Standard Disclaimer: This was written just for fun, no copy write infringement was intended. Most of the characters belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and anyone involved in Xena: Warrior Princess, except for a few who belong to me and history.

Specific Story Disclaimers:

Violence: Yes of course there is, we are talking Xena here. Some may be graphic, or mild, depending on your tastes.

Subtext: This story does contain plenty of it, if it’s offensive to you stop reading now.

Sex: There are some explicit sex scenes here, nothing that doesn’t ordinarily happen in a sexual relationship. If you are under eighteen, please don’t read this. I already corrupted enough minors when I was a minor.

Hurt/comfort: Parts of the plot maybe disconcerting to some, others might not be jarred at all. Sorry but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether it hurts or not.

Inspiration: Thanks to Melissa Good who inspired me to start writing again with her stories.

Please email any comments to:

Destiny’s Ghost

By Morrig

Chapter One: All Roads Lead to Rome

One blue eye under an arched dark eyebrow watched the darkness just beyond the flames of a dying fire. From under a bundle of furs and strawberry hair an arm lazily reached out, and settled itself over her midriff, causing the warrior to stifle a giggle and a comment on the blanket stealing bard. The distant sound of hoof beats, a single rider she discerned slowly headed their way, had awoken her from a restless sleep. All senses turned in precise focus towards the oncoming danger, and a subtle, quick hand reached for the well used sword tucked safely at her side. Bacchae, it’s headed this way. What now? Gently, so as not to wake her companion, she pushed the arm away from her, and stood sword in hand waiting for the intruder.

Gabrielle had felt her move, reach for her sword, and take in the breath, which spoke volumes to the bard. She’s frustrated, this could get ugly. Probably having another nightmare. She watched the muscular figure silhouetted by the fire, waiting and poised for a fight. "what in Tartarus are you doing Xena? It’s as cold as Bacchae’s breath out there." Searching the darkness, Xena issued a small gesture behind her to keep the bard still. Then Gabrielle heard the labored movement of a horse, clicking hooves on stones as the animal stopped a short distance away. She watched, head tilting to the side, every muscle on the warrior’s body tense, and unknowingly she grasped her staff assured something unpleasant was about to happen.

One long guttural yell and a blur of black and gleaming metal rushed out of the trees to meet the hilt of Xena’s sword. No movement claimed the form now at Gabrielle’s feet, it had crashed in a heap by the fire and was there quickly held in place by the end of a staff. Only the low raspy sound of breathing emanating from the collapsed body showed any signs of life. "That was fast and easy Xena….Xena?" A quick glance at the warrior’s face told her the woman was struggling with something. What’s that about? Xena knelt next to the form, and turning the body over she snatched the attacker’s sword, a smear of blood on the warrior’s arm made evident in the low light. There had not been enough movement in the attack for Xena to be hurt, and momentarily Gabrielle thought she might still be dreaming. A hint of concern mixed with confusion colored the bard’s voice. "Xena, your arm." Blood stained the naked forearm of the warrior, and she inspected it with a smirk. "Relax Gabrielle, it’s not mine." She watched the warrior hesitate, a rarity in her movements, and gently searched the attacker for wounds.

The face the bard looked upon was barely recognizable as human, it’s features covered in drying blood and matted hair. Blood streaked the bare neck and arms, brownish streaks ran to hide under furred vambraces. Gabrielle could just make out in the light of the flames, under all the gore, a female form. A steady stream of hot fluid told Xena where the worst injury was, and she calmly pointed to the wound, where an arrow shaft was sticking out. "Here Gabrielle, this is where it’s mostly coming from. I’ll need.." Before she could finish the bard had begun to stack more wood into the fire, and quickly headed for the saddlebag near the bedrolls. Inside she found the small herbal pouch she knew Xena would need and a small sharp dagger.

Xena had already cut open the leather vest, which reminded Gabrielle with a shudder of what Ares wore, and had begun to rip through the crimson tunic underneath when she reached her. A soft groan and a flutter of eyelids, introduced Gabrielle to a set of granite gray eyes, which focused slowly first on the bard. A look of relief painstakingly formed on the woman’s face, without warning that look turned to rage, and overtook the peaceful features as the eye’s zeroed in on Xena. "ARRGGHH!" In less than the span of a breath, both warriors grappled with each other, one attacking in aggression, the other using lightning movements to subdue the weakened attacker. Two hands snapped towards a bloody chest, and with a thump the body fell against the Earth in deathly stillness.

"Xena…is she? You didn’t just…" Irritation in the bards voice brought a barely visible wince to the warrior’s face, and then a short breath from her lips. "I can’t help her if she goes berserk. She’s just out for the count, it’ll wear off." How long has it been that you doubt my every move Gabrielle. Are you still guarding the world from me, or me from the world? That long nightmare of thinking you dead is over, but something has changed between us once more. What is it that you doubt? She had found herself walking a tightrope between the light and the dark, it had barely withstood the weight of guilt, desperation and loneliness that Alti’s vision had chased away. The woman she found had changed, in a way she was not sure of how. So that although the path was now sturdier, it was still narrow and the darkness pressed on. "What do you mean berserk?"

She had been thrown aback by the woman’s response to Xena’s healing attempts. Maybe she thinks we were robbing her? No, that first look was relief…"A berserker Gabrielle, that’s what she is….I’ll need some water…" Gabrielle’s eyes focused on a medallion hanging from the woman’s neck, it’s covering dulled by the caked blood covering it, but vaguely familiar somehow. "Water … right … and a smoldering stick from the fire." Her mind worked trying to place the carving.

Silently she watched Xena work on the woman, handing her whatever materials the warrior needed. The shaft that had been left was too short for Xena to push through, but the head hadn'’ gone in very far and she had been able to cut the arrow out. It had pierced the woman’s side, but hadn’t done any damage to the organs under the skin, which had been protected by thick musculature. A deep gash across the woman’s chest showed evidence of more than one bolt having been fired. "Gabrielle, I’ll need another strand of Argo’s tail for this chest wound, it’ll take a few more stitches to close." It was an urgent tone, and silently she reacted to the request, confused as to her partners sullen mood.

Candlemarks later Gabrielle found herself helping Xena clean off some of the dried blood off her hands, and then settling the woman in a blanket near the fire. Xena sat back on a nearby rock, drying her hands with a rag, and staring into the flames. The bard leaned over the unexpected guest, staring at the medallion now a little cleaner. "It’s a Roman design Gabrielle…Ceasar’s property."

That’s where I know it from, that banner over the arena, where Crassus … "Ceasar’s property? She doesn’t look Roman Xena. What would she be doing with his medallion?"

Inhaling the cold crisp air, the dark warrior gathered her thoughts, her eye’s colorless and intent on the flames before her. "What is it Xena?" I know that look, she’s remembering, I saw it on her face when she told me about …Cirra. The bard rose to sit next to the warrior, the look of someone watching a nightmare etched across her face, a look only Gabrielle could read on this particular dreamer. "Her name is Jera … I gave her to Ceasar as a gift when I ransomed him to Rome…before he…" She chewed the inside of her lip, and averted the green eyes she knew would be filled with revulsion. "I’d better check her horse." It was her way to end the conversation before it started. Stay away Gabrielle, let me mull through this alone, I can’t stand the doubt in your eyes…

Green eyes stared at the stranger’s features, sharp in the firelight. A gift she said..a human gift..for a monster well hidden. A faint stir and the form changed positions. She could see a thin scar over the woman’s left brow, no doubt put there by a sharp edge. This one is no innocent… It was clear in the chiseled muscles of the woman’s neck, as if each shadow and line defined her character. Unlike Xena’s lithe and athletic body, this sleeping warrior was a bulk of muscle and size, not as tall as the former Destroyer of Nations, but enough to make her out of the ordinary. She reminded Gabrielle of Boadicea in some odd way, and memories of Britannia crept through her senses.

Skitterish horses splattered with blood brought the scent of the battlefield fresh and renewed. She stretched out a hand to let the animal smell her, hoping it would settle the animal down enough for her to look for wounds. Happily she found none, and as it calmed she removed it’s cargo. A saddle, saddlebag, a bow, some sleeping furs, nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that is except that medallion, so she survived, I wonder exactly how much of her is really left..Gods. Xena knew where the woman had spent the last eleven years. It was a sentence she herself had passed on the woman. to pacify Ceasar, to keep M’Lila safe.

Shackles bit into her wrists and neck, as she was shoved to her knees. Ceasar loomed over her, gloating, hands behind his back. He had asked about M’Lila, Xena lied grateful the girl had managed to evade capture. "..still, she would have fetched a good price with the gladiator dealers." He shrugged. Gladiator dealers…She had gone to the cross, legs and soul broken

A wet rag, some brushing and the horse was back to some resemblance of normality. A warmth at her back told her she was not alone, a hand gently placed on her shoulder gave her a small sense of reassurance coupled with angst. "Xena? A gift? A berserker?" The warrior’s heart skipped, one pounding still motion deep in her chest. "I … what can I? How do I?" Gods, how do I explain this?! Red strands in the moonlight draped over an armored shoulder, and warm lips pressed the skin on her back "It was a long time ago Xena … you … don’t.." Her voice tapered off into the darkness, and was echoed by the far icy notes of Xena’s voice recalling the past. Just let me get it out…."I was fighting Scythians off the border of Northern Thrace. They had been warring with a Teutonic tribe, the Hermundurians from the region of the Danube. I caught them just at the end of a battle." Blue chips of ice trailed off into the nightly shadows, and the bard watched her bite her lower lip, a sign of discomfort the bard knew well. "My army swept down"…I can hear the thunder of the horses now as I did then….."three quarters of the survivors were killed." Why can’t I remember the screams? They’re muted…

A battlefield littered with bleeding bodies, staining the ground crimson, staining the air acrid, enemies struggling for life against one common foe. Me. A dark woman on horseback gazed from a hill, one lone warrior leaping over corpses, cutting down her soldiers with brute ferocity. It was entertaining, but her men were being wasted. A dart lodged itself into the warrior’s neck, and she fell within seconds, swinging her way to the ground. Blow tube still in hand the dark battle leader on horseback yelled out, "tie her up! She could be useful." Men watched their Warrior Princess ride away, once out of sight, heavy boots landed vicious blows to the unconscious berserker. She would not have approved what succeeded, but the figure under the armor was safely poisoned, and would not fight back.

Green eyes met blue, a tendril of sadness binding the two together in stillness, and silence. "A berserker Gabrielle is pure battle fury in flesh, it kills without recollection or remorse. Trained one is worth twenty men on a battlefield. She had just begun her training when I … captured her." Nostrils flared, "I finished it." The bard’s head skewed to one side, hand under her chin. "Why did you give her to Ceasar Xena, if she was so valuable?" The warrior shrugged, palms face up. "I sacrificed her to keep M’Lila safe. Ceasar wanted a valuable gladiator … he needed the dinars … I had too much to learn from M’Lila to give her up." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena, and the bard laid her head on the warrior’s chest. "If you had given up M’Lila… no one would have been there to … get you off that cross Xena. Then…"The arms around her squeezed, and she felt the warrior land a small kiss to the top of her head. Then the destroyer would have never existed, and I would have never met you. "We’d better get back to Jera, I have a feeling I should bind her before she wakes." Some of the warmth returned to her voice, the recently shallow breathing steadying, comforting the warrior as well as the bard. It comes from you my love, this peace is not mine. Can’t ever be.

Dawn found blue eyes staring into gray ones across blackened dead embers of an extinct fire. The chill of the morning showed as puffs of frost on twin breaths, steady and pronounced. "Ite ad crucem Xena." It was a raspy voice greeted the dark warrior, weak with the loss of blood, heated with hostility. Go to the cross, now where have I heard that before? Pursing her lips in response, Xena flared back "been there, Jera." Now now, remember. She has every right to be angry with you. "Are you hungry?" That’s clever. She got a wad of spit thrown back at her for her concern, causing a small wince of pain to cross Jera’s face. "Serves you right." Blue eyes rolled.

A grumbled complaint from under the furs caught the attention of granite irises. "Gabrielle…Gabrielle…I’m going to find us some breakfast. … Becareful." The last word spoken with a lover’s care, before she grabbed Jera’s bow and headed out into the trees.

The bard stretched, swung her head to get the kinks out of her neck, and let her gaze fall on the silent, bound woman a few feet away. An absence of warmth and comfort, usually provided by the presence of her lover, forced the bard awake. In the early light she could see long wine colored strands of hair carelessly lying over the berserker’s cheek. A smoky glare staring blankly at the ashes layering the fire ring. "Ite ad crucem? … What does that mean exactly?" A smile edged the lips of the berserker, "it means… go to the cross, girl." Girl! What is it with everyone calling me that? What, is written on my forehead? Agghh! A chill ran an icy trail down the bard’s spine, "you’re not much older than I am", her words betrayed her incredulity. A voice from the trees interrupted her racing thoughts, "four years older actually, if I remember right." She dumped a rabbit, in field dress, at the bard’s feet. "I got it, you cook it." Food always works to distract her. "She scrunched up her face at the warrior, finishing off with a quickly dissipating glare. "Fine … fine Xena. Arrgghh, but you start the fire." One finger poked the warrior in the chest, and she smiled at the annoyed bard. "You’re so cute when you’re mad…", then her attention focused on the tree line behind the bard, "ooh, bee hive, wood, I’m on it." So she strikes again, oh Xena, you big tease. Sure, honey… now what was I fuming about?

Gabrielle rummaged through their saddlebags in search of herbs to season the meat with. "… Wa…ter…" A small voice tinged with pain called out to her from the ground. A few sticks lay near the hearth, enough for a small fire. Deftly Gabrielle produced a few flames from the kindling. She grabbed a water skin near her reach, and a few herbs she knew Xena used as a painkiller. Crushing them into a wooden cup, she poured hot water into the mixture and padded over to the berserker. Hope this doesn’t kill her. Reaching behind Jera’s head she pulled the berserker up into a sitting position. Not too far now Gab, you’ll pop her stitches. Gods she’s heavy. "Drink this." She didn’t bother to frame it into a request, after dealing with an injured warrior princess on numerous occasions she found it to be useless. They only ever respond to demands. Jera squeezed her lips tightly against the oncoming mug, "what did you put in there?" Gabrielle rolled her eyes, warriors, "it’s for the pain." Suspiciously Jera drank the warm liquid down, at waking she had found her hands and feet bound, and had settled into a sour mood. "You could untie me … Gabrielle … is it?" Yeah right! And have Xena scowl at me the rest of the day? "I can’t do that, in case you forgot, you attacked us last night." A feral smile, one she recognized from another face, usually under a set of blue eyes, crossed the berserker’s lips. "I didn’t know where I was, I’d have taken better precautions." She released a breath almost in surrender. "You were nearly dead when you crashed through those trees! What were you going to do, bleed on us?" Oh good Gabrielle, sarcasm works. "Huh?" It was as close to a laugh as she could muster without straining her wounds. The fire in her chest began to boil, hello old friend, an invisible fist closed around her heart, and her face began to tingle, soon I will be numb. "What makes you think…" Barely in touch with her body, Jera began to rise.

Strong fingers grabbed the bards shoulder and pulled her away from the berserker. "I told you to be careful Gabrielle." Damn, that sounded harsh. Keep cool here you old battle ax. It’s not her you’re mad at. "I’m not going to hurt you Jera, so … stop calling that beast up …or…" Jera’s head whipped in Xena’s direction, her pupils flashing a thin quiver of silver, the pupils dilating and filling with color then disappearing with the onset of gloom. "No… you can fetch a pretty price for me can’t you?" Just a few words, and Xena was reeling back to the rocking of a ship and Ceasar’s voice. "Ten thousand dinars says your berserker doesn’t last a year in the arena?"

Any second now those baby blues will be near enough to bite off…okay, did they suddenly turn green? Misty green eyes pierced through her, so close she could feel the woman’s breath. "Xena isn’t like that … she’s not … she wouldn’t …" The warrior laid a gentle hand on the bards shaking shoulder, look at her defending you. "It’s okay Gabrielle, she has a right to be angry. I was selfish Jera … consider us even." A brief span of silence passed, broken by the usual business like tone of the warrior. "You mind telling me why you’re shot full of holes, and what you’re doing here?" One gray eye narrowed, making the berserker look akin to a child caught at mischief. "You mind untying me? I feel like a damn animal for Odin’s sake. I won’t do anything Xena … I’m still honor bound to you … have you forgotten?"

Xena removed her boot dagger from its sheath, twirled it around her fingers, before it sung through the air towards the berserker. Frayed pieces of rope fell silently to the ground. "Careful how you move Jera … those wounds could reopen." Amazing, she still moves like lightning. The words whispered in her ear were meant for the berserker alone, and although Gabrielle did not hear them, she knew a threat was being issued by the squaring of the warrior’s shoulders. Jera smiled, same old Xena.. sort of, "Understood".

Breakfast was a silent affair, and Gabrielle could barely cope with the tension. "Xena, I saw you cut those ropes. You could have just untied them showoff. Just remember, I just replaced this shirt, so when you run out of rope … don’t even think about it." A playful twinkle appeared from the warrior, "hey, you look great in a sack … oof." A slap to her mid section from the bard removed the remains of the morning’s stress. "There’s a stream down that slope, interested?"

Jera fidgeted, she had never been able to sit still for long, not even wounded as she was. Odin knows I’ve had worse in that damn arena, and Xena’s painkillers are so much more potent than theirs. Too bad though, pain reminds me I’m alive. Sure could use a swim myself, this dried blood is driving me insane. There they go. I could just….

Water splashed and trickled against smooth rocks jutting above the surface of the stream. An oak, its branches stretching over the churning fluid, cast a darkening shadow over dark green wavelets and eddies. In the thick of the shade a calm spot of stream was occupied. Two nude forms, one dark, one light, embraced with knowing caresses. Jera watched them from a distance, teeth clenched, jaw muscles tense, eyes narrowed.

Xena had felt the dark energy, kin to her own, slowly creeping closer. She knew, without seeing, that Jera was hidden and watching. The soft touch of Gabrielle’s fingers on her skin competed for attention. "Here Gabrielle, let me wash your back." She placed her hands on the bard’s shoulders, and leaning close enough to hear her breathing, she whispered. "Jera is watching from behind those bushes on the right." It wasn’t the first time Gabrielle had received one of these warning whispers. "Well", she whispered back, "we should at least give her something interesting to watch." She held Xena’s hand lightly in her own, and brought each finger in between her lips, agonizingly slow. Xena cupped the bards face with her other hand, and gently turned her face, pressing her lips against the warmth of the bard’s. A slight giggle ran through the smaller woman, infecting the warrior with a chuckle of her own.

Jera focused on the ground, unaware of the pain searing at her side, or the burning across her chest. Her thoughts drove into the anger buried within, and she struggled to identify it’s source. I don’t know this woman capable of such gentleness, wrapped in her lover’s arms. I owe her, again, but I have to go back. My old oath might still bind me to her; that’s the law. It’s all I have left of them, abandon that now Jera, and all you’ll have are the nightmares.

Flames licked the smoke filled air, while soot from burning thatch floated on the vibrations of screams. Tall blonde raiders with horned bronze helmets dashed among the burning homes, taking what they could and killing those who stood in their way. In the center of the village one small, gray-eyed girl held a sword twice her size. Her face contorted into a bestial grimace, eyes cold and detached, she swung and jabbed into men four times her stature. Raiders lunged at her in jest only to be cut down by the tattered and blood soaked child. A few feet away her infant brother lay clinging and crying on the sanguine chest of her decapitated foster mother. An arrow sticking out of `the babes shoulder directed a steady stream of thick liquid into the earth. When the stream slowed, an immense silence followed, and the life of the infant was swallowed by the ground. It was the cessation of sound which froze the girl in place, long enough for a sword hilt to bring her crashing into darkness.

Winter had brought death and disease to the Hermundurians, already weakened by the strange deaths of a large percentage of their livestock, they wandered to scratch out a survival. The burden had fallen on countless Celtic villages, who were raided and destroyed by the desperate Teutonic tribe. They had won goods in these raids that could be traded for food, weapons to wage war or sell, and then one precious item. One whom the gods had blessed with the fury of Odin and the strength of Thor, a berserker, and one who was female. She would be made into a battle maiden, a defender of the people by the right of the divine. Had they not chosen to raid this particular village, this precious gift would have been left in incompetent hands, for surely these people knew not what the girl was.

Jera, she had been given that name by her captors, so young was she that her birth name became a barely audible echo. She adapted quickly to her surroundings, learning the harsh Teutonic language and their customs. She had been witness to death and knew she had no choice but to survive. To die meant she would endanger her lineage, therefore her duty was clear, survive at all costs.

Survive she did, subduing her body to rigorous training, so that tendons and muscles grew strong. She focused on the art of the sword, the bow, the kill. Totems of animal spirits were inked into her skin for protection and prowess in battle. She became the berserker, and when the Tiwaz was cut into her arm, dedicating her as a bride of Odin, a battle maiden, Scythians crossed into their lands. So it was that Jera, who had now seen her twelfth winter, would go into battle for the first time. Her captors, after only five winters, depended on her for victory. Survive at all costs.

Time slowed on the field, as men leaped at her from horseback, then crumpled to the ground at her feet, run through by her sword. Her red splattered arms felt nothing of fatigue, her face numbed, and heat raged in her bosom. She held control of her fury, as she had been taught, channeling it into instinctual movements, and death to her opposition. Triumph was at hand, the Hermundurians could taste it, then the tide changed. New attackers swarmed onto the exhausted field, slaughtering warriors on both sides. Jera found herself surrounded by men who were not friends nor foes. Her flesh slick with blood, hair soaked in sweat, she fought on. Then a sharp sting on her neck brought darkness once again, the smell of burning thatch and the silence of a dead infant.

Jera pushed branches aside, hoping the sound would warn the women of her slow approach. She kept her right arm wrapped around her middle, willing the wound at her side to remain closed. Can’t afford to lose any more blood. Odin! But my legs are shaky. Carefully she unfastened the laces of her boots. She had brought her armor with her, her trousers and tunic clung to skin, stuck there by her own dried blood now black and dry. If I just jump in, I can get this stuff off of everything, including me.

Xena stood on the bank drying off with a clean piece of linen. She smiled her broad white smile at the emerging bard, her golden locks glistening in the sunlight pulled back darkly by the weight of water. Jera had managed to remove her clothing, and had tossed them clean onto the bank. Wine colored hair turned deep burgundy, green water tinged in pink, bronzed skin shimmered in the light. Her left arm, stomach, and half of her back a canvass showing depictions of various animals. Arrow and slashing scars marked old wounds, one deer antler misshapen by a sword oddly pointed towards a bear. Gabrielle gasped, catching a ghastly sight of other markings on the berserker, one’s familiar to the eyes of the hardened warrior at her side. Barely she managed to whisper, "are those what I think they are Xena?" Brown angry lines crisscrossed Jera’s upper-back, and the bard pulled her vision away to look into saddened blue. "The scourge." The voice was of controlled anger.

Tattooed legs stumbled out of the stream, and bent for arms to grab a cloth off a nearby rock. She didn’t have to look at the women to see their expressions. "The skin goes numb after ten, I never felt the rest." Jera wrapped the cloth around her, picked up her armor, and limped back to the camp.

A breeze softly caressing leaves and the sound moving branches followed Jera away from the stream. Nature silenced for the warrior, replaced by the pounding of her heart and the ringing hum of tension. Head bowed, arms wrapped across her chest, Xena slumped to the ground. Gentle hands kneaded the flexed muscles by her neck, searching fingertips found a knot in them and pressed.

Gods, I can feel what she’s thinking in these shoulders. What on this Earth can she do … nothing satisfies her need for redemption. Oh Xena, you set your price too high. Slowly Gabrielle felt her lover’s attention return, and settled warmly next to her. "You didn’t do that to her Xena … You can’t take responsibility for every evil that happens in this world." They weren’t words, but hissed syllables spoken from the older warrior. "Romans, with their damn whips and … crosses. I might as well have held the whip myself Gabrielle." Shaking her head the bard arranged her thoughts. "No Xena, no. Things happen for a reason, they’ve got to happen for …" Nice work Xena, as if she needed to deal with this now. Focus on why you’re out here, headed for the east … it’s for her you big lug. She needs answers, not more questions. Xena licked her lips to warm them before capturing the bard’s trembling mouth under her own. "You’re right. I just wish I knew why … unless …"

Gabrielle leaned into the security being offered her by subtle, encompassing arms. "Unless what love? Hmm?"

"Berserkers … they need a reason to be loyal. Jera has a motive for living she …" She swallowed hard before asking what she knew would open old wounds. "What reason did you give her Xena?" Skipping a smooth stone across the water, Xena submitted to the retelling of yet another dark chapter of her life. How can you stand me, when you know me so well?

Xena lounged on a high backed arm chair, her legs hanging off one of the arms, she gazed at the unconscious form chained to one of the cabin’s columns. A nod to a burly unshaven sailor brought a bucketful of saltwater raining down on the girl. Furred and metal plated armor had been stripped away, leaving the young woman wearing leather trousers and tunic vulnerable. Her exposed arms showed vivid portrayals of land and air animals entertwined, and a carving of what looked like an arrow still healing on her right bicep. Gray eyes opened in shock, while every ounce of her strength left strained against the chains. She reminds me of a young blacksmith apprentice back in Amphipolis. "Leave us Gruner," she commanded with ease. "Yes Xena."

"Relax, even without the poison in your system, you could never break those chains." Peering quizzically at the girl, Xena watched a trickle of dark crimson run down the girls cheek from above her brow. "Your head must hurt … keep fighting those chains and it won’t be the only pain you’ll feel." Jera let her body go limp, the mention of pain reminding her to run a check on her body. Her head was pounding, she felt the warmth of blood running down her face, but nothing was broken or badly damaged. Instead she felt a deep throbbing pain where there should have been none, and she sickened at the thought of what she realized had happened. Then a smile of evil resignation formed on her lips.

"There’s nothing left for you to take outlander … those you slaughtered out on the field … and your own men have seen to that," and the smile never faded.

She’s in the worst possible position here and she’s smiling? Okay, I like games, let’s play. "I’ve heard stories about your kind, and their … berserkers … they call it? What makes you that … way?" She had come inches from the girl’s face, and still the smile remained. "Those you killed … or rather your army killed … weren’t my kind", a twinge of spite sounded in her voice, but was quickly cut off by strong fingers around her throat. "Make no mistake child, warrior, berserker, whatever you are! There is nothing keeping me from snuffing your life out right now." Still the smile was steadfast. "Does it look like I care outlander? Those people, warriors you killed were my enemies. I’d of led your army myself if I hadn’t taken an oath to serve them." Odin, if she doesn’t let go of me soon I’ll leave this world. The hand around her throat tightened. "What made you swear such a thing if they’re your enemies? Do you play me for a fool?!"

Speaking was difficult, "survival". The hold eased. "They killed off my foster family five winters ago, and allowed me to live. As long as I do, my line lives on, but I will not risk my entrance to Valhalla outlander." A deep connection of understanding struck a cord within the dark warrior as she listened to the rest of the berserker’s story. Memories of a curly blond head lying on her lap, taking a final breath filled her mind, and she recognized the sound of silence the girl described at her brothers death. What would I have done if Cortese had captured me?

"What do you want from me Xena?" She’s no outlander to my heart, I can see it in her eyes. We share a common nightmare. "Will you swear an oath to me?" Then the berserkers expression went cold, and the smile disappeared. You exacted vengeance for the death of my foster family, and freed me from serving those I hate - something I could not do myself. And you have to ask? "My oath was yours before you asked for it." Then the smile reappeared, on the face of the dark warrior.

"So … because you took revenge for her, she owes you a debt?" Great, as if we needed anymore of this debt crap. "I still don’t understand why they whipped her." Xena chewed on the inside of her lip, running through too many options to come up with a sensible answer. "I’m not sure, but there’s more to this than meets the eye. I need to find out who shot at her and why."

"You know, that sounded really poetic."

"Oh yeah? Want to lend me one of your scrolls?" Gabrielle crossed her arms in front of her chest, then mimicked the infamous raised eyebrow look. "Why? Is nature calling?" The warriors jaw dropped in imitation exasperation. "Oh that does it Bardy!" Gabrielle turned to run, but before her feet left the ground, the warrior had flipped over her head and faced her in a crouched wrestler’s position. "Don’t do it Xena. I’m warning yoouuu….." Her finger was still pointing at the warrior when she hit the water.

Odin but I hate sewing leather, damn arrows. Well, she could have made it worse, but did she have to cut the straps clean through? At least she didn’t tear this tunic up. Jera sat by the small cooking fire, cross legged, her saddlebag nearby. A small stag headed pipe beckoned from the bag, and she retrieved it with a wicked grin. She dumped the contents of a small velvet bag in the bowl shaped body, and set the contents smoldering with a fire tipped stick. Deliberately she inhaled the vapors, filling her lungs with the musky smoke, and shut her eyes to the world.

Had it been Xena asleep by the fire when the two women approached, one of them would have died. The berserker laid dangerously close to the flames, seemingly at peace. The warrior scowled at the scene, recognizing immediately the faint odor in the air. Kneeling by Jera she could see the small pipe hidden in the woman’s hand, and remembered when her own countenance had taken on the same gleam.

SLAP! Jera’s head was whipped to the side by the force of the blow, and brought her painfully into the present. "Are you crazy Jera?! Have you lost your mind? Ares, you ought to know better than to indulge in this while you’re healing." Gabrielle regarded the scene in silent wonder. Jera coughed a few times, rubbing her eyes, and shaking her head she scowled back at Xena. "I was just trying to get some rest, and I don’t …

"Find another way then."

"We all find peace in our own ways Xena," she cocked her head towards the bard," you have her." Xena found her hand enclosed around the berserkers throat before she could think. "Go ahead … make it easy." Her lips curled onto themselves, and she stared in amazement as cold blue turned towards mercy at the touch of a hand on the warriors shoulder. "Xena … don’t."

In a tent on the open plains of Chin, one dark-haired cripple slowly pulled in smoke from an ivory tipped tube. Through half closed lids she observed them, he broke a slice of bread and gave a piece to the woman. As the smoke filled the air, so her anger filled her soul.

Snapping her hand away from the berserker’s throat the warrior stomped away into the trees. "Do you enjoy annoying dangerous people, or are you suicidal?" Jera rubbed at the sore spots of her neck, and breathed deeply before answering. "I’d give you an answer Gabrielle, if I cared enough to wonder. The bard’s head tilted in that fashion particular to her, and she swallowed her frustration. Better not make this hostile, one grumpy warrior around is enough. "She didn’t make you Jera. You were a warrior when she found you." The words of a blonde psychopath echoed through her memory. "I am what I have always been. Xena made her choice and I … " was born to it. Impressed in the tone Gabrielle heard the color of regret tainting the berserker’s words. "You know, Xena taught me that we are in control of our own destinies. It’s up to you what you make your life out to be." A Stone glare zeroed in on the bard, "I know but one way to live, and one way to die. I’m just a killer Gabrielle, and for hire at that. Thank you for your thoughts, but you waste them on me." Clenching her jaw, Jera rose, defiantly marched away with her possessions under arm.

Painfully she fastened the horse’s tack and adjusted the saddle. For three years I’ve listened to stories of the heroic Warrior Princess. I understood when she pillaged, Odin I sympathized! Then Ceasar turned her into… I understood that as well, betrayal, what it can do…eight years in the arena, Ceasar … but now? Five leagues away another Roman awaited her arrival, and in Rome a gray eyed, ten year old studied Latin.

It’s hard enough to deal with my past without it sending taunting reminders. Gods, how many pissed off women will I come across on this little trip of ours? This trip … and one last cross … then Gabrielle will go to the eternity of the Amazons, and me? Tartarus. A silent plead was given to a cloudless sky.

Dry brittle branches broke under the berserker’s uneven steps, and Xena heard more than saw the woman leave the campsite. Her keen hearing picked up the sounds of a saddle being mounted, a horse readied for travel. Hesitantly the warrior approached, mentally rehearsing careful words. "You have somewhere to be Jera?" The woman kept her eyes on her present task. "You could say that." Nodding Xena folded her arms. "So … you never told me who shot you." Jera fixed her sword into it’s sheath, and fastened it to the belt around her waist. "Your locals don’t take kindly to Roman soldiers. This is all I wear that identifies me as such." She held out the medallion around her neck for the warrior to see. "I hate Roman armor, too confining." Indeed the woman was dressed much as Xena had first seen her, absent only was the fur cloak of the north. "I take it you’re not alone then?"

"No, an occupation regiment, a few leagues northwest of here. They’re establishing a colony in Gaul, scouting the borders for any threats. Rome plans to civilize the world Xena. Stay out of its way." I’m asking you, no begging you to stay away. Please hear it.

In one easy motion Jera was atop her saddle, "Thank you for the healing Xena."

"You don’t need to go back there Jera, you know as well as I where that road leads."

"No Xena, in this case all roads lead to Rome." And someday it will fall at my hand.

"Gods be damned! You owe them nothing Jera." Patience is not one of my many skills. "You’ve paid your debt to me twice over."

"I paid my debt to you once I made M’lila safe … for a while anyway. No, I don’t stay for you Xena, Ceasar holds my son captive, in return for my services." I fight in his army for one small boy. "Who I hope never knows me."

Solon, I didn’t want him to know the truth, until it was too late. "I’m sorry. I had no idea. I thought.…"

"More than fighting happens at the coliseum Xena. I wasn’t give a choice … there are all sorts of herbs in the world, and the Romans are quiet adept at their uses."

The whip marks. "Then they whipped you for getting pregnant?" She could feel the anger rising.

"Ceasar hoped I would miscarry, and learn a valuable lesson." This said with no more than a shrug.

"Ceasar?" The heat was there, palpable, and real.

The berserker nodded. "He isn’t fond of too many bastards." Jera turned away, facing the trees, away from Xena’s expression, then let out a deep chuckle.

What is she laughing at? "Something funny Jera?"

"With a body like mine it must be true about Ceasar." The berserker raised her eyebrow at Xena’s confusion. "What’s that?"

"With all this bulky muscle? Ceasar must have a soft spot for the masculine if you know what I mean." Xena laughed quietly knowing she was right. The struggle between Ceasar and Pompey was more than just about power. Then both warriors’ laughter roared through the trees. The sound startled a quietly concerned bard, who had been slowly dressing. "I hope you two are happy! I just threw a boot into the fire! Xeenaaah!" The laughter grew louder, and Xena watched the berserker ride down the path snickering. So there’s an occupation regiment huh? I wonder where exactly?

This story is continued in chapter two – Heavy Prices for Heavy Choices. Thanks for sticking with me all this way. I hope the ride is worth it. Arrrrrooooooo…………

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