(c) February 1997 (Revised Fall 1997)
Just as they had expected, Varanis launched his forces on the village shortly after sunrise. There was little strategy in his attack; he simply headed straight into the town in full force, trusting that his superstitions would ensure his victory. Unfortunately for him, Xena didnt believe in superstitions.
The defenses that Gabrielle had organized reduced his army by one fourth before he even reached the town. In addition, a sizable number of those who were left were so hampered by the rest of the traps, that only about half of Varanis original force could effectively carry the battle into the village. Still, that left a fighting force of more than 30 very determined men, led by a leader who was fanatical in his belief that he could not be defeated.
As the soldiers swept into the town, the villagers fought back alongside their three heroes. Cor wasted no time jumping into the thick of battle and soon he was dodging and parrying a steady stream of opponents. He knocked them unconscious when possible but did not hesitate to kill them when necessary. He was relieved to see that Gabrielle was extremely skilled with her staff. Of course, when he thought about it, he realized that anyone who traveled with Xena would be likely to get plenty of opportunities to hone their fighting skills.
Cor fought hard and could soon tell that the battle, though still far from over, was definitely going in their favor. It was just as he realized that victory was likely, that he tripped over the body of a soldier he had struck down earlier. He stepped forward quickly and struggled to stay on his feet. Instead of regaining his balance, however, he stepped in a pool of blood and his feet slipped out from under him. He fell to the ground, losing his grip on his weapon. Looking up, he saw a sword flashing towards his neck, and he knew with utter certainty that he had no chance of avoiding the blow. He just prayed that death would be quick.
However, instead of feeling the bite of the blade in his neck, he heard the crack of metal hitting wood. As he tried to figure out what had happened, he realized that Gabrielle was standing over him, giving him the chance to retrieve his sword, while she protected him from his attackers vicious blows and slashes. Scrambling forward, he grabbed his blade and rolled to his feet. As he did, Gabrielle disarmed the soldier who had been ready to kill Cor, knocking him to the ground. There he lay moaning in pain, all the fight driven out of him.
Gabrielle, for her part, was fighting well, but she was finding it harder and harder to focus on the battle. She was concerned about Xena and would have greatly preferred to be fighting at her side. At least that way she would know how her friend was doing. While she efficiently dealt with yet another of the endless attackers, she strained to see Xena, catching a brief glimpse of her friend fighting two soldiers at the same time. Relieved that she was doing well, Gabrielle relaxed slightly. At that moment, she was hit hard on her left temple. Pain exploded through her skull and she cursed herself for letting down her guard. Dazed and hurting, she tried to bring her staff up to defend herself, but everything was out of focus. She felt like she was moving in slow motion as she stumbled and fell to one knee. Frantically trying to clear her head and her vision, she struggled helplessly as a tall, filthy soldier grabbed her by the throat and took careful aim, preparing to plunge his sword into her body. As she gathered herself for one last futile attempt at escape, the soldier suddenly loosened his grip and stared down at her in utter amazement. Dropping his sword, he reached around his back, desperately grasping for something she couldnt see. As he slowly fell forward, she saw a large dagger protruding from his back. Looking up, she saw Cor swiftly advancing towards her. Reaching down, he retrieved his dagger from the mans back, before quickly assuring himself that Gabrielle was relatively unharmed. Reaching down to pick up her staff, Gabrielle watched as Cor rapidly dispatched a soldier that had rushed to attack them. Smiling ruefully, she tightened her grip on her weapon and turned to stand back to back with Cor, ready to take on the next soldier that thought the two of them would be an easy target.
Xena had managed to avoid close contact with most of the soldiers she had fought, knowing that her wound would eventually betray her if she wasnt careful. Letting herself feel the battle lust that always overcame her when she fought, she cut a wide path of destruction through Varanis army, determined to find the warlord as soon as possible. By the time she reached him, she had taken a few blows to her injured side and was struggling not to favor it. She grinned confidently when she saw the fear in his eyes, as he watched her advance towards him. Slowly and deliberately she twirled her sword in tighter and tighter circles.
"Give up Varanis," she said, as she smiled at him mirthlessly. "Weve shredded your army. Its only a matter of time before the rest of your men fall as well."
"Hah! You have no chance Xena. I cant be defeated during the morning hours!"
"Uh huh...and you got this assurance from who? Ares...Zeus...the Fates?" She chuckled as she feinted with her sword, watching him completely overreact to her attack.
"Well no...I had a vision...in a dream. Im lucky during these hours." Growing more agitated, he lunged forward, hoping to gain a quick victory.
Xena easily parried his attack and followed it up by slashing his shoulder. "Lucky huh? Sorry, I believe in making my own luck. Dont be a fool Varanis. Give up while you still have the chance."
"NEVER!" he screamed, knowing that he couldnt be beaten by Xena, or anyone else, before midday. Charging the warrior, he was able to get in close enough to slam into her. He knocked her to the ground, falling with her so that, when he landed, he lay on top of the Warrior Princess. Seeing the way she jerked in pain, he could tell that Xena had been hurt earlier. He suddenly realized that his luck was indeed still holding. He dove for his sword, which was luckily lying just within reach, and in one fluid motion he turned to plunge his sword into Xenas heart. It was a nearly perfect move. In fact, the only thing that foiled his maneuver was Xena plunging her sword into him. He stared down in confusion at the blade buried in his chest, not understanding how Xena could possibly have defeated him. He made one feeble attempt to pull the weapon out, certain that things couldnt really have turned out like this, before he slumped to the ground.
Without their leader, and having already suffered heavy losses, the remaining soldiers lost all that remained of their resolve. They had given up all thoughts of attacking the village and, before long, the battle was over and the rout was on. A few of the attackers managed to escape during the ensuing confusion, but most either surrendered or were captured, and the villagers were soon able to begin moving their wounded into the makeshift hospital they set up in the temple.
Walking carefully to avoid any more pain than was necessary, Xena moved through the village, searching for Gabrielle and Cor and finally finding them near the inn. She smiled with relief when she saw them, but her throat constricted when she noticed the large bruise on the side of Gabrielles face. All thoughts of her own pain vanished as she rushed to her friends side.
Gabrielle smiled when she saw Xena coming towards them, but the warriors expression instantly wiped that smile from her face. "Gabrielle, what happened?" Xena blurted out, as she immediately moved to inspect her friends injury.
Gabrielle almost laughed out loud. She had forgotten that shed been hit, the emotions of the battle having blocked out the pain. "Im fine Xena, I just got whacked in the head. Maybe it knocked a little sense into me," she teased, trying to lighten the mood.
Her efforts were lost on the warrior. "Stand still and let me take a look." Xena carefully examined the bruise and the swelling, before finally sighing in relief. "Okay, it doesnt look too bad but we need to get it cleaned up as soon as possible." Stepping back to look at her friend for a moment, Xena forced herself to relax. "So how did it happen?"
"I guess I just got careless...must be catching huh?" the bard said, as she grinned at her friend, being rewarded this time with a small smile in return. "Anyway I dont know who or what hit me, all I know is that it really hurt." Gabrielle hesitated for a moment, knowing that admitting what she had to say next to Xena was always a dangerous thing. The warrior, however, was still waiting expectantly to hear the rest of the story. "So...uh...anyway while I was still dazed, one of the soldiers grabbed me and...and was about to kill me, when Cor stopped him," she finished in a rush, trying to avoid her friends stunned expression. Turning to look at Cor, she smiled in gratitude. "By the way, I dont think Ive thanked you for that yet have I?"
"No...but then again, I havent thanked you yet for saving my life either," he said, as he grinned back at her. Seeing the surprised look on Xenas face, Cor nodded his head. "She saved my life long before I had a chance to return the favor. If it hadnt been for her, Id be on Charons boat right now." Flexing uncomfortably, he rubbed his shoulder, which had taken a brutal blow from a club during the battle. "All right, Im going to go see what I can do to help out those who were hurt," he said, as he sheathed his sword and began walking towards the village temple.
Xena nodded. "Well join you as soon as I take care of Gabrielle." Placing a hand on her friends shoulder, she guided the bard into the inn. Gabrielle sat down at one of the tables, while Xena got what she needed to clean the wound. There had been very little bleeding, but the young woman was going to have an angry bruise for the next several days. The bard tried to protest that Xena didnt need to go to all this trouble over her but, as she felt her friends gentle hands carefully tending her injury, she decided that maybe a little personal attention from the Warrior Princess would be a good thing after all. She sighed to herself when she felt Xena lightly caress her cheek as she examined the bruise and, when Gabrielle turned to look at the warrior, their eyes caught and held, each lost in her own thoughts. Finally, Xena exhaled softly. "I guess wed better go see about assisting Cor," she said quietly, as she helped Gabrielle to rise. The young woman nodded and began to follow Xena out of the inn, stopping short to avoid running into the warrior when she paused in the doorway. "Gabrielle, I want you to promise me that if your head starts to bother you, youll let me know right away. And I dont want you going to sleep anytime soon either. Head wounds are tricky. You need to stay awake for awhile. Okay?"
Gabrielle nodded. "All right Ill stay awake...and Ill let you know if my head starts to bother me."
"Good, now lets go find Cor."
The tavern was full that evening as people crowded in, eager to celebrate the defeat of the soldiers who had been terrorizing them. Word soon spread that one of their saviors was an honest to goodness bard and, before long, Gabrielle was deluged with requests for her to tell her stories. After a bit of coaxing, she agreed, and a hush fell over the tavern as people got caught up in her tales. Xena watched her with a smile on her face, impressed as always by her friends ability to capture the imagination of her audience. She really is good at this, she thought. And for once shes telling stories that dont feature me and some exaggerated account of my exploits. Each time the young woman finished a story or poem, the crowd begged for another, enjoying the chance to hear stories about people they would never meet and places they would never see. As time wore on, however, the warrior noticed that her friend was growing tired and was beginning to struggle a bit with her tales. As the bard finished yet another story and the villagers began clamoring for more, Xena rose from her chair and crossed over to her friend. Taking her arm, she smiled as she spoke softly into the younger womans ear. "Gabrielle, when I told you earlier I didnt want you going to sleep anytime soon, I didnt mean that you had to stay up for the next five days. Go to bed before you fall asleep in the middle of one of your own stories."
Smiling sheepishly at her friend, Gabrielle nodded. "Okay, youre right. But what about you? You havent exactly had a relaxing day either."
"Ill be up soon. I want to talk to Cor a bit more and then go check on a couple of the villagers."
Gabrielle nodded and then turned to face the people who were looking at her hopefully. "Im sorry but Ive got to get some sleep before I drop." She smiled gratefully when she heard the disappointed sighs and accepted the dinars that several people pressed into her hands. Waving to the crowd, she looked across the room to where Cor was sitting and smiled at him. "Tell Cor goodnight for me," she said, before she turned and went upstairs.
Pushing her way through the crowd that was now milling around, Xena returned to her table and sat down. "Gabrielle said goodnight," she said, as she reached for her mug.
"Shes really a talented storyteller," Cor said, "One of the best Ive ever heard. Its a good thing you stopped her, though. Otherwise these people would have begged for just one more story until she collapsed." Cor grinned. "Im glad shes finally convinced that Im not some demon from Tartarus. Its hard to have someone like her thinking of you like that."
Xena smirked at him. "Give her time. Once she gets a taste of your warped sense of humor, she may change her mind about you again."
Cor laughed out loud. "Ahh Xena, I hope not. I like her."
Xena smiled. "Its hard not to," she said softly.
Surprised at the sudden change in his friend, Cor looked at her more closely. This was not the Xena he remembered at all. "You really care about her, dont you?" he asked quietly.
"Yes I do. She means everything to me. If I ever lost her I...." Xena stopped speaking abruptly, as fear gripped her heart at the thought of losing Gabrielle. Taking a deep breath, she got her emotions under control. Looking directly into Cors eyes, she spoke as steadily as she could. "I owe you Coriath, more than youll ever know. Thank you," she finished, not trusting herself to speak any further.
Stunned by Xenas attitude, Cor was momentarily speechless. He had heard Xenas voice nearly crack when shed been speaking and he realized that, somewhere along the line, Xena really had changed. Not certain what to say, he decided to change the subject. "The villagers are having a party tomorrow night to celebrate their victory and honor the loved ones they lost. Tobin asked me to ask if you would stay. I know theyd love the chance to hear more stories from Gabrielle."
Xena considered the offer. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere and their planned "rest" in the village had, so far, been a bit lacking. Gabrielle would get a chance to tell her tales to an audience again and it would be good to catch up with Cor some more. "All right, well stay a bit longer. Right now though, I think Id better go check on the villagers in the temple and then go to bed," she said, as she rose from the table.
Cor stood up as well. "Ill look in on them for you Xena. You go on up to bed and Ill see you tomorrow."
"Bad move Cor. Im going to take you up on that offer. Night." Clasping his forearm briefly, she turned and walked up to her room, as Cor headed out of the tavern, both of them lost in their own thoughts.
Gabrielle woke to feel the warmth of the sun streaming down onto her face. Looking around groggily, she saw that Xena had already risen and left the room, and realized that the Warrior Princess was probably down getting Argo ready to leave. She couldnt really complain, though. It was actually pretty amazing that Xena had let her sleep in like this. Getting dressed, she wandered downstairs to see about getting something to eat. When she reached the main room, she was startled to see Xena sitting at a table eating breakfast. Walking over to join her, Gabrielle caught Tobins eye and asked for a cup of tea. "Good morning," she said, as she pulled out a chair and sat down next to her friend.
"Morning. Sleep well?" Xena asked, as she took a sip of her tea.
"Just fine. And you?" Gabrielle asked, a bit confused by Xenas actions. She certainly didnt appear to be getting ready to leave the village.
"Yup. Mmmm. Thanks," Xena said, as Tobin brought some hot biscuits to them.
Still trying to figure out what was going on, Gabrielle asked, "So, were you planning on leaving today?"
"Actually no. The villagers are having a party tonight...figured we might as well stay for it."
Gabrielle looked at her in astonishment. She couldnt believe that Xena was voluntarily hanging around for a celebration. She was always anxious to get back on the road as soon as possible. "Were staying?" she asked, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.
Xena grinned at her. "I assume thats all right. If I remember correctly, you wanted a chance to rest and tell a few stories. Besides, this way, I can help with the people who were wounded yesterday and Cor and I can catch up a little more."
"Uh, sure Xena, sounds good," she managed to say, hiding the momentary flash of unease shed felt when the warrior had mentioned catching up with Cor. After all, there wasnt any reason that should bother her. It was only logical that Xena would want to reminisce with an old friend.
"Good. Im going to head over to the temple to check on some folks. I should be back by the time youre done eating," Xena said, as she rose to her feet and walked out the door.
Gabrielle had nearly finished eating breakfast when Xena returned with Cor. Smiling broadly when he saw the bard, he sat down beside her as Xena nodded to her briefly and then headed upstairs. "Morning Gabrielle. Im glad you two are sticking around. Im looking forward to hearing more of your stories."
Cors grin was infectious and Gabrielle couldnt help smiling back. "Well, I have to admit that Im a bit surprised that Xena was willing to stay. Usually shes ready to move on almost as soon as we get somewhere."
Cor nodded knowingly. "Shes always been like that, never wanting to stay anywhere long, always on the move. Guess that makes her a good companion for a bard though, huh? Oh, that reminds me, the folks over in the temple were hoping you could stop by and tell a few stories."
"Sure, how are they doing anyway?"
"Pretty good actually. They should all pull through, although several of them are going to be on the mend for quite awhile." Looking up, he saw Xena returning with a small bag. "Excuse me Gabrielle, Ill be back in a minute."
Gabrielle watched as Cor headed upstairs. Xena reached the table but didnt sit down. "Whats up?" the young woman asked curiously.
"Cor and I are going hunting. Maybe well set some snares. I figured as long as there was going to be a celebration tonight we might as well try to catch some fresh game."
"Oh, well, have fun," Gabrielle said lamely, not certain what else to say.
Xena looked at her friend curiously. "Something wrong?"
"Hmmm? Oh, no, I was just thinking about what stories I should tell the people over in the temple." This is ridiculous, she told herself. Theres no reason for me to feel so left out. I dont even like hunting.
"Ahh, well Im sure whatever ones you choose will be perfect." She smiled at Cor when he returned carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. "Ready?"
"You bet, lets go. See you later Gabrielle."
"Sure thing. And good luck," she said, as Xena and Cor grinned and left the tavern.
The hours passed quickly for Gabrielle while she visited with the villagers. She took the opportunity to learn as much as she could about Trezine and its people. The wounded villagers in the temple were grateful to see her, having heard from numerous others about the wonderful stories the little bard could tell. She had told a few stories and recited a few poems, when she looked up to see that Xena and Cor had returned. As she finished the poem that she was currently reciting, Cor began checking on the patients and Xena came over to where she was standing. "Looks like youve kept yourself busy," she said with a smile.
Gabrielle smiled in return. "Yeah, and although I could really use a drink, for the record I have not been talking the entire time youve been gone."
"Well then lets do something about that thirst of yours shall we?" Xena laid a friendly arm over Gabrielles shoulders and began to guide her out of the temple.
Surprised at Xenas actions, the bard allowed herself to be led to the tavern. Well, Gabrielle thought, Shes certainly in a good mood. I dont remember the last time I saw her like this. When they reached the inn, Xena ordered drinks for them both while Gabrielle found a table. As the two sat together talking, Gabrielle continued to wonder about the warriors strange behavior. This simply wasnt like her. First she wanted to stick around the village for a while. Now she was sitting in a tavern chatting. She was actually answering the bard with more than single words; she was even using complete sentences.
Gabrielle and Xena continued to sit and talk for quite awhile, before several people approached the table, requesting that the young bard tell more of her stories. Grinning broadly at her friend, Xena rocked back in her chair and nodded at the young woman. "Go on Gabrielle. You know you want to."
Blushing slightly, Gabrielle stood and moved to the same spot she had occupied the night before, and launched into a tale about Hercules and his labors. Xena chuckled to herself while she listened to the story; those labors got more and more impressive every time she heard about them. Still, there was no denying it. Gabrielle was good at this. When she finished the story, the villagers began immediately begging for another. Taking a drink, Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment to think, then smiled as she decided upon a story. "I sing of Xena, Warrior Princess," she began.
Xena groaned inwardly, more than a little irritated with the bard. Damn it, she thought to herself. She knows I hate it when she starts talking about me. Xena glared hard at Gabrielle, who was deliberately ignoring her gaze, before looking up to notice that Cor had just arrived. Rising to her feet, she moved as quietly as possible to the door to join him. "How bout going for a walk?" she asked him. "Im more than familiar with this story."
"Sure," he answered, a bit surprised but more than willing to talk with his friend.
Gabrielle watched them leave, trying not to show how hurt she was by Xenas abrupt departure. She tried to convince herself that Xena just didnt want to hear stories about herself, but part of her wondered if she just didnt prefer to spend time with Cor.
Cor and Xena wandered around the village for quite awhile, talking about old times, reliving the good memories. By tacit agreement, they avoided talking about the darker memories; of the things they had done that they regretted. Eventually though, the conversation began to turn to Cors departure from Xenas army. "I have to admit Cor, I never really thought you would leave."
Cor was silent for several seconds before responding. "I never would have if it hadnt been for Sairen. But when you love someone like that, it...it gives you the strength to do what you know is right."
Xena smiled at the memory. "I remember when the two of you came and confronted me. You both looked so much in love. I was furious, but no matter how mad I was, I couldnt deny you your chance to be with the one you loved; not after everything you had done for me."
Cor smiled. "You know, Gabrielle reminds me a lot of Sairen."
Laughing, Xena said, "Because shes short, blond, and talks endlessly?"
"That and the fact that she uses a staff. You know, despite the fact that shes obviously very skilled with it, she never struck a fatal blow yesterday. Does she have a thing about not killing too?"
"Gabrielle has never killed anyone," Xena said softly. "And I pray the gods grant she never does."
Gabrielle finished her story and, despite the requests of the villagers, she begged off telling another one, promising to tell more later. Leaving the inn, she began wandering through the village looking for Xena and Cor. After several minutes, she saw them standing off alone, deep in conversation. She approached quietly, hesitant to disturb them but at the same time not wanting to be left out. As she drew closer, however, she stopped in her tracks, surprised by the tone of their conversation.
"I just wish the two of you could have gotten along better."
"You know Cor, its not as if Sairen and I hated one another, but its a little hard to be friends with someone when youre both competing for the same man." Xena smiled gently and placed her hand on his arm. "I admit it took a long time for me to forgive Sairen for stealing you away from me Cor, but I was truly sorry when I heard the news. You deserved to live a long life together. To die so young...I know that was hard for you."
"It was hard Xena, but the passing of time helps. I think Im almost ready to try again. A part of me will always love Sairen, but I think its time for me to move on. Its what Sairen would have wanted for me."
With a guilty start, Gabrielle realized that she was eavesdropping on what had turned out to be an extremely personal conversation. Deliberately making noise as she moved forward, she called out to the two friends in a cheery voice, and was gratified to see that they looked happy to see her.
"Gabrielle," Cor said, "Im sorry I missed your story, but some people just cant stand to let me have any fun." He glared at Xena momentarily, before breaking into a grin. "However, I was thinking that maybe youd like to learn a few moves with the staff that might come in handy. I uh...used to know someone who used a staff and we practiced together quite a bit. If youd like, I could show you some of the moves we worked out."
"Sure Cor, that would be great. Thats really nice of you." The bard had overcome her initial distrust of Cor and the two were fast becoming friends, despite the fact that his relationship with Xena made her feel rather uncomfortable at times. Still, he was fun to be around, and she was finding it increasingly difficult to believe he had ever been a member of Xenas army. He simply seemed too open and friendly to have been part of Xenas life as a warlord. "By the way, I didnt get a chance to ask before. Did you get anything when you were out hunting?"
Xena nodded. "Yeah we got...."
Xena rolled her eyes. "Yes, Cor got a deer. Now if you two are going to spend your time practicing, I think Ill go check on the snares."
"Hah, Ill bet you a dinar that my snares caught more than yours Xena."
Grinning at Cor, Xena replied, "Youre on Cor." Turning to Gabrielle, she winked. "Make sure you knock him around good a couple times. Its the only way to deal with that massive ego of his."
The feast that night was loud and joyous. Even those who had been recuperating in the temple earlier were moved to where a huge bonfire was burning, determined they wouldnt miss the chance to celebrate their good fortune and to honor and thank the three heroes who had come to their aid. As the evening wore on, Gabrielle and her stories became the center of attention once again. Xena smiled while she listened to Gabrielle weave her tales, however, as the bard inevitably began to talk of Xena and her exploits, the warrior became distinctly uncomfortable. When the bard started her second story featuring Xena and her grand adventures, the warrior rose to leave, unable to listen any longer, as the constant attention of the villagers became focused on her. Moving to the back of the crowd, she took several deep breaths. Once she was no longer drawing the villagers stares, she felt the tension, which always accompanied that kind of attention, slowly flow away.
"You never have been good at that, have you?" Cor teased, as he approached her. "You never could stand to talk about yourself or hear others talk about you."
"It wouldnt be so bad if shed just tell them the facts about what happened. But after she gets hold of a story, sometimes I barely recognize the events as something that I was involved in." She shook her head and frowned. "Besides, there are enough stories about me as it is."
Cor saw the pain that flashed across Xenas face and knew she was remembering something from her past that she regretted. Reaching out to place his hand on her shoulder, he gave it a comforting squeeze. "Maybe thats why she tells these stories. So that people will know the person you are today."
"Maybe," she replied, but it was clear to Cor that she wasnt completely convinced. Before he could say anything else, however, Xena shook her head as if clearing her thoughts, and smiled at him. "Maybe I should just tell her some stories about you that she could tell. As I recall, you always loved hearing the bards talk about your adventures."
"Ahh Xena, I really have missed you," Cor chuckled as they sat down, far enough away not to disturb those listening to Gabrielle, but still close enough to watch her. They sat together quietly, enjoying the chance to simply sit and relax without having to worry about the past or the future. After several minutes had passed, Cor spoke once again. "You know Xena, at first your friendship with Gabrielle struck me as pretty strange."
"Oh?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but after spending more time with her, I understand. Theres something
about her thats just...I dont know, its just good to be around. The way
she looks at the world. Its hard to describe, but...."
"But youre right. Its hard to define, but theres something about her that just makes you want to keep her around. And I cant explain it any better than you can," she said, grinning crookedly.
Cor glanced again at the bard, before turning back to Xena. "So? How exactly did you hook up with her? I assume she was never in your army."
Xenas thoughts wandered back to when she had first met Gabrielle. "Her village had been attacked and she and several others had been captured by slavers. I rescued them and returned them to the village. Gabrielle decided to join me, even though I told her I didnt want her along. She followed me after I left her village. Eventually she caught up with me and convinced me to let her stay. Weve been together ever since." She shrugged her shoulders. "Not much more to it than that."
Cor scoffed when he heard Xenas last comment and he wondered whom she was trying to fool, him, or herself. "Thats it huh? That simple?"
Xena heard the mocking tone of his questions. Glancing at him briefly, she realized that it would do no good to use the "hardened warrior" routine with Cor. He had always seen through it as easily as Gabrielle had. "No, youre right. It wasnt that simple. I did my best to drive her away but she...she saw something in me...had faith in me...even when no one else did." She looked to where Gabrielle was standing, her affection for the young woman showing clearly on her face.
"Not even you?" At Xenas quizzical look he repeated the question, even though he already knew the answer. "When even you didnt have faith in yourself?"
Xena nodded, not trusting herself to speak, as her feelings overwhelmed her. Several seconds passed before she spoke, and even then it was so quietly that Cor had to strain to hear her. "Sometimes I wonder what she can possibly see in me...why she would ever want to stay with me. Shed be so much better off if shed just walk away."
Amazed once again by the difference in his friend, Cor could think of nothing to say. Instead, he simply wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, smiling when Xena briefly rested her head against his shoulder. This was one more change he was going to have to get used to, he realized. Xena never used to be able to stand affectionate physical contact of any sort. Gabrielle had definitely made a difference in her life. "Xena, I think youre being a little hard on yourself....," he began gently.
Xena laughed grimly and pulled away from him, turning slightly so that he wouldnt be able to see the tears in her eyes that were threatening to fall. "Hardly. Gabrielle has already lost too much because of me. Her family...her innocence...her husband...."
"Husband?" Cor blurted out in amazement. "Gabrielle was married?"
"Yeah. Why does that surprise you?" Xena replied, unable to understand her friends reaction.
"Uh...I dont know. I guess she just...seems a little young to have been married," Cor managed to stammer out, knowing that his explanation sounded more than a bit foolish. This news, however, was completely unexpected. He realized that he could be mistaken about Xena and Gabrielles relationship, but he had been certain that they were much more than friends.
Xena shrugged. "Shes not that young. Lots of women are married when they are even younger than she was."
"Yeah, I...I guess so," Cor admitted, struggling to digest this new information. "When did this happen? She wasnt married when the two of you first met was she?"
"No, although she was betrothed to him." Seeing the expectant expression on Cors face, she sighed, realizing that he wasnt going to let the matter drop until he knew the whole story. In as few words as possible, she told him about Gabrielle leaving Perdicus to follow her, only to end up meeting him later in Troy. She told him how, months later, Perdicus had asked Gabrielle to marry him and how, after getting married, he had been killed the next day by Callisto. Unfortunately, her "few words" werent enough for Cor and he began to ask her endless questions about Perdicus and Gabrielle. He wanted to know all about what had happened at Troy, and about when Perdicus had shown up again later. He even asked about their lives before Xena and Gabrielle had met. Noticing that Cor was looking at her with the oddest of expressions, and completely fed up with answering questions about such a painful topic, Xena finally cut off him off. "Why are you asking me all these questions Cor? Why does this matter so much?" she asked harshly.
Realizing that his friend had been pushed to her limits, Cor wisely backed off. Shrugging, he answered noncommittally, "I guess Im just curious about Gabrielle. I like her and Id just like to know more about her."
Xena stared at him for several moments before grudgingly accepting his answer. "Well anyway, as you can see, I was right. Gabrielle has already lost way too much because of me. If she had any sense she would get as far away from me as possible." Xena looked off into the darkness, struggling with her thoughts.
Cor sighed inwardly while he considered what Xena had just told him. As much as shed tried to hide it, he had heard the pain in her voice when she talked about Gabrielle getting married and leaving her. He was certain that it must have nearly killed her when it had happened. He had seen the way she had been watching Gabrielle, and the way Gabrielle had been watching her for that matter, and he knew that the two of them cared deeply for one another. Unfortunately, he suspected that neither of them had any idea how much the other cared. Unable to think of anything that would ease the pain that Xena was obviously feeling, and knowing better than to try to push his luck much further, he placed his hand on the warriors shoulder, drawing her attention back to him. "Come on. I think Gabrielle is finishing her story. You should be safe from your adoring fans once more," he said with a smile.
Shoving him away with a grin, Xena watched as he stood and dusted himself off before offering his hand to help her rise. Winding through the crowd, they made their way to where Gabrielle was standing after having finished her tale. As they approached, Xena noticed that Gabrielle was looking at her rather oddly. "Something wrong?" she asked.
"No, nothings wrong. Why do you ask?" Gabrielle replied a bit stiffly.
"Uh, no reason. You just looked like something was bothering you." Shes probably mad that I walked away during her story again, Xena thought. Its her own fault though. She knows I hate hearing about myself and, after all, I did sit through all the other stories. The warrior frowned slightly as loud music began to play and the villagers began to dance. Trying to ease the tension that seemed to be forming around them, she smiled and tried to lighten the mood. "Why dont we head over to the inn where its a little quieter and we can actually hear each other? Ill buy you both a drink."
"Sounds good. I need to talk to someone briefly, so Ill meet you two there in a few minutes," Cor replied, as he hurried to catch up with one of the villagers.
"Gabrielle?" Xena asked, confused by her continued silence. The bard shrugged carelessly and nodded for Xena to lead the way. Knowing that the young woman would eventually get around to admitting what was bothering her, the warrior decided to just give her some space. After all, the past couple of days had been hard on them both.
They easily found a place to sit in the tavern, since most people were still outside crowded around the bonfire. Xena ordered for them all and, by the time their drinks had reached their table, Cor had arrived. Taking a long drink, he sat back in his chair with a happy grin. "This is more like it. It was just too noisy out there to really enjoy yourself...too many distractions."
As Cor stretched out his long arms, Xena noticed a large bruise on his right forearm that she hadnt seen before. "What happened to your arm, Cor? That bruise is recent isnt it?"
Cor grinned at her sheepishly. "Actually, I got that this afternoon from a young bard. I was trying to trick her into dropping her guard to prove a point and she ended up clobbering me instead."
Xena laughed out loud and saw Gabrielle smile as well. "I told you she was good, Cor. Its your own fault for not listening to me."
"Next time Ill be ready," he said, grinning ferociously at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle felt her earlier anger fading away, despite her best intentions to stay mad. She had been hurt when Xena had walked out on her earlier to spend time with Cor again and, as much as she hated to admit it, she was jealous of Cors easy friendship with Xena. Shed been working for over a year and a half to get to the point where Xena would accept her touches without jerking away, and now, every time she turned around, Cor had his hands all over her friend. It wasnt that she didnt want Xena to have other friends, it was just that...that...heck she didnt even know what her problem was. Cor was a nice guy and if Xena wanted to spend time with someone she hadnt seen in years, then Gabrielle knew that she should be a little more understanding.
The three of them spent the next couple of hours talking. Gabrielle was relieved that she was included in the conversation, although on several occasions either Cor or Xena would make a reference to something that was obviously from their past and they would chuckle over it, but only rarely explain it. Still, she knew it wasnt intentional, and on more than one occasion, Cor encouraged her to tell one of the stories that he had missed earlier, but had heard the villagers talking about. Finally, though, Gabrielle decided to retire for the night. She was feeling tired and it seemed to her that the two warriors wanted to speak with each other in private.
Xena and Cor watched Gabrielle leave, both of them sorely missing the young womans presence as soon as she was gone. They were silent for several moments before Cor finally took a drink and rocked back in his chair to study Xena. "Youve changed so much since we saw each other last Xena. You were always focused and determined but now...you seem to have finally found some measure of peace as well."
"Yeah, I guess I have," Xena said thoughtfully, as her eyes went involuntarily towards the stairs Gabrielle had recently climbed.
The two friends sat in companionable silence for several minutes, both lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Cor broke the silence. "Where are you headed next?"
"We were headed north before we got sidetracked here in Trezine. We heard rumors that slavers were getting more active up that way so we figured wed check it out. What about you Cor?"
Cor shrugged carelessly. "Hadnt really thought about it to tell you the
truth. I guess it actually doesnt really matter much to me." He paused briefly,
before continuing. "Ever since I lost Sairen, Ive just been wandering around
from place to place, not really fitting in anywhere. I suppose Im just looking for
someone or something to give my life purpose again." He stared at the stairs where he
had last seen Gabrielle. "I envy you, Xena. You have someone to care about, someone
to care about you. Maybe thats what Im needing." His voice trailed off as
he became lost in his thoughts once again.
"Sorry Cor, but Gabrielles taken. I need her a little too much to loan her to you." Xena smiled as she gently teased her friend, hoping to draw him out of the state of melancholy he was beginning to fall into.
Hearing Xenas words, Cor grinned as he focused on the present once again. "Well, if I cant have Gabrielle, how about I take both of you?"
"What are you saying?" Xena asked, frowning as she tried to understand what Cor was suggesting.
"Im saying that you and I made a good team once, and I think the three of us made a pretty good team here the past couple of days. Why dont I just tag along with you tomorrow? Were basically doing the same thing anyway. Wed be more effective if we joined together."
Xena carefully considered Cors words. He was a good warrior and a trusted friend and having him around would certainly make things easier when they ran up against forces like the one they had had to deal with the day before. His skills complemented her own nicely and he was certainly one of the best choices around to further train Gabrielle with her staff. He and Gabrielle were certainly getting along better, so there shouldnt be a problem there. She knew this wasnt what he really wanted. He would never be happy traveling around for months, or possibly years, at a time. Still, maybe this would help him find out who or what it was that he was searching for. "Cor, are you sure this is what you really want? Gabrielle and I dont usually spend much time in any one place. Heck, we dont usually even stay at inns for that matter."
"Its what I want Xena. And before you try to figure out how to ask the next question, yes, Im willing to follow your lead. If youll remember, I never did care much for command, and I know better than to try to start telling you what to do now." He grinned as he said the last part.
"All right. Ill think about it and then talk to Gabrielle about it in the morning. Ill decide then okay?" Xena couldnt think of any reason why Gabrielle would object, but she still figured that it would be better to mention it to her first before agreeing.
"Sounds good Xena. Ill see you in the morning."
Gabrielle woke to the sounds of Xena packing their gear. "Morning," she said, as she wiped the last bit of sleep from her eyes.
Xena smiled at her friend. "Morning. Did you sleep well?" As Gabrielle nodded, she grinned, "Good, cause that may be the last time you get to sleep in a bed for quite awhile."
Gabrielle smiled back. "Ill survive. Do you need help packing?"
"No, but now that youre awake, I do need to talk to you about something."
"Sure Xena, whats up?"
Xena turned to face her friend. "Well its about Cor actually. After you went to bed we got to talking and he asked if he could join us. He wants to go along with us when we leave here." Xena gave her a crooked grin. "I didnt think youd have any objections, but I figured I should mention it to you before I tell him yes."
"Why does he want to join us?" Gabrielle asked in as normal a voice as she could manage, trying to hide the uneasiness she had felt ever since Xena had mentioned Cors name.
Xena shrugged. "Probably because hes lonely. Hes searching for
something and he needs help finding it."
Gabrielle was certain that Cor had already found what he was looking for: Xena. She just couldnt believe that the Warrior Princess couldnt see that for herself. "So how long are we talking about?"
Xena looked at her with a confused expression. "Whats wrong Gabrielle? I thought you liked Cor."
"Then whats the problem? Its not like its the first time someone has worked with us for awhile. Marcus did, Iolaus and Hercules did. Joxers joined up with us more times than I care to recall. Heck, if you remember, I even thought for a little while that Perdicus might join us after Troy." Seeing Gabrielle nodding, she continued. "So...do I tell Cor that its okay for him to come with us or not?"
Gabrielle knew that she was overreacting. She and Xena were friends and Xena wasnt trying to replace her. "Yeah its fine. I guess the idea just threw me a bit. Im fine with having Cor join us," she said, lying through her teeth.
"Good. Ill go find him and tell him the news," Xena said, as she smiled and walked out of the room.
Continued - Chapter 5
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