Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
A XENA SCROLL
"... and thanks to the bravery of the noble warrior princess, the realm of King Sounios was saved, and his grateful people once again welcomed peace and prosperity into their homes and hearts.
That does it. I suspected it before, but know I know for sure. Gabrielle is completely, utterly, stark-raving mad. I roll up her newest scroll, and carefully replace it in her bag with the others. Who is this amazing warrior woman shes always writing about? Surely, it isnt me! At the very least, I am convinced that my bard has truly entered the world of fiction-writing - she just doesnt realize it.
I lean back against a gnarled, weathered tree-trunk, stretch out my stiffened legs on the opened bedroll, and surrender myself to the dying rays of a late-afternoon sun; it feels so warm against my skin! I close my eyes and breathe deeply, listening to the sounds of the living forest around me, and I wait for Gabrielles return.
Its been a couple of weeks now since I took a sword near Parnos... a sword that very nearly took my life, I know that. Gabrielle is correct: King Sounios people were saved, but not just because of me. I had a lot of help, and the fact that Im here even now, proves it. It is so like Gabrielle to underplay her role in the fight that day, in a battle waged not only on the field, but with Hades himself.
It was all I could do to convince her that we had to get moving again, to resume our trek towards Athens. Reluctantly, she agreed, but only after I promised her that I wouldnt overdo it, and that Id allow her to undertake all the strenuous chores - including our hunting - along the way.
A promise is a promise, and I would never go back on my word. But Zeus - how I wish I could re-negotiate it! Our daily pace has been mind-numbingly slow, at least I think so, and once more I find myself cooling my heels in our camp while she is off taking twice as long as necessary to snare some of the slowest-moving game in all of Greece. I remind myself that when she at last agrees that Im fully recovered, Ill have to work with her on her hunting skills.
I reach my arms above my head, stretching, and feel the itchy tug of the stitches in my side; I wince a bit at the deep ache I still feel in my gut. Not that Id ever tell Gabrielle about it. If I did, shed have me flat on my back for the next week.
My stomach rumbles, and I blink open an eye towards the descending sun. If Gabrielle is running true to form, Ive got at least another candle-mark or so before she returns with something to eat. If I were hunting... and I bite off that negative thought before it has a chance to bloom. Im impatient, and I know it. Gabrielle is right, in that.
Just let her go, I think, and the sooner she convinces herself that Im fully recovered, the sooner these maddening days of inactivity and nursing will be over with. Argh! I wonder how much longer I can bear it all!
I sigh heavily, blowing loose strands of hair off my face, and at last I allow myself to smile. I think of the proud look on Gabrielles face each evening when she brings to me what shes caught; I know its an effort for her but she does it without complaint. She is the patient one, and I consider how I have never felt hands so gentle upon me as hers, tending to my wounds, and I wonder whether my healing springs from the power of her very touch.
Shes been so considerate of my needs on the trail that weve had more than one disagreement about her babying me, but my bard has a will of iron that Ive grown tired of trying to bend. Yes, I think Ill let her have her way, for now. For just a little while longer, anyway.
I rummage through her sack again; Ive read all her stories by now, and quite a few, many times over. A bundle of scrolls tumble out, together with one of her quills and, idly, I let my hand pull open the tie that holds them together. They are all as clear and inviting as the fields around Amphipolis, in the dawn after a freshly fallen snow.
I cannot help but gasp at the purity of the empty parchments, and I wonder at what magic and mystery they will one day hold, when Gabrielles hand will have put words upon them, breathing them to life. I never cease to marvel at the talents of my companion, and I cannot begin to fathom how she finds within herself the essence of what it takes to be a writer. A storyteller. That which I am not.
I hear a raucous cooing overhead; a flock of doves has taken off from the woods. I laugh out loud at the sight. Gabrielle. She mustve startled them in her quest for our dinner. She may have a way with a story, but stealth is not my bards strong suit. Yes, it will be some time yet before my supper arrives.
I pull myself up a little straighter, and pick up the quill, imagining how it must feel in Gabrielles hand, and I wonder if there is power and inspiration in such an instrument. I squeeze my eyes shut, and wait for a flow of energy and enlightenment to course through me; from the quill into my hand, from my head into my heart. But there is nothing. Not a whit of an idea. I open my eyes and gaze at the blank scroll, and I cant help but feel disappointed.
I think the parchment must mock me now, and be crying out to its owner for rescue: "Get this heathen warrior away from me!" It has heard from its fellows, by the tales that Gabrielle has drawn upon them, that I am no writer.
But if I were... what would I possibly have to say? I poise the quill over the parchment, and I ponder that question.
Hmnn... If I were a writer, I would tell the tale of a warrior of a different sort, a warrior of the heart, who certainly waged a battle well fought, and who won over a heart long since given up for dead.
I would write of a selfless, giving nature that banished greed; a faith so pure and good that it shattered skepticism, and a forgiveness so deep and profound that it saved... me, from isolation and ignorance.
I would speak of a noble bravery that conquered cowardice, of an unbounded laughter and joy that chased away misery and loathing; of a hope and optimism that made me dare to believe that any and all things are possible.
How I would sing the praises of a strength that emboldened me, a delicate tenderness that soothed the fires of anger within me and, who through her loyalty, taught me to be true to myself!
Most of all, I would want others to know how she accomplished these remarkable feats. It is simple, really, and she would blush to know that Ive caught on to the secret of her might.
Hatred itself trembles in the face of it: the power, the unblemished beauty, of her love.
I am humbled by the miracle of her finding me worthy of it. But who am I to argue with one so wise beyond my knowing?
No, I am no writer. I look at my callused, scarred hands, and I laugh quietly and shake my head. I could never begin to speak of these things, to express them in the way that she does. I am a warrior. What do I know of such matters?
"Wha--" I drop the quill.
Gabrielle is right, I must still not be 100%, because somehow shes actually made it back into camp without my hearing her. I look up to her shadowed form outlined against the setting sun. I see the white of her teeth, gleaming in a smile, and she holds up a fat rabbit for my inspection.
"Not bad, eh?" She chuckles.
"Not bad at all!" I return the smile, and I see her eyes wander to the opened bag of scrolls.
"Let me guess," she lays the rabbit down next to a mat holding our cleaning implements, "youre reading my scrolls again!"
"Well... ah... actually...." I fumble for words. I could kick myself, as I feel a flush rise to my cheeks.
Gabrielle looks at me curiously and quickly moves next to me. She kneels and rests her cool palm against my forehead. "How are you feeling?" she asks softly.
"Im fine, Gabrielle." It is perhaps the thousandth time Ive answered her in this way over the past couple of weeks.
Her gaze drops to the parchment in my lap, and she picks up the quill that lies mutely, accusingly, next to me. The corner of her mouth curls up in a small smile. "Dont tell me," she says, "that youve been writing?"
I follow her eyes to the scroll. It is as blank and devoid of words as the day it was born.
"No," I say, slowly rolling up the scroll and tying it back with the rest of the new parchments. "I was just looking for something to read, when this stuff fell out."
"Oh," she says, considering this for a moment, and finding it plausible. She stands, and quirks an eyebrow at me. "Gods know, Xena, you have many skills, but writing is not one of them!"
"Hey - you just dont want the competition!" I tease her, and I feel the heat of embarrassment leave my face.
"Look whos talking!" Gabrielle smirks, and she tilts a thumb at our furry dinner. "Im getting preeeeetty good at this hunting and gathering stuff!"
I scowl and cross my arms, feigning impatience. "Meantime, Gabrielle, Im starving to death, here!" But she can see through me right away. My warrior bluster is lost on her.
"Not to worry," she says, in a deep, formal tone. She picks up the skinning knife and sets to work. "Dinner... will be served shortly!" She pushes her blonde hair behind her ears. "You rest, okay?" and her voice, like the sidelong glance she gives me, is touched with a hint of concern.
"Ooookay..." I grumble, mollified, but a smile creeps across my face as I ease back onto the bedroll. Like any good warrior, I choose my battles carefully, and this is yet another one I will let her win. I watch her for a time, but my eyelids feel heavy, and I think that a before-dinner nap doesnt sound too bad after all. I drift off to sleep, and am vaguely aware that my random thoughts have skipped once more to the gentle-hearted bard who travels at my side. If only people knew her, understood her, as I do! If only... if only I were a writer....
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