The familiar characters belong to MCA/Universal. This is fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. If you are under the age of 18 the violence content in this story is not appropriate for you and in Part II we go beyond subtext so the sexual content will not be appropriate for you either. Hey, if youre a minor this story is just not for you, so dont read any further.
Xena warned me that her ex-lieutenant used to be a rough character. She warned me about him when she told me she was going to find him. She said she had news about his family that he would want to know and she owed him since he had saved her life on the battlefield. So we found his house on the outskirts of a large village. As quickly as she could, Xena told the burly man that his brother was alive and well and living on the island of Ithaca. The man was shocked.
"And you let my brother live?" Proteus gulped.
"Of course I did. Would I come to you and tell you where he was living if I had killed him?"
"No! No Xena, of course you wouldnt. Gods! This is great news. Then the stories Ive been hearing about you reforming are true. The old Xena wouldve killed anyone who deserted her army, no matter how long ago. And she wouldnt be traveling with nothing but a young girl either." Xena raised an eyebrow at the last. Proteus looked my way. "Uh, no offense meant miss."
"None taken", I assured him.
"You were good to me Xena, and you let me have a share of the spoils and go my own way to buy this land. Well, stay and share a bottle with me at least."
Xena hesitated and looked at me. "I havent talked with anyone from the old days for a long time." When I nodded at Xena he drew the warrior in and I followed. He gave us both a goblet of spirits. Xena drank hers and was working on her second while I held mine and let the vapors alter my senses. I could tell my friend was enjoying the visit and I was getting tidbits of information I had never heard before. I rarely got the chance to talk with someone from Xenas past.
"So what was your greatest adventure in Xenas army?" Xena tensed up.
"Thats easy, right Xena?" Xena raised her eyebrows in surrender. "Aw cmon. You remember the time we found the statue that turned into a girl."
"Oh, I remember that adventure alright Proteus, and how you wanted to keep her even though Poseidon nearly killed us."
"Oh, that sounds like a good story." I leaned closer and encouraged Proteus to continue. "And did you keep her?"
"For a while. Xena wanted to protect her from Poseidon as much as I did. She was the cutest kid. We were camped on the beach just south of Athens when I noticed a green statue that the waves brought to shore. It was a jade statue of a young girl, perfect in detail. We brought it close to our campfire and marveled at it, wondering where it came from and how much it was worth. The next morning the statue was gone and in its place was a girl who looked exactly like the statue, but she was flesh and blood. She could not remember her name so I called her Jade. She stayed with us on the beach for several days and I began to think of her as my daughter. Thats when I first got the idea of settling down in this village. I asked Jade if she would be my kid and she said she would. But before we left, Poseidon appeared and claimed her. The God of the Sea said that the girls soul belonged to him. I took Jade and made a run for it but he knocked me half way across the beach with a flick of his trident. Hes really big, you know. I didnt come around for a couple of days. Then I was told that Xena tried to bargain with the God. She offered him everything we had, but he laughed at her until she threw her chakram at him. Bad move. What were you thinking Xena?"
"I wondered if he was really made of water or not," Xena laughed.
"Well it almost cost you your life and Poseidon placed a curse on you before he disappeared with Jade into the ocean."
I had to know. "What was the curse Xena?"
"Nothing that Ares hasnt already cursed me with Gabrielle. Poseidon said that one day my soul would belong to him. I guess he intends to turn me into one of those green statues, like Jade."
"How awful. And you never found out where the girl came from?"
"No. Its a mystery that we never solved." Proteus became lost in his thoughts.
"At least not yet, right Xena."
"Right. Personally, I would rather not dwell on that mystery Gabrielle."
"Because of that curse, right. Okay. But tell me more Proteus. What about the men in the Xenas life? She never talks about that." Xena glared at me.
"Well I am not surprised. Where would she begin since there were more men in her life than stars in the sky." Now Xena glared at him. "What? Am I lying? Who could resist the Warrior Princess? She had her pick of whomever she wanted. Unlucky for me, I wasnt one of the men she wanted. Or maybe I was lucky that I wasnt. I might not have lived to this old age. Didnt Xena tell you how she got supplies for her army occasionally?" I had heard rumors that the Warrior Princess had used her body as a means to get what she wanted. That was not what I was curious about. But I was spellbound and continued to listen to him. "Why even a king or two was not beyond our leaders reach. And from time to time there was a rich woman like the one in Thebes, who "
"Enough!" Xena stood. "I dont much mind you talking as if I werent here but now youre going too far Proteus. Some things are better left alone."
"Please dont be angry Xena," I stood too and grabbed her arm. "Step outside with me." To my relief, she did.
"Gabrielle, it was another life."
"Yes, and I was curious about it. You dont owe me any explanations. But I was curious about the romance in your life, not the the "
Now my friend performed one of her quick mood changes and laughed easily. "And do you always separate romance and sex?"
"No I mean yes. No! Dont laugh at me Xena. Look, Im sorry that I asked Proteus about you like that. Its just that you hardly ever talk about that kind of thing with me."
"The way I used to manipulate other people with my body is not something I like to talk about Gabrielle. You know thats not who I am now."
"Oh of course you arent. What a mess I started. I should have known better than to ask an ex-soldier about that. You should have prepared me that he was a talker. You know how I love to talk Xena.
"Yeah, well I dont remember Proteus being such a blabber mouth when he was a lieutenant in my army. People can change."
"Obviously. I mean you certainly did. Look, I dont want to hear more anyway so you stay here and finish your visit and Ill just do some shopping in the village for a few hours."
"I dont think thats a good idea Gabrielle. Remember Draco made it clear that hes just waiting for a chance to grab you, damn Cupids arrows."
"I havent forgotten about Draco. I promise at the first sign of trouble Ill run back here. You know I can run fast, so dont worry.
All right. Meet me right here in about an hour."
Soon I was in the village marketplace keeping my mind off Xenas past by deciding how many dinars a bag of hazelnuts was worth. Then Draco appeared as if from nowhere. There was no time to run as the warlord scooped me up and onto his horse. In a short time we were well beyond the village and his army joined us.
Half a day later, the horror continued as I watched the Warrior Princess kill them all. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion around me. Unhurried, Xena pulled her sword from Dracos heart and spoke with cold passion. "You shouldnt have taken her. See you in Tartarus, Draco. "
My hands were tied to his saddle and I watched the dying warlord from atop his black horse. He turned his face to me. Pink foam appeared at his lips and mixed with his gasped words. "We wouldve...been so... good... together...Gabrielle..." His body joined the others scattered on the ground, a bloody scene that did not seem real.
Xena walked sluggishly toward me. Her left arm hung limp at her side. She raised the sword she held in her right hand. "No Xena!" I screamed in terror. Just before I lost consciousness her crimson blade sliced through the ropes that bound my wrists.
When I woke up I was leaning against Xenas chest. Argo carried us. I pushed away from her and nearly fell off Argo before Xena righted me by drawing her arm around my body and holding me close. Her voice sounded odd as warm breath touched my ear. "Im not going to hurt you Gabrielle." My body slumped against hers. She urged Argo forward. I should have been thankful that the warrior had rescued me but I could not feel it. Not when my freedom cost so many lives. My voice trembled. "Xena, there had to be another way..."
"Not that I could think of ", the warrior cut me off coldly.
We rode in silence. I never should have left Xenas side this morning. Draco had been ruthless in his pursuit of me since Cupids arrow caused him to love me. He had not been able to change his murderous habits and he knew he could never have me unless by force. He simply waited for his chance and took it. It had not taken Xena long to catch up with us. And now It wasnt supposed to be like this. I never should have left Poteidaia two years ago. Less than a candlemark later I had made up my mind. "Im going home."
"Yes. Poteidaia. Ive seen enough death."
The warrior swayed in the saddle. She pointed to a lake just ahead. "We have to stop here." She lowered me from the saddle to the ground with one arm while her other arm remained motionless. She slid off Argos back and her legs did not hold her up. Alarmed, Argo stepped aside, avoiding contact with her mistress who smelled of fresh blood as she lay still on the grass.
"Xena!" I dropped to her side, only now seeing several deep wounds that marred the excellence of the warriors shape and the bright red blood contrasting with her pale skin. "Oh gods!" I could not wake her up. Since I did not have the strength to move the warrior myself, I decided to make a travois. I poked two holes in a blanket and attached a rope to the holes then looped the rope over Argos saddle horn. I rolled the blanket under Xena. I led Argo and Xena to a tree closer to the lake. Argo sniffed her unconscious mistress while I removed her saddlebags and saddle. Finally the horse walked to the lake for a drink.
Gently as possible I removed the warriors armor, undressing her to cleanse and sew her wounds. None of her wounds looked fatal but her left shoulder was badly damaged and needed many stitches. I examined the puckered wound in her side and wondered how to tackle it.
Draco had stabbed her several times before the warrior pierced his heart. The horrifying scene replayed in my mind and I trembled under the power of conflicting emotions. Xena had killed so savagely. There was no humanity in the mutilation I witnessed. No humanity in the face of my friend as she slashed through flesh and bone, relentless and merciless until the last body fell. Lightly touching the beautiful cheek I was grateful that Xena was still alive. She rescued me. Guilt flowed through me and I removed my hand quickly. I thought I had found a home traveling with Xena and now the gods were punishing us both. Unbearable pain ran through me. I was responsible for the death of Draco and his men. I pushed that thought down deep into my soul.
I placed a warm poultice on the ugly stab wound and wrapped a cloth around it to hold it in place. I kissed her hand. "So full of courage....too full. Gods, dont you fear anything?" Leaning against the big tree I gently lifted Xenas head to my lap and tenderly brushed dark hair from her face with unhurried fingers. I hoped she would wake soon. Other than an occasional bird chirping and Argos grinding grass between her teeth, all was quiet and I held the battered but conquering warrior under the tree in the meadow lit by the evening sun.
Burning fish! I opened my eyes to the dark hues of night. The campfire burned and cast enough light to make out the immediate surroundings. Xenas head lay still in my lap. Moving from under her, I retrieved the blackened fish. Parts were still edible and I ate what I could. Taking water to Xena, I opened the warriors mouth, dribbling some liquid onto her tongue. The warrior gave no response. I placed my bedroll beside Xena and within minutes was asleep again.
A loud cry in the middle of the night brought me out of a deep sleep. "Gabrielle!" The warrior thrashed about and flung the blanket from her fevered body. "...My fault....", she added.
Xenas eyes were unfocused and I moved closer, speaking slow and calm. "Its alright Xena. Lay down and rest." Using her one good arm Xena tried to rise. I put my hands on either side of her face. Wet with perspiration, the warrior watched me lean close.
"Gabrielle? Youre alright", she gasped and stopped struggling to rise.
"Yes. Im alright. But youre hurt and youve got to lay down. Here...." I eased her shoulders down to the bedroll. The warriors muscles were trembling and her eyes lost their focus once again. "Sorry ...Gabrielle. Ill take you home soon."
I could not help the tears that formed in my eyes. "Shhh. We can talk later. Now you need to drink some of this and rest." Supporting the warriors head in one hand and bringing the cup to the warriors pale, parched lips with the other, I encouraged her to drink all the broth she could. The warrior drank. "Thats good", I breathed and lowered the dark head to the ground. Retrieving the blanket Xena discarded I covered her again. "Too hot ", Xena complained and flung it off again. After wetting a cloth in the lake I bathed the warriors body, careful of the wounds and darkening bruises that caused me pain too.
During the night I cooled my friend whose awareness careened in and out of the present. I used my voice to calm her and keep her from responding to hallucinations of flying harpies and monsters of every kind. The most horrible of all seemed to be a vision of Draco. The warrior cried out and struggled in my restraining arms, "Draco! I told Cupid not to release you...to keep you from murdering innocents!" Xena continued to respond to the vision floating in the air. "But she could never love you...Gabrielle could never love a warrior who has killed so many." Tears formed around her clear blue eyes as they focused above my shoulder on something only she could see. "What have I done?"
My heart broke listening to the despair in her voice. I lightly kissed her cheek and whispered softly, barely able to breath with my constricting chest. "I will always love you." But I do not understand you. The warrior closed her eyes. By early morning we both fell into a deep sleep.
I woke to the steady rhythm of her breathing under my cheek. My head rested on the her right shoulder and my arm lay across her hips. Xenas chin was supported by the top of the my head and her right arm was wrapped around my shoulders. The flesh beneath me was cool and dry, telling me that Xenas fever had broken. By the position of the sun I knew it was close to the middle of the day. Fully awake, our closeness was too intimate even though the warrior still slept. Carefully extracting myself from Xena I got up and covered her state of undress with her cast off blanket.
Walking to Argo with a smile on my slightly puffy face I spoke to her with a voice still thick from sleeping so long. "Well girl, it looks like shes going to be alright, doesnt it?" I found a small degree of comfort in brushing Xenas loyal steed. "Pretty soon itll be just you and your warrior traveling together again. That should make you happy." Argo did not seem sure what to make of my tone of voice that I realized started out happy and ended on a flat note. She turned her soulful eyes to me and then resumed her grazing when I withdrew.
Xena slept peacefully the rest of the day and into the night, interrupted only a few times by my insistence that she drink more soup. By the next morning Xena was clear-headed and wanted to get on with taking me to home to Poteidaia. She was sore and her left arm remained numb but she could stand and she insisted she could ride although I had to help her dress in a tunic since her leathers were ruined. Equally stubborn, I insisted that she would not be travel anywhere with the warrior for at least another two days. "You may as well rest some more because Im not going anywhere right now. Argos happy. Relax. I know you heal fast but no one in your condition should be riding a horse."
While I gutted some fish and put them near the fire to cook she removed her shirt and methodically inspected her wounds. She probed around the deep puncture in her side and the long shoulder cut. I sat beside her. "So what do you think? I didnt think I should stitch your side. It could easily fester and need to drain. Right?"
"Yeah, it could. But probably not if it were cauterized. Can you do it?"
"We dont have anything for pain, not even wine."
"I dont need anything for the pain."
"Youre already in a lot of pain." Gods, I did not want to cause her more. Xenas distaste showed clearly for the briefest of moments before she returned her face to its blank mask. I recognized it as her loathing of any weakness in herself.
"Please Gabrielle." I nodded my head. She placed the blade of her dagger in the fire. When the blade was white hot Xena handed the cloth-covered handle to me and lay down. "Im ready Gabrielle."
I gave Xena a piece of wood. "Bite on this instead of your tongue."
"Cute." She placed it between her teeth.
My hands did not shake until after it was over and the smell of burnt flesh surrounded us. Xena did not make a sound and much to my distress she did not lose consciousness either. Tears fell from the corners of the warriors eyes and there was a faraway look in their blue depths when she opened them. My chest tightened. This was one more scene I never wanted to see again: Xena in torment. I smoothed the warriors hair off her forehead and placed a light kiss on her damp brow. And I cried. My tears mixed with the few silent ones of the warrior who raised her good arm to hug me to her side.
"Im alright. It wasnt that bad." But we both knew that Xenas ordeal was far from over. I continued to cry softly and kissed her neck, whispering apologies for causing her more pain. "It had to be done and I asked you to do it. I should apologize to you Gabrielle. I know it was hard for you. Thank you." She awkwardly patted my head. Xena was the first to smell the burning fish. "But there wont be anything for breakfast if you dont rescue the fish."
"Gods! The fish around here cooks too fast." I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and got up to save our breakfast. I brought food to the warrior and was disappointed when she stared at it without taking a bite. "You need to rebuild your strength. Please try to eat." The warriors answering smile did not reach her eyes but she ate all the food that I put before her.
On the third evening after Xena killed Draco and his army, her left arm was still numb. To keep it from hanging limp at her side she kept her arm in a sling. She began a frequent routine of moving her arm with her other hand to keep the large arm muscles limber and flexing the smaller hand muscles with her fingers. Somehow Dracos sword had struck her shoulder in a way that was similar to the touch she used to paralyze and kill, Xena explained to me. But she could not undo this. In several months she would know if the damage would be permanent or not. She might never regain the use of her arm. I was afraid and I knew she must be too, although she did not reveal anything but acceptance of her fate.
We would begin the journey to Poteidaia in the morning. The warrior sharpened her sword using long arm movements in continual automatic motion against the blade propped up by a well-built thigh. It must be awkward using one hand but the sound of stone moving against metal was familiar and the warrior probably found it comforting. Even knowing what Xenas sword had so recently accomplished I found the familiar sound comforting too. Watching the stone glide across the metal again and again was hypnotizing me and I. After three days of agonizing thoughts I silently asked the gods for help convincing my friend to stay in Poteidaia until she had the use of both arms again. The mental picture of a handicapped Xena traveling alone was something I did not want to think about. Yes, she was still formidable. She was smart and skilled and unafraid. She would always be these things. But who would encourage her when she needed it? And she did need it. Her conscience was not stable. Who would understand her struggle against the power of darkness that still haunted her? Who would watch out for her, care for her...love her? Shaking myself free from the trance inspired by her movements, I found my voice. "Xena, its going to take months for your arm to heal."
The warrior did not take her eyes from the ground. "And your point is...?"
"My point is that you should stay in Poteidaia with me and my family until you have the use of both your arms again."
"My arm may never come back to life Gabrielle. I appreciate your concern but I dont think your village would like that arrangement."
"You mean YOU wouldnt like that arrangement."
"Thats right, I wouldnt."
"Too boring for a warrior? Is being safe too boring for you Xena?"
"It was too boring for you once...being safe."
"I will worry about you." The warrior remained silent; her eyes now focused on her sword. "Please look at me, Xena." The dark head came up and I felt the impact of startling blue eyes clouded with emotion. I forgot the point I was trying to make. "I...I mean you shouldnt be traveling alone. What would it hurt if you stayed in Poteidaia for a while?"
The warrior and the bard stared intently into the window of each others souls. The stone became silent in Xenas hand. "If I stayed in your village it would become a target for anyone trying to make a name for themselves or anyone who wants revenge against me. You would be in the same positions youre in now. That wouldnt be boring Gabrielle, that would be a senseless tragedy and you can be sure Ill never let that happen. Not ever." The warrior returned her eyes and hand to her sword. "Ive been injured and alone before. Ill be alright. Im a survivor." The smirk on her face was eerily familiar.
"I could stay with you then."
"No! Gabrielle, youre right to want a peaceful life. You werent meant to live like this, exposed to all kinds of hardship and violence. Even I can see that. This had to happen sooner or later. Its better for us both this way. Well say goodbye in Poteidaia."
"Better for us both?"
"Yes. I want you to have a better life too."
"Traveling with you has been the best...and the worst times of my life."
"Yeah, well youre still pretty young."
I did not feel young, I felt angry. "Dont push me away Xena. I dont want to lose your friendship. You once told me that I showed you how to love. Well, you showed me how to love too. But I cant watch you risk yourself all the time. And I cant watch the flow of blood that follows. Not anymore."
"Im telling you I understand that we cant stay together Gabrielle. I live by the sword. I always will, one arm or two, it doesnt matter. And one day I will die by the sword."
I was sobbing now, my feelings in disorder. "How can you be so cold? Havent you ever thought of take...taking a vacation for a while? We could stay with the Amazons until youre well again."
Xena put down her sword and walked to me, hugged me briefly, then quickly held me away before I could respond. "I am a warrior above everything else. I cant take a vacation from that. Its who I am Gabrielle. Our lives will not be side-by-side anymore. We have to let each other go. I can accept this and so will you." I watched her move to her bedroll and realized I had lost a part of my best friend already. I stood close to the campfire and could not feel its heat. I could not sway her. I went to my blanket wondering if I would ever again feel warm.
After several more days of wretchedness we arrived at my village. My family was thrilled to see me and although they were surprised by my declaration that I had returned to stay, they welcomed the news with a hearty decision to celebrate my homecoming. They had hoped for this because they did not think it was healthy for me to travel from place to place with no roots. They appreciated some of the good that Xena and I had done but they had worried about me for more than two years. Now, they believed my news was a very good reason to have a party.
I pleaded with Xena to stay at least for the night. She refused. "No. It wouldnt be good for either of us to prolong this any more. Lets say goodbye now." Holding her useless arm against her abdomen, she sat unbelievably tall in the saddle, the woman who was my closest friend looked down at me. "You are a part of my me. Ill always carry you in my heart. Gabrielle... please remember me as someone who was your...your good friend."
I could not believe the one of the most important relationships in my life had come to this. I didnt like it at all but neither could we go on the way we had been. And Xena would not let me come with her now even if I wanted to. She did not even try to persuade me to stay with the Amazons, and I was an Amazon Princess, even if I did not feel like any longer. "Of course Ill remember Xena. I will. I want us always to be friends. Come back, alright?" I know my eyes must have pleaded with her.
There were still so many things I wanted to say to her but they all stuck in my throat, now too tight for words to pass through. My open lips remained silent.
The proud figure on the big tan horse got smaller as she rode away. I trembled. I had no appetite to share in my familys feasting. I wondered if I would ever see Xena again.
Xena neared the outskirts of Dakesia and the deep forest thinned. She rounded a hill to find the road blocked by a dozen dead soldiers and one still alive with an arrow in his chest and blood oozing from a head wound. Prints in the dirt told a story of sudden attack from the surrounding forest. Dismounting Argo, she kneeled by the wounded soldier and offered him water, lifting his head. She recognized him as the Athenian officer she joined forces with against the Hoard. "Mercer!" She waited for him to gather his breath, lowering him to the ground and tearing cloth from the tunic under his armor to apply a pressure bandage to his head. The arrow in his chest would have to wait.
"Xena! Thank the gods." Mercer closed his eyes before continuing, "Youve got to go after the traitors who took Prince Gade. Quickly, before they go over the mountain pass."
"Yes. A dozen of the Kings own guard turned on the rest of us just after we left the Dakesia...didnt say why but it must be for ransom or they wouldve killed the prince instead of taking him."
Xena believed she could take them even with one arm as long as she could surprise them. "Ill come back for you after I get the prince." Mercer sighed with relief and she mounted Argo before following the tracks into the forest.
She sighted the young man bound and gagged surrounded by the twelve renegade soldiers. Using her good arm she threw her chakram with a force that was deadly to three of the soldiers and severely wounded two others. Catching her weapon on its return, she hooked it onto her armor and drew her sword in time to deflect several arrows with it while prodding Argo forward. Swinging and thrusting her sword she yelled and engaged several men at a time. Argo moved with her as if they were one body, the horse and its rider graceful and deadly to the traitors who all fell one-by-one, not able to inflict so much as a bruise on the warrior.
Prince Gades eyes were wide with wonder. Would the wild woman with flashing blue eyes and a wicked grin strike him next? He watched the warrior sheath her sword and steady his horse with great relief. She lowered the gag from his mouth. "Thank you...thank you...Who are you?" His hands were cut free with a dagger the warrior retrieved from the bodice of her armor-clad leathers.
"My name is Xena. And you must be Gade, Prince of Dakesia."
"Xena! Youre the Warrior Princess...Now my father owes you twice."
"Twice?" Dark eyebrows raised with slight interest.
"Well you saved me today and months ago you saved Mercer and the Athenian outpost from the monstrous Hoard. Mercer is...or was, my fathers friend. He accepted an offer my father made him and left Athens to come to Dakesia several months ago." He had managed a smile but lost it when he realized Mercer was probably dead. The young prince steadied his hand before holding it out to offer a handshake to the heroic woman whose bravery and leadership he had heard so much about. He noticed now that she used only one arm.
Xena slipped the dagger back into place with a wry grin and shook his slim hand. The softness of his hand and squint of his young eyes told her he was more of a scholar than a man of action. The handshake was honest and she liked his manner. He thinks Im a hero. If he only knew the truth she thought, ...I love to fight. Now more than ever. Its what makes me feel alive.
"Alright Prince Gade, lets go get Mercer before he wonders whats happened to us both."
"Mercer! I saw him take an arrow and fall. Is he still breathing then?"
"Last time I saw him." She turned her mount toward Dakesia and he followed, stopping to pick up Mercer on their way.
Once inside the castle Mercer was tended to by the Kings healer while Xena looked on. Suddenly the door opened and a large figure of a man entered followed by the slim Prince Gade. His voice was loud. "Xena, the warrior princess...."
"I am Baxon, King of Dakesia and I want to thank you for saving my son today and also Captain Mercer some months ago."
"Your Highness," Xena nodded her head to acknowledge the Kings words before turning back to watch the healer who lit the freshly made groove in the shaft of the arrow partially embedded in Mercer's body. The Healer pulled the arrow through while the heat cauterized the chest wound at the same time, just as Xena instructed. "Very good", she gave approval to the healer who watched the unconscious form on the table. "Hell come around soon enough." Nodding in agreement the healer put salve on the remaining wounds and applied clean bandages to Mercers head and chest before leaving the room, eager to leave the intimidating presence of the woman warrior.
King Baxon looked at Xenas arm. "I see you have an injury too."
"Yes. It happened months ago."
"A warrior with the use of only one arm rescues my son when twelve of my best soldiers could not. Amazing." He worried his beard with his fingers. "Where are you headed Xena?"
"I thought Id stay here in Dakesia for a while."
"Excellent!" Baxon smiled. "And since youre going to be here for awhile you may as well accept a position as Captain of the Dakesian Guard. At least until Mercer is back on his feet again."
Mercer opened his eyes. "You could do a lot worse Xena. Its not a bad job...free meals, a room in the castle and dinars for your purse."
Prince Gade added encouragement. "We need you." Xena was going to refuse the offer of employment until she saw the look into Gades green eyes. He was Gabrielles age.
"Why were you taken today?"
"Probably for ransom. At first I thought it was because someone didnt want me to travel to Santorin to marry Princess Levena. But if that was the case, then they would have just killed me, dont you think?"
"What do you think King Baxon?" the warrior inquired.
"I think the timing is more than coincidental. I know that Queen Hecuba of the Isle of Crete wants her own son to marry Princess Levena. She has heard by now that the princess is betrothed to my son. She wants to enlarge her influence and gain a foothold of power in Santorin. I would not put it past her to kidnap my son, hold him for ransom and arrange for him to be killed after the ransom is paid. Shes done worse. Thank the gods you did not let her get away with her treachery, Xena. But I doubt if shell stop trying to kill Gade."
Gade looked stricken but resolved. "I love Princess Levena and she loves me. There is no way in the world that I will give her up."
Xena smiled crookedly at the young man. "Well, Queen Hecuba is just going to have to find someone else for her son. The Princess of the Isle Santorin is already taken." She looked at the Elder. "I accept the position of Captain of the Dakesian Guard until your son is safely married, as long as youre sure about having a one-armed warrior around."
Mercer added, "Or until we convince you that Dakesia has everything you need, Xena. Im in your debt again."
Baxon placed a hand on the warriors good shoulder. "I am sure about you Xena. I have an eye for the best...especially when it comes to the well being of Dakesia and my family. Youre the one to protect my son until he is wed." Looking up slightly, the King of Dakesia smiled into the handsome face of the warrior princess with something close to affection in his eyes as he put his other hand on his sons shoulder. "Youre the one alright."
Xena allowed herself to admit she was moved by Baxon's trust.
"Bored" did not begin to describe my general state of mind. I was going stir-crazy for lack of stimulation. The only time I felt truly alive was when I told about the adventures I had with Xena. But tonight I was too depressed to give the story of the Trojan Horse much energy. I finished the warning to beware of Greeks bearing gifts and that was the end to the tale of Helen of Troy. "The Trojan Horse was too big or Id have carted it with me all the way home...I still wish I had it. It was a wonder." And because I was missing both Perdicus and Xena, I could not hold back the tears. My audience was understandably uncomfortable and the dinars I got from them said more about their sympathy than my talent as a bard. I tried to buy a meal but the owner of the tavern refused my money.
"Its always on the house Gabrielle, because you bring in customers. But if you dont cheer up, youre going to reverse the trend. So eat and be happy young bard." I did my best to make my smile genuine.
Finding a seat with blurred vision was not easy but I located one and sat down to eat. "Youre miserable arent you Gabrielle?" It was a warm voice that reminded me of better times.
"Salmoneous! By the gods its good to see you." I nearly spilled my plate of food getting my arms around his stocky frame.
"Its good to see you too. What are you doing here? Why arent you with Xena?"
"I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life, thats why Im not with Xena." How I loved his short grey hair and expressive brown eyes.
"Is it because she slayed Draco and his army?"
"Of course you heard about that." I looked away, ashamed. "Its because of me that all those men are dead. I knew Draco was after me, that it was just a matter of time before he would make his move. But I had a misunderstanding with Xena and went out alone that morning." After a few bites of food my appetite was gone.
Salmoneous took my hand and asked me to go for a walk with him. The cool night air did little to improve my mood. "Gabrielle, I think youre making your role in the unfortunate end of Draco and his soldiers too important. The responsibility begins with Cupid for not being more responsible about safeguarding his arrows. And with Draco for choosing the evil path when he had the perfect reason to chose to do right. And with Xena for not letting Cupid remove the effects of his arrow when he was willing to do it. Do you forgive any of these three for not being perfect?"
"Oh yes Salmoneous, I have. I have forgiven Draco because he paid with his life, and his men chose to follow him, right or wrong. I forgave Cupid because he thought he was doing the right thing and there was nothing malicious in his behavior. And I forgave Xena when I saw her suffering with a fever because of the wounds she got in that battle. She did what she thought she had to do to save me. And maybe she was right."
"So dont you think its time you forgave yourself for not being perfect?"
"I dont know if I can do that. I went into shock that day. The first thing that I can remember thinking is that I had to go home. I was afraid. Im a coward, Salmoneous. I didnt even realize Xena was seriously wounded until she passed out."
"Being in shock doesnt mean youre a coward Gabrielle. It means you were overloaded with emotion. You feel, Gabrielle. Thats one of the things that make you a good bard. You make the audience feel with you. You care about people. And not just the people who deserve to be cared about. You are more empathetic than is healthy for you sometimes. Maybe you were overloaded and just needed a vacation, did you ever consider that?
Maybe he was right. Gods! He was right. I had made myself the central figure in the tragedy and the truth is we all had our own parts to play. I brought my guilt into the light and saw it was not worthy of the magnitude and importance I had given it. Salmoneous let me cry on his shoulder. After awhile he pulled out a handkerchief and began to dramatically dab at his tunic. I realized I was laughing. The darkness in my heart was gone. "Okay, okay. Youve made your point. Give me that hanky."
"And what about getting on with your life? Is living in Poteidaia what you want?"
"I thought it was. I told Xena that it was. I was afraid of feeling any more pain I guess. And now I knew that I cant avoid pain no matter where I live. Most of all, being without my best friend is terribly painful. Artemis help me! If only Id told Xena I needed a vacation. She never needs one of course, but maybe a sidekick does. Well theres I can do about it now. Xena made it clear when we parted that she doesnt want me around. I really hurt her when I asked if there was another way to rescue me than killing them."
"And she probably has asked herself the same question, dont you think?"
"Without a doubt, I know that she has. More than anything, I want to ask her to forgive me for...well, for giving up."
"Gabrielle, everyone needs a vacation sometimes. Even from a best friend. Even the Warrior Princess, although she apparently wont admit it. I am amazed that you stayed with Xena as long as you did. And that you two got along so well for so long. Ill bet it was a first for Xena."
"It was a first for me too." I felt so sad. "Its a hard thing to need to say youre sorry and not be able to say it because the one you need to say it to doesnt want to see you. I wonder if shes even alive. I think she must be or Id feel it like I did when..." I didnt want to cry again so I had to stop.
"How do you know she doesnt want to see you?"
"I know. When she said goodbye two months ago, she meant it."
"I think you may be wrong about that. The last time I saw her she gave me the impression that she missed you a great deal."
I clutched his arm and leaned into him. "Youve seen her? When? Where? Is she alright? How did she look? What did she say...?"
"Stop!" Salmoneous laughed and held me an arm's length away.
"No. You should have told me about her right away. Tell me now Salmoneous." I tried to be prepared for just about anything. "Is she alright?" She has to be.
"Shes alive and she has a job."
I sighed with relief. Shes alive! "What job? What kind of work is she doing?"
"She is Captain of the Dakesian Royal Guard, currently escorting Prince Gade to the Isle of Santorin where he is going to marry Princess Levena."
"What? A captain in a kings army? Thats not the Xena I know. She likes her freedom. How did she get involved in all of that?"
"It seems the one-armed Xena is no less than the two-armed Xena. She saved the Prince soon after he was kidnapped and the King Of Dakesia convinced her to take a formal position as the Princes protector."
"Who kidnapped the Prince? Why does he need protection?"
"The King suspects Queen Hecuba because its no secret that she wants her own son to marry Princess Levena. Whoever is behind the kidnapping may try again, and this time they will probably try to murder the Prince instead of kidnapping him.
I had heard of Hecubas treachery. If she was behind the kidnapping then it was unlikely that she would give up easily. Xena may be protecting Prince Gade but who was watching her back?
"And who else is in the traveling party besides Xena and the prince?"
"I dont know. Probably some soldiers. Any way, there is more news yet to come. Do you want to hear more?"
"What do you think?" My hands landed firmly on my hips. He was teasing me and I guess he had earned the right to his fun.
He raised his black eyebrows, "I dont know." Xena was right. Everyone has an evil spot. "Gods Salmoneous! Of course I want to hear more." I sat down on a flat boulder and patted the space next to me invitingly. "Tell me all of it and dont leave anything out. Not a word."
"Alright, if you insist. Now where was I? Oh, I forgot to tell you what gave me the idea that Xena missed you."
"Yes, tell me what gave you that idea." I was really trying to be patient.
"She refused to talk about you."
"She didnt talk about me at all? Did she even mention my name?"
"No. And every time I asked about you she changed the subject. She misses you alright. And thats why she wont talk about you or how she feels about whats happened. Thats the Warrior Princess now isnt it. Shes good at hiding her soft side because shes afraid of it and not many of us have seen that side of her."
It was true. Xena was as afraid of attachment as she was of her dark side. She had made some big steps in overcoming that fear until Draco took me and. She changed after that. But then, so did I. I owed her a big apology. She already knew I was not perfect so I had reason to hope that she might let me make amends. "She cares about me, okay, but that doesnt mean she misses me."
"Well, you could come to the Isle of Santorin with me and find out. Interested?" He smiled broadly, eyes sparkling.
Yes! Yes, yes, yes I was interested. "Hmmm. Maybe. And whats in it for you if I go?"
"What? I cant believe you asked me that. Just the pleasure of your company and seeing you reunited with Xena is enough reward for me. But since you asked, you can help me guard the crates of fine Grecian dinnerware that I promised to Queen Ceres for the wedding feast of her daughter, Princess Levena. The Queen and I met in Dakesia last year. You wouldnt believe what she is paying me for them."
"You do know how to mingle and make a profit, dont you."
"Its what I do. So what do you say? Want to shake the dust off your boots?" He looked down at my feet. "I mean sandals? And by the way, there is going to be a bard contest. The winner will be given the position of Official Bard of the Isle of Santorin. Seems the last one died a few months back. Let me know if youre interested because Im only staying the night. The boat thats taking me to Santorin is waiting now in dock several days away."
My world was changing again thanks to this resourceful man who I suspected had gone out of his way to ask me if I was interested in traveling with him. I rose and leaned down to kiss his check. "Im going home to pack and tell my family Ill be gone for awhile. I think theyll be relieved to see me go this time. Ill meet you at the tavern at sunrise." And I did. It was nice to leave Poteidaia with my familys blessing. I was not sneaking away into the night this time; instead I was letting the sunlight lead the way.
Right on schedule, we docked at the port of Santorin five days later. Passengers left the anchored ship over the gangplank to the pier. Cargo lined the walkway. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful. Dark green trees and bushes with colorful flowers I had not seen before lined the roadway leading to the castle. Life-sized sculptures of women made of greenish marble were scattered along the road. I had never seen this type of marble before. "Salmoneous, have you ever seen marble like that before?"
"No. Its not green or blue but it reminds me of both. Gabrielle, I think it is a type of jade."
"They are jade statues?"
"Yes, I believe they are. And very beautiful too. I wonder what theyre worth?"
"Gods! Poseidon created this island you know." I think part of the mystery of the girl that Xena tried to save from Poseidon was solved. And Xena must have solved it too. The beautiful Island of Santorin contained a sinister element, thats for sure.
"Thats what legend says Gabrielle. I dont disbelieve it. He created it for his glory but I havent seen a shrine to Poseidon or a statue of him yet."
"Yeah. Its seems strange. Maybe they are all deeper inland."
Passing another beautiful and amazingly lifelike statue of a woman I wondered who had made them. Poseidon? For what propose? "Do you know anything about these statues Salmoneous?"
"Only that I wish they were mine."
"Anyone ever tell you to be careful what you wish for?"
"Only my mother."
"Well now you can add me to the list. Lets be careful on this island."
"Yeah. Poseidon was never one of my favorites."
"Shhh. Thats what Im talking about. This is his island, remember." The road ended in the center of the city where the gates of the castle stood open. Santorian guards greeted us. I noticed the unusual bronze hue of their skin and realized that I had never met anyone from Santorin before.
"I am Salmoneous the merchant and this is my assistant, Gabrielle of Poteidaia. We bring fine dinnerware from Athens for the wedding of Princess Levena. Your Queen is expecting us." We were ushered into the hall and soon the Queen came to greet us. "At last, youre here. I am so eager to see the pattern of the plates again." Salmoneous quickly and carefully lifted the lid of one of the creates and lifted out a shining gold rimmed plate with golden figures in a circular pattern dancing around it. "It lovely. Thank you for keeping your word. After dinner this evening I will give you your payment. No boats will be leaving until after the wedding, so naturally you are both invited to stay as my guests here in the castle until then."
She turned to me. "You are young to be a merchant."
I was struck again by the Santorin bronze-hued skin. "Your Highness", I curtsied, pulling out my skirt and lowering my head and knees slightly. It felt awkward. "I am not a merchant. Actually Im a bard."
"Really? How interesting. You are also young for a bard." Queen Ceres made a circle around me, thoroughly assessing me.
"I am young and yet I have seen a lot during the past several years. I know the history of the gods and the adventures of many mortals."
Salmoneous eyes crinkled with his smile. "Gabrielle can talk as well as me and she can do it a lot longer than I can. Shes a marvel Queen Ceres."
"We shall see merchant. We could use some fresh faces and stories. I will be following the competition. King Cletus and I and our daughter Princess Levena will be judging the Bard competition." She smiled with mild warmth. "I wish you well young Gabrielle of Poteidaia." She turned to a servant and instructed him to show us to our quarters.
Salmoneous was given a room on the second floor of the large and mysterious castle while the servant motioned for me to follow and took me to a immense room on the next floor. It was a like a barracks, filled with chattering males. I turned to the servant. "Dont tell me, this is the bards quarters, right?" The bronzed-skinned man simply nodded his head and pointed to an empty pallet on the floor. "Thats yours until you leave Santorin, or you win the contest."
Latter that night, inside the common room I lay on my side facing a window and thought of the Trojan Horse while bards of all sizes created an irregular chorus of snores. I would never get to sleep. I wondered where Xena was. Was she in the castle? The Captain of the Royal Guard could be expected to sleep inside the castle. I got up from my pallet and went to the passage across the hall that led to a balcony.
Savoring the fresh air I looked down at the panoramic view of the strange and beautiful city of Santorin, lit by the moon. How quiet is was now. The city lay in peace below me. In the distance I could see the moonlight reflect off the ocean. Above me were countless stars. I found the shape of a bear formed by stars. Xena thought it looked like a water dipper. Remembering the night we lay side-by-side and I whacked her on the nose, both of us shocked that I had been able to catch her off guard. Or had she let me hit her on purpose because she felt sorry for her persistent sidekick? The pain of loss swept through me. "I am so sorry Xena."
I could hear her call my name like it was this morning I saw her last instead of months ago. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I even smelled the familiar scent of warm leather. A hand on my shoulder startled me. Could it be...I turned around. I hugged the tall warrior and buried my face in her shoulder, careless of the armor that squashed my chest. Light-headedness threatened to overwhelm me.
She allowed the closeness for a moment before pushing me away lightly with one hand. Her left arm remained in a sling at her side. Her voice was soft and low but gave no clue if she was happy to see me. "Gabrielle, what are you doing here?"
We finally meet again and all rational thought left my mind. I searched the blue depths of Xenas eyes, looking for something I could not name but craved nevertheless. I did not find it. My voice returned to me. "Salmoneous told me the Santorians needed a bard and so I came with him to compete since he had plates to deliver to the Queen...and I knew that youd be here. Oh Xena, I am so sorry for the way I acted for the things I said. I dont remember if I ever thanked you for saving me from Draco. Did I?"
"That seems so long ago now. I dont remember either. Salmoneous came to Santorin to deliver plates?"
This was not going to be easy. "They were ordered by Queen Ceres for the wedding. You know Salmoneous." I shrugged and wondered how to get beyond this shallow conversation.
The warrior seemed to carefully consider my simple words. "I see. Are you enjoying Santorin?"
She was painfully impersonal. I suppose I deserved that from her, but my heart ached. "I just arrived today and so far the only complaints I have are the sleeping arrangement. I have a couple of dozen roommates and each one snores to a different tune. Santorin is strange and beautiful and gods Xena, didnt you notice the jade statues of women that lined the road to the castle? "
"Yeah. Since Poseidon created this island I guess we know where our mystery girl came from. Ive asked about the statues but the Santorins are not talking. At least not to me. Be careful here Gabrielle."
"I know I will. You too." That was lame. Where was my gift for words when I needed it the most?
Xena paused for a moment as if considering what to do next. "Well, Ive got work to do. Ill be seeing you." She took several steps away before I stopped her with my hand.
"Wait for what, Gabrielle?" She seemed irritated.
"I dont know. Cant we just talk? Ive missed you." No response. "I am surprised youre a captain. Youve got to admit youre not the kind to take orders."
"Things change Gabrielle. Ive changed. I can do a lot of things I dont like if theres a good enough reason. Keeping Prince Gade alive is good enough."
"And saving me from Draco?"
"Oh, I enjoyed doing that Gabrielle." An untamed smile presented itself with fierce glory on the warriors handsome face. "That was one of my best battles ever, dont you think?"
She was pushing me away, purposefully taunting me to argue. "I think it was."
Surprise showed briefly in her face. "You do?"
"I do now. I was in shock at first. All I could see was blood. I thought it was my fault all those men died...my fault that you were injured, because I had gone out alone that morning. But Draco wouldve taken me sooner or later no matter what I did. And you rescued me like I would rescue you if I could...if Draco had taken you." My eyes held hers. Her features softened at first and then a great sadness filled her expressive eyes before she returned to the aloof warrior that I loved and dreaded. I did not want to hear what came next.
"No. You wouldnt ever act like I did Gabrielle. And I wouldnt want you to...not for me."
"Dont you think youre life is as important as mine?"
"Actually, no it isnt." I gasped in response, knowing she was telling me what she believed. She continued without mercy. "I have killed so many, whats a hundred more to me? I lost any claim to sleep peacefully long ago. I hope you never do. Most of your life is still ahead of you and it can be beautiful. You dont see the faces of death with me any more Gabrielle, and Im glad of it. Nothing has changed since we said goodbye in Poteidaia."
"Then were still friends."
I was stunned. Xena took advantage of the moment by disappearing into the night. I returned to the discordant sounds of my fellow bards and the room I shared with them, my resolve growing with each breath I took. I was not going to give up this time, not on myself and not on Xena. She was my best friend.
The bard competition began soon after breakfast the next morning. The audience was made up of a mixture of peasants, slaves and nobles, along with the royal family who were the judges. I had little hope of being able to perform today since I was the last bard to enter the competition and there were twenty before me.
I relaxed and sat with Salmoneous where we could observe the royals and I could see Xena, who stood guard in the shadows behind them. King Cletus was pale compared to the bronze glow of the Queen and Princess Levena on his right. To his left sat Prince Gade who kept his loving gaze fixed on his wife-to-be. They seemed to have the connection of two people in love but unsure of themselves. Princess Levena would let the Prince catch her attention and then quickly glance away and they would both blush, although her blush was less noticeable. Soon they would be married and on their way to Dakesia. And so would Xena. Where would I be?
King Cletus called for the first bard, Zandor of Knossos, to come to the stage. Zandor stepped onto the platform and let his gaze rest on the Royal Family. "I sing the song of the God of the Sea, by whose hand Santorin was made and will also be unmade. As the ground rose from the depths of the ocean, so shall it return. The gift of Poseidon will be taken away, since you have grown cold to his needs. It is unfortunate King Cletus, that your prosperity exceeds your wisdom."
The face of King Cletus turned red over its bronze surface as he stood. "How dare you speak such judgment in the name of Poseidon."
Zandor stood his ground. "Im not a judge, Im a prophet." He pointed a finger at Prince Gade. "Princess Levena was never meant for one so weak as you."
Now Prince Gade stood. "You call me weak and yet you dont even know me. Why?"
Zandor glared at the prince. "Poseidon knows you, and he tells me that youre a coward who will never be man enough to satisfy a woman, let alone man enough to rule as a king." Xena watched the exchange from the shadows, gauging the threat from this self-proclaimed prophet. Zandor carried no weapons other than his bitter tongue.
The beautiful Princess Levena watched the prince and waited for him to put the strange bard in his place. She waited for Gade to declare himself. It looked as though he was going to speak but instead he dropped to the floor and began shaking. His muscles contracted while his face took on a strange shade of blue. Horrified, the princess fled the room, followed by the queen.
Xena went quickly to the prince and supported his head to prevent injury. All eyes rested on his shaking form. Xena turned to the King. "Ive seen this before. He should stop shaking soon."
The king had also seen the shaking illness before, although not on Santorin. Illness of any kind was rare on his island. Prince Gades muscles stopped convulsing but his eyes remained closed and he breathed heavily. Now he would sleep for awhile. King Cletus turned to the smug Zandor.
"Of course you are removed from the bard competition. For the slander against my future son-in-law, I challenge you in his name...a fight to the death with any weapons you choose."
Zandor's smugness increased. "Then I choose swords. Will the prince fight for himself?"
The King looked at the fallen prince. "Any champion the prince chooses will fight for him tomorrow morning at dawn. Until then, you will be held captive in the dungeon." Guards removed Zandor from the room and the king continued. "After the prince rests, we will continue the bard competition. Please return after the midday meal."
I watched the warrior holding the prince and knew who his champion would be. Gades father had already chosen Xena. I left the room thankful that the warriors best sword arm was her right one. Zandor looked too confident to me. I would make a special offering to Artemis to protect my friend.
Xena paced in front of the young man before her. "To fight as your champion is one thing protecting you is something Im glad to do. But the other...Of all the things you could ask of me, I would never have imagined this. Im no good with words your highness. Words are definitely not my thing."
"But youre my protector until I am safely wed and Princess Levena will never marry me now unless I win back her heart. She thinks I am the worst kind of coward. She has never seen anyone with an illness like mine. I should have told her before but I hoped it would never happen again. Father told me to tell her but I wouldnt. I was afraid this would happen...that shed think badly of me. But it doesnt matter now. I would rather she know about my illness than think me a coward. Please Xena, talk to her for me. And if she is accepting at all, woo her back for me. Tell her how much I love her and want her to be my wife. Remind her of the summer we spent together and fell in love. I know you can do it."
The warrior was not in the mood for the royal love problems. "Tell her yourself. She loves you. I saw it in her eyes before she left."
"Im sure that was pity, not love. She thought I was sensitive and kind. Look at me. Obviously I am not a warrior-king. I am a scholar. Dakesia has plenty of warriors and few scholars. I will make a good king if I get the chance, Xena. I know that. But the Princess doubts me now. She wont even see me. No, someone else - you - will have to speak to her for me. And we dont have much time. Go to her dressed as my captain and best man."
"Best man? Why should I go to her as your man?"
"The princess will not take your request for attention seriously unless she thinks you are a man. You can let her know the truth after she marries me."
"You have a devious streak young Prince. And your Princess does not think much of her own sex. Thats sad." Xena was suddenly considering the possibility of doing what the he was asking of her.
"I suppose it is. She wont give you the respect you deserve unless you go to her as a man. Youre tall enough and you have the shoulders. All you would need to do is bind your chest, hide your hair and lower your voice."
The excitement of responding to a challenge sparkled in the warriors eyes. "Alright. Youve persuaded me to help you. The woman you love seems pretty fickle to me but if you want to marry her so badly then Ill be youre advocate and best man".
"Thank the gods." The prince rose to his feet and put his hand on his captains shoulder. "Thank you Xena. Our first child will bare your name."
"And what if your first born is a boy?"
"No Gade," she laughed, "dont name the child after me. Just be a good father." She patted the grateful mans hand. "And lets hope this plan of yours works." Xena left to find the person she knew had a gift for words.
The chatter in the dining hall was so loud I could barely hear myself think, let alone hear the earnest bard who was telling me his best tale. If only I could have understood it. I ate my meal and nodded my head periodically when something in the doorway caught my eye. It was the warrior and she was staring at me. When our eyes met she raised her brow and moved her head sharply to the side. Finally, she wanted to talk with me. I wanted to run, but I had my dignity. Slowly I rose from the table. I shouted at the man across from me, "Sorry Astrides, Ive got to go. Nice story, whatever it is. I joined Xena in the hallway. She pulled me aside and spoke quietly.
"Its noisier than a battlefield in there Gabrielle. How do you stand it?"
"Well, you now how it is with us bards, our words are our weapons."
"Yes." Her blue eyes assessed me as if seeing me for the first time and measuring my worth. "And words can harm or heal." I wondered why she looked so serious.
"What has happened Xena?"
"Im in need of the services of a good bard Gabrielle."
"So youve come to me? Thats nice."
"Listen. Im sorry I was abrupt the other night. Its just that I dont want you hurt anymore because of me."
"Thats funny. I feel the same way about you. You were pushing me away and encouraging me to think badly of you. That hurt me, Xena. Were friends. It hurts when you seem to forget that."
"I havent forgotten a thing." There was that serious look again. Gods. What is she trying to do to me?
"So, you accept that we are still friends then." I waited and felt the pounding of my heartbeat as she hesitated. Was I holding my breath? I was.
"Yes." The warrior responded in a low tone and dropped her eyes.
"You dont seem very happy about it."
"Lets just say I have mixed feelings. We wont be traveling together when we leave Santorin, Gabrielle."
"But well always be the best of friends, right? No more cold shoulder treatment?"
"No more cold shoulder, I promise." The warrior suddenly smiled crookedly and my breath stopped again. What was wrong with me? I was getting my friend back, for now.
"All right?" She inquired.
"All right. Friends for life and all is forgiven." I was satisfied for now. "Why do you need a bard?" My curiosity was as strong as ever. Everyone in the castle knew that Prince Gade had chosen his captain as his champion. Was she going to try to talk her way out of fighting Zandor tomorrow? That wasnt Xenas style. Xena took me to her quarters to explain. Her room was bare except for a chair, a bed and a closet. But it was wonderfully quiet. She directed me to the chair while she sat on the bed. I looked at her expectantly.
"Princess Levena has told Gade that the wedding is off."
"What? How fickle. They make such a cute couple too."
"My thoughts exactly. Apparently the princess does not understand the nature of the princes problem. The King and Queen hope she will change her mind and they have not called off the wedding yet. The prince has asked me for help and since Ive given my word to protect him until hes married..."
"So what will you do and how can I help?"
"I hope to convince the princess that Gades character is noble and that it would be a mistake for her to call off the wedding. I need your help to say things right. I need romantic words to woo her back to the prince."
"Why cant the prince just woo her for himself?"
"Because princess Levena wont talk to him right now. She thinks hes a coward because he collapsed before he could stand up to Zandor."
"And he cant fight Zandor...so the prince is left without a way to convince her himself."
"Yeah. Hes a scholar, not a warrior. I dont know why he still wants to marry her. She has little regard for others...especially women. He told me that I have to present myself to her as a man or she wont seriously consider what I have to say. Pretty challenging, huh? I think I can do it with your help Gabrielle."
It wasnt like Xena to misrepresent herself. But Princess Levena should be taught that respect should not be based on gender. And of course, there was the time during the last Winter Solstice when Xena convinced King Silvus that she was two of the three Fates and that I was his wife. That had not turned out too badly. "You can be a good actress when youre motivated. But youve never tried to convince anyone that you were a man before have you?"
"No. But how hard can it be? Ill talk low and wrap my breast in a binding. Ill wear a mans uniform and put my hair in a braid."
I was starting to think this plot to reunite the young royals might work. "And you could wear a fake beard to hide your smooth cheeks."
"Yeah. And after theyre married and she discovers the best man is really the best woman, she might be convinced that women should be respected the same as men."
"Well if anyone can pull this off Xena, you can."
"Only with your help Gabrielle. Will you help?"
I grinned. "Sure. Why not."
"Good." The warriors smile flashed brilliantly. "Ill go get the things Ill need for my transformation while you work on some dialogue."
"Right. Romantic, idealistic and heartfelt."
"Thats it. Can you meet me back here this evening after youve eaten?"
"Uh huh." And then I took a risk. "And if you wouldnt mind, since were best friends, Ill bring my pallet to sleep on your floor. The noise in the bard barracks is awful. I havent slept well since coming to Santorin. Well, since getting on the boat to come to Santorin, really." No. I have not slept well since that terrible day you left me in Poteidaia.
Xena squinted her eyes as if weighing her options. "Alright. Well share these quarters while Im here. And thanks for helping."
"Hey, thanks for remembering that were best friends." I smiled meaningfully at her before we parted company. Our friendship was far from over. And I was almost a sidekick again.
~~~Well, nighty- night for now, but stay tuned because Part II is coming soon.
Back to Main XIP Fan Fiction Pages