Little Bard: Chapter 8
When Xena arrived at Aphrodite’s temple, the sun was high in the sky. She had hoped to arrive sooner, as she knew that Gabrielle would probably be awake by now, but she’d been delayed by a couple of highwaymen. Apparently, word had gotten out that Darnan’s gang was no longer a major player and the two fools that she encountered were trying to take advantage of the situation. It was too bad that the word didn’t also get out about who had put the gang out of commission; although she had found an easy enough remedy for that. She’d sent the two away with broken blades, damage to various vital body parts, and a message. Hopefully, the two will come through for her and spread the word that she was in the area and not in the mood to be messed with.
Xena slowly walked up the steps to the temple. It was older than she imagined and slightly overgrown with ivy and roses, which if she would have taken a moment to enjoy might have put her in a better mood. The inside of the temple was rather small, but even though it currently seemed deserted, it was well maintained. Candles were lit, and the altar was littered with shiny trinkets, flowers, and a few not so fresh fish.
Xena wrinkled her nose at the smell as she took a moment to scan the interior. She knew that Aphrodite must know she was there, and hoped that her presence would be enough to summon her, but wasn’t really surprised when it didn’t. Her calls earlier that morning had produced nothing but annoyance on the warrior’s behalf. She had questions and was going to get them answered, even if she did have to come through on her threat to trash every temple between here and Potidaea.
Eyeing a particularly beautiful statue of the goddess herself, Xena unhooked her chakram, and let it fly. It bounced, once, twice, and then a third time hitting one of the outstretched arms before ricocheting and returning back to the warrior. Xena smirked as the marble cracked and the arm was severed from the rest of the half-nude statue, hitting the floor with an echoing thump.
“Aphrodite! I can do this all day,” Xena called out before letting the chakram fly a second time and hearing another thump as the statue lost its other arm. Still not getting an answer, Xena gripped up her chakram once more, “This time it’s the head…” she commented, pulling back her arm.
“Wait!” Aphrodite yelled, appearing in a burst of pink hearts and roses between the warrior and her statue. “What is it with you and that bard of yours destroying my temples?” She turned protectively toward her statue. “Don’t you realize this Venus is a one of a kind? Created by Milos himself! And you just… ugh! Warriors!”
Xena shrugged, having no idea what the goddess was going on about. She reattached her chakram, and crossed her arms, waiting for Love to finish her rant.
After a few moments, the goddess turned back toward Xena, “Okay, what? What’s so important that you need to deface me like this? I already told you I can’t help Gabrielle anymore. She has to work through this herself.”
“You gave her her memories back,” Xena replied.
Aphrodite wrinkled her brow in confusion. “Yes, I thought that is what you wanted. You want me to take them away again?”
“No, no, don’t do that,” Xena shook her head. “What I want to know is why?”
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
“No, I don’t. I tried to do what she wanted. I tried to treat her like an adult. I didn’t yell at her, I didn’t… I didn’t mean to hurt her, but I think I did.” Xena turned her head, not being able to meet the goddess’s eye. “She cried herself to sleep last night. I don’t know how to help her.”
Aphrodite frowned, her face softening as she felt the pain in the warrior’s voice. “This isn’t about you, it’s about her.”
“But the wish…”
“Was never about you,” Aphrodite interrupted. “You warriors think everything revolves around you.” The goddess let her words linger for a moment before she crossed the space between herself and the warrior. She then reached out, gently touching Xena’s cheek with her fingertips. “She kissed you last night.”
Xena reached up and touched the cheek as the goddess withdrew her fingers. “Yes, when she apologized to me.”
“But you didn’t return the affection?”
“I was angry. Not at her, but at the situation.”
“Are you sure about that? If it was the situation, why did you shut her out?” Aphrodite chastised. “Don’t you see that she needs you now more than ever? She’s scared and afraid. She may say that she doesn’t want you to protect her, but she’s lost with you. And I know you don’t want to admit it, warrior, but you…”
“Are lost without her,” Xena mumbled.
Aphrodite smiled. She took a step back and started to fade out of view. “Maybe there is hope for you yet, warrior.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t about me?” Xena called to the now empty room. She wasn’t surprised not to receive an answer.
It was well past mid-day by the time that Xena returned to the town. The words of Aphrodite were weighing heavily on her, but she was still unsure what to do about them. She hated when the gods were so cryptic, but perhaps Aphrodite had told her what she needed to know. Somehow she needed to prove to Gabrielle how much she meant to her. How much she cared for her, and how much… how much she loved her. That final thought was startling to Xena. She cared for the bard more than life itself but never realized just how deep that care went.
As she got closer to the inn, she raised an eyebrow in curiosity as she noticed a group of people crowded around a massive, ancient-oak tree. It was an odd scene, and she got that funny feeling in her stomach that told her Gabrielle was somehow involved. As she got closer and dismounted Argo, she was met by Syrus.
“Thank the gods you’re back,” he greeted. “You’re little girl got herself into quite a predicament,” he continued looking up into the branches of the tree.
Xena followed his gaze. “What in the world?” she mumbled. Squinting, she could just make out the little bard’s form, perhaps a good 60 feet or so up in the tree. “Gabrielle!” she bellowed, putting her hands on her hips. “What in the name of Hades are doing?”
Gabrielle shifted slightly and waved. “Hello, Xena,” she called down.
“Get down from there!”
“No, I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” Gabrielle called down in reply.
“No? No? Did she just tell me no?” Xena asked to no one in particular. She paced back and forth a few times, letting her sudden anger simmer before stopping next to Syrus once again.
“She hasn’t exactly been very cooperative,” Syrus mumbled. Catching Xena’s eye, he explained. “We sent two of our older boys up after her, but she kept climbing up higher.”
Xena looked at him and then back at the little girl in the tree. “Do I need to come up there?” she called out, not bothering to hide the threatening edge to her voice.
Gabrielle was quiet for a long moment before she replied, “Actually, I kinda wish you would.”
“Yeah, well you might change your mind about that once I get up there,” Xena mumbled as she reached up to unclip her breastplate. She quickly stripped down to her bare leathers, leaving everything that would weigh her down on the ground. Gabrielle was up at the very top of the tree, where the branches were thin, and she knew she would have to navigate very carefully to reach her bard.
Once clear of brass and other unnecessary metal, Xena flexed her knees and sprung up into the tree. It took her only a blink of an eye for her to shimmy up the trunk as she used various branches as hand and foot holds.
When Xena arrived at the top, she anchored herself on a sturdier branch and then reached up to the bard. “Grab my hand,” she ordered.
Gabrielle hesitated for a moment, seeing the coldness in Xena’s eyes. She shook her head. “I can’t, Xena…”
“Damn it, Gabrielle, I’m not playing.”
Gabrielle swallowed and reached out; the warrior just out of range. “I can’t, Xena,” she explained. “I’m stuck.”
Xena growled in irritation but shifted her position to confirm that Gabrielle was right. The back of her shift had snagged on a branch, and it was holding her fast to the tree. The branch itself was barely supporting Gabrielle’s weight. Xena knew adding her own could be dangerous for them both. Yet, she realized there was no way Gabrielle would be able to untangle herself without assistance. Xena frowned. This wasn’t going to be easy.
“Alright,” Xena refocused. “You’re going to have to take off your shift.”
“What? No way, I’m not gonna strip in front of all these people.”
“Gabrielle, you’re in the body of a five-year-old, remember? It’s not like you have anything to hide,” Xena chastised.
Gabrielle shook her head adamantly. “No, no way. Think of something else…” she began before suddenly stopping as the branch she was attached to creaked and then snapped causing her to drop down a few inches. “Xena! Help me,” she squeaked in panic.
“Alright, alright. Don’t move,” the warrior ordered. “Just look at me. Keep your eyes on mine.” Xena shifted again, this time moving down and positioning herself lower than the bard. She reached into her cleavage and retrieved her breast dagger. Seeing Gabrielle’s eyes go wide with the appearance of the blade she asked, “Gabrielle, you trust me, right?”
The bard nodded, letting out another squeak as the limb she was attached to dropped her down another couple of inches. “Xena…”
Before Gabrielle could finish, Xena flicked her wrist, letting the dagger fly. The blade severed the material between the bard and branch, suddenly freeing Gabrielle. The bard scrambled to maintain a hold, but lost her balance and fell. At that same instant, Xena springboarded from her branch, just managing to catch little bard, before rebalancing on a lower branch.
With a frown, Xena reached down, touching the bandaged hand. “You okay?” Xena asked the white-knuckled girl, who had her little fists wrapped around both of her shoulder straps.
“I will be,” Gabrielle replied with a grimace, “As soon as we are on the ground again.”
Xena answered with a grunt and a nod, before quickly descending from the tree. Once safely back on solid ground, the warrior returned the little bard to her feet. With a frown she gave the child a once over, getting a good look at her for the first time. She was filthy, not wearing any shoes, and the front of her shift was in shreds. She was covered in a mixture of mud, what looked to be blood, and some kind of sticky purplish goop. Her hair was tangled, matted, and encrusted with the same mixture as her shift, and to top it off she was adorned with the odd twig or leaf from the tree.
Now that the show was over the crowd began to disperse. Within a few moments only Syrus, Xena, and the little bard reminded. Xena cleared her throat, attempting to get Gabrielle’s attention, since she seemed to be rather interested in the ground in front of her, and was purposely avoiding Xena’s eyes.
With a sigh, the little bard looked up, but instead of addressing Xena, she turned to Syrus. “I’m sorry that I caused so much trouble today. Please tell your wife that I’m sorry about the pies, and the mud. I didn’t know that puddle was there. Oh and the pig, I’m sorry about that too.” She risked a glance at Xena, and then back at Syrus. “And I’m sorry about running away and getting stuck up in that tree. I didn’t mean to do that, either.”
“Whatever she did, we’ll pay for or replace,” Xena reassured Syrus.
Syrus looked up and nodded at Xena. “It was mostly superficial, but we can settle details later. You should keep an eye on her hand though, that was a pretty nasty cut.” He then turned his attention to Gabrielle. “And I’m sorry too, little one. I wish you would have had a better day. I forgive you. However, I believe my wife may want some help cleaning up her kitchen.”
Gabrielle grimaced. “As soon as I get cleaned up, I’ll be there.”
“Good,” Syrus returned. “Then I’ll leave you two ladies to chat.”
Watching the inn-keeper go, Xena looked down, making eye contact with Gabrielle. “Why is it that you never have any shoes on?”
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose, realizing she didn’t really have a good answer.
“Never mind,” Xena sighed. “Sounds like you have one Hades of a story to tell me. First, though, I want to see that hand. If it was clean, it’s not anymore. Let’s head upstairs, so I have access to my med kit.”
“No, Xena, wait. Can we maybe talk somewhere else? Don’t you have the little kit on Argo?”