The shop wasn't
cluttered, or dirty, but it was over-crowded with
merchandise neatly organized on shelves and tables -- it was
like being in a wonderland where I could find anything I
needed. I also noticed the quality of the items for sale was
superior, which was a welcome change. My original intent was
to buy a rope before Xena returned from putting Argo in the
stable, but I knew I was going to have a hard time not being
distracted by everything on display.
"Can I help
you find something?"
The voice came
from a middle-aged man. He had tufts of dark hair on the
sides of his head, and his smile was almost lost in his
bushy beard. A gnarled wooden cane in his right hand
supported his weight since the lower half of his right leg
I returned his
smile. "I need a rope."
you've come to the right place. I have the finest ropes in
only ropes in Acadia, I thought in amusement.
Even with the
cane, he moved with surprising speed and agility to a table
stacked with precisely coiled ropes. "Normally, I sell
them for fifteen dinars, but to you, it's ten dinars
I had to keep my
eyebrows from going up. I would definitely need to haggle
with him. "You sound like a friend I know. His name is
Salmoneus." Sadness crept into my smile as I thought
about Sal -- I hadn't seen him in a long time and chances
were, I never would again.
Never heard of him..." The shopkeeper was interrupted
by four rough-looking men who entered the building. His
pleasant demeanor disappeared like rain into a thirsty sand
dune. "Hon," he whispered to me, "for your
safety, I think you should leave by the back door."
My smile was
replaced by a frown and I shook my head. The situation
wasn't looking good, as I saw the four men spread out into
the shop, rummaging through the merchandise, scattering
things right and left.
The leader of the thugs called out to the shopkeeper in a
guttural growl. "Luks like bidness be gud. So much da
bedder fer us."
your lucky day," I said to the rogue. "That is, if
all of you walk out now and never come back." I grinned
inwardly after saying that -- it sounded like something that
Xena would say. I guess her influence on me came out at
times like this. Besides, if talking tough to them caused
them to go away without violence, then I would be happy. I
had a feeling I was going to be disappointed, though.
The four of them
stopped moving, standing silently with their mouths hanging
open. Apparently, a woman had never spoken to them in such a
The leader's eyes
narrowed, as he swaggered over to me. "Oh, we be luky a
right. We be gonna cleckt 'taxes' from Meldus, an we git cha
ina bargin. Wadcha say lads? Is 'er nuffa dis luv muffin ta
go 'round fer alla us?"
My sais were in
my hands almost before I knew what was happening. Trying to
extort money was one thing, but the hint of rape in his
words caused me to see everything with an angry red tinge of
rage. There was a time when I would have tried to talk my
way out of the situation, but my patience was short these
days. I had seen an endless supply of ruffians over the
years and like all of them, these men needed a behavior
lesson. I was going to be their teacher.
fellas, but youíre just not my type."
The butt of the
sai in my right fist broke his nose, causing him to howl in
pain while staggering backward. The man closest to the door
hurled a throwing knife at me. I blocked the lethal missile,
causing it to scrape off my sai in a shower of sparks. The
other two men on my left unsheathed their swords, surging
forward in the cramped space of the shop to strike at me.
They had to face me one at a time because there was no space
to maneuver. I caught the sword of the first man in a fork
of my sai, and with a flip of my wrist, disarmed him. A kick
to his privates sent him tumbling into the man behind him.
They both fell struggling to the floor.
I heard the scuff
of a boot behind me and knew the leader had recovered enough
to attack me from behind. Without turning, I crouched low,
scrambling under a table, then whirled to face him. I had
moved just in time -- his sword thudded into the floor where
I had been. I kicked the table toward him, causing it to
crash into his side. He released the blade, falling to his
knees. Another kick to his chin made him sprawl unconscious.
The other two
thugs on the floor disentangled themselves, readied their
weapons, then charged toward me. The shopkeeper moved at
that moment, tripping one of the men with his walking stick.
When the man went down, Meldus cracked him over the head
with the cane, knocking him senseless. I dodged a slash from
the other rogue, then struck him in the belly when he was
off balance from the swing.
As he doubled
over, I leaned down, grabbing him by the collar and hoisted
his ear up to my lips. "Show your faces again in this
shop and youíre all dead men. Understand?" He gave a
quick, frightened nod and I popped him square in the jaw for
good measure, knocking him unconscious.
The man who had
thrown the knife at me, was a coward -- he fled through the
front door. I wasn't about to let him get away. I sheathed
my sais, then tossed a bag of dinars to the shopkeeper.
"For the damage," I said in haste.
I ran outside,
caught sight of him running past the corner of a building
and I sprinted after him. Rage drove my legs, causing the
distance between us to diminish, but he made it outside the
village, disappearing into the wooded hills beyond. I
increased my pace so I wouldn't lose track of him. I didn't
need to worry; when I entered the woods, I could hear him
cursing while crashing through the undergrowth. I followed
I stood at the
top of a rise and saw him climb awkwardly over a fallen log
at the base of a hill. He stopped for a moment, looking up
to see me watching him. His eyes went wide before he turned
to vanish into the bushes. I frowned at that, but it could
only mean one thing; he had entered a cave. There were
several caves in these hills and I hoped they didn't
connect. I plunged after him so he wouldn't escape.
I located the
underground entrance, then went inside with sais in my
hands. A small amount of daylight pierced the gloom in the
front part of the cave, which made me thankful I wasn't
blinded by darkness. Still, he was not in sight. I
immediately noticed a peculiar burning odor and I realized
what it was -- black powder. I was familiar with that smell
from the time Xena and I faced Khan's army. How in Tartarus
did that get in here?
I turned to flee, but
the explosion eclipsed everything. The roof of the cave
collapsed, sending boulders falling around me in a choking
cloud of dust. The feeble daylight disappeared, making it
impossible for me to see to dodge the plummeting rocks. I
remembered a cave wall was close to my right, so I lunged in
that direction to get away from the cascading stones from
above. I was struck on the left arm, my right leg, and
finally my shoulder. I slid down the rough wall, barely
clinging to consciousness.
I heard the
muffled sound of someone screaming my name through the
mountain of rubble around me.
belonged to Xena. I thought I was dreaming, but the pain I
was feeling reminded me I was awake. She must have followed
me out of the village.
I struggled to
I managed to say weakly. I knew she would never hear me, and
that was the last thing I remembered before going
When I finally
woke up, there was complete silence -- it was like being in
a womb. The throbbing from the bruises, cuts and scrapes I
had received, was with me from the moment I regained
consciousness. The pain wasnít overwhelming, and that
assured me I wasnít hurt severely. I focused my attention
on my injuries, discovering my legs were pinned by rocks. I
was relieved to find I could still move my legs a little,
which meant they werenít broken, just immobilized by the
stones. The dull ache in my head started to overpower me and
my breathing was becoming ragged. I had very little time to
escape; the air was running out.
Escape? Who was I
trying to fool? There was no way to get out of this mess; I
was going to die here. After all the things I had been
through with Xena, I didn't want my life to end like this.
Tears came to my eyes when it was clear I would never see
her again. I decided to spend my last moments thinking about
A green glow
surrounded me as I came closer to passing to the other side.
Funny, I don't remember seeing anything like that before I
died on the Roman cross. Then, I discovered where the
strange light was coming from. Just above me on the wall was
a vein of mineral glowing with the faint, unearthly emerald
color. Something about it was familiar -- something that I
had heard in a story. That's it! Iolaus had told me about it
a long time ago. The mineral had been used to make the
If I could get a
piece of it, I might be able to go back in time to keep
myself from entering the cave. I frantically looked around
in the dim green light to find both of my sais on the ground
next to me. I stretched toward them, but I couldn't touch
them. Ignoring the pain, I struggled as hard as I could.
Finally, I was able to grab them. I struck one of the sais
against the mineral, silently willing a piece to break
loose. A chunk broke free, falling beyond my reach. I tried
again and managed to get a small piece of the rock. I
clutched it along with my sais, but nothing happened. I
didn't know how to use a Kronos Stone, yet I did the only
thing I could; I concentrated my entire will to use it to
get out of the cave.
Suddenly, I felt
as if an unseen force turned me inside out. I became
nauseated and had the sensation of falling through a black,
yawning chasm. When the horrendous feelings passed, I wasn't
in the cave, or even outside of the cavern; I was flat on my
back staring at the ceiling of a huge, vacant chamber with
an empty throne. The fragment of stone had malfunctioned, but
at least I was free.
I sat up slowly,
wincing from the pain, grateful I was still intact and could
move. I sheathed the sais, then tested my legs to see if I
could stand. Satisfied that my limbs were stable, I made it
to my feet. I put the Kronos stone down my leather top
between my breasts for safekeeping -- I couldnít afford to
Before I could
fully examine my surroundings, I heard voices echoing from
outside the stillness of the massive room. I searched for
somewhere to hide as the voices came closer. Behind the huge
throne was a colorful drape of different purple and blue
hues. I steadied my breathing, ignoring my pain, as I limped
behind the curtain when a large door opened and two sets of
Ladyship-," a male voice pleaded.
what?" a woman hissed. It was only two words, but I
knew that voice even though the material in front of me
concealed my eyes. It was Xena!
due respect my Lady, any action taken in the western region
will be seen as a threat to Rome." He sounded
frightened by his own words, yet still determined to state
Xena sighed. "I pay you to make me look good, not to
draw up battle plans. Do you think I want this conflict? No.
I donít. Do you think I want this land once I win? No. I
donít. That has been the downfall of many a great leader.
You can only control so much so far, and Iím very content
with my Ďholdingsí. However, if rebels in that region
want to challenge my authority, I canít be responsible for
the outcome. If itís a fight Rome is looking for in the
end, itís a fight sheíll get."
enough! I suggest you leave now before you try my patience
any further," Xena stated firmly.
I didnít hear
the man make another sound except for the shuffling of his
feet toward the door in haste. Seconds later, the door
closed with the finality of the conversation and I heard
Xena release a frustrated sigh. I peered out from the edge
of the curtain to get a view of her, unprepared for what I
might see. My first reaction was surprise. Apparently, the
stone had sent me into the future.
older, much older. In fact, she resembled Cyrene, her
mother, in a certain way as she sat at a large desk, quill
and parchment in hand. I was on the verge of making myself
known when I heard another door open on the far right. I
ducked back quickly with the new image of Xena burned in my
memory Ė salt and pepper hair, worry lines around her
beautiful eyes and lips. She was still awe-inspiring after
what appeared to be twenty years later. She was beautiful
all right, and by the recent conversation, very powerful.
My curiosity got
the better of me when I heard the light footsteps of a
woman. I peeked out again to see a young lady move toward
her. She was nearly twenty years younger than Xena. The
greeting the woman gave Ė running her hand up Xenaís arm
to rub her shoulders Ė left no doubt about the nature of
Twenty years had
passed for Xena, but only twenty minutes had passed for me.
I tried to tell myself this, yet I felt my blood beginning
to boil as I watched the unknown woman stroking MY warrior.
late," the woman chastised playfully.
The affairs of state had to take precedence over
the...affairs of state." Xena grinned as she eased back
and pulled the woman down onto her lap.
Tani picked up
the parchment that Xena had been writing on as Xena wrapped
her arms around the womanís waist, snuggling into blonde
hair that cascaded over her shoulder. Tani cleared her
throat as if to read it out loud and Xena snatched it away,
putting it back on the table.
now, my Lady," the woman grinned coyly. "Let me
read your latest adventure."
journal, not a scroll," Xena replied. "Iím no
I noticed the
sadness in Xenaís voice as she said the word Ďbardí
and I felt my heart pull apart and fuse together repeatedly.
I hated to see Xena sorrowful, but I was also relieved that
I wasnít simply forgotten in her memory. To say I was
unhappy, was an understatement. I always said if something
were to happen to me, Iíd want Xena to move on, but living
to see that Ďmoving oní was something I was unprepared
for. I swallowed my tears that threatened to spill forth. I
tried to take as deep and quiet a breath as possible to calm
my nerves at the sight before me.
hire a bard," I heard the woman suggest.
I knew what that
kind of Ďperhapsí meant. It was the one that said, ĎI
donít see it happening, but Iíll humor you by giving an
answerí. I wondered silently if that young woman could
read the warrior as well as I could.
you go to bed? Iíll be there shortly."
Tani asked before giving Xena a slow, burning kiss on the
Xena echoed, returning the kiss with a similar one of her
own. "I have something I have to attend to first."
words, the woman worked her way out of Xenaís embrace and
back to the door where she had entered. Once Tani exited the
room, I watched Xena rise.
Quickly, I ducked
behind the curtain to my hiding place. I felt the air sucked
from my lungs as I heard Xenaís footsteps Ė heading not
toward her loverís door, but to my space behind the
Oh no! Sheís
I prayed she
wouldnít draw her sword and stab me blindly through the
curtain. I leaned down and pulled my sais in an attempt to
thwart any attack that might come.
yourself!" I heard her voice boom. The volume and
authority of it made me jump slightly, but I was relieved
that she was giving me the chance to expose myself without
another moment, I sheathed my sais and slowly moved the
curtain back until we stood face to face.
It was all I
could say at the moment. Words were hard to form, even for
this bard. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but I
knew she would have questions of her own that needed to be
addressed first. I watched in silence as her sword fell
through trembling fingers to rattle against the floor.
How did you. . .? Why didnít you . . .?"
surprise left her unable to complete a sentence and I had to
smile. Xena wasnít often flabbergasted and I found her
reaction endearing on a certain level. When her questions
didnít come, she made a simple statement. "Youíre
Iím not," I insisted. Her eyes narrowed and she
regained her sword with a kick of her boot. I watched almost
hypnotized as it returned to her hand with ease. I could see
her mind working and I knew it wasnít good.
Uh oh. Not
good at all.
minute! Wait a minute!" I said in a hush, pleading for
my life, hoping not to be overheard. "I can prove
She gave a shake
of her sword as a means of telling me to continue.
early riser," I told her. "You like mead more than
wine. You only snore when youíre on your back. You-."
guess. Anyone could tell you those things," she
"We have a
daughter, Eve. She was the Champion Of Rome until we broke
free from Aresí ice tomb," I said quickly, struggling
to reason with her.
this proves nothingÖany bard could tell you those
adventures. Iím not impressed." She raised her sword
to strike and I knew I had to get specific if I was going to
live. I stopped using my mind, searching for facts. I had to
let my heart speak.
even in death youíd never leave me!"
just a moment Ė enough for me to continue.
you told me our love was an end unto itself."
to take hold in her eyes.
night we made love, was after we defeated Baccus. You told
me youíd love me forever and youíd wished I was the
first. It was the first time you called me Brie -- you only
call me that when we make love... None of these things was
written in a single scroll, and you would know, because you
read them in the amazon village when you considered taking
Eve and walking away from me. Waiting so long to read my
scrolls was one of the regrets you voiced in a Roman cell as
we awaited our execution. No one knows these things, Xena.
Just you and I. Well... at least I never told anyone."
demeanor slipped and she began to weep openly. She fell to
her knees, laying the sword at my feet. I leaned down and
pulled her into my arms. I felt safe and warm, although she
was shaking tremendously. In light of her tears, she was
still the strongest woman I ever knew. Even though this
wasnít the time or place where I expected to be, I could
live out the rest of my days here. I had found Xena, and
thatís all that really mattered.
Xena rose to her
feet taking me with her. Her thumbs had wiped away tears on
my face I hadnít even realized were there. She gave me
that lopsided grin I always loved. The gray in her hair
didnít matter. The crowís feet didnít matter. She was
still MY Xena. She lowered her head to move in for a kiss,
which I was more than willing to accept. We were on the
verge of locking lips behind the throne, when we heard a
She and I
immediately froze and locked eyes Ė neither of us sure of
what to say upon hearing the female voice calling for her
you were dead," Xena explained to me in a low, guilty
The grin I gave
her was the hardest one I ever had to give in my life.
"I understand," I mustered sympathetically.
"Go to her."
Xena looked truly
torn. She gazed deep into my eyes; then toward the direction
where her lover stood, unable to see the two of us.
leave until I can explain how I got here," I promised
her. "So go."
leave. Period." Xena said forcefully, but low enough
for her lover not to hear.
me down if I do?" I teased with a wink.
Xenaís voice was curt.
seriousness caught me by surprise, but I didnít let it
show. The passage of twenty years had done nothing for her
sense of humor. I think she had been hanging around her
soldiers too long...
in the bed chamber," Xena called out to her lover. The
statement was a command, not a suggestion.
I said I wouldnít go anywhere. You know me. Iím a woman
of my word," I told her soundly.
She gave me a
itís been a long day for me," she said, then leaned
close to kiss me with the abandon of years lost from her.
"Iíll be right back. I swear it." Her fingertips
caressed my cheek before she walked to the bed chamber.
bed," I heard her order Tani. "I have an
unexpected visitor I need to attend to." I couldnít
hear Taniís response, but I knew it wasnít favorable,
because my warriorís voice boomed through both rooms.
"Yes, my domain does come first! And I expect you to be
asleep upon my return!" With that, the door of the
sleeping quarters was slammed shut.
Xena tried to
give a smile as she returned, but I could sense her
I began in a quiet voice, "I donít want to cause you
any problems. Maybe my coming here was a mistake."
Xena replied with a genuine grin on her face this time.
"Come now, weíll get you to some sleeping quarters
where we can speak privately."
My heart was
undecided. I didnít want to cause Xena grief. I didnít
want to be the reason for any marital woes for her. But I
did promise to explain what had happened. I figured I owed
her that much, so I followed her lead from the grand hall.
As we walked
through the double doors down the corridor, impressed was
far from how I felt. In awe was more like it, but even that
paled in comparison to what I experienced. Xena didnít
have a castle -- she had a palace. One that rivaled palaces
we saw in Rome. The artifacts that lined the hallway came
from all corners of the world Ė a collection of throwing
stars from Chin, a suit of armor from Britannia, and many
other oddities that I had no idea of their origins. I was
compelled to stop and examine them, but I kept pace with
Xena as we walked along.
Xena called out to an older woman Ė perhaps in her 60ís
Ė who was dusting some of the displays. "Are the
quarters in the East wing vacant tonight? I have an old
friend here that stopped by unexpectedly."
lady," the woman answered respectfully with a nod.
"Good." Xena smiled.
"Make sure you have someone send up some food from the
kitchen Ė figs, cherries, some stuffed grape leaves and
nutbread. Wine too Ė not the stuff we give to Ďguestsí
either." Xena stressed. "But the GOOD wine. Think
you can handle that?"
lady," the woman replied again.
"Oh and make
sure you send someone from housekeeping with some of those
sheets from Chin Ė the green silk ones." Xena paused
for a moment. "See that a sleep shift in blue arrives
I started to
wonder if this woman could ever say anything except,
"Yes my lady."
Dara," Xena said sincerely.
welcome, my lady."
What do you
know? She actually said something else, I chuckled
silently to myself.
Xena and I
continued our journey and my eyes scanned the different
passages, trying to see as much as possible. After what
seemed like a candlemark of walking, I was on the verge of
asking Xena if we were there yet, but, before I could open
my mouth, Xena stopped in front of a door. A soldier who was
standing at his post nearby, dashed over and unlocked the
room for her. He opened the door and gave a quick look
around to make sure the room was empty, then he handed her
lady," he said with a nod. He turned and grinned at me,
giving me a nod as well. He appeared to be a little smitten, but
I graciously returned his grin and nod with one of my own.
grabbed the young man by the throat, making him gag.
"Ogle this woman again," she threatened. "And
Iíll see to it that you have no--equipment--to be of use
for her or any other woman. Got it?"
Xena released his
throat and pushed him back. "You may go with your life
-- this time."
I was stunned. So
stunned that I didnít even notice the young man had left
until Xena turned back to me, asking if I was all right. It
took me a moment to come back to her question since I was
replaying in my mind what had happened.
fine, Iím just..."
Xena asked, concerned.
I mean that young man...He didnít do anything, but smile
at me, Xena. Men happen to do that from time to time,"
I said, hoping some levity might help the situation.
"Not in my
domain, they donít." Xena grinned. "Look," she
conceded when she realized it still upset me, "I know
it seems harsh, but I have to make sure they understand that
youíre off limits."
goodness he didnít goose me," I chuckled. "He
might have left with a few less teeth."
Xena replied in all seriousness. "He would have left
without his hand, or perhaps some other part of his anatomy.
One of my generals thought it would be cute to pinch Tani
Ė all in the spirit of fun, he cried in his defense later.
Heís mucking my stables now with one hand."
I wasnít sure
how to respond. I wanted to tell Xena that it wasnít right, but
I didnít know how she would react -- I could see that
living like a Conqueror for the past twenty years had given
her a hair-trigger temper. I was relieved when we were
interrupted by a soft knock at the door.
Xena called out.
Three women came
inside, carrying the items Xena had requested. They went to
work preparing the meal and the bed. Moments later they were
off, scurrying away as if they were afraid to overstay their
As Xena popped
the cork on the wine and handed me a glass, she began to
speak. "Now you promised to tell me your story,
Gabrielle," she said in a sober tone.
you mine, if you tell me yours first," I countered,
playfully, hoping it wouldnít be considered an act of
defiance. I didnít want the impression of her fingertips
around my neck as well...
bard," she chuckled, pouring the alcohol into our
crystal goblets. "Ohh, it feels so good to say that
again Ė Ďmy bardí." She walked over to the bed
and took a seat. "Anyway, where would you like me to
cave," I said immediately. "What happened after
the cave collapsed?"
I watched Xena
down her glass of wine and pour herself another.
"I tried to
get to you," Xena said softly. "When I realized
what happened, I ran back to town to get help. A few people
came, and a shopkeeper who said you were a brave young
woman." Xena grinned bittersweetly.
"I told them
to get to work moving the stone while I searched for another
entrance. I went over the whole area, but I found none. When
I got back, everyone, but the shopkeeper was gone, and when
I asked where everyone was, he said they gave up. It was a
lost hope. If you werenít dead already, youíd run out of
air before we could move the stone. He apologized and made
I watched as Xena
sighed, taking a huge swig of her wine before she continued.
"I clawed at
that cave entrance for over a day. My hands were bloody.
Some of my fingernails had been ripped from my skin, but I
didnít stop until I fell over from exhaustion. When I woke
up, I realized what a waste my life had become. I had spent
my days defending people, towns...towns like the very one we
were in and for what? For them to turn their back on me when
I needed them most? We gave our life for them and this was
how they repayed us?"
I noticed her
eyes were beginning to get moist, but she held back her
tears. She paused for a second to drink more wine, staring
off in the distance, as if she was seeing all of those
painful memories from her past.
remembered something that Ares told me," she continued.
"He said I was always fighting for a better world, and
that I was going to conquer and rule it. But, I realized I
didnít want Ďthe worldí. Thatís why Rome is
beginning to fall -- they own so much, they canít defend
it. I had a simple goal. I didnít want a complicated life.
I just wanted to live. I wanted to make up the rules, and I
wanted a place where people could be free from harm."
She turned to
look at me, her eyes almost pleading for me to understand.
This was not easy for her, and I smiled, placing my hand in
some of my rules are strict -- no divorce, remarriage only
through death, losing limbs for crimes of theft, high taxes
to help cover the programs in my domain. It may sound harsh, but
people court each other longer, crime is very low and
children by age 8 can read better than most adults in other
lands. I think Iíve done a very good job. The people seem
happy. Morale is good. And I have an army to defend our way
of life -- all volunteer soldiers, by the way. My army is
not ordered to serve.
"I may not
have the world that Ares hoped for, but I have a place in
this world. And, if another rockslide ever happens,"
Xena said and grinned, "I have the POWER to see you are
freed before nightfall."
I couldnít keep
myself from grinning, as well. Sheís in there. My Xena is
still in there. Sheís harsher than before, but deep down
she was the same. I realize I must have drained my cup while
I listened to her story and she poured me another.
Gabrielle," she said lying back on the bed.
"Thatís my tale. Now tell me yours -- fair is
fair," she added.
Even though I
felt she was MY Xena, I had some apprehension at first when
telling my story. I wasnít sure why. Perhaps it was my
Ďgift of prophecyí that I had confessed to Xena as I lay
dying from a Persian arrow a long time ago.
came from a gnawing feeling inside my gut that said perhaps
I was wrong about Xena -- perhaps she would be Ďharshí
forever and I wouldnít be able to soften her heart. In
that instant, I realized she had someone elseís heart --
Tani. And how would that all fit?
not gonna chicken out on me are you Gabrielle?" Xena
teased when I didnít respond.
I replied, as I pulled out the stone I had tucked between my
breasts. "This is what saved my life. Itís a..."
stone," Xena finished.
found it in the cave."
forward in time," Xena deduced. "Which is why you
look so young."
I nodded. "I
remembered Iolausí tale about traveling through time. I
thought I could just use it to get out of the cave, but for
some reason I managed to Ďlandí here. And I do mean
land," I said with a chuckle. "I ended up in the
middle of your throne room with no idea where, or when, I
washed over Xenaís face as she looked into my eyes.
itís been twenty years, but for you... itís only been a
"And you saw
me with Tani, didnít you?"
Xena released a
shaking sigh. "Oh Gabrielle. Iím sorry, I --."
I put my fingers
over Xenaís lips.
okay. I didnít come here to complicate your life," I
said trying my best to convince her. "I just wanted to
get out of that cave Ė to get back to you."
here now. Iím here. Thatís all that matters," Xena
"Is not your
concern," Xena answered. "She is my wife, true.
But you were my bondmate first."
gone for twenty years, Xena. Donít you have a rule that
nulls a marriage after that kind of a departure?" I
argued. It was common knowledge that if a husband or wife
was gone for five years, then they were considered dead with
no Ďlegalí ties. Xena couldnít meet my eyes after I
posed that question.
different," Xena muttered.
I grinned, trying to be optimistic. I hoped she would see
that she had a good life, a woman who loved her, regardless
of my presence. "Because youíre the ruler? Do as I
say, not as I do?"
Gabrielle!" Xena shouted, clearly frustrated. I felt
her frustration, but there was no point in yelling about it.
I watched as she darted from the bed and began to pace.
damn me," I answered softly. Perhaps my quiet words
could calm the tension. "I feel damned already. Iím
in love with a married woman. And you should know that I
would never take another womanís wife Ė no matter how
much I love her."
Xena stopped in
front of me, her blue eyes piercing.
"Do you love
life," I answered honestly. I did.
seemed to calm and she knelt beside the bed. "Will you
stay? At least a few more days?" she pleaded, her voice
heavy with a sob.
I looked into
those azure eyes that captivated me from the first day I saw
them. I was never able to refuse them.
will...for a while longer."
That seemed to
appease her and she gave me a nod as she rose to her feet.
"Thatís all I can ask for right now."
"Good." I grinned
for show. "Because thatís all I can give at the
Xena walked to
the dresser and let the sleeping shift fall through her
fingers until she held it only by the straps. "I wanted
to make love to you tonight," she confessed as she
strolled back toward me, holding out the garment. "But
I know how strong your convictions are about adultery,"
she added. "I do however, have one request if I may be
Xena might be
twenty years older, but that come hither voice was still
thick and smoky and oh-so-difficult to resist.
I asked. Anything Ė Iíll give you anything, my
mind screamed. But just when my arousal arrived, I realized
I couldnít give Xena everything -- not with Tani in her
"May I dress
you for bed?"
She didnít wait
for a verbal response -- she read it in my eyes. She laid
the shift on the bed and moved behind me, delicately untying
the laces of my halter top until my breasts were free.
she teased as she looked over at my erect nipples.
actually," I answered, swallowing hard to keep my
desires at bay. All she had to do was bring those strong
hands around me and caress my aching breasts. I would be
hers then. But much to my relief, and disappointment, she
took me by the hands and pulled me from the bed. She
unfastened my belt and my skirt joined my top on the floor.
I kicked my boots off and I knew she was appraising my nude
form. I reached for the shift, but she Ďtiskedí me away.
that," she replied, huskily. She was so aroused I could
smell her desire. Of course, she didnít dress me
immediately. She took a few more moments to admire me Ė
naked and exposed to her, the way she had earlier that
morning in my world.
I watched as she
slowly gathered the material in her hands inch by inch in
some kind of loverís game. My reserve began to crumble
stone by stone with each motion her hands made. When she
stepped behind me I lifted my arms, giving her better
access. I suddenly held my breath when I didnít feel the
material fall like I expected. She was holding it above me,
admiring my backside.
When she did
finally release it, the silk was a cold contrast to my warm
skin and I felt myself suck in more air from the feeling.
Her hands then ran over the length of the garment where it
stopped mid-thigh and I could feel a cry of passion stuck in
my throat that I didnít dare let escape. I didnít want
her to see my arrival, but I realized that my desire was
always transparent to Xena. This time was no different and I
heard her chuckle.
take you right now," she said, confident in my desire,
her breath tickling my ear. "Youíd love it, you
would," I confessed. However, I realized this was not
the same woman I woke up to this morning. This was a
different woman. With different commitments. "But then,
Iíd hate myself in the morning... because Iíd be alone
and youíd be waking up in Taniís bed."
were beginning a descent to my neck and she stopped
abruptly. The reality of her life clashed with any fantasy
she had in the past twenty years. I felt her pull away.
thatís true," she agreed despondently, as she moved
away. I watched her walk toward the door. "Titus!"
she called out.
The young man
from earlier darted back in, but this time, he avoided any
eye contact with me. "Yes my lady?"
remember Gabrielle, donít you, Titus?"
The man looked a
bit shaken, unsure of how to answer for fear of losing his
life. "Yes, my lady," he replied.
"Good." Xena grinned.
"Iím going to formally introduce you. Titus, this is
Gabrielle, my dear friend. Gabrielle, this is Titus, your
new guard. You are permitted to go anywhere in the palace --
even my bed chambers, if you so desire." Xena grinned
devilishly to me. I did my best to hide my blush. "Only
rule is, you take Titus with you. And Titus, you will guard
Gabrielle and no one else. If harm befalls her in any way,
then harm will befall you. If Gabrielle dies, then you too,
will die. Do you understand?"
lady," he nodded firmly with a salute.
man," Xena complimented. "Now go keep post
outside. Gabrielle might need her beauty sleep."
As quick as he
had entered, Titus left, and I watched Xena stroll casually
back to me. "I meant what I said. You can go
anywhere... even my bed."
know," I replied. "I think itís safer if I just
call it a night...here," I added, looking around the
then," Xena said taking my hand and giving a light kiss
to my knuckles. "Until tomorrow... my lady."
The term wasnít
lost on me. Xenaís servants addressed her in such a
fashion. She was their ruler. Applying the term to me meant
that after all these years, I still Ďruledí her and I
felt my blush return.
Xena." I smiled.
backward glance, Xena was gone and I climbed into the bed. I
had been through so much in the last candlemark, I felt
overwhelmingly tired because of it. As I climbed into the
big bed and covered up, I realized I could very well get
used to this Ďpamperedí life. But, could I be the
mistress of the most powerful woman in the world? I have to
admit, a naughty chill ran down my spine at the thought of
it, burying its way into my sex.
Mistress Of The Conqueror has a nice ring to it, I
chuckled in light of everything. I wasnít sure what I was
going to do, but somehow, some way, Xena and I could work
together and get things sorted out. We always did before. We
could still do it now. I secured the stone under my pillow.
I would think about it tomorrow.
I awoke startled,
as a sudden weight landed on the bed; I almost lashed out
instinctively in self-defense, but stopped myself when I saw
Xena. Her eyes were inches from mine and they were glazed
from the effect of liquor. The smell of ouzo on her breath
up." Xena chuckled. "Did I say Grabielle? I meant
you all right?"
She suppressed a
belch, while nodding. "You been on ma mine
all-night-long, ssso I bin all fine."
I wanted to say
that drinking had been on her mind all night long, but I
kept that thought to myself. I had never seen her this
drunk, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable -- drunken
conquerors with short tempers were not on my list of
pleasant things to endure. "You should get some
you? Dammmmn. What-a-good-idea."
She wiggled her
eyebrows, then tried to hug me, but collapsed giggling on my
chest, instead. I gently pushed her off -- I didnít want
her to think I was spurning her attention.
Ďbout that," she said while sitting up, swaying
slightly. She clumsily placed her right hand on my breasts.
"I donít wanna crush these."
I sat up in the
bed, holding both of her hands. "Xena, I think you
should get some rest. We can talk later."
Her voice was suddenly soft and serious. There was a look of
sadness on her face. "Do you love me?"
You know that I do."
me...tell me what we can do to make this work..." Her
voice became small, trailing off. Moisture made the sky-blue
of her eyes bright and her hands gripped mine, not wanting
to let go.
around the lump of sorrow in my throat. Why did things have
to work out this way? She had been through so much in her
life -- I didnít want to see depression added to that
list. "I donít know yet," I said quietly.
"I need time to think about the situation weíre in.
We both do."
"Youíre right. Have I ever tole you youíre alwase
right Ďbout stuff like this? ĎCause I wanna tell you. I
wanna tell you everythiní and anythiní I feel Ďbout
you. I kud never tell you alla those years. I juss donít
wanna loose you..." Her tears started flowing freely
I tenderly put a
finger on her lips. "Itís all right." My own
voice was quivering with emotion. "It will be all
I hugged her and
we rocked slowly side to side. We stayed that way for long
moments, then I realized she had fallen asleep. I gently
eased her back onto the pillow, smoothing her tousled mane
of hair from her closed eyes. I carefully got out of the
bed, so I wouldnít disturb her.
As I dressed in
my leathers and tucked the stone in my boot, I thought about
the situation we were in. Could I persuade her to null her
marriage to Tani? It was a selfish idea, with lots of
complications as far as Xenaís rule in her domain, but,
she was ultimately in charge and could do anything she
wanted. And, was it selfish after all? I was with Xena
first. The dilemma hurt inside me, yet I didnít want to
transfer that hurt to Xena, or even to Tani. I closed my
eyes, taking a deep breath to clear my thoughts. Perhaps a
quiet walk through the palace could help me think better.
Before I left the
room, I made sure the heavy silk curtains on the windows
were drawn against the morning light and I blew out the
guttering candles so Xena could sleep comfortably. When I
opened the door, Titus jumped to his feet, looking
bleary-eyed -- the poor man had been guarding the room all
night with no sleep. I wondered how this guard arrangement
would work, especially if he was supposed to be near me all
the time. How was he going to get any rest, or bathe? I
almost chuckled at that last thought. I certainly didnít
want him around if he was going to smell like a pig pen.
looking nervous at my presence. "Good morning Lady
was beginning to bother me, as well. I could see I would
have to put him at ease. "Titus, first, just call me
wish, La...uh, Gabrielle."
want you to relax around me. I know Xena can be harsh
sometimes, but I wonít let her do anything to you."
looking a little relieved.
I want you to get something to eat, take a bath, then get
The nervous look
was back in his eyes. The things I had requested would
conflict with his orders from Xena -- he couldnít guard me
if he was off taking care of himself. He was about to
object, when I spoke first.
worry, Xena is asleep in my room and probably will be for
can take care of myself. I have been, ever since the Amazons
made me their Queen."
His eyes went
wide. "Youíre that Gabrielle?"
"Yes, Iím that Gabrielle."
Now, he really
looked uncomfortable. I could imagine how he felt about
following the orders of two Queens -- especially if those
orders were contradictory. I wasnít trying to do it on
purpose, I just wanted to see his needs were met.
After a moment of
silence, he said, "Iím sorry Gabrielle. I canít
leave you to do those things."
I sighed. I could
see I would have to take a different approach. "All
right. Iíll talk to Xena when she wakes up and get her to
assign another guard to me as well. That way you can look
after me in shifts."
was replaced by a grateful expression. "Thank
I was looking
forward to some time to be alone with my thoughts, but since
he was going to accompany me, I would have to think of
something else. I wasnít used to having someone follow me
everywhere. "Iím going to the throne room and I want
to be alone. When we get there, you can wait outside."
remember -- relax."
Gabrielle." He grinned.
better. Shall we?"
walking, taking in the wonders of the palace. The quarters I
had stayed in last night were just off a corridor that
intersected with the huge, main hallway. Sunshine cascaded
into the passage from windows high up in the walls,
illuminating everything with the soft, golden light of
morning. I marveled at the columns made from pristine white
marble that supported the distant ceiling. There were
statues of graceful women and well-muscled men, crafted from
the same marble, that stood on pedestals beside the columns.
The line of figures extended so far, they seemed to shrink
to the size of my hand, but I knew it was an illusion.
I glanced to my
right, noticing another statue placed by itself in an
immense room adjoining the corridor, and my curiosity caused
me to go in that direction. When I got a better look at the
sculpture, I stopped moving -- I stared in surprise at a
perfect marble likeness of me. The inscription on the
pedestal read ĎGabrielle - Queen of the Amazons -
Requiescat In Pace.í
I felt sorrow as
I looked at the statue; the same sadness that Xena must have
felt every time she looked at it, knowing in her heart that
I was gone. It was the same thing I would feel, if Xena
would pass to the other side without me. I abandoned that
line of unpleasant thinking, but I still felt bad about our
I started walking
again, with Titus trailing silently behind me. I was so deep
in thought, I didnít notice any other features of the
palace on my way to the throne room. How was I going to
handle this? My options were limited. Xena seemed determined
to follow the laws she had established regarding marriage.
If I was going to be with her, I had to think of a way to
get her to change those rules slightly...
My thoughts were
interrupted by the sound of a distant wail. I stopped,
looking at Titus. "What was that?"
that was someone in the dungeon." He was apologetic.
"Itís under the floor of the palace here."
Why does Xena need such a place?"
criminals. There isnít much crime, but when people break
the laws, thatís where they go."
uncomfortable. I knew of the necessity for jails, but a
dungeon conjured up images of torment in my mind. "How
many people are down there?"
"Iím not sure. I donít think many -- maybe a
hundred people, or so."
hundred?!" I said, shocked.
He was taken
aback by my dismay. "Those are the only prisoners,
which isnít bad considering the size of Queen Xenaís
Yeah, the only
prisoners who are alive, I thought. I wondered what their
crimes were. Xena used to have a good sense of justice, but
after she lived like a Conqueror for twenty years, I
wasnít so sure. I continued my journey to the throne room,
quickening my pace to leave the disturbing sound.
When we arrived,
Titus opened one of the massive double doors for me, then I
went inside. He nodded to me and shut the door, leaving me
alone. My mind was whirling with confused thoughts. Things
were happening that I wasnít accustomed to, so I had no
answers. The feeling of being caught in out-of-control
circumstances was not something I liked.
Xenaís journal on her desk, and I decided to look at some
of it, hoping I could get an idea of how to deal with our
future. I sat in the sumptuous chair behind the writing
desk, then started to read the most recent entry, which must
have been written last night:
believe it! After all these years, Gabrielle is back in my
life. I thought she was gone forever. I had given up hope so
long ago and now I have the gift of being with her again.
Only this time, Iíll do everything right. Iím not going
to lose her, no matter what the cost.
And Tani? What
am I going to do about her? This is enough to make my head
ache and I hate headaches. I have an idea, but I think there
are people who may not like what happens. They will see in
the end though, that this is the right way...
I closed my eyes,
feeling a little relieved. She had come up with an idea --
she always did. I knew I could count on her. I just wish she
would have written it in the journal, so I would know what
she intended to do.
I opened my eyes
with the intention of continuing to read previous entries,
when I saw Tani standing before me. I hadnít heard her
come in. She must have been in Xenaís bed chamber
adjoining the throne room.
youíre the famous Gabrielle."
"How did you
"I read the
journal, just like you."
"I have the
feeling Xena wouldnít like that."
"Really? I happen to be her wife -- I donít think she
would mind. But, what I want to know, is, what gives you the
right to read her private thoughts?"
I knew more about
Xenaís private thoughts than this woman would ever know,
and I even grinned, because I could tell Tani knew
that. "I was together with Xena, before you were
choice," I interrupted.
presumed dead," she finished.
Ďpresumedí wrong. Iím here now."
"Why are you
doing this?" Her voice quivered slightly. Tears began
to form in her gray eyes. "Why are you trying to
destroy our happiness?"
attempting to make me feel guilty for something that
wasnít my fault. "Do you think I wanted all of this
to happen? No, I didnít. But now, the question is, what
can we do about it?"
She placed her
hands on the table, leaning forward to look into my eyes.
"We? There is no Ďweí. Just Xena and I... You must
leave and never come back. That, is the
not the answer, and you know it. Xena knows Iím alive --
sheíll just come looking for me."
She finally burst
into tears, then ran into the bedroom, slamming the door.
I stood, sighing.
I hate headaches, too. I decided to go back to my quarters
to speak with Xena when she woke. I hardly even noticed
Titusí presence as I silently walked back to my room. He
opened the door when we arrived. Xena was not there. And
moreover, the room looked as if an earthquake had destroyed
it. Concerned that someone meant me harm, Titus carefully
entered, suggesting that I wait by the door. He checked
every Ďhiding place,í not finding a single soul.
In a palace this
closely guarded, no one could have entered. One person did
this damage and I knew who that one person was... and just
what they were after. I stood for a few moments, thinking
about how I could find Xena. I turned to Titus -- he could
sense my questioning state before I said a word.
"My lady . .
.I mean, Gabrielle? What is it?"
"Where can I
sure maíam," he answered politely. "Most of her
time is spent in the throne room or her... bed
chambers," he added with a bashful smile.
I grinned in
spite of myself. Yeah, same ole Xena. My grin slipped
away, however, when I thought about the reasons I had to
speak to her. "Look, I need her right now," I told
him. "This wonít wait."
uncertain. "She will be most displeased to see the room
in this condition," he said, knowing that this
Ďmessí could cost him his life.
afraid sheíll harm you upon seeing this?"
he answered. "I know she will."
certainly is quite young, I thought. "I wouldnít
worry about this," I said, trying to calm his
anxiousness. "I can handle Xena. Besides Iím willing
to lay odds that sheís the one that did this."
"But why, my
lady?" he asked, truly baffled.
I shook my head.
I was irritated that Xena had wrecked the room, and
concerned about her motivation -- I knew in my heart of
hearts she did it, and why. "Power," I told the
young man. "Power and control."
Power over the
stone and... "Me," I replied. She tore the room
apart looking for that damn stone. I just wondered why she
didnít ask for it when I first showed it to her. It seems
my apprehension at revealing how I had gotten here was well
founded. Maybe after her night of drinking, she had lost a
little more of her soul. I HAD to speak with her. "And
since itís me that she wants," I added, "itís
me sheíll get. Can you find her?"
He gave a quick
nod. "Guard!" he yelled to a fellow down the hall.
"Find Queen Xena and inform her that Lady Gabrielle
needs her immediately in her chambers. Search the palace at
I began to put
things back in order. Titus came over to help, but I ordered
him to wait outside so he could inform me when Xena arrived.
Reluctantly, he agreed, leaving the room. Before he left, he
offered to call for help to clean up the mess, but I
politely refused, going to work.
passed. I had just begun to make the bed, when I heard a
friendly voice behind me say, "Iíve got maids to do
I didnít stop
my task. I was still too mad. "Thatís okay," I
answered coldly, not looking up from tucking in the bedsheet.
"Iím not that special that I canít clean up after
myself... or should I say, after you."
Sure, it might
cost me my life to speak in such a tone to the
ĎConquerorí, but Iíd had it up to here with her
Ďspoiled bratí ways and lack of trust.
I heard her say, "leave us." Next, I heard the
door close as I threw the bedspread over the mattress,
smoothing it out. I continued to work silently.
know," Xena chuckled, despite the fact I was angry.
"Iíve even missed your Ďsilent treatmentsí too...
Come on, Gabrielle. Donít hold this against me."
Finally, I looked
up to see her take a seat on the bed I just made. Her long
salt and pepper hair cascaded over her shoulders. Although I
was still angry, I couldnít help noticing how powerful,
commanding, and sexy she still looked after all these years.
Sex appeal, however, was not going to work on me. Not this
time. Not today.
"Why did you
do this? Donít you trust me?" I asked her. I really
needed to understand.
have the stone -- it brought you here and I want it... Come
on, Gabrielle. Just give it to me and we can be done with
"Why? So you
can go back to take Rome? So you can take out a few of your
enemies? So you can get more riches than you can
"No. So I
can keep you," she answered honestly. "I already
have everything I could want. I could give YOU anything you
want Ė silks from Chin, weaponry from Gaul... even those
little lamb dumplings you love from Britannia," Xena
added with a smile. "Whatever you desire is yours,
What ever I
desire, huh? "Well, what if I wanted you - the Xena
I knew yesterday morning in my world? Not the one in your
reality, oh Conquering Queen, but the one I used to
Xenaís had twenty years without you. Sheís
since I had to put this place back together." I threw
my hands up, motioning around the room. "MY Xena would
trust me. My Xena would tell me what she wanted, or what she
YOUR Xena anymore, Gabrielle. Thatís true," she
confessed. "After all the battles without you, after
all the years as ruler of this land, Iím not the same. In
truth, Iíd say Iím better. All I want is the chance to
prove it to you, which is why I want that stone. I donít
want you taking off for another twenty years," she
wasnít in the mood to play.
giving it to you," I answered firmly. "I promised
I would stay so we could find a solution. I promised I
wouldnít leave before then, and I mean it. I need you to
trust me at my word Xena." I felt myself tearing up,
realizing that this was a situation we might not find a
solution to, and Iíd be forced to live without her again.
"I just donít know how this will work for us."
she said, as she crawled over, gathering me in her arms.
"Donít cry, sweetheart. Donít cry."
Her soft pleas
had the opposite effect, making me cry even harder, making
me want her the way she used to be, even more than before. I
didnít want to walk away any more than she wanted me to
walk away. Xena and I were destined for each other -- we
were soulmates, but the Ďrealityí of it didnít matter,
be it herís or mine. We were meant for each other, that
was the one thing that was a constant.
I pulled back to
wipe my eyes, getting myself together. "Iím
sorry," she said. "Be happy." She stood up,
her hands cradling my face. "I have a solution to our
problem... well at least the ĎTanií problem that
Here it was! The
answer! The solution! My ears perked up and my eyes watched
her with intensity. Just what did the Warrior Princess have
committed treason this morning, and treason is punishable by
death in my domain." She grinned smugly.
Surely, she was
joking. I chuckled and shook my head. "Youíre
something else, Xena. Seriously, whatís the plan?"
"That is the
plan?! My grin fell so fast, it seemed like my jaw
shattered on the chamber floor. I couldnít form a single
sentence to pass my lips upon hearing this news. Finally,
two words came to me. "You canít."
"Of course I
can. And I will. I told her not to leave the bed chamber
until I returned, but she did. She told me she spoke to you
in the throne room. She disobeyed my order, therefore
This was crazy.
This was insane. I had to reason with her.
just...banish her...or something?" I pleaded.
"Sheís young. You have more than enough power and
wealth to see she leads a good life somewhere else in your
be the same as a pardon. I have to uphold the law. The law
states that the penalty for treason is death."
I was going to be
sick. I could feel my face grow warm and my eyesight blurry.
This was ridiculous.
"What if it
were me, Xena? What if I disobeyed you? Would you put me to
heavens, no! Donít even think that!" Xena said,
seemingly appalled by the notion.
say that now," I prodded her. "But whatís the
Gabrielle." Xena smiled confidently, stringing out the
syllables of my name the way I always loved. At least until
today. Today, the sound just brought bile to my throat.
your wife," I told her.
youíre my soulmate, and that means so much more,"
I considered. But just as quickly, I realized that no matter
how true that statement was, it wasnít a reason for that
girl to die. But, I also knew if I didnít convince Xena I
was Ďokayí with the idea, there would be no escape from
this situation. I couldnít run. And if I did, I surely
couldnít hide for long. Tani would be dead, and despite
what Xena said, I would probably meet the same fate if I
left. I had to think. I had to buy some time to form a plan
to see that Tani stayed safe and that I didnít end up
losing MY head in the process. I turned away from Xena and
started to pace.
"You are my
soulmate," I said, trying to be optimistic, not meeting
her eyes. "And, in truth, I was your bondmate
first," I added for effect.
Xena was excited that I seemed to agree.
think this execution is the only way out?" I asked as I
turned to her. "After that, weíll be together again
-- like before?"
"Absolutely." Xena grinned,
as she walked over to capture my face in her hands.
I looked away,
giving a firm nod. "Then so be it," I said. The
words almost choked me. "If thatís what you feel is
best, then thatís what weíll do. I donít want to live
without you. Xena. So... do what you have to do."
I pulled away
gently, going to look out the window. I knew if I played it
too enthusiastically, Xena would never fall for it. But this
way, with a hint of regret in my voice, maybe -- just maybe
-- I can pull it off. I felt her come behind me and wrap her
large arms around me. She planted the most delicate of
kisses on my neck.
suffer," Xena whispered in my ear. "It will happen
so fast she wonít feel a thing, I promise you."
I felt the bile
return, but I tried to swallow it. I HAVE to pull this off.
I couldnít reply, so I just wrapped my arms around hers to
give a show of support.
has to be," I told her, trying to keep the grimness out
of my voice. "As long as I have you in the end. I know
itís selfish Xena, but, I canít help myself. I have to
Oh yeah. Iím
good. Xena turned me around and kissed me soundly on the
lips. I struggled to hide my reluctance at physical contact
with her. I had to play along, though. My fingers worked
their way into her hair, making her moan in pleasure as our
tongues begin to dance. After a few moments, I felt her lift
me up to the window ledge, taking a spot between my legs and
we continued to kiss. Her hands began to work their way
higher up my skirt and I realized I had to stop her now, or
there will be no turning back.
I said pulling back from her embrace. "Not yet. Not
now. Go do what needs to be done. Iíll be here when you
return, waiting for you."
Our breathing was
ragged from our arousal and she rested her head on my
shoulder, to get a sense of control that I had managed to
steal with my kisses.
"Oh, how I
love you," she whispered to me.
"I love you,
too," I lied.
Truth is, I
didnít love this woman. I love the Warrior Princess, not
the Conquering Queen. I knew I could never love THIS woman.
But, much to my relief, she didnít sense anything amiss.
She smiled at my words, and without another comment, she
turned, strolling purposely from the room. She had a mission
to accomplish. She had a wife to kill.
After the door
closed and I knew she was out of hearing range, I ran to the
chamber pot to vomit.
* * * *
At least two
candlemarks had passed since Xena left me in my bedchamber.
I couldnít stand to wait any longer and my attempts to use
the stone to jump back to buy some time backfired. Why had
it worked in the cave and wouldnít work now? I had only
used it once, so I wasnít experienced at making it
function. Besides, it was a fragment -- perhaps it would
never operate right.
I realized I
would have to do something. I couldnít rely on the stone.
I still had no idea what I was going to do, but confining
myself to my room while Xena went off to kill her wife
didnít seem very proactive.
I decided a visit
to the throne room might be in order. When I left the room,
Titus was there as usual, looking more bleary-eyed. I was
sure the young man had been up for at least twenty-four
hours now. Damn it. I forgot to tell Xena about getting
changed; he seemed colder toward me. "Perhaps the
throne room," he answered. "Sheís announcing the
sentencing of her consort. The execution will take place in
half a candlemark."
intend for this to happen," I told him honestly.
"With all do
respect, Lady Gabrielle, your intentions mean very little at
this point. Tani has been a wonderful consort to the Queen.
Sheís a favorite among many."
because of me, sheís going to die," I added.
He nodded his
head slowly, meeting me eye to eye. "Quite
not going to let that happen. Take me to Tani." I
ordered him, as I began to walk down the hallway.
afraid thatís impossible."
impossible. Some things are just more difficult than others.
Is she in her chambers?"
know where she is. But, chances are, sheís in the
there," I commanded firmly.
"I SAID take
argument, we walked wordlessly to the cells below the
When I entered
the dank dungeon, I was dismayed by the number of people
crammed into the cells. Titus had said about a hundred
people lived here. In truth, it looked more like two
hundred, perhaps three. And living wouldnít be a word I
would use Ė existing was more like it. The smell was gut
wrenching Ė a combination of feces, vomit and mildew. My
stomach turned, just as it had earlier. When I walked past
the cells, prisoners began to clamor by the gates, holding
out their hands, begging for mercy. When I got to the last
cell, I noticed that it was empty except for one woman Ė
Tani. At least Xena was decent enough to separate her from
the other prisoners Ė they would have probably torn her
limb from limb for her association with the Queen.
She was huddled
in a corner on a wooden bench, her arms wrapped around her
I call out tentatively.
She looked up, a
sarcastic grin on her face. "Did you come to
gloat?" she asked despondently.
answered. "Iíve come to help you."
can you do? Beg her for my life? Bat your eyelashes and have
her do your bidding? Or perhaps youíd have to do something
more favorable to the Queen, like dropping to your knees to
worship at her Ďalterí? Iím sure youíve done that
already though, havenít you?"
itís worth," Gabrielle answered. "I havenít
Ďworshipped at Xenaís alterí as you put it, since my
return. And I donít want to see you harmed."
Tani stood up,
walking toward me with a dignified grace. "Well, what
are my options? You said it yourself Ė Xena will hunt you
down if you leave. And if I leave, you can guarantee that
sheíd leave my carcass in the middle of town to serve as
an example once she found me. And trust me...she would find
be willing to walk away if I got Xena to pardon your life?
Would you go?"
answer immediately. She considered the question.
"Iíve spent five years of my life with Xena. She
passed through my town on the way back to the capital. I was
still a teenager then. I was betrothed. But the Conqueror
saw me. She wanted me. And by order of her law, she took me.
It sounds quite harsh, but in reality, I wanted to be
taken." She looked at me with piercing gray eyes.
hasnít been easy with her," she continued. "She
can be violent. She can be moody. Sheís even raised her
hand against me now and then. But after years of trying, I
finally broke through. I finally made her realize it was ok
to love again. I would never have her love in the way that
she loved you, but she gave me all that she could, and I was
grateful for that. Because even a difficult life with Xena,
was better than a boring life in a farming town. You
probably donít understand that."
understand more than you realize," I told her.
"But you still didnít answer my question. Would you
leave if I could persuade her to spare your life?"
morning I would have said no. Iíd stay and fight for what
I have. But now, with the hour upon me -- yes -- I would
leave. Because I love her," Tani chuckled in misery.
"Can you believe that? The woman is ready to kill me, but
I still love her. And I know I could never make her as happy
as you could. So there you have it Gabrielle. I have no
pride. I have no shame. If you can save my life, Iím
willing to do what it takes."
I could never
picture Xena with anyone else, but me. However, as I looked
at Tani now and listened to her words, I realized that Xena
made the right choice. Tani was a good woman. I could see
why she was a favorite among the palace staff. Despite the
fact she was a romantic rival, I had to admit. I admired
her, too. This woman had strength, conviction and ambition.
This woman didnít deserve to die. And I knew that I
wasnít about to let that happen.
kill you," I promised. "You have my word."
She looked like
she was about to reply, but we heard the main cell door
clank open. I turned to see four guards approaching her
my timeís up." She gave a bittersweet grin.
be time already," I said to the guards, as they
unlocked her cell. "Thereís still a few minutes left
and I must speak with the Queen."
you?" asked a guard. "And what are you doing down
I have to admit,
his cocky attitude began to make me angry.
Lady Gabrielle," Titus replied firmly before I could
speak. "A guest of Queen Xena with a clearance to be
anywhere she likes."
guardís eyes widened. For such a large palace, word had
quickly spread. "My apologies," he said with a
gracious nod. "But, Queen Xena is with the executioner
awaiting Lady Tani."
I stroked the
young womanís arm, "It will be okay." I tried to
reassure her, but I wasnít so sure if I could appeal to
Xenaís Ďgood natureí to do the right thing.
"Weíll go out together," I told Tani.
She gave me a nod, but
I could see she felt it was hopeless. Silently, we all
walked from the dungeon and through the palace until we were
outside in a court yard. There was a group of onlookers Ė
some who appeared to be on Xenaís council and others who
were mere spectators crowded the Ďgrandstandsí
overlooking the executioners block.
stunned as she watched me walking out with Tani and the
guards. I wondered for a moment if I would be next for
disobeying the Queen by not staying in my quarters. I
swallowed any fear I had, moving to meet Xena as Tani was
escorted to the chopping block. As I approached, Xenaís
feet finally set themselves in motion.
you doing here?" She asked, coming over to me.
"You shouldnít be here."
donít do this," I implored. "Tani is a bright,
idealistic young lady and she doesnít deserve this fate.
Please consider what I said earlier. Give her the chance to
live in your domain far away and free from harm.
Xena opened her
mouth, but closed it before saying a word. She looked
uncertain, as if she still wanted to say something, but the
executioner called out, "Shall we begin my Queen?"
Xena stared at
me, then at the spectators around us. She gave a nod to the
guards to secure Taniís hands and feet with rope, making
donít do this. You donít have to go through with
Gabrielle, I do. You donít understand."
understand what?!" I was growing angry now. "The
fact that you would rather kill this woman than lose face
with these people by calling it off?" My hand waved
toward the onlookers in the courtyard.
meet my eyes. "Yes," she muttered, staring at her
word," the executioner called out to his Queen.
Gabrielle. Think! Think! Do something! Anything!
When Xena looked
up to the executioner, I made my move. I dashed through the
guards lining the block and without hesitation, I threw my
body on top of Taniís, holding onto her tightly.
you doing?" Tani exclaimed in a shortened breath, the
weight of my body making it hard for her to breathe.
going to kill her, then youíll have to kill me too,
Xena!" I yelled to our lover.
this, Gabrielle," Xena warned. "Iím gonna count
to three, and thatís it. Move, so justice can be
yourself," Tani whispered to me.
kill me," I whispered back. "I know Xena."
"You used to
know her. You donít know her any longer."
Xena shouted to us.
change the course of events," Tani said, resolved to
isnít justice. Xena will see that."
justice to Xena. Youíve betrayed her now, too. Youíve
shamed her in front of her troops. So go!" Tani
continued to urge me.
Xena paused for a
moment to look into my eyes. I saw so much in them - pain,
regret, sorrow , but the strongest of all of these was
death. I realized she meant what she said. I also knew it
was too late to move.
she said softly, with a wave of her hand, turning her back
I could see the
executionerís ax began to rear back to fall on top of us.
If only I had Lao Maís purity, I could influence Xena like
she did years ago and that may have changed things.
As the ax began
to make the descent, I closed my eyes, holding tight against
Tani, waiting for the inevitable. Suddenly, I felt the stone
in my boot warm against my skin, then once again, my body
felt as if it was sucked through a black tunnel where I had
Moments later, I
was still face down expecting a blow from the ax, but
instead, I was on a bed covered by silken sheets with the
smell of rose petals in the air. I opened my eyes to see
beautiful sights around me. Vibrantly colored rugs covered
the floor of a bedchamber, contrasting with tapestries on
the walls showing scenes of cranes and ibises beside
waterfalls. The song of a nightingale poured from a golden
cage near the circular stone shape of a bath filled with
steamy, hot water.
I got up from the
bed, carefully stepping around the room, taking it all in.
Where was I? What year was it? With these questions in my
mind, I looked out a window to see mountains far away and
just beneath them, tiny from the distance, was a great wall
stretching to both ends of the horizon. I realized I was in
I closed my eyes
to calm my whirling brain. What had happened to Tani? In my
heart, I knew the answer, which made me deeply sad. But, I
found comfort in the fact I had a Kronos Stone; I would find
a way to change that situation. And, why did the stone send
me here? Moments before, when I was on the chopping block
with Tani, I was thinking about how Lao Ma had helped Xena
and apparently, the stone had transported me to Chin. Was I
in the past, and was Lao Ma nearby?
My thoughts were
interrupted as I heard footsteps approach. I quickly turned
to see a woman from Chin gliding toward me. I didnít think
Iíd ever see a woman who could rival Xenaís beauty, but
I had to admit this woman was positively gorgeous. I stared
at her for long moments, with my tongue stuck. I finally
found my voice, and it was husky and low. "Are you Lao
she answered, searching my face.
I was in the
presence of a woman who had been such an influential part of
Xenaís life. She was exactly as Xena had described her.
Her raven-black hair was soft like spun silk and her eyes
were like dark magnets that imprisoned my gaze. She was
dressed in a kimono that had an intricate pattern of
hummingbirds among flowers. Beneath her garment, I could
tell she had a lithe body that was capable of the most
delicate movement, or the swiftest action.
care for some tea...?" She left the question
unfinished, inviting me to tell my name. Her voice was like
a tinkling wind chime in a light breeze. She was incredibly
gracious to offer tea to a stranger found in her home. I was
beginning to become aroused by her, and that was disturbing
to me, because I never thought I would have feelings for
another woman like the ones I have for Xena.
you," I answered. "My name is Gabrielle."
silently, waiting patiently for me to explain why I was in
her chambers. There was no fear in her mien -- I sensed a
calm assurance that came from the knowledge she could defend
herself against any threat. From what Xena had told me, this
woman was more than capable of protecting herself. I saw
from her relaxed bearing that she knew I meant her no harm,
even though she noticed the sais in my boot sheaths.
I wondered at
this point in time, if she had decided to assist Xena yet.
An idea came to me; what if I was the catalyst that
persuaded her to provide guidance to the Warrior Princess?
The thought was like a lightning bolt in my mind. I had a
chance to participate in turning Xena away from her dark
side. "I need your help," I said with uncertainty.
slightly. "I would be happy to, if I can."
took me by surprise. "But, you donít know me."
"Although I have just met you, itís easy for me to
see you have a kind and compassionate spirit. I also know
that you would defend to the death that which you hold dear.
Please, join me and we can discuss your request -- I was
about to partake of my bath."
My eyes went wide
for a moment. If my ears had not failed me, she wanted me to
take a bath with her. Now, I was really becoming aroused and
I felt my nipples getting hard. I hoped she didnít notice, but
there was about as much chance of that as the sun not
setting tonight. I hesitated, because I didnít want to do
anything improper, since Xena was my soulmate.
She could see the
indecision in my eyes. "Donít worry, my intentions
are only to see that you are refreshed after your long
right," I said grudgingly accepting her offer. Right
now, a hot bath was just what I needed to relax.
Lao Ma gracefully
removed her kimono, then stepped into the steaming water. I
followed her lead by removing my leathers and boots, placing
them on the bed. I entered the bath, the warm water lapping
luxuriously against my skin. She gazed into my eyes,
courteously avoiding looking at my body so that I wouldnít
be embarrassed. She waited quietly for me to elaborate on my
urgent that I talk to you about helping someone I
know," I began.
love this person very much."
astonished me. She had the gift of seeing into the depths of
my soul like it was a scroll with tree-high letters. "I
do. Her name is Xena."
Even though Lao
Ma appeared to be very adept at hiding her emotions, I
detected a subtle change in her bearing; every fiber of her
being was suddenly focused on me with keen interest. I had
surprised her. "Iíve heard much about Xena," she
"I know Xena
has done some terrible things, but if she is given a chance,
she will do tremendous good."
Lao Ma had recovered her aplomb and started to gently apply
soap to her body. "I am curious -- when I went to
Boriasí encampment, I didnít see you there with Xena. I
find it intriguing that you are here in Chin without my
regretted my wording when I told her that Xena will do good.
It was a mistake that could possibly lead to disaster if
anyone discovered I had traveled here from the future. Lao
Ma obviously suspected something mysterious about my
presence at this time and place. I struggled with the
decision to tell her the truth, and I decided it was the
right thing to do.
"Xena and I
are together in the future," I explained slowly,
gathering my thoughts. "I was trapped in a cave where I
discovered a Kronos Stone that allows me to travel through
time. When I escaped from the cavern, the stone mistakenly
sent me far into the future, where I saw Xena had conquered
much of the known world."
Lao Ma nodded,
listening intently to my story.
"Xena was on
the path of good," I continued, "but grief from my
disappearance in the cave caused her to return to the ways
of a conqueror." Tears started to form in my eyes.
"I donít want to see her that way. Will you help me
give her a chance to fight her dark side?"
Lao Ma smiled.
"I can see that youíre very much in love with Xena.
When I met her at Boriasí encampment, I observed she has
considerable potential." She paused to look into my
eyes. "I must think about your request."
She appeared to
be reluctant. Perhaps I had to think of something to be more
Lao Ma must have
noticed the expression of disappointment on my face.
"Gabrielle," she said softly. "Itís not
that I donít want to help Xena, itís a matter of timing.
She must be ready to accept guidance."
But, if she isnít, then anything that I do may cause more
damage, than good."
every journey begin with one step, though?" I felt a
sense of urgency, and my feelings were evident in the tone
of my voice.
The musical sound
of Lao Maís brief chuckle eased my anxiety a little.
"You are indeed wise. However, the journeys that each
of us are on, must be our choice if we are to be successful.
We cannot force our plans on someone else."
I knew in my
heart that she was right.
Before either of
us could continue our conversation, a lady courtesan entered
the room wearing a light green brocaded kimono. Her dark
eyes stared at me in surprise, not anticipating my presence,
and certainly not expecting me to be in the bath with Lao
Ma. When she regained her composure, she bowed, then spoke
in the Chin language to Lao Ma.
Again, I noticed
Lao Ma tense almost imperceptibly -- something concerned
her. She replied to the courtesan, and even though I
couldnít understand what she said, I could tell from her
voice that she was issuing orders.
excused herself, bowed, then exited the bedchamber.
is wrong?" I asked, as the feeling of anxiety grew in
I swallowed hard.
"Not long after she met me, Xena told me of her time in
Chin. She said that Borias betrayed her and she was captured
by Ming-Tsu. He plans to release her, then hunt her down to
Lao Ma said. "Ming-Tsu has already seized her -- Li Li
has just now relayed a report from my sentries that he is
traveling close to the border of my land with Xena in a
My heart was
thudding in my chest. Events were moving faster than I had
itís time to help her after all," Lao Ma continued.
"I will hide Xena from Ming-Tsu. After that, I cannot
promise anything. We shall see what happens."
I smiled in
relief. "Thank you." My voice was thick with
Lao Ma rose to
her feet, the water dripping from her supple body. "I
must prepare for these events."
coming with you. I can watch from a safe distance in the
She looked at me.
"If Xena sees you, it may change the future."
wonít see me. Iím an Amazon Queen, trained in the ways
of hiding in the forest."
Lao Ma smiled.
"As you wish. Stay near the main road and from there,
you should be able to see everything unfold."
herself in a scarlet kimono with gold brocade and shoulder
epaulettes. A black fur cap completed her clothes. I donned
my leathers and boots to be ready to leave with her. After
she finished, she quickly strode from the bedchamber with me
When we were
outside, her retainers stared at me in surprise, but they
didnít say anything. I touched Lao Ma on the arm before
she entered the luxurious canopy covered conveyance that she
used when traveling.
luck," I said.
"And to you, as well."
I turned to run
into the forest bordering her home. I intended to follow Lao
Maís entourage, since I didnít know the territory. I
made good time -- the terrain wasnít rough, but the
undergrowth and trees were sufficient to offer me cover from
any prying eyes. I had no trouble keeping Lao Maís retinue
in sight as they slowly moved along the main road.
In the distance,
I could see Ming-Tsu and his followers coming toward Lao
Maís retainers. It wasnít long before the two groups met
each other on the road.
I moved closer to
get a better view, then, I stifled a worried breath when I
saw Xena imprisoned in the cramped cage. Her hair was wild
and her nomad leathers were covered with dirt. There was a
haunted look in her eyes, giving her the appearance of a
trapped animal, but she gazed at her captors with contempt.
I wasnít accustomed to seeing her this way, and it made me
sad. I took comfort in the fact that she was about to escape
from this situation.
went right, that is. I decided that I would make sure events
went well, even if I had to interfere a little.
Lao Ma emerged
from her canopy covered transport to meet with Ming-Tsu. I
strained to hear what they said, but I couldnít tell what
they were saying. By the time I edged closer, I could only
catch brief snatches of their conversation as they finished
half-dead cripple doesnít...sporting..." Lao Ma said.
Lao Ma glanced at Xena before turning to leave.
entourage went back along the road toward her home until
they disappeared from sight. I stayed to see Ming-Tsuís
guards open the cage, then they pulled Xena out. She
struggled against them, striking a guard, breaking his nose.
They threw her to the ground and Ming-Tsu pointed to the
forest. Xena glared at him, then got painfully to her feet,
limping into the woods.
After she was
gone, the guards brought out a pack of four snarling hounds.
I drew a sharp breath, my eyes narrowing. In her weakened
state, Xena would be no match for the dogs. She was going to
get some help from me, though. Those animals would never
reach her -- not if I had anything to do with it.
I turned to run
through the forest, hearing the hounds baying behind me. I
didnít have much time to get in position to delay the dogs
since they moved quickly. I hastily climbed a tree to get
out of sight, then I drew the sais from my boot sheaths.
waiting very long before the hounds came into view. I
didnít really want to hurt them, but if it was a choice
between doing that to save Xena, or letting them pass by to
harm her, I chose the former. I had to stop them long enough
to give Xena a good head start.
Just as the lead
dog was near the tree I was in, I threw one of my sais. The
blunt end of the hilt thudded against the dogís head,
causing him to yelp and stagger around senselessly for a few
moments. The other hounds hesitated as well, unsure of what
was happening. After a few minutes of milling around, they
caught Xenaís scent again, then ran through the woods
I climbed out of
the tree, picked up my sai, and followed them as quick as I
could. I prayed that Lao Ma had reached Xena by this time,
to get her safely out of harmís way. As I ran, I saw that
Xenaís tracks entered a small stream; she was attempting
to throw the hounds off the scent. The dogs were smart
though -- they found her trail and were off again.
The hounds were
gaining on her, so in desperation, I gave a brief whistle
before coming to a halt. The lead dog continued on, but
three of the four dogs turned to see who the intruder was,
and they charged toward me, snarling. I stood grimly with my
sais in my hands, waiting for them, making sure they wanted
to come to me and not follow Xenaís trail. I had no desire
to get attacked by the hounds, nor did I want to get trapped
in a tree for Ming-Tsuís men to find me, so I ran in a
different direction to draw them away from Xena.
through the forest as fast as I could, until I could feel my
breath getting short. The dogs came after me for quite a
distance, but soon, they stopped chasing me in favor of
following the original scent. I stood panting for a few
seconds to catch my breath, then I ran after them again.
Hopefully, I stopped them long enough for Xena to escape.
Behind me, I
could hear the sounds of Ming-Tsuís riders approaching on
horseback. My chances disappeared of delaying the hounds
more; I had to hide from the people who were advancing on my
position. I readied my sais and concealed myself among thick
bushes that had enough foliage to hide me. Moments later,
the riders passed quickly, not detecting my presence.
I was too far
from the action, and being on foot, I could never reach Xena
in time to see that she wasnít hurt. I had to count on Lao
Ma to succeed. My only choice now, was to sneak back to her
home to find out what happened. I sheathed my sais, then ran
in the direction of Lao Maís house.
When I arrived,
Ming-Tsuís troops were searching the buildings and the
grounds around them. I couldnít get too close, or they
would discover me. After Ming-Tsuís people had left, I
noticed the sun was setting, so I decided to wait until
after dark to contact Lao Ma. I didnít really want her
retainers to see me either, since my appearance would raise
questions about where I came from. Even though some of them
had already noticed me earlier, I felt it was wise to stay
out of sight.
When the night
finally settled, I moved silently through the complex of
buildings, avoiding Lao Maís sentries. I approached the
terrace outside the double doors leading to Lao Maís
bedroom and before I could even get close, the doors swung
open to reveal her. My eyebrows went up in surprise;
apparently she had been expecting me.
"How did you
know I was here?" I whispered.
you," she replied softly.
My mouth almost
fell open. I had made no sound that I knew of -- she must
have unusually keen senses like Xena. "But..."
your breathing," Lao Ma chuckled, noticing the look of
disbelief on my face. "I was able to hide Xena from
Ming-Tsu -- she is sleeping inside. Come with me, Gabrielle.
I will show you to your room where you can eat and get some
rest. Tomorrow is going to be a long day."
was," I said.
She understood my
feelings and nodded while closing the doors.
I followed her
through the compound until we reached a building adjoining
the main house. She opened a door, allowing me to walk
inside. Flickering light from candles illuminated the
chamber, giving it a warm, cheerful feeling. The room
wasnít as large as Lao Maís bedroom, but it was
decorated in a similar fashion with exotic tapestries and
rugs. On a table with short legs rested a large bowl of
fruit, a platter of cheese, a loaf of round crusty bread,
and a tea pot decorated with a painting of flowers.
She poured a
little tea into a small, delicate cup, handing it to me.
"Get some rest, Gabrielle. Tomorrow, I will begin to
work with Xena, to see if she is ready to accept the journey
away from her dark side."
I hoped with all
my heart that Xena was willing. But, what if she wasnít
prepared to change? I set aside my doubts -- if anyone could
convince her, that person would be Lao Ma.
"I want to
thank you for all that youíve done," I said.
Lao Ma smiled.
"No thanks are necessary." She placed a hand on my
shoulder. "Xena is indeed fortunate to have you for a
soulmate. Goodnight, Gabrielle."
Lao Ma turned,
then exited the room, softly shutting the door behind her. I
stared at the door for several moments after she left,
thinking about all that had happened. Yes, tomorrow was
going to be a long day.
I woke to the
sounds of birds singing outside the window. Rays of golden
sunlight filtered into my room, causing everything to glow
with a brilliant yellow light. I slipped out of the
comfortable bed feeling rested for the first time in two
days. After I donned my leathers, I went to the window to
opening, I saw a garden that had a pond thick with lotus
plants and water lilies. A trickle of water spilled from a
spring into the pond with a soothing sound, relaxing me. On
a pedestal stood a dwarf juniper bonsai tree that was two
feet tall; judging from its size, the tree must have been
hundreds of years old. Flagstones set in neatly trimmed
grass led to a sheltered overhang near the window of my
room. The garden was like a paradise -- different than any
other place I had visited.
I was about to go
to the bowl of fruit in my room to eat breakfast to quiet my
rumbling stomach, when I heard the sound of footsteps. I
stood to the side of the window so I wouldnít be seen, but
I was curious, so I stayed close enough to find out who was
Lao Ma and Xena
entered the garden, walking toward the shelter. I eased back
a little to make sure I was hidden, yet I wanted to observe
their meeting. I peeked out of the window briefly and I was
glad to see both of them were located where they wouldnít
notice me easily. Xena wore a kimono with her hair piled up
in the Chin fashion, held in place by a long, thin hair
A clay bottle had
been placed on a small table in the shelter. Neither of them
said anything, then I saw Xena raise her leg to smash the
jug. I wondered if she was releasing some of her
use an ax to kill a mosquito?" asked Lao Ma in a
slightly amused voice. It amused me too, and I held back a
chuckle, grinning widely. Lao Ma moved close, gently taking
the pick from Xenaís hair. She glided several paces away,
gracefully turned, then threw it with surprising force,
causing it to lodge into the wood of the table. The economy
of her movements demonstrated how little effort was needed
to be deadly.
good," Xena remarked.
"It can be a
very useful weapon if thrown at the right body part,"
Lao Ma explained.
kill someone with a hair broach?"
necessary. I donít like to kill, however."
"Everyone has their preferences. I happen to like a
I winced at that
comment. I realized at this point in time she was at the
height of her warlord ways, but I was still disturbed by her
rough mannerisms. The Xena I knew in the future was
different -- she had learned to care for others and it was a
full of anger and hate," Lao Ma said.
got to be full of something."
Lao Ma was silent
for a moment. "Put up another bottle."
Xena limped over
to a stone ledge, picked up a jug, then placed it on the
table. As I watched, I realized that Xena was a cripple --
not just physically after her bout with Caesar, but
emotionally, too. It shadowed her entire being. Silence
descended on the garden as I looked at them from my hiding
place -- even the tinkling of the water seemed muted. Lao Ma
stared at the bottle, then it suddenly burst into thousands
My eyebrows shot
up. I had never seen anything like that before. I looked at
Lao Ma in amazement. She had managed to break the vessel
with the power of her mind and I made a mental note to never
make her angry at me.
I wasnít the
only one who was surprised. Xena looked astonished and said,
"Teach me to do that."
another bottle on the table amid the growing mound of clay
pieces of pottery. She stared at it and I could almost feel
the force of her concentration from where I stood. I waited
to see if she could break the container as well, but nothing
Lao Ma laughed
softly. "Iím sorry, Xena, but youíre trying to
break the bottle with your will."
is there?" Xena sounded irritated.
Lao Ma patiently
explained, "The entire world is driven by a will, blind
and ruthless. In order to transcend the limitations of that
world, you need to stop willing. Stop desiring. Stop
"How do I do
endures and the Earth lasts a long time because they do not
live for themselves. Therefore, she who would live a long
time, should live for others. Serve others."
This was the very
wisdom that my Xena in the future lived by. I was sad to see
she didnít comprehend that at this moment, but I was still
glad she would eventually understand.
serve you, if thatís what you mean."
I felt a twinge
in my gut at her words and the conviction of how she said
them. Although Xena had never met me at this point, since I
was still a young girl playing with ragdolls in Poteidaia, I
nevertheless felt an overwhelming possession toward her. She
was mine and mine alone. I swallowed hard, and continued to
watch, too captivated to look away.
you can," Lao Ma said. "Itís easy to serve
someone you love. It will make them love you more -- itís
a good business investment. Itís not what Iím talking
expression darkened. "You mean I should serve someone
who hates me?"
that. You should serve someone who you hate. Ming Tsu."
The statement was flat, full of controlled anger. I could
see the emotions warring in Xenaís face and my heart went
out to her. This lesson wasnít easy for her.
Lao Ma continued. "The man who had you hunted like an
animal. He comes here tomorrow with his son."
Iíd rather die," came Xenaís tight-lipped response.
been a dead woman for a long time now, Xena. Iím offering
you the chance to live." Lao Ma looked at her for
several moments, then turned to leave.
I stood peeking
out the window, watching Xena. Her fists were clenched in
frustration, yet I could see something in her expression,
even at this distance. She was going to try. I could tell.
After all my years of being with her, knowing her, and
reading her emotions, I was sure of it. Suddenly Xena kicked
the table, causing the bottle to shatter on the floor. She
stormed out of the garden, but I couldnít help grinning --
she was finally starting on the path to good.
after everyone had gone to sleep, I went out to the garden
to practice with my sais. The moon was half way through its
cycle, casting its gray light on everything, adding to the
light from the lanterns hanging in the shelter. I went to
the spot where Lao Ma had spoken with Xena earlier in the
day. The pieces of pottery were cleaned up and the table had
been removed -- there was plenty of space to practice.
I removed my sais
from their sheaths, then closed my eyes, taking a deep
breath to meditate a few moments before starting. When my
mind was clear, I opened my eyes. I lunged forward, and
back, sweeping my sais through defensive moves. I whirled
the weapons to strike hilt first, then with the points
facing out. When half a candlemark had passed, I was
finished, and I inhaled the night air to catch my breath.
After I ended my
session with the sais, I turned to find Lao Ma watching me.
She had obviously been there long enough to see part of my
routine. I felt myself blush slightly, embarrassed at the
encounter. I believed I had a lot of training to do before
mastering the sais, and her presence made me a little
youíve chosen the tools of a farmer," She said,
referring to the sais. "It suits your
tools?" I asked, curious. The word farmer conjured up
pictures of my father -- someone who was so far removed from
my beliefs and ideals -- which made me grin at the irony of
Lao Ma's statement.
were made by them for protection against marauders. In my
country, farmers are not allowed to carry swords. So, to
defend themselves, they created sais, which are actually
"Thatís interesting. I didnít know that."
like me to show you how a Chin farmer would use them?"
I raised my
eyebrows in surprise at her gracious offer. Butterflies of
excitement caused my stomach to quiver. Here was an
opportunity I never thought I would have -- a chance to
learn a lesson from Lao Ma. "I would be honored,"
She glided toward
me, holding out her hands. I gave her the sais hilt first
and she said, "Take that sword and strike at me with
it." She indicated a long, slightly curved Chin sword
on top of a table resting in a wooden stand.
very good with a sword," I said with hesitation.
softly. "You are modest, Gabrielle. I can see in your
eyes that you have a fair amount of knowledge regarding a
I grinned at the
compliment, her soft words bolstering my confidence. I just
hoped I wouldnít embarrass myself. "All right,"
I said, retrieving the blade from the rack, then I went to
move Xena taught me, I raised the weapon, bringing it down
suddenly, trying to surprise her. In a swift, almost
effortless motion, she brought her right hand up to catch
the sword in a fork of the sai. She flipped her wrist
slightly, causing the blade to fall with a soft thump on one
of the carpets in the shelter. She disarmed me so fast I
barely saw what had occurred. I stared at my empty hands,
then at her and I laughed.
So much for my
attempt to surprise her. Silly me. "Could you do it
slower so I can see how you did it?" I asked.
course." She joined me in laughter.
I picked up the
sword, going through the same motion slowly, watching
closely as Lao Ma executed her defensive move. The technique
was simple, but effective. I wasnít fooled by the ease
with which she used the sais; I knew that her skill came
from long candlemarks of practice.
turn," she said, offering me the sais.
I took them and
she picked up the sword from the floor. She used the blade
to lunge forward in a thrust, instead of the previous
attack. I was almost caught unaware, instinctively backing
up a step while sweeping both sais up to imprison the blade
inches from my face. My eyes went wide. I was under no
illusion that this lesson was going to be easy, but it was
turning out to be even harder than I anticipated.
she said, praising me. "The thrust is one of the most
difficult moves to block. However, you must be ready for
that, she pulled the sword straight back with blurring
speed, then swung it at my lower body, stopping the edge to
barely touch my right leg. The muscle of my leg
involuntarily twitched as I thought about what could have
happened if this was an actual fight. It was sobering and
her lesson commanded my undivided attention.
blocked the sword, it could not move forward, up or down, but
I could easily withdraw it. To stop me, you should have
lowered the right sai to capture the blade."
again," I requested. I was hesitant, because her skill
was far better than mine, but if I was going to learn, I had
to go through with this.
She thrusted the
blade, which I blocked like before, then she swung at me
from the left side. I guessed that she might try to trick me
again, so I was ready. I brought my left sai down and was
surprised at the results -- the blade was pinned to the
Lao Ma nodded.
"See how I am slightly off balance now? A simple kick
at this point would either remove the sword from my hand, or
you could aim your foot at a part of my body."
I grinned, heady
with my success. I didnít want to get too bold though,
because I knew she could easily make my skills look pitiful.
"I would be grateful if you would show me more."
nodding. "Even though your knowledge of sais is
extensive, there is much for you to learn."
Over the next
candlemark, she moved with incredible speed and grace,
teaching me things I never thought possible. It was true
what Xena had told me long ago; Lao Ma was a formidable
opponent. I was just glad she wasnít my enemy.
next move, hold the sais like this," she instructed,
moving close behind me, leaning forward slightly. Her
breasts beneath her kimono touched my back for a moment,
causing me to totally lose my concentration. I caught my
breath and held it to keep from suddenly being aroused. The
sensation of contact with her was like a lightning bolt
tingling through my body.
She noticed my
reaction, stepping back courteously. "Iím sorry -- I
didnít intend to make you uncomfortable."
She was the most
considerate person I had ever met. Her qualities of
compassion, tenderness and wisdom inspired me, but I
couldnít explain my feelings of attraction for her,
especially since I was in love with Xena. "Itís...
all right," I assured her. "I just..."
understand," she interrupted softly, to save me from an
awkward explanation. "Perhaps we should end the lesson
slightly. "I was wondering..."
"Can I speak
with you?" I had a lot on my mind and needed someone to
talk to. I hadnít been able to discuss anything with Xena
since the morning of the accident in the cave; I missed my
conversations with her. Maybe I could find some of the
answers I was searching for by expressing a few of my
concerns with Lao Ma.
I was grateful
she was willing to speak with me. "Iíve been thinking
about how to handle this situation to get everything back to
normal," I said, placing the sais in their boot
sheaths, then I looked into Lao Maís eyes.
"Everything started with me being trapped in the cave.
I considered using the stone to travel through time to block
the opening so I wouldnít be able to enter it in the first
place. Do you think thatís a good idea?"
thoughtful. "That sounds like a clever solution."
more Kronos Stone where this came from, too. If I can make
the cavern inaccessible, the mineral wonít fall into the
wrong hands. The only thing is, how can I seal the
powder," Lao Ma said softly.
I blinked. Of
course! The answer was so simple. And, I was here in Chin
where I could get all of the explosive mixture I needed...
show me how to use the black powder?" I asked, excited
with the idea.
Tomorrow, I can teach you everything you need to know."
you," I said warmly. I was beginning to feel a lot
better about the situation, but I still had doubts about the
outcome of my plan. "The stone I have, worries me,
Lao Ma asked curiously.
far, itís only worked when Iíve been in near death
situations, and even then, it seems to malfunction. I
canít control where I go."
thatís the reason for your difficulty."
to Ďcontrolí it," she explained. "Instead,
become a partner with the stone -- let it carry you like a
ship on the water."
sure of what to do..."
"I can show you a way to begin, but, you must succeed
on your own."
of excitement were back. "I will," I said with
eagerness. I took the stone from my right boot, offering the
piece of mineral to her.
She left the
stone where it was, using her hand to close mine.
"Focus your mind. Steady your breathing. Let the power
flow through you until you become the stone. When you feel
this, you can go anywhere you wish."
darkened just like before. I didnít feel the nausea, but
disorientation enveloped me and I could feel myself go
fight it," Lao Ma whispered.
I relaxed, trying
to experience the energy around me. After long moments of
concentrating, nothing happened. I continued my efforts, but
I felt distracted by my lack of progress. "Itís not
working," I said in dismay. "If the stone
doesnít function, how can I return things to normal in the
this problem will be easier to solve than you think."
so," I said earnestly, but my feelings of doubt still
Lao Ma smiled
reassuringly. "Have you considered that everything will
turn out exactly as it should be? Perhaps these events were
meant to happen."
"You mean I
was destined to travel in time to help Xena?"
a mysterious thing. Each of us will have an appointment with
it -- there is no escape." She placed a comforting hand
on my shoulder, still smiling to encourage me. "Fulfill
your destiny, Gabrielle."
I looked briefly
at the stone in my hand, closed my eyes, and felt the force
of it moving through me. The disorientation appeared again, but
was so brief, I almost didnít notice it. When I opened my
eyes, I was standing behind Lao Ma. She turned to look at
I had to keep
myself from shouting. "I succeeded!"
nodding. "I knew you could. Remember to practice, and
all will be well."
you," I said, hugging her. She didnít seem surprised
at my show of emotion; she embraced me with the tenderness
of a sister.
fortunate to have met you, Gabrielle," she said, slowly
disengaging from the hug. "Have pleasant dreams
too," I said. I wondered though, if I would get any
sleep because I was so excited. For the first time since I
became entangled in this time travel situation, I felt I had
an excellent chance to make everything right.
Lao Ma glided
away, her silk kimono rustling slightly in the stillness. I
watched her leave, then I tucked the stone in my boot before
going to my room to get some sleep. As I closed my eyes
something that Xena told Lao Ma came back to me. She told
Lao Ma that she could serve her. I realized as sleep began
to calm me that I too, could probably serve Lao Ma if my
heart hadnít already chosen itís destiny.
The next morning,
shortly after sunrise, I heard a soft knock on my door. I
was already awake and dressed, sitting beside the window
looking out at the garden. I knew the time for me to leave
was coming soon, so I was savoring every moment of my stay,
committing every detail to memory. I walked over to the
door, opening it. Lao Ma stood there smiling at me.
I answered. "The sound of that water in the garden put
me right to sleep. How was your night?"
peaceful. Would you like to walk with me?"
She led the way
through a courtyard lined with creeping cedar beside the
walkways. "Xena is occupied at the moment, preparing
for the arrival of Ming Tsu today," she said softly.
"While she is busy, I can show you how to use the black
"Ming Tsu is
coming here?" I remembered she had mentioned it to Xena
yesterday when they were talking in the garden, but I still
couldnít keep the concern out of my voice.
"I invited him to have a meal with me and Xena will
pose as a slave to serve him -- itís part of my plan to
help her overcome her hatred."
I hoped Lao Ma
knew what she was doing. Xena could be unpredictable, even
during the best of times. She noticed the look of worry on
my face, reassuring me that everything would be all right.
"I have faith in Xena. She has chosen to confront this
part of herself and once she makes a decision, she can be
very true," I said. I was glad Lao Ma could see the
goodness in Xenaís soul, just like she could look into
mine as if it were an open scroll.
She stopped in
front of a small building that stood apart from the others.
When we went inside, I saw there was a good reason for this;
the building contained a large keg of black powder. If an
accident occurred, the damage would be minimized to the
powder is really very simple, but it can be dangerous. You
must place enough of the powder at a weak point of the cave
roof to cause it to collapse during the explosion."
carefully to her instructions -- I had no desire to get
injured or killed when I used it.
"To get the
powder to ignite," she continued, "you will have
to make a trail of the powder leading to the keg. The
dangerous part, is the length of that trail. It must be made
long enough to retreat safely after you set fire to
I nodded. There
was one question on my mind, though. "How can I carry
the powder through time to the cave? The stone wonít bring
anything with me that Iím touching." I didnít
mention to her that I was holding onto Tani just before I
arrived in Chin -- thatís how I knew the stone wouldnít
work that way.
steadily into my eyes. "I donít have an answer for
you, Gabrielle. Perhaps, the solution is within the
That was an
interesting thought. It did seem like it transported me
through the currents of time to just the right places. Maybe
the piece of mineral acted upon the destiny of whoever used
it... Lao Ma was right though; I would have to think about
how the stone worked.
accompany me for a short time while I practice with
We found a quiet
spot beside a tree in a field, then she and I sat. I held
the stone in my hand, wondering if it only worked to fulfill
my destiny. If that was true and the stone sent me away,
would I ever see Lao Ma again? The thought made me sad -- I
wanted to spend more time here. The same feeling I had
earlier this morning returned though; I knew in my heart
that I would be leaving soon.
is troubling you," she said quietly.
"I have a
feeling the stone is going to send me away and I wonít be
able to see you again."
possible." She placed a gentle hand on my arm. "If
you do have to leave now, I will be in your memories
Gabrielle and you will be in mine."
understand." She looked at me with affection. "I
would be unhappy also, but we must meet our destinies."
I reached out to
hug her. We embraced for long moments, then I sat back with
tears starting to form in my eyes. I didnít even have to
concentrate much before the stone warmed in my hand to start
the process of sending me through time. Just before I went
into the whirling vortex, the last thing I saw was Lao Ma
looking at me with a tender smile -- a sight I will remember
I came to an
abrupt stop, sitting cross-legged in the middle of a burning
village. People were scattered everywhere and I jumped to my
feet to avoid being crushed. The town looked very familiar
to me and I searched for a face I might recognize, but came
up empty. After a few moments of dodging soldiers who were
sacking the place, I realized this was the town I was in
just days ago -- the town beside the cave. But Ďwhení
was a different matter. My eyes kept searching and I finally
saw a man scurrying around in a mauve dress. I did a double
take, realizing who the man wasÖSalmoneus!!
In my excitement,
I almost ran over and called out to him, but I stopped
myself. Instead, I crept closer, staying in the shadows. The
army was killing everyone Ė men, women and children with
no discretion. I couldnít battle all of them and if I did,
it might very well change Xenaís fate for the worse.
Despite all the despair around me, I knew there was nothing
I could do to stop it. A sudden calm seemed to come over the
village Ė crying voices had silenced and the only sounds
were the scurrying of soldiers regrouping and the crackling
of homes on fire. As I looked around at the devastation,
another figure caught my eye.
It was Xena.
I watched her
argue with a hideously ugly man, obviously her
second-in-command. She was shouting about killing the women
and children and attacking without orders from her. It was
Xenaís army, but this battle was not her decision. I
watched as she abruptly stopped her conversation, dashing
into the ruins of a home. When she turned, she was holding
something. My eyes strained to get a better view. She was
holding... a baby!
With her hand
pointing at a soldier to threaten him and the baby in the
other, Xena was quite a sight. For the briefest of moments,
it took my thoughts back to when Eve was just an infant. The
look on Xenaís face now however, was very purposeful --
not motherly as I had come to know, but she was still
protecting the child. I was glad that Xena had kept the
goodness in her heart that Lao Ma showed her.
The men backed
down and Xena turned to leave.
I wanted to
follow her, but I was delayed as a band of soldiers came
near to loot one of the homes. Moving silently, I ducked
into a home that was still standing and found a cloak
hanging on a wall peg. I donned the garment to help conceal
myself from the soldiers, and I knew it would be useful to
hide my identity if Xena or Salmoneus caught a glimpse of
me. I slipped out of the back entrance of the home to
discover that both Xena and Salmoneus were no longer in
I took to the
woods in the direction I had seen Xena depart. After a few
moments of searching, I found her tracks and they were
heading toward one of the caves outside the village. I just
hoped she didnít pick the cavern that held the Kronos
Stone mineral. I followed the footprints to an underground
entrance, relieved that it was a different cave. From
outside, I could hear voices echo. I wasnít able to make
out what was being said, so I crept stealthily inside to
hear the conversation.
and a woman I didnít know were in the cave. When I heard
the voices of Xena and Salmoneus draw closer to where I was
hidden, I slipped deeper into the shadows until I was
completely out of sight. I heard Salmoneus chattering away
to Xena, who obviously was getting annoyed with the funny,
round man. He was making a comment about her maternal
instincts (or lack thereof) and I nearly chuckled. If you
could only see her now, I thought as I listened to Salmoneus
something about dealing with Darphus, and I heard her
footsteps approaching. I stayed crouched among the rocks
perfectly still. I relaxed after she walked past; she was
too focused on her second-in-command to worry about anything
In that moment, I
realized what my purpose was in all this mess. I understood
what the fates had planned for me. I had traveled through
time to make Xena the woman she was Ďtodayí by planting
the seeds of faith in all of the Ďmentorsí she had
known. I wasnít sure any of those people would have ever
helped Xena if not for me. That was my purpose -- my
Lao Ma was the
woman who helped Xena reach through her darkness. Salmoneus
was the man to lend Hercules a hand in seeing the potential
for good Xena possessed. As for me, Gabrielle, the farm girl
from Poteidaia, I had kept her on the side of the light
until she was strong enough to find a light of her own.
I had to find a
way to get Salmoneus alone to persuade him to help Xena. I
knew it was a big chance Ė at some point in the future, he
might remember me from his past. But, with the way I looked
now, even my few friends from Poteidaia hadnít recognized
me after a recent trip home. It was a chance I had to take.
I went outside, waiting to follow him at the first
opportunity. He crept out, quickly going through the woods
to the village well. I came up behind him to whisper in his
something else, isnít she?" I said, approaching him
He jumped at the
sound of my voice. I had forgotten what a fidgety man he
he asked. "Xena?"
I simply gave a
is," he answered, still obviously nervous.
have killed you today you know," I told him.
He paused a
moment to look at me, but I moved my head down slightly,
adjusting the hood on the cloak as casually as possible. I
tried to play it cool, as if it were part of my persona to
He was still looking at me, trying to identify me as he
asked, "Who are you?"
friend," I assured him. "I mean you no harm. Iím
just curious about Ďthe Warrior Princessí... Iíve been
watching her since her army came into town and you have to
admit, sheís not your normal Ďevilí warlord. In fact,
she saved a baby today, going against her own men. Thatís
something pretty exceptional, wouldnít you say?"
reflected a moment on that fact. "Thatís true,"
he said scratching his beard.
if someone that powerful could fight for truth and justice?
Dare I say...a female Hercules? Iím assuming of course,
that youíve heard of Hercules?" I was playing him. I
knew damn well he was acquainted with Hercules, and I tried
to contain my grin at the knowledge of the web I was
kidding? Weíre like that," he answered, holding up
two fingers close together.
always it seems, I thought silently. Granted, he did know
Herc. They got along fairly well, but, I knew if any man was
that Ďtightí with Ďthe big guy,í it was Iolaus and
not the king of cons.
with the right influence," I plotted, "perhaps
even some guidance from Hercules himself, she could go a
long way. And you know if you become a part of such a
change, Iím sure sheíd be a powerful ally in your corner
should you ever need some Ďmuscleí unexpectedly."
I knew I had to
play it up to Salmoneus. He was a good guy all in all, but
his first thought was always Ďwhatís in if for me?í
Xena and I had bailed him out of trouble a few times.
Throwing that fact out there could be the very push in the
right direction he needed.
"You know, thatís true. Of course, thatís if she
doesnít kill me first," he laughed nervously.
stacked next to Darphus, she looks like the goddess of love
and light," I offered for his consideration.
"You have a
point," he said, nodding. "But sheís got a
temper on her."
does," I admitted, "but just be yourself. She
seems to enjoy your company so far."
thoughtful, but I could tell he was warming to the idea.
"And if you
do see the son of Zeus, perhaps you could tell him what
youíve seen here," I coached. "Heís a
reasonable man I hear. Iím sure he could see the potential
in her like you do -- itís just something to think
about," I added with a wink, looking up for just a few
at me before looking over my shoulder and giving a hard
swallow of fear. It was Xena and she was heading our way. He
looked back to me again and then to Xena. Oh yes, the
foundation had been set. Now all I had to do, was make a
quick departure and let history run its course. Of course, I
still had that pesky cave to blow up without any access to
friend," I told Salmoneus casually, "be
I didnít wait
for a reply. I just walked quickly into the woods so Xena
wouldnít stop me. I doubled back, heading toward town to
get a look at Xenaís troops. It was quiet as I walked
through the streets. I decided to do a little snooping. The
stone didnít feel the need to take me away yet, so
something had to be Ďresolved.í There was still
something I needed to do...or find...
As I walked
through the streets, I noticed some of the Xenaís soldiers
loading three kegs on a cart -- black powder kegs. Sweet
mother of Zeus!!!! I needed that stuff and I knew this was
my only chance. No one else in Greece would have the black
powder and I certainly couldnít bring some back from Chin
because the stone wouldnít transport anything I touched.
This had to be the reason I was still in this time and the
I knew I
couldnít jump in with sais flashing. That would cause too
much attention. Doing so might alter Xenaís fate as well,
so I figured I could camp out until the soldiers were
Ďindisposedí with liquor for the night. Xena told me a
few stories about what happened after her raids Ė wine,
women and song ruled most nights. I knew their guard would
be down tonight.
If I could swap
out the powder of the keg and replace it with sand, it could
buy me enough time to see that everything fell into place. I
could hide the powder in the nearby cave that almost became
my tomb and jump back early enough in my Ďpresent dayí
to use it to seal the cave.
I had my
battleplan -- now all I had to do was put it in motion.
came, taxing my patience to the limit. I wanted to sneak in
as soon as possible to get the black powder, but the
soldiers were still carousing. Even though they started
their Ďcelebrationí early, they were still consuming
large quantities of drink. I had to wait until they were all
in a drunken stupor before I went in -- I didnít want my
plan to be spoiled by having one of them discover me.
When the last one
fell asleep, I breathed a sigh of relief. I moved silently
forward from my hiding place in the forest surrounding their
camp outside of town. The wagon had been moved closer to the
horses for ease of hitching up the animals. When I
approached, several of the horses moved about restlessly,
detecting the presence of a stranger...me. I whispered a few
reassuring words and the horses stood quietly watching me. I
decided to move slowly, so I wouldnít spook the animals.
My next problem
was the size of the barrels. They were too heavy to move, so
I was left with no choice, but to find another container for
the black powder. Besides, I didnít need a whole barrel to
seal the cave.
I looked quickly
around, finding an empty keg of drink, which would suit my
purpose better. I climbed silently onto the wagon, then used
one of my sais to carefully open the lid of a barrel. I
wanted to be able to seal the container after I was done.
I worked as fast
as I could in the darkness, but time was moving on. I
discarded the notion of replacing the powder I took with
sand. I didnít really need to if I could get the barrel
closed properly when I finished.
When the small
keg was full, I corked it, then placed it quietly on the bed
of the wagon. I sealed the barrel and climbed to the ground.
As I was about to grab the little keg, I heard a slurring
voice behind me.
honey! Wacha doin in thet waggin? We kin hav lots more
I interrupted him
by slamming the, butt of one of my sais in his gut. After he
doubled over gasping, I knocked him unconscious. He tumbled
to the ground with a thud that seemed to me like thunder
after one of Zeusí lightning bolts. With my heart thumping
hard, I caught my breath, looking around to see if anyone
else was alerted. Apparently, no one was aroused from their
I breathed a
shaky sigh of relief, grabbed the keg, then ran silently out
of the camp. Gods! That was close...
I made it to the
cave with the Kronos Stone mineral, and I stopped to fashion
a torch from a rag and a stick so I could see in the utter
blackness within. Careful to keep the torch away from the
keg, I went deep inside, hiding the keg among some rocks.
Now, all I had to do was use the stone to go forward in time
to this same cave to seal it before my Ďpresentí self
I couldnít help, but
grin -- I had solved the problem! I took the stone from my
boot, feeling the roughness of the mineral in my hand. I was
excited that everything would return to normal soon.
the stone, I found myself once again slipping into the dark,
whirling void of time travel. When I stopped, the world
turned bright around me and I had to shield my eyes from the
sudden daylight. I was still standing in front of the cave, but
things had changed slightly. The landscape was a little
different...trees, plants and rocks had altered with the
passage of time, but I wasnít concerned.
I looked around
to make sure the forest was deserted, then I went inside.
Sure enough, the keg was hidden where I left it. I took it
with me, went outside and climbed to the top of the cave.
After making a trail of powder, I placed the keg right above
the entrance, hiding the container with branches and rocks.
I went to the far end of the trail of black powder, removing
my flint and steel from the pouch on my belt.
I could hardly
wait to see Xena return to normal and I quickly struck the
flint and steel together. A spark ignited the trail of
powder, then I ran for cover among some rocks on the ridge
opposite the cave.
From my vantage
point, I waited for the black powder to explode. I didnít
have much experience with that stuff -- I must have made the
trail of powder longer than it should have been. It was too
late though, I couldnít go down there to shorten it, or I
would be caught in the blast.
As I was
watching, I heard the sudden sounds of someone crashing
through the undergrowth. Oh no! It was him...the thug I had
originally chased into the cave. And, not far behind him was
ME -- my past self. I jumped to my feet, but before I could
do anything, both of them ran into the cave. I started down
the hill to warn myself to get out of the cavern, but the
explosion shook the ground, causing me to fall.
I stood as the
dust cleared. I didnít curse often, but I couldnít help
it then. That damn stone had sent me back just before the
events that started this cycle in the first place. It was I
who had trapped myself in the cave!
My brain whirled
with the confusion of this time travel problem. Well, I
could only do one thing...I had to use the stone to go back
a little farther in time to seal the cave before my past
self entered it. That way, time should return to normal. At
least, I hoped it would. I had no idea if it would work, but
I had to try something...anything. I thought about my
predicament, and shook my head in exasperation, bending to
retrieve the stone from my boot.
Before I could
get the Kronos Stone from its hiding place, a strong hand
clamped over my mouth, and I was pushed to the ground. I
looked up to see salt and pepper hair framing the face of
think Iím stupid, Gabrielle?" she hissed. "I
went to the cave and my men excavated it; the mineral was
still buried there. I knew you would come here, so I used a
piece of the stone to meet you. Now... I can bring you
My mind whirled
to think of something before it was too late. I remembered
Warrior Princess Xena -- MY Xena --followed my trail out of
the village the morning I chased the thug to the cave. That
meant she was on the way, now. If I could alert her to my
presence when she arrived and she saw I was all right, maybe
she wouldnít turn to the ways of a conqueror. Hopefully,
time would reset itself, causing Queen Xena to disappear. It
was my last option -- it HAD to work, or I was in big
trouble to say the least.
Xenaís weight on top of me, I could barely move. So, I bit
the inside of her hand over my mouth, to get her to release
me. She grimaced, but held tight.
Gabrielle, while I use my stone. Everything will be ok once
we go back."
I shook my head
Queen Xena was
about to knock me out, when both of us heard the sound of my
name called in the distance.
Where are you?"
belonged to my Xena.
eyes narrowed, as she realized the implications of her past
self seeing me. "Youíre not leaving me again!"
she whispered fiercely.
She had obviously
gone insane... I had to act quickly. Before she could stop
me, I raised my right leg to reach for the sai, yanked it
from the sheath, then tossed it down the hill among the
rocks. The weapon made a satisfying Ďclankí on the
stones, hopefully loud enough to bring my Xena to
A look of hurt
filled Queen Xenaís eyes for a moment. That expression of
pain ripped through my soul, causing me to feel
heart-wrenching sorrow for her. Her world was crashing down
around her -- she was just trying to keep someone who meant
everything to her, but I couldnít live with the monster
that she had become. The look of hurt passed from Queen
Xenaís face almost as fast as it appeared. Her eyes became
cold, her hand rising to strike me unconscious.
I twisted with
desperate, inhuman strength, breaking free of her grasp, and
I started tumbling down the hill. She instantly came to her
feet, following me to the bottom of the ridge. I struggled
to stand, shouting to my Warrior Princess, "XENA! Iím
-- donít do this," Queen Xena pleaded, reaching out a
trembling hand toward me. She moved a step closer.
must," I said sadly, backing away from her.
other hand reached out, tears spilling from her eyes.
"Donít go." Her voice was soft.
I felt her
anguish, which made my own tears threaten to flow. I could
hear my Xena getting closer. Queen Xena heard the sounds,
too -- she knew the end was near.
you," she whispered.
caused me to sob and my tears finally fell.
When my Warrior
Princess burst into view, she saw me and I felt an odd rush
of disorientation, similar to when the stone sent me through
time. Queen Xena started to flicker out of existence as she
looked at her own hands and arms, which were disappearing
and reappearing. All at once though, she was gone and
I ran to MY Xena,
hugging her as tightly as I could. Time had returned to
normal; I felt it in my heart and soul. I shuddered a sigh
of relief, crying freely.
what happened? Are you all right?"
I whispered. "Iím wonderful." I smiled with the tears
still in my eyes. I had my Xena.
that person you were fighting? I couldnít see -- you were
blocking my view."
doesnít matter," I said softly. "Itís over
Xena smoothed my
hair back. "Iím sorry I wasnít here sooner,"
she apologized. "I didnít know you were in
is ok," I said, regaining a little of my composure.
"Some thugs were menacing a shopkeeper. I got rid of
sure youíre feeling all right?" She tilted my chin
up, looking at me with worried eyes, silently inspecting me
for any injury.
I smiled, nodding
"Well, Iím glad youíre ok. Maybe you can relax at
"Yes. When I
left the stable to look for you, a man begged me to aid his
wife, who was giving birth. Thatís the reason I was
delayed -- I was helping to deliver a baby. The couple is
going to have a feast to honor Tani, their new little
My eyes opened
wide. "I donít feel like going to any festivities
right now," I answered quickly.
was back to normal, I had no reason to believe we would ever
be involved with Tani. It was an odd sensation and I began
to form another one of my many theories that I love to work
on from time to time.
we ever met, for whatever reason, is destined to come in
contact with us. I think about my fate had I not followed
Xena. I would have been just a young farm girl Xena saved
from slavers and not the soulmate she had come to know. Xena
would never know those future events as the evil queen,
because they never Ďhappenedí. Tani was just a baby she
helped bring into this world and not the consort of a
conqueror. And, this was one story I decided to keep to
move on," I continued. "I just want to be alone
with you under the stars tonight."
puzzled for a moment at my brief, wide-eyed expression after
she mentioned the babyís name. She shrugged, then grinned
and put her arm around me. "Sure. I always love to see
the stars with you," she said as we walked through the
I returned the
embrace, resting my head on her upper arm as we walked away.
The feel of her bracer against my cheek was exquisite. It
felt wonderful to be home. I had MY Xena and thatís all I
really care about. It was also nice to see the close of the
longest day of my life. As we walked, an idea occurred to
tell me a story tonight?"
That earned me a
"I know. I
know. Youíre not the bard." I grinned. "But Iíd
like to hear again about how you met Salmoneus," I
She gave me one
of those ĎWhere did that come from?í looks and I too
begin to chuckle. "Okaaaay," she agreed, still
unsure of my intentions.
"It would be
nice to hear you tell a story tonight, is all. Besides you
tell it so well...especially the part about how pretty he
looked in that dress," I added. "I could use a
Xena grinned down
at me and my heart melted. Gods above, how I love this
you wish, Gabrielle," Xena replied.
I snuggled close,
giving a sigh of contentment. My Xena didnít have a
palace. She couldnít drape me in Chin silks. She
couldnít put a roof over my head made with the finest oak
and marble known to man. But I did know that MY Xena would
always strive to give me all she COULD give.
"I love you
Xena," I whispered to her.
"I love you
too, Gabrielle. I always will."
We walk on joined
at the hip... and at the souls.