Chicken Soup for the Warrior's Soul


by Lisa Grandstaff


The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo, Cyrene and any other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, along with the backstory, are the sole copyright of MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended by writing this "fan fiction" story. The characters of Jessora, Kerekes, Jori and Ocypete, as well as the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of myself, Lisa Grandstaff/WarriorScholar. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for the reader's own use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

In addition: This story can be considered "alt"indicating that it contains some scenes of "same sex" love, so be forewarned if you don't care for it. Thank You.

Part I

TRAPPED IN THE HEAT OF SUMMER'S MIDDAY SUN, THE SOUNDS of the meadow insects grew hypnotic. The warrior stopped and her horse quickly halted beside her, eager to sample the leafy shrub beneath her nose. In all directions, nothing but the murmuring of tall grasses and the intermittent cry of a bird announced their quiet entrance into the clearing.

"C'mon girl. Not much further now. There'll be water for you when we get there."

The mare snorted loudly and pushed her soft muzzle into the woman's shoulder, lipping her ebony hair. The sound of her rider's voice held sway over her most mundane activities. One more shove brought the sought-after hands to her neck; the scratching behind hot ears, then the quick rub between the eyes.

"All right. Let's go."

They resumed their slow, deliberate pace through the underbrush and grass, not really feeling any sense of urgency on this day. Only the numbing heat was a reminder that their destination was beckoning. At the edge of the meadow, the pair found a worn foot track that emerged from under two small, twisted trees. They followed it to the crest of the gently rising hill, then stopped once more.

Below, a sizable village lay sprawled in the dry valley, roads painting a light brown stripe through goldenrod fields undulating languidly in the hot noon breezes. Dark specks spoke of the inhabitants coming and going on their daily errands and chores. The larger buildings were arranged centrally at a distance of several miles from the hilltop's vantage point. They clustered in a rectangular conglomeration, presenting their backs to the surrounding hills. Through the thick, turgid air, they appeared to shimmer and shift in a ritual dance of communion.

It felt like a hundred lifetimes since she had been here under better circumstances. Each time, returning to Amphipolis was like going to the temple of Artemis for her first shriving, so many years ago. Anticipation, anxiety, eagerness and apprehension all rolled into a knot in her stomach. If only coming home could feel better....

It wasn't just the time spent on the road that drove her back to Amphipolis. It was always as if the village itself held secrets from her: its windmills and wells whispering from above and below, its creaking structures and complaining brickwalls grunting in guttural tones, the reedy voices of its thatched roofs hissing their reprimands in a collective cant. The mosaic that was 'home' was an incomplete work, its pattern not yet completed. She knew the missing pieces were within herself, and each homecoming yielded small but priceless gems from her own uncharted depths. This particular visit would be an impromptu one, with little advanced warning for her mother.

She stared down past her booted feet, examining the trail closely. Small, dusty stones lay scattered in nature's perfectly random patterns. Ants scurried across the open ground, their manic parade in pointed contrast to her own unrushed progress along the path. This particular point of the road held a profound connection to a time long gone, a part of her life that almost always eluded her. She halted again, letting unbidden images flood her tired body.

She looked to her left, and whispered a hello to the scarred olive tree whose branches were perpetually bowed by some unseen burden. As a child, the tree had at first scared her, then later summoned her to discover all its mysteries. She and her brothers had swung from its lowest branches many times, sharing their thirst for adventure among the gnarled limbs with the other village children. High-pitched laughter echoed in her head... children's voices called out in exuberant joy. She let memories of simple pleasures wash over her like a cool evening breeze.

Her horse's whinny broke the spell.

"Sorry, girl. I know you're thirsty. So am I."

She mounted the mare smoothly and clucked to her. As they descended, the hillside became steeper, but the road was uniform and unrutted. Wagons and carts seldom came this way. The eastern road into town, while slightly more circuitous, was flatter and safer. It followed the river Strymon for many miles, making it that much more attractive for laden vehicles. This hilly roadway was traditionally saved for horseback or pedestrian use. It cut through the small mountain chain rising from the valley's northern perimeter, rendering itself picturesque but impractical for most common purposes.

Eventually, the ground leveled out as they reached the valley floor. The view of the town was now obscured by farm crops and low-growing fig trees. She did not need to see anything-- her feet and her horse's feet knew the way home without any conscious effort. In a matter of fifteen minutes or so, her arrival would send miniature shock waves through the core of the community. That fact always bothered her-- nothing could be done about it, however. This was her home, like it or not. And that was exactly the way the people of Amphipolis saw it.

IN SPITE OF THE STIFLING HEAT, THE MAIN ROAD through town was quite busy. Wagons rolled by, kicking up a choking dust. Poorer souls, laden with the day's goods, returned home on foot, sweat-streaked and filthy, victims of the summer drought in more ways than one. The sporadic darting of chickens and goats across the busy lane made progress even more interesting.

At one point, she noticed a group of men and women on a wooden loading platform watching her closely, some plainly frowning. She smiled and nodded solemnly in their direction. One man, taller and heavier than the others in the group, saluted her grimly. Their conversation did not resume until well after she had ridden by.

Many smiles greeted her, nonetheless. She felt foolish, but knew it was necessary to return the enthusiasm with recognition. She waved to the children, nodded to the adults. It seemed so unreal to her... the adulation of her own townsfolk. This was one place she could never return to without shadowy figures floating just beneath the surface of her awareness. Behind every pleasantly upturned face, she could imagine a grimy, bloody one, lying dead or dying on the hills outside of town. It would be her legacy, her own private binding chain-- forged of each man and woman who had given their life-- tied to her by the bloody revolt against Cortese. Amphipolis was free, true... but her heart had never escaped the indenture of that short, violent uprising.

Up ahead, the tavern roof grew larger as she approached the intersection in the road. The mare, sensing their final destination, shifted forward into a fine trot, swiftly covering the remaining ground, her ears pricked upright, tail held high.

There would be no surprise factor: news always traveled faster than a mounted warrior could. A shout went up inside the tavern, and within seconds, a well-tanned stable boy was reaching for her reins. Her mother walked through the open doorway, wiping perspiration from her forehead with a damp cloth. Her work dress was rumpled slightly, but revealed a figure that belied her age and hard-working lifestyle. She clasped her hands together and released a sigh of happiness mingled with relief.

"Xena! Are you well? Come inside, out of the sun. I've got a table waiting for you already." She held out her hand, and waited for her daughter to take it. They passed through the entrance together, the younger woman's shoulder even with the graying, curly head beside her. Cyrene motioned toward a table in the corner near the kitchen that had been cleared without delay.

"Sit down. Have something to drink. What would you like?"

"I think water will be just fine. Will you sit with me?"

"Why, of course! And don't worry. .. Jori will make sure Argo is watered before he does anything else."

"Good." Xena sat in one of the two chairs, and began removing her scabbard and bracers. Cyrene went off in the direction of the bar, giving her daughter time to make a more presentable guest of herself. Lacking the opportunity to wash the road dust off of her leather and boots disturbed her, but most of the other patrons were similarly grimy. She still felt uncomfortable. It had been months since she'd been back, and it would've been nice to look and smell better! A bath would have to wait until later.

Cyrene skillfully wove her way back through the tables, calling out to her help, jesting with her customers, and casting occasional glances at the doorway. When she reached the table where Xena sat, she placed a tray laden with figs and dates, melon slices, cheese, and a large pitcher of water onto the tabletop, then slid into the other chair, smiling warmly.

"I've missed you, Xena. I wish you didn't stay away for so long."

"Mother, you know why--"

"Yes, oh yes!" she interrupted. "I can still wish, can't I? I never dreamed I'd have my daughter back-- not in any form! So forgive me for wanting a little bit more of your time." She turned and looked toward the doorway again.

"What are you looking for, Mother?"

"Xena!" a man shouted abruptly. "How many other villages have been hit by the drought? What of Iolcus? Halus? Itonus?"

A loud muttering went up among the crowd. Cyrene's face darkened with anger, and she stood. Xena grabbed her hand and motioned her back to her seat.

"It's all right." She rose, and straightened to her full height.

"Listen well, then. Each town or village I have passed through has suffered in one way or another from the dry spell. Itonus was busy planning a festival for Demeter, and in Halus, the first citizen had called for a poetry contest, so that the winner could offer his poem in supplication of rain. I heard from a merchant that Iolcus has declared rationing already, and everywhere else, the people are desperately seeking ways to call upon the gods for help and for rain."

"That's enough! Let her enjoy her food!" Cyrene shouted from behind her. The crowd grew quieter, and Cyrene pointed to Xena's seat. With an amused smile, she obeyed her mother. After several long drinks of water, the fruit and cheese looked positively inviting... and the dates were fresh and moist. Cyrene lifted her left hand from her lap, and sat a small cloth sack in front of her daughter.

"For you, my baby girl."

Cyrene laughed at her daughter's look of utter astonishment.

"Go ahead, look in there."

Xena carefully opened the draw strings and peered inside. A genuine grin broke through her weariness. Inside nestled three of the largest shortbreads she'd seen in ages! And each one was lumpy with berries!

"Mother! How did you... where did you--- ? Did you make these yourself?" she asked suspiciously.

"Of course not! When have you ever known me to bake?" she chuckled. "I had Mother Cratus make them. She's the best baker I know."

"Mother Cratus? I've always wondered why they tasted so delicious. That explains it."

Cyrene raised her hand above her head and snapped her fingers twice. A barmaid arrived with a mug and sat it down in the center of the table. Cyrene pushed it toward Xena.

"Go on, drink. I made sure I had some goat's milk on hand when I found out you were on your way."

Xena shook her head in amazement. Perhaps sending word through a messenger to her mother hadn't been such a bad idea. The bites of melon slid down her throat, their cool moistness sating her body's deeper thirst. It was actually nice to be anticipated for a change. She disposed of the figs and dates rapidly, her hunger finally getting the upper hand. Her mother had prepared for her arrival in such an unexpected way... a way far sweeter than their first bitter reunion four years ago. She took one shortbread out of the sack and stared at it until her mouth watered. When she judged that a sufficient time had passed, she took a large bite of it.

Cyrene glanced at the doorway, then back across the table to watch her daughter eating the berry treat as if she were only ten years old again. A special and long-absent smile spread across her face... all three of her children had enjoyed this particular recipe, and it suddenly occurred to Cyrene that she was grateful Mother Cratus was still around-- She forcefully broke her train of thought and reached for the empty tray and pitcher.

"Would you like more water, Xena?"

"No. Really, I'm fine for now."

"You look exhausted to me. Are you sure you're all right? I haven't seen you look so drawn out before."

"Honestly. I'm fine. I guess I'm just tired from traveling in all this heat. I'm tired and ...." She let her words trail off, afraid to go any further.

"Xena? Why isn't Gabrielle with you? Where is she? Is she okay?"

"She's doing well, as a matter of fact. At the moment, she's busy trying to find something. She was being kind of mysterious about it, and made me promise to give her a few days to keep looking. That's when I decided it would be a good time to visit."

A quick flash of a morning last week flickered to life behind the azure eyes. The two women had disagreed over their next destination, at odds over what was needed for replenishing their supplies. Gabrielle vehemently insisted something was missing that only she could provide, and refused stubbornly to reveal it to her partner. After several minutes, Xena realized the argument was fruitless. Resisting her inclination to lecture, she instead helped Gabrielle split up the food and water. As she started to say good-bye, Gabrielle reached out, put a finger to her lips, and shook her head. A quick kiss was all she left behind....

"So, then you haven't seen her for, oh... let's say...five days or so?"

"Yeah, I guess that'd be right." Xena pushed a wayward strand of hair back from her face and hooked it behind her ear. The image of an Amazonian staff floating abandoned down a great waterway haunted her like a feeble echo of the immense river that had swallowed it whole. Where was the staff now? And was Gabrielle okay without it?

"Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"

Xena looked up at her mother, startled.

"If you need to talk, you can talk to me. Try it sometime." Cyrene rose from the table. "Let me get back to work now. I'm sure you'd like to get some rest." She leaned over and kissed her daughter's forehead. "Go on home. I'll see you there later. And, Xena... I love you."

XENA WRUNG OUT THE WET RAG AND GRABBED THE EMPTY pails from the floor of the shed. The small wash basin in the house was simply not up to the job of cleaning the kind of travel grime she had accumulated on the trip back home. It felt good to wash without the usual worries of the road. She exited the shed, making her way rapidly through the small yard to the back door of the house. The late afternoon rays instantly attacked the small droplets of water clinging to her bare skin. While enjoying the freedom of privacy thoroughly, she still had no desire to remain in the preternatural heat any longer than necessary.

She deposited the provisions of her bath on the stoop, then padded in, relishing the feel of the cool tile in the vestibule beneath her feet. Her wet hair clung to her neck, releasing the heat stored from her brief trip across the sun-withered grass outside. She stood still, momentarily soaking in the sounds of a quiet afternoon in her mother's home. A good bath often helped shed more than dirt and sweat; somehow, it rinsed away the sediment of tensions and worries, if only briefly.

The normal noises of the day filtered into the house. The heat and loud droning of the cicadas smothered the sounds of human voices, which was just as well. She walked from room to room, the currents of air stirred by her passage lightly tickling her skin. Each space remained faithfully true to her recollections. She should really speak to her mother about moving the furniture-- "By the gods! I must be losing my mind!" she said aloud.

Nah, just damned tired....

Her own bed chamber, unused for so long, felt oddly comfortable. Cyrene had placed some daisies in a tiny vase on the table along the wall. A faded painting of the goddess Athena hung over the cedar-framed bed, and the worn woolen rug still had the purple stain in it. Xena gave in to her spent muscles and laid face down across the bed; the feel of the rough cotton coverlet was a balm to her unclothed body. Within minutes, she fell into a restless sleep.

THE SOUNDS OF HER MOTHER'S ENTRANCE at the front door drew her to consciousness at once. She rolled over and sat up. Realizing belatedly that her garments were still outside in the shed, along with her travel pack, she jumped to her feet and opened the large chest at the foot of the bed. There were several dresses inside, a few shawls, and a sleeping shift. Near the bottom of the stack of clothing, she found a lightweight one-piece outfit. She pulled the leggings up to her waist, slid her arms through the sleeves, and tied the silken sash with a loose knot.

"Xena?" her mother called softly from the doorway. "Are you awake?"

"Yes. Come in."

Cyrene poked her head through first, then entered gingerly. "Are you feeling better? I see you've rested...." She reached up and traced the sleep lines on her daughter's face, reveling in the fact that she could touch her without causing an involuntary flinch, as had been the case not so very long ago. "It just feels so good to see you." She withdrew her hand, worried she had gone too far. "I'm sorry." she added hastily. Her daughter often reminded her of a skittish animal, so mistrusting and fearful of human contact.

"Mom, it's okay." Xena reached for her mother's hand, then drew her close, hugging her tighter than Cyrene was accustomed to. Cyrene held her daughter in her arms, elated by this latest change; Xena was much more comfortable with accepting physical affection than at any time since she was a small child.

"Are you positive that you're feeling all right?"

"As sure as I am about anything right now. Honestly, I'm only worn-out... it's nothing that a few days of rest can't cure."

Cyrene released her embrace. "If you insist. I'm going to keep my eye on you, though. And remember what I said about talking to me."

"I remember. I do appreciate the offer. I'm not sure what I would say... I need to sort some things out for myself, first."

"Take your time. I'm a patient woman. After all, I did raise you!" She laughed lightly.

"Mom... I want to thank you...."

"For what?"

"For allowing me to be me-- not forcing things on me that I could never have lived with. And I want to say how sorry I am....."

Cyrene cut her off. "Do not go into that again, Xena. We don't need to talk about it every time you come home. I think we've all made our peace with the dead now. Let's make peace with the living, shall we?"

Xena smiled at her. "Okay. It's a deal. Can I apologize for showing up so dirty?"

"As long as you do show up, I will be thrilled to see you, no matter what you look like!"

Cyrene knew Xena had cleverly diverted the thrust of the short conversation already. She was torn between pressing the issue, and backing off to give her more time. It was only her first evening home, so.... She decided to let it go.

"Come. Let's find something to eat."

XENA LEFT THE HOUSE SILENTLY, SHORTLY BEFORE FIRST LIGHT. She picked her way through the backyard, past the shed and down an old footpath between neighboring homes. The crickets fell silent, then resumed their pre-dawn serenades as she passed by their hidden perches. Twenty minutes at a leisurely pace brought her to the edge of the village. She paused to look back at Amphipolis, shrouded in the last remnants of night's cloak, then headed into the trees.

Watching the sunrise from Apollo's Rock was the only immediate task she had assigned herself . The climb was a spontaneous idea, springing to life after awakening alone from a fitful dream-state. The last time she had slept in that cedar bed, she'd been a very young woman, and the house was full of the sounds of her family. With only herself and her mother sleeping a room away, the house echoed the emptiness of her dreams in a ghostly fashion. She awoke convinced that something awaited her at the end of this path.

THE ROCK HAD WEATHERED MANY EONS AND MANY PAIRS OF LOVERS, but yielded no obvious changes to her trained eyes. Nothing had changed, except her motives for reaching the top The last time she climbed up the face of the rock was when she was trying to appraise the potency of Cortese's army. At any rate, it was a good place to look around, a place full of the past. A visit to the top might reveal something....

A vague discontent had invaded her waking hours for the past several weeks. She tried, with some initial success, to hide it from Gabrielle, and even managed to shun it for hours at a time by throwing herself into some intense physical task. It soon became evident to her companion, however, that something was wrong. At first, a few harmless questions were all she had asked. As the questions became sharper, nearer the hurting, Xena had shied away from dallying in Gabrielle's presence. Not wanting to lie about it, but unable to completely grasp what was wrong for herself, she undertook odd little tasks to keep busy.

When the discussion arose about supplies and roads to take, she was secretly relieved by Gabrielle's decision to travel on her own in search of whatever it was she was after. Normally contentious when Gabrielle became elusive, Xena quickly realized the time spent apart could be put to good use. The only problem was that while Gabrielle knew what she needed, Xena did not. The familiar echoes of the hills surrounding Amphipolis had immediately taken their place in the odd emptiness writhing inside her.

The massive promontory known as Apollo's Rock towered over the terminus of the foot path. On an early summer morning almost twenty years ago, Toris had taken his younger siblings to the top of the cliff, to present them with the magnificent view of the valley and river below. His pride in sharing this discovery was evident to both of them, even though the reasons behind it weren't clear. He was so much older than they, that he had assumed something of the status of their missing father. Whatever Toris said or did, Xena and Lyceus had paid careful attention to it.

She reached for a sharp outcropping of granite, its pointed tip smoothed by countless hands and feet. Up and up, foot wedged into a crack, hand wriggling for a grip inside a seam of stone, one hip leaning against a projection of the main boulder... 'Apollo's nose', Toris called it... her progress was slow and steady.

Climb this rock, look for the fires in the night, count them.... One foot sliding into a crevice, so that a hand could be extended far enough to grab a natural rung further to the right... 'Apollo's ear', Toris says. 'Look up! Look at the fires in the sky! Glowing sparks of Zeus' thunderbolts, stolen by brave little boys, and given to the girls to paint the sky with!' Up and up, she went.

Stretching out fingers, feeling for a purchase on the brow of the boulder to help haul herself another body's length higher... so many fires down below, so many men, so many swords and spears.... 'The fires of the sky; I want to steal them and sprinkle them, Toris! You can paint with them! I want to feel them fall through my fingers!' She reached far above her head...the tough, viny plants covering the western edge of the rock providing a final handhold for weary climbers... 'Apollo's hair, Toris!' Up and out onto the dizzying surface of the colossal stone formation, she crawled.

The camp fires, count them! All of Amphipolis shudders with the flickering shadows cast by this army.... 'No, Xena! You can't steal them-- you're a girl! Learn to paint, and be satisfied with making things of beauty....' One large bonfire in the center of the darkened plain below, so bright that the shapes of men and horses could be seen moving back and forth, almost ritualistically.... The dance of the warrior, the reel of the maiden.... 'Lyceus-- let Toris run and hide! You and I, we were born to fight this fight! Remember the fires of the night? Grab your sword.... Let's paint the sky with our blades, Lyceus!'

The sun broke free from the earth's loamy grasp and pushed upward from the girth of Gaea, stringing ribbons of pink and blue and purple across the pre-dawn sky. A warrior lay prone upon a towering rock, allowing tears to stream down her cheeks, softening the stony surface beneath her.

WHEN THE SUN BEGAN TO BEAT UPON HER BODY with insistent fervor, she decided it was time to return to her mother's house. A last look around revealed the same singed landscape that the hillside on the other side of the valley had shown her yesterday. Rain was needed desperately, but that was something she couldn't do anything about. The aridity of her mood, however, she was determined to cure. In a limited span of days, Amphipolis was going to yield its secrets to her. For her sake, and for Gabrielle's.

Feeling strangely numb, Xena began her descent down the face of the mighty rock. Without any concentrated effort, she picked her way back to the foot of the boulder and brushed her clothing off. Her only path remained the one directly in front of her... the way back home.

XENA SPENT PART OF THE MORNING AT THE STABLES, going over Argo's coat with painstaking attention to detail, grooming the mare until she glistened. She checked each hoof for stones, combed both mane and tail, and thoroughly examined the mare's eyes, ears, and teeth. Argo withstood these ministrations patiently, with the wisdom of all her species. A treat would soon be forthcoming.

Jori checked in, alarmed that he had missed something in his care of the horse. After being assured that he did a fine job, the youth backed out of the stall quietly, relieved that he hadn't angered the great Warrior Princess. He still found it hard to reconcile the fact that his employer was her mother! He made a mental note to be very alert and extra sensitive in all matters involving the golden mare and her owner.

After leaving the stables, Xena offered her services to her mother at the tavern. Cyrene rebuffed her gently and shooed her away, explaining that she would only disrupt the regulars. With more free time on her hands, Xena began a diligent assault on her dust-caked armor and tack, figuring it would take several hours to get the job done correctly.

She never noticed the passing of the hours; lunch time came and went, her appetite unprovoked. Late afternoon brought lengthening shadows to the backyard where she worked. The smell of cooking drifted through the air from neighboring houses, and the village dogs began to emerge from their napping places, roused by the pleasant aromas and waning sun. The sounds of barking brought her attention away from cleaning the shed, where she had spent most of the afternoon.

SOON, CYRENE WOULD LEAVE THE TAVERN, another lengthy day at an end, happy to turn the reins over to Jessora, her long-time night manager. Jessora knew the place and its clientele intimately. Often, it was her intuition and charm that brought some of the best musicians and storytellers into Amphipolis for exclusive performances. Her husband Kerekes was himself something of a musician and magician. Jori, their thirteen year-old son, customarily whispered and sang to the horses and dogs in the stable, leaving most people confident he could talk to them as well.

Cyrene fully appreciated her good fortune in utilizing the entire family's talents. More than once, she'd offered Jessora and Kerekes partnership in the place, but so far, they'd turned her down respectfully. All told, The Four Coins Inn was the most successful establishment of its kind in town. Business was strong in spite of the summer drought, and tidings of Xena's arrival would only heighten interest among the good people of Amphipolis. Cyrene felt happy and complete.

"XENA? ARE YOU HERE?" CYRENE'S VOICE FILLED the empty house. She closed the front door behind her and walked down the hall to her own room. The sound of a sing-song chant coming through a back window made her hesitate. She resumed changing out of her work clothes, then went in search of the melody.

On a stool placed carefully in the shadow of the shed, Xena sat humming absently. The squeaking back door caught her attention.

"There you are!"

Xena looked up. "Yes, here I am. How was your day?"

"The usual. How about yours?" Cyrene asked lightly.

"Busy, I guess."

"Are you hungry? I brought some wonderful moussaka home from the kitchens."

"Sounds delicious, Mom." Xena stood up, then followed Cyrene back into the house.

At the table, Cyrene opened the conversation after a few minutes.

"What was that you were singing outside?"

"Something I'm working on. Pieces of it popped up in my head, here and there, and I decided to put them together for Gabrielle."

"That's wonderful! I'm sure she'll be anxious to hear it." Cyrene smiled warmly. "Do you make songs for each other often?"

"No. She writes poetry a lot, mostly about philosophical stuff; she recites story after story about our exploits, but she doesn't usually express herself musically-- though I'm sure she could if she wanted to."

"So she'll be surprised, won't she?"

"I'm sure she will. I've never done anything like this before."

"Well, trying something new never hurt anyone."

"Right, Mom."

"Xena, about Gabrielle--"

"What about her?"

"I wanted to know...." she hesitated. Xena watched her mother's face carefully, calculating exactly where she might be headed. She wasn't going to offer any help. Either the question would come out or it wouldn't.

Cyrene inhaled deeply. "Let me start over." Xena's expression didn't change, so she continued.

"Remember when you told me you and Petracles were betrothed? Did I over-react?"

"Just a little." Xena chuckled.

"I don't recall you finding my answer very funny at the time."

"No, I didn't. I've gotten over it. You were right anyhow."

"I wasn't pleased about your decision to marry him. I wanted to make you see where I was coming from, but I think I managed it rather badly."

"Mom, did you want to talk to me about Petracles?"

"Not really. I guess I wanted to know if you felt comfortable talking to me about...." Cyrene stopped once more. "Do you trust me?"

"Look, that was a long time ago, and like I said, you were right. I've moved past Petracles, past many more men since him. Most of them are not worth talking about. Of course, if you need to ask me about this stuff, go right ahead."

"No. I really don't want to know about that part of your life. I'm not sure when I'll be ready to talk about it."

"That makes two of us." Xena said softly.

"I'm sorry. I'm getting away from what I wanted to ask you. I want to talk about your life now. About your life with Gabrielle."


"You told me once, she was married... to a boy from her own village?"

"Mom, Perdicas wasn't a boy when they married."

"Right. I know. Do you think she will ever want to get married again?"

Cyrene watched her daughter smile the funny, crooked smile she knew indicated some inner amusement.

"I don't know. Perhaps you should ask her."

"Perhaps I will."

"Why all this talk of betrothal and marriage?"

"Xena! You're taking advantage of my confusion, here! Both of us know it."

"Then come right out and ask me what you want to know. I'll either answer you or I won't."

"Okay. Do either of you plan on settling down, giving up your life on the road? Marriage?"

Xena was perplexed by the question. "Settling down? I guess it's just a subject I don't ever think about."

"So then, you see a lifetime of wandering, never spending time in a home? Having a family?"

"I don't see anything concrete as far as my future goes." Now it was Xena's turn to squirm uncomfortably. In her youth, her mother was always so direct that it was startling. It was also very easy to see where she was coming from most of the time. Now, in her attempts at delicacy, she was making things very ambiguous.

Xena sighed. "I guess I've always realized that a warrior will die the same way she's lived. I can't envision a 'normal' life, like the one you're asking me about. I've never asked much more than to die with my sword in my hand." She saw the hurt and dismay jump into her mother's grey eyes. "I didn't mean to upset you, but that's the truth."

Cyrene sat quietly for several moments, composing herself. "Thank you for being honest with me." She folded, then refolded her napkin. After inhaling deeply, she went on. "How does Gabrielle feel about this? This view of the future you hold?"

"She doesn't exactly accept it as written in stone, but she does realize the odds are in favor of it."

"Then, being with you is her choice?"

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning she loves you, doesn't she? Is she more than a friend to you, Xena?"

There it was. That was the question Xena had seen coming from the beginning. She was strangely relieved to find her expectations fulfilled.

"You could say that."

"I see."

"Do you, really? This isn't something we have to talk about, you know. I'm so used to disappointing you that I guess I can't help feeling... utterly predictable, telling you that."

"Xena, stop! Don't you think I've seen what was unspoken between the two of you? You're my daughter-- I know your face, your expressions, your moods! I'm not some stranger, or just another villager. How rarely I see joy in your eyes! The only disappointment I'm feeling right now is in your assumption of how I would accept all of this."

When she was offered no reply, Cyrene continued. "I thank the gods that you can still feel something so special. It gives me further proof that I have my daughter back in my life, one way or another. Words are offered cheaply-- we both know that! Seeing that you're capable of love and devotion to another human being is proof to someone as skeptical as I am that real changes have occurred in you. I'm glad you've got Gabrielle."

Xena's eyes flashed in sudden anger. "How can you sit there and tell me that this is just fine with you? A minute ago, you were upset when I told you there would be no other kind of 'normal' life for me!"

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't uncomfortable with this... arrangement. It's mostly because I've wanted to be a grandmother for so long. It's selfish, I know. It would be so much easier if you were married, had children and a husband... but, that never was your choice. I'm certainly used to you being a warrior. Perhaps, without even being aware of it, I had assumed that part of your life would come to an end one day. What has come to an end is my silly daydreams."

Too late, Cyrene realized what her words sounded like. "Wait. That didn't come out right... Xena!"

Her daughter rose from the table stiffly and left the room without a word.

Well, I've gone and done it now! Cyrene thought. I've probably ruined all the work I've put into reclaiming this relationship. I want my daughter in my life, even if it's not entirely on my terms! I have to find a way to apologize to her!

She deposited the empty dinner plates roughly in the bronze washing basin, angry with herself for bringing a good day to a sour conclusion.



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