Chapter 11

Xena sat on the soft grass with her long legs pulled up under her chin. Though her wounds were healing well, she was still easily fatigued. Staring out over the lake memories of an early morning swim brought a smile to her face. 'Just the thing for sore muscles.' she mused.

Turning her gaze skyward she watched a hawk making lazy circles in the sky. Slowly her mind began to sort through the events of the last few weeks. She vaguely remembered Gabrielle finding her in the meadow, but the three days following that were a blur. On the fourth day following her 'rescue' she awoke to find herself back in the cave with a concerned and exhausted little blond hovering over her. After spending two more days in the cave they returned to the village where they remained till this morning. Feeling better and tried of everyone fussing over her, Xena had insisted they leave. So shortly after dawn they said their good byes leaving the village behind. Much to dismay of the bard, who felt the warrior should rest a few more day. Actually, Xena also thought a few more days rest would be nice. But, in their eagerness to help the villagers were driving her crazy.

Gabrielle quietly approached the grassy knoll were Xena sat. A smile spread across her face as she started at the warrior's back. It was good to have her back. Those first few days had been rough. For nearly three days the warrior remained in a fevered state, drifting in and out of consciousness. More than once the bard found herself praying to the Gods for assistance. Finally the fever broke returning Xena to the land of the living. Once Xena was able to ride they returned to the village where it would be easier to obtain supplies. While there Xena learned the villagers had given Caecilius a proper funeral pyre, at Gabrielle's request. She also learned of Gabrielle's battle with Zared while rescuing the child. Septimus told the tale with almost as much enthusiasm as the ward herself would have. Though the little bard was suspiciously quite through out the tale, as thought trying to avoid notice.

"What ya thinking about?" asked the young woman as she flopped down beside the warrior.

"Just sorting out the last few weeks." shrugged Xena.

Gabrielle nodded understandingly. "Anything I can help with?"

"No, you've filled in most of the gaps already."

A companionable silence fell between them. As was customary Gabrielle broke it. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I was just thinking about Caecilius." Xena sighed heavily. "I would like to have been there for his funeral pyre."

Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her friend's board back. "Xena, with your fever there was no way..."

"I know." answered the warrior cutting her off gently. "I know." Once more silence joined them, but not for long.

"So where are we heading?" asked the bard, hoping to change the subject.

"Well I thought we might stay here for a couple of days. If that's all right with you?"

"Sounds great." There was no mistaking the relief in the girl's voice. "A little break from the world would be nice. You could use some more rest."

"Yeah." Xena agreed, silently adding. 'We both could use some rest.' Noting the dark circles under her young friend's eyes. "Besides I want to give Argo a chance to fatten up some. She's lost some weight in the last few weeks."

It was not mean as a scolding remark, but Gabrielle could not help hanging her head. "I'm sorry I pushed her so hard those first few days."

"It's all right." Xena assured her. "She's been through worse." Gabrielle returned the crooked smile the warrior offered her.

Xena turned back to the lake. "There is another village about a day and a half walk from here. When we are ready to leave we can stop there for supplies before heading to Larrisa."

"What's in Larrisa?" asked the bard with a frown.

Xena continued to stare at the lake. "Caecilius has a sister there. I want to find her and tell her what happened to him. He wanted her to know."

Affectionately rubbing Xena's leather covered back, Gabrielle leaned closer. "Sounds like a good idea."

Silence tried one last time to take it's place among them only to be driven away by the bard. "Xena, do you think they'll find Zared?"

Xena's jaw muscle tightened at the mention of the cult leader's name. "I don't know."

"Do you think he's dead."

"Maybe." shrugged the warrior. "From what you told me I don't know how he could have survived."

"Yeah." Gabrielle agreed. "But, they never found his body."

"True, but all of his 'children' have been captured or killed. So if he is alive he's on his own." Turning to stare into deep green eyes she added calmly. "Guess we'll just have to wait and see."

Gabrielle found no assurance in her friend's answer. Still she tried to make some sense of the situation. "Didn't he call his Goddess Fatima?"

"Yes, so Caecilius said."

A perplexed look crossed the bard's face.

"What?" asked the warrior fighting the urge to laugh at the young woman's expression.

"Well, from what I've heard Fatima is the Arabic name for the Goddess Ishtar. But she is the Goddess of family, why would Zared worship her as the Goddess of war?"

"Who knows? Maybe he figured no one in this area would be familiar with the stories about her."

"I suppose." answered the bard thoughtfully. As she pondered the subject her gaze fell to the thin scar running across the warrior's upper chest. The faded wound was nearly healed, another week and all traces of it would be gone. Xena's wounds had been so numerous the bard feared she would miss one. It seemed each piece of clothing she removed revealed another wound, each more serious than the last. She shuttered at the memory of the warrior's battered body.

"Gabrielle? You okay?"

Raising her eyes she found concern in the deep blue ones staring back at her. The show of concern by the warrior caused a smile to play at the corners of her mouth. "I'm fine." pausing. "Xena?"

"Hum?"

"I..." Unable to face those commanding eyes she dropped her head. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" asked the warrior.

Unable to contain the emotions brewing inside her, Gabrielle allowed them to spill forth in a flood of words. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. I should have been there for you. If I had left after the raid I could have..."

"Gabrielle." Xena said softly.

"reached you before..."

"Gabrielle." Raising a hand to calm the younger woman. "Look at me." Reluctantly the little blond raised her eyes to meet those of her friend's. "You did the right thing." assured the large woman with a rare warm smile.

"But, I..."

"You did the right thing." Insisted Xena as she wrapped an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders, hugging her tightly. Gabrielle welcomed the show of affection, resting her head on a board shoulder. Relaxing her grip on the bard, Xena allowed her arm to remain. "Thanks for getting my sword back. I thought I'd lost it for good."

Sitting up Gabrielle wiped away her tears. "Yeah, well Zared wasn't very good with it. I mean after all I was able to take it away from him."

Xena gently stroked reddish blond hair causing the bard to meet her gaze. "Thank you." The sincerity in those blue eyes warmed Gabrielle's heart.

A smile softened the bard's features. "Your welcome." Suddenly the smile faded to a frown.

"What's wrong?" asked the warrior.

"You look tried."

"Huh, so do you."

"You need to rest."

Xena released the bard wrapping her arms back around her knees. "I'm fine."

"You were up before dawn and you've been pushing all morning. Why don't you lie down for a little while." The warrior offered no answer. "Please."

Rolling her eyes, Xena surrendered to the bard's wishes. "Oh all right." She started to lay back.

"Wait a sec." Gabrielle moved behind the warrior, bracing her back against a nearby log. "Okay lay back."

Xena frowned at her. "What are you doing?"

Grabbing the larger woman by the shoulders, Gabrielle pulled her back gently. "Just lay back."

"You don't have to do this." Announced the warrior as she allowed the younger woman to pull her back.

"I know I don't have to, I want to. Now lay down." she ordered. Xena laid down resting her head in Gabrielle's lap. She even allowed her friend to gently stroke the hair from her forehead.

They sat in companionable silence for a moment. This time it was Xena who broke it. "It's a beautiful day."

"Yes, it is." Gabrielle agreed. Laughing as she glanced skyward. "Lot's of cloud creatures out today."

Xena laughed in agreement. "What do you see?"

Gabrielle studied the clouds for a moment. "A rabbit. See it's long ears?"

Again the warrior laughed. "Yes, I see it."

"What do you see?"

Xena was silent for so long Gabrielle thought she was ignoring her. "An elephant." she finally said.

"A what?" frowned the younger woman.

The bard's expression drew a chuckle from the warrior. "It's a large creature from a country far from here."

"Where did you see one?" asked a fascinated Gabrielle.

"I didn't." answered the Warrior.

Confusion furrowed the bard's brow. "Then how do you know what one looks like?"

Xena smiled slyly. "A friend told me."

THE END

Onora Honestus Advena

Just a fellow traveler on the road of life. May your journey be a peaceful one.