Disclaimer :Some of the characters in this story are copyright MCA/Universal/RenPic. The story is mine.
Warnings :This story contains mild(ish) subtext. Possibly no more than a subtexty episode.
Bard's Boring Bits :I'd like to say that I'm responsible for all of this, but I'm not. A very big thank you to Michael Kremer for his suggestions on the bits I didn't get right first time, (and for the title). Thanks also to the members of the ex-Guards list who passed on their comments/praise. Last but not least, thanks to Ann Dancer my faithful Beta Reader who came to this one a bit late, (some people will go away for a whole month!), but still gave me her valued opinion.
Historian's Note :This story happens 'anywhen' in the first two and a bit seasons. For the purposes of this story the events in "Lost Mariner" never happened. Happy now MK? :-)
As The Stomach Turns
by Claire Withercross
A wise man once said, "While I breathe, I hope". I'd just like to echo that sentiment.
I'm still breathing and I'm still hoping.
The breathing is difficult, the hope fading.
It's difficult to concentrate, so you'll please forgive me if any of this makes no sense.
Now, where did it start?
It seems like a lifetime ago, and in one respect it was, yet in reality it has only been days.
Ah yes, I remember......
We were camped on the hillside just outside the port. One or two lights shone from the windows of the buildings down below us. But our attention was drawn to the light out at sea. From our vantage point it was nothing more than a twinkling jewel, like a star in the blackness of space. Only this star was all alone.
The night was hot and muggy, too hot to sleep, which was why we were up so late watching the light of the boat. I wiped some sweat from my forehead as the distant rumble of thunder reached us. For some reason this made me shiver. Xena must have sensed it and put an arm around me.
"Look," she said, and pointed down to the town. "Someone's on the move."
Down in the town a light from a torch bearer could be seen moving down a dark street, eventually it turned a corner and disappeared behind the buildings.
"Heading to the harbour," she said with certainty.
"Going to greet the boat." I added.
"No. The boat's missed the tide. It'll be daylight before anything can get in or out."
Another rumble of thunder was accompanied by a cool breeze coming off the sea. The warrior and myself both sighed with relief. Xena breathed deeply, filling her lungs.
"Aah, salty air. There's nothing like it," she beamed.
While the cool breeze was a relief, the smell of the sea caused my stomach to give a gentle turn as it balked at the memory of previous encounters. Which was strange as it was always the sea that came off worse. After all it was the sea that encountered the contents of my stomach, not the other way round.
My stomach settled and I closed my eyes to absorb the breeze. As long as I didn't breathe too deeply everything would be fine.
The boat was making good time and more detail in the light could be seen. What from a distance had looked like a single white light resolved into a cluster of coloured lights, red, blue, green, yellow.
"How do they get the different colours," I wondered aloud.
"They enclose the flame in coloured glass," answered Xena.
I was silent for a moment. I was not expecting a reply and wasn't sure what to say. "Um....right....makes...sense," I mumbled.
The warrior turned to look at me. Light from somewhere glinted in her eyes. How does she do that?
Sorry about that, it didn't start there. It started earlier than that.
We were in a tavern......
"Power, control, understanding," intoned the warrior. "In mind and body."
"Uh huh," I nodded.
"Know the power of your mind and body. Know how to control that power. Understand what that control can give you."
"With that power, control and understanding you have everything you need to control your life. To face and overcome any odds. To win."
The warrior cast a sidelong glance at me. "What?" she snapped.
"Shut up and throw the dice."
Xena growled at the back of her throat, shook the cup rapidly and let the dice fall onto the table.
"Three and one," I snorted. "Don't tell me, that's what you wanted to throw."
The warrior regarded me coldly. "You don't need to win every battle to win a war."
This is ridiculous, it started later than that. Very sorry.....
"Four! Four!" I shook my head in disbelief.
"It's worth six," claimed the store owner.
"It's worth the two I offered." Did he think I was stupid.
"I have a family to feed," he objected.
"Two and a half."
I turned at the breathless voice.
"Xena, what's wrong?"
"Pay the man, and let's go."
"I'm just agree-"
"How much?" Xena asked the store owner, cutting me off.
I made a disgusted sound and shook my head. He was trying it on with Xena. The man was a fool. Xena took the money pouch from me and paid the man.
"Come on," she said, tugging my arm.
"What's the hurry?" I asked grabbing the produce, not believing she had been stupid enough to pay him what he asked for, and too stunned to point it out to her.
"You know how it is; places to go, people to kill."
"Later. Business first."
She was beginning to confuse me and I came to a halt. Xena kept going and nearly pulled my arm from its socket.
"Ow!" I cried.
"What are you doing? Come on."
"Xena! You know I'll follow you, but have the courtesy of telling me where we're going first."
"I'll tell you on the move," she said, tugging my arm to get me moving.
I had no option but to follow. "So?"
"We're going to the King's Head tavern."
"It's a bit early to start drinking."
"We've got to see a man about a god."
That's better. I've got it right... I think.
Anyway, on with the story. It seems Xena had visit from a god......
Xena growled in exasperation. "What?"
"In the land of green sky, by the woods of the moon, next the road to home."
"In the land of green...green...sky, by the woods of the... the... what?" Xena hated it when they did this. Running errands for gods was never easy at the best of times. But when they insisted using crazy old men to give cryptic directions, she lost patience very quickly. Especially when the old men were drunk.
She lifted him bodily from the chair, closing her eyes against the fumes. "No riddles, no verse, no metaphor, no...no... just tell me where to go in plain, simple, understandable Greek."
The old man appeared to sober slightly. "Eh? What?"
"Where do I have-"
"We," I corrected.
Xena turned and gave me 'the look'; I poked my tongue out at her. Well, my arm still hurt.
"Where do WE," the warrior continued, stressing the word and giving me another glare. "Have to go?"
"I dunno, thas all I was tole."
Xena let him go and he flopped into his seat.
"Do you have any idea what he was talking about?" she asked me.
"Oh! I'm useful all of a sudden am I?"
"Gabrielle," she hissed through clenched teeth. She realised threatening me would get her nowhere, and I could see her brain telling her to turn on the charm. "Gabrielle," she said, her voice soft, a smile curling her lips. "You know I've always thought of you as a vital part of this team," she cooed, and draped an arm over my shoulders.
Damn! It worked. I made some sound to show I was flattered and won over.
"Well, I think, maybe I might...."
Hey! I never let her know it's that easy.
"I know a bakery that makes the best nutbread in town."
"The land of the green sky must refer to the forest of Arkelia."
"Because that's what it's known as."
"The woods of the moon refers to the silver birches. There's an area within the forest with a high concentration of silver birches, and it's known as the woods of the moon," I explained before she interrupted me. "And the road to home must mean the road to Thrace which runs through it."
Xena looked at me blankly.
"It can't be that easy, can it?" she asked.
"Okay," she shrugged. "Let's get Argo, and go."
"Don't forget my nutbread," I reminded her.
"You said you knew a bakery that made the best nutbread in town."
"Yeah. But I didn't say I was going to get you any."
I could cheerfully strangle her at times.
Excuse me a moment, I need to rest before carrying on.
I'll be back.
I'm back. Funny, I don't remember eating diced carrots....
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yeah. We followed the directions.....
"What exactly are we looking for?" I asked.
"We'll know it when we see it," replied Xena, scanning the undergrowth.
"It's a message from the gods, right?"
"Could it be a scroll of some kind?"
"A scroll which could say something like, 'a message from the gods' on it?"
"Yes," she snapped, starting to get irritated at my questions.
"Like this one."
She stopped and stared at me and the scroll I was holding in my hands.
"Where did you get that?" she rushed over and snatched the scroll from me.
"It was stuck to that tree," I pointed at the offending vegetation.
The warrior made some strangled noise and started reading the scroll. She looked up at me and chuckled.
Her mouth opened in a wide grin and her chuckling got louder.
"What?" I snatched the scroll back and started to read it. "Oh no," my heart sank.
"Oh yes," gloated the warrior.
"You don't need me for that bit."
"We're a team, remember."
"Bitch," I muttered under my breath as Xena collapsed in laughter.
The thought of it again....
Breathe, Gabrielle, brea-
Sorry, I'm back again. I must remember my condition.
I'm closing my eyes for this next bit......
"Can you see it?"
"Try opening your eyes."
I pondered Xena's words for a few moments.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," I told her.
"You can't see it if you don't."
"True, but if I open my eyes I'm going to see that huge drop and I'm going to panic."
"Then don't look down."
"Okay. I won't look down." I cracked my eyes open a bit. There was a gently swaying rock face in front of me. "All right, not too bad." I opened my eyes wider. "Don't look down," I reminded myself.
So I looked up.
"AAAAAAAARGGGGGGH!" I shut my eyes tight again.
"Gabrielle! I said don't look down."
"I didn't look down," I squeaked. "I looked up."
"That is down."
"I know that now."
I swallowed hard, I felt nauseous. My head pounded. It must have been the blood rushing to it from being held upside down. Or maybe it was the thought of the ground several hundred feet above it.
"Xena, pull me up."
I heard the warrior sigh and felt myself hauled up. As soon as I reached the ledge I sat upright, sucking in huge gulps of air.
"Are you okay?" Xena asked.
"I will be in a moment," I said, and threw up on her.
Heh, heh. She's still complaining about the smell on her leathers.
I sat on the ledge, eyes squeezed shut, holding on to Xena's ankles as she hung over the edge. She made a strained grunting noise and then she let out a small cry of triumph.
"Got it! Okay, Gabrielle, pull me up."
I did nothing.
"Gabrielle, pull me up," she commanded, trying not to shout.
"What do you mean, 'how'?"
"It's one word, Xena, what's not to understand?"
I heard her mumble some curse under her breath.
"I haven't done this before," I said. "I don't know how to pull you up without dropping you."
"Just do it the same way I pulled you up."
"I wasn't paying attention," I whimpered.
"Gods give me strength," she hissed.
I jerked in fright and opened my eyes at the voice. Ares was standing next to me smiling in that half charming, half demeaning way of his. Xena started screaming, questioning my parentage, and threatening extreme violence to my person.
"I don't think you wanted to let go," chuckled the war god.
I looked down at my empty hands.
"Xena!" I cried. I threw myself flat on the ledge and looked over the edge.
Xena was dangling from....I don't know what, but she had found something to hang on to. Her face was contorted by rage as she looked up at me.
"What are you playing at?" she bellowed.
"It was- " was all I managed to get out before the vertigo took hold. My stomach lurched and my cheeks bulged.
"Gabrielle, if you chuck up on me again..."
"Oooh, I've got to see this," Ares smiled.
"Ares!" Xena could always make his name sound like a curse.
"Hi, Xena, what are you doing?"
"Oh, just hanging around," with restrained sarcasm.
"All right, carry on."
"You wouldn't like to help me?" Xena tried not to sound too pleading.
"Why would I do that?" countered the god easily.
"If I fall your sister won't be pleased."
A sparkling cloud formed and became solid. The goddess of love stood there, pouting. She frowned, but took care not to wrinkle her perfect skin too much.
"What are you doing here?" she asked Ares.
Ares laughed and pointed down at Xena.
"Oh my..." said Aphrodite, looking over the edge. "What are you doing down there?"
"Hanging around, she claims," said Ares.
"You're supposed to be, like, helping me. You don't have time to be messing around."
"I'm not doing this for fun," growled the warrior.
"How did you get in that position?"
Xena glared at me.
"The irritating blonde dropped her," answered Ares.
The goddess of love turned to me. "You dropped her," she accused me.
"Not on purpose," I said meekly. "He scared me," I gestured to the god of war.
"Don't blame me."
"You shouldn't sneak up on people. Not when they're hanging someone over a cliff," I retorted.
"Still," said Aphrodite, curling a perfect lip in a sneer. "Letting go was, like, a little bit dumb, don't you think?"
"Never thought she had any brains," said Ares.
"No," Aphrodite agreed. "Not that pretty either."
"Don't know what Xena sees in her."
"No accounting for taste. Or lack of it."
"HEY!" Xena's voice came from below. "I hate to interrupt your cosy little chat, but do you think one of you can get my feet back on the ground? Quickly! Before gravity does it."
"Will one of you help her?" I pleaded.
"She's on your mission," Ares shrugged at his sister, and disappeared.
"Do you have it?" Aphrodite asked Xena.
"All right then. No need to shout."
Oh no! Things are getting worse. I better hurry.
Aphrodite rescued Xena and we headed for the port. I've already covered some of that so I'll move on a bit....
There were two groups of soldiers gathered at the wharf, they stood facing each other, nervously watching their respective commanders for orders. It seemed that most of the town's folk had gathered at the harbour to greet the ship and watch the battle. The tension and excitement in the air was palpable, making my stomach flutter; or was it the smell of rotting fish?
Xena and I pushed our way through the crowd. It was a difficult journey made all the more arduous by that smell. It seemed that the good folk of the town had never heard of baths, or maybe dead fish was the 'in' aroma this season. I clamped my hand over my nose and willed my stomach to behave. As we approached the front, we could hear what was going on.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't slay you where you stand?"
The voice was strong and used to being obeyed.
"Because I'm not here to fight."
The reply was from a younger voice, slightly tinged with nerves, but strong nonetheless.
"That's not a good enough reason."
The new voice was feminine, but like her father's voice was one that was used to being heard.
"Stay out of this, dear."
"Oh for Zeus' sake, father. Must you go through this silly macho posturing every time someone comes to ask for my hand in marriage?"
Xena and I arrived at the front of the crowd. The main protagonists, the king, his daughter and her fiancee stood at the head of their respective armies. I noticed they had the foresight to bring a posies to ward off the evil smell.
The smell..... Oh gods!.....
Okay! I'm in control. I'm in con-
Where was I? Ah, yes....
The king sighed heavily. "You kids today have no respect for tradition. You all think you're very modern, and think you can marry just anybody who turns up with a big ship and an army in tow. Well you listen to me my girl-"
"Shut up! Sandor and I love each other. We've been going out for two years-"
"Enough!" bellowed the king. "I'm king around here and no one tells me to shut up in my kingdom. And if I want to do things the proper traditional way, I'll do them the proper traditional way." The king radiated royal anger and glared at his daughter, letting her know that he would brook no further disagreement.
"Sorry," the princess mumbled contritely.
"Right, where was I?"
"You were threatening to slay me and I said I'm not here to fight," Sandor offered helpfully..
"Right. Thank you, boy." He looked at his daughter. "At least your fiancee has some respect." When he turned once more to the young prince he missed the tongue that poked from his daughter's mouth. Gathering himself up to his full height he continued. "Then what are you here for?"
"I'm here to ask for Princess Esmerelda's hand in marriage."
"Before I grant you your request you must present her with the Ruby of Henoor."
"Ru-ruby," the prince looked nervously from the king to his daughter and back again. "No one said anything about a ruby."
"Dats dyaw cyoo," I said to Xena, giving her a nudge.
"What?" she looked down at me in confusion.
"Dats dyaw cyoo," I repeated.
"Speak properly," she said, and reached out and removed my hand from my nose. "What did you say?"
"That's your cue," I pointed to her breasts and jerked my head at the royal trio. I quickly covered my nose again.
"Here it is!" called Xena, producing the ruby from her bosom. She held it out to the princess.
A shocked silence fell over the assembled masses.
"What?" asked Xena innocently.
"I'm not marrying you," said Princess Esmerelda with disgust.
"Oh right," Xena grinned sheepishly, and threw the ruby to Sandor.
The young prince fumbled, but managed to hold on to the catch. He approached Esmerelda and gave it to her. The princess smiled and embraced her love.
"See," proclaimed the king. "There's nothing like tradition."
"Yes, father," said Esmerelda, but her attention was on Sandor.
As is the wont on occasions such as these the people cheered and clapped and held an impromptu party for the happy couple. Xena slipped away to try and remove the smell from her leathers, while I stayed to enjoy myself. The wine flowed freely, and there was much quaffing - that's like drinking, but you spill more. By the time the celebrations finished I hardly noticed the smell, I even had a craving for some salt.
I went in search of Xena and some nibbles.
Well that's about it. The only thing to add is how I ended up in this predicament.
The young prince was so pleased with our efforts to help him he offered us.... I think the term he used was "anything you want." But I didn't want this living Tartarus. My so called best friend, Xena : Warrior Vindictive Bitch just couldn't help saying: "We'd love a voyage on your ship."
If I ever survive this, I'm going to make her suffer.
"Hey, Gabrielle, what yer writing?"
The warrior is standing in the doorway to the cabin, looking healthy and strong and beautiful.... I mean gloating at my misfortune..... in a healthy, strong and beautiful kinda way.
"Just the story of the last few days," I mumble.
"Anything to help the course of true love run smooth."
"How about making this ship run smoothly."
A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. "Didn't I show you that pressure point?" she says, barely keeping the laughter from her voice.
"What pressure point?"
The warrior takes my arm and presses on it.
"Oh, gods!" I cry with relief. "That's.... I feel great."
"It does have some side effects," she warns.
"It gives you an insatiable appetite."
"Oh," her smile widens, and she leans forward to whisper in my ear. "Many things......"
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