Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong in their entirety to Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended
Violence and subtext are restricted to the guidelines established by the television production.Turning Point
Over the western mountains thunder rolled within whirling black clouds. Lightening flashed between the peaks and sent a cool wind rushing into the wooded valley below. The leaves of the trees were turning over and rustling against each other in a wave of noise and the air now smelt of pending rain. A tall, strong woman reined in her horse and looked at the sky. Her classic beauty was in sharp contrast to the warrior's garb she wore. Xena dismounted from the broad back of Argo and took the horse by the bridle. The mare's ears were back in freight and her eyes were wide and rolling. The mare side stepped in fear and snorted pulling at her bridle. "Steady, Argo," Xena whispered and stroked the mighty mount until she was calmer as the warrior watched her companion trudge along the path towards her.
Gabrielle caught up and looked up towards the peaks and then around at the forest dancing in the growing wind. "You haven't done anything to upset the gods, have you Xena," she asked suspiciously as she looked up at the strong beauty of her friend's face.
Xena looked down at her petite friend. Thick blond hair waved around a cute, innocent face. In the simple working dress of an Amazon and carrying only a staff, she did not look like she could take care of herself but Xena knew that Gabrielle had changed in so many ways since leaving her village to follow the Warrior Princess. There was a surprising number of hidden strengths in her friend built on the joys and wounds of her life with the warrior. Xena smiled grimly and shrugged, "Nothing I can think of," she drawled and turned to lead Argo on, "at least not lately" she added as an after thought. The warrior once again eyed the unnatural clouds, "I'm not afraid of gods." Xena muttered angrily pulling at Argo's reins. Things don't look good. There is no use worrying Gabrielle, but that storm does not look natural, Xena thought.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and followed her friend with a sigh of resignation. Xena was not being open with her. Again. Gabrielle smiled warily. Look at her sauntering along so strong, defiant and brave, dressed in black leather battle dress and carrying those deadly weapons with such confidence, you wouldn't know she was capable of deep compassion and caring. She was such a paradox. She had the cold violence of a killer's heart and yet her soul was soft and gentle and so easily hurt. Gabrielle cringed inside. She had hurt Xena so deeply and had fallen victim both to Xena's rage and love. Although they had held their partnership together against gods, battle and betrayal it was a thin thread that bound them now where once it had been a golden cord of trust.
Xena became aware of Gabrielle lagging behind. She's daydreaming. Dangerous thing to do on an unknown trail. Xena's hand moved on Argo's reins nervously. What is she thinking?! She was so quiet now. Xena's stomach tightened as she remembered how her innocent friend had laughed and talked beside her. I killed all that with my black moods and violence and because my hatred made me lead her into harm's way. I took her joy and innocence and yet she stays with me. She battled, I battled, to bring her back to me. Why? Xena shook her head and refocused on her surroundings. Pulling Argo to a stop she listened, trying to catch a sound above the wind. Xena turned to look back at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, we're coming to fast water. Do you hear it?" Xena yelled over the wind and approaching storm.
Gabrielle came up beside the Warrior and looked up into her face. "Will we be able to cross the ford?" questioned a worried Gabrielle eyeing the threatening storm.
Xena shrugged and looked at the rolling clouds, "The gods willing," she stated sarcastically. "Come on we need to hurry."
Gabrielle shot her friend a dirty look, " You know, with an evil looking storm approaching and us out on the open trail, you don't have to go out of your way to thumb your nose at the gods, Xena!" she lectured in frustration.
But Xena just gave her a quick shrug and laughed as they hurried on down the trail until they walked out of the forest to where the icy mountain river tumbled over the rocks of the ford. Xena walked to the shore and looked across and up the river. For several minutes she watched the water's edge to estimate how quickly it was rising up the bank. Then she bent and picked up a stick and threw it in to test the strength of the current. "The water is high, but I think it's still possible to cross," concluded Xena walking back towards where Gabrielle stood patiently with Argo. "I'll go first with Argo," instructed Xena as she turned to loosen the packs on Argo's back, "And you follow with the packs." Xena dropped the bags to the ground and without hesitation lead Argo into the icy stream.
"What's it like?" asked Gabrielle, watching her friend with anxious eyes as she battled the strong current and her frightened mount to the other side. "Wet and refreshing." stated Xena pulling Argo up the bank on the opposite side.
Gabrielle shouldered their packs and gingerly dipped a foot in and then pulled it back quickly, "It's freezing!" she gasped.
Xena rolled her eyes in impatience and tried not to sound like she was about to loose her temper. "As I see it you have two choices. Get into that river now or I'll have to go on without you," drawled Xena folding her arms across her chest and raising an eyebrow. Gabrielle looked up at the approaching storm. The trees now whipped about them in fury. She held her breath and plunged into the river waddling in awkward strides towards the other side. Xena looked on suddenly alert for trouble. The river was continuing to rise and Gabrielle was much shorter. The water rushed passed Gabrielle's hips at mid stream but Gabrielle battle on and was soon in shallower water. Xena relaxed and look up stream and her eyes widened in horror, "Gabrielle!" she screamed just as the flash flood hit her friend and buried her in a roaring flow of wild, white water and debris.
Xena started running along the bank. She would need to get down stream of her friend to help her. What if she was already drowned! No, Don't think like that . Focus. You have to out run this flood. Xena set her jaw and called on every ounce of her strength to push herself forward. She ran like a wolf across the beach and then jumped from rock to rock along the river bank somersaulting over the wider chasms. Ahead a stream entered the river flow and Xena swung across it on an overhanging branch without breaking her stride. A roar grew in her ears. Waterfalls! Xena sped on even faster her muscles screaming in pain. At the cliff's edge she halted and cast worried eyes along the river. For a split second, she saw the head of her friend break the surface at the lip of the falls, an arm reached up in a hopeless attempt to grab at the rocks to prevent a fall to her death. Xena's whip cracked out and wrapped around Gabrielle's wrist as she disappeared over the edge. Xena braced herself and the rawhide snapped taunt with the weight of her friend. Gasping with exhaustion, Xena pulled her friend through the roaring waters. Her arm muscles bulged with the strain of holding both Gabrielle's weight and pulling against the force of the water. Slowly, with incredible strength, Xena was able to pull the whip up hand over hand and reach down to grab her exhausted friend and pull her to the safety of the rock ledge. For awhile, the two of them lay side by side, panting in exhaustion. Finally, Xena spoke. " Had to take the short cut, didn't you," said Xena with a smile getting up on one elbow and looking down at Gabrielle with a worried smile.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and through lips blue with cold she chattered, " You're out of shape. That should have been an easy rescue. The gods know I've given you a lot of practice!" joked Gabrielle returning her friend's smile. Yes. Like this... the friendly banter... like it used to be. Do I have to be facing death before Xena can let down her guard and come close to me?
Xena laughed awkwardly and helped Gabrielle on to her feet and the two of them made their way slowly back to higher land. Xena gave a piercing whistle and after a short wait, Argo came walking down a small path in the forest. Now the sun was blocked out by the dark thunderous clouds and heavy rain drops had started to fall. Xena unpacked their cloaks and wrapped Gabrielle's around her. Gabrielle smiled weakly but to Xena's touch she was icy-cold and shivering. "We'll have to seek shelter so you can get dry and warm-up. We are much farther down the valley than I'd planned. I'd wanted us to cross the north end of this valley and then cut down south before climbing up to that mountain pass," explained Xena to the shivering Gabrielle. "Now we will have to cross the valley. That's the mountain pass we need to take." stated Xena pointing directly across the valley to a narrow pass between two mountains. "There is a village not too far ahead. I hadn't planned on stopping there but I think now we will have too." Xena took her friend by the waist and lifted her up on Argo's back. "I know you hate riding. But Argo will help to keep you warm." Gabrielle nodded too exhausted to argue. Xena pulled the hood closer around her friend in a worried and tender gesture and then put her own cloak on and lead Argo on.
The storm crashed around them. Xena gritted her teeth against her own cold and weariness and sloshed on through the mud. Gabrielle was asleep on Argo's back and Xena knew she must find shelter and warmth for her friend soon. The trees bent and twisted in the deluge and the wind howled and bit into them. Xena sighed with relief as she saw the first of the houses of the village. One thing I'm sure of here is a warm welcome, she thought.
Gabrielle ached all over and she was shivering so hard it was jarring her body. Her hands and feet had no feeling at all. She knew that the cold was killing her eventhough it was an experience she had never felt before. Back in her village she had heard tales of shepherds caught on the high pastures by sudden winter storms and falling to sleep never to wake again. Gabrielle struggled to keep conscience. She was vaguely aware that they had entered a village. A woman screamed out and a child cried in fear. What was going on? she wondered. Through misty eyes, she could see sullen men eyeing them with hostility but keeping their distance. Xena walked straight and calmly but Gabrielle could sense her friend's uneasiness. Where they on enemy territory? Gabrielle tried to think but waves of darkness kept washing over her.
"Come on Gabrielle. Try and walk," came the encouraging words of her friend as she gently pulled her from Argo's back.
Gabrielle staggered against the armored chest of her friend and managed to whisper stiffly through frozen lips, "What's wrong?"
"Well, for starters you're an ugly shade of blue," muttered Xena wrapping an arm around her companion and helping her inside a small tavern. The inside was dirty and smelled of yeasty beer, stewed mutton and fire smoke. To Gabrielle it felt heavenly as her friend helped her over to sit close to a meager fire that smoldered in a ash filled hearth. "My friend and I will need a room, food and a place to stable our horse." Xena stated to someone beyond Gabrielle's range of vision.
"There are no rooms," came a sullen response through the sleepiness that Gabrielle struggled to fight off.
Xena gave a low growl and was across the room in an instant. Her hands shot out and pinched the jugular vein off the man's neck under the sinew of his own neck muscles. The man instantly felt his head reeling and the excruciating pain of pressure building in his neck. Xena leaned close and whispered," I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Unless you want to die within the next few minutes you'll nod that you do have a room for my sick friend and I. The man nodded violently as he gasped and choked. Xena reached out and released the pressure and the man collapsed to the floor. Xena gave him a nudge with her toe to remind him of his promise.
"Up those stairs there's a loft you can have," the man gasped in fear, "Your horse can be stabled behind this inn. I'll have stew brought up to you in a few minutes as soon as I can get my servant."
Xena smiled, and walked back over to her now unconscious friend and again woke her. It was harder this time. Gabrielle needed warmth soon she was suffering from exposure. Xena half carried her stumbling friend up to the loft and laid her on a straw mat by the warm chimney. She covered her with the worn blankets that lay about and started to gently rub Gabrielle's frozen hands. In a few minutes, Xena heard the servant behind her bringing them the promised food. "Come on Gabrielle. You need to stay awake long enough to eat some stew," Xena encouraged softly.
Gabrielle forced her eyes open and gasped, behind Xena was the ugliest monster she had ever seen. The man was misshapen and his face was distorted and discolored like a melted candle. Xena turned and took the stew from the servant's hands hesitating only a second at the hideous sight. "Horrible aren't I, Xena?" the monster croaked. Xena looked up in surprise. "Take a good look. This is your handy work. The fire you set when your forces sacked this village trapped my family. I couldn't save them and this is what I got for trying. Why are you back here? We've nothing left. Your armies took it all. Go away and leave us alone, monster!" spat the ugly servant.
Xena swallowed twice and looked in horror at the man's burnt face. Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock as she looked back and forth between the poor man and the stony face of her friend. She felt sick at the cruelty that was Xena's past. "We wont stay any longer than we have to." stated Xena bitterly and turned her concentration to the bowl of stew. The servant cursed under his breath and disappeared down the stairs. Xena lifted a spoon of greasy stew and held it up to Gabrielle's mouth. For a second Gabrielle hesitated then seeing Xena's fingers tightening on the spoon, she opened her mouth and took in the warm liquid. Not good, but she'd certainly eaten worse and she certainly needed the warmth. The silence wore on as Xena fed the freezing Gabrielle. Gabrielle watched her friend closely but Xena never looked up from the bowl and spoon in her hand. When all the stew was gone, Xena stood and moved away mumbling something about seeing to Argo.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called softly to the figure now drenched in shadow. The soft word seemed to hit her friend like a weapon. She stopped dead in her tracks and stood there frozen. Gabrielle licked her dry lips. "Did you, did your army really sack this village?"
For a second silence filled the room then Xena turned and walked back to where Gabrielle lay. She looked down on her friend with a cold, hard face. "Yes," she stated bluntly, "I was a warlord and a killer," she finished savagely, her jaw tightening with rage. Gabrielle looked up at her in shock, her eyes wide with disbelief. Xena felt her anger mounting, "You know I was a warlord. What did you think I did, slapped wrists? War is ugly, Gabrielle. And I was good at it because what I did was uglier," snapped Xena pivoting and leaping down the stairs to avoid looking at Gabrielle's shocked face. She strode through the inn and untied Argo from where she had left her outside the tavern. For a second, she leaned against her horse and took comfort from her warmth. "Don't let Gabrielle leave me. Don't let her hate me for what I am," whispered Xena to the gods and then lead Argo to the small stables behind the tavern.
Unable to face her friend and filled with anger, Xena rubbed and curried Argo until the horse's coat shone. Using a large pitch fork, she filled the stall with fresh hay and then leaving the fork against the wall she picked up a bucket to fill it at the well behind the tavern. Xena lowered the well bucket and heard it slosh in the darkness below. Automatically, she pulled on the block pulley to raise the bucket to the surface, her mind still preoccupied on her friend's reaction to seeing the badly burnt man. Suddenly, out of the darkness, the pitch fork thrusted towards Xena's back. Xena dived and one tong scratched across her cheek. In the next instant, she was surrounded by figures in the darkness and fighting for her life. She kicked out at the two closest to her then spun to deliver a crushing blow to the one who still held the pitch fork. She wrenched it from his hands and with a war cry she dug the tongs of the pitchfork into the ground and used the shaft to vault clear of the mob. Spinning she charged at them with the weapon that only minutes before had almost taken her life. Bodies flew in all directions and soon the attackers had realized that they could not overwhelm the Warrior Princess. Like the cowards they were, they ran off into the darkness. Xena sighed and wiped blood from her cheek. She untangled the pulley ropes and once again lowered the bucket to the water.
Gabrielle was sleeping fretfully. The man's burnt face leered at her and Xena's war cry echoed through her brain. She heard the sounds of battle and in her dreams she saw her friend hanging crucified. "Xena!" Gabrielle cried out in terror waking with a start and sitting bolt upright. Xena was just coming up to the loft as Gabrielle cried out in fear. In an instant, Xena was beside her friend ready to defend her, sword in her hand. Then she realized Gabrielle had been dreaming. She dropped her sword and knelt beside her terrified friend, taking her by the shoulders and giving her a gentle shake. "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, are you O.K.?" asked Xena in concern.
To Xena's surprise her friend wrapped her arms around her and held her tight. "Xena, something bad is going to happen. Please be careful."
Xena pulled back and gave a reassuring laugh, "Hey, so when are we not in trouble, huh?" she joked looking at her friend.
Gabrielle looked shocked and reached up and touched the nasty scratch that ran down the side of Xena's cheek. "What happened?" she demanded.
Xena shrugged and smiled, "I'm not liked around here. Don't worry Gabrielle we will be gone in the morning. Then these people wont have to fear and hate me." stated Xena with a pained sigh.
"No, that's not it Xena. It's something else much worse than this. There's something very wrong, unnatural, going on and I saw you hanging, crucified," whispered Gabrielle searching Xena's eyes for understanding.
Xena stiffened in shock remembering a time when she had suffered such torture and then gave the frightened Gabrielle a hug with strong arms. " I'm not sure sensing the future is so good. Things will be as the Fates plan. Don't worry Gabrielle. I'm a survivor and I've got you to guard my back!" she finished lightly giving her friend a poke.
Gabrielle looked up at her friend with an insecure smile and whispered bitterly. "Sure me, who you are always rescuing. Who betrayed you and... I'm going to be your protection against the Fates."
Xena looked at her friend with worry and then gathered her up once more in her arms. She said softly into Gabrielle's ear. "I thought you were going to be just a chattering liability and instead you became my family. I can live with the pain but I don't want to live without you. Then pushing her surprised friend back onto the straw mat, Xena covered her up with the blankets and moved away into the darkness to sit guard. From the safety of the shadows she added, "I'm glad your back with me."
Gabrielle's heart skipped a beat and then swelled in pride. She didn't move because any gesture would embarrass her warrior friend. Gabrielle knew that such a statement would be hard for some one like Xena, who trusted so few after her life of betrayals and pain. Gabrielle smiled in the darkness, yes, she thought I will be there when my friend needs me. I wont let her down as I have in the past. But a creeping cold sent a shiver down her spine and deep inside she sensed that whatever danger lay ahead for Xena it would be because she, Gabrielle, was not strong enough in her trust of Xena. Long into the night the two friends stared out into darkness each in their separate corners of the loft and each with their separate worries and cares.
Early the next morning, Xena touched the cheek of Gabrielle as she lay sleeping. The cheek was warm but not feverish. Xena smiled, Gabrielle might be tired from her trip down the icy river yesterday but at least she did not seem to be suffering any ill effects. Quietly, Xena slipped down stairs to the tavern below. She found the badly burnt servant sleeping near the fire. Silently, she knelt beside him and raised a dagger to his throat. She gave him a shake and then whispered very softly into his face, " We need breakfast, supplies for the trail and water, then we're gone. Do you understand?"
The servant looked up into Xena's face in shock and fear. The look made Xena's soul twist in guilt but she knew that showing weakness or remorse would put her and Gabrielle's life in danger. Better to get out of this village as soon as possible. The servant's misshapen face nodded vigorously. Xena smiled and dropped a handful of dinars onto his chest as she released the man to scramble up and gather the list that Xena had given him. With caution, Xena went out to the stables where she had been attacked the night before.
Xena's touch had woke Gabrielle but she had not moved until Xena had left. Gabrielle raised her hand to where Xena had touched her cheek and look puzzled. She got up stretched and then looked over the edge of the loft to see what Xena was doing. A gasp caught in her throat as she saw Xena hold a knife to the badly burnt servant's throat. Gabrielle was just going to call out to her friend when Xena rose and left quickly leaving the terrified servant to run around gathering together supplies. Gabrielle sat down weakly. The little sleep she had got had been plagued by terrible dreams. Xena crucified. Xena riding on the clouds, Ares, the god of war at her side. Xena slaughtering villages... Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to fight back the images. Was she seeing the past or the future? She pulled herself together and stood up. She felt exhausted but at least she was warm. Slowly, she made her way down stairs and found that the tavern owner had arrived. He gave her a sour look as he watched his servant running to see to their needs.
"Going today," he encouraged with a snarl wiping the wood counter with a dingy rag.
"I imagine so," said Gabrielle pushing back her hair and revealing the deep welts of Xena's whip on her wrist. The tavern owner's eyes widened.
"She did that to you, I bet. What are you her... slave?" he asked with contempt looking her up and down and smiling.
Gabrielle blushed and felt the anger mounting. "Xena and I ride together. We're friends," she stated.
"It's a strange friendship that leaves ugly welts," sneered the tavern owner, strutting over to where Gabrielle stood. "You could do better you know. I've always got work for a good looking woman."
The man's breath almost knocked Gabrielle over, "No thanks. I've got the best job there is and work with the best person too," stated Gabrielle emphatically and pushed passed the tavern owner and headed for the fresh air just as the servant made one last trip outside carrying two containers of water. The sooner they got out of here the better. These people were justifiably bitter and don't understand that the old Xena doesn't exist any more.
In the barn all was quiet and Xena quickly saddled Argo and lead the huge mare around to the front of the tavern. At the door were two bundles of food supplies that Xena took and tied to Argo's back. As she worked she sensed someone in the shadows of the tavern and pulled her sword as the servant came out with two sheep skins of water.
"Please, have mercy," whispered the burnt man falling to his knees. Behind him stood Gabrielle looking anxiously at Xena.
Xena sheathed her sword and stepped forward snatching the water skins from the pathetic servant. She looked up to make eye contact with Gabrielle. Gabrielle felt Xena's anger and pain hit her like a weapon. " I'm feeling better, Xena," she said with a lightness that she did not feel. I'm ready to go if you are."
For a second, Xena looked at her friend with uneasy and questioning eyes. Then she smiled and relaxed a bit. "We'll eat first," she said and turned to the servant who still knelt on the porch. Tomatoes, cucumber and bread," she ordered and the man hurried to obey. Xena watched him disappear inside the tavern and then followed him in. A worried Gabrielle joined them. The two companions sat near the morning fire. As they waited, Xena took out some ointment and spread it on Gabrielle's wrist. "I'm sorry, it must hurt but there was no time and I had to act." explained Xena.
Gabrielle frowned and took Xena's hand, "Don't you think I know that?" she asked.
"Your food," interrupted the servant placing the food on the hearth and shuffling off to stand with the tavern owner over by the bar. They ate quickly and quietly. Gabrielle needed to talk to Xena but it would be better to do so privately on the trail. Here the very walls seemed to listen. Xena never looked up, eating her food absently, her mind far away.
"Lets go," stated Gabrielle in frustration getting up and wrapping the rest of her morning meal in a cloth to eat later," This place makes me uneasy."
Xena followed suit dropping a few more coins on the hearth before heading for the door just behind Gabrielle so that when Gabrielle came to a quick stop, Xena almost ran into her. Outside stood a large gathering of sullen villagers. Xena drew her sword slowly and stepped around Gabrielle. The hostile crowd took a step back. "We are leaving now and will not return. No one is to try anything, because you know I am not nice when I'm angry." Again the crowd moved back and a startled Gabrielle looked at her intimidating friend with concern. Xena reached back and grabbed Gabrielle by the arm without taking her eyes off the crowd and spun Gabrielle towards Argo. "Get up on Argo. You are not walking today." ordered Xena and Gabrielle knew better than to argue. Xena reached down with one hand and undid Argo's reins from the post while staring at the crowd. Slowly, she backed up the street pulling Argo and Gabrielle along. Only when they were out of weapons' range, did Xena turn her back and hurry Argo along. An uncomfortable silence hung between the two friends as they rounded a bend and came on the ruins of the old village. Charred stumps of buildings still stood here and there and beyond them masses of graves. Gabrielle gasped at the sight and Xena's jaw tightened and her eyes closed tight.
Gabrielle slipped from Argo's back as she saw her friend stagger and raise her hands to cover her face. Gabrielle wrapped an arm around her friend and tried to lead her on away from the sight of the massacre. But suddenly in front of them was an old woman.
"Don't hide your face, warrior." the old woman commanded nastily, "Look at the graves, each a story of sorrow and pain. Here is your greatest victory!" she said spitting in Xena's face.
Gabrielle gasped in shock, "Don't! Xena's good. You don't kn..." But Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and dragged both her and Argo as quickly as she could down the road until they were far away from the village. Finally, Gabrielle pulled up and forced Xena to stop. She pulled her bruised arm out of Xena's grasp and reached into her pocket and pulled out a rag. Xena stood frozen looking at her, her eyes filled with anger and pain. Gabrielle reached to wipe the spit from Xena's stony face. But the warrior's hand shot up and grabbed Gabrielle's hand away.
"Leave it!" snarled Xena shaking with emotion.
"No!" snapped Gabrielle pulling her hand free and finishing the job. Xena stood frozen and when Gabrielle finished she looked up into Xena's face. " We need to talk," she said quietly.
But Xena pushed passed her and urged Argo on and Gabrielle was forced to follow. Gabrielle trudged behind Xena and Argo for some time as they wound higher and higher up the foothills. She was growing tired and falling farther behind. Would Xena leave her behind? She stopped as a dizziness came over her and she slumped to a near by rock to rest. Her head down she heard the clip, clop of Argo's hooves as Xena returned. A water bag was pushed into her hands and Gabrielle drank deeply, "Thanks," she said breaking the silence. Xena just nodded and gave Gabrielle her left over breakfast to eat. "Xena..."started Gabrielle but Xena got up and walked off to scout ahead. Left with a grazing Argo, Gabrielle sighed deeply and finished her snack. Drinking again from the water skin.
In a few minutes, Xena returned, " Get up on Argo," she whispered softly still not making eye contact with Gabrielle. Gabrielle went to say something and then decided not to push her friend. Meekly, she let Xena help her onto the back of Argo and lead them off once again. At dusk, Xena stopped and saw to Argo while Gabrielle cooked an evening meal. But Xena ate little and disappeared into the darkness as soon as she could. Gabrielle cleared up. The sounds of her work echoing strangely loud in the false silence around them. Curling close to the fire for the night was cold, Gabrielle waited for sleep. Where was Xena? Not far away. She didn't eat much. She must be cold. Will she sleep? Gabrielle fretted with these thoughts until sleep overcame her.
Gabrielle trudged along beside her friend Xena. There had been no words between them for several hours. In fact, there had been few words said since breakfast. Even then Xena had said only what she had too. Today, Xena rode Argo and Gabrielle feeling recovered from her near drowning, walked at their side. A brooding silence grew bigger with the passing minutes. Gabrielle chanced a look out the corner of her eye at the Warrior Princess by her side. What she saw was a tall, muscular woman of incredible beauty. Her cheek bones were high and her eyes the clearest sea-blue. Her raven black hair was thick and waved over her strong tanned neck. Gabrielle had seen the warrior's face soften into tenderness with the flash of a dazzling smile but today the face was stony. The jaw set in pain and anger. I've got to make her talk about it, she thought, a worried frown settling tighter on her own face.
The two pushed on along the stony path that wound higher and higher into the mountains. As the trail got steeper, Xena had dismounted and now walked ahead of her leading her prized horse, Argo carefully over the stones. Gabrielle's legs burnt with the strain and she could hear her breath coming in gasps but Xena was not even breathing hard. "We'll stop here tonight." stated Xena abruptly, turning to loosen the girth strap on Argo's saddle. Xena's voice, so suddenly snapping the silence that had hung for hours between them, made Gabrielle start. Xena turned and looked at her, her eyes slits and her jaw tightening in anger. Then she quickly turned away busying herself caring for Argo, her hands moving in angry jerks.
She thinks I started because I'm afraid of her. Well, I am a little. But not because of her bad past but because I'm afraid she might get so frustrated with me that she'll want to leave me behind some day. "I'm not afraid of you," Gabrielle stated quietly.
Xena's hands froze for a second then continued with unpacking their food bag. Then, in a blink of an eye, Xena's sword was at Gabrielle's throat. Gabrielle gasped and stepped back looking into her friend's eyes that burnt with anger. Don't let Xena's dark side win. "That's the second time in one minute you've startled me, you're in a black mood today," grumbled Gabrielle glaring back at Xena as she slapped Xena's sword from her throat with the end of her fighting pole. "If you want me to cook you'd better find some water." ordered Gabrielle deliberately turning her back on the sword and starting to collect dry sticks for a fire. The silence hung in the air. Gabrielle could feel the sweat on her palms but she never looked back. Have I pushed her too far? Will she leave me here on the side of the mountain?
"I'll get the water." stated Xena quietly and Gabrielle listened as her friend walked off before she exhaled a breath that she had been holding way too long. Something had to be done. Things couldn't go on like this. Gabrielle tried to make sense of the jumbled impressions she had of her stay at the tavern. The source of Xena's black mood had been their experience in the village that they had gone through two days ago. The village had sought their revenge for Xena's raiding armies attacking, plundering and destroying their homes not many years before. Xena had not planned to take them there, but it had been raining hard and Gabrielle had been shivering with cold from her near drowning in the river. So they'd gone.
Women had screamed and grabbed their crying children to them. Men had stood in sullen groups eyeing the warrior with contempt. In the tavern, they had been unwanted and Xena had thrown her weight around to get a place to sleep. They'd been served by a scared old man who Xena's armies had almost burnt to death. Gabrielle had been ill but she was aware that Xena had ate little and said less while they had been there. Once, it was clear that Xena had been in a fight. They had not stayed long. Just long enough for Gabrielle to recover enough to walk. As they had left the village and old woman had spat at Xena and Gabrielle had come to her friend's defense, "Don't! Xena's good. You don't kn..." but Xena had grabbed her arm tightly, almost breaking it as she marched her out of the village. That had been two days ago and Xena had said little since.
"The water", snapped Xena coming up behind Gabrielle so silently that she started a third time.
Gabrielle sighed in frustration, "I've told you not to do that!"
"And I've told you always to be aware of what's behind you!" Xena snapped back whirling on her friend, "If you don't hear me then you wont hear anyone and you'll end up dead...again. If you aren't going to learn to protect yourself and not just rely on others then you should be back in your village not on the road with the likes of me." growled Xena heaving her chakra and watching it ricochet off several rocks before returning to her hand. Why am I doing this? Haven't I hurt her enough?
If she would only cry and release her pain. Gabrielle stood up from the fire she had been tending and walked over to her friend. Her gentle, compassionate eyes looked searchingly into Xena's. "I am not afraid of you, Xena. I know you better that any single person. You are good and kind and honorable. The only thing I fear is that your anger may make you drive me away some day," said Gabrielle. Xena blushed to the roots of her hair and tried to turn away. "No! Don't turn away. Those people were wrong, Xena. The person they feared is not you."
Xena looked unhappily at her friend and tenderly brushed a stray piece of hair from Gabrielle's face. " No, they were right about me. At least a part of me. I'm sorry I acted the way I did. I didn't mean to take it out on you." Xena blushed again at displaying her affection for Gabrielle and turned away abruptly, "You can stay with me as long as you are willing to cook." she stated dryly, " I'm going to scout the path," she explained and disappeared into the brush.
Gabrielle stood looking down the path Xena had taken and then sighed heavily. This wasn't over. She turned back to her fire and soaked several trail sticks of dried lamb, oats and berries with a hand full of dried apricots and spices to the broth she added a few potatoes, heating them into a simple stew. Listening for Xena, Gabrielle became instantly aware of the quiet and a tingling sensation in her back warned her that someone was coming up behind her. With a sudden lurch she threw herself sideways and raised her fighting stick in a quick arch. Xena caught it half way through the swing and stopped it dead, sending an impact shudder through Gabrielle's entire body. "Better", remarked Xena handing Gabrielle's pole back and squatting down beside her friend. "Stew ready?"
"Better! Better!" joked Gabrielle in mock disbelief. "I sensed you and I got to my weapon before you could react! That's not better that's good!" bragged Gabrielle giving Xena a playful push.
Xena smiled for the first time in days. "You're good for me, Gabrielle" she said with embarrassment and then added hurriedly, "Of course, I could starve around here waiting for you to feed me!" Gabrielle laughed and started to ladle out the stew into small wood bowls. She took Xena's lead and let the topic drop enjoying the few minutes of close friendship that had once bound them. But its not over yet, she thought.
Xena woke early, behind her she could feel Gabrielle's back and hear her gentle breathing. They had slept close sharing body heat against the cold night. Carefully, Xena got up and covered Gabrielle's blanket with her own for extra warmth. Then she looked around carefully and listened intently. Nothing. Time to check the path, Xena thought. The warrior walked back to the trail. A narrow but worn path curved up towards the peak and the row of sticks that Xena had placed along the edge of the path the night before now curved away down the side of the mountain. Xena's mouth narrowed and her jaw tightened, as she had suspected yesterday, the path was changing its course in the night.
Gabrielle woke to find Xena already tightening the cinch on Argo. "Hurry, I want to get moving as soon as possible." stated Xena. Gabrielle knew not to question. She packed up her meager gear efficiently and slung her pack on Agro's back. Xena would explain in her own good time. For several minutes they walked along the path, Xena walking her mount instead of riding. Every so often she would stop and survey the trail with worried eyes. Finally she said, "I wonder now if the storm the other day was not meant to change our course. This path we've been following hasn't seemed right to me. It should lead us between the two ranges but instead its leading us closer and closer to this peak." stated Xena quietly, gesturing with her head in the direction of a snow capped peak directly above them. "I know I followed the directions correctly, so it had to be either we were given the wrong directions or the path is changing. Last night, I set sticks along the path ahead. This morning the sticks went one way and the path another." Xena revealed
"Paths don't move!" snorted Gabrielle still grumpy with morning sleep as she tried to follow Xena's train of thought while not thinking about how hungry she was feeling. She rubbed her eyes and yawned.
"They do if they are being influenced by magic," remarked Xena calmly walking on.
"Magic!" squawked Gabrielle in surprise stopping dead in the path and spinning to face her friend in surprise.
Xena rolled her eyes in disbelief at Gabrielle's reaction. "Lets not give ourselves away, O.K. Gabrielle," warned Xena taking her friend by the arm and leading her along as she continued to explain in a whisper. "Magic, its the only answer."
Gabrielle's eyes were wide with wonder," Do you mean good or bad magic?" she inquired just as they reached the mountain peak and a hideous laugh echoed just a split second before Xena's sword rattled from its scabbard. An equally hideous figure to match the laugh, dressed in fiery red, materialized in front of them. Her nose was long and thin and her face narrow and pinched. The warrior crouched to attack and then relaxed just slightly. "Gabrielle, meet Ornell, witch of the mountain peaks. How's your sister, Ornell?" asked Xena with a smirk.
"Trapped for eternity in her own spell, thanks to you, Xena," cursed the ugly witch shaking her fist at Xena in rage.
Gabrielle gave Xena a quick side ways look in disbelief and said out the corner of her mouth. "You imprisoned a witch's sister in an eternal spell! Are you crazy?!"
Xena did not take her eyes off the witch. "It was in my bad old days." responded Xena cynically, "It seemed necessary at the time."
Gabrielle came around to face her friend so that the witch could not read her lips "Necessary! Warriors just don't have any sense of proportion! Just let me handle this O.K.," grumbled Gabrielle whizzing around and giving Ornell a big smile, "Nice dress you've got there. Nice and bright on a cold mountain peak!" Xena rolled her eyes and casually shifted her weight in case she would need to save her friend. Gabrielle started to close the distance between her and the witch who stood some fifty paces away. "I'm sure a witch as powerful as you would know that Xena has changed. In fact she... Zap! Gabrielle hit an invisible wall of power that shot hot flames through her body and caused her muscles to jerk wildly. From a distance, she heard Xena call out her name in fear. Then she felt herself released and thrown like a rag doll against the rocky mountain side. Pain shattered through her body and blackness washed across her vision.
Xena saw her friend suddenly stiffen. Flashes of light and trails of smoke surrounded Gabrielle and her small body jerked like a fish on a hook. She saw her friend's body go limp even as she moved forward to save her friend and with a zap Gabrielle's body was hurled twenty feet and landed with a sickening thump against the rocks were it lay in a misshapen heap. Xena turned and ran to her vulnerable friend. "Gabrielle, Gabrielle!" cried Xena gathering her limp friend's body close to hers protecting her from the witch behind them.
"Ouch," moaned Gabrielle. "Xena, I think my shoulder has fallen off and I know my foot has!" she complained jokingly so as not to upset her friend. She looked up into Xena's face only inches away from hers. It was tight with worry and white with shock.
Xena swallowed twice and with shaky hands felt Gabrielle's shoulder. She closed her eyes for a second and tried to steady her shaking hands. Gabrielle's hand reached up and covered hers and for a split second their eyes met. For a minute, I thought I'd seen my closest friend killed, her eyes said and Gabrielle's softened with care and Xena knew she was thinking, Its O.K. Xena. I'm still with you. Xena's voice was calm and cynical when she talked however, "Its only out of joint, I can fix that in a minute," Xena said and pulled the arm bone out and up into place before Gabrielle could think about it.
"Ahhh," screamed Gabrielle grabbing Xena with her one good arm and leaning into her shoulder. "Thank you," she snapped cynically, "that feels much better."
Xena arched her eyebrow and lowered Gabrielle gently down, "Well, it will after awhile anyway," Xena responded calmly. "Now lets see the ankle." Xena felt the bone and Gabrielle bit her lip in pain. Xena looked up with a worried frown, "It might be broken Gabrielle. It looks straight. That's good. I'll set it with some sticks. Xena worked away talking to Gabrielle in a confident tone. Trying not to let her know how serious this could be. " These are good straight, flat sticks. They'll do nicely. I wont tighten the wrappings too tight because I think your foot is still swelling. I'll check it now and again and adjust the bandages.
But Gabrielle had grown up in a small farming village and she knew the consequences of a break. "Am I going to be lame?" she asked softly.
Xena froze then looked at her friend with soft, caring eyes. "I don't know Gabrielle. I don't think so. It might just be a bad sprain," she whispered softly, "It looks straight, that's good. We wont know for a while."
For a second tears filled Gabrielle's eyes but she blinked them back, "Well, I'm already pretty good with a crutch." she joked smiling feebly at her friend.
"How touching, how delightfully touching. You have changed Xena. You've gotten soft," mocked the witch watching on.
Xena turned with that half smile that Gabrielle recognized as a dangerous sign. She grabbed Xena's arm, "No, Xena, she wants you to lose your temper! Please I need you. Don't let her hurt you too."
Xena smiled down at her friend and gave her a reassuring pat, "Its O.K. Gabrielle." she started to say but Gabrielle's face was frozen in horror. Xena leaped to her feet and faced the witch in fury, "What are you doing to her? Let her go! Your fight is with me not her!" screamed Xena.
"I'm giving her all your memories of being a warlord, Xena. She is reliving them for you in vivid detail. Look at her face Xena, she is learning about who you really are." informed the witch with a cruel, hard laugh.
Xena looked down at the stark revulsion in her friend's face and then turned and begged the witch, "Please no, please don't do this. Gabrielle is good and kind and she doesn't need anymore pain caused by me. Please don't do this to her."
"You are trapped by a wall of power with only one escape, the trust and love of your friend. Do you think you will have that now, Xena? Now that it isn't just words. Now that she can smell the rotting corpses and hear the screams? Xena looked down at her friend and saw the fear and hate. "You are trapped here with her and each time she thinks of your cruel deeds her thoughts will create the Xena you were, to do mortal battle with you. And each time you slay your demon-self, Gabrielle will create another of greater size and power until you are destroyed!" cried the witch disappearing in a blaze of fire.
Behind Xena she heard her own battle cry and turned just in time to meet swords with her evil-self. She spun around gathering momentum and slammed her sword against her phantom-self with a jarring crash. The phantom smiled and side stepped knocking Xena's feet out from under her and plunging her sword towards Xena's chest. "I'd forgotten what a dirty fighter I was," mumbled Xena rolling out of the way and leaping to her feet in one lethal movement. The phantom turned and swung but Xena with a battle cry had somersaulted over her opponent and swung her sword with terrible force through the neck of her phantom-self. Her imaged shattered into a thousand sparkling particles and vanished. "Talk about being beside yourself with worry," shrugged Xena and turned back to look at her friend. Gabrielle's eyes were wide with horror and huge tears welled from their corners and rolled down her face.
"You killed all those people. You killed them." stuttered Gabrielle through white, trembling lips.
Xena's face hardened, "You always knew I had been a warlord. We had a great victory against a mighty enemy down in that valley," explained Xena turning away so that she would not have to see the pain in her friend's eyes. "My army was filled with the power of victory and war lust. Before I could get them under control they had attacked and raped and killed and burned the village to the ground," she finished and tightening her jaw she turned and angrily spit out at Gabrielle," You know what I was. I told you!
You've seen what I can do. You know what I did to you..."
"No, no," cried Gabrielle in revolution, "I had no idea. It was just words. I didn't understand what you did! I thought you were good just lost. But you weren't. You love it! No wonder that old woman spit at you."
Xena jerked at the impact of Gabrielle's words hit home. She swallowed several times and then bent to help Gabrielle up, "We'll need to find shelter. It will be freezing tonight," she said in a dull voice.
"No, get away from me! If you come near me, I'll kill you! Go away! Never come near me again. You're a monster!" sobbed Gabrielle staggering away from Xena. Behind Xena came another familiar battle cry.
"This is getting boring," she snapped turning to face her demon-self, "Still the same size I see," she smirked at the image created by Gabrielle's fearful mind. But a second later, another battle cry ripped the air and Xena found herself facing two identical demons-selves. "Me, myself and I," she murmured sardonically, "This should be some fight" Their blades crashed together.
The two phantom-selves struck out at Xena who pushed them back with her sword. She followed with a powerful slash to her opponent on her right and used her momentum to twist to face the demon-self at her left. Their swords rang out as they met and Xena struggled to maintain her footing against the phantom of her past, whose strength was equal to her own. She sensed the other demon-self coming up behind her and forced herself to remain sword locked with the phantom she already faced. Swing don't stab, Xena wistfully instructed the demon-self coming up behind her. If the phantom behind her stabbed she was going to be hurt leaving her back open as she was. However, if she swung, Xena knew she had a chance to even the odds. The scene, only a half second long, played out in Xena's mind in slow motion. Only when she heard the swish of the opponent's sword committing itself to a swinging stroke to decapitate did Xena duck and pull her other opponent forward into the blade of the phantom-self attacking from behind her. Above her, one demon-self sliced the head off the other, who disappeared in a spray of sparkles.
"One down" Xena muttered as she scrambled up to face the remaining phantom. They exchanged vicious blows until Xena finally saw her opening and lunged forward to stab the last phantom through the chest.
Xena wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm and tried to regulate her breathing. "I always wanted to be an only child," she murmured sarcastically and looked around . Gabrielle was nowhere in sight. I'll have to find her but not yet. First, I'll need to prepare for a night on a mountain peak. Then I'll help Gabrielle, thought Xena.
Xena unsaddled Argo and lead her over to the creek to drink by a meager patch of course grass. From her saddle bag she took handfuls of oats and placed them on the ground for Argo to munch with the grass. Next, she took a hook and line from her gear and baiting it with a bit of trail stick she threw it into the freezing mountain stream tying the end to a jutting rock. While she waited for a bite, she scouted up and down the shore line picking up dried driftwood branches that could be used for a fire and tying them into bundles. Soon she had four large trout to fillet and enough wood to get them through a cold, stormy night. Xena looked at the sky. Heavy clouds were building and a cold wind was picking up. There would be snow tonight. Had Gabrielle seen snow? Would she know to protect herself from the cold? They would need shelter. Xena scanned the mountain side looking for possible overhangs that could be used for cover against the storm. Not far away, Xena was aware of the shimmer of the power wall that imprisoned them. How to escape? Must Think.
Gabrielle staggered away on her injured foot. The pain was excruciating. She bit into her lip and leaned heavily on her staff. My only chance is to get as far away from that cold-blooded killer as I can. I'll need food and a fire against the cold. Gabrielle hobbled down into a narrow valley and lowered herself to the course liken with a moan. For a second, she buried her head in her hands trying to cope with the violence and ugliness of the memories that roared through her head. Her shoulder and foot throbbed to the beat of Xena's charging army. She could see Xena laughing, her eyes bright with excitement as she hacked at the foot soldier's around her war horse. I thought of Xena as my closest friend but I didn't really know her. I said she had changed but how could anyone so in love with violence change so completely? She had such a hideous past. I think I always saw Xena as good functioning in a world of evil but now I understand that Xena was never good. She caused the evil. How could she have changed? I trusted her and she failed me. Why did I come back to trust her again?! I've got to get away before she destroys my life again!
Gabrielle shook her head to clear her thoughts. If she was going to survive this she was going to have to put the horror of Xena's past out of her mind and concentrate on setting up a camp. She got up with a moan of pain and staggered over to a young sapping. With effort she bent it double and pegged it to the ground with a stick. To this, she attached a snare that she had fished out of her bag. She spread the noose in a wide circle around the stick. To the stick she also tied a piece of bread. When the animal tried to pull the food off it would up root the stick, the sapling would snap back into place and the noose would snap tight around the creature. With luck, there would be food to roast over the fire tonight.
Next, Gabrielle tried to gather wood but the pain of her broken ankle was too great and she could only gather a little. Most of it was too green to burn well. Exhausted by her efforts she struggled to light a small, smoky fire with hands that were quickly going numb in the cold wind that blew down the valley. She wished that she had the sense to get her cloak and some trail food from her pack on Argo's saddle before she had made her escape. Too late now, she thought, it wouldn't be safe to try and sneak back to Xena's camp. Too tired to check her snare, she curled up near her meager fire and slept.
Xena turned to see a giant-self striding over the rock towards her. Gabrielle's been having pleasant thoughts about me again, thought Xena with a sigh pulling her sword out. Then giving it a second thought, she replaced her sword into her scabbard on her back and unhooked her chakra. "I'm sorry, but I've got too many big problems to deal with one more today," she sighed as the giant-self came to a stop in front of her. With a battle cry that nearly knocked Xena over the giant-self swung its sword at Xena. Xena ducked and ran between the legs of her own gigantic image and then waited for the massive demon to turn. As it did, Xena let her chakra go and watched it slice into the throat of the giant-Xena. A rain of sparkles danced around her as the giant disappeared.
Xena caught her chakra and replaced it on her belt. Then she started to carry her supplies to a small overhang that she had found. First, she carried all the wood up and piled it at the entrance to create a half wall from the wind. That would soon go if the night turned stormy and bitter as she thought it would. Next, she brought up Argo's saddle and their supply bags. Then, she got a fire going and cleaned the fish and placed them by the fire on sticks to cook. Xena stood up and ducking to clear the low entrance she stood and scanned the sky. Large snowflakes were now dancing down. I need to find Gabrielle's camp before the storm hits.
Gabrielle woke up shaking, her small fire had burnt out and she was covered in white. Around her snow whirled in beautiful, huge, downy flakes. Gabrielle forgot her cold and gasped in delight. She staggered to her feet and raised a hand to catch up one of the falling snowflakes. She rubbed her nose as a huge flake landed, "That tickles!" she giggled. A thrashing in the near by bush made Gabrielle aware that something was caught in her trap. With a worried frown she took out her knife and hobbled over to where she had set her trap. A little baby bunny squirmed in fear with the noose tight around its leg. "Oh," cried Gabrielle in dismay and hurried to loosen the snare and hold the little rabbit against her chest until it was warmer. She stroked it gently and cooed, "Its O.K. bunny. I'm not going to hurt you." Gabrielle bent over and let the little rabbit go. It ran off into the underbrush as fast as it could leaving a zigzag trail in the fresh snow.
In some bushes not far away, Xena smiled at her friend's wonderment with mother nature's snow and her compassion in letting her dinner go. "Run bunny, you are lucky you got caught by me and not a killer like Xena," called Gabrielle wrapping her arms around herself and struggling back to her fire. Xena's face hardened into a scowl and her hand touched the hilt of her knife. She spun and stalked back up to her cliff shelter. Gabrielle came out of the bushes and stopped dead. Her fire was blazing and lying in the snow was freshly cooked fish. Gabrielle hobbled forward and knelt down awkwardly. She bit into the trout. It was hard and dry as leather. Xena! Only Xena could take fresh caught trout and reduce it to something that was a chore to eat! Gabrielle gave a gasp of fear and scanned the hillsides. Nothing. This wasn't kindness. Xena was just letting her know that she could come and go as she wanted and pick her time to murder Gabrielle. There was no escape. Gabrielle sat down close to the fire hunching her back to the whirling snow and chewed on the over-cooked fish. She felt like that baby bunny, trapped in this witches spell and waiting for Xena to kill her.
Xena starred moodily into her fire. She watched a yellow flame curl around a hot orange ember. It flared up, flicked and dead. Outside, the wind howled and the night was obliterated by snow. It was a terrible storm. It would be time soon to go and try to convince Gabrielle that the storm was too dangerous and that they would have to put their differences aside to survive. "Please don't let Gabrielle turn against me, she is all I have." Xena whispered to the fire throwing on another stick and sending the sparks flying in curls of blue smoke. With a sigh the warrior got to her feet and ducked under the rock over hang. The wind blew wildly around her and the snow bit against her flesh. She pulled her cloak around her and headed out to get Gabrielle. On the way, she stopped to check that Argo was well protected in a bunch of evergreens and that her blanket was on tight. Xena pressed her head against Argo's neck and felt her warmth. Then she headed out to find her friend.
When Xena got to Gabrielle's camp she thought for a second that Gabrielle had moved. The fire was out and nothing could be seen but snow. "Gabrielle!" Xena called in panic. If Gabrielle had walked off into the storm, Xena would never find her before it was too late. Then Xena's sharp eyes noticed a unusual mound of snow. Rushing over she wiped the snow off the unconscious body of her friend. "Gabrielle," whispered Xena in fear. She had meant to leave her friend long enough to convince her that the storm was more dangerous than sharing a camp with Xena. But she hadn't counted on Gabrielle letting her fire go out. How long had Gabrielle been without heat? Xena placed her ear to Gabrielle's chest. A slow heart beat could be heard. Xena picked her friend up in her arms and carried her to the warmth and safety of her camp.
Inside, the cave was warm and smelt of wet wool and wood smoke. Xena carried her friend around to the far side of the fire and placed her gently down. Then she took out a cloth and wiped the melting snow from Gabrielle's body. Xena got up and from their saddle packs she took out Gabrielle's cloak and wrapped it around her friend. Then as an extra measure, she took off her own cloak and threw that over Gabrielle too making sure that Gabrielle was wrapped up warmly. Returning to their saddle bags, Xena unhooked Gabrielle's cooking pot and placed it in the hot coals. She threw in the remains of the fish and snow and stirred it with a stick from the fire. Outside the wind howled and the night darkened.
Gabrielle opened her eyes slowly. The ends of her fingers and toes hurt almost as much as her foot and shoulder. Before her a fire burnt brightly and beside it staring at her sat Xena. "You O.K.?" Xena asked keeping very still so not to scare Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's heart skipped a beat. The last thing she remembered was going to sleep by her fire. She must have slept so long that her fire had gone out. Why had Xena bothered to bring her back here? Why hadn't she just left her to die? Gabrielle nodded in fear, " I fell asleep. I could have frozen to death," said Gabrielle realizing that Xena must have saved her life.
"You didn't," shrugged the warrior looking down at the fire. "I made fish soup. Its kind of thin and tasteless but if you soak the stale bread in it, its not too bad," explained Xena very slowly scooping out a cup of the hot liquid and leaning forward to place the cup near Gabrielle. Xena unwrapped a piece of cloth and ripped a loaf in half and placed the bread beside the cup. Then she scooped out her own soup and picked up her bread and moved away from Gabrielle to sit near the cold entrance. Gabrielle reached out and took the cup and bread and sat quietly eating, a puzzled and strained look on her face.
"We are not going to survive this night if we don't share our resources. Lets call a truce until tomorrow," observed Xena quietly as she ate. " I'll do my best not to act bloodthirsty," promised Xena sarcastically, "And you try not to think up any monsters for me to fight."
"You found my camp with no trouble. You could easily have killed me, instead you rebuilt my fire and left me food. And don't say it wasn't you! I'd know your bad cooking anywhere!" observed Gabrielle. "I thought you just did it to taunt me. Like a cat playing with a mouse before it kills it. But now you've brought me here, why?"
Xena's face twisted in a cynical smile, "Like a cat with a mouse, huh." she snorted. "You've been harboring some pretty low opinions of me haven't you." snarled the angry warrior breaking off an icicle and absent mindedly holding it as a dagger. Gabrielle gave a gasp and looked at the ice dagger in fear. Xena looked down in surprise at her hand and saw the ice-dagger pointed menacingly at her friend. "Sorry," she stated awkwardly and pitched the ice weapon out into the darkness, "Old habits die hard. Are we going to have a truce are aren't we?" snapped Xena.
Gabrielle nodded still looking like a scared rabbit. "Xena, I don't have any resources to share. Why are you helping me? Xena shrugged and looked out into the storm. "I need to know!" snapped Gabrielle in frustration watching the Warrior through the flames.
Xena turned to look at her, "I'm not good with words. That's your domain." Xena looked down at her cup. The wind had turned her soup cold and blowing snow was piling up around her boots.
Gabrielle saw Xena shiver and noted the snow drifting around her booted ankles, "Come over closer to the fire, we have a truce, right." said Gabrielle with a frown of worry. Xena turned with relief and came to sit on the opposite side of the fire from Gabrielle. She picked up a stick and poked at the embers. Gabrielle watched the warrior for some time. Through her mind came contrasting images. Xena ordering a charge, Xena drunk and laughing with her officers after battle, Xena holding her wounded body close, Xena crucified. Gabrielle shook her head trying to make sense of it all. "Xena, please, I'm really confused. I need to understand. All this time together and I feel I've had to pull the truth about your past from you one event at a time. It was only when that witch channeled me your thoughts that I saw the whole picture. It scared me Xena. I..."
"Don't start thinking! I can't fight a monster in this space and I'm not going out there!" snapped Xena looking up and meeting Gabrielle's eyes. "You promised me," Xena reminded her with anger.
Gabrielle nodded and swallowed down her fear. She wrapped her cloak around her and realized that she was wearing two. A frown crossed her face as she fingered Xena's cloak. When she looked up, Xena was watching her with worried blue eyes. Gabrielle staggered up and picked up Xena's cloak. Cautiously, she hobbled around the fire and passed the cloak back to Xena. "Thanks," she said and went to sit down again.
Xena took the cloak and wrapped it around her bare shoulders and shivered. She watched Gabrielle sit down and snuggle into her own cloak. Gabrielle looked at her waiting. Xena licked her lips and tried to find the words to make Gabrielle understand how she felt. "I was burying my armor in the bush when I heard your screams. So I helped in the only way I knew how. Then I couldn't get rid of you. I tried to tell you I was no good but you wouldn't listen. You were always there needing rescuing. But you were always there for me too. You risked your life for no other reason but to save me." Xena's voice faltered and she looked away. "I owe you. That's all," she finished and got up and walked back to look outside. Gabrielle got up and hobbled over to where Xena stood. She reached out but could not quite get the nerve to touch this fearful warrior. Yet Gabrielle's tender heart knew that Xena was in pain.
Suddenly, there was a roar and ice and snow fell all about them. "Look out!" yelled Xena pushing Gabrielle back in to the cave. Gabrielle cried out in pain as she was knocked to the ground with her damaged foot beneath her. Ice and snow rushed passed the entrance to the cave like a waterfall. Large chunks bounced in and shattered into an icy spray. For a minute, Gabrielle closed her eyes and fought back the dizzy sickness that welled in her throat. When she opened her eyes, she realized that the debris from the passing avalanche had nearly put out their fire. With a moan, she crawled over and pushed back the snow and gathered the smoldering sticks back together. Blowing on them, the fire soon caught again and Gabrielle added more wood to keep it going.
A hideous laugh filled the small cave. "So fate has beat me to it! What does it matter as long as Xena's dead!" cried the witch standing in the firelight.
"Xena!" cried Gabrielle looking around in confusion. Where was Xena? Near the entrance was a huge mound of ice and snow where Xena had stood. "Xena!" cried Gabrielle shuffling over on her hands and knees and digging frantically.
"Leave her", ordered the witch coming to grab Gabrielle's hands. "Remember her cruelty," she whispered staring deeply into Gabrielle's eyes. Once again images of Xena roared through her head. Xena cutting off someone's blood flow and calmly watching as he choked, Xena in the Amazon village lashing out with her whip that bit cruel around her ankles, Xena hanging crucified. Gabrielle was horrified by what she saw but other images crowded in too. Xena lying dying from a poisoned dart wound trying to still help others, Xena offering her neck to be bit to save Gabrielle's life from the Bacchi.
"No!" cried Gabrielle, pulling away from the witch and wildly digging.
"You'll regret this, you stupid girl," cried the witch disappearing in a flash of light. In a few minutes, Gabrielle had uncovered Xena's face and one arm. Xena gasped for breath, her lips blue and chattering. Gabrielle struggled to dig her out and then taking her by the shoulders she pulled her over to the far side of the fire ignoring the terrible pain in her shoulder and ankle. The two companions lay side by side panting for breath. Finally, Xena reached out and touched Gabrielle's cheek. Gabrielle started and then gave a nervous smile.
"Why didn't you let me die?" shivered Xena lying on her back and looking sideways at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle lay on her back too and turned her head to look at Xena, "Because I don't let people die," panted Gabrielle, "And I owed you one."
Xena shivered all over. Her cloak was still buried under the snow. Gabrielle looked with concern at the warrior. "Truce, right?" Gabrielle inquired.
Xena turned and looked at her friend. Through blue lips she laughed bitterly, "Yeh, truce."
"Turn towards the fire and I'll keep your back warm," said Gabrielle. It was Xena's turn to look startled but Gabrielle gave a nervous smile and Xena slowly turned her back on her friend. After a moment's hesitation, she felt Gabrielle curling into her back and spreading her cloak over the two of them. She could feel Gabrielle's heart pounding in fear. That was so like Gabrielle to overcome her own fear to help some one she wasn't sure she even liked.
"Gabrielle?" whispered Xena softly.
"Yes," responded a voice right beside her ear.
"I..I..It's so like you to help some one eventhough you don't like them. After all I've done to you... I can't let you die. I need you. You have something I lost and I need your guidance. You are all I've got. My family, I.. I love ...having you around." confessed Xena awkwardly.
Xena felt Gabrielle tense and then relax. She felt Gabrielle lean forward and kiss her cheek softly. "Thank you, Xena." stated Gabrielle and snuggled into Xena's back. Long into the night, Xena stared into the fire adding a stick now and again to keep a steady heat. Please, Gabrielle, trust me. I've changed and I've learned from my mistakes.
Gabrielle woke to find her head resting against Xena's chest. At first her heart pounded in fear but then she remembered. I can live with Xena's memories. It will be much easier for me to come to terms with Xena's past than for her. Xena has always tried to do what was right even when she was a warlord. And since we have met, she has helped so many people and been a trusted friend, no, more than a friend. I can forgive her anything just like she has forgiven me the unforgivable. Gabrielle got up and put some sticks on the fire and stepped out into the brilliant sun to collect some snow for water. She gasped and the sheer beauty of the world around them. The trees huge with pillows of lacy-white and the ground was sparkling with snow-diamonds. The sky was a deep rich blue and the air was cold and fresh.
Behind her she could hear Xena digging in the snow for her lost cloak. In a few minutes, she came out and shook the snow from her garment and wrapped it around her. Then
Xena came up beside Gabrielle and looked at her questioningly. Gabrielle reached out and took Xena's hand. For a minute, the two friends looked out over the mountains. Then Gabrielle gave Xena's hand a squeeze, "You are more than family, Xena. I need you and I love you," said Gabrielle and then she quietly went back into the cave to make breakfast.
Xena smiled and headed off to care for Argo. She found her mount looking grumpy but otherwise in good shape after the storm. "What's the matter Argo? Its got to beat mud!" laughed Xena giving her horse a pat. Argo turned and playfully nipped at her. Xena looked over to the other side of the creek now partly frozen. She frowned, the power wall was still there. Why? Did Gabrielle still harbor doubts? What was the key to their escape? They couldn't last long on the mountain top.
Gabrielle hummed a happy tune to herself as she put together the best meal she could for Xena and herself. She wanted it to be special. To let Xena know that everything was all right between them. She could come to terms with Xena's past and trust and love her.
"You are a fool, Gabrielle," said an ugly voice behind her. Gabrielle turned awkwardly on her sore ankle to see the witch standing there.
"No," said Gabrielle, "I acted like a fool yesterday but last night I realized that there were other memories that I needed to remember too. My memories of a very brave and special friend. I know better now. Xena is honorable and good and I should never have doubted her!"
The witch moved forward. " You'll see. Xena is just using you to get outside the power wall. Once she knows the walls down, she will kill you. You know too much about her war crimes for her to let you live."
Gabrielle shook her head. "You've lost. Go away," she commanded. Ornell laughed and walked passed her out of the cave. Gabrielle finished making the bread and then walked to the edge of the cave to look for Xena. She saw her friend saddling up Argo. Xena must feel that they could escape. She looked across to the power wall. It sparked and faded out of sight. Xena looked across the river in surprise and then up at Gabrielle with a big grin and shrugged. Gabrielle laughed and yelled down at her, "Come on. I've made pan-fried bread." Xena waved happily and started to climb up the narrow path to the rock ledge. As Gabrielle looked down at her, she saw Xena's expression change to a snarl as she pulled out a knife and charged at Gabrielle.
"Ahhh," screamed Gabrielle ducking as Xena's knife ripped into her cheek. Blood dotted the white snow as Xena looked around in amazement and then dropped her knife to place a hand over Gabrielle's torn face. Gabrielle backed up to the rock and looked terrified, "You tricked me to get the wall down! And now you're going to kill me."
Xena looked frustrated and angry," I saw a mountain lion leap on you. I saw it!" yelled Xena looking around in amazement.
"Liar, she warned me you'd trick me," Gabrielle said backing away while she held her hand to her bleeding face.
Xena's hand shoot out and took Gabrielle's arm, "Who warned you?" she questioned moving closer to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle gasped and pulled away from Xena falling into the snow. "Get away from me!" she yelled, "Monster!"
For a second, Xena stood looking at Gabrielle. Then she tightened her jaw and swallowed several times as if trying to control her emotions. "It wont matter how many times I prove my love for you," she snarled, "I'll never really be trusted again. Don't you see, it was the witch. She made me see the lion on you so I'd attack you!" snapped Xena. Anger twisted her features, "I can never escape my past. I'll always make people feel afraid." she observed sadly and turned her back and went down towards Argo.
Xena tightened the girth on her horse. I'll get Gabrielle safely down to the next valley and in the next town we will go our separate ways. A shadow loomed over the rock ledge and an enormous witch stepped down off the ridge to the flood plain where Xena stood. Xena turned and looked up in shock. "Did Gabrielle send you?" Xena asked sarcastically.
"No, her compassion for you wouldn't let her form the image in the end, so I guess Xena, I'm just going to have to finish you off myself!" laughed the witch cruelly stepping closer to Xena.
Xena gave Argo a slap to the rump and sent her out of harm's way. She chanced a quick look up to where Gabrielle sat paralyzed in fear. Their eyes met and to the embittered Xena all the horror of her past seemed to be reflected there. Xena walked forward and lifted her sword from her scabbard. Above, Gabrielle watched in horror. Xena stopped and dropped her sword to the ground and then did the same with her chakra. " Without my friend's respect, I've no reason to go on doing what I've been doing. Make it quick. Have your revenge. Its cold out here." Xena's words reached Gabrielle a second before the giant witch swooped up the tiny figure of Xena and hurled her across the snowy plain. Xena spun like a top. Dazed, Xena tried to get up put the witch but her foot down on Xena's body. Pinning her under her boot. Xena cried out in pain and struggled while the witch laughed.
"No!" cried Gabrielle struggling down the hill as fast as her damaged foot would take her. "Let her go!"
The witch laughed again and bent and picked up the now lifeless form of Xena," At last! Revenge is mine!" yelled the witch as she hurled Xena's body at the clump of evergreen trees. Gabrielle sobbed in fear and rage as she hobbled out onto the flood plain. She watched as Xena's body smashed through the trees. Her legs fell through but her arms hooked up in the lower branches. She hung there like a crucified figure her head bowed forward.
"No!" roared Gabrielle rushing forward and grabbing up Xena's sword. "You're dead! Do you hear me, dead!" snarled Gabrielle advancing on the giant witch oblivious to the pain in her foot and shoulder.
Xena looked up, through blurry eyes. She saw the bloody face of her friend as she advanced on the witch. Gabrielle was going to kill to revenge her! "No, Gabrielle," Xena whispered in fear. With all her will power, she gathered her remaining strength and untangled her one arm and reached for the knife in her belt. She focused her strength with a war cry and threw the blade with every ounce of her being at the witch. The knife dug deep into the witch's heart and in an explosion of sparkles the witch was no more.
Gabrielle rushed to where Xena hung and lowered her to the ground. For a second, the two friends looked into each other's eyes, "Thought I'd hang around for a bit," mumbled Xena and passed out.
Several days later, the two wound their way down into the valley. Gabrielle rode on Argo with Xena. Xena's arms wrapped around her friend and holding the reins. They came out on to a ridge from which the mountain peak could be seen. Xena reined in and the two friends looked back from where they had come. A bird off in the distant heights cast a shadow that glided gracefully across the mountainside. "Xena?" said Gabrielle.
"Yes, Gabrielle," said her friend turning to look at her.
"We've come through so much together. The wounds are deep but for me anyway so are my bonds to you. Somehow, I sense that what happened on the mountain was a turning point...a new journey...a new beginning for you."
Xena smiled nervously, "Yeh, well if you are planning on anymore visions try and make them in a warm spot." she remarked dryly trying to hide her concern. Then she looked at her friend and asked shakily, "Are you coming with me on this journey?"
Gabrielle smiled and vowed confidently, "All the way!" Xena face broke out into a flashing smile as she poked Argo with her heels and the two friends rode on down the path.
On to sequel Sins Of The Father
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