The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA Pictures and used here without permission. No copyright infringement was intended during the writing of this tale.
This story contains the expression of love between two women. If this concept offends you, don't read any further.
Sincere thanks go out to those four dear friends who offered such helpful suggestions as I struggled to make this story work.
Feedback is welcome at Danae121@aol.com.
NOTE: This tale was written with the assumption that the reader has viewed the first season episode "Cradle of Hope," as well as the third season episodes which deal with Gabrielle's daughter. If you have not seen those episodes, this story won't make a heck of a lotta sense.
CRADLE OF DESTINY
It all happened because she slept on a rock. At least that is what the warrior believes. I contend that it was a matter of destiny.
No doubt, you have previously heard bits and pieces of this tale. Perhaps, if you hear the rest of the story, you will form your own opinion as to why it happened.
It all started when Pandora opened the box. After my companions escaped, I cannot deny that I was thankful for the peace and quiet. They were such an ornery bunch. After more than a century of peace and quiet, though, I was extremely lonely. As is my habit to do, I never gave up the expectation that eventually I would no longer be isolated in the box. So, I was elated that day when the box fell to the floor in King Gregor's castle and was jarred wide open. Since humans cannot see into my dimension of reality, those two in the room assumed the box was empty.
The bitter sweet of it is, I could not have remained inside the box if I wanted to. You see, I have a natural affinity for humans. Like metal to a magnet, I was drawn to the body of the mortal closest to me. That was Gabrielle.
Had I entered a less optimistic individual, the sudden change in his or her nature might have betrayed my presence. Gabrielle was already so very expectant and positive that even she did not sense any difference within herself.
By now, you have probably guessed my identity. I am Hope... the hope of mankind.
Certainly, if I could have foreseen the almost unbearable pain and sorrow that would be born of my residence in the bard, I would have withdrawn from her and sought the body of another. Looking back, it is fortunate that I could not predict the future. I may have interfered with destiny.
Things went well... for a while. I was thrilled to share the bard's life, experiencing the fascinating people, gods, countries, and other things Gabrielle encountered during her travels with Xena, the Warrior Princess. It was also a pure delight to witness the budding relationship between the bard and warrior. They enjoyed an uncommonly beautiful bond, which grew stronger with each rising sun. Xena and Gabrielle had discovered that love so frequently written of in scrolls, but so seldom found in real life. What is extraordinary is not the simple fact that they fell desperately in love, but rather what they made of that love. I was exceedingly happy to have entered the body of someone who was capable of such profound devotion. Furthermore, I was pleased to find a marvelously rare amount of hope embedded deeply in Gabrielle's heart.
That day the box opened in Gregor's castle, Xena was right when she said that hope is inside all humans. It is one of the most vital elements in each person's spirit. What the gorgeous Warrior Princess did not know is that I exist separately from the storehouse of hope within a mortal's soul. Permit me to explain.
Every individual has a well, if you will, of hope within his or her soul. Some individuals have a larger capacity for hope than others do, but, without that reservoir, a mortal cannot live long. I am the source of hope. It is from my inexhaustible supply that the well within human souls is periodically filled.
If you were to visit the temple of the Fates, you would see that many threads make up your lifeline. Those threads represent the properties of your spirit, such as love, wisdom, and virtue. Your ability to hope is also represented by a thread. In fact, it is the thread that binds all the other threads of your lifeline together, because hope inspires your will to live.
Anyway, for two winters I lived within Gabrielle, unnoticed by anyone, including mighty Zeus, himself, who created me and put me in Pandora's box so long ago. But, finally, someone did notice my existence in the bard. And, that someone was the most dreadful someone in the universe. Dahok.
Mind you, the sinister god did not recognize me, per se. He noticed what he thought was Gabrielle. He perceived her goodness, purity, and loveliness. However, those qualities alone were not what attracted him to her. If those characteristics were all he required the mother of his child to possess, he would have found many qualified young girls not far from his temple in Britannia. What distinguished Gabrielle was her hope... hope that, because of my undetected presence within her, appeared to him to be unequaled among mortals. Had I been living in the body of another innocent girl, Dahok would have pursued her in the same manner as he did the bard.
Despite his depravity, Dahok is smart. He understands that, whether it is focused on the accomplishment of good or evil, hope is one of the three most tremendous powers in the world. Hope is desire, accompanied by the expectation of fulfillment. The more hope mortals possess, the more they anticipate success and, hence, the more ardently they pursue their objectives. More than any other force, hope is what compels human action... including amoral action.
As a god, Dahok does not possess hope. His actions, like those of all gods, are driven by sheer will. But, Dahok knew, in order to carry out his own arrogant plans, his half-mortal daughter would need peerless hope and determination. Therefore, he sent Khrafstar all the way to Greece to find Gabrielle, whom he incorrectly believed possessed a greater faculty for hope than any other human being. If I had realized I was putting the bard in jeopardy, I would have retreated from her body without hesitation. But, I did not know that my presence created an illusion. I did not know that Dahok mistook my aura for Gabrielle's hope.
When his deliverer brought Gabrielle to him, Dahok did more than rape her body. He raped her spirit. Not content to merely fertilize her ovum, he instead ripped her well-developed ability to hope from her soul and combined it with his own baneful and potent skills, which he then embodied in the rapidly maturing embryo. It was no wonder Gabrielle said she hurt inside.
>From the moment Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes after saving her from falling into Dahok's fire, I think she was aware that the bard was in trouble, although she did her best to mask her anxiety. Gabrielle may have grasped the seriousness of her condition as well. She, at least, understood that everything had changed. The truth is Gabrielle was dying. Without her hope, which had essentially been torn from her lifeline, she could not survive for more than a few days. As it was, she was stronger than she would have been otherwise because she was joined to the hopeful spirit of the child growing in her uterus. Once the baby was born and the cord severed, Gabrielle would quickly perish.
Just before the bard gave birth, I wondered if maybe she sensed that she had lost her hope. She seemed troubled by her own uncertainty, claiming she had never before doubted her purpose in life. It was as if she was more upset about her lack of hope or belief in herself than she was about the possibility she would not achieve her destiny.
Since I was largely responsible for Gabrielle's perilous situation, I wanted very much to help her. I did the only thing I could. When Xena cut the baby's umbilical cord, disconnecting Gabrielle's last, fragile tie to her hope, I hurriedly enveloped the bard's soul, in essence, wrapping myself around her lifeline. It eased my mind when I heard her say, "I feel like some power has poured new life into me." As long as I stayed with her, Gabrielle was going to survive. The survival of her daughter was another issue altogether.
Gabrielle intuitively named the baby Hope. Born in a stable under harrowing circumstances, without even a cradle in which to rest her adorable little head, the child nonetheless faired well and grew at an incredible rate. Xena, believing Hope was evil, was resolved to destroy her. Gabrielle was just as committed to protecting the infant but was unable to convince the warrior that Hope was the victim. I must admit, I was afraid for the wee girl and admired the bard's brave, albeit frantic, decision.
Imagine sending a baby down a river! Obviously, Gabrielle had a good reason.
I honestly did not realize what it would mean for mankind if I remained with Gabrielle's soul when she died. Truly, I did not. If I had known, I would have separated from her when she fell into the flames.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. Allow me to regress.
If I am not mistaken, you know that Hope did survive her trip down the river. Moreover, you already know most of her life story. You know Gabrielle's love for her daughter led to a heart breaking rift between Xena and the bard. And, you know that, at one point, Gabrielle believed it all happened because of the warrior and her vengeful plans.
It was Dahok. I say it all happened because of Dahok... because of destiny.
Let me to skip ahead to that very black day when Gabrielle and her daughter plunged into the fiery abyss.
Despite myself, there was no possibility Gabrielle's body could live through her descent into that pit. Thankfully, she died almost instantly and experienced little pain. I am not sure how much later it was that we found ourselves on the bank of the river Styx. The bard was dazed and grief stricken. Her life with Xena had ended. Already, she was overwhelmed by the immensity of loss.
Too, Gabrielle was distressed about Hope's whereabouts. We could not see the goddess, and Charon, the ferryman, insisted that she had not presented herself to him before our arrival. When she still had not appeared some time later, Gabrielle was alarmed, concluding that Hope had survived the fire and returned to the land of the living.
For his part, Charon was quite confused. Not only was he having trouble understanding Gabrielle's recount of what just occurred, he was also puzzled as to why, suddenly, an unusually large number of souls was arriving in the underworld. Indeed, a crowd was forming rapidly. "Aye, yi, yi!" he grumbled. "What's going on up there?!" Preparing to load his boat with passengers, he motioned toward the bard and said, "Come on, Missy. You were here first, and the rule is: first dead, first delivered."
Gabrielle backed up and refused to climb into the craft. "I'm not going without Xena," she insisted.
"Ohhh, 'I'm not going without Xena'," Charon mimicked, attempting to sound like the bard. "Ya do realize, don't ya, that it's likely Xena's final battle ground will be Tartarus, while you, Blondie, have a lock on the Elysian Fields."
The bard flinched as if she had been slapped. She recovered herself and blinked heavily. "That may be," she said softly, "but Xena and I will make this final journey together. I'm waiting here for her... even if I have to wait fifty winters."
Charon started to reply but stopped short when he saw who was now standing behind Gabrielle. It was Hades.
"Do you know how much trouble you've caused?!" the god said.
His loud voice directly behind her gave Gabrielle a start. Slowly, she turned around. She recognized who stood before her but was atypically at a loss for words.
Hades put his hands on his hips. "It took us a long time to figure out where you were. Would you like to know how we finally did it?" Without waiting for a response, he went on. "The Fates noticed a lifeline that didn't contain a thread of hope. No one can survive without that thread, so we knew you must have been sustaining the mortal. We left you alone because we figured you'd have the sense to release the girl's soul when she ultimately entered the underworld. After all, she does not need you now that she's dead, and the living can't draw from you while you are down here."
Gabrielle frowned, baffled by the god's words. It dawned on Hades that she assumed he was talking to her. Actually, he was talking to me.
Hades placed his hand on the bard's shoulder and explained how I had saved her life and maintained her spirit all those moons. Gabrielle was astonished.
So was Charon. "Gabrielle's Hope?!" he exclaimed.
"Well... In a manner of speaking, you could say she is," Hades replied. "Hope is one with her soul." After the god answered the bard's many questions and she fathomed what had happened, he said to her, "You must take Hope back to the box, Gabrielle." He pointed to the growing throng of people on the riverbank. "Observe. People cannot survive without her. Look how many have already died or killed themselves because they ran out of hope."
Gabrielle brightened. "You mean I can go back to the land of the living?!"
Hades held up his index finger. "Only long enough to return Hope to the box."
The bard's face fell, but before she could say anything, we all heard the voice of someone familiar. And, that someone was the second most frightening someone in the world. Hope.
There she stood, not far from the entrance to the underworld, very alive and seemingly on the verge of going into labor. She wore nothing, save a somber expression. Evidently, the fire had burned away her clothes, but her body was not harmed. Had the circumstances not been so dire, the bard might have been embarrassed by the pregnant likeness of her own nude body.
Gabrielle and I were both surprised to see the great Hades back away from the goddess. I looked again at her and then understood why he was afraid. In Hope's hand was the hind's blood dagger.
"By the gods!" Gabrielle gasped. She walked right up to her daughter and glared at her. With a voice full of worry, she asked, "Hope, how did you get that dagger?! Did you hurt Xena?!"
To my amazement, the goddess smiled at Gabrielle. She said, "I did not harm Xena, Mother." Hope looked at Hades and added, "And, I have no intention of killing you."
"What IS your intention then?!" Hades demanded.
It took effort for any of us to believe what Hope said next. "I don't have much time," she stated. "Even now, Dahok is surely searching for me." She hurriedly explained that she was no longer under Dahok's corrupt influence. It was plain that she was telling the truth. The change in her was remarkable and could not have been contrived. When she landed at the bottom of the pit, she told us, Dahok's power over her was so muted that she was able to think clearly and, at last, comprehend how he had manipulated her. As if in grave, melancholy contemplation, she rambled about the ill humor of the Fates and about the gods' malevolent meddling in the lives of helpless mortals. After informing us that she had followed Gabrielle to the underworld and overheard our previous conversation about my presence in her mother, she said evenly, "I want to make a deal with you, Hades."
The god of the underworld waited for her to continue.
"I will take the point of this dagger into my gut," she said, "...ending my child's life with my own and assuring that Dahok cannot use me to bring destruction to the world."
Hades narrowed his eyes skeptically. "And, what do you require in exchange for this noble sacrifice?" he inquired sarcastically.
"That you give my ability to hope back to my mother and allow her to remain in the land of the living."
Gabrielle thought she was in a dreamscape. Tears came to her eyes as she continued to gape at Hope.
Hades laughed nervously. "You expect me to take your word that you will kill yourself?!"
"No," Hope replied, "but I expect you to believe your own eyes."
Hades's brow furrowed in puzzlement.
"I will die," the goddess clarified apathetically. "You will transfer my hope back into my mother and return her to the other side."
Hades studied the goddess carefully. Like me, he was intrigued by the risky bargain she suggested. What assurance did she have that he would complete his end of the deal after she was destroyed? He stalled, trying to understand her reasoning. "What if I cannot do what you ask?" he asked.
Rolling her eyes, Hope replied, "The disposition of mortal souls is your responsibility, Hades. My mother's soul was damaged. You have the power to restore it. And, Death is your kindred," the goddess went on coolly. "Surely, you can prevail upon her to release my Mother."
The god flared his nostrils, reflected on Gabrielle, and then stared at Hope again. "All right," he said tensely. "I agree to your terms."
Hope's shoulders relaxed somewhat. She steadied herself and looked down at the knife in her hand. Hades backed up a little more and eyed her suspiciously. It was shockingly apparent that he was terrified of that dagger.
The goddess raised her head and looked into Gabrielle's eyes. In a raspy voice, she said, "Tell Xena I regret what happened to Solon." The bard was speechless. All she could do was choke down the lump in her throat. Turning the dagger in her hands so that she gripped the blade, Hope held out the knife to Gabrielle.
Tears slid down the bard's cheeks, and she shook her head slowly. "I can't," she breathed.
Hope took Gabrielle's hand in hers and said, "I must die, Mother. Help me... please." Bringing the bard's hand to her lips, Hope kissed the back of it and then lowered it onto the handle of the knife. With a blank and far away look, she said, "My death will fulfill your destiny, Mother... When you took me into the fire, you broke Dahok's cycle of evil." She tightened her hand around Gabrielle's on the dagger handle and aimed the blade toward her own swelling stomach. "Now, it will stop with you." After glancing once more at Hades, Hope gave the bard a small, sad smile and whispered, "Let us embrace, Mother." She placed her arms around Gabrielle and pulled her close, driving the dagger into her own abdomen.
I was never so glad as I was when Hades set Gabrielle and me down near the Alconian Lake.
In case you do not know the secret of that body of water, let me tell you what it is. At the bottom of the lake is a passageway to the underworld.
Hades had wasted no time concluding the bargain he made with the Hope. Before the goddess's spirit evaporated into nothingness, Hades captured Gabrielle's hope and transplanted it back into the bard. The blood on the dagger and Gabrielle's hands was yet warm when we realized where Hades had taken us. He had not actually transported us through the lake but had caused us to materialize on the shore. Tears continued to flow from the bard's eyes, and she plopped down numbly, but very alive, in the sand. The speed and complexity of the day's traumatic occurrences had gotten the better of her. "This can't have happened," she whimpered.
Hades glowered down at her and asked, "What do you plan to do with that dagger?"
Gabrielle seemed to ignore the god. She sat quietly, her fingers moving over the knife, for a long, long while. At last, she pushed herself up into a standing position and stared into the lake. "Thank you, Hope," she said with a weepy voice. A moment later, she drew back her arm and flung the dagger as far as she could into the water. I do not know if her declaration of gratitude was directed at me or Hope or both of us.
Relief covered Hades's face as he watched the ripples on the lake's surface subside. He turned and said to Gabrielle, "See to it that Hope is returned to the box. Do you understand?" The bard nodded. "And YOU, Hope," the god said to me more sternly, "stay in the box this time!" He then disappeared into the air.
Gabrielle sighed heavily. "We have to go to Gregor's castle now," she said as she wiped wet streaks from her face and began walking away from the lake. "I have to take you back to the box. Then, I must find Xena."
I wanted to tell her to look for Xena first. There was no rush to return me to the box. Now that I was in the land of the living, I was accessible to mankind again. Before she had taken many steps, Gabrielle spun around toward the water. Something had made a splash near the edge of the lake. That something turned out to be someone. And, that someone was the most beloved someone in Gabrielle's world. Xena.
The Warrior Princess emerged from the water and rushed to Gabrielle. She frantically grabbed the bard's shoulders and stared into her green eyes, dripping water all over her in the process. "Gabrielle!" she breathed with fervent concern. "Are you all right?!"
Still stunned at seeing her lover appear in the lake, Gabrielle tried to find her voice. "Yeah... I'm good," she stuttered, immediately comforted by the warrior's presence.
Xena exhaled a quaking, emotion-filled breath and encircled the bard with an urgent hug. After but an instant, she pulled back and looked closely at Gabrielle again. Very tentatively, she asked, "Are you alive?"
Gabrielle did not know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both. "Yes... yes, Xena," she sobbed. "Thank the gods, I'm alive!" She threw her arms around the warrior, and they shared a kiss... a kiss that was perfect bliss because of the anguish that had ravaged them both. Then, they held each other for what seemed, even to me, like an eternity.
Later that evening, they made camp. After they had gazed into each other's eyes many dozen times and tenderly uttered at least one hundred pronouncements of undying love, Gabrielle told Xena everything that happened in the underworld. The Warrior Princess listened attentively, in awe. The bard came to the end of her account and looked curiously at Xena. "There are just two things I still don't get," she said. The warrior waited expectantly for her to go on. "First, how did Hope get the dagger? And, second," Gabrielle continued, laying her hand on Xena's forearm, "why were you in the Alconian lake?"
Xena raised an eyebrow and, after a delay, slowly explained to Gabrielle that Hope had acquired the hind's blood dagger because the warrior threw it into the pit.
"But, why would you do that, Xena?" the bard questioned. "If Dahok's power over Hope had not lessened, she might have used the knife to kill the Olympian gods."
"I know, Gabrielle," Xena said. "At the time, I didn't understand my own reasons, but now that you've explained about the hope of mankind, I do."
The bard cocked her head. "What do you mean?"
As if she were still putting the pieces together in her mind, the warrior tried to relate what she had experienced. "I can't describe the feeling that overpowered me as I watched you disappear into that pit, Gabrielle. It was like... darkness." Xena closed her eyes and shuddered from the excruciating memory.
"I think I know," the bard interrupted. "It must have been like what I felt on Dahok's altar... like I lost my soul."
Xena nodded thoughtfully. "I see now that I was desperate because hope was absent from the world." The warrior took a deep breath. "I just wanted you back. So, although my heart had no hope that you survived, my mind told me there was always a chance. I knew the only way you could protect yourself against Hope was with the dagger. So, I threw it in." The warrior sighed. "I didn't care if Hope got hold of it. If you were dead, I didn't care what she did. I had no hope... for myself... for the world... for anything."
Gabrielle bowed her head with solemn comprehension. After several moments, she peered into Xena's eyes, squeezed the warrior's arm gently, and said, "Xena, you haven't answered my second question. Why were you in the lake?" When the warrior only blinked and swallowed in response, the bard tried again. "Did you go to the underworld?"
"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena answered.
The bard paused, then said, "To try to bring me back?"
After a hesitation, the Warrior Princess swallowed hard again and met Gabrielle's gaze. "I went down there with Ares," she said with chagrin. She grimaced and went on. "I agreed to trade with him when he offered to call in a debt due him by Hades."
"What was the trade?" the bard asked apprehensively.
Xena pursed her lips and looked into the distance. "Your life... in exchange for a few... tasks Ares wanted me to carry out." The bard's eyes flooded, but before she could speak, Xena placed her fingertips lightly on Gabrielle's lips. "Shhh. Don't worry. There was no trade. Before we could even talk to Hades, Charon told me you had already been put back among the living." Xena lowered her head. When she looked up again, her blue eyes sparkled. "I swam back up here so quickly I thought I'd give myself a heart attack."
In spite of herself, Gabrielle broke into a smile, and she caressed the warrior's cheek. "It's okay, Xena. I understand. You agreed to Ares's trade only because you were desperate and without hope. Right?"
Xena took her sidekick into her arms. "I guess that's right, Gabrielle. I never realized before how significant hope has been in our lives." The warrior let her eyes tarry on Gabrielle for several moments. Then she drew the bard back on their blanket and held her.
Neither of them slept much that night, preferring instead to remain awake and relish the joy of being together. Now and then, they each lovingly brushed tears of relief from the other's face. Finally, Gabrielle did doze off. Sensing the change in her partner's breathing, Xena lifted her head and confirmed that Gabrielle was asleep. She then lightly placed her hand over the bard's heart. "I owe you..." she said to me, "big time."
The next morning, Gabrielle awoke just as Xena was returning from filling their water skins in the lake. The bard sat up, leaning on one arm, and smiled sleepily at the warrior. Xena kneeled down and placed a sweet, lingering kiss on her lips. When the Warrior Princess started to pull back, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena's neck. Overcome again, they clung to one another so tightly I thought I would be crushed within Gabrielle. With moist eyes, the bard whispered into the warrior's hair. "You were right, Xena,"
"About what, Gabrielle?" Xena asked softly.
The bard smiled against her lover's ear. "You said I would wake up one day and have hope again."
Three days later, Gabrielle and Xena took me back to the box. I have been here ever since.
And, that is the entire story. You decide. What set the course of events in motion?
Did it all happen because of destiny?
Or, did it all happen because she slept on a rock?
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