Reflections of an Old Woman 


Jamie Boughen
The Warrior-Bard

Gabrielle carefully placed her lunch tray on the table before slowly sitting down herself. She was only forty-seven, yet some days her joints ached like she was thirty years older. Today seemed to be one of those days. For a moment, she looked out the open window at the neatly arranged garden of flowers and vegetables, enjoying the sight of the gently bobbing flower heads and the profusion of fruit growing on the trees. This short break for lunch each day had become something of a ritual for the Bard, making up her tray and sitting down at a properly civilised table. Chuckling to herself, she remembered the number of times she had eaten her nooning meal on the run during all the years she had been on the road with Xena, the Warrior Princess. Or the number of times she had gone without a meal at all, for that matter. Taking the square linen napkin from the tray in front of her, she spread it out on her lap and picked up the fresh nut bread she had baked just that morning.

Even the smell of the nut bread brought back memories , and she found herself thinking of those years with Xena. Gabrielle still couldn’t quite believe they had spent nearly fifteen years travelling the length and breadth of Greece, occasionally even moving beyond its borders in their adventures. Yet here she was, now ten years settled in the very house she had helped to build. Xena had often said she was a woman of many skills, but the Bard had discovered a few of her own during those fifteen years as well. Helping build her own home seemed rather minor compared to some of the things she had done while on the road with the amazing warrior woman.

The well-lit back room of the house was a favourite, and Gabrielle often brought her nooning meal out here to enjoy the sunlight coming through the open windows and to feel the floral scented breezes as they blew around the room. It was a peaceful break away from her scrolls and inks. Along all the walls were the little trinkets she had picked up in her travels, lovingly placed on the tiny shelves she had built herself. Through the open doorway into the central part of the house she could see the stone fireplace in the cosy main room. Over the mantle was her staff, a little battered now with the odd scrape or mark from all the battles she had been in over the years. It was still one of her most cherished possessions.

Seeing the staff, as always, reminded her of Xena. The years they had spent on the road together had been some of the most marvellous of her life. The constant adventures, the danger, the trials she had faced with the Warrior Princess by her side and the struggles she had faced on her own. Writing up her personal accounts had made her one of the most well known bards in all of Greece. Everyone had wanted to know about the adventures of the Warrior Princess and her bard travelling companion, but she would have happily traded it all for just one more day on the open road with her dearest friend.

To this day, she still remembered those last few days on the road together. They had been in yet another battle against yet another savage warlord. The bard no longer remembered his name. He was just one, like so many others they had faced. Xena had called him out herself, intending to defeat him and take his army. Of course, once she had it, she would simply disband them, a tactic she had used many times in the past. In the process of bringing the warlord to his knees, Xena had been brought to her own. In one of her spectacular overhead flips, she had landed awkwardly on the rough ground and broken her hip. Gabrielle could still remember the agonising crunch as the bone had broken. Yet Xena had never uttered a sound in pain. The warlord had thought he had won but Xena, ever unpredictable, had thrown her own sword like a spear and caught him full in the chest. The look of surprise on his face as he fell was another memory Gabrielle would always carry with her.

The dead warlord’s army had been rapidly disbanded. No one wanted to take on the Warrior Princess, even if she was lying on the ground with a seriously broken hip. It was only when Xena and Gabrielle were alone again did she permit the bard to help her. She would simply not allow any sign of weakness to show. She felt that her life, and Gabrielle’s, depended on her always remaining strong, though after fifteen years of travel, fights and battles, Xena’s reputation alone would have protected her. Gabrielle had used her own staff and Xena’s sword, pulled from the dead man’s chest, to splint her legs together. Moving the tall warrior onto the travois the bard had built caused Xena to cry out in pain for the first and only time. From that point on, the woman had kept the pain locked behind strongly clenched teeth. Xena had insisted they go to Athens and Hippocrates. She trusted no other to set the bone and get her back onto her feet again.

The journey had been a nightmare for the bard. Every bump on the road caused the other woman enormous pain, and several times she simply passed out. In a way it was better for her because she would have some small relief from the agony of her broken hip, at least until she regained consciousness once more. Gabrielle had tried to keep up a constant stream of light chatter, telling stories or making comments about anything and everything that crossed her mind or caught her eye. Xena had appreciated the effort; it showed in her sky blue eyes and in the crooked half-smile on her face every time Gabrielle looked back on her. For most of the trip however, Xena had kept her teeth tightly clenched and her fingers wrapped around the sides of the travois, knuckles showing whitely through her tanned and weather-roughened skin.

The trip to Hippocrates and the Temple of Healing he had set up took several days, and Gabrielle was nearly weeping with relief when it finally came into view. Someone had gone running back inside to get the great man, once Gabrielle had explained who was lying on the travois. The look Xena managed to give the young apprentice healer must have added wings to his feet because Hippocrates was by the bard’s side within heartbeats. No one seemed the least bit surprised when the most well-known healer in all of Greece had willingly taken one end of the travois and helped carry Xena inside the temple.

The friendship between the two was well known, and whenever the warrior seriously injured herself, if she was within reasonable travelling distance, she would bring her wounds to Hippocrates. Serious injuries had become more and more commonplace, especially broken bones and badly over-stressed muscles, as the years on the road had taken their toll on Xena’s powerful body. Several of the techniques Hippocrates used as a healer he had originally learned from Xena many years before. The relationship between Gabrielle and Hippocrates was just as close, for he had learned from watching her work on the wounded during his time in the temple at Thessaly how voice and touch could ease pain and calm fears.

Even though the bard was exhausted from the journey to Athens, she had stubbornly wanted to stay by Xena’s side. Hippocrates had been forced to drug her into sleep so he could work on Xena’s broken hip without upsetting Gabrielle any more than she already was. It was not a decision he had taken lightly, though. He knew that Xena would not admit to her own pain if the bard was still close by, and Gabrielle would not have left the dark-haired woman otherwise. So he drugged the bard to sleep before examining Xena’s injury closely, an act he was sure the warrior was grateful for at the time.

What Hippocrates found when he finally examined Xena’s broken hip had saddened him a great deal. It was a very bad break, the socket joint all but shattered by the weight of Xena’s body when she had landed off-balance after her leap over the warlord’s head. For a few moments he had honestly thought Xena may never walk again. Shaking his head, the healer reminded himself who exactly he was looking at. This was Xena, a warrior without equal anywhere. If there was some way to overcome this, she would find it. The tall woman had been very quiet during the examination, and that silence had stretched his own nerves to breaking point once he had explained his findings to her. There was no way he could have kept the truth from her anyway. She already knew it was a nasty break and was going to take some time to heal, if it healed at all.

Gabrielle picked up a small handful of olives, her mind still turned inward remembering those days at the Healing Temple in Athens. The bright sunlight outside was forgotten, the soft breeze unnoticed. It was habit more than thought that brought the brine-soaked fruit to her mouth and set her to chewing reflectively. Nothing short of being completely unconscious had ever stopped her from finishing a meal.

When Gabrielle finally woke from her drugged rest, her first bleary question had been about Xena. One of the temple apprentices had been told to take the bard wherever she wanted to go, and that included Xena’s pallet. The warrior had been gently carried to a small private room and her leg stretched out with heavy weights to keep the ball on the top of her thigh bone as close as possible to the broken socket so that there might be some chance of it healing again. The warrior was uncomfortable and irritable, but Gabrielle was used to this from dealing with Xena’s many other injuries in the past.

Those first few weeks had been very hard on both the warrior and the bard. Most of the time Xena refused to take the herbs to help kill the pain simply because they would have left her mind foggy and a little out of touch with everything around her. She knew she was safe at the Healing Temple, but she couldn’t deny her warrior instincts either, so she refused the herbs.

Gabrielle found herself spending more and more time in the gardens of the temple, crying for the warrior and the pain she was going through. At night she lay awake on her pallet beside the warrior’s bed, her eyes closed, listening to Xena as she wriggled and fidgeted through the night trying to find some way of being a little more comfortable. It wasn’t long before both women had dark circles under their eyes and Gabrielle was starting to look a little gaunt.

One morning, a little under a moon after their arrival at the temple, Hippocrates sought out the bard as she wandered the gardens trying to ease the ache in her soul for the tall warrior’s struggle. He had suggested Gabrielle return to her home village and the support of her family. He had explained that it was going to be a least a full cycle of seasons before the injured woman would be back on her feet again, if the bone ever healed at all. Gabrielle had argued with the healer, as only a bard could, saying Xena needed her there more than ever, but the great man would not be swayed in his thinking. He could see that Xena was expending a lot of energy keeping her state of mind from Gabrielle, energy she could be putting into her own healing.

Eventually, Gabrielle took Hippocrates decision to Xena and tried to get the other woman to see that he was wrong. The bard was shocked when Xena had actually agreed with him. The warrior had spoken quietly for a long time, longer than she had ever done in the fifteen years they had travelled together, and had finally gotten Gabrielle to see the sense in returning to her home village. Xena had made it clear that the bard could come to Athens and visit as often as she wanted. The final thing that allowed Gabrielle to leave Xena at the temple was the warrior’s request to the bard to take her weapons, her sword and chakram, as well as her horse, with her to Poteidaia. Knowing how Xena cherished her weapons and her mare, Gabrielle agreed. The warrior would never stay away from her sword and chakram for long.

So Gabrielle had begun the journey back to Poteidaia, leading Xena’s mare with her. In a way she had felt as though she was running out on the warrior, something she had done a few times in the early years of their travels. She had always returned, eventually realising she truly belonged at the other woman’s side. It didn’t stop the tears, though, and she cried almost the entire time she travelled, only managing to pull herself back together in time for her arrival at the home of her sister.

Xena had lain in tears the day Gabrielle left for her village. What she was not telling her friend was the fear she had gnawing at her that she might never walk again. The break was bad and slow at healing. She had not wanted to spend the weeks and seasons ahead snarling and fighting with the bard, and rather than risk losing her, Xena felt it best to send her back to her family until she knew, one way or the other, if she would ever be the warrior she had been in the past.

Gabrielle’s family was ecstatic to have her return to them again. Lila, married now with two strapping young daughters, saw the haunted look on the bard’s face from the beginning and heard the muffled sobbing at night. There was little she could do but offer support to Gabrielle and try to get her interested in village life again. Nothing seemed to work for long, and finally Lila thought that if she could get the bard writing of the adventures she and Xena had had together, it might purge some of the guilt from the woman’s soul. She set up a small room at the back of the house for Gabrielle, laying out all the supplies she would need to work, and dragged the despondent bard in there one day. Shoving her into a chair, Lila ordered that Gabrielle start writing. Initially the bard tried to fight back, but Lila had come from the same root stock as Gabrielle and was just as stubborn. Dealing with two children had also taught her a few tricks, and she soon had the bard busily scribing her tales.

Writing up their adventures quickly engrossed the bard, to the exclusion of almost all else. Lila now found herself in the position of having to drag Gabrielle away from the parchments and inks to get her to sleep and eat like other people. Gabrielle’s sister never complained once, though. She was happy to see the bard so busy. The idea worked, however, and Gabrielle managed to find some peace and happiness within herself.

Every few moons, the bard made the long trip back to Athens to visit with Xena for a few days. Both women looked forward to the visits, and Xena took great joy in the small steps to her recovery she was able to show the bard.

Two full seasons passed, and Gabrielle was on the road once again, headed for Athens and the Healing Temple. She was looking forward to this visit because she had a surprise of her own to show Xena. Over the years, Salmoneus had settled down and, surprisingly, become a respectable businessman in his own right. He wasn’t above making a few sly deals on the side now and then, but for the most part he was an honest and now quite successful businessman. He had heard of Gabrielle’s return to Poteidaia and had stopped in to pay a visit one day. As usual she was in her little room writing up the tales and stories of her and Xena’s years on the road. The plump little man had been quite surprised at just how many scrolls she had filled in the seasons she had been home. He knew there was always a market for anything about Xena and the deeds she had done over the years. After talking with Gabrielle, he arranged for copies to be made of the scrolls and struck a deal with the bard where the copies would be sold in his many stores across Greece. He even kept his own commission to a minimum, knowing Xena, injured or otherwise, would have torn his heart out with her bare hands if he tried to cheat the bard in the least. Not that he didn’t think about it for a split second. Old habits are hard to break!

The enterprise was a roaring success, and for the first time in her life, Gabrielle had far more money than she knew what to do with. For the moment, Lila and her husband were looking after the money for her until she decided what she wanted to do.

Gabrielle glanced down at the empty tray in front of her. The excitement of that particular journey was still with her after all this time. She remembered almost running along the paths and tracks to Athens, wanting to be by Xena’s side as soon as she could to tell her of the news.

Xena had a surprise of her own waiting for the bard when she arrived in Athens on that visit.

Gabrielle had run up the stairs of the temple, hardly taking a moment to wave to the young man at the entrance. Tossing her staff and bag down at the doorway to Xena’s small room, she was stopped in her tracks at the sight of her friend standing up beside the pallet for the first time since she had broken her hip. Admittedly, she had one hand on Hippocrates shoulder to balance herself and the healer was gripping the back of her shift tightly, but she was standing on two feet again! The look of astonished delight on Gabrielle’s face more than made up for all the pain-filled weeks Xena had gone through just so she could surprise the bard that day.

Gabrielle was staggered with wonder. She had been starting to suspect Xena would never walk again, it had taken so long for the bone to heal properly. The bard had rushed over to the warrior, amazed all over again just how tall Xena was after moons of seeing her flat on her back, and gently hugged her close. Xena returned the warmth, though one hand never left Hippocrates shoulder. She may have been standing, but she was yet to attempt it without help, let alone take her first steps. It had been weeks of pain, cursing and tears just to get up on both feet again. But seeing the look on Gabrielle’s face had made every moment worth it.

It was one of the best visits either woman could remember. Gabrielle’s news about making so much money from her tales was just as staggering to Xena as the warrior’s standing up for the first time had been to Gabrielle. When the bard finally said her farewells, she knew that Xena was on the way to recovery at last and had trotted home happily instead of in tears as she had done on every other visit before. Even Lila noticed the difference in the bard’s demeanour.

Over the next two seasons, there was always some new surprise for Gabrielle when she came to Athens to see Xena -- standing unaided, her first small steps, Hippocrates and Gabrielle on either side supporting her, her first steps alone, walking across the room, her first short walk in the garden with Gabrielle.

What Gabrielle never saw during the warrior’s long rehabilitation was the effort Xena went to trying to get back to the self she remembered. Xena refused, point blank, to use a cane to help support herself. Hippocrates could do little to convince her to use one and became very used to picking her up after she had fallen yet again. He would simply pull her to her feet, steady her and then leave her alone to start all over again on whatever challenge she had set herself for the day. But he was always close by, hidden around some corner or another. The warrior knew he was there; her hip may have been broken, but her ears worked just fine. So long as she couldn’t see him and he left her to work, she was content.

Xena slowly grew stronger again after moons of lying around doing nothing. She had discovered a patience with herself she didn’t know she even had. She was still irritable and frustrated a great deal of the time, but she was learning to be more patient and allowing her body to heal at its own pace. She still pushed it as far as she could each day and often went to bed at night sore and aching, but even she could see the slow and steady improvement she was making. Yet no matter how she tried, she couldn’t seem to work the heavy limp out of her hip. She was taking long, long walks around Athens trying to remove that limp, but it seemed to barely lessen for all the exercise.

On one of Gabrielle’s visits to the temple almost a full cycle of seasons after their arrival, Xena asked if her sword could be sent down to her. The bard’s eyes lit up with joy. If Xena was asking for her blade then it meant she was almost ready to go back to the road again and the adventures they had together. Living in the village was peaceful, and Gabrielle had learned to enjoy it once more, but she missed the company of the tall warrior more than anything and wanted to return to the life she knew so well. Once the bard had returned to the village she arranged for Xena’s sword to be sent to Athens with the first trader headed in that direction.

Xena was happier than she was willing to admit when her sword arrived at the Healing Temple. Gabrielle had kept the blade clean and sharp, oiling the sheath as well so the leather would not dry out. It felt so good to hold the weapon in her hands again after so long. After all, what is a warrior without their weapon?

Popping her head around the corner of her room, she saw there was no sign of Hippocrates and she limped as quickly as she could to the small yard at the back of the temple. Xena could feel her heartbeat thundering in her chest at the thought of practising with her blade again. She knew she shouldn’t be doing it, but she was tired of simply recovering. She wanted to feel her warrior blood singing once more.

It took less than a candlemark for her to realise she would never be the warrior she once was. She would be able to defend herself, but the balance and body senses she had depended on for so long were gone. The break in her hip had shifted her center of balance slightly, and though she might be able to re-learn how to fight, the Xena of old would never be again. The high kicks and spinning leaps were also a thing of the past for her. Xena let the blade slip from her unfeeling fingers, only now realising an important part of her had just died. It had been the hope of returning to her old way of life that had gotten her this far in her recovery. What is a warrior when she could no longer fight?

Hippocrates watched quietly from his hidden corner, tears flowing down his face. He didn’t even bother wiping them away. He had known this day was coming, but there was no way to prepare Xena for the shock of discovering that all she had used to once define herself was gone. She wouldn’t have believed him anyway. Now she had to learn all over again who and what she was in this world. Xena was being forced to finally lay down the sword, and she wasn’t given a choice about it.

Gabrielle next visit to the temple was also her last. Hippocrates had been waiting for her at the entrance of the temple and had all but dragged her to the room he used as an office. Before saying anything to the bard, he handed her Xena’s sword. The warrior had never picked it up from where it had fallen after she realised she could no longer fight or be the warrior she once had been. Gabrielle looked at the blade, not understanding what was happening. Her first initial fear had been that Xena somehow had been killed. Some enemy of hers, having heard of her injury, took advantage of the situation by creeping into the temple and killing her while she was unable to defend herself properly. Hippocrates had quickly reassured her that the warrior was alive and well in her room, but she did not want to see anyone for a while, especially Gabrielle. The healer explained what he had witnessed just a few weeks before. Gabrielle really didn’t hear the explanation. The only words in her mind were that Xena didn’t want to see her. Then the rest of Hippocrates words started to sink in.

The bard was in shock. Xena, not be a warrior? The dark-haired woman knew no other life. The bard had demanded, yelling and screaming in anger, that Hippocrates let her pass so she could speak with Xena herself, but the man would not let her leave the room. Gabrielle had even threatened him with her staff until she realised what she was doing. Grabbing Xena’s sword from the bench where she had let if fall, Gabrielle ran sobbing and crying from the temple and didn’t come back to her own senses until she was well outside Athens again.

The journey back to Poteidaia was a truly miserable one for Gabrielle. Aside from the tears of anguish flowing constantly down her face, it rained most of the way to the village, as though the gods themselves were mourning the loss of the great warrior woman named Xena. She did catch a chill, and Lila fussed over her for several days until she was well again, at least physically. Her sister quickly noticed the quiet, almost tragic depression and the candlemarks spent staring out the window of the room Gabrielle used to write up her tales. She tried on many occasions to get the bard to talk about what had happened on that last trip to Athens, but to no avail. There was little Lila could do except love and care for her sister, hoping that maybe one day Gabrielle would tell of what happened in Athens that day.

Gabrielle stared out the open window next to her. A single tear rolled slowly down her cheek. She wiped it away absentmindedly, still caught up in the memories of those days so long ago. A part of her still wondered how she had coped. After all the years they had been on the road together, all the things they had faced, the shock of being told that Xena could no longer be a warrior was bad enough. But also hearing that she had not wanted to see Gabrielle had been even worse.

The sun was just starting to set behind the foothills near Poteidaia. Gabrielle was carefully cleaning Xena’s sword and chakram as she did every day around this time. Three full moons had passed since that last day in Athens, and though some of the depression had lifted, she had become a gentle melancholy figure around the village. Lila and her husband had been encouraging her to start thinking about what to do with the money she was making from her tales, but so far, Gabrielle couldn’t seem to settle on any one idea. Her sister was trying to persuade her to buy a small plot of land and build a house of her own, not that Lila didn’t love having Gabrielle living with them. It just seemed it might be time to nudge the bard into moving on with her own life again. As far as Lila could tell, there had been some kind of serious falling out between the two friends, and maybe Gabrielle should be thinking of herself for a change. After all, fifteen years of travelling with Xena should have finally worked the wanderlust out of Gabrielle’s soul.

One of the village boys came trotting up the path to Lila’s house, a rolled parchment clutched in one hand. He spotted Gabrielle sitting on the bench outside, Xena’s sword across her lap. Sliding to a halt in front of her, he handed the bard the parchment, informing her a trader from Athens had given it to him with the instructions it was to be given directly to her and no other. Gabrielle thanked the boy and quickly took herself back inside, almost running to the little room where she wrote her tales and stories. Slipping the ribbon from the parchment, her heart almost stopped with joy when she saw Xena’s neat handwriting. The note was short -- Xena was never a long-winded person at the best of times -- but it said enough to calm some of Gabrielle’s fears and bring some hope back into her life again.

Lila noticed the difference immediately. How could she not, when Gabrielle sang to herself as she helped prepare the evemeal that night? If something had made her sister happy that day, then she wasn’t going to press to find out what it was, but she was burning with curiosity. The bard sat down that night and managed to fill an entire scroll with her thoughts about the village and what she had been doing. Not once in the long, long letter she wrote did she mention anything about Xena not wanting to see her; even now but she was happier than she had been in a long while just from knowing Xena had taken some time to write to her.

Over the next season and a half, parchments and scrolls were sent back and forth on a regular basis. The local traders grew used to seeing Gabrielle standing by the side of the road waiting for one of them to take her latest scroll to Athens, and Xena. They were more than happy to help. Her stories were becoming so well known and so well loved that meeting the actual woman who had seen with her own eyes the things the Warrior Princess had done was quite an honour. Besides, the bard always had some small snippet of a tale to share with whomever stopped by the road for her, and that in itself more than paid for carrying the fat little scrolls to Athens.

Then one day the flow of short notes stopped arriving from Athens.

Gabrielle tried to wait patiently, but after six weeks of waiting, and not knowing, she couldn’t stand it anymore. Throwing a few supplies into her travelling bag and grabbing her staff, she was out on the road once more. She quickly found the rhythm of her pace again, even though it had been nine moons since she had last travelled any further than the next village.

She found herself in Athens a lot sooner than she realised simply because her mind was centred on what may have happened to Xena to cause her to stop sending her short notes to Gabrielle. Hippocrates spotted her almost the instant she had stepped over the threshold of the temple. He didn’t try to stop the bard this time; in fact he walked beside her as she headed for the small room where Xena had been recovering for nearly two cycles of seasons. He didn’t say a word to her as she walked, and Gabrielle found herself at a loss as well. Considering she had threatened him with her staff the last time she was here, he was actually being quite civilised about everything.

It was only when she reached Xena’s room that she saw why he had come with her. The room was empty of everything that said Xena had been there. The pallet was rolled and stored away, the shutters closed and locked against the bright sunlight outside, her clothes gone, her boots no longer tucked under the bed. It was like Xena had never been there in the first place. Hippocrates told her that Xena had simply packed her things about six weeks before and walked out of the temple. No explanations, no notes, no goodbyes. She had simply left. Where she was headed he had no idea, but he was fairly certain it wasn’t towards Poteidaia.

Gabrielle was completely stunned. What had happened to Xena? Where had she gone? Trying to make any attempt to track Xena down at this point would be a something of lost cause. With a six week head start on her, Xena could be just about anywhere by now, and if she didn’t want to be found, she never would be.

The bard stayed overnight at the temple, Hippocrates offering what comfort he could, though he had no more idea why Xena had suddenly left then Gabrielle herself. Gabrielle then headed back to the village the next morning. Once again she was in tears, tears that continued for several days past her return. Although it took some weeks, Gabrielle eventually recovered enough of herself to start thinking about her future once again, a future where there was no Xena.

The bard found herself crying openly now at the memories she had of those long, dark days. The wound had healed and even the scar was long erased, yet to remember her desolation and despair still brought tears to the surface. It had been even worse than when Xena had ‘died’ and then returned from the other side. At least on that occasion she had been mourning someone truly dead. Not knowing why Xena had left the temple or where she had gone was so much harder on her then. She had spent weeks trying to find out where Xena might have been, questioning anyone who passed through the village who might have had some kind of information. It was all to no avail though. No one had seen or heard of the old warrior.

The sound of someone opening the front door and carefully wiping the mud from their feet had Gabrielle quickly wiping the tears from her face. It just wouldn’t do to have someone see her in this state. It would take too much explaining.

"Where are you, Gabrielle?"

Taking a moment to sniff back the last of her tears, Gabrielle answered, "Out in the back room, Honey. How did the birth go?"

"Wonderfully. Fine, healthy twins. A girl and a boy," was the answer, muffled a little by an intervening wall.

Gabrielle heard the sounds of water being poured into a bowl and hands being washed.

"Whatcha been doing while I was away?" The sounds moved into the kitchen, Gabrielle listening delightedly as usual.

"Just thinking," Gabrielle replied.

"About what?"

"Oh, about the time this slightly bedraggled looking person arrived on my doorstep asking if the village needed a healer," Gabrielle said, laughing at the memory of that wonderful afternoon.

A tall, dark-haired figure limped into the room, carrying a tray of food. Sky blue eyes twinkled at Gabrielle and a crooked half-smile appeared on her face. Gabrielle still couldn’t get over how kind the passing of the seasons had been on Xena. The raven dark hair was shot through with grey, and the little crow’s feet of wrinkles around her eyes and mouth showed someone who had learned how to smile and laugh easily. She was still as muscular and broad- shouldered as ever, but time had softened the lines a little. Yet in Gabrielle’s eyes, this was her Warrior Princess, still as strong and loving as she had been over the past twenty-seven years.

It no longer mattered to the bard that Xena had tried to find herself on her own, only to realise, a little reluctantly, being beside Gabrielle had been her destiny all along. It had taken almost an entire season, but it had slowly dawned on Xena that the bard loved her not because she was a warrior but because of herself. Gabrielle didn’t care if Xena was a warrior, a healer, a farmer or even a pig herder. Gabrielle loved her for the things she saw in Xena’s heart and soul.

Xena slid her tray onto the table with one hand, the other curling through grey-red-blonde hair of her lover. Seating herself next to Gabrielle, thighs touching, she asked, "Why think about that? It was a long time ago now."

"Some things are always worth remembering, Xena," Gabrielle replied simply.

The End.

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