Heroine - Part 4 of 5
CN Winters and Amy
Xena Fanfiction, Xena fanfic, Xena fan fiction, Xena and
Gabrielle fanfiction, Xena fiction
No, this isn't about
someone overcoming a drug habit. <G> Although I wish I
could say Xena and Gabby are ours, they are not. They belong
to MCA/Universal last we heard. This story however is ours and
ours alone. There's a lot of violence, but not too graphic. Alt
sex, you bet! If you are too young, read no further. If you
live some place where this may not be kosher, read no further.
However, if you are open-minded, old enough and live in a
progressive neighborhood . . .enjoy! Nothing poetic is ourís,
belongs to unknown author.
Note: Thanks to
Kamouraskan, Jlynn, Mary and the Bardic Circle for the beta.
creates a conqueror world where Gabrielle is the ruthless
dictator, Najara is her consort and Ephiny as her second in
command. It's up to Xena to find a way to break the spell and
get her Gabby 'home'.
Email the author's at
CNWinters71@yahoo.com or MurphyCG881@aol.com
Heroine - Part 4 of 5
I heard Callisto screeching
to my right, slicing through any Roman in reach. Her eyes were
deadly, only looking forward towards Gabrielle. My own lack of
focus got me on the receiving end of a slash on my left arm
and one pissed off Conqueror. I watched as Gabrielle eased her
blade out of the soldier who had been about to take me out.
"Get your mind in the
battle, Xena!" she said through clenched teeth, kicking
the dead man off his horse and moving to her next target.
Ephiny caught up to us as we
flanked Gabrielle, galloping full out with arrows and
catapults flying above. It was complete and utter chaos and I
felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest.
I glanced toward the top of
the hill where Caesar was sneering. He waved his hand and half
the hilltop was filled with his archers.
'Son of a Bacchae!' I
said to myself. Weíre all sitting ducks.
"Archers!" I screamed out loud.
That got Gabrielle's
attention. She just glanced up and laughed and took down the
Roman she was engaging.
I watched as she puts two
fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-ringing whistle that
cut through the catapults projectiles flying over our heads.
Dropping down from the trees
came a group of Amazon Warriors, making quick disposal of
Caesar's archers. I turned toward Caesar. He had a look I've
never seen before. I imagined the same expression shown on his
face at his assassination. He completely lost all composure.
he screamed and started to run toward Gabrielle, leaving his
men to fend off the amazons themselves.
Time seemed to be moving
eerily, slowly. My head turned to Gabrielle and I watched as
she jumped off of her horse, taking a soldierís head off in
the process. She was covered in blood with an ice-cold grin on
her face. A look of hatred...
Ephiny was engaging Brutus
on the ground. The air was thick with the smells of smoke and
blood and each catapult strike made my nerves jump. I turned
my attention as Pompey decided to jump off his mount, tackling
me to the ground.
'This is madness, this is
madness.' Went over and over in my head, my demons taunting
me. Pompey had me down his blade pressing into my neck, but I
was fighting my thoughts more than him. 'Why should I fight
this? This world is better for Gabrielle.' My demons
'She's succeeding where
you failed. She will win against Caesar when you were too weak
to.' Flashing before my eyes were the visions of seeing
Gabrielle enjoying kill after kill, and after each one the
light in her eyes was dimming with each lost life. Then I saw
my Gabrielle, full of wonder and life. The young woman who
would ask me how the stars got into the sky. The woman who
tried to find the good in any person. The woman who believed
it me and never once, even in the darkest time ever gave up on
me. Now that person was full of hatred. A second later I there
was another flash.
It begins very small,
Seems like nothing much at all.
Just a germ, just a speck, just a grain.
But the seed has been sewn,
And before you know it's grown,
It has spread through your life like a stain.
And its power will strangle
your love and your joy.
And its hunger consumes-- for it lives to destroy!
that's what we're fighting -- hatred."
'No, I'll never quit.
I'll never give up.' I
told my demons and I felt that beast inside me awaken. I
looked Pompey right into his eyes while forcing the blade with
ease from my throat.
screamed and threw him off and flipped up. I blocked a blow to
my right, then left, then a overhead strike. We locked blades
and he pulled a dagger from his belt. Grabbing his wrist I
pinned him in a stare, squeezing and twisting. He screamed as
his wrist gave, dropping the dagger. I brought a knee up
between his legs. He let another scream loose, lowering his
sword enough for me to knock it down while I plunged mine into
Then I knelt down, ducking a
head shot from behind, twisting enough to stick Pompey's
dagger in the Roman stomach. By the time I was done, there
were six dead men laid at my feet.
I looked towards Gabrielle
and my chin nearly dropped. She was engaging Caesar. He might
have had more power, but Gabrielle was almost as strong. To
her advantage she was quicker, with more skill. She blocked a
swipe at her left, kicked out and took his right knee. He
backed up enough so she could drive in her blade up the hilt
in his shocked body.
'By The Gods. She killed
him. Gabrielle conquered Caesar.
She slowly pulled her blade
out and he crumpled at her feet. She let out a great battle
cry, raising her blade over head. The troops rallied with her, but
then I noticed the only Roman who seemed to be alive still was
Brutus. Ephiny finished hogtying him, then joined in the
I stood there in a sea of
dead Romans like a statue.
Xena." Ephiny slapped me on the back and smiled. We both
looked up to the hilltop where Gabrielle was still cheering.
Right then my world slowed to a halt once more as Ephiny and I
both saw the flash of blonde charging from behind Gabrielle
and heard a scream that would break a ear drum.
She stopped her cry and
looked calmly at me, but didn't even flinch as she turned
around to face Callisto. Ephiny and I were running full out, but
there was no way we could stop it. What was more frightening
was that Gabrielle refused to take a defensive stance. I
watched as Joxer kept his promise. He jumped out trying to
protect his Conqueror and Callisto sliced right through him
like he wasn't there. Gabrielle still didn't move.
"Why isnít she
moving?" Ephiny asked breathlessly as we raced side by
whispered. Feeling guilty is probably one of the worst
emotions I've felt in my life. It can make you do foolish
things because you think it's for the best, that it will end
any pain. In reality it causes different sets of guilt and
pain and it's usually the person you love the most that pays
for that mistake.
"Letting justice be
served," I said aloud.
Callisto reached her target,
and raised the sword that would split Gabrielle in half.
Gabrielle finally drew her sword, deflecting the blow. She
stood her ground as Callisto circled her until Ephiny and I
"Stand your ground,
warriors." Gabrielle said calmly, holding her sword to
Callisto laughed. "Oh,
the good Conqueror. What happened to you? One day you just
decided to be a kind ruler?" She continued to circle.
that." Gabrielle let her shoulders drop.
"And all the shattered
people your soldiers left behind are now supposed to cheer
you, is that it?" I remembered this conversation, one of
many dealing with Callisto. A time I almost lost Gabrielle to
"From here on out all I
want on my hands is Callistoís blood, Xena."
Callisto to me. You need time to mourn." Truth was, I
was scared, she had that look I did was Lyceus was killed.
"I have the rest of my
life to mourn. I want to see her dead, Xena!" The look
she gave made me shudder.
" I wonít help you
destroy all the ideals that you live by."
"My ideals were a lie.
I thought love was the strongest power on Earth. What a fool.
Love is helpless in the face of cruelty, Xena."
"Gabrielle, if youíre
taken over by hatred, Callisto wins."
"Xena, wake up and look
around you! The little innocent Gabrielle is dead, and
thereís no getting her back. Just teach me how to use a
sword, so, at least I stand a fighting chance. Please."
I could never say no to her.
"OK. Again. Again.
Again! Iím gonna kill her. Again! Teach me. Teach me! Teach
me. Again. Again! Teach me how to kill her, Xena. Iím gonna
cut her open and watch her bleed. Iím gonna kill her, Xena!
Teach me how to kill her!."
I felt at that moment like
something was squeezing my heart, and it was the first time in
my life I prayed to any God.
listening you know, Iím not much for praying. But I donít
know what else to do. I was ready to give up once, and.. and
Gabrielle came into my life. Please donít let that light
that shines out of her face go out. I couldnít stand the
darkness that would follow."
I was brought out of my
memory by Gabrielleís voice speaking to Callisto.
"What happened to you
was terrible. It was my fault and I'm sorry-."
She didn't let Gabrielle
finish her sentence.
"Oh... well! That makes
all the difference. And now, we can be the best of
friends." She spits at Gabrielle's feet. "Thatís
what I think of your apology." She attacked, but as
Gabrielle blocked each blow, Callisto becomes more frustrated.
"Fight me Conqueror! Iím not afraid to die, if thatís
what youíre worried about. What about you, Conqueror? How
would you feel to see your creation die by your hands,
I could feel Gabrielleís
will cracking, so I spoke. "Donít listen to her,
Gabrielle. You canít torture yourself forever for what
Callisto gave me a sickening
smile. "No, of course not. No, itís not her fault that
I dream every night of my motherís screams coming from my
burning home! You tell me Conqueror, do you sleep well at
Listening to Callisto recite
her conversations with me to Gabrielle suddenly became too
much. I felt my entire body shake and beads of sweat form on
my brow. My voice was lost.
"No, I donít."
Gabrielleís voice was low and soft.
"It wasn't the
Conquerorís fault, you bitch." Ephiny charged, but I
didn't have time to stop her. Gabrielle turned to look at her
"I said stand your
Callisto took advantage and
swung down, slicing Gabrielle's back.
"No!" Ephiny and I
both moved to go to her.
"Stand your ground or
you'll both be fighting me instead!" she managed through
clenched teeth. We both stopped in our tracks, as Gabrielle
straightened up to face Callisto again. By this time a group
of soldiers began to circle us, watching the display.
"They may have been
your men, but the blood is on your hands!" Callisto's
Each word Callisto spoke,
cut more into Gabrielle then her sword ever could. I winced
each time at those very same words when they were spoken to
me. Gabrielle deflected another blow and spoke.
"You're right, it was
my fault. I was drunk half the time and ignored the signs of
the uprising in my forces. By the time I sobered up and caught
on, the damage was done." Gabrielle's eyes held unshed
"I donít want reasons
Conqueror. I want your head!" Callisto countered as she
swung. Almost on instinct Gabrielle deflected the blow. The
strike wasnít powerful. There was no advance within it,
simply deflection. The group listened closely as Gabrielleís
voice got very small.
"We rode for
days," she began as the two women continued to circle
each other. "I spent hours trying to catch up to those
bastards, each and every town they touched..." She choked
a bit, but kept her eyes on Callisto. "Each town was
worse then the last one we tried to salvage. I might have a
reputation of being cold hearted, but never could I allow the
torture of innocents. A time long ago my family was subjected
to this type of torture, and I swore, I would not allow that
to happen to anyone else." All of us there were at a loss
Gabrielle threw her sword
down and held her arms out to the side. "If my death
brings you peace, then so be it."
I eyed Callisto. "If
she takes a step near you Gabrielle, I'll strike her down
myself," I said.
Gabrielle didnít pay
attention to my words. She only spoke to Callisto. "A
very wise friend by the name of Lao Ma once told me the only
way to stop violence was through love and forgiveness. Iím
willing to forgive you for this sin and allow you to leave
with your life. But if you step foot in my kingdom again...
Youíre a dead woman."
"But she doesnít
understand love and forgiveness. She wonít stop until-"
My words were interrupted.
"Enough of this
sickening display of valor." Callisto was looking at me
as her chin trembled. I was stunned. This was the first
display of any emotion other than anger I'd seen her give.
Gabrielleís words had weakened her for a moment. We all
stood there waiting to see what would happen. I thought for
sure she would regroup and attack.
"I refuse to make you a
martyr, Conqueror." Much to our surprise, she threw her
sword on the ground as well. "See? You made a monster
with integrity. And Iím touched you find yourself so noble, but
I do know the truth. Youíre a beast! But I wonít make you
a hero by taking your life." She flipped onto a nearby
horse and took off, tears staining her face.
We all just watched her
leave, but my hearing picked up Gabrielle saying in less then
a whisper. "Sometimes I really hate playing
Gabrielle gave a deep sigh
and picked up her sword. She broke the tension by shouting
orders to us. "Ephiny? Have the men get this battlefield
cleaned up. Have my healers tend our wounded and bring Caesar
to the dungeon and Brutus to my tent."
Ephiny and I looked at each
other, confused. "Caesar?" Ephiny asked.
"I didnít kill
him," Gabrielle answered. "I have plans for him. If
he lives through the night that is," she says in
afterthought. "Send messengers to find out how the
Centaurs and Lao Ma are."
Ephiny nodded with a salute
"Gabrielle, let me look
at the wound on your back."
She raised an eyebrow at me.
"You a healer too, Xena?"
"My, my. We have many
I almost tripped when she
said that. We got to her tent and she started to take her
armor off. I found myself rushing over to help her. It was a
reverse case of deja vu. How many times did Gabrielle do the
same for me all these years?
"It's not bad,"
she added. "Just nicked my shoulder. Armor took the worst
of it." She sounded very tired. When I removed the armor
and the shirt underneath the sight before me stopped my
efforts for a moment. Gabrielle was scarred badly by a whip. I
realize it must have been from the attack on her village. I
wanted to reach out and touch them, tell her I was sorry for
all her pain, but I quickly pulled myself together.
"Still going to need a
few stitches," I said trying to stay focused on the
I looked around for a kit.
"Enjoy the battle,
Xena? Told you Caesar wasn't much to worry about." I
stayed quiet and tended to her wound. Part of me was still in
shock that she won against him, and another part was in awe.
Most of me was worried about how quickly Gabrielle gave into
"My town was attacked
by your men also." I felt her stiffen. "But I know
it wasn't your fault and you helped whoever you could. You
even brought those men to justice."
Xena." She turned her head to glance at me. "I
killed every last one of them."
"I don't blame you,
Gabrielle. Callisto is so blinded by her hate that it tainted
her judgment." I reasoned.
"I was in her shoes at
one time and I sought justice. Why should she not have that
right?" she countered.
"You went after the
people who hurt you, Callisto is not-."
"I was responsible for
those men, Xena. They were my men!" One thing hadnít
changed; she was still very stubborn in this world.
Gabrielle put her shirt back on when Ephiny walked in with a
"What's the word,
"Tyldus reports things
went well. No deaths, a few injured. Melosa reports we lost
three sisters. Lao Maís advance party reports all is quiet
and she should be here for the celebration tonight."
Gabrielle nodded. "Our sisters fought nobly, so letís
make sure that the after life knows it. Make sure they have
royal pyres and see that a healer tends to Tyldus' men."
Ephiny bows, leaving Brutus standing there.
"Now I have to decide
what to do with you, Brutus." I stood there like a good
royal guard and watched Gabrielle work. She was making the
poor man squirm.
"Conqueror? Maybe we
can come up with some type of arrangement?" He was very
nervous. Gabrielle just raised an eyebrow and looked deeply
into his eyes.
"What would you have to
offer? Rome?" She looked rather amused.
"An alliance." He
stuck his chest out, but sucked it back in at Gabrielleís
"Alliance, you say?
HmmÖ since you are on my land and the only Roman left
standing, I find that offer rather... intriguing."
"There are still Roman
forces under Anthony's control. I could go back and plead your
side, discourage anymore Roman invasions."
Brutus was always a rather
"All right Brutus, but
under one condition." He took a sigh of relief and I
looked at her like she lost her mind. "You sign your name
to this scroll, stating what you just said." His eyes
widened. "Let's just say I had a feeling this would be
your offer and took liberty in having two decree drawn up -
one for Greece and one for Rome. Sign this right now, then
stamp your ringís seal at the bottom."
Then her eyes made me
She set the scrolls down and
held a quill out. He wasted no time in signing and dipping his
ring into the wax to show his Roman seal. Gabrielle smiled
while rolling up the scrolls. "Well done, and now for my
part. Ephiny?" A blonde head peeked in.
With a mighty swing of
Gabrielleís sword Brutusí head came clear off his body. My
gasp caught in my throat as the blood covered the tent walls
and the Conqueror. I sat stunned for a moment, but I soon
noticed that Ephiny seemed unaffected. She didnít even
flinch. Walking inside, she took a position next to Brutusí
slain body. "See that our new Ďfriendí makes it
safely to Rome would you?" Gabrielle added. She swung
again. This time separating Brutus hand from his body.
"What in Tartarus are
you doing?" I implored.
Conquering, Xena." She paused and faced me with a flash
of mischievous green eyes. "Literally," she chuckled
looking at Brutus decapitated body. She handed me the scroll
as Ephiny began to pull his corpse from the tent.
"I assume he fell for
it?" The Regent smiled.
"Hook, line, and
I unrolled one of the scroll
and read, then I looked up at them both. I must have looked
like an idiot with my mouth hanging open. The scroll said that
he had sided with Greece and turned his back on Rome to escape
persecution. In other words, Gabrielle managed to label Brutus
as a traitor to Rome. I was speechless.
"Is Mark Anthony still
with Cleopatra?" Gabrielle inquired.
"Yep, and she's showing
him a grand time on the Nile like you asked."
I watched the two of them
interact. Gabrielle tossed Ephiny Brutusí hand. Ephiny too
seemed the least bit phased. I, however, felt the need to
"Good. Send a messenger
to Egypt with one of the scrolls along with his ring finger.
Send the other scroll to Rome with his head. As for the rest
of him... do what ever you want, but get it out of here.
" Gabrielle turned at me now, but my mind was still
reeling from what I witnessed moments before. She murdered
Brutus. Not in the heat of battle, but in cold blood as a way
of betrayal. I forced my eyes to meet hers. "Something
the matter?" she asked, sensing my discomfort.
Conqueror," I answered quickly.
Should I confess or try to
continue with the charade? My Gabrielle was always smart, but
this one was intuitive beyond belief. "Iím sorry, but I
just didnít expect you to do that."
"And what should I have
"Kept your word."
I regretted the sentence as
soon as it left my lips. She would probably take my head off
grinned. She began to stroll through the tent as she
continued. "I let him go. Then he returns to Rome. He
double crosses me and returns with even more men for
the next battle. As a result, more of my men die and I risk
the chance of Rome overtaking Greece."
"I hadnít considered
that," I confessed.
"Was it heartless? Yes.
Was it underhanded? Absolutely. Will it protect this empire?
Without a doubt." Gabrielle leans on the desk across from
me folder her arms under her chest. "I will do what I
need to ensure Greeceís survival. This is war. What did you
expect? Glamour? There are no good choices here, Xena. Only
lesser degrees of evil."
I was so blinded by my lust
for battle and survival against the horde I said the same
words to her. But I also realized in an instant that I lost a
part of myself that weekend. And it was Gabrielle that pulled
me back from a decent into darkness. Would I have the power to
do the same for her? She might have won the battle, but I
could see that Gabrielle was lost.
"Look Xena. Hereís
the plan. Only Anthony remains now. The Senate will turn on
each other and Roman against Roman is much better than Greek
against Roman. We just sit back and watch Rome destroy itself
from inner conflict and lack of leadership. The best won
battles are the ones you never have to fight yourself."
There truly is a method to
her madness and more now than ever I was confused. This
Gabrielle had her demons, but she was an effective leader. She
was doing her best to provide for her people. Should I take
her away from all this? Was Ares right? Is this Gabrielle
better than the other? Our enemies are slain. Her daughter is
alive. Many of our friends are alive. My mother is here too.
But whatís the trade off? Thereís no Lila or Sara.
Thereís no Virgil. Joxerís life in this world is now gone.
As for Najara, sheís Gabrielleís consort. Then thereís
Evie. She doesnít exist in this world. Neither does Ďmy
bardí. And although she was an effective leader,
Gabrielleís soul was tortured far worse than the scars that
my Gabrielle had endured. I was wondering what action I should
take when I heard Gabrielle speak to again, pulling me from my
"Now that the field is
being cleared and the wounded and dead tended, we might as
well check a few last things and head back for the
Ephiny and I followed her
Greece!" Everyone there froze at the sound of her voice
and listened. "You fought well today, you fought for
freedom and won. Now our generations shall reap this benefit.
You all should be proud." Roars of cheers went up.
"And nowÖ we shall go home to a huge feast!" More
cheers as we continued to follow Gabrielle.
She went to each and every
face that was there and gave them a pat of thanks for their
hard work. I watched as she showed compassion to the wounded
and held a dying Amazon. Then she went and studied each and
every soldier she lost to make sure she never forgot their
The last body she uncovered
was Joxerís. There is where a bit of her mask fell and a
tear slipped down her face.
"Ephiny? Make sure his
pyre has honors and that his family is taken care of. Anything
they want, they can have." She sniffled, and put a dinar
in his hand. "Make sure Charron gives you a smooth ride,
As Gabrielle walked away I
found myself unable to move. I looked at Joxerís
expressionless face. I felt an inadequacy. I was unable to
save him in this life as I was in the other. And I felt myself
mourning all over again. As I did, I wondered how much more
mourning would I do before all of this ended one way or
another. I turned around to see Gabrielle getting ready to
lead Argo away and I proceeded up the hill double time to join
It was early evening by the
time we reached home and the scouts must have sounded our
arrival. Torches lit the path to the very happy citizens who
decorated our return with rose petals. No one said a word
other then nodding occasionally at the crowd. The aroma coming
from the castle made my own stomach grumble. The cooks were
getting ready for the big feast. I smiled when I remembered
that my mother was one of them. Joxer was now gone in this
life, but my mother still remained. We got our horses stabled,
and I realized I was quite tired, my adrenaline wearing down.
Ephiny approached. "I think before the feast we should
deal with the soldiers." She smirked.
"Ahh yes, have them
relieve themselves and meet tonight for the feast. Make sure
they know to bathe too." Ephiny gave the orders, much to
the menís pleasure.
Xena." Ephiny nodded to me. I bowed my head in respect.
The voice was a foreign one
to our circle, but I recognized it just the same.
"Yes, my consort?"
Gabrielle sighed as she turned to face Najara.
As I also turned, the
nutís eyes were on me and not Gabrielle. But I refused to
look away. Realizing that she couldnít win the staring
contest, she turned back to Gabrielle.
"I have a bath drawn
and waiting for you, love."
She walked over, giving
Gabrielle a kiss that was supposed to be on the lips, but
Gabrielle turned her head and the kiss hit her cheek instead.
Najara wasn't happy and her stare landed back on me. Gabrielle
cleared her throat. "See you tonight, ladies."
It made me sick seeing
Gabrielle led off by her.
"She's a real head
case, isn't she?" Ephiny asked, whispering up to me.
"Other than the fact
she has little voice telling her what to do? No."
Ephiny chuckled at my
equation, but Iím still unable to pull my eyes away from the
"Will you be enjoying
the bordello, Xena?"
My surprise forced me to
turn and face her. "You have a bordello here?"
"Absolutely. You know
how Gabrielle feels about rape, and after battle the men all
go through battle lust, so this is sort of a solution. Youíre
welcome to partake if you like." Oh Gods, what if
Gabrielle has my battle lust? The thought of her with
that... Well, that put any fire in my loins out.
"No, I'm rather tired
and I just want to wash up."
She patted me on my back.
"Then I'll see you tonight. It'll be a grand
I watched her retreating
It felt good to have some
quiet time. My nerves were shot and my soul was shaking, I was
a mess inside. Right now more then anything, what was
bothering me was the idea of Gabrielle with Najara. I felt
more and more like I was losing this battle for my bard. I sat
in my bath water and cried, crying more out of frustration
then anything else. I donít know how long I sat there, but
the water had become cold. I ducked my head back, wetting my
hair, when a knock at my door brought me out of my misery. It
was one of Gabrielle's servants.
"The Conqueror wishes
your presence, maíam?" she squeaked.
"I'll be right
there." I dried quickly and dressed, my heart beating
fast again. I stood outside her chamber door for what seemed
like an eternity.
"You going to stand out
there forever, Xena, or come in?" I heard her chuckle
through the door. I cracked her door open, not knowing what to
"You wanted to see
me?" My mind was thinking she would be raging with lust.
'Gods, what if she wants
me to watch her and thatÖ!?!'
But what I found was
completely the opposite. She was standing by the window with a
glass of wine looking into the evening sky, just starting to
fill with stars and the setting sun. I noticed that on her
table she had a mixture of scrolls scattered all around.
Xena?" She smiled.
"No, no. I
just..." I was a babbling fool.
"You thought I would be
fucking my wife senseless?"
No words. I just nodded with
a guilty smirk.
"I noticed you didnít
go to the bordello," she countered.
there I want," I answered honestly.
"After a battle the
last thing I want is sex, strange as it might sound. To me,
sex is a beautiful act and should not be tainted by
"No disrespect, your
Majesty, but Iím not sure if it was a beautiful act that
took place between us in the woods the other night."
She smiled and motioned her
glass to me in a toast. "As they say in Gaul, touchť."
"If you agree with me,
Conqueror, what would you call it?"
"You mean the other
nightÖin the woods?"
I simply nodded.
"Lust at its finest,
Xena. Not sex. Not love. Just carnal ĎI want you. You want
me. Letís get it oní lust. Be honest Xena. You felt
"It wasnít what I
"Are you saying you
didnít enjoy it?" Gabrielle chuckled.
I gave a bashful grin.
"Iím not saying that."
She handed me some wine and
I gulped it down. "Well, after a battle I try to find
peace, some type of comfort. So I usually read some of
Sappho's works or look at the stars and dream." She
blushed. "I know. It's sillyÖ especially since I'm
expected to have the raging limbo with cravings for bondage, but..."
I interrupted her.
"Far from it, in fact,
I think it's wonderful, Gabrielle." The eyes I was
looking into were my bardís.
"So how do you handle
the battle lust, Xena?" She sounded very small.
"Sex usually, but today
I wasn't in the mood." I just wanted this subject to
drop. "So what do you need of me? Not that I'm
She looked out the window.
"I just wanted to see you."
You know that feeling in
your heart the first time the person you love says the words?
That giddy thumping? I swear if she didnít think I was
totally gone, I would have back flipped through the room. She
wanted to be with me and not the nutball! I set my glass down
and walked to her.
She looked at me, leaning in
and kissed me softly before looking back at the night sky.
"You see that, Xena?" I looked up to where she was
pointing. "It looks like a big dipper."
"A dipper?" I
smiled at the memory, in reverse, but still sweet.
"Yeah, you know like
one of those cups that you draw water out of a bucket?"
We both looked back up.
"It looks, it looks
like a bear to me." My voice was on the husky side.
"A bear?" She
looked at me like I lost my mind.
"How do you get a
bear?" I was really amusing her.
I moved behind her and began
to point as whispered in her ear Ė my breath tickling her
lobe. "Look at it. Look, thereís the body. See? The
little ears, and tailÖ" She laughed softly at me.
"If you say so,
Xena." We both chuckled now before a quiet settled over
us and our stargazing. If I was going to teach Gabrielle the
way she taught me, now had to be the time.
"You know one of the
wonderful things about life Gabrielle?"
"Times like right now
where two people can see the same thing, but find something
totally different in it. But in the end, both can be just as
beautiful. Life is always our perceptions more than the actual
incidents that happen."
"Is that so?"
says with a smile as she turned to face me.
"Well I could kiss you
right now. I could make another declaration," I begin as
my fingertips run her jaw line. "It would be a wonderful
event. But in the end how you perceive my actions are what
matter most. I could even raise another point too if I
"Letís hear it."
"Well from my
perspective I find it quite interesting and flattering
that you're standing at your balcony sharing this beautiful
sky with me instead of your consort. Iím honored and Iím
hopeful. So although you deny that thereís nothing more than
ĎLetís get it oní lust here, I have to assume itís
something more, something deeper. So tell me Gabrielle,
conqueror of my heart, whatís your perception of me?"
She fell silent and turned
to look out the window. I took time just to look at her. She
was in her Royal gown and when the wind caught her hair just
right, my breath was taken from me. This Gabrielle looked
older and regal, but with more lines around her eyes.
Regardless, she was still beautiful.
"At times I think
youíre a crazy woman with a death wish." She grinned
playfully. "At other times, someone who doesnít know
what sheís asking herself to get into. You saw what Iím
capable of today. So I wonder why youíre still here?"
"Iím yours. I follow
your orders and I was summonsed here."
"I thought thatís
what you would say." She turned back toward the window
and I knew I had to recover.
continued. "When I got my orders to join you, I rushed
here as quickly as I could. I wanted to see you again despite
A long silence passed
"I'm sorry if my
actions with Brutus disappointed you, Xena." The
confession surprised me.
"I won't lie,
Gabrielle, you did shock me today." Though it was more
like she scared me half to death.
"Xena, I didn't get to
be the Conqueror of the known world by being kind."
"I know that. I-."
"Do you?" she
interrupted me. "I have to be ruthless. Kill first,
before my enemy can kill me. Too many lives depend on me,
Xena." She walked from the window to the desk, pouring
herself more wine.
"What about your
She stopped in mid drink.
"A part of that dies each timeÖ to where I doubt I have
one any longer. But this is the life I chose." She
finished that glass and started on another. "I chose to
let hatred and revenge take my life and now I pay the piper
with my soul."
I hung my head, trying to control my emotion.
"Save your tears or
pity, Xena. A lot of times I enjoy the ruthlessness." She
gulped down another glass and moved to the door. "Now we
have a party to go to." She exited and I began to follow
when I got that familiar sick feeling that stopped me cold.
"I was wondering when
you would pay me a visit next."
"I'm here for the
I turned towards a very
happy War God, but said nothing. "Oh Xena, more tears? If
I didnít know better, I would swear youíre turning into
the bard, the lowly sidekick. Even sounding like her. Tsk, Tsk,
such a show of utter weakness is so unbecoming of the great
Warrior Princess." He circled me and sat on the desk; I
still hadnít said a word.
"Come on now, Xena, I
think you know deep down Gabrielle is better off in this
universe. She has such power to change the world, make it
better. After all isnít that what youíve both been
fighting for all along?" He snapped his finger acting
like he was hunting for the right word. "The greater
good?" he laughed, standing behind me now.
"Sheís a great ruler,
just and true." He was so close to me, I could feel his
breath in my ear. "Sheís managed to take out any threat
towards mankind. Caesarís the latest conquest." He
wrapped his arms around my waist. "You have any idea what
sheís having done to him right this moment? Hmm, Xena?"
I shuddered at his voice dropped. "Torture is a too kind
word for it. She sure can make my blood pump." He let
loose an animalistic sound and swiveled to face me.
"For the grand finale,
heíll be the main attraction at the party. I think youíll
enjoy what she has planned for him." I just raised my
eyebrow. He crossed his arms in front of himself and looked me
over. He sighed, sort of frustrated at me for not giving into
his torment. "Iíve got a deal for you, Xena. Letís
just say even now I have a small soft spot for ya."
I smirked at that. "And
what would that be, Ares?"
"Since youíll never
win Gabrielle, I thought youíd be a better choice as her
partner then Najara. Frankly between you and me, her and her
one too many voices are freaky even for me." He smiled,
waiting for my reply, but it was my turn to smirk and circle
him. "I thought she was a better choice for Gabrielle?
Since she did kick my ass that one time."
I tapped my chin.
"Since Iíve been in this Gods forsaken world you
created, Iíve been doing nothing more then thinking and
youíre right about one thing so far."
He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Here I do sound like
Gabrielle, because in the other world she was my voice of
reason. Breaking through each and every torturous demon I had.
She never gave up on me even though I gave her many reasons
too. And I bet, in fact I knowÖshe wept for my soul many
times. I caught her doing it when she thought I wasnít
around." I turned my back to him and looked out the
"At first I hated this
feeling. I did feel weak. Being in Gabrielleís shoes now, I
know she probably felt the same way." I fell silent and
thought about it. How many times did my bard hear she was my
weakness? I turned towards him. "You know what Iíve
come to realize Ares? Me being able to comfort, or yes, even
cry for Gabrielleís soul, means Iíve changed. I no longer
believe Iím this unfeeling monster you helped created years
ago." My hearing picked up him grinding his teeth.
"So I have to thank you
for that, Ares. Which also means if I can learn a lesson in
this world, so can Gabrielle. Isnít that why you made me
this offer?" I gave him a huge grin.
"Gabrielle still has
her soul and she just needs to have someone believe in her
just like I did back then. And that thought is making you
quake in your leathers, isnít it?" My stare went icy as
well as my voice. This time he shuddered as I practically
stalked up to him like a wild cat giving him a peck on the
"Thanks, but no thanks,
Ares." I walked out the door, but not before hearing
cursing and lighting bolts crashing in the room.
ĎGods, that felt
good.í I whispered, making my way to the gala. I froze
in my tracks as I saw Gabrielle talking with Lao Ma. Memories
flooded my mind.
"Fill yourself with
desire and see only illusion. Empty yourself of desire and
understand the great
mystery of things, Xena."
I was so blind back then;
the ignorance of youth. One of a very few times in my life
someone cared and I was too filled with hatred to see.
"Why would you help
me?" I spat and she just smiles at me.
"I have been blessed or
cursed with the ability to see into the souls of others. You
don't know it yet, Xena, but you're a remarkable woman capable
I didn't know what to feel.
That was the moment. I
could've done it right there. I could've just let go and
buried all my hatred forever. That was my chance and I blew it, but
if I didnít follow the path I did, I would never have met
"OhÖ wha?" I
stumbled out of my musing to an amused Conqueror and a puzzled
"Are you feeling well,
Sigh. This was like
the tenth time sheíd caught me when my guard was down.
"No Conqueror, you just caught me in heavy thought."
"Apparently so. I would like you to meet the great Lao Ma
Seeing Lao Ma again after
all these moons, I didnít know if I should laugh or cry.
Itís difficult seeing your first love after all those years.
Itís even more difficult when she has no memory of you. As
usual, she said nothing at first. I knew she was looking into
my soul as she looked into my eyes. I found myself giving a
bow of respect, which she returned.
"Lao Ma, this is
Xena," Gabrielle continued. "One of my newest
guards. Sheís quite the warrior. She showed incredible
courage and spirit today."
Lao Ma paused a moment.
"Itís wonderful to meet of woman of such nobility as
yourself Xena. Youíve had some difficult journeys I
"Yes I have," I
told her honestly.
"But you are finding
your peace slowly. That is very commendable." I watched
Lao Ma turn to Gabrielle. "Now if only her Highness could
be as fortunate."
"Iím as settled as
Iíll ever be." Gabrielle grinned.
"I think a journey east
would do you well, Conqueror. Perhaps a vacation of the body
would help the mind."
"Iíve been east, Lao
Ma. You know that."
"Ah yes, but you
havenít been to all the places you could reach."
Gabrielle and I both knew
that Lao Ma wasnít talking about geography. Those places are
deep within Gabrielle and I speculated that Lao Ma tried to
show Gabrielle and failed as she did with me. However,
Gabrielle was smart enough not to make the mistake I did when
I left Lao Maís side. Gabrielle was not an enemy of Lao Ma.
I would have enjoyed engaging Lao Ma in conversation a bit
longer. At least until the blonde psycho appeared at
"Lao Ma," Najara
began. "Itís wonderful to see you. Itís been quite
"Yes, it has." Lao
Thereís something odd
about Lao Maís appearance. Itís almost as if her airy
demeanor stiffened when Najara arrived. Lao Ma always did have
the sight. I wondered what Lao Maís interpretation of Najara
could be. I was sure by the look of her body language at this
moment it wasnít too favorable, but she was masking it well.
I spotted Ephiny entering
the hall with Solari on her arm. Good. The perfect escape.
"If youíll excuse me
your majesty I would like to have a word with your Regent
about the battle today," I announced.
"By all means,"
I took Lao Maís hand and
offered a gentle kiss. "Pleasure to meet you," I
she answered politely.
I left them to their
conversation and approached Ephiny. She wore a smile as she
saw me draw near. Solari also had a grin for me. My two old
friends. Alive. I had to admit that this life certainly had
"May I have a word with
you in private, my Regent? It wonít be, but a minute."
I hope I hadnít offended
Solari, but this conversation was best left to only Ephinyís
ears at the moment.
Solari offered. "Iíll see to our drinks." Ephiny
gave Solari a light peck on the cheek before she left.
"So whatís on your
actually," I began.
"The Consort?" The
surprise in her voice showed on her face as well. I found
myself grinning as her smile became very sly.
"Nothing sexual, my
Regent. I assure you."
"What about the
"Before the battle I
mentioned something about Callisto?"
"Which proved to be
right. You fear the Consort is a threat to the Conqueror
too?" Ephiny asked.
"I have no physical
proof, but I believe that Callisto was working with
"But why would the
Consort harm the Warrior Queen?"
I shrugged. "Maybe the
voices in her head are telling her to do it."
"We all have voices in
our head, Xena," Ephiny countered.
"Yes, but they donít
go around telling us Ďthe futureí and we donít
Ďprayí to those voices. We use them as a guide between
right and wrong. Thereís a bit of a difference between our
conscience and Najaraís Djinn." Ephiny didnít reply.
"Tell me Iím wrong," I prodded her.
A grin slowly worked its way
to Ephinyís face. "I know what you mean. It is odd.
Iíll give you that. But Najara has been very faithful to the
Conqueror. There was much anger in Gabrielle when she first
came to the Amazons. When her campaign moved east and she
found Najara... She changed."
I was intrigued. "What
do you mean she changed?"
"Gabrielle was no
longer looking for a cause to fight. She was fighting for a
cause. Najara began to balance her a bit. She showed her a
The way. Why did that
damn phrase always come back to haunt me? "And what
way would that be?"
"The way of a true
warrior. One thatís deadly in battle, but not sadistic as
Gabrielle had become. Najara changed that. And donít let the
royal attire fool you. She could best anyone in this room in
battle with the exception of Gabrielle... Even you, Xena. But
I have to agree that lately . . ."
couldnít hide the urgency of my voice.
"Both of them are
changing. Not just Najara, but Gabrielle too." The
inquisitive look I gave Ephiny made her continue. "Najara
seems edgy and Ďparanoidí. Gabrielle seems more
"Yes, she seems like
she spends more time in thought lately and I highly doubt that
itís the affairs of state that sheís concerned with. I
know that sheís taken you as a lover. Iíve said nothing to
Najara nor would I. But since that time Gabrielle seems more
like her old self, but blended with the new woman she has
I find myself getting more
confused. It showed on my face and Ephiny continued.
"She was always quick
to anger, but lately her outbursts are more frequent again,
especially since your arrival. But on the same coin, I see
that she smiles more now than... well, ever. Itís as if
sheís always going to extremes with no happy medium."
Iím not sure what to say when Ephiny adds, "youíve
had an effect on her, Xena. I donít know how and Iím not
sure why, but youíve got a power that even the great Caesar
himself could never have over her."
"And that power would
"Fear. Not a fear of
you, but a fear of herself, it seems."
I watched as Solari finished
up her conversation with Gabrielle and Lao Ma and headed
towards us again. "Well, what of the Consort? What can we
"I canít separate
them, but let me have a word with Gabrielle tonight before
sheís had too much wine. Iíll see if thereís any
"I would appreciate
that." I nodded respectfully.
Ephiny cocked her head and
examined me carefully. "I must admit, Xena. You sound
more like a Consort than a guard."
I grin. "Maybe in
another life I was. Thank you, Regent Ephiny."
Xena," she said, offering her forearm. "Youíve
fought well today and proved yourself in my eyes. Iíll see
what I can do."
With another nod to Ephiny
and one to Solari, I made my way over to the banquet. As I
grabbed a plate, I began to look at the huge spread before us.
Pig, fowl, vegetables from the far reaches of the known world
filled the long rectangle table. As I put some food on my
plate, I looked up to see my mother bringing out more loafs of
bread for the guests. She gave me a warm smile that drew me
over. I remembered that I had yet to disclose how I managed to
be Ďherí Xena. With everyone at the party, it seemed like
a good time to get into the details and I made my way over.
Before joining her in the
kitchen area, I turned around to see Ephiny leading Gabrielle
from her circle, which included Lao Ma and Najara. It appeared
that true to her word Ephiny was going to speak with Gabrielle
regarding our conversation. Feeling a bit of relief, I gave a
sigh and followed my mother into the kitchen.
As I walked inside, I looked
around to see if anyone else was present. The cooks were quite
busy with their preparations, so I took my mother by the elbow
and led her to a quiet area away from the bustle.
"I owe you an
explanation. Itís going to be difficult to believe, but this
world, this Ďrealityí, isnít real at all," I began.
She had a confused look on
her face, but I continued.
"Ares, the God of War,
created this world. In the real world, you stopped father from
killing me. I went on a rampage as a teenager and spent the
next ten years of my life living in anger over a warlord who
destroyed our family. I met Hercules, who showed me that I
could be a noble person and then a short time later I met
Gabrielle. She was a farmerís daughter who wanted to travel
on adventures. Years later, she and I became lovers. When I
decided to do the Ďright thingí in life, Ares spent years
trying to woo me back to him, but I resisted. When he realized
he would never have a shot at me he aimed for Gabrielle who
was becoming a fine warrior in her own right. He didnít
succeed with her either. So as a result, he created this place
where Gabrielle rules as his queen. He gave Gabrielle Ďmyí
life and raised her as his Conqueror."
Still my mother made no
movement, but her face creased in concern.
"Itís difficult to
believe, I know. And I wouldnít be surprised if you thought
I was crazy. Some days it feels like Iím losing my mind here, but
Iím being honest."
My mother then reached into
her pocket and scribbled a note. I read it as she handed it
back. It only had three words. ĎI believe you.í
I felt as if I might cry
again upon reading the words. It felt like a weight had been
lifted since I was able to share my secret with someone. Not
only that though. Someone believed me. I reached out to hug my
mother when we both turned to the crashing of the kitchen
Gabrielle stormed over with
Ephiny following behind her. She pulled a dagger from her
waist and backed me against the wall with it. The blade felt
cold under my chin.
"My Lord, please,"
shouted to her Regent. Her cold eyes turned to me. "Now I
realize that you have a grand attraction to me, but I have to
wonder what your true intentions are by undermining my
This is not what I expected.
I watched as Najara and Lao Ma took a place inside the kitchen
door. I knew I only had one chance to get out of this alive
and her name was Lao Ma.
My eyes fixed on Lao Maís
and almost as if they were magnets, she walked over to stand
next to Gabrielle.
Conqueror," Lao Ma began. "Put the weapon down. Xena
means you no harm."
"Everyone out of here
now!" Gabrielle shouted. The kitchen cleared with the
exception of my mother, Ephiny, Najara and Lao Ma. She turned
around to look at her bond-mate. "I said now!"
Najaraís eyes flashed, but
she did as she was told. Ephiny, however didn't move and she
conveyed a look of apology to me. Praise Aphrodite that Lao
Ma held her ground. Now I was concerned for my mother as
Gabrielleís wrath focused on her. Without warning my mother
reached out slowly and took the dagger from Gabrielleís
hand. She managed to form a single word Ė muffled, but the
intent clearly heard.
Gabrielleís eyes held a
fury that I had yet to see in all her raging. I watched as Lao
Ma reached out and gently touched Gabrielleís shoulder.
"This woman has served
you greatly, Gabrielle. Do her no harm."
Gabrielle expelled a deep
breath and hung her head down. "Please go," she told
my mother. Immediately my mother looked to me, and I nodded
letting her know I would be okay. Only then did she hand the
dagger to Lao Ma before walking out to join the others.
It seemed like forever as
the three of us stood in a silent circle with Ephiny observing
from the outside. Gabrielleís eyes never left mine. Without
a word, she walked past me and out the door.
"Iím sorry Xena.
Iíll talk with her," Ephiny said before following her
Lady. I leaned on a nearby table hanging my head wondering how
things could go so wrong so quickly.
"What we sow in this
life, we reap in our future lives. This is what some call our
I looked towards Lao Ma.
"What?" I asked.
"You donít belong
here do you?" Her voice was always very calming to me.
"No," was all I
could manage as she pinned my eyes with her stare.
"You and Gabrielle...
You both walk a path together, your souls are
intertwined." She seemed rather intrigued.
"HowÖ?" My voice
shook; she smiled and patted my arm.
"It is the beauty of
the universe, Xena. Each being has its place. Each has a
meaning, each drawing on the other to complete its totality.
When Gabrielle introduced us earlier, I could see her soul is
complete when she is with you. As is yours with hers."
"Sheís my soul
mate." As soon as I was able to gather my wits together,
I explained everything to her. I concluded and took a weary
seat on a nearby stool at the counter. Lao Ma who always moved
with such grace, seemed to breeze by me and take a seat across
"I see, no wonder
sheís been on edge since my arrival. I thought for certain
her Consort was to blame - that she felt they no longer had a
place together, but I see it is much deeper Ö" She
looked at me and then stopped briefly. "You are making
her feel again and that is scaring her worse then anything in
her life. She hates that feeling of losing control,
"The more time goes on
while Iím here, the more I feel I should have left things as
they were. She was happy here until I showed up and all Iíve
ever wanted for her is to be happy." It was feeling like
being torn to pieces inside.
"You donít believe
that, do you?"
I shrugged. I wasn't sure
what I believed at the moment. The woman I loved more than
life itself, just had a knife to my throat and I was
explaining this to my greatest mentor who was long since dead.
What could I believe right now?
"No one is guaranteed
happiness." Lao Ma smiled with a mischievous grin I knew
quite well from years ago. "Life just gives us the time
and space. It is up to us to fill it with joy and meaning.
Gabrielle hasn't felt these emotions since she was a child, but
I do believe with my very being... Youíre the one to give
her that joyÖEven if she herself doesn't realize it."
We both fell silent and I
could feel Lao Ma continuing to examine me.
"When I first met
Gabrielle, the Conqueror... she was so lost, so full of
mistrust and hatred. She was too blind to see anything
clearly. After a moon had passed, I managed to see that the
light in her heart was still there, aching to be set
free." She rose and began to stroll along, clasping her
hands behind her back in reflection. She peered out the
"I knew she had the
heart of a poet, a storyteller, and asked her one day to
express it in a scroll. She jotted something down rather
quickly, then she got very angry with me for asking her to do
so. What she wrote was beautiful. She is Greek, you know? If
she were a man, I would say she would be more popular than
many of the playwrights in this day and age, but only if she
used that talent... The request stirred something within her.
Something that frightened her... She left Chin soon after and
I didnít hear anything from her for years." Lao Ma
inhaled then spoke some of Gabrielle's writings aloud. "My
face is a mask I command to say nothing, shrouding the fragile
feelings, hiding in my tortured soul." Lao Ma cleared
her throat and turned to me. "Even to this moment I
remember her wordsÖ.For a glimpse in time there, lying
before me, was the person without the title of Conqueror. And
it frightened her until that fear turned to anger."
"Just like now?" I
sounded more like a child then a woman.
"As it is now,"
"I donít know if I
can do this! Be Gabrielle in this time and find the right
words to express? I donít know if Iím that strong a
Lao Ma gave me a gentle
smile. "Come now, Xena, we both know you are strong, and
not just physically." I couldn't help, but grin at her
response. She was correct and I was starting to sell myself
short. I said it often, but how much did I believe it: I have
many skills. My strength was one of them.
Lao Ma continued.
"Besides was it always words that your Gabrielle used in
her quest to get closer to you? Think very hard now, warrior,
and remember this: Anyone can proclaim to love you, but it
takes someone very exceptional to show it through
"She was a true friend
who understood my past," I answered softly. "Even if
she hadn't lived it herself. And she believed in my future and
accepted me, just the way I am." The fear coming from my
voice shocked me.
"You donít think you
can be that kind of friend to her? Accept her? Believe in her?
A very wise friend once said that no one can truly believe in
herself unless someone else believes in her first. Be that
person that believes in Gabrielle and it will set you both
And if I do that you'll
be dead, I thought silently. And mother. And Ephiny and
Solari. She glided gracefully from the kitchen and left me
there to think.
"She's right, you
know?" I heard a soft voice call from behind me.
"She's a very wise woman for a mortal."
I turned around to see
Aphrodite. "I'm not sure what I can do. I don't know
where to begin."
"I heard Aresí little
offer." She grinned. "He's running scared. You're closer
to Gabrielle's heart than you think."
"This coming from the
Goddess of Love? Can I take that as a 'given'? I mean sure I
might have Gabrielle's heart, but that's if she doesn't slit
my throat before then."
Aphrodite put her hands on
her hips. "Sometimes you can be a real drama queen, you
know that? So you thought she was gonna kill you Ė big
"That knife at my
throat was not an illusion, Aphrodite."
"No, but the reason it
was there was."
"Meaning, sweet pea
didn't want to kill you." The love goddess chuckled.
"She wanted to scare you, to test you, to see if you
would 'buckle' under the accusation that Ephiny said you
madeÖI'm proud you didn't, because it brought you one step
closer to her heart."
I rubbed my temple. It had
been a long day and I had to admit I couldn't decide which was
more tiring Ė the battle with the Romans earlier or the
racking my brain was experiencing trying to figure out
"You'll find the way,
Xena. Think about what Lao Ma said," she instructed as
she started to vanish, "Think hard."
And think I did... for a
long time. Iím not sure how I made it back to my barrack,
not sure when I fell into a fitful slumber. Visions, so many
"So this is Cirra.
Itís beautiful." Gabrielle smiled.
"To me, itís the
ugliest place on Earth." Such guilt ravaged me then.
"I donít think you
should keep punishing yourself for what happened." She
always looked out for me.
"I didnít come here
to punish myself. I wanna understand why."
"Why what?" She
"Why it happened. Why I
was who I was. And how I can ever atone." Or will I ever?
Xena. Like this valley. Once it was a place full of death and
violence. But now itís full of beauty and life. The same
kind of change has happened to you."
"I wish that I could
see it that way."
I tossed and turned on the
pallet, but the vision never let up.
"When the living think
of the dead, the dead can hear their thoughts. Listen."
MíLila said and then I heard Gabrielleís voice.
"Xena? I know you can
hear me, wherever you are. I know you always told me to be
strong. I canít be, not now. You canít leave me. I know
itís not your time. I can feel it in my heart. I feel this
emptiness that Iíve never known before, and it scares me.
Xena, above all just remember your destiny. Remember it and
fight. Just, fight to come back. This world needs you. I need
The one person who believed
in me, loved me and I took the easy way out; hurting that very
same person. I felt very selfish, unworthy and wanting
something that I hadnít wanted in a long time. I wanted to
I had a memory of one
conversation I had with Tara. She was a lost kid and reminded
myself of me at that age.
"My father said I
couldnít change, one big lost cause." I felt so
badly for her.
"That is not true,
you are what you do. You can re-create yourself every second
of your life." I think that was the first time I
noticed Gabrielle was rubbing off on me.
Then the visions take me
away to the murder of Thelassa. I gave up then as well, and
Gabrielle paid for that mistake along with so many others over
time. Even though it turned out I didnít murder her, I still
feel so much guilt for taking her innocence away.
"Xena, if you're
looking for redemption, you're not gonna find it there." Right
then I felt Shark Island wasnít enough punishment for me, but
it gave me an odd sense of peace.
"I'm not looking for
redemption any more. Gabrielle, we're always talking about
your spiritual quest. You say that you need something to make
you feel complete. Well, so do I."
I slowly found consciousness
and Lao Ma's words came back to me. It wasn't what Gabrielle
had said during all my 'battles' and private hells, it was
what she had done. Anyone else might have turned away, but she
stood strong beside me on that Cirra hillside. Anyone else
might have left me for dead, but Gabrielle battled a power
hungry Amazon with her friends to bring me back. Anyone else
would have let me serve my life sentence for my crimes, but
Gabrielle disguised herself and came to the island to try to
heal my soul. It wasn't really her words at all. It was the
action she put behind them all. And didn't I tell her once
that I was more a woman of action?
But I didn't have much time
to reflect on this new knowledge. I bolted upright as sounds
of Gabrielle screaming and things breaking brought me to my
feet. Without worrying about the consequences, I burst into
Gabrielle's bedchamber. Najara was on the floor as Gabrielle
raised her sword above her head about to strike. I reacted on
instinct to save Gabrielle Ė not her body, but her soul. I
ran over and threw myself on top of Najara.
Najara looked as stunned as
Gabrielle, and I had to admit, at the moment I was more
stunned than both of them. I wouldn't say that out loud. I
realized that I did have a purpose and it had little to do
with saving Najara's life. By the sway of Gabrielle's body
above us I could tell she'd done even more drinking after
leaving the kitchen.
"Get out of the way,
Xena!" she warned.
Gabrielle," I pleaded. "If you kill your bond-mate
in a drunken rage, your soul would be lost... and there would
be no going forward from there."
Gabrielle looked like she
was going to cry, the sword shaking in her grasp. Slowly I
moved away, bringing Najara to her feet with me. "Thank
you," Najara whispered.
it," I replied, but in my mind adding, Ďyou
nutcaseí. "Why don't we all get some sleep? If you
would, my Conqueror, I'd like to escort you back to my
barracks for the rest of the evening. Najara, please stay
here. You can both discuss things tomorrow when clearer heads
prevail." I paused and added the word,
"Please?" Hades, it always worked on me when
Gabrielle did it.
Gabrielle lowered the sword
and stormed from the room. Najara and I both released a sigh.
Without looking in her direction I started toward the door.
"I'll bring her back in the morning, Najara. Get some
"Xena," she called
out. Reluctantly I stopped and turned to face her. "Thank
I'm not sure what possessed
me, but I found myself walking back to stand inches from her.
"Let me spell something
out for you, Najara. I don't trust you. I don't like you. I
don't think you're fit to shine Gabrielle's boots. And if I
thought her killing you would play little part on her mental
state, I would have let her drive through you as quick as she
could. But I know better. I didn't save you tonight, so don't
thank me. I came to save Gabrielle."
I started to make my way
again when I heard Najara's voice call out, a bitter edge to
it. "You realize, as Consort, I could challenge you in
the Arena, if I so wish."
"I wouldn't put it past
you and your 'Djinn' to do that. But until that day
comes," I added, "Stay the hell away from me and
I'll stay away from you. Deal?"
"Being a royal guard
won't that be a bit difficult?" she taunted.
"I don't think your
stay in this kingdom will last much longer," I answered
with a cocky grin. I began to shut the door behind me,
"Sleep well, Consort."
Upon closing the door, I
heard Najara's frustrated wail and the sound of something else
crashing behind the door. Okay, it was terrible of me, but I
couldn't help, but smile. Besides, playing passive for
Gabrielle's affections wasn't getting me anywhere. I might as
well be upfront and perhaps spur Najara into an inappropriate
action that would be her undoing. Najara was just bad news and
always would be in my eyes. ĎShe also kicked your assí,
I reminded myself. But I realized that during our first
encounter I underestimated her ability. I turned my back on
her, which as a warrior was a critical mistake. I wouldn't be
turning my back on her this time. One way or another I'd keep
my eyes and ears on her as much as I could.
Now I had one huge pressing matter waiting for me in my
barracks. It didnít go unnoticed by me that Gabrielle took
off with her sword still in hand. Being as drunk and angry as
she was, I knew Iíd be in some trouble. I stopped outside my
door and was shocked at the fact my hands were shaking. When I
opened the door, I was more than startled to find her sitting
in a chair with a glass of wine and her sword leaning on her
right knee facing the door.
"Tell me, Xena."
She gulped her wine then threw her glass into the wall.
"Why would you care if I gut my bond-mate or not?"
She stood with sword in hand and moved towards me. "It
would seem more to your advantage her being out of the
way." Her voice was very harsh.
"Why would you want to
"That is none of your
concern, Xena. Now I ask you again. It would seem more to your
advantage her being out of the way. Am I right?" Her
voice was like ice.
"And watch more of you
die inside? No thanks."
She smirked at me, then took
the hilt of her sword in hand, ramming it into my stomach. I
didnít spend much time crumpled over, since she raised me
back up with the tip of her blade at my throat.
"Iím not really sure
what game you are playing with me, Xena, but Iím growing
tired of you questioning me all the time. I should kill you
right here." She emphasized that by making me more aware
of what was sticking at my throat.
"If that brings you
peace, Gabrielle, then do it." I tilted my head back
more, exposing my neck. She huffed, dropping her blade down
and moved back towards the table with wine.
"I love you,
She sat with her wine,
glaring at me. "I donít love you, Xena. Nor will I
It might have been more
merciful if sheíd run me through with her sword.
"You see, I know
nothing of love and doubt I ever will." She gulped her
wine down. "So youíre wasting your time."
The last sentence sounded
like it came from a fragile child and not the Conqueror. She
went for another glass of wine, but I moved across the room
and took the goblet and flask from her. "Please,
Gabrielle. No more tonight."
I expected a fight Ė a
backhand, some angry words Ė, but nothing came. She simply
sat back down in the chair, looking defeated. She looked
broken, battered Ė the woman who just destroyed the Roman
"There was a time in my
life, I felt the very same way you do. I can't take your guilt
away, maybe cause there's nothing I can say that can take away
that feeling you have. You wanna know that what you did in
life was for all the right reasons, but with that pain in your
gut and the weight on your shoulders, the best you can come up
with is that it was a good day of fighting. Not just in the
battlefields, but also in life. But as hard as itís been
you've gotta know that it's for a reason. All this is for a
reason. Otherwise, what's the point, right? I was asking
myself that same question not too long ago. What I do know is
that is makes a big difference if someone believes in you,
gives you courage and strength. It can even teach the hardest
of souls to love." I stared her right into the eyes.
"I love you with all my being and I believe in you with
all my heart, Gabrielle. And I can't sit back and watch you
slowly destroy yourself any longer."
She was quiet for a moment,
bent over slightly, staring at her boots. She inhaled deeply.
I could tell she was trying to control her emotion. She lifted
up her head and looked at the ceiling, fighting back her
tears. I wanted nothing more than to pull her in my arms and
give her comfort. I hoped I had chosen the right words, the
words that Gabrielle would have used to comfort me. I wanted
to add more, but instead she began to speak.
"There was a great
battle we had here a couple moonís ago, against the
I sat on the floor in front
of her to listen.
"The blood bath raged
on for days. They were relentless and I was growing tired of
it all. Tired of the cold, the deathÖ just so tired."
She sniffled and took another breath.
"One night they got the
element of surprise on us. I lost many good peopleÖ I
remember I slipped on some lose earth, winding myself, and
right in front of me was a Persian ready to sever my head from
my body. As time stood still, my mind thought how easy it
would have been just to let him do it. Some sorta redemption
for all those Iíd conquered. But the warrior part of me held
"It had nothing to do
with the warrior in you. That wouldnít have been redemption,
Gabrielle. It would have been the easy way out of things. You
never took the easy way out in your life, thatís why you
"You donít think my
demise would make many happy? The price of my life, to pay for
anyone I wronged, Xena?"
"I bet there would be
certain people that would take pleasure in your death, mine
too. What Iím saying is all the good things you do outweigh
the bad. You can do a lot more alive to change things for the
better, than being dead. Itís a hard, slow and at times
torturous, but in the long run, itís worth it. You will find
our redemption." I knew she wasnít buying any of this.
"Tell me why you have
people that serve you with such loyalty? Donít tell me
itís fear either. You have many people who would fight and
die by your side because they believe in your cause. Think of
that soldier, Joxer, who died. He charged in to save your life
Ė not out of fear, but out of respect." I put my hands
on her knees, but she still wouldn't meet my eyes.
"Gabrielle, you were a
child when evil came and took your innocence away. You
conquered the world not out of anger or greed. You conquered
to make sure other innocents donít have to go through what
you did. Gods woman, why would my mothÖ Cyrene treat you
like her own daughter?" I was hoping I covered that slip, butÖ
Before I could answer, there
were crashing sounds and bone chilling screams. One of those
screams was all too familiar. Gabrielle and I took off towards
the noises. As we got closer, I noticed it was coming from the
kitchen area. When we got there it was sacked, the huge pot in
the fire was overturned and mess in every direction.
Hope?" Gabrielle sounded panicked. We got to their
sleeping chamber and froze. The room was torn apart, and there
was blood everywhere. Sitting in the corner was my mother
holding a bloodied Callisto.
"Mother, what happened?
What did she do?" I asked while looking the two of them
over. She was so distraught, with no way to communicate.
Quickly, I looked around for a quill and scroll. Gabrielle
began to search too, but a way to communicate with my mother
wasn't what she needed at that moment.
yelled looking around the room. "Hope, answer me!"
My mother snapped her
fingers to get our attention and pointed to a larger chest
near the door. We both watched as Gabrielle fearfully made her
way with cautious footsteps, afraid of what she would find.
Once there, she lifted the lid and we heard small whimpers.
"Donít hurt me,"
the little voice cried. Gabrielle dropped down, scooped the
child up and held her close. Upon realizing it was Gabrielle,
Hope tightened her grip around Gabrielle's neck.
"Did she do this?"
I moved my eyes from Gabrielle back to my mother and Callisto.
My mother shook her head fiercely. I couldn't understand what
"Some men came
in," Hope said, her tiny voice shaking. "The blonde
woman fought them."
"I couldn't see
them," Hope answered. "Grandma hid me in the trunk.
I-I-It was real loud and then real quiet. Then you shouted my
Callisto didnít move and
appeared to be dead or close to it. Her chest hardly moved. I
moved closer down to examine her. She'd taken one Tartarus of
barely got her eyes open.
Callisto coughed up some
blood. She was bleeding from the inside and I knew there
wasn't anything that I could do to stop that kind of injury.
"Had to come back." She grinned.
"Why? You were
banished," I asked.
me," she said struggling with the words. "Had to
come back... Najara wants Hope Ė the daughter dead. No heir...
Save them, Xena. . .No more dead children or mothers . .
." She began to cough slightly before she slumped in my
motherís arms, her eyes glazed over. Hopeís cries got
louder; my mother's tears were falling and I found I was
crying as wellÖbecause in this world, Callisto found peace.
And once more Gabrielle had succeeded where I had failed Ė
she managed to save Callisto's soul. Running my hand over
Callisto's face I closed her eyes. I turned to find Gabrielle
still clutching onto Hope, her eyes closed tight in relief.
When the child began to calm down a bit, Gabrielle spoke to
"Are you alright?"
Hope pulled back and looked
at Gabrielle, totally ignoring the question.
"Are you my mama?"
her tiny voice asked in disbelief. Gabrielle swallowed a few
times and softly answered.
"Yes, but you can't
tell anyone, sweetheart."
"But why can't
later." She didn't add more. Instead she turned to my
mother on the floor holding Callisto. "Are you injured,
Cyrene?" she asked.
My mother shook her head no.
Gabrielle just gave her a nod, tightening her hold on Hope. I
watched as Gabrielle carried Hope away from the slaughter.
That would have to be dealt with later. Now that Najara was in
her full-blown nut mode, and on the loose, things had gotten
more dangerous. It might have been two men that arrived, but I
knew in my very bones Najara was behind it. My poor mother was
still holding Callisto, so I carefully picked the fallen woman
up and made my way outside. Two guards suddenly appeared and
immediately I became suspicious. Where were they when the
fighting was going on, and what took them so long to get
there? I rested Callisto's body gently on the floor as they
they asked in harmony.
"You tell me," I
"What do you
mean?" the first guard asked.
"Why were these women
and a child attacked here by two men, without your
They looked guiltily at each
other as Gabrielle returned alone. "Well," the
second guard began. "We were at our post, but then
HoriatiusÖwanted to beÖaloneÖso weÖ"
He faltered while trying to
describe his lovers tryst with the other guard. Apparently,
Gabrielle had heard enough. She pulled her knife from her boot
and spun him around. Before I realized what was happening, she
stabbed him directly in the heart, killing him instantly. The
blade was removed quickly and she used it to slit the other
stunned man's throat. I watched as he clutched his neck,
gurgling as he tumbled to the ground atop the other. Two men
lay dead in the kitchen with Gabrielle breathing hard, her
rage bubbling over.
I was shocked Ė completely
shocked - at what had transpired. I also realized that if they
were the ones to blame, we couldn't get any information out of
them now. Gabrielle's anger had totally blinded her to that
"Now what do we
do?" I asked her.
"What do you
"They might have been
involved, and if not, you just killed two innocent men."
Gabrielle grabbed my collar,
bringing us nose to nose. "If they were guilty, they're
dead now. And if they weren't off fucking, this wouldn't have
happened. Either way they're useless to me."
She began to make her way
into my mother's quarters and I followed. "Pretty tough
way to prove a point, wouldn't you say?"
She spun around on her heels
and faced me. "Understand this, Xena. I don't tolerate
failure. No matter how you look at it, these two 'guards'
were dead men the minute they let someone lay hands on my cook
and my daughter. Maybe it was their hands, maybe it wasn't -
in the end it doesn't matter. They failed and they paid the
price. Now be useful and fetch me a quill and scroll, so
Cyrene can tell us what happened."
I found my voice muted and
my feet rooted as she finished her journey into my mother's
chamber. When I was able to make it in, Gabrielle and mother
were picking up some of the mess so we all could sit.
"Hand her the scroll
and quill, Xena." I did what I was told, then went to sit
in the chair near my mother.
"Cyrene, in all the
years we have known each other, you have never lied to me.
Tell me how Xena is your child and why you never told
I wasnít ready for this.
My mother looked between Gabrielle and I; then wrote. I had no
idea what she was going to say and she knew she couldnít
tell the truth. Gabrielle kept her eyes on my mother while
ignoring my stare as the minutes passed. She finished and
handed the scroll to Gabrielle, taking my hand for support.
"We just figured out
the truth the other night, Lord Conqueror. You know I thought
years ago Atrius killed my child, but the bastard sold her."
Gabrielle read aloud, and then looked me in the eyes before
continuing. "Other than her having the name I gave my
daughter, the more we spent time together and talked, things
started to make sense." My mother patted my hand and
started to cry mouthing, Ďmy childí to Gabrielle.
"Ok Cyrene, enough on
this topic for now." Inside I was sighing with relief, but
I knew this was far from over with. I felt awful that my
mother had to lie for me. Would Gabrielle believe this? Did
Mother tell her everything, including carrying my young body
to the family tomb?
"Tell us what happened
today, who attacked you?" She handed the scroll back.
This time Gabrielle was looking at me while Mother wrote, I
could tell her mind was turning. Again we waited, with the
sound of the quill scratching being all that was heard. When
she finally handed the scroll back, Gabrielle read it out loud
"I was getting some
things ready for morning while Hope was telling me a story.
Outside the kitchen area, I heard two men talking, maybe they
thought of me as deaf instead of mute. One kept mentioning
about the Conquerorís daughter. Right then my hackles rose,
so I hid Hope quickly in the trunk in our room. Just got the
lid closed when the door was smashed in. Two tall men with
black hoods asked me where Hope was. When I couldnít answer,
and they wouldnít let me near my scroll. They began to sack
the place. The last place they went after was the trunk. I
began to struggle. One knocked me down and was ready to run me
through when I heard this scream. Thatís when the blonde
woman showed up, wounding the one who was attacking me. I
guess she wasnít aware of the other man in the room. When
she turned, he shoved his sword in her gut. She just smiled at
the man. Another scream, twirled her sword, which scared both
those men to death, because they ran like Hades himself was
after them. She then turned to me and I saw how bad the wound
was. She fell into my arms muttering Ďno child should have
to suffer.í Thatís when you and Xena came in."
"Mother, did you
recognize the voices of those men?" She just shook her
"Cyrene, I want you to
stay in Xenaís room until we get to the bottom of
this." My mother reached for her scroll and wrote quickly
then handed it back.
"Where is Hope? Iíll
sleep in my own bed, thank you. Also, I have to prepare the
meals of the day. No one is going to scare me out of my daily
Gabrielle face flushed a
bit. "You havenít called me ĎSproutí in ages,
CyreneÖ Hope is being guarded by Ephiny and Solari in their
chambers... Gods woman, youíre so damn stubborn."
My mother stood with a grin,
giving her a peck on the cheek. We stayed a candle-mark
helping her clean the mess until she pushed us out the door so
she could work in peace. I didnít think any of us would get
sleep as dawn was approaching and a new day about to start.
The entire time, Gabrielle was quiet and in heavy thought.
"Dinar for you
thoughts?" She looked at her chamber door like a
"I hate feeling scared,
I knew it was a big
acknowledgment for her.
"You fear not knowing
who ordered the attack?" I asked, deciding to remain
factual for the moment, avoiding any emotional upheaval a
heavy debate might cause her.
"I have an idea who
ordered it, but I need to be sure. No, what Iím fearing
right at this moment is that tiny person laying in my Regent's
"Why? She seems to be a
child with a good head on her shoulders. Sheíll
understand." But after I spoke, my heart fluttered,
understand, Xena. How will a tiny child understand I had to
leave her to protect her from those who might hurt me?"
Right then, my armor cracked.
"I do understand, more
then you know." My voice shook and I was losing any signs
"More secrets youíve
kept from me, Xena?"
I swallowed hard,
considering a starting place. "Between you trying to kill
me every turn and the battle, I just havenít had the time to
think about it," I shot back. This was still a sore spot
for me and it was hard for me not to show anger. "I had a
child when I was much younger, a son. I had to give him up
when he was only a few hours old... To protect him from those
who would hurt me by hurting him... It was the hardest
decision Iíve ever had to make."
"Did you ever see him?
Did he know of you?" My anger faded when I looked into
her eyes. No matter how much Gabrielle was in pain, if someone
else was in more, they were more important to her. This
Gabrielle was no different, and her face showed such
"I saw him a couple
times as he grew, but he never knew that I was his
"Sometime I wish I
would of done as you did. I should have sent Hope away to be
safe. I was selfish wanting to at least see my baby
This conversation was rather
difficult, if not odd. Here I was talking with the very same
person whose child killed mine. In this world Hope was as she
should have been; in every aspect she had the soul of
Gabrielle. It took us so long a time to work through all the
pain we caused one another. I still have visions and guilt. It
was easier to blame Gabrielle for everything, when some it, if
not most, in hindsight was mine.
"Donít say that,
Gabrielle. You did the right thing and there isnít a day
that goes by that I hadnít wished Iíd found a way to keep
Solan close." My chin was trembling. "He died never
knowing his mother, or that she loved him." I broke down
and she pulled me into her arms and rocked me in her smaller
"Iím so sorry,
Xena." She whispered words of comfort until all my tears
were shed. We heard someone clear their throat. Solari was
standing at the door.
"Someone is calling for
Gabrielle caressed my face
then on her tiptoes gave me a peck on the lips. Gods I love
this person so.
"Weíll talk more,
Xena. Right now, come with me. I need all the support I can
Itís funny how a little
person can make a Conqueror weak in the knees.
We walked into the room,
greeting Ephiny. In the bed we spotted a tiny body with
wide-awake green eyes.
"We'll be at the empty
barracks should you need us, Your Highness," Ephiny said
with a bow. Gabrielle nodded to them and I watched as they
left. Gabrielle's sigh was deep as she made her way over to
"How's the prettiest
girl in Athens doin'? You calmed down a little?"
"Now I know why you
always call me that," Hope replied coldly. Seemed Cyrene
and Gabrielle weren't the only gals in this kingdom who could
be stubborn. Hope came by it honestly.
Gabrielle took a seat on the
side of the bed, close to where Hope was wrapped up tight.
"Well, it's true, you know?" Gabrielle grins.
"You are the prettiest girl, and not just because you're
"You never told me.
Don't you love me?"
I watched as Gabrielle
closed her eyes, trying to keep it together for Hope's sake,
maybe even her own. "Yes, I love you, Hope. That's why
you never knew. If people found out who you were they would
have tried to hurt you or steal you long before tonight. You
have to know that is the ONLY reason why I never said
anything. You've always been my 'hope' Ė the reason that I
"I just don't
understand. Why would people hurt me?"
"How do I explain
this?" Gabrielle asked herself before facing Hope again.
"I'm not as nice to other people as I am to you and your
Grandma Cyrene. People who I've hurt would try to get even by
hurting you. And I didn't want that to happen. So if I keep
the secret that you're my daughter then... it helps keep you
"So, I can't tell
"No, sweetheart, you
can't. It's too dangerous."
"But if no one knows,
then why did those men come after me?"
"Because I do have
people, people that are close to me, who know you're my
daughter. I think they tried to harm you."
"Did Xena know?"
She looked at me and I nodded.
"Yes she did, but she
didn't send those mean men."
This I wanted to hear.
"Honey, you don't have
to worry about who it might be. Just stay close to Cyrene,
Xena and Ephiny. I trust them. They'll all look out for you.
And I'll find out who it is. I promise you."
"Why should I believe
you? You haven't told the truth since I've known you."
It was spoken with a child's
innocence and I prayed that Gabrielle 'the Conqueror' wouldn't
see it as an act of defiance and become enraged. The alcohol
was wearing off at this point, but I also knew that
regardless, Gabrielle had an ugly temper. I held my breath. I
only released it when I heard Gabrielle give a light chuckle.
"You're my daughter,
alright." She grinned. "You make a good point, but
consider this Hope: Haven't I always been good to you?"
"Haven't I always made
sure that you had enough food, clothing and academic
Hope nodded again.
"So why wouldn't I find
out who tried to hurt you and Grandma?"
Hope gave a nod once more.
Gabrielle rose up and kissed
Hope on the forehead. "So this is our secret, okay?"
Hope grinned mischievously as Gabrielle flashed her a
disapproving glare. "I never called anyone mother. I just
wanted to say it once." Not only was Hope stubborn, she
had her mom's sense of humor and timing too.
Gabrielle's scowl slowly
turned into a grin and I watched as she tousled the hair on
Hope's crown. "I'm going to leave now, sweetie, but I'll
see that Regent Ephiny and Solari return here to stay the
night with you, okay? Xena will keep watch over you until I
get back alright?"
By her excited nod, it
seemed to make Hope quite happy that she'd be in my company.
"I like Xena a lot."
Gabrielle looked over to me
and smiled. "Yeah, she's growing on me too, I have to
admit. You do as she says, okay?"
Conqueror," Hope replied.
Without haste, Gabrielle
left the room and I made my way over to take Gabrielle's spot
on the bed.
"You know that your mom
is only doing this because she cares, right, Hope?"
"Yeah I think so. I
mean... I've heard talk. Some people have said the things
she's done, but I never thought it could be true. I mean,
she's always so good to me and Grandma."
Conqueror'," I winked conspiratorially which raised a
grin form Hope. "She doesn't trust many people and she's
had a difficult life. Much more difficult than ours. She's got
"Yeah, the castle is
huge," Hope remarked.
I tried not to chuckle at
the fact that Hope missed what I meant. "Well yeah, it is
a big place, but I mean in here," I said, tapping my
chest. "She doesn't let many people into her heart. You
and your Grandma are lucky because you both have a special
place there so don't forget it."
"I think you have a
special place too, Xena."
"I don't know about
that." I tried my best to grin.
"It's true," Hope
insisted. "She gets puppy dog eyes sometimes when she
watches you. That's what Grandma calls it anyway."
"Really? I hadn't
"Oh, she never does it
when you're looking at her. Only when you're not... Are you
going to be the new consort someday?"
"She has a
consort," I replied as diplomatically as possible.
"Well, yeah, but you're
I couldnít hold back this
time. I laughed out loud and I found myself leaning over to
kiss her on the cheek. "You're somethin' else, Hope...
Why am I more fun?"
She gave a shrug. "You
like me. I don't think Najara does. Did you notice how when I
mentioned Najara, Mom didn't answer me?"
Add observant to Hope's list
of many similarities.
"Yeah, I noticed,"
I answered honestly.
"Do you think it's
Oh boy, now what do I
say? "I think you should take your mom's advice.
Stick close to the people she trusts for the time being until
we get things figured out, alright?"
"You didn't answer me
"Maybe that is your
answer, Hope." I grinned back.
"I should avoid
At all costs, I
thought. But I didn't want to frighten the poor child either.
"I think you should and make sure you're always with your
Grandma, no matter what."
I heard the door open and I
darted up, my sword at the ready. I lowered my stance as I
watched Gabrielle walking back in with Ephiny and Solari.
"Glad that's not an
itchy trigger finger attached to a cross bow." Gabrielle
I smiled as I re-sheathed my
sword. "Just wanted to be ready for anything," I
"Which is why you're a
royal guard." she nodded. She walked over to the bed
again, giving Hope a kiss on the head. "Ephiny and Solari
will stay here with you tonight. So try to get some
"She's in her quarters.
I asked that she move elsewhere for the night, but she
"Grandma is very
stubborn, just like me." She giggled and we all smiled at
"I'll be staying in
Hope started to pout.
"Why can't you stay with me?"
Ephiny looked to me and I
could feel every heart in the room break at the request.
"If you stay with me it
might cause people to think I have more of an interest in you
than I should," Gabrielle answered. "We can't take
that chance, Hope. Not with you being so young and
defenseless. When you're a bit older and I have a chance to
train you, then things will be different. I promise."
"Can you start
Gabrielle replied. "But for now, you go to sleep and get
some rest. Ephiny will bring you to me in the morning and I'll
see that you get to your grandmother okay. Goodnight
Hope," Gabrielle told the young girl, and gave her
another kiss on the head.
As Gabrielle started to
leave, I followed. She paused a moment at Ephiny's side.
"Lock the door tonight and let no one in, but me.
Highness." Ephiny nodded.
"You get some rest too.
We'll have a busy day tomorrow."
Without comment, Ephiny
nodded as we walked out. As soon as the door was closed, true
to her instructions, we heard the door lock. Slowly and
wordlessly, we made our way to my barracks.
As I opened my door,
Gabrielle rested her hand on my arm. "Thank you for
everything tonight, Xena. After the way I've treated you
"Please, no apology
needed. I'm just glad everyone is safe. We'll get to the
bottom of it Gabrielle."
"I hope so... for all
Gabrielle and I were
awakened by the shouting of someone in the hallway. They were
crying and incoherent, their words coming out as jumbled sobs.
We both dashed to the door and flagged down the hysterical
"Slow down! Slow down!
What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked the man, grabbing him by
the forearms, giving a light shake.
He took an unsteady breath.
"The cook? What about
I felt my face go as white