Copyright © Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Renaissance Pictures / MCA. They are used without permission and no personal gain is intended by doing so. The story and its meandering belong to the author me. You may not use portions of this story without permission from said author. Reprints for personal perusal must include this disclaimer. Feedback is welcome and may be sent to: Vryblueyz@aol.com.
Content Warning: This story contains many spoilers from the fourth season of X:WP be forewarned beginning with scenes from A Good Day. It also describes a loving, intimate relationship between two, adult women. If this offends you or is illegal where you reside, dont read it!
Special Thanks: Im indebted to my editor and close friend for her invaluable help. She was able to maintain her objectivity and provided excellent guidance when I thought I had surely lost my way. Without her, this story wouldnt have come together.
Some Other Good Day
The battle was fully engaged by the time Xena made her way from the cavern passageway. She had left Caesar and Pompey flailing away like the testosterone dolts they were. They had been so focused on one another; Xenas exit went unnoticed. She had been around men in general, and warriors specifically, for most of her adult life. She thought shed seen just about every conceivable type of male posturing. She was wrong. Caesar and Pompey had redefined the term. It was just as well. They would remain off the battlefield, just as Xena had wanted their fate was at the bottom of her list. Upon regaining the surface, Xena could see the sea of warriors fiercely fighting in close quarters. She had to find Gabrielle in this mass of humanity. She began fighting... her instincts being directed in a Zen-like way. She was operating from a survival mode one honed from many battles and conflicts. It was second nature to her her movements constructed so quickly and correctly to keep her flowing through the conflict. Although completely cognizant of the severity of the situation, Xena let her sword and chakram move about of their own accord or so it seemed. She was totally into the rush of the fight, endorphins coursing through her body battle lust creating a finely tuned machine.
Ares would have been overcome with pride if this were his Xena. But it wasnt, and, because of that, he watched the battle with only a passing interest and cared little for the outcome. "Youre on your own, mdear." He paused slightly, grinned at the wide spread carnage before him, and licked his pouty lips at the sight. The god of war made one last statement before vanishing a statement of regret. "Ah, Xena my warrior princess where did I go wrong? What a waste of fighting potential. Good luck... youre going to need it."
Xena felt the familiar presence of Ares. It was uncharacteristically short in duration fleeting in fact. He was on the battlefield and then gone. It shook her concentration for the slightest of moments just enough for one of Caesars men to graze her arm with his sword. The pain jolted Xena out of her haze in time to ward off another blow and to strike one in defense. The soldier raised his shield to postpone the inevitable. As Xenas sword struck the soldiers shield, her mind went into a dangerous place. A wave of nausea and weakness flooded her consciousness... the shield... Caesars unmistakable markings the vision Alti showed her. With a renewed fervor, Xena struck the shield again. The sheer force of her blow, steeled with abject fear, split the metal and took the soldiers arm with it to the ground. She finished the mortally wounded man swiftly. Her world began moving in slow motion. Where was Gabrielle?
"Gabrielle ..", she shouted, still fighting through the men. "Ah ahhhh ." Once more she swung the sword, connecting flesh with steel. Stepping over the fallen obstacle, she shouted into the din over and again. "Gabriiiieeelle ."
The battlefield was littered with the dead and dying. Xena could see her plan had succeeded by the all out conflict around her. Without the guidance of Caesar and Pompey, the Romans slashed one another like mortal enemies. This was blind ignorance at its pinnacle. Her job was to keep the soldiers fighting, aggression high, until both armies had depleted themselves. She hoped Gabrielle and Phlanagus had not fallen into the trap Caesar had bragged about. Gnawing fear sat in her gut, and she would not be happy until she found Gabrielle safe. Xena quickened her step, sending every form between her and her bard to Tartarus instinct pulling her toward Gabrielle.
The bards cry of "Take the war" fueled the charge of Phalangus and his small contingent of farmers and miners. Although the battle vestments were not exactly Roman issue, it hardly mattered. Pompeys and Caesars men took Gabrielle and Phalangus for the enemy and attacked with vengeance. Without direction from either commander, Romes finest were soon fighting one another just as Xena had predicted. Brutus and Pompeys lieutenant had assumed command and soon had all the legions raging against one another. Gabrielle tried to get her forces to disengage and let the dogs of war snarl and tear each other apart. It was a good plan, but one that was impossible to execute. How could she have thought they would just be able to back out of the fighting. It was an all out, hand to hand, in your face conflict. She was literally fighting for her life. The obvious fact she was a woman made no difference to the Romans. More than once a hand had grabbed the long blond hair flowing beneath her helmet for advantage. And time and again, she had put off her attacker with her staff. At the beginning of the conflict, Gabrielle had only struck to disable the soldier, but as the fighting became more fierce it had also become more personal. She was soon causing serious, if not life threatening, injury to those around her. The staff was speckled with blood. She was expending a huge amount of energy and becoming extremely fatigued her reflexes slowing. She knew that it was just a matter of time before she would succumb to a spear a blade or worse. Where was Xena?
Gabrielles world went into slow motion not from warrior haze, but from near exhaustion. Not thirty paces from where she was fighting, she saw Phlanagus, keeping his ground, fighting with heart and supreme bravery. As he brought yet another Roman to his end, he turned to look in Gabrielles eyes. He raised his sword arm in triumph, a smile on his lips. In horror, Gabrielle saw a soldier approach him from behind, striking hard, knocking him to the ground.
Her warning call came too late. "Phlanagus look out!" She had to do something immediately. At her feet was a Roman spear. She hesitated but a second before picking up the heavy weapon. With all her might, Gabrielle let loose the projectile. The unfamiliarity and weight of the spear coupled with her exhaustion made an accurate toss impossible. It impacted a small mound of earth ineffectively. The soldier standing over Phlanagus drove his sword, without mercy, into the gentle father and husbands belly. Gabrielle watched, in shock, as the soldier pulled the blood stained blade from the body. His eyes met hers, and she knew who his next target was to be. In defiance and pain, she screamed, "Nooooo ."
Before Gabrielle could retrieve her staff and charge the soldier, an arrow appeared in his chest. Instantly, the look of rage and hatred on his face dissolved into a state of nothingness. He slumped to the ground. The no longer innocent eyes of Temecula found the bards. She could see that everything had changed in him everything just as it had in her so long ago. For Gabrielle, the fight was over. She ran to the dying Phlanagus and rocked him in her lap her heart splitting from sorrow. Even after his spirit released, she held on. This is where Xena found her.
The battle ceased almost as a single entity. Walking wounded, dazed and confused, looked for familiar faces and consolation there was little of either. Xenas plan had worked, too well. She saw Gabrielles kneeling back and relief filled her eyes. Not today, she thought. She made her way to the bards side.
Gabrielle was still trying to be the commander Phlanagus had followed. In a detached tone, she gave Xena an update. "Ive got men looking for survivors I dont know how many there are " Her eyes looked up at Xena, her mouth opening to speak again, but nothing would come forth. The warrior placed her arms around her young companion and pulled her close. Tears slid from the bards weary eyes, and she sobbed deep in Xenas embrace.
"Listen. The battles over. What we do here doesnt matter any longer Rome has won."
As easily as he had entered into conflict with Pompey, Caesar lowered his sword, adjusted his armor and arrogantly walked from the cave. Pompey threw a disgusted look and sneer toward his rival and followed. They were not prepared for the scene that waited
"By the gods." Pompey couldnt believe his eyes. Caesars fifteen legions and almost as many of Pompeys lay like cordwood on the battlefield. The survivors represented a mere fraction of the total force. The destruction was complete. There would be no place to go but back to Rome. Xena had won.
Caesar eyed the carnage. In total disregard to the waste of humanity, he nonchalantly made a decision. "Back to Rome. Back to the drawing board." Only his supreme ego allowed the next phrase to be uttered. "You cant change my destiny, Xena." He turned on his heels toward his encampment.
For a while, Pompey stared out over the field, morbidly impressed by Xenas success. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. It was Brutus.
Brutus addressed Pompey, bowing his head out of fear and respect but mostly fear. "My Lord, Pompey Magnus, what are you commands?"
The handsome co-ruler of Rome eyed Caesars second in command suspiciously. "Why, Brutus, changing sides?"
"My lord, I am but a servant of Rome and I want what is best for her." He lifted his eyes to see if he was groveling enough to keep the headsman from his neck.
Pompey idly rotated the large gold ring of imperial recognition on his finger. "And what do you think is best for Rome?"
Brutus hesitated, not knowing if Pompey was merely thinking out loud or if he was waiting for a response.
The ruler spared him the decision. "Ill tell you what Rome wants, Brutus. She wants prosperity and safety for her citizens. And this little fiasco of Caesars is not going to sit well with the people of Rome nor the Senate. I believe with one more push, Caesar will seal his fate beloved or not. I intend to provide that push."
The look on Brutuss face was one of non-comprehension. "But, how, my lord?" Brutus stood erect, facing Pompey. "If I may speak freely, sire?"
A dismissive wave of a hand allowed Brutus to continue. "The people will surely want an account of not only Caesars actions, but yours as well." The statement was boldly stupid in the face of all that happened.
Pompey suppressed a laugh. "You sound like you have designs on the throne. Trust me. Before Caesar leaves this land, his mistakes will over shadow anything Ive done. The people will have no choice but to make him step down. I have a plan and need your help. Were going to use his one true weakness against him."
"What weakness? Caesar has no weaknesses." Brutus couldnt make a connection between two dots to make a straight line. He was a splendid example of underling mentality.
"Of course he does his obsession with Xena. Were going to give him one last chance to be finally done with her. He wont be able to resist. And when he loses even more of Romes protectors in his private vendetta, Ill have him right where I want him." A smile formed over perfect teeth, and a glint sparkled in Pompeys eyes. "First, I need to know exactly where Xena is and what shes planning to do. With this information, I will send Caesar on his way to the bottom of the food chain." Pompey took in a deep breath and looked Brutus in the eye. "If you really want whats best for Rome and Im sure you do, then this is what youll do "
Day One - Evening
The funeral pyre flames danced skyward. The days end was coming as it had for a thousand years in this place. If sorrow were a real being, it would be grasping the fading light pleading to stay a bit longer resisting the blanket of darkness and reality. The village was saying goodbye to its fallen members and to Phlanagus. Xena sang a sweet farewell and Gabrielle watched yet more souls ascend the heavens. It was obvious to Xena that her lover was suffering. After offering words of comfort to Phalanguss widow, she moved toward her partner.
Gabrielle was staring wearily into space. "I could have saved him." She looked at Xena, a question in her eyes. "How do I get over that?"
The warrior wanted so badly to lessen Gabrielles pain. She sighed and shook her head. "I cant answer that maybe because theres nothing I can say that will take away that feeling you have." She paused for a moment to let the words settle, then continued. "You want to know that what you did was for all the right reasons. With that pain in your gut and weight on your shoulders the best you can come up with is, it was a good day of fighting."
A tear was working its way down Gabrielles cheek. She was too numb to respond.
Xena tried to soften what was so hard for Gabrielle to accept. "Ive seen so many changes in you things Id never expected. But hard as the changes have been, youve got to know its for a reason." Xena looked at the pyres and then back to Gabrielle. "All this is for a reason otherwise, whats the point? I was asking myself that same question when I met you."
Gabrielle swallowed hard, quietly nodding her head in understanding. "I should talk to Temecula let him know that what he did was for the greater good. It was a good day of fighting."
Xenas hand gently rested on Gabrielles shoulder even as she moved toward the young boy. There would be time to talk later. She had made a decision and knew Gabrielle would want to know why. Xena wasnt sure she could tell her. Absently, she rubbed the palms of her hands, remembering the puncture of flesh by a metal spike.
Caesar was in his command tent when Brutus finally arrived. A look of indifference was on the royal face at seeing his second in command.
"Ah Brutus. I see you survived the fight. Good. I need assistance to get out of this cursed land. How many of my men are still alive?"
Brutus bowed graciously. "My liege. There is nearly a legion capable of still fighting and almost as many of Pompeys soldiers who have defected. We still have a formidable force, and with that pathetic group of farmers thinking its over, we have the advantage."
Caesar stopped pacing and stared at Brutus. "I believe that short stint of running my army into the ground has given you delusions of grandeur. You have the nerve to tell me what Im going to do?" In a fit of frustration and rage, Caesar pulled the dagger from his belt, throwing it at Brutus. It missed by the narrowest of margins, coming to rest in one of the tents support posts. He continued his harangue. "You are in no position to suggest anything! I should have you executed on general principal alone. The very fact you fell for Xenas scripted plan tells me I picked the wrong man as my second in command."
Caesar turned his back on the pale faced man, still grumbling. "Im surrounded by idiots!"
A slow, burning rage was building inside Brutus. His dislike of Caesar was growing, and he fantasized running a blade to the hilt into the egotistical bastard. But Brutus was a patient servant of Rome and knew there would be another time to answer Caesars insults. He needed to concentrate on the job at hand. Pompeys plan would take finesse. Caesar was arrogant but not stupid. He must proceed with caution, or this would fail. He regrouped and began again gingerly like the male black widow courting the female. One false step and Caesar would digest him from the inside out.
"Caesar, forgive my impertinence. I meant no disrespect. I thought youd like the chance to finish Xena once and for all. She wont be expecting another attack. She thinks shes won." He paused to let the image of Xenas capture form in Caesars mind. Cautiously, Brutus neared the rulers back and spoke in a low tone near his ear. "Sire, we do have the advantage."
Caesar wasnt quite convinced. He turned suddenly, almost knocking Brutus to the ground. "And what of Pompey? He tried to form an alliance with Xena before. Whats to keep him from doing it again?"
"You dont have to worry about Pompey. His forces are pitiful in numbers, and I believe hes preparing to sail back to Rome. He will be greeted as a failed pretender to the throne by the people." Brutus could sense a slight shift in Caesars attention. He pressed a bit further. "But you, Caesar imagine the reception youll receive when you return triumphant, Xenas head on a stake. You will show Pompey for the coward he is and you will be revered a hero. There will be no stopping your sole rule of Rome. Pompey will be finished." Brutus sealed the proposal with Caesars own words. "Its your destiny, my lord."
A glazed look went across Caesars face. "Yes my destiny." Caesar raised a brow, peering at Brutus cautiously. "Well, it seems youve given this some thought. Perhaps you should give me the details of this fool proof plan." He leaned against the table separating his royal personage from the commoner. "Let me say this, Brutus. If this plan of yours fails, Ill be returning to Rome with your head on a stake."
Brutus tried to keep a passive face. "As you wish, my lord, but this plan wont fail."
Night had fallen on the razed village. The sight was sickening to Gabrielle all the waste in these peoples lives. It seemed all she and Xena encountered now was fighting and fear. She was so tired of the conflict, bone weary to be exact. She and Xena had come so far together, the idea of not staying together was unthinkable now. She would walk beside Xena no matter where the road led. She just wished it would lead somewhere happy. The thought that Caesar and Pompey were still out there was unnerving. Gabrielle had experienced Xenas obsession with the Roman on more than one occasion. She took a very deep, calming breath and tried to think about what Xena had said that afternoon that everything happened for a reason, even the bad things. There had to be some order in the midst of the chaos some way to make sense of the senseless. It was making her depressed trying to sort out the recent events. For a moment, Gabrielle ran her hands through her long blonde hair. She felt a few sore spots where it had been grabbed and nearly torn out during the conflict. It was matted with sweat and generally a mess.
She had a half smile on her lips and spoke to no one in particular. "Well, just another day at the office raze the village kill the livestock whack the Romans build the pyres discover helmet hair. Yep, it doesnt get any better than this."
"Gabrielle? Are you all right?" Her partners deep, familiar voice caught the bard by surprise. "What are you mumbling about?"
Gabrielle turned her head toward Xena. "Oh, nothing just going over my day." She shifted the conversation to the more immediate problems at hand. "Xena, what are we going to do about Caesar and Pompey?"
"What do you mean?" Xena replied in an almost casual tone.
Gabrielle was in shock. "Uh hello? You know what I mean. Unless you havent been paying attention, theres a bazillion reasons lying on the battlefield for Caesar and Pompey to come looking for us. Somehow, I dont think either of them is the forgiving type of tyrant. Theyre not just going to leave, Xena even with most of their men dead."
Xena shook out her blanket and bedroll next to Gabrielle. "I know theyre not, but it doesnt matter were not staying here to find out." She leaned over and placed her hand on Gabrielles face a face that was etched with maturity born from conflict and adversity. It was a face that Xena had helped change, and part of her felt a deep sorrow. She gently kissed Gabrielles soft lips, lingering just for the barest of moments. It was simply too painful to think of losing her again. "Get some sleep. Well discuss this in the morning."
For once, Gabrielle didnt argue. She was too exhausted and curled next to the warmth of Xenas body, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep. Xena held her close, staying awake for quite a while. Her mind was going over what she needed to reveal to her partner. It wasnt going to be easy to tell her of Altis vision. One thing was certain. She wasnt going to be within a thousand leagues of Caesar and his destiny. She would prevent Altis future from happening.
Day One Late Evening
Under Pompeys orders, his men went about the pretense of breaking camp. No doubt, Caesar would send spies to confirm Brutuss claims. If all went as planned, Caesar would be taking the bait, and the rest, as they would say, would be history. Even if he did succeed in killing Xena, which was unlikely given the mans past with the warrior, the fact that he continued on a personal crusade with men and materials funded by Romes citizens would greatly diminish his standing with the snobbish politicos at home. Caesar was finished. Pompey took a few moments to start thinking about his coronation celebration once he returned home. He was deep in thought when Brutus entered his tent. Without opening his eyes, Pompey addressed the traitor.
"Well? What do you have to report? Good news, I hope." He opened his eyes and waited a response.
A crooked smile beamed from Brutuss lips. "Caesar is doing exactly what you thought he would, and hes sent me to make sure youre really leaving."
"Only you? That doesnt sound like Caesar to me. He would never trust just one of you for a report." A worried crease marked Pompeys brow. It could spell a premature end to his plan if Caesar had sent additional spies to keep tabs on Brutus and it would be so like him. Pompey slammed his fist on the chair arm, swearing loudly. "You fool! Caesar has set a trap for you!" He rose from his seat to personally strangle Brutus. Before the man could get an explanation out, Pompeys hands were on his throat.
"Wait! Pompey please Ive taken care of it ." The last of his words were cut off just like the air to his lungs.
The Magnus backed off the pressure just enough to allow Brutus to speak. "Taken care of what?"
"Please let go of me, and Ill explain." Brutus gasped.
Pompey looked into the mans eyes. He could tell a lot about a man who was dying by his eyes and this ones were speaking the truth. Pompey released Brutus the man collapsing to one knee, his hands rubbing his throat. Pompey waited a few seconds before demanding him to speak. "Well, Im waiting."
Brutus swallowed, to make sure he still could, before beginning. "When Caesar ordered me to scout your camp, I suggested extra men for the job. I told you I had it covered. The rest of my detail is on the far side of the encampment. I told them to assess your remaining force and to make sure you were departing."
"And just what did you tell these other men you would be doing?" Pompey was still on the defensive, and Brutus was beginning to sound pompous. It hardly mattered; the plan was in action and had to be seen to completion.
"I told them the truth that I was going to scout the perimeter of your command tent for evidence you were indeed leaving. It was simple enough to convince them. Besides, they wanted no part of being anywhere near a potential conflict. It seems theyve had enough fighting. In fact, theres dissention in Caesars ranks. The men want to go home, and all this regrouping is beginning to take its toll." Brutus was very proud of his little plan. "This will work perfectly, my lord. By the time "
Pompey took command of this train of thought. He paced the floor finger tapping his lips. "By the time Caesar catches Xena, his men will be ready to mutiny. They are tired, battle weary, and long for the comfort of home. Even Caesar cannot keep the morale high forever. Oh this is good very good." He turned toward Brutus. His eyes were positively dancing with childlike glee. "Now what about Xena?"
Brutus watched Pompeys mood lighten. He was relieved, to say the least. "Xena is still with the villagers. I dont expect her to stay there much longer. She will probably come after you and Caesar to finish what she started, or assist the return of the villages women and children. Either way, she will be ripe for ambush."
Pompey shook his head. "Ive already figured that much out. Xena is a very unpredictable woman, and that makes her dangerous. But she does have a weak link, besides a mutual obsession with Caesar. She will undoubtedly do the honorable thing and bring those women and children back to their husbands and fathers. That streak of kindness will be her undoing and Caesars."
"How can you be so sure she will do this? You just said shes unpredictable." Brutus had a point.
"Ah, yes, but she possesses one attribute that no great warrior can afford she cares even if it puts her and Gabrielle in danger." Pompey seemed almost saddened by the prospect of Caesar killing the warrior but he moved through the crisis quickly. "Oh well, cant be helped. What we do, we do for Rome. Now, get back to Caesar and give him the information hes waiting for."
Brutus nodded his head and turned to leave.
Pompeys final words caught him at the tent flap. "Oh Brutus dont think about betraying me to Caesar. It wont be worth your long, painful death to even consider such an action."
Brutus didnt respond, but the warning was enough to put a knot in his stomach. For the first time, he doubted his course of action. This could turn out very badly for him even it all went as planned. He would be watchful of both Caesar and Pompey.
The sky was barely light when the warrior woke. She had slipped into slumber some time after Gabrielle, her mind trying to formulate answers to questions Gabrielle would surely ask today. Xena was making a decision about how much to tell her. As it was, the barest version of the vision would be disturbing. Xena wanted to minimize the bards anxiety. She would tell her only what was necessary to get Gabrielle moving and away from danger. The day was beginning with a distinct coolness in the air. A change of season wasnt too far away. Xena held Gabrielle closer, wrapping her legs over the smaller womans and pressing Gabrielles head against her chest. She held her tightly until the woman in her protective grasp stirred.
"Xena?" Gabrielles voice was a whisper, her lips moving against Xenas throat.
The warriors arms gently squeezed her partner. "Yes, Gabrielle Im here."
Gabrielle opened her eyes, taking time to adjust to the waking day. She rolled slowly onto her back. There wasnt a spot on her that wasnt sore. Her body was still in a very depleted state from the long battle. "Ow! Gods, Xena, how in Hades do you do that warlording thing day after day? I feel positively awful."
Xena smiled at her lover. "Practice, Gabrielle. Lots of practice." The truth was Xena was still very tired tired in the very core of herself. In a morning ritual of such long standing, she couldnt remember when it started, Xena popped her neck and back. She let out a sigh of relief. "Ahhh thats better."
Gabrielle made a face and continued to stir, testing her bodys various moving parts. "I think Ill just deal with my aches the old fashioned way Ill complain about them." She finally sat up on the bedroll. "And I can already tell, theres gonna be a lot of complainin today."
Xena was standing and donning her armor. She looked at Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. How could this beautiful, vibrant woman end up as Alti had shown? Many things that Xena had seen during that spirit battle were falling into place nebulous images becoming firm reality. Altis power had been real, and Xena had no reason to doubt all the vision would come to fruition. She felt an urgency to get moving moving away from Caesar moving away from the conflict moving away from danger. The warrior smirked. Alti had made a mistake showing her the future. Now that Xena knew what was coming, she could avoid its impact on her and Gabrielles life. "Cmon, Gabrielle. Were leaving this morning."
Slowly, the bard pushed herself off the ground. She was stiff and had bruises on her arms and thighs. Her physical body may have been slow to move, but her mind was as quick as ever. "Um Xena until you tell me why were practically running away, Im not moving from this spot." She raised a brow and stared defiantly at the warrior. She further clarified her position, "And dont give me that because I said so routine. It wont fly this time."
Xena was hoping she could get her way without explaining, but she knew Gabrielle was too independent now to blindly accept direction. In many ways, Xena wanted their relationship as it was three yeas ago no questions. Of course, that was a ridiculous thought. Gabrielle wasnt the same woman, and, for that matter, neither was Xena. She would have to tell her. Xena sighed deeply.
"You remember when we found each other in the forest that day? Because of all that was happening with Hope and your family, I didnt really tell you how I knew you had survived the fall into the pit." Xena could still see Gabrielle holding Hope falling out of sight the memory fresh and painful. "I did tell some of it to Hope when I thought she was you, but I never told you. Im sorry."
"Sokay, Xena. I understand. We were kinda busy with Hope and her child. I did wonder though how you knew I was alive." A puzzled look creased Gabrielles face. "What does that have to do with whats happening now?"
It was a simple question. The answer would be anything but simple. Xena stopped fooling with her armor and knelt next to Gabrielle. She looked into the womans eyes and told the story. "After you fell into the pit, I was beside myself. I didnt want to believe you were dead I couldnt accept the possibility, so I sought out Hades to find out what happened to you. He told me you werent in Elyssia that he had no idea where youd gone. I figured out you had probably passed over into eternity through the Amazon Land of the Dead. It was there I sought you out to put some closure on all of that pain."
Gabrielles eyes widened. "You went to the Land of the Dead looking for me? How?"
Xena took Gabrielles hands in her own and looked deep into eyes green and alive. "I used a ritual learned from a shamaness "
"What shamaness? You never told me about any shamaness Xena ." Gabrielles penchant for interrupting made Xena smile.
Xena put her fingers to the bards still moving lips. "Shhh just listen. I wont be able to get this out but once. Okay?"
Gabrielle nodded silently.
Xena continued. "After Borias and I left Chin, we met an Amazon shamaness, Alti. I wanted to take on the Amazons right then, but Borias wanted to form an alliance with them against the Centaurs. Damn Borias and his alliances! Anyway, Alti offered to help us me. She was very powerful, and I didnt realize it at the time, but she had a personal vendetta against the Amazons and this one tribe in particular. They had been wary of her dark power and banished her."
Xena remembered the seductive attraction to Alti and her power. "Alti recognized and used my lust for power for her evil agenda. In the end, I murdered the Amazon tribe leaders the ones who had banished her and provided Alti with what she wanted. I was so stupid, I couldnt see past my own greed."
Gabrielle couldnt resist asking, "What did Alti really want?"
"Revenge. She used the blood of the Amazon leader Cyane to trap her and the tribe in the Amazon Land of the Dead never to pass over into eternity and I helped her."
"But Xena, if Cyane and her tribe were trapped in the Land of the Dead, why would you risk going there? Surely they werent happy to see you." Gabrielle had a way of stating the obvious that Xena found amusing.
"No, they certainly werent, but I had no idea what Alti had done until I saw Cyane and her tribe. I decided I had to right that wrong that it would be something youd want me to do. So, I came back to the living. When I woke I found Id been taken in by a bedraggled band of Amazons. It was with this group I confessed my past, and we bonded together to fight Alti. In the end, I fought her on the spiritual plane. She tried using my knowledge, memory and love for you as a weapon."
Xena quietly told Gabrielle the rest. "During the clash for one anothers soul, she showed me pieces of the future battles and finally you and I being captured by a Roman force Caesars men and ." She stopped short of revealing the whole truth she just couldnt.
A tear formed in the warriors crystal blue eyes and washed over her cheek. Xena couldnt begin to tell Gabrielle about the cross.
"Alti thought that image would make me give up, but it proved to me you were still alive in the present. It gave me the strength to defeat her. And knowing all this is why we have to leave. We have to get as far away from Caesar as possible. I wont let that future take place."
Gabrielle was stunned. She tried to be calm, but she was shaking. "Xena, you dont know that she showed you the future. Hey we just fought Caesars men and werent captured. Dont you see it could have been something she projected anything to give her an edge in fighting you."
The bards optimism astounded Xena. Even
after all they had been through, Gabrielle could find that one glimmer of hope and breathe
life into it. She was truly remarkable which made the possibility of Altis vision
becoming real too frightening to think about.
"Gabrielle Alti was evil, and her power was real. Ive already seen parts of her vision become reality. This battle the village in flames Caesar. No we are leaving!" There was a look of urgency in her eyes and nervousness sat uncomfortably in her belly.
Gabrielle tried to argue with the warrior. "But what about staying to help these people, Xena? They still have women and children in the mountains."
Xena was very sure about what they were going to do even if she had to physically throw Gabrielle over her shoulders and carry her from the spot. She tried to sound calm in the face of her internal rampaging fear. "The men and Temecula can carry this out, but if youre concerned about their wishes, well just ask them. Good enough?"
"Okay, but if they even hint that theyd want out help, you have to promise youll stay." Gabrielle knew this was her only card to play. It was obvious to her Xena meant to pack up and leave.
"Agreed." Xena didnt waste any more time chatting about the situation. She sought out Temecula and the village elders for a conference. Gabrielle was right behind her, wanting to hear the entire conversation for herself, as sometimes Xena could be a bit intimidating to get her way. They found the men huddled around a fire on the other side of the village.
Temecula rose to acknowledge the presence of the two women. "Xena Gabrielle we were just talking about you. We want to thank you for coming to our aid and freeing us from the Roman tyranny. We couldnt have done it without your courage and planning even if it meant some of us had to die for that freedom."
Xenas preoccupation with her need to leave made her conversation terse and blunt. "Yeah no problem. Um Gabrielle and I need to move on if that doesnt pose an inconvenience for you."
Gabrielle shot her a look. She couldnt believe Xena was behaving so insensitively. She stepped forward to exercise a more diplomatic approach. "What Xena is saying is if youre comfortable with us leaving today, shed like to get on the road. We " Gabrielle glared at Xena through squinty eyes and continued," thought wed see if you need assistance with getting the women and children back to the village."
Temecula thought Xena sounded different, but shook it off. He addressed Gabrielle. " I think well be okay. I sent some scouts to check on Caesar and Pompeys encampments. Theyre loading their ships and preparing to leave. I believe we bloodied their noses and pride pretty good. They cant get out of here fast enough thanks to you two. No, you go ahead. Weve detained you long enough."
"Are you sure? It wouldnt be any trouble for us to stay to help you." Gabrielles offer elicited a very raised brow from Xena. The bard stood her ground.
Temecula had the last word. "Thanks again, but well take care of our people now."
Xena had only one question before leaving. "How far is the next town?"
"Oh, that would be Zoras. Its about a days ride. You should be able to find supplies if the Romans didnt take it all." Temecula smiled warmly as Xena led Gabrielle away. He called to them one last time. "Godspeed, Xena Gabrielle."
Xena turned and just waved.
Gabrielle was furious. "I cant believe you! Xena, you were practically rude to him. Whats really going on inside that mind of yours?"
Xena had hardly broken stride from Temecula to loading their belongings on Argo. "Trust me, Gabrielle you dont want to know." She knew that was only going to prompt further questions from Gabrielle. She sighed and turned away from her task. "Gabrielle, do you trust me?"
"Of course I do, thats not the issue here. I dont understand why youre in such a hurry to leave now. Caesar and Pompey will soon be gone. We could have helped Temecula ." Gabrielles logic was stopped mid-stream by Xenas raised hand.
"Gabrielle I cant explain it all now but I will just as soon as we have some distance from this place. Now, please cmon."
The bard gave up for the moment. "Okay, lets go. The day will be past before we know it, and Temecula said the next village is about a days journey. If its all the same to you, Id just as soon not sleep out in the open tonight." Gabrielle winked at Xena and added, "I think a nice comfy pallet and hot bath will do wonders for both of us."
Xena welcomed a change of subject and smiled at her friend. "Now thats an image I can dwell on."
With their meager possessions secured on Argo, the two began a purposeful walk in the direction of the village. They hadnt been walking very long when Xenas senses alerted her of company. She stopped on the path turning her head to catch sounds on the wind. She didnt have to search very long. At the bottom of a small rill she saw eight or ten men, dressed for battle.
The men stared at Xena and Gabrielle. Xena tensed and moved her hand to draw her sword.
Gabrielle tried to dissuade Xena from just jumping into another fight. "Um Xena, why dont we just talk first? They dont look like theyre part of Caesars of Pompeys men. They might be allies."
Xena didnt even get an answer past her lips. The men charged at full speed, swords drawn, and intent obvious. As Gabrielle positioned herself for the first strike, she yelled at Xena, "Hey it was just a thought."
The men were no match for the warrior and Gabrielle. Four of the more seriously wounded fled. Xena was about to dispatch the remaining group when a lone rider appeared on the hilltop. In short order, this rider upended Xena and had Gabrielle on the ground. As the rider faced Xena, she pulled the veil from her face. Xena was surprised to see a woman... but introductions would have to wait. The warrior charged Xena. Gabrielle tried to land a blow from behind but the warrior executed a flip worthy of Xena and booted Gabrielle in the back. The bard fell to the ground and the woman poised to drive home a sword into the bard, but stopped arms held high hands gripping the hilt. For whatever reason, Xena did not seize the opportunity to use her chakram on the warrior. All three of them were frozen in place.
The warrior lowered the sword and dropped her knees. A glazed look crossed her face, and she seemed to be listening to some faraway voice. She began sobbing and pleaded with Xena and Gabrielle. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Cautiously, Xena helped Gabrielle away from this woman, using herself as a shield. From the hilltop, the men Xena had fought away rejoined the group and their obvious leader.
The warrior stood and addressed one of her men. "Why were you fighting these people, Dach?"
The burly man answered. "We thought they were on their way to Zoras."
The woman spoke of things she had no way of knowing. "Well, you were wrong. These two are on a journey a quest. They are our allies in the fight against darkness."
Xena and Gabrielle stole glances at one another as the woman continue her revelations. "I am Najara."
Gabrielle made their introductions. "Im Gabrielle and this is Xena."
Najara peered at Gabrielle and then the warrior. "You have suffered much Gabrielle but youve retained your good heart." She turned her eyes toward Xena. "And you have chosen to fight the darkness within you. What courage that takes."
Xena tried to look into the womans heart, but a veil was covering something about her. She felt familiar in an unsettling way.
Gabrielle was stunned this woman could know such things about her and Xena. "How do you know that?"
"The Djinn told me."
Xena was curious. "The Djinn?"
Najara smiled, realizing an explanation would be hard. "Yes, they are my guides through life."
"Are they spirits?" Gabrielles interest in otherworldly events fueled her question.
Najara sighed softly. "Theyre the Djinn thats all I know." She turned and called her mount. The animal responded to her much as Argo did to Xena. Once seated atop the steed, she commented. "Id love to stay and talk more with you, but I know my men are anxious to move. I hope you find what youre looking for and please, forgive us it was an honest mistake."
Najara moved her horse past Xena and Gabrielle. She stopped and held her arms out in a trance like way. Xena smirked at this display, but not in such a way as to cause more fighting. She was so leery of mystics.
Najara turned her steed to face the group and spoke to the warrior and Gabrielle. "Would you like to join us on our mission?"
Xena raised a brow and asked. "Whats your mission?"
Najaras smile was all too familiar to Xena. "To fight evil wherever we find it."
Again, Xena pressed for information. "Could you be a little more specific?"
"Were riding against Merot."
"Merot of Crete?" Xena remembered an old rivals name.
"You know him?" Najara asked.
"Ive heard of him. Hes a dangerous man." Xena answered.
"Yes, he is. My men thought you were working with him. Thats why they attacked you."
Xena was intrigued now. "Whats he doing in Phoenicia?"
A look of sadness crossed Najaras eyes. "Hunting for slaves to bring back to Crete. A raiding party of his men is on their way to harvest human beings from the village of Zoras, about a days ride from here. Were on our way to stop him. We can do it without you, but the Djinn think you should come and I would love that."
Xenas survival instincts were buzzing. There was something about Najara and her rhetoric that bothered her and odd that they were heading for the same village that she and Gabrielle were. Xena thought it best to keep this bit of truth from the woman. Perhaps it was hearing the same spiel shed heard before from so many false prophets but there was something else something just out of reach of her memory.
Gabrielle finally broke the silence and spoke to Xena. "What do you think?"
Against all her better judgement, she agreed. "I suppose we could travel with you a while."
Gabrielles eyes danced with the prospect of doing so much good. She gave Najara added reasons to let them travel together. "Xenas a skilled healer and could easily tend your men."
In a quietly, sarcastic tone, Xena added, "Since it was all a misunderstanding."
Najara benevolently looked at them. "Youre both very kind." She turned her mount and rode away from the group.
Xena watched her ride toward the next hill. A faint memory danced across her consciousness Altis vision a woman warrior a collapsing staircase and then the Romans the crosses Gabrielle. Xena froze. She turned to Gabrielle. Her pupils were dilated with fear. "No! Gabrielle we cant go with her!"
Gabrielle was frustrated by Xenas behavior first with Temecula and now this. "Xena, whats wrong with you!? Just a minute ago you said youd give it a try." The bard was honestly disgusted with all this. She made a decision. "Well, Im going. I need something else, Xena." Gabrielle looked in the direction of the disappearing rider. "I dont know if Najara can offer it, but Im ready for a different path.
Gabrielle shook her head and started walking away with Najaras men. She closed her eyes and could hear Xenas pleas behind her.
"Gabrielle please dont theres great danger come back !!!!"
"Xena!" A voice shattered the warriors preoccupation with her image.
"XENA!" Again, a voice intruded. "Xena! Wake up. Youre having a nightmare!"
Xenas eyes flew open, her heart thundering, her mouth dry, her eyes wet. Gabrielle was forcefully shaking the warrior. "Its okay, Xena Im here."
It took a few moments for Xena to compose herself, to calm her breathing and to drive that paralyzing fear out of her gut. She blinked and looked into Gabrielles serene eyes her flowing hair gracefully draped over her shoulders. Xena reached to touch the lovers beautiful hair to be sure this wasnt the dream. The texture of Gabrielles silken locks sent a spasm of joy through Xenas core. She pulled the bard into her arms, rocking her.
Xena was disoriented. "Where are we?"
Gabrielle smiled. "That must have been some dream. Were still in Temeculas village remember? You wanna talk about it?"
Xena sat for a few moments in silence. Slowly, the effects of the dream faded with the closeness of Gabrielle and the feeling of her hair in Xenas hand. She answered Gabrielles concerned question. "No, not right now." Xena was even more sure they had to leave this place it just wasnt safe too much of Altis vision was encroaching. She declared her decision. "Were leaving Gabrielle, just as I said last night. Now get ready."
The bard corrected her. "No you said wed talk about it this morning so talk."
"We dont have time. Im not going to argue with you. Theres so much you dont know." Xena was almost begging.
Gabrielle was not going to be denied. "Then youd better start filling me in."
Xena knew this wasnt the compliant Gabrielle of her dream. She told her almost everything her encounter with Alti her spiritual battle and the visions Alti had made her see. She still held their deaths on the cross in her heart as well as the appearance of Najara. To her amazement, Gabrielle asked the same questions, verbatim, as in her dream. There was an odd feeling of déjà vu and building sense of futility. Silently, Xena wondered if she could escape Altis predictions.
Gabrielle listened intently, trying not to be shaken by the conviction in Xenas voice. "Xena, I can understand how you feel, but we just cant abandon these people right now. They have no defense if Caesar or Pompey come to finish them. And what about the women and children that were sent through the mountains? We at least need to bring them back. It wont take long we have to. I cant make you stay, but Im not going until Ive done something to help them." Gabrielle was very clear about her path, and, although the thought of the Romans still being so close made her sick inside, her ethic wouldnt allow her to do otherwise. She put forth a final plea. "Xena, we have to do the right thing by these people. Please. Alti couldnt have known everything. No one knows the future."
The warrior was torn. She knew Gabrielle was right, but this once she didnt want to do
the right thing. She wanted take their belongings and get away. In some ways Xena wanted to stop thinking about the welfare of others and concentrate on Gabrielles. She knew this was a fear-induced reaction, but she could almost hear the voice of Gabrielle on that cross "I love you, Xena." She clinched her fists, thinking about the nails about to be driven home. A shiver went over her, and a feeling of nausea welled in her throat.
"Gabrielle I we cant stay here. I cant be responsible for taking care of everything. We have to leave!"
Xenas near desperation took Gabrielle aback. She took the warriors shoulders in a firm grasp. "Xena, listen to me. These people followed your plan without question I followed your plan." In a very commanding tone, Gabrielle had the last word. "We are going to do this, and the sooner we get started, the sooner we can leave. Now, are you with me or not?"
Xena could see there would be no further arguing. She sure as Hades wasnt going to leave Gabrielle alone. Besides, maybe the bard was right Alti couldnt know everything. She reluctantly gave in. "Im with you Gabrielle, always."
Sensing a small victory, Gabrielle nodded. "Good. Lets do what we have to here and then be on our way." She smiled at Xena, picked up the bedroll, and walked past her. She was heading toward a small group of women who had elected to stay through the battle.
Xena watched Gabrielle walk past her. The warrior looked for Temecula. She needed him to check on the position of Caesar and Pompey. If they were staying, she wanted to know what those two were up to and she needed to plan a way to bring the rest of the villagers back. Even as she moved away from Gabrielle, Xena still felt anxious to just gather their things and leave. It was an uncharacteristic feeling for her, but at this moment, she didnt care getting away was all she wanted to do. With great effort, she sought out Temecula. This chore couldnt be finished fast enough to suit her.
Gabrielle approached Phalanguss widow.. The bard walked to her side and spoke quietly, "I need for you to do something for me."
"Anything, Gabrielle. What do you need?"
Day Two? Mid-morning
It was full daylight when Brutus and his spies returned to Caesars camp. They went directly to the commanders tent to report. Caesar was fully dressed and waiting when they entered.
"Report." He ordered. "Tell me about Pompey and then Xena."
Brutus allowed one of his men to give Caesar his findings on Pompey. "Its as Brutus said, my lord. Pompey is indeed preparing to leave. His men are loading his flagship with all they can carry. He doesnt even have sentries posted, hes really leaving."
"Good. Now Xena."
Brutus stepped forward to tell the man what he so wanted to hear. "Xena hasnt left the village yet. She doesnt seem poised to launch a strike against you. It looked as if she and some of the men were preparing to go fetch the rest of the women and children." He paused and then smugly added. "Just like I thought she would. She has made a mistake, Caesar."
A feral smile found its way to Caesars lips. "Yes, a mistake." He turned his back on the men in the room and congratulated himself. "In the end, you are no match for me, Xena." Caesar had a plan already in his head. He imparted instructions to Brutus for execution. "This is what we will do."
He leaned over the battle map on the table. It indicated the position of the village and the nearby mountain pass. "Brutus, you will take a small force of the best fighters and take up a position here " He pointed to a spot on the map with the tip of his dagger. It was a narrow passage, perfect for ambush. "You will keep your men hidden until I give the command." Caesar made one more point perfectly clear. "You will not, under any circumstances kill Xena or that friend of hers. I will have that honor." He raised his ice-cold eyes and met those of his accomplice. "Understood?"
"Perfectly, my lord." Brutus saluted Caesar and led the men from the command tent. All was ready, but he must hurry to beat Xena and the villagers to the pass. He wondered what prize Pompey would bestow on him after all this was over?
Xena had gathered a handful of the fittest men to accompany her and Gabrielle. Temecula had given her a thorough assessment of where Caesar and Pompey were. It seemed, from all accounts, those two were in the process of breaking camp and heading back to Rome. Xena relaxed somewhat at that good news. A brisk breeze sent a chill over her bare shoulders.
Temecula looked skyward into the gathering clouds. "We need to hurry, Xena. This region is known for its sudden, early snows especially in the mountains. We could be in for one soon."
"Right. Then lets get going." Xena scanned the area for sign of Gabrielle. Her usually decisive instincts were at odds with each other. Part of her wanted Gabrielle to stay behind in the relative safety of the village but another part wanted Gabrielle right beside her. She was taking no chances on being separated from her not now. "Temecula, have you seen Gabrielle?"
The young boy stopped checking his bow long enough to answer. "I think I saw her talking to Phlanaguss widow." The words were no sooner out of his mouth when Gabrielle appeared. She had donned warmer clothing a long cape with a hood.
"Xena there she is."
Xena motioned for her to hurry. She didnt want to further worry the bard and made a pretense of wanting to beat the impending weather. The real reason was chewing her insides like a bad meal. "Cmon, Gabrielle. Temecula tells me the weather may close us off if we dont hurry. I dont want to get caught up there."
"Right behind you." Gabrielle fell in behind the small group, and they made their way toward the nearby pass.
Xena had started at the front of the group, setting a very quick pace. She would have sprinted if she thought the group could keep up. Every few steps she turned to check on Gabrielles position. Finally, she let Temecula have the lead and she fell back to walk with the bard. She was slightly out of breath when she neared Gabrielle.
"How ya doing?"
Gabrielle gave her that look. "Xena, Im fine, trust me." She cast a glance toward the men trudging up ahead. "Its those guys you should worry about. Remember Ive got a lot of miles logged keeping up with you and Argo. Im afraid some of the men will fall out before we get through the pass." A relaxed smile crossed Gabrielles face. "Youre an evil woman, Xena. It took me a year to be able to keep pace with you. Youre going to damage their little male egos." She winked at the warrior and gave her a playful jab on the arm.
Xena placed her arm around Gabrielles shoulders. "Aw theyll be all right. They just need a little conditioning." She drew Gabrielle closer. Her thoughts about Altis prediction were not as pronounced now that they were underway. Xena felt a sense of relief that she had Gabrielle literally under her arm and out of harms way. In fact, a sense of euphoria was beginning to settle on her. This might be okay after all.
"Uh-huh what is it?" The bard snuggled closer to Xena.
"Where do you want to go after this?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Um I dunno." She shivered slightly in the cooling temperature. "How about some place warm and sunny. Maybe some place with a sandy beach where we can have picnics and go swimming "
Xena interjected her fondest wish, "And fishing... can we go fishing?"
Gabrielle laughed out loud. "You and fishing whats up with that? I think you just like tossing the scaly buggers out of the water to check my reflexes."
"Oh, theres nothing wrong with your reflexes as I recall. I dare say youve got the fastest set of hands in Greece well, besides mine of course." Xena coyly smiled.
For a few, sweet moments, they walked in silence, each remembering the adventures and experiences they had shared.
Xena reached for Gabrielles hand and quietly asked her. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Gabrielle squeezed the warriors hand, her fingers entwined with Xenas. "Forgive you for what?" She asked, looking in Xenas clear, blue eyes.
"For placing you in harms way so many times for hurting you for not believing in you?"
A look of pure love radiated from Gabrielles face. "I love you, Xena. I am where I should be with you now and always. Remember what you said in Potidaea, after Hope were in this together, no matter what to the end."
A mist clouded Xenas eyes. "Yes, together always."
They quietly held one another close and continued walking. No other words need be said.
The trek was relatively short, not more than two hours. The wind had picked up quite a bit, and the sky had taken on an ominous gathering of clouds. Every now and then, Xena would peer into the sky and quicken her pace somewhat urging Gabrielle to keep up. In spite of the reports from Temecula concerning Caesar, a very familiar feeling was gnawing at her. They were finally at the mouth of the mountain passage. It was so narrow, they could only walk by twos. Temecula led the way, since he was familiar with the path. Xena and Gabrielle would be last to enter. As they neared the mouth of the passage, a strong gust of wind caught Gabrielles cape and swirled the material up and away from her shoulders and head. Xenas eyes caught sight of Gabrielle as the hood brushed off her head. She was so stunned that words could not escape her throat. Unadulterated fear took hold of her as she confronted Gabrielle.
"Gabrielleeee whaaat your hair " Xenas mind couldnt even form a coherent sentence.
Almost in embarrassment, Gabrielle ran her hands through her shorn locks. In her defense, she tried to calm Xena. "Now, dont get all upset. It will grow back. Besides, after this last fight, I found out in a very painful way, long hair is not an asset. On the battlefield, its a liability and one that almost cost my life." She absently pulled at some of the hair framing her face. "I think its kinda chic, dont you?"
All Xena could see was Gabrielles face as she lay on that Roman cross her hair short and a lock brushing her forehead Altis vision.
She was in near panic mode. She blurted the awful truth the full truth. "Oh, gods Gabrielle Altis vision your hair it was "
From hiding, Caesar prepared to launch his attack. He whispered to himself in triumph.
"Its my destiny, Xena all our destinies "
Xena reached to touch her lovers tresses. "Nooo " Xena looked toward the heavens for help. "Please noooo."
A light snow began falling.
The Bard's Corner