Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters, and the images for the story cover are copyright to MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I'm just borrowing them, and of course I'm not making any profit, just trying to entertain.

This story will revolve around a loving relationship between two women, what that relationship is will be up to the reader to decide.

Hurt?Comfort: This story may be best classified as a Hurt/Comfort Story. Readers who
are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read
something other than this story.

Rainedrop@angelfire.com I would love to hear your feedback!





Chapter 6 A Trouble Shared Is A Trouble Halved

Ascending the rock strewn pathway, Xena and Gabrielle traveled through the woodland scattered
about the base of Mount Eleni. They passed rare wild flowers and a blanket of Crocus heads
poking through the plains in the valley. They walked over the tracks of wolves and bears, passing
numerous springs, where they stopped often to drink from the icy cold water.

Xena looked back at Gabrielle often, searching for the first sign of sickness. The bard was right
behind her, without even a bead of sweat on her brow. She had that look of determined
stubbornness in her eyes that could move them both to do great things.

“Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one,” Gabrielle had once told Xena.
The validity of those words hit Xena with a painful jolt as she realized how true it really was.

“Let’s take a break,” Xena announced as they were leaving the grassy slopes of the Pappagos
Valley. Gabrielle didn’t argue. Gratefully she sat down stiffly on a large boulder at the edge of a
small winding stream. She bent over, and immersed her water skin into the icy current until the
bag was swollen and full.

Gabrielle turned around on the rock, looking for Xena. She found the warrior a short distance
away scavenging for herbs. “What are you looking for?” the bard asked.

“I need to find some more hyssop or birch.”

Painkillers, Gabrielle thought to herself. “Why do you need that?” Gabrielle asked, already
knowing the answer.

Xena stopped foraging, and looked up to meet Gabrielle’s eyes. “I want to be prepared.”

“You’re always the optimist, aren’t you?” Gabrielle said, sarcastically.

Xena heard the uneasiness in her friend’s voice. She walked over to the bard, and joined her on
the boulder. “Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Isn’t that what you always tell me?”

Gabrielle fingered the water skin she still held in her hands, refusing to lift her eyes. “I didn’t think
you were actually listening,” she answered with a soft smile.

“I’m always listening,” Xena said thoughtfully. “You’re probably right, it’s just a bluff, but I have
to be prepared either way.”

“I know,” Gabrielle conceded. “I’m sorry. It’s just that the thought of lung failure isn’t a pleasant
one,” she commented drolly.

Xena couldn’t bring herself to smile at the quip, knowing it could come to fruition. “Come on,
let’s keep going. If we make good time today, I might have a little surprise for you.”

“You’re never short on surprises.”

“I aim to please,” Xena answered with the wiggling of an eyebrow.

“And please you do,” the bard smirked as she gave Xena a sound pat on the behind.


The sun was resting on the peaks off to the east as the two travelers ascended the ridge
overlooking the lake called Drakolimni. The water reflected the perfect blue sky with hints of the
sun’s fiery glow glinting off it’s ripples. The lake stretched out to the base of the mountains in the
north, forming a barrier between the eastern and northern passes. Legends of the lake were so old
and well told that they probably existed before the lake even came into being.

Gabrielle stared, transfixed at the hypnotic movement of the water, with a look of awe and
wonder on her face. “What is it, Xena?”

“It’s Drakolimni, some call it Dragon Lake.”

The name resonated in the bard’s mind, bringing forth numerous stories of the legendary body of
water. “That’s Dragon Lake? This is the place where dragons were said to drink from? The place
where Anora killed her husband? So much happened here,” Gabrielle said, amazed.

“This is Dragon Lake, but whether or not those things happened, I can’t say.”

“It’s beautiful,” Gabrielle breathed, as she continued down the path toward the lake shore. Xena
watched her go, the bard’s figure becoming a dark silhouette painted against the crimson sunset.
A day has passed and still she seems fine, Xena thought to herself. She closed her eyes, and sent
one more plea to whomever might be listening to spare Gabrielle the pain that the herb, Lobelia
would cause. Let it be a bluff, she implored again for the third time that day. With a sigh, the
warrior walked along the trail behind her partner until they had reached the shoreline.

“Let’s make camp here tonight,” the bard suggested, as the sound of the gentle water lapped onto
the sandy beach.

“I’ll get dinner, you make the fire.” With a nod of agreement, they each went about their tasks,
and like the moon circling the earth together they worked in perfect unison. Soon fresh fish
wrapped in grape leaves baked over the fire, while the sounds of night descended on the two
women who sat close together relishing the heat of the fire’s flames. The night was crisp, but the
warrior and bard cuddled together under the wool blanket, waiting for the fish to cook.

"Xena?" the bard asked, interrupting the comfortable silence. "What will we do about King
Aimon? He'll be expecting us to arrive back at the fortress within the quarter of a moon."

"First things first, which is getting you to the Ravensara. We'll just have to go from there."

Gabrielle thought about that, with a feeling of guilt overwhelming her. "What if I go on to Mount
Eleni by myself? Then you would be free to get the sword," she suggested.

Immediately, Xena shook her head vehemently. “No, I’m not sending you up that mountain by

Gabrielle knew the warrior’s determination, but still she pushed on. “I’m not sure that we have a
choice here, Xena.”

“We do have a choice, and I choose you.”

Gabrielle shook her head, unable to find words to convince the warrior. “I’m sorry, Xena,” she
said finally.

"For what?" the warrior asked with furrowed eyebrows.

"I feel like trouble follows me," she answered, dejectedly.

"The only thing worse than trouble itself is having to endure it alone. Trouble doesn’t just follow
you, it seems to know both our names pretty well by now," Xena tried to answer lightly.

"It's more than that, though. Do people see me as a target?"

"No, Gabrielle," Xena tried to reassure the bard. "I'm their target, and they see you as the easiest
way to get to me."

"So then I'm your weak spot."

"Where is this coming from? This isn't like you," the warrior said, worriedly. “It isn’t hard to see
that you are the light of my life, and yes, some people believe that the easiest way to hurt me is to
take that light away from me. The truth is that they’re right. Nothing could wound me more than
to lose you.”

Gabrielle turned and smiled sadly at the warrior. "I wish I wasn’t such an easy target then," the
bard added, with a sad smile.

Xena sighed deeply, feeling helpless and frustrated at being unable to comfort the bard. Gabrielle
rose before Xena could speak and lifted the savory fish off the fire. She opened the grape leaves,
and hot steam formed a cloud that blew away with the night wind. The warrior watched the bard
as she divided the fish onto two wooden plates. The dancing firelight brought a radiant glow to
Gabrielle's face, and it seemed to shine as if from within.

"My bard," Xena whispered to herself, proudly.

Gabrielle walked over and offered one of the two plates to Xena, and took a seat beside her under
the blanket. They ate in relative silence, but the flavor of the food seemed dull and numb to Xena
as she struggled with the bard's feelings.

"You don't like it?" Xena heard Gabrielle ask after a few moments.

"Huh?" she asked, shaking herself into awareness.

"You're just pushing your food around. Too much spice?"

"No, it's fine. I was just thinking," Xena answered, absently. "Do you really feel like you’re a
burden to me?" she asked, suddenly.

Gabrielle breathed deeply to answer, then fell silent.

"Because you're not, you know. You are the single greatest thing in my life, and you could never
be a burden to me."

Gabrielle met the warrior's intense stare, letting her words absorb into her skin and settle on her
heart. She felt herself lifted up as if on air. "Thank you," the bard whispered.

"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior said, determinedly. "Know that, please."

The plea in Xena's voice caused a fierce ache in Gabrielle's heart. "I never doubt that, Xena.

With shared sweet smiles, the warrior and bard settled down into their bedroll, as Xena pulled the
wool blanket up over their shoulders. A warmth radiated between the two bodies that wrapped
itself around the warrior and bard, leaving them content and sheltered in the others arms. Xena
buried her face in Gabrielle’s golden hair, and breathed in the scent that was the bard. It was light
and fresh, and distinctively familiar. With each breath the warrior took, she took in the bard’s
essence, and held it in her lungs for as long as she could. For tonight they were warm, and their
stomachs were full, but most importantly they were together.


Gabrielle awoke with a start, clutching at her chest, gasping for air. Her heart beat was
hammering in her ear like a hummingbird's wings. It's begun, she though to herself. She lifted her
hand to her forehead, which was drenched with perspiration. She rolled over, and grabbed for the
waterskin, taking gulp after gulp of the ice cold water.


The bard lay back on the bedroll, trying to regain control of her breathing. She looked to the sky
for a hint of the time. The moon was high in the sky, signaling the depth of night. She looked
sideways at the warrior's profile and deliberated waking her, but decided against it picturing
Xena's worried eyes.

The pain in Gabrielle's chest subsided to a dull ache that throbbed with each breath she took. She
turned around on the bedroll to face Xena, and stared silently at the sleeping figure. A dangerous
foreboding arose in Gabrielle’s chest as she stroked the warrior’s cheek. It wasn’t a fear of the
unknown but rather an apprehension of a tragedy on the brink. She winced and shook away the
premonition, nestling closer to the warrior’s body, as the chill of the night sent chills up her spine.
Or was it that feeling of dread causing the chill bumps to rise on her arms?

Xena’s warmth absorbed into Gabrielle’s skin, and she breathed a sigh of relief at the comfort she
felt from just being in the warrior’s arms. “At the touch of love, I am warm,” Gabrielle whispered
to the cold night air. She closed her eyes, and fell into a deep dark sleep.


Xena woke with the sun, and found a hope in the day that hadn’t been there just yesterday. As a
gift to the bard, Xena caught and lay out to cook over the fire a freshly killed rabbit. Xena
expected the smell to soon wake Gabrielle, but even as the rabbit was done, still the bard hadn’t

The warrior knelt at Gabrielle’s side, and gently shook her shoulder. “Gabrielle?” the warrior said
softly. Still no response. “Gabrielle, wake up.” Xena’s voice now held a tone of worry, and she
shook the bard more adamantly.

With a great gasp for air, Gabrielle rose up sharply, as if in a panic. She took in rapid short
breaths, and clung to the warrior’s arm. “What is it, Gabrielle?” Xena asked, alarmed.

Gabrielle closed her eyes, and took deep slow breaths, wiping at her sleepy eyes. “I’m fine,” she
finally said. “It was just a bad dream.”

Suspiciously, Xena put her hand to Gabrielle’s throat, and found an even steady pulse if not a
touch fast. The warrior narrowed her eyes, and studied the bard, searching for any sign of
sickness. “Are you ok?” she asked with concern.

“Yeah,” Gabrielle sighed. “That was such a horrible dream.”

With a relieved smile, the warrior pulled her knees up and rested her elbows there. “You scared
me there for a minute.” She paused and blew out a breath. “What was your dream about?”

“I don’t want to tell you,” the bard answered, absently.

“What? You won’t tell me?” Flabbergasted, Xena lifted her eyebrows. “Was I in it?”

The bard smiled bashfully, as a crimson blush rose up to her cheeks. “Yes, but it wasn’t one of
those dreams,” she said with a light laugh.

“So, then tell me.” Now the warrior was delightfully curious, and she made it her goal of the day
to get the bard to tell her.

“No, I can’t, Xena. I don’t even want to remember it much less talk about it.”

“So, it was a nightmare.”

“To say the least.”

“I know what will chase your bad dreams away,” Xena said proudly as she rose to stand and
walked over to the fire, pulling the roasted fish off the fire.

“You cooked!” Gabrielle exclaimed. Suddenly, an unpleasant thought hit her. “Oh no. Is it fish?
Because the last time you cooked fish, the inside was runny, and I just don’t think I can handle
that right now,” she said playfully.

Defensively, the warrior answered, “That was a one time incident, and no, it isn’t fish. It’s rabbit,”
she announced, proudly.

“Mmmm, it smells good.” Gabrielle’s face lit up as she sniffed the air appreciatively. “I’m sorry, I
don’t mean to be so cautious about your cooking. It’s just that I can only deal with one poison in
my system at a time,” she quipped.

“Har har. I’m more than happy to leave the cooking to you.”

“Seriously, thank you,” the bard said, with her smile being the only appreciation Xena truly

“And seriously, you’re welcome.”

They settled down, enjoying the beauty of the Drakolimni Lake as they ate their breakfast.
Gabrielle knew rabbit had never tasted so good as it had that morning. To show her gratitude,
Gabrielle packed the saddle bag, and cleaned their camp site while Xena foraged further into the
woods to replenish her herb supply.

As they finished, Xena suggested a quick dip in the lake before they were on their way. Gabrielle
eagerly agreed, although she was dreading the sting of the frigid water. Xena tore off her leathers
and ran out into the lake’s small waves, where she dived deep into the water. Gabrielle took a
different approach and stepped into the chill of the lake one step at a time. She was up to her
waist, and trying hard to concentrate on anything except her frozen toes when a force knocked
her legs out from under her and propelled her backwards under the surface.

“Aaaah!” was the last thing she remembered before she was pulled back up above the water.
“Xena!” she fumed as much as a frozen bardcicle can. “Paybacks are tartarus, you know,” she

Xena laughed, and bounded under the surface again. She swam gracefully out toward the depths
of the lake, and looked back, searching for Gabrielle, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Gabrielle?” she called. Only silence answered her. “Gabrielle, come on. Where are you?”

This time in answer, the bard vaulted out of the water, and onto the warrior’s back where she
clung for dear life. “Ah hah!” Gabrielle declared. “I’ve got you now!”

“Only because I want to be got,” the warrior answered, playfully.

Slowly, Xena began swimming toward shore where her toes could touch the lake bottom.
Gabrielle held on to her back, and let her head fall back to the water, relishing the moment while it
lasted. Once they were near the shore, Xena padded out of the water long enough to grab the
soap, and then she padded back in. “You wash my hair first, then I’ll wash yours,” the warrior
suggested, handing Gabrielle the soap.

Xena closed her eyes, as her scalp began to tingle under Gabrielle’s ministrations. The bard
worked up a rich lather, and cupped handfuls of water to rinse away the soap. “How are you
feeling?” Xena asked, as Gabrielle washed away the last traces of lather.

Gabrielle thought to tell Xena about the pains in her chest that had awoken her in the night, but
decided that Xena was in much too good of a mood. Besides what could it help to tell the
warrior? She would only get upset, and Gabrielle hated to be the one to cause Xena pain. “I feel

“You’ll let me know if that starts to change, won’t you?”

The bard nodded her head in answer, and as she handed the soap back to Xena, she said, “There,
now it’s my turn.”

As Xena gently lathered Gabrielle’s hair, the warrior began to hum a tune that she remembered
her mother humming to her when she was a girl. The warrior’s beautiful voice washed away the
bard’s anxieties and soothed her soul in a way only Xena could. Xena’s fingers stroked the bard’s
long hair, and it brought Gabrielle to tremble beneath her touch. She wanted to say I love you, or
thank you, but she kept silent, just enjoying the melodious song. Besides, she thought to herself
with a smile, anything I could tell her, she already knows.


Chapter 7 Love And A Cough Cannot Be Hid

Revived and refreshed from the morning’s dip in the lake, Xena and Gabrielle found the path
leading up to the crest of Mount Eleni. Here, woodland and trees still surrounded and grew over
the trail acting like a canopy against the sun, blocking the little warmth the sun could provide. As
the air in the elevated mountains got thinner, so Gabrielle’s breathing came harder. Is it the
altitude or the poison, she asked herself. The warrior looked back to her often, slowing down
occasionally to let the bard keep up. Again and again she asked Gabrielle how she was doing, and
again and again the bard’s answer was ‘fine’.

Only two candlemarks into the trek Xena knew something was wrong. Where was the bard’s
familiar chatter and stories? Always she was telling stories, at night around the fire, riding behind
Xena on Argo, in an inn while waiting for dinner to be served. Today she was quiet and reserved,
distant and distracted. The rock strewn path became treacherous and steep, and several times
Gabrielle lost her footing, but was fortunately able to keep her feet beneath her.

“A storm may be coming,” Xena informed the bard when the sun was still high in the sky.

“How can you tell? The sky is so clear.”

“The wind picked up, and it’s blowing from the north. It usually preludes a storm, and it’ll be
snow this high up. Let’s move a little quicker. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” came Gabrielle’s predictable response.

They forged ahead, near doubling their pace. Just as Xena had predicted, dark ominous clouds
rolled in over the mountains, and soon a light flurry began to fall. They continued to hike the
arduous path, even as the path continued to get more and more steep. “We need to find
someplace warm to sleep tonight,” Xena called back over her shoulder through the howling

Gabrielle’s ears and nose were numb, and her fingers had begun to tingle with the cold. She could
only summon enough energy to nod her head, the rest of her reserves she gave over to putting
one foot in front of the other. It was only about a candlemark later that Xena found a gift from
above, a copse of trees sheltering a hollow in the side of the mountain.

“We’ll stop here for the night. I’ll gather some wood for a fire, and I want you to fill the
waterskins from the river.” As Xena collected wood, she also searched for any sign of hyssop, a
plant known for it’s painkilling ingredients. She found a small clump of the flower like herb, and
collected enough for the next three days. “She’ll need this tonight,”the warrior told herself,

When Xena returned, the bard had rolled out the bedroll, and poured a generous amount of the
water from the skins into a cooking pot. “I thought we could have stew tonight,” Gabrielle
commented through chattering teeth, as she threw their provisions of dried vegetables and herbs
into the pot.

Xena knelt at the mouth of the hollow, and soon she had a fire started in a fire pit she had dug.
She pulled a copper kettle from out of their saddle bags, and filled the kettle with the icy cold
stream water. When she had finished, she stood and walked over to the bard, where she knelt, and
looked closely at Gabrielle.

“Tell me the truth. How do you feel?”

Xena’s eyes were so intense that Gabrielle couldn’t even think of keeping the truth to herself any
longer. “My chest feels tight, and it’s painful to breath,” she admitted. “But that could just be the

Xena reached out her fingers to feel Gabrielle’s pulse point, and winced inwardly when she found
the rapid erratic heartbeat. “I don’t think so,” the warrior breathed, as she turned to check the
now boiling water. Oh no, she’s getting sick already, Xena thought as she pulled the kettle over,
and broke the hyssop into small bits and pieces and dropped them in the water and set it aside to

Next, Xena retrieved the birch bark she had collected the previous day. She placed the herb along
with a small amount of water into a small wooden bowl, and using a large spoon she began
pressing the birch into the water until it began to resemble a watery oil.

“What are you doing?” the bard asked quietly, as she watched the warrior’s preparations.

“I want you to lie down, and pull your tunic off.”

Obediently, Gabrielle pulled her heavy cloak and tunic off, and wrapped herself in the warm wool
blanket. “What is that for, Xena?”

The warrior crawled across the short distance between them, and sat cross legged in front of the
bard. “This will ease the pain in your chest and help open up your lungs. I want you to lie down
for me.” Gabrielle complied, and let the blanket fall to her sides, as she lay on her back in front of
Xena. “This won’t hurt,” the warrior promised as she pulled the wooden bowl into her lap.

Xena dipped two fingers into the oil, and tenderly she began to massage the ointment onto
Gabrielle’s chest and into her skin. Gabrielle closed her eyes, and surrendered to Xena’s
ministrations. The warrior’s smooth touch was like a balm to her aching body, and that small
amount of bodily contact was all the bard needed to breath a little easier.

When the last of the oil was gone, Xena pulled the blanket over and covered the bard. “I want you
to stay warm,” she added as she turned to pour a cup of the herbal liquid from the kettle of
hyssop. Carefully she handed the cup of the steaming liquid to Gabrielle. “Drink all of this, and I
promise you will sleep wonderfully tonight,” she said with a soft smile. Gabrielle smiled back, and
took the cup, sniffing curiously at the sweet aroma coming from the liquid.

“Sleep, just the word makes me feel better.”

“Let me put the stew on to cook,” Xena said as she placed the full cooking pot over the fire. With
a sigh, Xena settled on the bedroll at Gabrielle’s side and put her arm around the bard in an effort
to keep her warm.

“How long have you been feeling like this?” Xena asked, with a sideways glance at her partner.

“It started last night. I woke up, out of breath, and my chest felt like it was caving in on itself. I
wanted to tell you, but I didn’t want you to worry.”

“I wish that you had told me. You shouldn’t have pushed yourself so hard today...I shouldn’t have
pushed you so hard today,” Xena corrected herself. “I could have prepared the birch oil earlier, it
would have eased the pain sooner.”

It obviously bothered the warrior that Gabrielle hadn’t told Xena that she was hurting. “I’m sorry,
Xena,” the bard whispered as she leaned in closer to Xena’s body.

The warrior stroked Gabrielle’s hair gently, and let her head rest on the bard’s. “Everything’s
going to be all right. As soon as we get to the Ravensara, you’ll be fine,” Xena vowed.

A stillness settled over the couple’s shelter that brought with it a certain peace. “It’s so cold,”
Gabrielle said, with a shiver.

Xena pulled off her cloak, and wrapped the blanket around herself and the bard. They cuddled
closer together, taking comfort from the other’s presence. “Do you want to hear a story?”
Gabrielle asked.

That’s my bard, Xena thought to herself. “I would love to hear a story.”

Gabrielle smiled charmingly, and sat up a little straighter, beginning her tale.


On the birthday of King Philas, there was held a grand feast. Many were invited, among them
Plenty, who was wealthy and wise. The members of the celebration drank freely, and ate
luxuriously. Soon after, having drank much of the nectar, Plenty went out to the garden where he
fell into a heavy drunken sleep.

When the feast was over, Poverty, poor and foolish, came about the doors to beg for food or
drink. Poverty saw the beautiful form of Plenty sleeping in the garden, and considered her own
destitute circumstances. She plotted to have a child by Plenty, so she lay at his side and conceived

Because of his parentage, Love was always poor, and anything but tender and fair, as the many
imagine him. He was rough and squalid, and he had no shoes, nor a house to dwell in. On the bare
earth, exposed, he lay under the open heaven, in the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his
rest. Like his mother he was always in distress.

Like his father, Love was always plotting against the good and the fair. Love was bold,
adventurous, strong, a mighty hunter, and sharp in the pursuit of wisdom. He was by nature
neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he was in plenty, and
dead at another moment. Love was never in want and never in wealth.

Now Love grew to be a lover of all things beautiful, whether it be the blossoms in Spring, or the
prose of the poets. Most of all, though, Love adored the beauty of the people. He admired their
poise and grace, their wisdom and nobility. He wanted nothing more than to give himself to the
people, to serve and honor them. But as is the nature of people, he was taken and abused,
betrayed, wounded, and abandoned.

He thought to forsake the care of mankind, but then he came across two people, Niara the
warrior, and Siessa, her bard. Here Love saw two people who, like him, were bold, strong, and
mighty together. They were unlike any other, for they cared for the other above themselves. Love
came to the pair and the two flourished in their devotion to each other. Their bond grew to such
loyalty that one would battle the strongest forces for the other, to the point of suffering. One
would allow themselves to be tormented with hunger to see that the other ate. Love could make
these two dare to die for their beloved, love alone.

But as is Love’s personality, so was the relationship between Niara and Siessa. It was not tender
or fair on the night the two were forced to contemplate life without the other when Niara was
near fatally wounded.

In distress, Siessa called out for Love, and said, “Please, you can not take away the one that I love
in such a way.”

Love responded, “And what is it you would have me do?”

“Tell death to take me instead, in Niara’s place.”

At this, Niara awoke from her fever induced sleep, and whispered, “No, it is I death must take.
You must stay here, and know that I will wait for you.”

Love watched as the two looked to each other, and stated, “Who is death to listen to? You can
not say, “Death do this,” for she will not even hear me, Love. Say your good-byes for time is

“What?” Siessa raged. “You, Love, are dead to me if you can not save Niara.” And so was Love,
flourishing at one moment, and dead at the other.

Niara took Siessa’s hand, and pulled it to stroke at her cheek. “You would let our Love die so
easily? We must fight for it. Will you fight with me?”

Siessa pledged that she would forever fight with Niara, and in that pledge Love flourished again.
Niara would live, saved by Love.

Much time passed and so fragile was Love in his old age, that he feared he would soon expire. In
his wish to live forever Love gave himself to the warrior, and her bard. His only request was that
they never part from the other, in spirit nor in body. For then Love would be lost, and
directionless, forever in search of the love that the warrior and bard shared. Without this, Love
would have no meaning. Niara and Siessa pledged to never leave the other, and so they took up
Love within themselves.

Years later as Siessa lay on her death bed, Niara feared she would betray her promise to Love, for
soon death would separate the warrior and bard. Niara held Siessa as the cold hand of death stole
the bard from Niara’s embrace. Love was lost, and wandered aimlessly across the land. He sought
again the bond he had once found in Niara and Siessa, for only then could he fulfill his purpose.

And so Love would remain until a warrior and her bard would come along again to fulfill Niara
and Siessa’s broken promise.


“Is that the Siessa from the scroll we helped steal back?”

“The one and only,” Gabrielle answered.

The strength of the tale resonated in Xena’s heart. The story of the warrior and the bard seemed
strikingly familiar, and rightfully so. “And how true is that story?” Xena asked with a mischievous

“It’s only true if you believe Love to be lost.”

Xena bent her head and kissed Gabrielle’s head, tousling her hair. “Love hasn’t been lost to me
for a long time,” the warrior said, gratefully.

“Mmm,” the bard murmured as she lay her head on Xena’s shoulder. There was a tingle in her
chest that had replaced the painful ache, and feeling had returned to her frozen fingers and toes. A
warmth pervaded her, both inside and out. The warrior moved to stir the contents of the cooking
pot, and Gabrielle protested with a mumbled complaint. She lay down in the warmth left by
Xena’s presence, and wrapped the blanket further around herself. She found it hard to keep her
eyes open any longer and sleep tempted to overtake her, when she felt a warm hand on her cheek.
She looked up to see Xena standing over her, and she smiled groggily.

“Sit up and eat a little something. Then we can get some sleep.”

Gabrielle complied, and pulled herself up to sit cross-legged in front of the fire. The thick stew
was a welcome treat to her stomach, and she ate two full bowls to prove it. As she finished the
last spoonful, Gabrielle fell back to the soft bedroll, barely staying conscious long enough to pull
the blanket around her shoulders.

Xena put the eating utensils away and cleaned the cooking pot with the left over water from the
skins. She walked the short distance out past the sheltering copse of trees, and shivered as the
falling snow turned from flurries to flakes. She plunged the empty waterskins into the running
current of the river and filled the skins to prepare for their hike the next day. She had a moment to
think in the cold of the night, and she wondered how much longer the bard would even be able to
walk; a day, maybe two. Hopefully by then they would reach the crest of the mountain, where the
Ravensara was said to grow.

Slowly, Xena stood and shuffled through the light dusting of snow that covered the ground.
“Please stop snowing,” she pleaded to the sky above. “For Gabrielle, please.”

When she got back to the warmth of the shelter, she again checked Gabrielle’s pulse, which
seemed steady although weak. Her breathing was soft and deep, and Xena gave a sigh of relief
that her lungs still seemed strong.

More than anything Xena wanted to pull the blanket back and join Gabrielle, but instead she
pulled her sword from it’s sheath, along with her sharpening stone. She was too agitated to sleep
and much too restless to lie down just yet. With smooth rhythmic motions, the warrior pulled the
stone along the blade of the sword, finding the familiar action soothing. All the while she looked
over to the sleeping bard and watched the movement of her breath, slow and steady. It was almost
hypnotic in the comfort it gave Xena to watch each life giving breath that Gabrielle took. Soon
she couldn’t resist the temptation to hold the bard any longer, and she resheathed her sword and
walked over to where Gabrielle slept. She kneeled down, and stripped away her leathers leaving
only the soft shift she wore underneath. She slid into the bedroll, and wrapped her arms around
Gabrielle, who let out a soft sigh.

“I love you,” Xena whispered into the bard’s ear, and she lowered her head and closed her eyes.

“I love you, too,” came Gabrielle’s answering whisper bringing a smile to both their lips.

Chapter 8 Eat, Drink, And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die

The snow had fallen long and hard covering the paths and engulfing the trees in it’s blanket of
white. Any warmth the sun may have provided was prevented by the thick cloud cover that left
the air dim and inky with fog. Xena sighed in frustration at mother nature’s attempt to slow her
down, and became even more determined to reach the crest of Mount Eleni by that very evening’s

The warrior turned on her heel from the opening of their night’s shelter and poked the fire to
respark the embers to a brighter glow. As she had the night before, Xena again, prepared the
ointment of birch bark oil for Gabrielle’s chest, and made ready a full cup of the hyssop herbal
drink. If she was going to keep Gabrielle comfortable and free from pain, she knew she would
have to sedate her with the tranquilizing hyssop, which would also slow them down. The thought
of Gabrielle having to suffer through the trek up Mount Eleni, brought an angry ache to the
warrior’s chest, but the fear of not getting the bard to the Ravensara in time was one that
threatened to empty her stomach. She was at a quandary, an unthinkable choice even under the
best of circumstances, but impossible here in the heights of the Pindos mountain range, traveling
through three feet of snow, racing against time for an herb that might be able to save the woman
she loved. Either way she had to move quickly.

The warrior walked hastily around the fire, and knelt down on one knee on the bedroll, and shook
Gabrielle gently by the arm, but pulled back immediately at the warmth she felt emanating from
the bard’s skin. She rolled Gabrielle over, and felt of her forehead first, and her pulse point
second, wincing at the racing beat of Gabrielle’s heart. “Come on, Gabrielle,” she implored of the
seemingly unconscious woman. “Wake up.” She began shaking the bard more and more urgently.
“Wake up!” she demanded.

With great difficulty, Gabrielle opened her eyes to mere slits, and coughed in a weak, ragged gasp
for air. She tried desperately to sit up, but her muscles wouldn’t cooperate, and she fell back to
the bedroll.

“Hey,” Xena said with relief misting her eyes.

“Hey yourself,” the bard whispered through closed eyes.

“I know it’s hard for you to breathe, but that’s why I need for you to wake up, ok?”

Gabrielle nodded, and aided by Xena, she was brought to a sitting position, slowly and cautiously.
“Look at me,” Xena instructed as she studied the green eyes in front of her, noting the lack of
dilation. “Damn,” the warrior cursed as she rose to retrieve the saddle bag, and the herbs within.
Plan B, she told herself, as she pulled the small packet of thyme out, and placed a pinch into a
fresh empty cup. “Are you all right? Can you sit up by yourself?” Xena asked over her shoulder as
she poured heated water from the kettle into the cup. Instantly, the warrior walked back over to
Gabrielle and knelt before her placing the cup up to the bard’s pale lips. “This will strengthen your
lungs,” Xena promised, resolutely, denying herself any doubt whether it would work or not.

“I don’t feel so good today, Xena,” the bard admitted as she finished off the rest of the hot liquid.

Understatement of the week, Gabrielle, Xena told herself. “I know. The Lobelia is taking effect
quicker than I thought it would. Lay back down for me. I need to apply the ointment to your

Willingly, Gabrielle let her head fall back to the softness of the blankets, and closed her eyes
gratefully. With her tunic still resting at the side of the campsite on the branch of a poplar tree,
chill bumps covered the bard’s stomach and chest. Concerned, Xena warmed her hands at the fire,
and sat beside Gabrielle with the bowl of birch oil in her lap. Slowly with a fragile tenderness that
flowed from the warrior’s fingertips, Xena rubbed her hands cautiously over Gabrielle’s cool skin.

The relief it provided brought an urgent moan from Gabrielle’s throat. She squeezed her eyes
tightly shut, and gave herself over to the comfort given at Xena’s touch. The only thing more
consoling than Xena’s presence was the certain knowledge that Xena would never let her die. She
felt she could let go and know she would fall in safe, sure hands. She focused on the steady
rhythm of Xena’s hands only, blocking out the exhaustion, the fatigue, and most of all the weight
which threatened to crush her chest.

Xena placed the last of the oil onto Gabrielle’s skin, and massaged it thoroughly, noticing with a
small grin that the chill bumps had disappeared. “Come on, we’ve got to get you on your feet.”
With a tug from Xena, and a groan of protest from Gabrielle the bard was pulled to a wavering
stand. “Any dizziness?” the warrior asked warily.

“A little, but I’m feeling a bit better now.”

“Are you sure? This isn’t the time to play the part of the stoic bard.”

“I’m sure.”

“Can you walk?”

Gabrielle thought seriously about the question, and hated that it was even a reasonable query.
“Yes,” she finally decided.

Xena’s hands itched at the indecision that assaulted her common sense. A part of the warrior
begged her to leave Gabrielle here, where it was warm and safe, instead of dragging her up the
mountain. Another, more demanding side implored that the warrior must not separate herself from
Gabrielle, leaving her here alone.

It was that side of Xena that refused to leave the bard that eventually won out, and as Gabrielle
ate a small meal of stale dry bread and an assortment of dried fruits, Xena picked up their sparse
camp, and refilled the waterskins with fresh water. Not even half a candlemark later, the warrior
and bard were walking through the shin deep snow, following a trail through the wooded
mountains that had all but disappeared.

Gabrielle walked slowly, with her head bent down, the hood of her cloak concealing her face from
the biting northern winds. As much as she tried to hide her fleeting breath and the pain that came
with it from Xena, there was one thing she could not hide, and that was the brutal cramps that
shot down her legs at every step she took. She winced in pain at the force of the jolt to her thighs
when she had to climb an especially slippery rock forcing Xena to stop immediately and gauge the
bard's ability to continue.

"We have to go back," she declared as she again felt Gabrielle's racing pulse.

"No, Xena. We can't," Gabrielle entreated of the warrior. "Please, we have to keep going."

With indecision clouding her vision, Xena reluctantly agreed, and once again they were
traveling through the foggy depths of the craggy path upward toward the peak of Mount Eleni.

"Why does the herb only grow on the crest of Mount Eleni?" Gabrielle asked, hoping
conversation would take her mind off the numbing cold working it's way up her frozen feet.

"The cold probably preserves the root, where the antidote is located. As for why Eleni, I must
admit I'm not sure. I do know that it had a lot to do with why King Wryan chose the Lobelia herb,
knowing it's only cure could be found in the sword's opposite direction."

Gabrielle hadn't thought about the sword in days, but now that she had been reminded a new
hopelessness fell on her shoulders. It would all be for naught, she told herself, if she died here.
That thought alone renewed her stubborn determination to continue breathing. One look at Xena
though, and she knew without a doubt that she had to live...for the warrior. Gabrielle smiled sadly
at the look of willful bullheadedness Xena carried unveiled on her face. Gabrielle loved her for
that relentless drive she carried so gracefully, but loved her even more for her submission to
Gabrielle's affections.

A sudden loss of breath took Gabrielle to her knees, and scattered her thoughts like feathers to
the wind. Immediately she felt Xena at her side, her hands on her head, her neck, her cheeks, and
finally her lips.

Xena panicked at the sight of Gabrielle's cold blue lips, her numb eyes, and her darting heart
beat. Gabrielle was worsening by the minute, and Xena could feel the life leaving the bard's body.

Somewhere from a point just beyond awareness, but not quite past unconsciousness,
Gabrielle felt herself being lifted from the ground, cradled by strong warm arms. She gratefully
sank into the comfort she found in this embrace, and mumbled soft assurances. "I'm just a little
tired. Give me a minute...I'll be all right."

"It's ok, I've got you," Gabrielle heard the warrior say from somewhere beyond her foggy vision.

"You were right after all," the bard whispered after a time.

"About what?" she heard in response.

"You're carrying me up the mountain," Gabrielle answered, with a strange sad smile.

"You know I would carry you anywhere, even a mountain. Prove my love, isn't that what you

"You don't have to, Xena. I already know."

The warrior looked to the bard, whose eyes had now closed. "Stay with me," Xena begged of the
weak woman, taking deliberate wary steps across the uneven terrain, holding Gabrielle close to
her cloak, offering any warmth her body could provide. Xena continued to plow through the
densely packed mountain snow, unable to see where rock gave way to earth. She didn’t know
how long she walked, only that the sun steadily disappeared behind mountain tops leaving only a
faint orange glow, radiating off Gabrielle’s ashen skin.

The bard tried to wake several times, but was always pulled back under the oblivion of sleep. Her
short gasps for air had turned to a weak wheezing, as her body struggled to continue breathing.
Xena gave herself over to the knowledge that they would not reach the crest of Mount Eleni this
day, and she feared that the bard wouldn’t make it through the night.

It wasn’t until evening fell that Xena found a low cut out in the mountain wall, scarcely large
enough for the two women to fit lying down. The warrior lay Gabrielle on the snow covered
ground and cleared leaves and debris from the hollow. At it’s mouth, she cleaned away the snow,
until she reached the moistened dirt beneath and built a feeble fire of the dry twigs and tinder from
the hollow.

Warily, Xena touched Gabrielle’s cheek with her hand, and started at the still coldness that had
enveloped the woman’s cheeks, and lips. The bard’s hands were like ice, stiff and rigid. In a panic,
Xena pulled Gabrielle’s cloak and tunic off her body, and laid them out by the fire to warm. The
warrior spread the bedroll on the floor of the cut out in the wall, and gently picked up the bard
and moved her onto the bedroll. Xena carefully pulled Gabrielle’s boots and linen trousers off,
throwing two heavy wool blankets over her chilled body. She fed the fire more wood, and pulled
her own tunic off, along with the shift she wore underneath. Xena left both pairs of clothes resting
by the fire to dry. Cautiously, she crawled into the narrow space and climbed under the blankets,
joining Gabrielle.

Xena pulled the bard close to her, and wrapped her arms around her shoulders, running her hands
up and down Gabrielle’s arms in an attempt to create enough friction for warmth. Exhausted, and
weary, Xena let her head fall on Gabrielle’s shoulder and stifled tears that threatened to fall.

“Gabrielle?” she whispered, hoarsely. She reached out and felt the woman’s pulse point finding a
weak unsteady rhythm beneath her fingers. Xena turned over and pulled the waterskins from
under the pile of cold, wet clothes, and tried to tilt Gabrielle’s head up to take water. “You have
to drink some water, Gabrielle. Do you hear me?” the warrior demanded.

A mumbled whimper escaped Gabrielle’s lips and she turned her head fractionally to face Xena.
“I’m not thirsty,” she muttered, unintelligibly.

Relieved to the point of frenzied laughter that the bard had awoken, Xena put the tip of the
waterskin to Gabrielle’s lips and forced a trickle of the liquid down the bard’s parched throat. “I
want you to stay awake for a while, ok?”

“I can’t Xena,” Gabrielle answered, her eyes still closed. “I’m so tired...so cold.”

“I know, but it’s important.” Xena’s mind raced. “I know,” she finally said, “tell me a story.”

“I can’t...please,” the bard begged.

“How often is it that I ask for a story?” Xena said, trying to convince the bard to stay awake as
long as she could.

There was a painful silence that echoed in Xena’s heart, and she stared intensely at Gabrielle’s
closed eyes, willing her to stay awake. Finally, Gabrielle slowly opened dark swollen eyes, the fire
causing the familiar green of her iris to turn a dark violet.

The bard’s breath came rapid and with great effort, taking the last of her strength. She nodded
and as she spoke, a voice both soft and rich filled the small cave with a melody that pierced
Xena’s soul.

“A Rose and an Amaranth blossomed side by side in a garden, and the Amaranth said to her
neighbor, "How I envy you your beauty and your sweet scent. No wonder you are such a
favorite." But the Rose replied with a shade of sadness in her voice, "Ah, my dear friend, I bloom
but for a time: my petals soon wither and fall, and then I die. But your flowers never fade, even if
they are cut; for they are everlasting."

Xena unleashed raw tears that so needed to fall at the bard’s choice of words. “Why that story?”
she need to know.

“It’s one of Aesops’s famous fables. It reminded me of you,” Gabrielle answered softly.

“You’re not going to die,” Xena wept, but whether it was her or Gabrielle she was trying to
convince, she wasn’t sure.

“But if I do,” the bard breathed, “promise me that you will go on. Promise me you’ll find the
sword and take it to King Aimon.”

“No,” Xena cried. “You promise me that you'll hold on!”

“I promise to stay as long as I can,” Gabrielle assured. “A promise for a promise?”

“I would do anything for you.”

“I know,” Gabrielle said with a tired smile. “You’ll find the sword?”

“Yes,” Xena answered, her eyes cast to the ground. She tried to shake away the fear that
Gabrielle wouldn’t survive and concentrated on her hope that she would. She pulled herself closer
to the bard’s body and focused on the warmth that created by their bodies was stronger than any
the fire could provide.

“I feel this flutter in my chest,” Gabrielle suddenly sighed. “You know that odd sensation when
your heart skips a beat. I get it a lot when I see you walk into a room, but it feels different this

Xena knew why it felt so different, it was caused by heart palpitations, and Xena also knew the
bard didn’t have much time. With a final decision, Xena squeezed Gabrielle tightly once, and lifted
herself out of the blankets, and pulled her sodden shift back over her body, followed by her tunic
and boots. The warrior took one of the waterskins, leaving the other for Gabrielle.

She refused to lie here while Gabrielle descended deeper and deeper into infirmity. She knelt
beside the bard and kissed her gently on the side of the mouth. “I love you,” she whispered.

“Where are you going?” Gabrielle asked, weakly.

“I’m going to find the Ravensara.”

“Hurry,” Gabrielle pleaded, quietly.

“I won’t be long,” she vowed, and with a last thought she leaned to Gabrielle’s ear and softy said,
“Remember your promise.”

“And you remember yours,” Gabrielle answered in return. Xena stood hesitantly, battling within
herself to know if this was truly right, leaving her here alone. With a final resolve, she took up her
cloak and threw it over her shoulders, sliding her arms into the sleeves. Xena looked once more at
the bard and winked reassuringly before turning to leave.

“Xena?” she heard from behind her. The warrior turned back again. “I love you,” Gabrielle
whispered once more.

“I know,” Xena answered, struggling not to show the frenzied emotions raging inside of her. With
a final nod, she stepped around the fire, and headed off at a run up the mountain path.


Chapter 9 The Darkest Hour Is That Before The Dawn

All night Xena walked, a moment seeming a candlemark, and a candlemark seeming a day as
Xena traveled alone, the woodland giving way to dense shrubbery, leaving only snow and rock to
greet the warrior as she ascended a ledge leading up to the crest of Mt. Eleni. The rock was a
sleek black that seemed cold and dead, and was in striking contrast to the billowy white hills that
gave a soft edge to otherwise sharp crags of stone. The snow had diminished to a fine powder
that blew in and out of Xena’s clouding vision, as she pulled herself up the ridge with bloodied
hands, and frozen limbs.

With ragged gasps for breath, Xena rolled onto the summit, forcing herself to her knees, and from
there up to a standing position. In contrast to her journey here, Xena thought the crest to be
rather flat and dull comparatively. There seemed to be no vegetation this high up, and for a
moment Xena panicked, but it was then that the warrior saw a clump of verdant green leaves that
poked up out of the layer of snow that had long ago covered everything, living or not.

In numb awareness, Xena ran, and came to a jarring halt when she reached the protruding plant,
where she fell heavily to her knees. She thrust her hands deep into the snow, and clawed furiously,
shoveling it away. A single stem rose from the frozen earth, shooting up in a daring defiance to
mother nature. How this green plant flourished in the biting cold of the mountain temperatures,
Xena did not know, short of a divine miracle.

She pulled a leaf from the plant and put it to her nose, marking the sharp fragrance it emitted. The
warrior then split the leaf, releasing a milky substance that ran freely down Xena’s thumb.
Tentatively, Xena put her tongue to the substance, and tasted the oil, which she found to be
intensely acrid. She cringed at the bitterness, but a part of her exalted in relief, for she knew this
was the Ravensara herb. Xena picked several of the healthiest leaves and placed them securely in
her herb pouch. She stood, wincing internally at the ache within her knees, knowing the trip back
would be only marginally easier than the trek here.

The warrior pulled the waterskin from within her cloak, and took a long drink, relishing the cold
water on her parched throat. With a last deep breath of air, Xena looked around at the landscape
that surrounded her. In the far distance she could see the peak of Mt. Gamila, where the sword of
the Mountain Kings rested. A haunting memory assaulted her senses suddenly, bringing Xena to
close her eyes.

A soft moonlit night, various night creatures performing their nocturnal dance, their voices
combining in a delicate harmony to serenade the two women who had made camp in a thicket of
wildflowers, sweet and fragrant. One woman, her soft fair hair wafting in the slight cool breeze
shifts slightly, putting away a quill and parchment, content and snug, sitting at the shoulder of
another woman, this one tall and dark...a warrior.

After a moment the smaller woman looks expectantly to the warrior, with a shining sparkle in her
clear green eyes. She smiles, illuminating the small campsite, bringing the stoic warrior to turn
away from the sharpening of her sword. An intense moment passes, the two women staring,
perceiving the other’s silence, and even the creatures of the woods stop all their chatter to hear
their words.

“I wrote something, do you want to hear it?” the smaller woman asks, shyly.

The warrior nods with a hint of a smile playing on her sanguine lips. She waits, holding her
breath, in anticipation.

The beautiful blonde doesn’t need to look to her scroll for the words, she summons them from
her heart, releasing a breath, and bringing herself to look the warrior eye to eye. Emerald green
into a glacial blue, soft into hard, warm into cold, yet the hardness turns soft, and the cold turns
warm at the sight of the one the warrior so loves.

The bard’s soft melodic voice carries into the wind, and whispers delicately into the warrior’s
ears, for she knows these words are for her heart only.

“I find myself getting lost in you,
and without you,
I find myself
searching to be lost in you again.”

Her words hold a question, begging to be answered. The warrior reaches a graceful hand
forward, answering the bard’s question with a soft caress of her cheek. In the answer she says,

“You live and vanquish within me,
and I move and breathe in you,
and I have life and being.”

A single thought is shared, if not in words, then in spirit, and the two women find themselves with
light hearts and unshed tears. Theirs is a love unlike any other, for their hearts beat to the same
rhythm and their love is a friendship set to music.

A smile came unbidden to Xena’s lips at the recollection, and she greedily played the scene over
and over in her mind, as sharp northern winds bit at her exposed skin. A savage determination
flowed through Xena’s blood, hot and angry, pushing her as she descended the ridge overlooking
the path she had just journeyed. Somewhere down there is my bard, Xena thought to herself,
feeling a desperate need to hurry.

As she scrambled down the rocks, all grace bereft of her motions, Xena stopped, her ears tingling.
A single whispered thought assaulted her senses, screaming, yet silent all at once.

“Hurry...” a voice calls.

In answer, Xena doubled her pace, throwing caution to the wind, her footsteps placed in the hope
that she would not find craters or holes hidden beneath the snow. A fine film of perspiration had
formed on her forehead despite the freezing temperatures, bringing a bone deep chill to settle on
Xena’s body.

A single thought drove her forward at a fleeting pace...Gabrielle. Night had turned to day, and
now day, again, had turned to night as Xena approached the crevice in the rock where she had left
Gabrielle. The first thing the warrior noticed from a few paces away was that the fire had long ago
died out, leaving only a pile of ashes, while a small assemblage of timber and twigs still sat
unburned beside the fire.

Xena rushed past the fire pit, and knelt down, her eyes searching through the darkness for
Gabrielle, and it was then that she saw her. She was still wrapped in the double layer of blankets,
the heavy wool covering resting on top, her head turned at an odd angle away from the cavern
opening. Her body lay motionless, frighteningly unconscious, one hand laying outside of the
protective warmth. Xena reached out cautiously and took the bard’s hand in her own, gasping as
she felt the frozen skin. She let the moonlight fall over her shoulder, illuminating the hand in an
eerie glow, and a ragged breath escaped her throat as she saw the blue fringe on the edge of each

Immediately, she forced Gabrielle’s body to turn toward her, and a frightening voice lifted into the
air, “Gabrielle?” The bard’s eyes were closed, in illusive sleep, but a blue tint had crawled into the
bard’s normally cherry red lips, and onto her eyelids, seeping over onto the skin beneath her eyes.
Her chest did not rise with breath, nor could Xena feel a pulse as she reached out to find her
heartbeat. Her hand shaking, the warrior placed her hand on Gabrielle’s cheek, and felt a whisper
of warmth.

She inhaled deeply, and immediately threw the blankets off the bard’s bare body, placing her ear
to the still chest, begging to hear even the faintest of heartbeats, but finding none. Without her
knowledge panicked tears coursed down her cheeks unchecked as she placed her mouth to
Gabrielle’s still moist lips, forcing her own breath into the bard’s lungs. The feel of the warrior’s
warm lips pressing against Gabrielle’s deathly cold lips brought a shocked sob to the surface.
Xena fought to find air, but her lungs refused to open.

“Breathe!” she commanded through frenzied tears. Again, she pressed her lips to the bard’s and
blew life giving breath into the bard’s unwilling body.

“Please breathe!” she yelled again. With all her desperate strength, the warrior compressed her
hands down hard on Gabrielle’s chest, willing the bard to take a breath. Again she pushed, and
again, to no avail. Xena, still kneeling on her knees, let her shoulders slump as she wept, stroking
the soft skin of her love’s pale cheek. She bent low, and pulled the bard into her arms, tenderly
cradling her head against her chest. She rocked gently back and forth, as fierce sobs racked her
aching body.

A violent cry tore from Xena’s throat, carrying into the wind and through the mountains, one
after the other until only a whispered wail could be heard from the warrior’s raw throat. “You
promised me,” she whispered into Gabrielle’s ear, her head still resting beneath the warrior’s chin.

A thought struck her suddenly, and she lay the bard carefully back down on the bedroll. She
jerked a tattered leaf of the Ravensara herb from her pouch, and tore the leaf into small shreds,
letting the milky oil collect in the palm of her hand. When Xena felt she had enough, she threw the
pouch across the campsite, and laid beside Gabrielle, holding her hand over the bard’s mouth. She
forced her hand to stop trembling as she let the oil drip slowly onto Gabrielle’s lips. The warrior
waited, with breath held, while only the whistling wind could be heard from the silent cavern. Still
the bard lay, motionless, her hands lying folded across her exposed stomach.

Xena let her head fall to the ground, her eyes staring at Gabrielle’s lifeless body. She let her hand
roam the bard’s face, following the laugh lines around her mouth, the swollen bruised skin under
her eyes, her delicate lips, and as her hand caressed the soft skin of her forehead, a sob broke the
aching silence, and Xena let herself break into painful, uncontrollable sobs that shook her body.
The warrior wrapped her hand into Gabrielle’s hair, and nestled her body next to the bard’s, a
weary shiver running through her body.

She fell into a fevered sleep, a voice calling over and over again, “Hurry...” She runs and runs,
but she can’t reach the cavern, can’t reach Gabrielle. At last, she falls at the foot of the long
since dead fire at the entrance of the bard’s shelter. She hears herself say, “Gabrielle? I’m here,
Gabrielle.” But no answer greets her.

She crawls forward slowly, edging past the fire, knowing what she will find. Just as she fears she
sees Gabrielle, but this time her eyes are open, unseeing. With new sobs she reverently closes the
bard’s eyes, and again she touches the woman’s face, noting every detail, locking it away.

“You made it,” a voice calls from behind.

Xena turns, finding the voice unrecognizable. She sees, standing before her, a tall man, with a
delicate soft face, kind green eyes, and an enchanting smile. He is wearing a light leather vest,
and simple linen trousers. His hair is dark, but short and elegantly groomed. “You made it,” he
says again.

“Who are you?” Xena whispers.

He looks offended as he says, “I thought you would know me.” She shakes her head in
confusion. “I am Love,” he announces, proudly.


Love looks past Xena’s shoulder and sees the still form of the bard. “Tsk, tsk, tsk...what a

Xena looks back as well, and a fresh tear runs down the bridge of her nose. “Can you save
her?” the warrior asks, desperately.

Love shakes his head, “She’s been gone for over a candlemark.”

Xena puts her hand to her mouth in an attempt to smother further tears. She looks to Love with

“She’s dead Xena. You do know that, don’t you?”

The word drives Xena to the ground, new waves of grief pouring over her. “There has to be
something you can do. I can’t lose her,” the warrior begs.

“Such a common mistake you make. Death doesn’t separate, unless you allow it to. Such a
common mistake,” he says again, shaking his head.

“She’s gone,” Xena cries.

“Or is she?” Love asks, cryptically.

With a start, Xena awoke, reminded again of her loss, as she felt the familiar presence of Gabrielle
so close, yet so far away. The warrior rose her head, slowly to look on the beautiful face, finding
any life that had been there the night before to be gone. Like the blade of a sword, it pierced her
stomach, and by instinct, she pulled herself out of the cave and away from the campsite, her
stomach heaving, having nothing of substance to wretch. She lay in the wet snow for some time,
letting the chill wind revive her.

The warrior brought herself to a stand, and stumbled back to the cavern, where she dropped to
her knees. New tears found their way, and spilled from Xena’s red rimmed eyes. In one sweeping
motion, she pulled the blanket from Gabrielle’s body, seeing again the Lobelia’s effects.
Reverently, she pulled the bard’s clothes from beside the dead fire, and gingerly placed them on
Gabrielle’s body. One at a time, the thick tunic, the linen trousers, and finally the worn boots. Her
stomach threatened to betray her again, as a fresh wave of mourning hit her.

Xena placed a hand beneath Gabrielle’s shoulders, and another beneath her knees. In a fluid
movement, the warrior stood, holding the bard’s body protectively against her chest. She lowered
her head, and placed a single kiss against her forehead, letting her cheek brush the fair skin. “I’ll
take you home. I promise,” the warrior whispered. A shocking memory hit her, nearly driving her
to her knees.

“You’re not going to die,” Xena wept, but whether it was her or Gabrielle she was trying to
convince, she wasn’t sure.

“But if I do,” the bard breathed, “promise me that you will go on. Promise me you’ll find the
sword and take it to King Aimon.”

“No,” Xena cried. “You promise me that you'll hold on!”

“I promise to stay as long as I can,” Gabrielle assured. “A promise for a promise?”

“I would do anything for you.”

“I know,” Gabrielle said with a tired smile. “You’ll find the sword?”

“I never break a promise,” Xena whispered again. She held Gabrielle securely in her arms, as she
took her first step toward the sword of the Mountain Kings.


To Be Continued...

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