubborn with me! Get on the horse!"
"You sure we cant just try ...?"
"Horse! Climb! Now!"
"Geesh! What a grouch!"
"Were less than a mornings walk from Palamas. Well find what we need there."
"I still say, if youd just take the staff .... OK, OK. Im getting on the horse. Boy! (Ouch!)"
By the time the sun traversed the center of the morning sky, the two women had arrived at Palamas, a fishing village near the coast of the Gulf of Volos. They asked a local merchant where the healer could be found.
"Dirce?" the man asked glancing curiously at the tall warrior in leather standing next to the small, blonde woman with the Amazon staff. "Her huts at the west edge of town. Just keep walking that way," he told them, motioning in the same direction they were headed.
"You cant miss it for the smell and the roots hanging all over the place." They thanked the man and proceeded west.
"This is a waste of time, you know?"
"Not necessarily. Either way, she may be able to at least give you something for the pain."
"Well be with the Amazons tomorrow. Their healer can give me whatever I need."
"Just humor me, all right? Its another half-days journey to the Amazons. You still have to get through tonight and I would like to get some sleep, for a change."
"Sooo sorry Ive been disturbing you. Arghh! All right, lets get this over with."
"Such a brave spirit! Here we are."
"This isnt going to work."
The elderly woman in the multi-colored robes rose from her kneeling position in front of the vine-covered cottage and turned to greet the approaching travelers. Her wrinkled, worn face contrasted sharply with the warm, attentive compassion radiating from her dark, glittering eyes. The experienced gaze focused on the small blonde, then traveled to the tall, dark-haired woman walking beside her. She appraised the situation quickly and strode smoothly toward the distinctive pair.
"Toothache," the healer said knowingly. "Come. Sit," she instructed. "I have something that will calm the discomfort."
The warrior secured the horses reins on a slender branch of a nearby tree. Then she and the bard sat down on the low bench nestled in the patch of shade at the front of the building. As they waited for the healer to return, the two friends responded to the pungent odors emanating from inside the unique structure.
"Smells like some sort of soup," the bard said quietly. "Or maybe, a thick stew."
The warriors usual taciturn look answered the little blondes speculation.
"I swear, you could find a cooking pot in a four-scale wind."
"We all have our skills, Princess."
"More likely boiling tree bark." Argos noisy response punctuated her mistress comment.
A moment later, the wizened healer returned holding a small, bundle of greenery settled in the middle of a square piece of cloth. In her other hand, she held a knobby, craggy piece of root.
"This will soothe the pain," she announced, offering the foliage cluster. "Its called Star Anise. And this root," she continued, displaying the growth, "will draw out any infection surrounding the invasion."
"Tormentil," the warrior said clearly.
The old woman smiled warmly and handed over the root. She began to gather the cloth around the clump of long, leafy stalks. "Lay a clean, warm leaf against the tooth for no more than a candlemark. Then rinse the area with clear water." She surrendered the fabric-covered parcel. "Follow that with a mouthful of tea made from the root ... held in the mouth until the liquid becomes tepid. Then clear the mouth."
"How often do you repeat this ... procedure?" the bard asked.
"Once every other candlemark. If, after two days, there is still a disturbance, return and I shall release the tooth."
"You mean, pull it?"
"Only if it becomes necessary. Try the herbs first. Good folly," the woman said, closing her gnarled hand around the small cache of dinars the warrior had deposited in her palm. She smiled quietly again, then turned and made her way toward the garden near the side of the cabin. The travelers gathered up the bundle of herbs and the root, retrieved the mares reins and continued on their journey.
"Well, whattya think?"
"About the healers remedy?"
"How would I know? Sounded authentic enough. Either way, well be with the Amazons tomorrow."
"OK, well find a stream and try it out."
"The sooner the better."
"You said it. Maybe Ill be able to sleep tonight, anyway."
"That makes two of us."
A candlemark later, the two friends settled into their campsite, each performing the customary duties and chores needed to make the area accommodating for their short stay. It was time to follow the healers recommendations.
"Wheres that green stuff she gave you?"
"The rest of it is over there, next to the ...."
"The rest of it? What do you mean the rest of it?"
"Well, I already put one leaf against my tooth, like she said."
"How long have you had it in there?"
"I dont know. Since we got here."
"Thats too long. She said no more than one candlemark, then rinse your mouth."
"Yes, she was very specific. Only one candlemark and every other candlemark. Then youre supposed to do the thing with the root and the tea."
"Oh. Did you write that all down, or something?"
"No, but I remember it."
"If you say so."
"So, spit it out and rinse your mouth."
"OK. But it really works. It stopped hurting."
"Good. Now, spit it out."
"Blaagh! Stuff tastes like dirt. Wheres the waterskin?"
"I dont see it. Did you leave it at the stream?"
"I guess so. Well, be right back. Whoa!"
"I think I stood up too fast. Whew!"
"You do look a little ... green. You gonna make it?"
"Yeah. No problem. Now, where was I going, again?"
"The stream? For the waterskin?"
"The streams that way."
"Oh, right. Well, see you in a few."
"Are you sure youre OK?"
"Im fine. But I really need to get the dirt out of my mouth."
"You should have waited until we washed the leaf."
"Yeah, maybe. Well, anyway, its too late now, Sweet Nibs." (Subdued giggles.)
"What did you just call me?"
"I give up. What did I just call you?"
"Sweet Nibs??? Oh, you are acting weird. Better get that water quick."
"No, no. Ill get the water quick. Be right back."
"Oh, yeah, right. This way."
"Think youre up to catching some fish?"
"Lunch would be good."
"Oookay. See what I can do. And the stream is over there."
"Right. Just dont drown yourself, OK?"
"Nooo sweat. See ya."
Half a candlemark later, the woman at the campsite decided that her friend had indeed drowned herself or else had decided to go for a swim. She elected to investigate which choice had caused the delay in the other womans return. When she reached the bank of the stream, she found her friend knee-deep in the clear current, bent forward, her hands on her knees, gazing transfixed into the sparkling water. After observing the immobile figure for a few moments, she proceeded closer. The woman standing in the stream seemed totally unaware of her friends approach.
"What are you doing?"
"Huh? Oh, hi."
"Whats going on?"
"Cmere! You gotta see this!"
"See what? Whats down there?"
"Look at all these little silver things. Theyre all over down here! Swimming around my feet and everything."
"Do you mean the fish?"
"Fish? Is that what they are?"
"Yes. The little silver things? Theyre called fish. Thats why you came down here. To catch some of the fish."
"Catch them? What for?"
"Listen, do me a favor, will you?"
"Get some of the water into your mouth."
"Reach down and splash some of the water into your mouth. To get rid of the dirt, remember? You wanted to wash the dirt out of your mouth."
"I did? Oh, yeah. Sure, I can do that."
The woman in the stream cupped her hands together and scooped up some of the clear water. She brought the liquid to her mouth and drank easily.
"Thats it. Now spit the water out. Rinse your mouth and get rid of it. Thats good."
After repeating the process a few times, the woman standing in the water shook her dripping hands and leveled a playful look at her friend on the bank of the stream.
"Dont even think about it. Just keep rinsing your mouth. Do it again."
More scooping. More slurping. More rinsing. Finally, a subtle look of recognition was exchanged, followed by an equally confused reaction to the water and its temperature.
"Hey, this water is really cold, you know?"
"Good. At least you know that. Want to come out of there now?"
"Sure." The woman sloshed toward the sandy bank. "Why did you have me go in there, anyway?"
"You were going to ... never mind. Go back to camp. Ill get the fish."
"Get the fish? You mean, catch them? You wont hurt them, will you?"
"No, I wont ... hurt them. Just go on back to camp. Ill be there in a little while."
"Yeah, OK. See you there."
"And keep away from that green stuff we got from the healer. Dont chew on anymore leaves."
"No? OK. No more leaves. See you back at camp."
(A long, deep breath.) "Oh, brother. One more night. I hope the Amazon healer knows what to do about this."
It was now evening, the daylight having surrendered to the tranquil night and the round, full moon. The travelers sat enjoying the warmth of the fire and the quiet, rustling of the creatures residing in the forest around them. Their meal had consisted of the fruits of the fishing expedition and the results of some knowledgeable searching in the surrounding underbrush. The two women were now preparing for sleep ... at least, one of them was.
"Now what are you doing?"
"Huh? Oh, this sword thing is really sharp, isnt it?"
"Yeah, works better that way. You might want to put it down for the time being."
"Oh, Ill be careful with it. Shiny, too. Look how it reflects the moonlight! Wow!"
"Yes, lovely. Just be careful, all right?"
"Gee, you can be a real spoil sport, sometimes, you know that?"
"A what? Hey, put that thing down before you .... yikes!"
"Oh, sorry! It didnt hit you, did it?"
"No. Its OK. Missed my toes by a whole twigs breadth."
"Whoops! Turned out to be heavier than I thought. Give it here, Ill put it away."
"Ill put it away. You just try and get some sleep, OK?"
"I said I was sorry. Geesh!"
"No, its OK. Just try and sleep, all right?"
"Yeah, all right. Should I take out this leaf first?"
"The one in my mouth. This one."
"Have you had that in your mouth ...?"
"Since I got back from the stream." (Small laugh.) "Really helps my toothache."
"But you were only supposed to ... never mind. Give it to me. No, just throw it away."
"OK. Its thrown away. Can I go to sleep now?"
"Yes. A very good idea. Go to sleep."
"I thought I was supposed to rinse with the root tea thing, again?"
"Yes ... no. Its too late now. Just go to sleep. You can rinse in the morning."
"Oh, OK. Well, see you in the morning. Gnight."
"Good night." ( Deep breath.) "Oh, brother."
The next morning, soft splashes of sunlight dappled the campsite as the moon surrendered her spot on the horizon to the newly, dressed dawn. The two women at the camp awakened slowly, neither all that willing to leave their dreams and prepare for the day. Eventually, the sounds of breakfast preparation interrupted the quiet melody of the forests music.
"Whatever that is, it smells delicious. Whatcha got there?"
"Its herb tea. I made it from the root the healer gave us. Here, she said to hold some of it in your mouth for a while."
"Cant I swallow some of it. It smells great."
"Yeah, I guess you could. Be careful, though, its hot."
"How is your tooth, by the way?"
"Feels alot better. I think those leaves really helped."
"Arent you going to have some of this? It tastes really good."
"No, I dont have a toothache."
"Oh. Well, its good, anyhow."
"Ill just settle for some water. Wheres the skin?"
"Ill be right back. Then we can have breakfast."
"OK. Remember, the water is really cold."
"Yeah. Ill remember that." (Pause, steady inspection and determination.) Ah ... whats with your feet?"
"Yeah, those things in your boots?"
"Oh yeah. What about them?"
"Do you notice anything ... unusual about them this morning?"
"Like, theyre in the wrong boots?"
"These are my boots. I dont think yours would ...."
"No, I mean, youve got your boots on the wrong feet. See?"
"Oh. I do?" (Giggle) "I thought they looked kinda funny."
"Didnt they feel strange?"
"Yeah, a little."
"Well, do you think you can put them on right? It might be easier to walk to the Amazons that way."
"Yeah, I guess Id better. Itll only take a minute."
"Ill fill the waterskin and be right back. Dont ... go anywhere, OK?"
"Arent you gonna make breakfast? You look hungry."
"Nooo, I think wed better be on our way as soon as possible. Just stay here, OK? Ill be right back."
The waterskin having been refilled, the travelers broke camp and prepared to continue their journey. It had taken three tries to affix the saddle to the mares back, but at last they were ready to move along.
"Lets get moving. Now whats wrong?"
"Ouch! I guess the leaf wore off. My tooth hurts again."
"Heres one for now. But, just for a while, all right? Well have to be more careful about these things until we get to the Amazon village."
"Thanks. So, are we ready?"
"Yes. Maybe youd better ride Argo. Less jarring that way."
"Yeah? Oh, OK. Whoops!"
"I guess my foot slipped. I tried to step into this metal thing and .... it is kind of high, you know?"
"Well, we could both walk, you know?"
"Are you all right?"
"Just fine. Lets walk. We should be at the Amazons by the time ... you need another leaf. Cmon."
The two women began to walk and the very high horse followed. It was clear it would be a very long morning.
The sun once again slid into the highest point in the sapphire sky. Soon afterward, the travelers crossed the boundaries of the Amazon Nation and were immediately greeted by members of that affinity who lowered themselves from the trees to offer the young blonde homage and welcome. She returned their greeting by performing their universal sign of peace, arms outstretched above her head, palms clasped together.
However, those same female warriors were sending perplexed and bewildered glances at the dark-haired woman standing next to their young queen, most likely because the leather-clad warrior was having trouble putting her hands together over her head. The winsome giggle tumbling from her didnt help settle their confusion much, either.
"These are the gals giving the party?" Xena murmured none too quietly into Gabrielles ear. "They look awfully serious to me. You sure were in the right place?"
The bard quickly dispelled the protective inclinations showing in the expressions of the welcoming party as Solari approached her wearing a disapproving scowl.
"Its a long story, Solari," the girl said hastily. "Ill explain it when we get to the village." The little blonde turned to her tall companion. "Just ... follow the escort, OK?" she said, motioning toward the auburn-haired warrior who was waiting ahead of them on the path. "Shell take you to the village. Ill be right behind you."
The muscled Amazon held the bards green gaze for a moment, then signaled briskly to the warriors behind them. The small crowd dispersed, quickly melting into the surrounding forest and returning to their posts in the trees. Solari stepped aside to let the little queen pass in front of her as they started down the path toward the Amazon village.
Gabrielle returned Ephinys affectionate hug. After a moment, the statuesque Amazon stood back to address the girls apologetic expression.
"Whats with our tall friend, there?" Ephiny asked. "She get into some henbane during your last adventure?"
"No," the young bard answered, gazing woefully at her sheepish companion. "She has a toothache and the healer in Palamas gave her some kind of leaf to suck on for the pain." Gabrielle turned back to Ephinys questioning look. "Shes been a little out of touch ever since."
The warrior approached the two blonde friends. "Hi ya, Eph," she said to the Amazon warrior, slapping the woman heartily on the back. "Ready to celebrate your birthday? I sure am."
Solaris raised-eyebrows look was calmed by Ephinys nod. "Show the queens companion where to stable her horse, will you, Solari? Gabrielle and I will be in her hut." The dark-haired attendant turned to the dark-haired warrior.
"You want to follow me?" she said calmly to the grinning warrior. "You can stable your horse over here."
"Sure, if I can get her to come with me," Xena said, turning to the golden mare. "OK, shall we check out the stable?" Argo sneezed disdainfully. The warrior turned back to the Amazon. "See what I mean? A real attitude, this one." She addressed the horse again. "Cmon, youll like it. I promise."
Ephiny silenced Solaris joyful smirk. Oh, this one I gotta hear, Solari thought merrily as she moved to follow the very relaxed honored visitor to the stable. The Warrior Princess, swacked out of her treehouse. Must be some story.
The blonde Amazon wrapped a comforting arm around the little bards shoulders as they moved toward the unique lodgings designed for the reigning Queen. Both women turned in surprise as the sound of a happy whistle floated back toward them from the vicinity of the tall leather-clad warrior leading the golden mare.
"Well," the lovely Amazon said, smiling at the young bard. "Whatevers scrambled her head, Aurora will have something to fix it."
"I sure hope so," Gabrielle sighed. "Shes been like this since yesterday. Maybe Aurora can whip up a tonic to get her back to ... what?" the young bard asked, stopping her own wishful thinking in mid-thought. "Whats that look for?"
"What look?" Ephiny asked innocently.
"That look," Gabrielle said firmly. "The one that says, Youre not going to like this."
"Oh, THAT look," the blonde Amazon said, laughing nervously. "Well," she continued, clearing her throat. "Theres a bit of a ... problem with that plan."
"Problem?" the little blonde asked, her green eyes narrowing in concern.
"Well, Aurora isnt here ... right now," Ephiny said, wincing at the young queens look of dread. "Shes on a trip to the northern provinces. Shes doing some training with the young girls ... to see if there are a couple of them who might like to become her ... students, you know, for the healing." The Amazon waited while the bard digested the news.
"Oh, great!" the girl growled. "Well, when is she due back?"
Ephiny swallowed slowly and offered a flimsy grin. "Day after tomorrow."
Gabrielles chin dropped even farther. "The day after ...." the girl groaned. "Oh, Ephiny! You mean were going to have to deal with ... this ... for two more days??"
"Sorry, Gabrielle," the tall blonde said. "If we had known about it ...." The womans words drifted away. She gave the young queen a remorseful smile.
Gabrielle let out an exasperated breath. "Well, maybe we can get word to Aurora, tell her we need her back here ... now whats wrong?" the little blonde scowled at her Regent.
"Sorry. She sent word this morning that she was taking the best prospects into the woods to explain various ... herbs and their effects." The irony of the statement did not amuse the young queen. "Theres no way of knowing exactly where theyll be."
"Great!" the girl muttered. "Just great."
"Well, listen, " Ephiny began, forcing a lightness into her tone. "Maybe this ... leaf thing will wear off on its own before then, huh?" She smiled brightly at the bards doubtful face.
"At least youre here now and the rest of us can lend a hand ... help you both hold tight until Aurora gets back and handles this. OK?"
"Yeah, maybe," Gabrielle conceded. The girls smile showed signs of reappearing. "Xena does have amazing recuperative powers. Maybe shell come around all by herself. Right?" She flashed a hopeful smile. "Besides," the bard said brightly. "We have a birthday party to enjoy. And have I got a present for you, my friend," she said, laying a small hand on the Amazons muscled forearm. Ephiny relaxed at the sound of the young blondes cheerful laughter ... until her eyes caught the sight of the tall, dark-haired warrior ambling toward them from the stable.
Gabrielle turned to follow Ephinys gaze. When she recognized the cause of the Amazons retreating grin, the young bard gulped nervously. The warrior had her sword slung casually over one shoulder and the bronze face was displaying a somewhat mischievous smirk. She swaggered over to the bard and the Amazon, looped a long arm over the young queens shoulders and winked openly at the blonde Regent.
"Hey, Im starved," she warbled. "When do we eat around here?"
Gabrielle cast a weary gaze at Ephinys amused expression. She disengaged the warriors arm and propelled her gently toward the royal hut. As the two friends moved away, the bard spoke over her shoulder to the Amazon. "See what you can do, will you, Ephiny? Its going to be a looong night."
The Amazon waited until the queen and her champion were out of earshot before giving in to the hearty laughter that had gathered in her throat.
Gabrielle turned from the door of the Regal Hut, carefully balancing the tray she had accepted from the young Amazon standing in the doorway. She closed the door, placed the food on the wooden table next to the wall, sat down in one of the chairs next to the fixture and focused her attention on the activity of her tall, dark-haired companion. After a few minutes of total confusion, she decided a gentle inquiry was in order.
"What are you doing?"
"Tracking the edge of the mat."
"Uh-huh." A slight, perplexed pause. "Why?"
"To wear it out evenly."
The bards total perplexity was accompanied by her equally befuddled scowl. "I .. ah.. say that again? To do what?"
"Im walking on the edge of the mat so that it will wear out evenly."
The little blonde sat completely dumbfounded. The warrior interrupted her activity to inspect the tray of food, acquire random selections from several of the items present, then return to her industrious task while enjoying the edibles as she resumed her tracking along the edge of the thatched covering.
"See, with a mat like this, in the center of the room, everyone is always walking around on the middle .. never on the edge. So the middle wears out waaay before the edge. This way, the edge will wear out at the same time. You get it?"
For one of the few times in her life, the young Amazon Queen was rendered absolutely speechless. After a moment, she briskly shook her blonde head to clear it.
"Xena? Why dont you try and get some rest before the party tonight? Good idea?"
"Why? Im not tired." The warrior finished the last of the foodstuffs and brushed her hands together.
"Xena, please! Just ... go lie down for a while, OK? Please? Just do it for me, all right?"
"Well, OK. If you think I should. But, someoned better track that edge, or else its gonna ..."
"Ill take care of the floor mat. Just lie down and rest. We have a long night ahead of us."
(Yawn, stretch, mumbling, relaxation.) "Yeah, OK. Gonna be some party, huh? Cant wait."
A candlemark later, the little blonde awakened for the fourth time during the short span of time to acknowledge what she had dreaded most had indeed taken place ... she was alone in the spacious hut. She quickly scanned the interior of the structure, panic and foreboding filling her senses. Finally she accepted the awful truth; her tall companion was not in attendance. She hurriedly pulled on her boots and started for the door of the hut, her hand already reaching for the large peg on the latch. An instant later, the panel swung roughly open to reveal an advancing Ephiny dragging a languid warrior princess whose wry smile contrasted sharply with the acrimonious scowl covering the blonde Regents face.
Ephiny handed the tall miscreant over to the blonde queen and glowered, knuckles on her hips, at the smug expression on the dark-haired womans face.
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked, accepting her charge and directing the slender form toward the wooden chair next to the table.
"Youd better keep her in here with you, even if you have to bolt the door and tie her to the bed," the blonde Amazon sputtered. "Someones going to clobber her for sure, if she doesnt get that leaf thing out of her system soon."
"What?" The green eyes swung to the warriors wide-eyed smile. "What did she do? She didnt hurt anyone, did she?"
"No, unless you call hitting someone square in the forehead with a big ripe tomato hurting them," Ephiny sputtered. She turned an accusing glare at the queens champion.
"What??" Gabrielle gasped. "Who? When? Are they all right?"
"Solari, just now and, yes, shes OK." the tall blonde answered.
"Howd I know she was gonna come out of the stable right then?" Xena chortled, her blue eyes blinking in triumph. A childlike grin covered the smooth face. "Caught her dead center, tho," the warrior giggled. "Splatt!" The normally stoic form jostled in contented laughter.
Gabrielle cast a horrified look at the warriors silly smile. "You threw a tomato at Solari??" she growled.
"No," Ephiny interjected. "She launched it with this." The bard spun around to face the tall Amazon and her mouth dropped open even farther when she recognized the object the woman held in her hand. It was a slingshot, a wooden apparatus with a pliant, expanse of leather secured between the y-shaped extensions.
"One of the younger girls said our friend wandered over to their group and they asked if she knew how to use one of these. So Xena proceeded to show her just exactly how well she could." The Amazon shrugged and met the bards green gaze. "I dont know where she got the tomato. I didnt ask."
Gabrielle looked from the slingshot to the warriors absurd smile and back to the grin Ephiny was trying valiantly to subdue. A moment later, the two blonde friends surrendered to their mutual amusement, laughing heartily at the incongruous hilarity of the situation. Soon the bard was wiping her eyes as her Regent tried to regain control as well.
"Is Solari OK?" the little blonde chuckled.
"Oh, shell be fine once she gets cleaned up," Ephiny said, laughing again. "But shes hopping mad at our tall friend there," the Amazon confided. "Wed better try and keep them apart at the party tonight, or theyll be Hades own harpies to entertain."
The young queen covered her blushing face with her hands. "Oh, boy," she sputtered. "I hope Aurora gets back soon, or Xena may have more than that leaf to get a remedy for." The girl shook her head and turned to the warrior seated in the wooden chair. As the two Amazons watched, the slender woman helped herself to another mouthful of food from the tray, stood and wandered none too steadily in the direction of the large pallet across the room.
"I think youre right, Queenie," the warrior said, her speech slurred and disoriented. "I need a nap. Boy, do I need a nap...."
With that, the tall form climbed onto the wide mattress, wrapped her long arms around one of the covered pillows, lowered her dark head onto the colorful material, sighed and promptly fell asleep. When Gabrielle turned to address Ephiny, she noticed the Amazons eyebrows had completely disappeared under the blonde ringlets framing her forehead. The young queen put her finger to her lips, directed her Regent toward the door and the two quietly left the hut.
The birthday party was in full swing, raucous, noisy laughter and chatter filling the candle-lit meeting hall. Amazons of every description, size and coloring were gathered around the room, exhibiting various states of enjoyment in the evenings festivities. The remnants of the expansive meal lay strewn about on the many tables and benches that had been positioned within the area as the women of the village celebrated the birthday of the Queens Regent, offering their warmest solicitations and heartfelt congratulations to their respected friend.
Ephiny popped another piece of roasted venison into her mouth, followed it with a handful of sweet, crisp berries, took a long, welcome swallow from the tankard in her other hand and turned casually to her young blonde friend seated comfortably at her side. She watched as the young queen broke apart one of the flaky, frosted cakes, dropped one half of the confection into her mouth and offered the other half of the pastry to the dark-haired woman seated on her other side. Unfortunately, the friendly gesture was thwarted by the sullen expression covering the womans smooth, bronze face.
"Cmon, Xena," Gabrielle chided her friend. "Have some of Ephinys birthday cakes." The warriors dark look traveled to the bards soft face. "You want to wish her Happy Birthday, dont you?" The girl held out the portion of desert again. The blue eyes dropped to consider the offering, then swept up to meet the young blondes gaze. After a moment, the girl shrugged, withdrew the piece of cake and dropped the delicacy into her own mouth. She cast a reproachful grin at her friends brooding face. She leaned close to the warrior and spoke quietly into the womans ear.
"I do wish youd stop pouting. Youre behaving like a stubborn child."
The piercing blue eyes snapped to the bards face. "I dont know why youre so upset about a single, little tomato," she grumbled. "Its not like I was aiming at Solari, or something." The bard let out an exasperated sigh. "She just happened to get in ... the tomatos way."
"OK, you didnt mean to splatter her," the little queen said, "but you did. And I thought you owed her an apology."
"Yeah," Xena mumbled. "So you said."
Ephiny covered her growing amusement at the overheard conversation by taking another leisurely drink from the tankard. She let her eyes settle on the warriors brooding stare. When the clear blue eyes drifted to meet hers, the Amazon changed her focus to the other partying members. She tried hard to give the impression that the warriors protruding lower lip did not interest her in the least.
Gabrielle studied her companions surly expression for a few moments. Recalcitrant manner aside, the bard had also noticed the recurring kneading motion the warrior had been applying to her tender jaw throughout the evening.
"Your tooth still hurt?" the bard asked earnestly, her green eyes concerned on the golden face.
"Like a poking arrowhead," Xena grumbled. She dropped her hand into her lap and turned a sulking glare toward the bard. "The only thing that helps are those little leaves, and you wont let me have any more." The warriors mouth contorted into a juvenile scowl. She separated her gaze from the little blondes.
Gabrielle patted the womans slender arm then turned fondly to the blonde birthday-celebrant. She pulled a small, flat package from beside her and handed it to the muscled Regent. Ephinys smile was genuine as she met the girls affectionate gaze.
"I havent given you my present yet," Gabrielle said as Ephiny took the cloth-covered parcel. "Happy Birthday, my friend. Heres wishing you many more."
Ephiny put the tankard down and carefully unwrapped the package. When she had uncovered the present, the tall womans hazel eyes glowed brightly with genuine affection for the small young woman who had offered it. She studied the unique gift, returning the warmth in the little blondes green gaze. She reached to give the girl a loving hug, then returned her attention to the lovely present before her.
The gift was a small plaque fashioned of smooth, polished wood and delicately carved with scrolling patterns around its edge. In the center of the wooden frame, a small, pristine piece of parchment displayed the loving message that touched the tall Amazons heart, particularly because it reflected the special relationship she enjoyed with the young queen who had fashioned it.
On the parchment, Gabrielle had written the word friend, neatly transcribed in every dialect with which she had become acquainted in her many travels at the warriors side. Each translation had been ciphered in a subtly different color of ink and in a singularly special design of lettering. Around the edge of the parchment, a delicate chain of tiny flowers blinked within an elegant, continuous linking vine.
The bard watched her Amazon friends reaction to the gift. The women exchanged a warm smile as Ephiny carefully closed the cloth wrapping around the precious offering. She turned to the little blonde.
"Its beautiful, Gabrielle," she told the young queen. "Thank you. Ill treasure it always."
The women shared another friendly hug. Then the bard turned a tentative glance at the dark-haired warrior still slouching at her other side. Gabrielle withdrew a package from the pocket of her Amazon skirt.
"Xena carved this for you," she said, handing Ephiny the smaller bundle. "She would have given it to you herself, if shed been ... well ... anyway. Happy Birthday, again," the girl said, laughing softly.
The Amazon unwrapped the small bundle to find a charming, hand-crafted statue depicting a youthful centaur, the features and physical likeness a perfect representation of the Amazons young son. Ephinys gaze found the warriors and the blue eyes, despite the heavy daze visible within them, were warm and friendly on the Regents face.
"Xena! Its perfect!" the Amazon chirped happily. "One of your many skills?" the blonde warrior joked. The queens champion smiled quietly, as usual unsettled by the open compliment in the tall blondes voice.
"I think were going to call it a night, if thats OK with you?" Gabrielle said finally, her gaze almost maternal on her companions sleepy expression. She stood up and firmly drew the dark-haired warrior to her feet at the same time. The bard accepted Ephinys solicitous grin. "Well see you in the morning." The bard turned back to the bronzed form in time to see the woman pick up her own tankard and smile wickedly at the blonde Amazon now standing next to the young queen.
At that precise moment Solari appeared at the edge of the table and leaned down to speak quietly to Ephiny. The blonde Regent immediately noticed that her auburn-haired lieutenant seemed to have enjoyed an abundant amount of the liquid refreshments available during the evening. However, she listened attentively as her sister Amazon delivered a welcome message.
"Yeah, Happy Birthday, Eph," the warrior warbled, raising her full tankard to her lips. Instead of partaking of the rich ale in the vessel, Xena pursed her lips at the edge of the tall mug and firmly puffed against it ... sending the cap of white foam sailing over the bards head to land directly in the middle of Solaris cleavage. The cold, sloppy mixture splashed loudly against the womans muscled chest and immediately began to ooze down the front of her Amazon vest, trailing a wet path between her breasts toward her contracting stomach.
The auburn-haired Amazon shrieked at the invasion of the chilly liquid against her body. Her shocked expression snapped toward the queens tall companion and the helpless laughter abounding from the bronze face only served to incite the dark Amazon even more. She gaped astounded at the giggling warrior as a furious glare invaded the female soldiers face.
Ephiny and Gabrielle exchanged matching expressions of shock and concern. An instant later, the queen and her Regent found themselves wedged between a livid dark-haired Amazons advancing form and a joyful, but proportionately taunting warrior princess. Ephiny exerted all her strength toward sidetracking the Amazons murderous intentions, while Gabrielle made a determined effort to prevent her tall, chortling friend from answering the incensed Solaris invitations. She fought to maintain her composure while literally being buffeted back and forth between Ephinys stouthearted exertions and Xenas hapless wavering. After a few moments of highly volatile activity, the young queens patience had dissipated completely.
"All right, thats enough! Both of you, back off!"
The sound of the bards angry voice immediately quieted the struggling combatants. Solari relaxed into Ephinys restraining grasp. Xenas hilarity ended abruptly. The rest of the festive group was rendered instantaneously silent. The young queens posture straightened and she turned an incensed glare first at her best friends maddeningly innocent grin, then at the infuriated Amazon panting behind her Regents restricting stance.
"If you two were younger, Id take a switch to you both!" she barked at the feuding females. "Now why dont you try and act as though youre old enough not to need one??"
The young blonde drew a short, angry breath. "Solari," she said, turning to the Amazon lieutenant. "This was an unfortunate accident, all right?" The green eyes sparkled in fury. "Get over it!" she said. "Here! Dry off!" Gabrielle ordered, tossing the woman a cloth napkin from the table. The angry queen whirled to face the cringing, dark-haired warrior princess.
"And you!" she snapped as the blue eyes dropped remorsefully. "Were leaving! Its time we both got some rest." She placed an authoritative hand on the womans arm. "Goodnight, Ephiny," the bard said to the blonde Amazon, as she began to propel the warrior away from the table. Then she turned back stiffly. "And Happy Birthday."
Ephiny put a tentative hand on the bards shoulder. She spoke soothingly to the sparks still visible in small blondes green gaze.
"The good news is Aurora will be back in the morning after all. Thats what Solari came up here to tell me."
Gabrielles furious expression softened only slightly.
"Thank the gods," the girl said. She gave the warriors back a firm push. "March!" she instructed as the tall woman moved obediently.
The young Amazon queen watched her best friend enjoy the steaming, floral-scented bath. She returned the lazy smile that beamed from the flushed, bronze face. The piercing blue eyes of the woman in the tub blinked mischievously as the lean, slender form pushed closer to the edge nearest the bard.
"This is really dreamy. Sure you dont want to get in?"
"No, no. This ones for you .. to help you relax."
The little bard gave in to her amusement. It was not often she saw that look of total abandonment in those cobalt blues. Even though its cause was not exactly reputable, its appearance was certainly engaging. Gabrielles warm laughter answered the playful giggle that emanated from the frolicsome form in the heated reservoir.
"Blrb-blrb-blrb-blrb," the happy form said, sending bubbles dancing along the surface of the warm water. "Cmon," the warrior beckoned. "Its really a great way to get clean."
The little blonde laughed heartily at her friends delight. She watched the dark head disappear beneath the water, then resurface, spewing a stream of water from her mouth toward the bards rust-colored boots.
"Hey!" the girl shrieked. "Cut that out! Ill have my bath later." The reproach in her tone was clearly defeated by the twinkling in her green eyes. She dropped one of the large linen pieces in her arms onto the wooden floor, covering the small puddle that had resulted from the warriors jaunty actions.
Xenas hearty laugh filled the hut, her blue eyes merry on the little bards face. She leaned back against the side of the tub, her long, trim arms resting easily on the rim of the wooden receptacle, her dark head settled comfortably on the edge. She closed her eyes and a deep, casual, peaceful sigh escaped the languid form.
The steaming bath had been part of the prescription recommended by Aurora, the Amazon healer. Upon returning from her training mission, the tall, thin remedian had spent a short time observing the new and considerably different behavior of the usually reticent, stoic warrior princess before posing several pointed questions to her blonde traveling companion.
"What did this woman give her?" Aurora had asked abruptly, gazing deeply into the deep, blue eyes of her suddenly sedate patient. The bard had hastened to supply the name of the herb, the root and the instructions concerning the treatment.
"Oh, for the love of Artemis!" the lean, sinewy woman had barked. "Any healer worth her root patch knows not to give Star Anise to someone like this warrior. Too abrupt an invasion of the nerves. Its no wonder shes a trifle ... unwound. Anise stimulates the calming area, to release the mixture in the brain that engenders healing." After she had lifted warriors chin and studied the womans disconcerted stare, Aurora had let out an exasperated snort, then gently pulled Xenas dark head against her sparse hip.
"There, there," shed crooned to the passive form. "Well fix you up, never fear." Shed turned an accusatory glance at the bard. "How many doses of the leaf has she had?"
Gabrielles jaw had dropped momentarily before shed regained her regal awareness. "Well, Id say too many," she had told the healer smoothly. "Every time Id turn to finish some chore or other, shed have one in her mouth. She said it did help the pain, so I guess she just kept ... sucking."
The healers expression had combined regret and stubborn concern. "I apologize for my tone, my queen," she had said to the fire in the bards green gaze. "It just infuriates me to see this sort of bad judgment in another healers prescription."
The resentment had faded from the young queens glare. "Thats all right, Aurora. I know youre just concerned about my friend," shed consoled the healer. "You can help her, cant you?"
"Of course I can!" the Amazon healer had responded heartily. "But were going to have to ease the effects of the Anise first. Then well go to work on the basic problem - that nasty tooth."
Aurora had turned back to the dark head cradled against her side. Shed put one gnarled hand on Xenas forehead and the other under the warriors chin, gently forcing her mouth open. She had searched the interior with a practiced eye, uh-huh-ing and um-hmm-ing as she studied the offending tooth. After several moments, she had turned back to the young bards curious look.
"First thing ... a nice, hot bath," the healer had announced. "Works the oil of the plant out through the pores. Thats what she needs. Ill mix a potion to help her relax. Then well proceed with the next phase."
"And that phase would be ...?" Gabrielle had ventured tentatively.
"An icy shower," Aurora had answered assuredly. "We need to excite the natural forces within the Warrior Princess ... bring her own internal regimen back into play." Shed lowered a custodial glance to her compliant charge. "That will chase the Anise out of her system."
Gabrielles nervous gaze had met Ephinys. The tall Amazon warrior had answered the questioning look with an I guess, if-she-says-so expression. The two blondes had turned their attention to the docile warrior princess, who was now resting her head calmly against the healers thigh. Aurora had patted the raven-colored head benignly and gently removed herself from the womans side.
"I assume we must work quickly, since the other Tribal Councils are due by midday tomorrow?" shed said, turning back to Ephiny.
Ephiny had nodded, confirming the healers statement. She had felt Gabrielles astonished glance roaming over her face, but shed steeled herself against responding to it, just yet. Instead, she had addressed the healer.
"Yes, Aurora, Xena must be fit by the time the Tribes arrive tomorrow, or at least by the time the banquet begins. Its imperative that we show our best image to them."
The slender healer had straightened importantly. "You can count on me, my Queen," the woman had promised, addressing first Gabrielle, then Ephiny again. Shed given Xenas head a final pat, then turned and left the hut. Only then, had Ephiny turned to meet the wide-eyed emerald glare of her young blonde friend.
"Another long story," she had said before Gabrielle could voice her shock. "Ill explain while we get our friend into the tub." The bard remembered her mouth snapping closed when Ephiny had stepped to the doorway of the hut, leaned outside slightly and shouted, "Solari!"
The next phase of the prescription, however, required a different kind of help from some of the young queens Amazon sisters. After the extraordinary behavior displayed by the tall champion at the birthday party, the queen had had her pick of helpful volunteers; it seemed everyone was more than willing to help the Warrior Princess return to her normal demeanor and attitude. Even Solari had offered her services, but the young queen had decided not to court disaster any further.
When Gabrielle decided that the nice hot bath portion had produced the desired effect, that her warrior friend was totally relaxed and completely agreeable, she carefully stepped to the entrance of the hut, slid open the door and motioned to a pair of Amazon warriors waiting outside. The two athletic women followed their queen into the hut..
"Well, shes relaxed," the little bard said quietly. "I cant tell you what to expect, so youd better be ready for anything." She moved out of their path and nodded toward the placid form in the tub. "Good luck," the little blonde smirked.
"Youve got the empty bucket, Cass," the taller of the two Amazons whispered to her partner. "Lets make a little room first." The other woman nodded silently and moved toward the wooden reservoir. She carefully dipped the empty bucket into the tub and waited while the water surrounding the vessel collected inside. Cassandra lifted the full bucket away, crossed to the doorway of the hut and emptied the water in the bucket onto the ground outside. She returned to the tub and filled the bucket again, returning the lazy grin expended by the peaceful princess still relaxing in the tub.
"Hi, there," Xena drawled as the young Amazon withdrew the full bucket. "Whats your name?"
"Cassandra," the auburn-haired warrior answered, her smile still in place.
The warriors head rotated slowly toward the taller Amazon. "Im Kieva," the sturdy woman said. "Just relax, Xena. Were going to help you with your bath, OK?"
"OK," the warrior murmured easily. She closed her eyes again and snuggled comfortably against the side of the tub. Cassandra returned from emptying the bucket the second time. She positioned the container near the one held by Kieva and the taller Amazon poured part of the contents of her bucket into the empty one. The two women shared a knowing look.
"Lets get it done," Kieva whispered and Gabrielle covered her grin with her hands. The two warriors stepped smoothly to the edge of the tub and quickly poured the contents of both buckets over the head of the reclining, and totally unsuspecting, figure relaxing peacefully against the rim.
Within seconds, Xenas blue eyes snapped open as the icy contents of the buckets cascaded over her head and shoulders. Her shocked shriek filled the hut as she tried to scramble away from the freezing downpour, but the strong Amazons reacted instantly, both planting a firm hand on each of the warriors shoulders, thus preventing her from escaping the onslaught of the frigid liquid. When they had emptied the buckets, they dropped the containers and quickly stepped back from the side of the tub, out of reach of their very wet, and very agitated, victim.
"Auroras orders!" Gabrielle shouted to her friends livid expression. The bard moved to calm the furious warrior who had already raised herself halfway out of the tub, while leveling a murderous glare in Kievas direction. The sound of the young queens voice broke through the tall womans wrath and she turned a furious scowl toward the little blondes amused grin.
"Auroras orders??" the warrior growled, shaking her dark head to clear the moisture away from her face. "Aurora told them to drown me in freezing water???" Gabrielle signaled to the Amazons and the two women quickly retrieved the buckets and beat a hasty retreat out the open door of the hut. The little bard placed a soothing hand on the bronze shoulder of her trembling friend. The warriors seething glare began to disperse.
"She said we had to get the effects of those leaves out of your system," Gabrielle crooned smoothly, wrapping one of the soft linen cloths around Xenas shivering form. "She said it would bring your natural forces back into play." The warrior blinked as she tried to focus on the young queens face, slowly responding to the girls gentle tone. Gabrielle supported the warriors arm as she helped her friend leave the wooden tub. She rubbed the womans back briskly and covered her dripping hair with another piece of cloth. "Im sorry, Xena, but we were kind of in a bind, here. We dont have time to let things run their course."
"What d-does that m-m-mean, ex-exactly?" Xena sputtered, her teeth chattering from the effects of the frigid dousing. She pulled the heavy linen cloth tightly around herself and tried hard to focus on Gabrielles face. The warrior finally caught the girls hand in her own, interrupting the bards busy attempts to warm her shivering body. The little blonde led her friend toward the wide pallet in the corner of the room and transferred her attention to Xenas mass of dark hair.
"The Tribal Councils from the southern provinces are due to arrive in the village tomorrow morning," the bard explained, enthusiastically rubbing the warriors long tresses with the wide linen cloth. "Ephiny wants to show them the strength of our cabinet to take away any ideas they might have for trying to absorb the ruling body from this province into one of their own."
The girls drying efforts were so dynamic, they forced the warriors head to jerk back and forth, side to side.
"Gabrielle," Xena began, but the little queens energetic actions left little room for coherent comments. "Gabrielle!" the warrior said again, halting the brisk rubbing. The bard slowly uncovered the dark head and faced the somewhat disgruntled gaze of her best friend.
"Oh, sorry. I was just trying to dry your hair." The girl smiled weakly at the clear blue stare.
"I thought they werent supposed to assemble until the next quarter moon," the warrior said deliberately. She took over the drying process, gathering the long, dark locks in the folds of the linen cloth.
"So did Ephiny," Gabrielle said, sitting down next to the warrior. "But, evidently, theyre trying to rattle us by insisting on coming early. Ephiny thinks its a move on their part to make ...."
"A show of power," Xena said quietly. "Intimidate then defeat. Its an old, and very effective, battle plan." She ended the drying, shook the long, damp locks briskly and handed the cloth to the bard.
"Well, its just lucky we were on our way here already. I think they were hoping my champion and I might just miss the meeting altogether." The little blonde grinned widely at her lanky friends subtle smile.
"Ill just bet they were. I can see why Ephiny wants to have everything in order. Well have to
fashion a nice little surprise for these ... visiting council members.
"Hows your tooth, by the way?" the girl ask tentatively.
"Hurts like Hades," the warrior responded succinctly. "Now, tell me. Why did Aurora find it necessary to try to excite my normal forces in such a ... meaningful way? What in Tartarus happened? The last thing I remember clearly is standing in a stream and you telling me to rinse the dirt out of my mouth."
The bard took a long, deep breath and began a detailed explanation. While the warrior finished drying off and reclaimed her leathers, the little blonde shared the fine points of their visit to the healer in Palamas, her assigned treatment and the unusual effects of the prescription on the warriors behavior and perception. As the young queen reluctantly supplied the details of the episode that had transpired during the previous evenings celebration, it caused a momentary interruption in the tall womans changing activities.
"Gods," Xena said, blushing darkly. "I guess I have a few apologies to make, huh?"
"Sokay," Gabrielle consoled her. "Everybody knew you werent quite yourself."
By the time the little bard had enlightened her friend on the remedial actions, and more importantly the reasons for those recommendations by the Amazon healer, the warrior had combed through her still-wet hair and was again dressed in her normal attire and accessories. As she positioned her armor over one shoulder and smoothly dealt with the buckles to secure it, she cast a self-conscious grin at the little blondes understanding expression.
"Well, that explains a lot," Xena said, her tone apologetic. She faced the young queen, her slender hands perched casually on her leather-clad hips. "I guess I should have known better. I know what Star Anise can do to your ... awareness, but I also knew it was a worthy remedy for this blasted toothache." The little bards smile began to reappear. She left the side of the bed to stand beside her friend. She placed a gentle hand on the warriors arm.
"Its OK. At least youre back to normal now ... except for the toothache, right?" She grimaced in sympathy at the tall womans obvious discomfort.
Xena raised her hand to massage her jaw. She ran her tongue over the throbbing area. "Yeah, still present and steadily driving me mad." The warrior shrugged off the annoying distress. "Well, we can deal with that later. Right now, I need to talk to ....."
"No," the bard said firmly. "Well take care of that tooth right now." She trained a decisive look at the warriors silent objection. "Well need your mind sharp and clear tomorrow and it wont be, if youre still fighting that ... tingle in your mouth. Cmon," the little blonde said, taking the tall womans elbow. "Lets go see Aurora."
As Xena reached for her scabbard and sword, Gabrielles gentle laughter filled the spacious hut. "I dont think youll need your sword for this. Besides, Aurora might think you dont trust her judgment if you arrive armed." The girl grinned impishly at her tall friends flustered smile. The warrior dropped the scabbard on the bed next to the chakram and strode through the door being held open by the bard.
Aurora adjusted the angle of the reflective circle, training the bright sunlight from the window into the warriors open mouth. She gently lifted her patients chin and focused her attention on the offending molar. "Yes, I can see why this little rascal has been causing you such trouble," the healer chuckled. She sat back from the warrior and turned her attention to the tray of instruments laid out on the small table next to the chair where Xena sat.
The healer selected a long, slender pair of rods, joined together at the widest end. The slim wands had been sculpted from bone and were perfectly balanced one to the other. The full end of both batons had been brushed smooth and clean, while the opposite end had been carved to narrow, blunted point.
After a few moments of careful planning, Aurora slowly slid the appliance into the warriors mouth. Xenas blue gaze was unexpectedly drawn to the bards face; Gabrielle watched the procedure tensely, her expression a study in painful anticipation. For a moment, the girls comical grimace distracted her tall friends attention from the healers probing ... until the pointed end of one of the wands came into sharp contact with the tooth in question.
The warriors painful wince was mirrored by the bards. Xenas piercing sapphire gaze returned at once to the healers face. Auroras bottom lip was pulled between her teeth in thorough concentration. She laid a comforting hand on her patients shoulder. "Almost there," she crooned as Xenas eyes began to water. As the warrior struggled against the strong impulse to clamp her jaws together, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"There! Got it!" Aurora piped, excitedly. She removed the long tool as the blue eyes drifted open. "No wonder you were in distress," the healer said, shaking her head. "Looks like a part of a sweet root, to me." Xena looked down at the small piece of fibrous matter captured by the narrow ends of the instrument. She ran her tongue over the once-aching area in her mouth. "Must have had it wedged in that spot pretty tight ... this is what caused your toothache, my dear," the healer said.
The warriors azure gaze left the healers tool to settle on the bards face. She found the girls green eyes fastened on hers, her lips pursed tightly, as the girl fought to control the wild amusement threatening to explode from her at any moment. Xena stroked her own jaw, the motion offering some slight relief to the still-tender area; more importantly, the gesture covered the rampant blush that slowly, and completely, covered the warriors face.
"You can stop laughing any time."
A loud snicker, only casually controlled, tumbled from the trembling bard. "Im not laughing. Really, Im not." An additional snicker squeaked forth.
"Right. Youve almost choked twice, now."
"OK. I am laughing." A series of LOUD guffaws was followed by enthusiastic hand clapping.
"All right! Enough!"
"Oh, my ....." Next came helpless gasping with a vain attempt to regain control.
"Gabrielle, Im warning you ...."
The gleam in the warriors cobalt blues was only partially for real. It was being totally undermined by the crooked grin threatening to appear at the corner of her mouth. She stood boots wide apart, slender hands on her hips, glowering at her best friends giggling form convulsing wildly in the middle of the large pallet in the queens hut. Gabrielle took a shaky breath and pulled herself upright. She gasped deeply, ran one small hand over her eyes and sat forward on the edge of the bed, leaning heavily on her hands.
"Ok, I think Im over it now," she chirped. She trained twinkling green eyes on the deep blue gaze of her tall friend. "But ... sweet root???" the girl screeched, then fell back onto the mattress again, overcome once more by fantastic hilarity. "The multi-talented Warrior Princess felled by a wayward piece of sweet root!!" The little blonde dissolved into giggles again, grasping her stomach with one hand and thumping the mattress with the other.
Xena rolled her eyes and crossed her long arms over her chest. She chortled in spite of herself, shaking her dark head as she crossed to sit next to the hapless bard. "Yeah, who knew a little thing like that could cause such a ruckus?" The warriors look of chagrin finally stemmed the little blondes raging laughter. She sat up and put a consoling hand on her friends tanned arm.
"Well, at least Aurora got it out," the girl said, blinking her eyes to clear them. "It does feel better, doesnt it?"
"Yeah," Xena said, touching the side of her jaw. "I think itll be fine now."
"Good," the little bard said, her green eyes again dancing with impending amusement.
As the warrior watched, the Gabrielles chin quivered as the girl made a valiant attempt to postpone another bout of giggles. After a long moment, Xena gave her friend a playful shove and the bard collapsed back onto the mattress again.
"Go ahead! Laugh yourself silly!" the warrior conceded as the little blonde complied willingly. "I guess I have this one coming." Soon her own laughter mingled with the bards.
The next morning, the members of the visiting Tribal Councils were thoroughly impressed with the caliber and authority of the reigning queens cabinet as well as the obvious strength and character of the young blondes second in command. Of course, there was no question whatsoever concerning the capabilities nor the dedication of the small queens tall, dark-haired champion. Any question of a weakness in the young monarchs command or in her competence to execute any duties or decisions concerning the welfare and safety of her realm were quickly dismissed by the visitors in short order.
Since there didnt seem to be any need for discussion of the queens replacement or abdication, the so-called social call ended rather abruptly. By midday, the village was again occupied by its normal, regular residents and their daily activities resumed at their ordinary level.
The queen and her stalwart defender adjourned to the designated hut to allow the young sovereign to change back into her normal, traveling clothes in preparation for their impending departure. As Gabrielle replaced her official Queens outfit with her regular Amazon skirt and top, the two friends discussed the memorable events of their recent visit.
"Your tooth still OK?"
"Yes. Its already back to normal. Almost like nothing happened at all. Still surprises me that that small piece could make such a mess."
"Well have to remember NOT to ever give you Star Anise again. Right?"
"And youll have to remember to lay off the sweet root for a while." The bards green eyes twinkled.
"Right," the warrior answered quietly as the warm, crimson flush covered her smooth face.
The Bard's Corner