Best Short, Short Story (General)
A Hero’s Goodbye
by Andreas Hloupy
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent
"It was good to see Argo again, too."
"You're mother has taken good care of her."
"She deserves a few quiet years at her age."
Xena and Gabrielle slowly followed a steep path towards a mountain pass, walking next to each other, each leading a horse to follow. They wore thick coats in response to the cold climate and looked calm, content, relaxed, ignoring the freezing wind and the dark clouds that covered the sky, soon to bring snow to the valley.
The light brown mare with the white mane was galloping over the rocky plain as fast as it could. Argo had grown old over the years, but she was still able to outrun most other horses. Of course her stride wasn't as sure as a few years ago, her endurance faltered quickly, forcing her to trotting rests between the sprints, and her senses had lost its edge, making her miss the better ground or the easier passage. It was still a magnificent sight to see her flying along the ground, mastering steep hillsides and deep fords without the guiding hand of an experienced rider.
"Happy to finally go home again?"
"Home is were the heart is."
"You were the one that wanted a warm place for the winter."
"I think we deserve a few quiet months each year."
"But why do they have to start with visiting our parents?"
"That's how family works."
"Yes, family …"
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, smiling. Right then slowly it started to snow with small white flakes coming down. The two women looked up into the sky, both shacking their heads doubtful. After they pulled the hoods of their coats over their heads they continued their travel.
Argo has reached mountainous terrain and considerably slowed down. Ignoring the starting snowfall he followed small paths, obviously not laid out for a horse. The mare has reached a considerable height already and the way seemed to get steeper and more difficult with every stride. The snow now came down heavier, in thick flakes, sent whirling around by a strong wind, hindering sight as well as movement. But Argo ignored the elements and pressed on.
"We should turn around!"
"We should turn around!"
"If we allow the pass to be snowed in, we have to wait for better weather and take the long route. That will cost us two weeks!"
"I say that's a small prize for our lives!"
Gabrielle had stopped and now Xena did, too. They were now very close to the pass. The terrain around them already missing most vegetation and displaying plain rock for most parts. To both sides of the road rocky hills blocked the view and ahead two mountains with a deep cleft between them signalled their target. Gabrielle looked through the wall of snow coming down from the sky into Xena's face - both women were thoughtful, unsure.
Argo finally had found terrain to gallop again, passing through a narrow passage that led onto a high plateau almost on top of the mountain. Reaching the plateau Argo stopped for a moment, seemingly at loss for direction. But through all the snow coming down she saw a human figure in the distance, busy working on some kind of lever construct, close to the edge of the plateau. Argo raised her upper body, kicking out with her front legs and then pushing herself forward with the rear ones.
"Okay, we try the pass as deep as we can get, still being able to return to my mother before the night. If it stops snowing and everything looks okay, we go on. If it doesn't or it looks unsafe, we return. Deal?"
Gabrielle nodded smilingly and then pulled the hood of her coat deeper around her face, pulling on the bridle of her horse and starting to walk again, towards the mountains. Xena watched for a moment and then followed her, copying what she had done. Even through the heavy snowfall the pass was already visible.
Argo has almost reached the strange figure in the snow without being noticed. The person, covered in a fur coat well beyond any recognition, was working on a wooden construct. A series of logs held together a large rockslide - ready to go over the edge of the rocky cliff at any time. A series of ropes seemed to be holding together the whole thing, leading to a large lever with a stone counterweight. When Argo was only one stride away the figure finally noticed her and hurled around. Surprised eyes stared at her as she was again raising her upper body, kicking out with her front legs - and hitting the stranger right in the chest, sending him flying backwards, against his construct. Hitting one of the logs and a series of ropes that ran across it, the body started a chain reaction that loosened the slide right then and there.
"No, not yet!"
Basically lying on top of the rockslide, the stranger was amongst the first things that went over the edge, followed by an endless stream of rocks, stones, logs and other debris. Probably bad calculated - or maybe on purpose - the slide shocked the whole mountainside and a large part of the plateau started to get loose, too. Argo did not even try to escape. The golden mare was standing right in the middle of this chaos, the ground beneath her breaking up and under deafening sounds and a big cloud of debris sliding and falling towards the bottom of the cliff. An observer from the edge of the plateau could have seen the horse quietly standing on the rocky ground, even when everything around was already disappearing in the endless pit and it was only a matter of seconds - but no one was there to see it.
"Well, that answers it."
"We have to turn back."
Xena and Gabrielle were standing at the entrance to the small pass. A rockslide had closed it a short while ago, the rocks and stones still in an unstable state, rolling and sliding downwards. Snow was already covering part of the slide. Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other one more time, then they turned around and started their way back, towards the tavern of Xena's mother.
"I don't like this day."
"Yeah, but eventually, we'll get home again."