An Awakening - Part 20
Beowulf and Grendel
by Hunter Ash
The warrior could hear and sense the other woman approaching as Xena sat on the north wall of the village, keeping an eye out for the healers and the supplies desperately needed by the village that evening. Thankfully the rain had stopped, the warrior thought to herself.
Jaeger leaned against the battlement, seeming to watch the road with Xena.
Guten Abend, meine freund, the German Amazon said simply.
Evening, Xena answered easily. After a moment she glanced at the Viking next to her and took in the young woman closely. You want to try and kill me like you promised?
Nein, Jaeger said simply.
The Viking was taller than Gabrielle but not as tall as Xena with a shock of black hair that seemed to always be ruffled and spikey. Jaeger had clipped the sides short but the back was long and braided, Viking style. The grey eyes were bright and quick and the body lean and muscled.
You know what Eponin asked me earlier? Xena ventured.
Of course not, what? Jaeger responded.
How I became immortal, she swears Gabrielle and I haven't aged in six years. I told we weren't immortal but I think I should be asking you that question, you haven't aged any, Hallvor, Xena commented, her eyes watching the warrior closely.
No, just a bit, the warrior agreed. You grew up from the young and angry warrior you were then.
I've changed a lot, Xena admitted. It doesn't look like you've aged a day. It's been almost twenty winters and you were, what? About seventeen?
Yes, that would make me what, Xena? Almost 35, almost as old as you, yes?
Have you aged any?
A couple of years, maybe, Jaeger answered.
The Amazons don't know? Xena frowned.
No, I may not have aged much but I have learned a few things, my friend, Jaegar stated. Including how to control certain things.
Seems we've both changed, Xena stated.
Yes, and I've seen the reason for your change, Jaeger grinned at Xena's raised eyebrows. Gabrielle seems remarkable.
The warrior felt herself begin blushing slightly. She is, best thing that ever happened in my life.
Good, maybe someday I'll find my mate, Jaeger said somewhat wistfully, turning to watch the road.
Hallvor, Xena began to speak and the Viking held up her hand.
You rescued me, Xena, but my heart was never yours and you never pretended different. Then you used me and threw me aside when I was no longer useful. What happened simply was, that was a very long time ago. It's a small thing.
What have you been doing for the past years? Xena asked, grateful to change the subject.
Mercenary mostly, even served with a Northern Roman Legion for awhile, the warrior grinned at Xena's raised eyebrows and then laughed. It was . Interesting. None of them ever figured out I was female during the five years of my service. I learned a lot about the Romans and their fighting, it will come in handy when they move against the North again.
Not as reckless and blind as you once were? Xena teased.
No, I don't want to behead every single Roman I see now. I learned how to think and plan ahead, Jaeger grinned.
Not so much the berserker? Rushing headfirst into battle, the odds be damned?
Werserker, the Viking corrected with a smile. It's still there.
Xena nodded and looked back at the village and smiled.
Some of the villagers were beginning to get back on their feet and move around slowly, cleaning up and moving things back into place and drawing fresh water from the well for the animals and humans still sick from the grain.
Xena still couldn't believe the misfortune that had hit them recently. She and Gabrielle had only meant to travel through the village, not even stopping for breakfast. That had ended when the bard had entered the village ahead of Xena and Sasha only to discover everyone in the village down with what appeared to be a plague.
Xena had been forced to leave Gabrielle in the village while she and Sasha went for healers. Everything had gone wrong, reluctant healers, never ending rain and a rock-slide delayed the warrior by days. Leaving Gabrielle to tend to a small village of dying villagers by herself.
On Gabrielle's side it hadn't been easy either; dying villagers, never ending rain, bandits and the fact that it wasn't a plague but poisoned grain. The bard hadn't realized the true cause of the illness until after she had consumed some of the bread made from the grain, becoming sick from the poison herself.
Then Eponin had seemingly risen from the dead and returned as Gabrielle took sick. The Amazon was hunting for Gabrielle, having been told that the bard and Xena had betrayed the Amazons to the Romans and leading to the destruction of the majority of Amazons in the Black Forest.
Eponin and her new Amazon sister, Jaeger, had found Gabrielle but the bard collapsed from the poisoning. Eventually the bard, Amazons and one of the villagers dealt with illness, rain and bandits and settled their past, the truth finally coming out.
Xena had gotten around the rock-slide ahead of the healers and Sasha in time to save Gabrielle and most of the villagers with the antidote. The warrior had been very pleased to find that Gabrielle's planning against the bandits had led to several of them being trapped in the temple and several killed without any loss to the village or Amazons.
Jaeger grinned at Patron and two other villagers guarding the doors to the temple and at the shouts from inside. So far the doors were still holding the bandits trapped inside.
If the healers don't get here tonight then they should be in the morning, Xena commented.
Good, then you can send for the militia from the next village to come and get those idiots, Jaeger grinned.
You know, you're Greek has gotten a lot better except when you're around Eponin, Xena questioned with a grin.
Yeah, I can't tell them that this young and lost German has actually been running around the world for the past sixteen years without explaining a lot of things I'm not ready to yet, Jaeger commented.
I won't say anything, I know what it's like fighting against your past, Xena said softly.
Thank you, Jaeger said, sighing with relief and then frowned. That would mean you not saying anything to your mate?
I won't, Xena stated.
Hmmm, not sure if I like that, Xena, Jaeger frowned. Mates shouldn't have secrets.
Friends sometimes keep secrets for friends, Xena countered. Don't you think that Eponin and the others would accept everything about you?
I don't know and I'm not sure I want to risk that.
I didn't think Gabrielle wanted me as a mate and I was willing to keep my feelings a secret from her and live with it. I almost lost her because of it, Xena advised.
You know me and how I got my back broken by my own people, would you accept me? Jaeger countered with an angry look.
I already did, remember? I didn't leave you because of what you are, Hall, Xena asked and then turned towards the steps, leaving the Viking with her thoughts.
It took five days for the bard and the village to be totally on its feet again. The total remaining villagers numbered eighteen with four of those being children.
Gabrielle reassured Xena and Sasha with a smile that she was ready to travel as the bard tied on her travel packs to her horse, it having survived as well. The bard glanced up gratefully at the sun as they prepared to leave the village. It had been a long few days in the rain and Gabrielle was grateful just to be alive at the moment.
Hey, Hall, Xena called and tossed a pack to the Viking Amazon.
Xena didn't notice Gabrielle's narrowed eyes.
Gabrielle turned to the villagers who stood around to see the women on their journey. She grinned and hugged Patron tightly.
Thanks for everything, he said with a smile.
You're welcome, and thanks for holding me.
The young man began blushing and quickly looked at Xena and began stammering at her withering gaze. I uh you're welcome. I know you and the warrior are together but if anything ever happens, I'd be glad to hold you again, he whispered.
Thank you, Patron, Gabrielle smiled and kissed his cheek and began hugging some of the other villagers she had gotten to know.
Urban bowed slightly and hugged her. You saved the village and almost died doing it. Is there any way we can repay you? he asked.
Just rebuild, Urban, Gabrielle grinned.
We will, thanks to all of you. You will always be welcome here as honored guests! he announced loudly to the cheers of the villagers and Gabrielle blushed as she mounted her horse.
The cheers followed them out of the village gate.
Eponin grinned at Xena's blush and Jaeger merely shrugged as they followed Xena and Gabrielle down the road.
Gabrielle fell back to ride alongside Eponin after they had been on the road for a couple of candle-marks.
During her recovery from the poisoning, the Amazon Queen and weapons-master had talked endlessly about how Eponin had survived the Roman attack and how she had begun to rebuild the tribe with the few survivors and were beginning to take in outcast women from the surrounding Germanic families and villages.
Gabrielle had told Eponin about her life with Xena after the Amazons had been attacked. Pony had grinned at the thought of Xena finally getting Ares out of their lives, even if it had almost killed the warrior and Gabrielle again.
Eponin pointed to the sais at the bard's boots.
I remember teaching you the beginnings of how to fight with a staff because you wouldn't kill, the Amazon stated.
I remember, Gabrielle smiled sadly. I never really changed in that viewpoint, I just didn't have a choice.
Everything happened so fast when the Romans attacked us and you exchanged yourself for the ones who had been captured. When I saw you after the Ides of March and Caesar assassination, you were deathly sick from the crucifixion and couldn't use your hands yet. We never did catch up on how you became a fighter, Pony said.
What did you know? Gabrielle asked.
We received word from Hercules and Iolaus that you had been found and returned to Xena while she was still in the north, keeping her pregnancy a secret from Ares. The message said that you had been a slave but were healthy and safe. Later, after you sent us north towards the Black Forest, word spread that you had been a gladiator in Rome for Caesar, Pony frowned. We knew that couldn't be right because Caesar was looking for you to hold you hostage against Xena.
It was true, Gabrielle grinned slightly at Eponin's surprised look. He didn't know who I was. I had been taken as a slave and sold to a gladiator school. I had to learn to kill and fight or die. I choose to learn and survive to get back to Xena, Gabrielle began explaining. The bard took in the smell of the trees and the sound of the birds, remembering a time when they were a distant thought behind the walls of a Roman villa, behind the walls and chains of the gladiator school. Brutus recognized me but kept quiet, protecting me and bought me. Caesar found out his favorite General had taken an interest in female gladiators and demanded to see me. I became one of his fighters and won my freedom in the Circus.
Oh Sweet Artemis! Pony whispered. A gladiator?
Gabrielle nodded unhappily. Yes, I became a trained killer, she said bitterly.
You survived for your mate and then you survived being crucified to save the Amazons, Eponin frowned. Gabrielle, I'm sorry I doubted you.
Forget it, Brutus betrayed all of us, Gabrielle said.
What happened? He was your friend and then he betrayed us and Xena said he kidnapped Sasha?
I don't know. When he returned me to Xena we were friends. I knew he was in love with me, or lust, I don't know, Gabrielle said thoughtfully. I don't know what happened. I think something snapped when he killed Caesar somehow and he found himself fighting Antony for control of Rome. I think he crossed a line somewhere in his soul and was determined to have everything that he wanted, no matter what the cost.
And he wanted you, Eponin said grimly.
Yes, he kidnapped Sasha to gain favor with Ares and he was hoping I'd be captured. If he couldn't have me willingly, he was willing to force me. Gabrielle felt her jaw tightening at the thought of more rapes at the hands of the Romans and almost growled.
Gods, does everyone fall in love with you? Pony grinned at the exasperated look the bard gave her.
Not everyone! Gabrielle protested, regaining her smile. You didn't! Your heart is elsewhere!
Pony's eyes went wide and the Amazon began blushing. I don't know what you mean! she whispered, her eyes glancing at Xena and Jaeger riding in front of them, with Sasha riding with Xena.
Gabrielle's eyes caught the glance and grinned even wider.
Tell me something, Pony, she lowered her voice. Why aren't you with Jaeger?
I don't know what you mean, Eponin mumbled and then gave up the pretense. Oh Hades, is it obvious?
Just a little, but then people tell us Xena and I were the same way, everyone knew but us. Gabrielle grinned.
I don't know. I think she's interested and then she turns cold, Eponin complained.
Well, I think she's got it bad for you, Gabrielle smiled.
Don't take this wrong, but have you noticed something different between Xena and Jaeger? I don't mean sexually, but
Yeah, there's something there, it's like they know each other somehow, Gabrielle agreed.
Have you asked Xena? Pony asked.
Yes, she says it's nothing.
Eponin and Gabrielle continued on, both reflecting on their thoughts as they watched their warriors ahead of them.
I hope Mom isn't going to worry too much about this little side trip of ours, Gabrielle muttered as she curled up in Xena's arms that night.
She shouldn't, we just didn't expect to take another trip to Eddval's so soon, Xena smiled, running her fingers through Gabrielle's short hair and feeling the bard snuggle down against her.
You think the message will get to her?
Should, Clement, the healer, promised me he'd send a reliable messenger to both our families.
I think Mom wants to marry that farmer next to her, the widower, Gabrielle commented after a moment.
Be a good match, I think, Xena said simply, holding her mate close and raising up momentarily to check that Sasha's bedroll was filled and the child sleeping.
I think so to, she actually blushes when she talks about him, the bard grinned.
Both mates lay looking at the stars. After a few moments Xena could tell Gabrielle wasn't done talking but was nervous, the bard's hand playing over Xena's nightshift and ribs. The warrior waited for her bard.
Are you going to hunt tomorrow on the way? Gabrielle asked softly.
Yes, what is it, little one?
It's almost a full moon, the bard said softly, her fingers nervously pulling at Xena's clothing, unconsciously revealing her tension.
I'll take the flask with me, Xena said simply and pulled the bard close for a tight hug and heard Gabrielle sigh with relief.
After a few moments Xena found herself frowning with thought. Are you going to tell Pony?
About? Gabrielle asked slowly and Xena's eyes narrowed, sensing that Gabrielle knew exactly what she was asking but was dodging the issue.
About the bacchae thing, Xena stated simply. About needing blood during the full moon?
It's not something that I go around advertising, the bard snapped.
I know, but you want Pony to be your Regent or even Queen, shouldn't she know this? Xena questioned.
I don't know, Gabrielle admitted. I don't want to find out. We just patched up our relationship and I don't want to risk rocking that boat right now.
She'll accept this, it's not like you had a choice in the matter! Xena urged.
It's hard enough for some people to accept that my father is the god of the Sun, how are they supposed to accept the fact that I drink animal blood, your blood and sprout fangs? the bard demanded.
The Amazons accepted me with my past, Xena argued.
That's because you were changing your future, this isn't something I can change. We've tried, Gabrielle countered, her jaw taking on that stubborn set the warrior knew so well.
Xena knew that any further argument would be hopeless that night and let it drop.
Xena found herself in the middle of three secrets and wasn't pleased with keeping any of them. The past she shared with Jaeger, Jaeger's secret nature, and now Gabrielle's bacchae side. The fact that the bard had been bitten and turned into a fledgling bacchae and had tasted Bacchus' blood. Only two drops but enough to change her when she had died at the hands of Caesar, ever since then the bard needed animal or human blood, usually once a month. Sometimes she also needed the sexual contact along with the blood. Fortunately, Xena had accepted that about her mate and because Xena was the daughter of deities herself, Gabrielle's bite didn't harm her.
It still wasn't something the bard wanted normal humans to know about and Xena could understand that but she felt Eponin should know.
The problem would be convincing Gabrielle to risk that trust so soon after Pony had wanted the bard's head.
The night suddenly felt long and somewhat lonely, even with Gabrielle in her arms.
Xena wasn't surprised when Gabrielle wanted some private time with her warrior away from the others the next night. Since Eponin and Jaeger knew they were mates they didn't have to explain. The bard wasn't about to explain to the two Amazons that, not only did she want some romantic time with Xena, she also needed the private time with Xena's blood.
The warrior also wasn't surprised when they had barely gotten away from the camp when Gabrielle turned and pulled Xena into a rough and passionate kiss that took the warrior's breath away and made her knees weak. The warrior found herself backed into a tree and fought to maintain her balance in the dense woods as her bard attacked her. Xena could tell this was not one of those times when her bard wanted nice, gentle and slow lovemaking and growled in return, pulling Gabrielle off her feet as Xena responded to the kiss, the bard wrapping her legs around the warrior.
Xena lowered her bard to the grass as Gabrielle continued to hold tightly to her warrior, both of them moaning, hands quickly pulling away clothing as their tongues dueled for dominance. The warrior felt her heart almost skip a beat with emotion as her body melded with the bards. Xena was always awed by the feelings and energy between the two of them, even after several years together the intensity didn't seem to ebb or grow stale. Touching Gabrielle was as close to a religious experience as Xena could hope for and she relished every touch, every sound, every scent, and every electric spark that tingled between them.
Neither one of them knew who had gotten what clothing off the other one nor was Xena aware when Gabrielle's fangs sank into her neck as Xena entered her mate, their bodies beginning to rock with the connection and building waves.
Ever since that first time Gabrielle bit into Xena's neck in the bacchae cave, the warrior understood how victims could keep coming back for more, even to the point of dying. The magic surrounding the bacchae bite ensured that, the eroticism behind the bite capturing the victim in waves of orgasm and desire until they would beg to be bitten again and again. Combined with the fear, the sexual energy created by a bacchae was beyond anything Xena had ever felt.
The fact that it was Gabrielle biting her that night only added to the intensity. Xena already knew she was more than attracted to her young traveling companion but didn't think Gabrielle was interested in her as a mate. The fear of falling to the bacchae bite, the sensuality of the bacchae, and having Gabrielle be the one to bite her, had given Xena such a rush through her body that she had never felt before. Xena still wasn't sure where she had found the strength to resist long enough to attack Bacchus and end the nightmare, except that she had to save Gabrielle.
Even though Gabrielle was still uncomfortable with being part bacchae, Xena didn't have a problem with it and welcomed the bite from her bard. Being the child of gods did have advantages, Xena thought whenever Gabrielle's fangs sank into her neck. The bite draining her of a small amount of blood and bringing about some of the best sex and connection Xena had ever felt with anyone.
Xena felt herself whimpering as her body trembled and approached that wave of total loss of control. Then shock hit the warrior like a physical blow as Gabrielle's fangs left her throat and the contact was broken.
What? she mumbled and then with her concentration on Gabrielle broken, she heard growls mixed with a sharp voice and shouting.
Without conscious thought, Xena was on her feet and running back to camp in an instant with Gabrielle on her heels.
Gabrielle slid to a stop and tried to mentally process the scene in front of her.
Xena was tackling a growling creature and Eponin and Sasha were in a tree, shouting and yelling. The full moon casting weird shadows through the tree branches adding to the strangeness of the scene of confusion..
Gabrielle rushed forward as Xena managed to stay behind the figure and lashed out with her hands, hitting several pressure points. The creature went limp just as Gabrielle reached them.
Xena, pushing the furry shadow off of her, looked up at her bard. Get some ropes out of the saddle bags, the warrior instructed as she stood up and tried to rearrange what few clothes she had on.
As Gabrielle rummaged through the packs Xena picked up the large figure and threw it over her shoulder. The bard realizing that she wasn't wearing many clothes either and tried to pull her vest closed.
Come on down, Pony, Sasha, she called and walked back towards the fire and gently lowered the creature down on Jaeger's bedding.
Gabrielle handed Xena the rope as Eponin and Sasha got down out of the tree and rushed up. The bard again found herself trying to process her thoughts as she realized that the furred creature was dressed in Jaeger's clothing and probably was Jaeger.
The Viking Amazon was now covered in fur and larger with muscles standing out under the fur. What stunned the bard was that the head was more like a wolf than human, complete with muzzle and a full set of teeth.
Xena quickly bound the werewolf's arms behind her and then her legs. Then the warrior released the nerve pinches. Instead of struggling against the ropes the werewolf turned away and whimpered.
What in the name of Artemis is going on? Eponin demanded loudly.
Xena gritted her teeth and quickly hugged Sasha and checked her daughter over head to toe. Finding the child okay the warrior smiled at her daughter and kissed the child's forehead with a hug.
Want to do me a favor, the warrior asked the child who nodded enthusiastically. Go and find our clothes?
The child grinned and headed for the trees. Xena grinned a moment and then turned to Eponin and lost her smile.
Jaeger suddenly grows fur and fangs, Eponin shouted. Gabrielle has bloody lips and fangs and your neck is bleeding! What is going on?!
Oh damn, Xena muttered as she took in Gabrielle's blushing face, yellow eyes and fangs. Put some more wood on the fire, it's going to be a long night, she instructed as she pulled a blanket up over Jaeger's wolf-human body.
Half a candle-mark later Xena sat down next to the fire and pulled the blanket back from Jaeger's head. Eponin and Gabrielle gasped slightly at the sight of the Amazon Viking's normal self but Xena didn't seem surprised and merely untied Jaeger.
The Viking Amazon sat up slowly with her head down, not meeting anyone's eyes.
Gabrielle put more wood on the fire, raising the heat around the space and pulling more light out of the flames.
Okay, I owe Pony an explanation, Gabrielle stated, sitting across the fire from Xena and Jaeger, next to Sasha, the child crawling into her lap. The bard wrapped one of the sleeping furs around the child and held her tight. Pony sat down in between Xena and Gabrielle. It's also obvious that you know more about Jaeger's condition than you've let on, the bard growled at her mate.
I promised I'd keep quiet until she was ready to tell everyone, Xena answered.
You know her, Gabrielle stated, her eyes narrowing.
For nearly twenty years, the warrior answered.
What? Pony demanded, she can't be more than seventeen some winters.
Actually I'm almost Xena's age, Jaeger finally spoke softly, her voice harsh and rough.
Okay, who goes first? Pony demanded.
I will, Gabrielle said flatly and began the long explanation of how she was now a partial bacchae. After a candle-mark the bard had finally finished, her eyes downcast and blushing, waiting for Eponin's reaction.
Well, that explains the fangs and blood, Eponin commented and then smiled slightly. Gabrielle, if Artemis accepts you then why should I have a problem with it?
Xena could almost see Gabrielle's muscles relaxing and the Amazon Queen smiled at her Regent. Thank you, Eponin.
With everything we've all been through, I have a feeling this is a small thing, Eponin commented.
What happened tonight? Xena asked the Amazon Regent.
I was telling Sasha a story and we heard Jaeger thrashing in a nightmare. I got up to wake her up and calm her down and Sasha turned over to go to sleep. I shook Jaeger awake but she was still rattled so I laid down next to her and was holding her, Eponin answered.
Let me guess, things heated up between you two and then got weird, Xena grinned a grim smile.
Eponin looked surprised and confused. Yes, how did you know?
I've seen it before, Xena answered softly and gently nudged Jaeger. Your turn Hallvor.
Jaeger/Hallvor shifted and looked uncomfortable. She unconsciously pulled at her clothes nervously.
Many years ago I was a Viking warrior, a sword-maiden. Came my seventeenth year and my family was determined that I should finally marry. No one cared or had a problem with me being a warrior and dedicated to Odin but it was also expected that I would marry and provide children to a family in addition to fighting by my husband's side, Jaeger began, staring into the fire. They also didn't care that I preferred females in my bed rather than males, family obligation was still strong and I agreed to a marriage with a minor Jarl, a lord of the region.
Jaeger glanced over at Eponin, Hildgara was a lot like you, she said softly. She was the sister to Thorkin, the Jarl. He suspected our relationship and forbid us to see each other after the wedding.
Gabrielle and Eponin noticed the Viking's hands beginning to shake.
Night before the wedding he found us together and stabbed Hildgara with a dagger and then tried to force me sexually. Something happened Jaeger pulled the blanket over her shoulders and was surprised when Xena placed her hand on the Viking's shoulder, reassuringly.
I knew I had werserker fury, I had gone battle mad a couple of times, Jaeger continued.
Werserker, like a berserker only your totem animal is a wolf instead of a bear, Gabrielle commented.
Yes, no one, including me, had any idea that I was a full werserker until that moment when I changed, like I was earlier. I killed Thorkin. Hallvor hesisted. Because he had killed his sister and he and I weren't yet married when he tried to force me, I was spared a death sentence for his death. Instead I was exiled by my people, outlawed. My sister was given to his family as weregild payment for the two deaths.
Blood price, Xena commented to Eponin, explaining weregild.
As I was leaving the holding Thorkin's brother attacked me and broke my back with a war hammer and dragged me outside the gates. Because I was declared wolfs-head, outlaw, no one could help me or would. I remember crawling to the woods to the creek.
I found her a day later, Xena continued the tale. I had found a secluded hunting cabin and took her there. Hallvor told me what had happened and I was intrigued by her power, by her wolf side." Xena's face looked pained. "I had just come from Chin and through the Northern Amazon region, I was filled with power lust from Alti and the Vikings intrigued me.
Gabrielle knew her mate didn't like to talk about her past, being too ashamed of what she had done as the Conqueror and it seemed like they were always running into it.
I nursed her back to health and began planning on how to use that power, Xena continued. I couldn't totally heal her injured back, that's why the limp and why she can't climb trees like other Amazons. It was a long recovery.
I was wounded and bitter and willing to do whatever Xena wanted. Hallvor commented.
Which was? Eponin asked.
To gain power over the gods themselves, Xena admitted, lowering her eyes. With Alti's power I was able to capture a Valkyrie and hold her.
Gabrielle felt a chill run over her body and saw Eponin frowning.
One of the Choosers of the Slain? Odin and Freya's handmaidens? Eponin questioned.
Yes, I set about creating a monster that could bring down Asgard so I could get to the golden apples. The apples that can turn any mortal into a god, Xena said softly.
By the gods, Xena, what did you do? Eponin asked.
I bound Hallvor with the Valkyrie and used Alti's magics to change both of them, merging their magic - Valkyrie and werewolf and centered it in the Valkyrie, Gerulda, Xena admitted, a tear escaping down her face.
I don't remember much of the ceremony, I remember shaking my head and looking up at this monster. Gerulda was no longer Valkyrie or human, Hallvor/Jaeger continued. She was seven feet tall and big as a giant and twice as strong. Her skin had hardened, almost like stone or bark and her face was distorted and uglier than your Medusa. There was no humanity left. Next thing I knew I was flying through the trees and landing hard.
I couldn't control her, she attacked the two servants we had and ripped them apart, drinking their blood and smashing the body pieces under her foot. My sword was useless against her, it just bounced off her skin. She was too fast and strong, she almost killed me, Xena said.
She got away and we went after her, trying to control her, Hallvor continued. We finally caught up with her and had another battle, giant monster against a werewolf and warrior. We lost again.
By this time Odin and some of the other gods had found out about my plans and joined in the attack against Gerulda. Odin, Thor, Tyr, Freya and Freyr joined forces with us and we were able to get Gerulda into an old mine of the dwarves. Odin used some of the same magical rope that the gods had used to bind Fenris the wolf to seal the gates of the mine, Xena explained.
Doesn't Fenris break that chain sometime in the future? Gabrielle, remembering her Viking tales, asked as a chill swept over her body. She glanced down and noticed Sasha was still awake and listening to the tale. Sometimes the bard worried that the child knew too much of the grownup world and of Xena's past and at other times the child seemed wise beyond her years.
Someday, when the end of the world comes, Xena nodded.
What happened after that? Pony questioned.
The gods were not amused with me, Xena conceded with a smile. We ran.
We also had help, Hallvor added. Loki, the Trickster god, decided that we were amusing and he was irritated with the gods that week and hid us from them. He said the Norns had told him that Xena had a future in the north and should leave quickly.
For once I decided to take the advice of the gods and left the north as fast as we could travel, Xena smiled slightly.
When they decided to stop chasing us, Xena decided I was no longer useful, Hallvor stated and Gabrielle saw the pained expression on her mate's face.
Hall Xena began.
I told you, that was a long time ago and I don't hold any grudges." the Viking stated. "I like the way you've changed.
Thanks, I had some help, the warrior smiled at her mate and Gabrielle smiled in return and nodded.
I spent the next years roaming the known world, working mostly as a mercenary. I can control the wolf most of the time. Sometimes in battle it comes out, Hallvor continued.
And during sex? Eponin complained with a small smile.
Hallvor turned a bright red, No, only when . When I, uh
Only when she's really aroused by someone she cares about, Xena answered.
You two were together? Eponin questioned and glanced at Gabrielle quickly, realizing too late that the question might hurt her queen.
Yes, but no one had Xena's heart then, Hallvor answered quickly.
No one ever did like Gabrielle, Xena confirmed.
So that's what Odin meant when he said he didn't hold a grudge about the past, Gabrielle said thoughtfully, remembering the last time they were in the North and Xena had been approached by the AllFather, Supreme god of the North.
Yes, and why he sent a Valkyrie to help me when Sasha was born and you were in trouble. He realizes that I've changed and he's changed as well. Not as headstrong and angry. Xena confirmed.
So you can't ever have a lover? Pony frowned as she asked Hallvor.
Not like I want with you, Hallvor answered and quickly got to her feet and walked into the shadows of the woods.
Oh sweet Artemis, what a strange crew we make, Pony muttered.
Yeah, vampires, werewolves, Amazons and children of gods, Gabrielle agreed. Can't anything be done for Hallvor? she questioned her mate.
I don't know, I don't have the power from Alti and wouldn't have the slightest idea how to reverse the spell that made it so easy for her to turn, Xena admitted.
And I don't think Gerulda would cooperate either, Pony growled.
Probably not. She was in a bad mood before I locked her away for so many years, Xena agreed.
I've got a bad feeling about this, Gabrielle muttered.
To a stranger Xena appeared calm as ever as she settled into the sleeping blankets and furs that she shared with Gabrielle. Those who knew the Warrior Princess would have been able to tell just how nervous she was as she waited for Gabrielle.
Hallvor was still roaming around somewhere in the woods with her thoughts and Eponin was tossing restlessly in her bedroll. The only one sleeping soundly seemed to be Sasha.
The warrior bard approached slowly and crawled into Xena's arms without a word. She could feel Xena's tension and hugged the warrior.
Gabrielle, Xena began, About Hall and me those years ago
Xena, that was years ago,' Gabrielle said simply. I was, what? Thirteen? I know you had others before we met. Hades, we both had lovers before each other.
What I did to Hall .
Xena, I know we seem fated to keep dealing with your past, but I accept that about our lives. Just like you accept my bacchae cravings. Gabrielle smiled into Xena's blue eyes and nuzzled her mate's neck. I love you and accept you, including dealing with your past.
I love you so much, Gabrielle, Xena voice cracked with emotion as she hugged Gabrielle tightly.
What are we going to do about Hallvor? the bard asked after a moment. Pony is having a hard time dealing with this.
That's what Hallvor was afraid of, like you were afraid of how Pony would react to your bacchae side, Xena agreed.
Yes, I wish you had told me though.
I know and I'm sorry, Xena said softly. I know we've agreed there would be no secrets between us, I was hoping Hall would tell Pony and I could tell you. I was also ashamed, a lot of this is my fault.
Why? You didn't make her a werserker, she had already changed and killed once, Gabrielle pointed out.
Yes, but berserkers and werserkers usually only change because of anger, usually in battle, not in the heat of passion. My shaman working with the Valkyrie made Hall's werserker side more vicious and more unstable." Xena countered. "She's changed a bit, though, there was a time when a bad tasting ale could almost bring the wolf out. Hall's managed to gain quite a bit of control but because of my damned lust for power she can never be with anyone. Gabrielle flinched as Xena's hand smashed the ground in frustration.
You've changed a lot too, Xena, Gabrielle pointed out.
The warrior shrugged and then kissed the top of her mate's head.
You didn't get much tonight, love, Xena said softly.
The warrior could almost feel Gabrielle blushing. No, the bard admitted softly.
Xena almost sighed outloud, no matter that Gabrielle's patron Goddess Artemis accepted the bard as bacchae, no matter that Xena accepted Gabrielle as bacchae, no matter that Eponin accepted the bacchae, or Hercules, Iolaus, or Yakut of the Northern Amazons. Gabrielle still was ashamed of her bacchae side.
The warrior knew that neither of them were up to the loud, rougher sex that the bacchae craving usually demanded, Xena hoped that what sexual connection they had earlier that night would be enough in addition to more blood now.
Xena held her wrist up to her bard. Gabrielle whimpered slightly and felt her eyes turned yellow and her fangs extend. The bard ran her tongue lightly over her mate's wrist and felt Xena shiver in reaction. Then the warrior cried out softly as Gabrielle's fangs sank into her wrist and her body jerked in sexual response against her bard.
Oh Gods, she whispered as she felt the eroticism of the bacchae sweep over her. It seemed to go on forever and last but an instant and then Gabrielle was kissing her. Xena whimpered as she held the bard tight to her, Gabrielle's hand roughly seeking between Xena's legs as the warrior felt her hips thrust against the bard. Xena could taste her own blood on Gabrielle's lips and crashed with the sexual waves.
Gabrielle felt herself avoiding Eponin's eyes the next morning as Sasha helped the Amazon prepare breakfast for the group. The bard looked around and saw Xena coming up the trail with a string of fish but Hallvor was nowhere in sight.
Xena grinned at her mate and felt herself blushing at the memory of the night before and shook her head. Even after years of marriage one look at Gabrielle could cause the warrior to blush like a lovesick teenager.
The bard finally looked at Pony and was relieved when the Amazon grinned at her. Gabrielle knelt down and began cutting some of the goat cheese.
Where's Hallvor? she finally asked.
Xena dropped the fish and knelt down to begin cleaning them. Eponin merely shrugged at Gabrielle's question
She's around somewhere, Xena said simply. I saw her before dawn. I thought we'd stay here today and regroup. She promised not to run away.
Last night was a bit stressful for everyone, Gabrielle agreed.
Pony didn't comment and refused to look up. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances but left the Amazon to her thoughts.
Gabrielle spent the morning working with Sasha, working on the child's education while Xena was off hunting and fishing for the evening meal. The bard caught Pony's face as the Amazon watched Sasha and the bard working over scrolls and frowned.
Sash, can you work on your numbers for a bit? she asked the blue eyed child and Sasha nodded distractedly, determined to learn everything as quickly as possible. Gabrielle hesitated a moment, watching the child struggle with the numbers scratched in the dirt, Sasha's blue eyes intense like her mothers'.
Pony readjusted her eye-patch as Gabrielle sat down next to the Amazon and wouldn't look at the bard, her Queen.
Talk to me, Pony, Gabrielle ordered.
About what? the Amazon asked in a sullen voice.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in frustration, she knew Pony was dodging the obvious question.
You know what about, Gabrielle growled. You just found out that your Queen is a partial bacchae who grows fangs and needs blood once a month and the woman you're head over heels about grows fur and fangs and is deadly. A bit to digest, don't you think?
Eponin couldn't help but grin in agreement. Yeah, I'll admit I don't know how to deal with Jaeger's problem.
And your Queen? Gabrielle asked softly.
You've reassured me that it won't be my neck that you're munching on, Eponin grinned ruefully.
That's Xenas' job, Gabrielle agreed with a smile.
Sounded more like her pleasure last night, Pony casually looked away with a mischievous grin as Gabrielle blushed bright red. Then the Amazon's face grew serious again. From the way I understand it, I can't have that with Jaeger without risking being killed by her.
We'll work it out, Pony, Gabrielle said simply. Just don't shut her out right now. Look at all Xena and I've been through. You might talk to Xena. Gabrielle suggested as she stood up and headed towards the woods.
What it's like to have a lover who might rip your throat out during sex, Gabrielle said easily and then took to the trees.
With the ease of Amazon training, Gabrielle moved through the trees silently and quickly. While not as talented or as experienced as most Amazons born into a tribe, the bard was actually fairly good after a few years at traveling through the trees. Xena, she reflected, was almost a natural at anything she tried, including Amazon tree fighting and traveling.
The trees were still covered with leaves and lent more than adequate cover for the bard to travel in without being seen by anything or anyone on the ground. The bard took in the scent of the forest and trees with a sigh of pleasure as she stopped and looked around. She knew her senses had heightened with the increase of bacchae influence in her life and she could sense Xena was near without seeing or hearing the warrior.
The warrior herself was also known for her incredible hearing and Gabrielle wasn't surprised when she spotted Xena along the river fishing that Xena was watching her in turn. The bard grinned and waved at her mate and then moved on along the trees.
Xena smiled at Gabrielle's ease of movement in the trees. It had taken a bit of time, experience and training but the bard was now comfortable in the trees and was almost as quiet as an Amazon scout.
The warrior drew in her line and headed back towards camp. She knew where Gabrielle was heading and what the bard had planned. Xena figured it was a good time to get her talk in with Eponin.
Gabrielle spotted Hallvor further up the river, sitting on a boulder next to the water. The Viking was twirling her battle-axe in her hands, obviously lost in thought. The bard made sure to make noise as she dropped out of the tree, one sai held defensively as the werserker spun with war axe drawn back to throw or slash.
Easy, Hallvor, Gabrielle said simply.
Hallvor slowly lowered the axe, her face flushed. Gabrielle sheathed her sai and walked casually towards the Viking. Hall sat back down on the rock and turned to watch the water. The bard sat down next to the warrior and leaned back against another rock.
The warrior bard let herself drift in the beauty of the land around them. They had reached the dark forested area of Germania and getting close to where the Amazons had settled after leaving Greece. The trees were so thick in places that the sun never reached the ground. The river was wide and deceptively calm and peaceful. The trees were of so many colors that it was almost overwhelming to look at, an artist pallet of reds, greens, yellows and oranges.
You alright? Gabrielle asked finally.
I've been better, Hall admitted.
You're trying to think of how to run but your oath to the Amazons is holding you up, Gabrielle commented.
How do you know that and how in Hella's Halls did you sneak up on me? Hall demanded.
Well, I've been trained by Amazons and Xena, Gabrielle responded easily. Add to that the fact you were deep in thought, I was able to get within throwing distance. To answer the first question, logical isn't it? Vikings are extremely loyal to family, tribe and friends. The Amazons are your sworn family now and you don't know how to run away from that oath.
That is the truth, yes, Hall admitted, twirling the axe in her hands again.
You're also attracted to Pony and you're afraid of how she's going to respond to this dangerous side of you, Gabrielle continued.
How would you know? Hall demanded in a sullen voice.
You're forgetting that I also grow fangs, Gabrielle smiled ruefully.
You don't try to kill your mate.
True, I've had to learn control and not let the darkness control me, Gabrielle stated.
I've learned a lot of control over the years but not total, I can't risk Pony's life for that, Hall glanced away but not before Gabrielle saw the Viking's eyes filling with tears.
Xena and I seem to have a way of finding answers, Gabrielle said firmly. I know Xena, she's not going to give up on you.
She's feeling guilty about the past.
Yes, she's feeling guilty and responsible, the bard admitted. She also considers Eponin and the Amazons as family and you are now an Amazon. We'll find a way.
Are you always so optimistic? Hall asked with a smirk.
Seems to be a fault of mine, Gabrielle admitted with a grin. Xena never gives up and I've learned not to as well.
Maybe I can learn some more from Xena and something from you, Hall smiled a tired smile.
Let's go eat, Gabrielle suggested.
Eponin turned and glanced at the warrior and then turned back to the repair work she was doing on some clothing.
Going to tell me what it's like to have a dangerous bed mate? Eponin asked with a smirk.
Carefully, Eponin, Xena suddenly growled. That's Gabrielle you're talking about.
Come on, Xena, Pony snapped. What do you want from me? Sleeping with a wolf is a little beyond me. You may get a kick out of fangs on Gabrielle but the thought of a Hallvor ripping my throat out in the middle of sex does not turn me on.
She's not an animal, Xena snapped back.
No? Pony countered. What I saw wasn't human and, unlike Gabrielle, wasn't thinking like a human either.
Alright, a relationship between the two of you may be beyond you, but she is your Amazon sister. Try and remember that and treat her decently. It's not her fault, you know.
She was this way before you cast that spell and she had already killed, Pony reminded the warrior.
Yeah, I just made it worse, Xena commented.
Despite discussions between Xena and Eponin, Xena and Hallvor, Gabrielle and Hallvor, and Gabrielle and Pony; the tension was still thick among the four women and child and nothing seemed settled between Hall and Pony.
They were polite and cooperative after the first day of silence but it was strained and frustrating for everyone.
Gabrielle threw up her hands in exasperation at the end of the next evening and pulled Sasha aside to talk more about the Amazons customs and myths. Xena grinned at her mate's frustration and continued sharpening her sword while Eponin and Hall ignored everyone.
We'll stop in the next village for the day, Hall's horse needs new shoes before we go much further, Xena announced to everyone in general.
Eponin nodded. Do we stay the night?
Not if we can get the work done before nightfall.
We should be at the Amazon camp by noon the next day then. It's hard travel though, it helps keep the locals from finding us, Eponin commented.
Good, it'll be good to see the other Amazons and the new ones, Gabrielle said softly.
Damn, aren't the portions a little small here? Xena complained as she and Gabrielle sat in a crowded inn eating lunch.
I'd have to agree, the bard commented, continuing to eat.
You going to eat all of that?
You're not getting my food, Gabrielle growled and grinned at Xena's obvious frustration.
It was turning into a frustrating day for the small group. The blacksmith was out of the village until the next day, Pony and Hall were barely talking to each other and neither one of them wanted to interact with the villagers and had decided to wait outside the village, now the food was barely edible besides being very little of it.
The group was looking at a day in the village while the blacksmith did his work with villagers who weren't happy to see Romans, Greeks or any other outsiders. On top of that they served miserable food to travelers.
The tavern was crowded, noisy and smelled of miserable food and unwashed bodies. Gabrielle was sympathic to her warrior's frustration over the food, it was something she usually enjoyed on the road when stopping at an inn or tavern, now the bard was regretting not going back to camp and eating trail food with Eponin, Hallvor and Sasha, even if they weren't talking to each other.
Xena's eyes narrowed as she noticed a tall, large Viking warrior watching her closely, even more intently than any of the other curious travelers and villagers. He kept staring until Xena felt herself growling.
I don't like being stared at when I'm eating, she snapped, blue eyes blazing at the bearded warrior.
The warrior, taking her warning as an invitation, stood up from his stool and walked over to their table. He glanced down at Gabrielle and noticed her left hand moving down under the table and knew that she had a hand on a weapon and smiled at her reassuringly before turning to Xena.
Are you Xena? he asked simply, keeping his voice low and speaking in Latin.
Xena was always cautious when people recognized her, given her past reputation and the way most people felt about the Warlord Xena. Even after years of leaving that past behind, it kept coming back and haunting her.
And the warrior was already in a bad mood.
Yeah, what about it? she snapped, chewing on her food.
Without saying a word the warrior reached into his vest and dropped something metal onto the table. Gabrielle flinched at the sound and looked at the twisted metal with a curious glance. She glanced up and was surprised when she saw Xena's face was pale as the warrior stared at the twisted gold rope chain and the gold raven that was torn in half.
Xena felt a roaring in her ears and she felt her hands gripping the table. What are you called? she asked softly.
Beowulf, the warrior answered simply.
Where can we talk? Xena asked.
Outside at the stable, out of the rain, Beowulf suggested.
I'll be there in a few minutes, Xena responded.
The Viking nodded to both the warrior and bard and disappeared in the crowded room.
What is this about? Gabrielle asked, picking up the broken metal and examining it. Xena didn't answer but continued to frown as she watched the light dancing off the tarnished metal. Gabrielle's eyes suddenly went wide.
Oh sweet Artemis, she whispered. This is the metal rope holding Gerulda, isn't it?
It was, Xena said grimly.
Oh gods, Gabrielle muttered. What do we do?
I don't know, Xena growled. Fix my past screw ups again.
Xena Gabrielle tried to begin but the warrior brushed her reassurances aside and stood up.
Let's find out how bad it is.
A few minutes later and the warrior dashed across the village common with her mate into the stable, chakram out cautiously.
Beowulf stood in the center of the main area with his hands in plain sight, a golden helmet with a large boar figure on top tucked under one arm. Xena and Gabrielle, both aware of the potential for an ambush, separated just inside the door and approached the warrior with weapons drawn, quickly glancing around, senses alert for anything out of the ordinary.
I give you my word as a warrior, there is no one else in here, Beowulf stated.
Xena eased up and walked up to the warrior with Gabrielle approaching from the other side.
Xena held up the chain rope and broken lock shaped like a raven. What is this? she asked, switching to Germanic.
You probably know what it is better than I do, he responded. I found that on a broken gate at the entrance to an old mine when I was looking for a monster. A man in a cloak appeared and told me to find you.
Terrific, Gabrielle muttered. You know who that sounds like.
Yeah, I do, Xena nodded.
AllFather? Beowulf suggested. I recognized him from the tales and he disappeared on an eight-legged horse. Pretty good clues, eh?
Pretty obvious, actually, Gabrielle agreed with a smile as the tall warrior towered over her.
Xena's sharp eyes noticed his face softening as he looked down at her mate and resisted growling.
Yes, he agreed.
Like Eponin had once teased the bard herself, now Xena wondered if everyone who came in contact with Gabrielle fell in love with her. Then the warrior corrected herself, except Ares, Ulysses, and Caesar. Terrific, she thought to herself, I get the bad boys and she draws everyone else.
Monster? Gabrielle questioned.
Yes, Beowulf answered, breaking eye contact and looking back to Xena. The local King, Jarl Healfdane sent a message to me, asking for my help. Something has been brutally killing warriors, sheep, cattle, women and children.
Why did he send for you? Xena asked.
Because the skalds still sing of my adventure of five winters ago, Beowulf said proudly, almost puffing up his chest.
Which was? Xena questioned.
We're aren't from around here, remember, Gabrielle quickly threw in before the warrior could be insulted that they didn't know of his reputation.
Yes, he responded easily. I killed a sea dragon that was killing the local fish and fishermen. Jarl Healfdane sent for me when his best warriors were killed, their bodies ripped apart and scattered. I found his main hall almost destroyed by something large and strong. After the last attack, the Jarl and his family have gone to his hunting hall further in the mountains. The countryside has become a wasteland, corpses of cattle and sheep litter the land.
Any idea what is causing it? Gabrielle asked, hoping it was something other than the probable monster that was once a Valkyrie.
I haven't seen it but I managed to track it to an old mine where I found that chain rope, Beowulf responded. Then something very large grabbed me from behind and threw me into a tree, grabbed me again and threw me over a cliff. Lucky for me there was a river at the bottom of the cliff.
Good thing for you, Gabrielle grinned.
Yeah, but four of my kinsmen that were with me weren't so lucky. I found them torn to pieces when I managed to get out of the water and back to the mine, the Viking warrior growled.
I'm sorry, Beowulf, Gabrielle said softly, losing her grin. The sound of the rain hitting the wooden structure didn't help the moon any inside the stable, dimly lit by two lanterns.
Then AllFather showed up and I figured I'd better find you and get more warriors, the Viking shrugged, reminding the bard of her own warrior mate.
We have two others and our daughter with us, we'll meet you on the Northern end of town in the morning to go find Gerulda, Xena suggested.
Grendel, Beowulf corrected.
Her name was originally Gerulda, Xena said softly, her eyes going distant and her jaw tightening.
Her? How would you know that? the Viking demanded.
I created her, Xena growled and headed for the door, Gabrielle following to catch up.
The bard decided it was probably better to remain quiet with the warrior until they reached camp. After years together, Gabrielle knew when Xena was upset.
It was late evening when Xena and Gabrielle arrived back at camp to find Sasha upset and the other two women at a loss on how to calm her.
Xena's frown deepened her daughter launched herself into the warrior's arms, tears beginning to flow again.
What is it, Sasha? she asked softly as Gabrielle dropped the travel packs, now refilled with food and supplies next to the campfire, silently thanking the Fates that the rain had stopped.
I had a dream vision, the young girl whimpered.
She got tired waiting for both of you and fell asleep, Eponin explained. Next thing we knew she was screaming.
Xena sat down next to the fire, still holding her daughter close and welcomed Gabrielle into the hug as well. Both moms comforting the terrified child together.
What did you see, little one? Gabrielle questioned, Do you want to talk about it?
I saw Mama hanging upside down from a tree and she was all bloody, Sasha said softly.
Both Gabrielle and Xena could tell how upset the youngster was, it was the only time she called Xena mama. Hearing the description of her dream, they could understand why.
You called it a dream vision, Xena said softly, wiping the tears from her daughter's face. Was this different from a regular bad dream?
Yeah, the dark-haired, blue-eyed child responded, still sniffling but calming down.
How was it different? Gabrielle asked.
The other two Amazons began unrolling the bedding for the evening, listening but keeping quiet. Spreading the blankets and furs on pine boughs that had managed to stay dry in the thick forest.
It was more like the pictures I get when I see future stuff, Sasha tried explaining.
Okay, I understand, Xena said reassuringly.
Xena, Gabrielle began, a frown on her face.
We'd better tell Hall and Pony what's going on first, Xena suggested, cutting off the bard's obvious worry about the vision and the upcoming hunt for Grendel/Gerulda.
Xena continued to hold and rock Sasha as Gabrielle told the Amazons what had happened that evening in the village and about Beowulf. By the time the bard was finished, the child was calm once more and listening closely.
So that means we go and find your old playmate and finish this? Pony asked with a grin.
Both Hall and Xena frowned deeply but both nodded, looking at each other with their jaws clenched.
You don't have to come along, Pony, Gabrielle said simply.
Are you going, my Queen? the Amazon responded.
Where Xena goes, I go, the bard answered.
Then I follow you, Gabrielle, Eponin stated firmly.
I know Hall is going, this is unsettled business with the two of us, Xena said. The question is now what to do with Sasha.
I'm going with you, Mom, the young girl snapped.
I don't think that would be smart, little one, Gabrielle said gently.
The child began pouting but listened as it turned into a major debate for the next candle-mark between the four women. The question really wasn't whether Sasha was going to go with them, it was what to do with her while they were gone. None of them wanted the child anywhere near Grendel. Gabrielle had pointed out that Beowulf had mentioned children being torn to pieces by the monster.
It was finally decided that Eponin would escort Sasha to Jarl Healfdane's hunting hall and then catch up with Xena and the others. Xena, Gabrielle and Hall would join Beowulf and the warriors he had gathered.
Eponin wasn't amused with the decision but agreed that it was the best one.
Sasha and Xena arguing about Xena going at all until the child fell asleep.
The four women and child settled in for a night of restless sleep.
Sasha woke up and immediately began arguing with Xena about going after Grendel until they were snapping at each other and Gabrielle put her foot down and told both of them to be quiet.
Eponin was still upset about being left out of the first part of the hunt and Hall was quiet and sullen, lost in her own memories of Grendel.
Somehow the beautiful dawn after the storm was lost on all of them as they trekked their horses through the mud around the village to meet Beowulf.
Gabrielle could tell that Beowulf was surprised that the other two warriors were females and Amazons but he didn't say anything and merely nodded when introduced to them. He also didn't say anything when they told him that the child and one warrior would be traveling to the Jarl's hall while they tracked Grendel.
Xena spent a few moments with Sasha while Beowulf relayed directions to Jarl Healfdane's Hall to Pony.
Mom, this isn't good, Sasha said once again.
I know, Sash, but I don't have a choice, Xena said, sitting next to her daughter.
Gabrielle stood behind them, wanting to be supportive but unsure how to help.
I did something bad a long time ago and now I have to fix it, Xena tried to explain.
Why now? You haven't done anything bad in a very long time, Sasha complained.
Because the bad thing I did a long time ago escaped and is killing people, Xena said and Gabrielle could hear the pain in her voice.
Why do you have to fix it? Can't someone else do it? Sasha demanded.
We have to take responsibility for what we do in life, Xena said with a sad smile. Both good and bad. Others have been killed and more will be killed if I don't try and fix this, innocent people.
I saw you dead, Sasha whispered.
Your Gabby mum saw a vision like yours once, Xena commented. Did you know that she sometimes has dreams like yours?
The young child shook her head with a look of wonderment in her eyes.
Yup, and she saw us, me and her, lying in a cold place and we looked dead. All torn up and bloody.
But you didn't die, Sasha protested.
We almost did. When your Uncle Hercules and Iolaus found us they thought we were dead, just like in Gabrielle's vision, Xena answered.
So my picture might not happen?
I don't know, Xena admitted. I might be hurt, I might even be killed. It may not happen for a very long time. I still have to try and stop this monster.
You and Mum could be hurt, Sasha protested, throwing down a stick she had been twirling around in frustration.
Yes, and we've talked about it, Xena smiled. You know as a warrior it might happen to me someday.
Gabrielle could almost see the child pouting.
I know, it's just hard seeing things, Sasha complained.
I can imagine, Xena admitted. Being the child of a god has advantages and it also has problems. I don't know how to help with this.
Just don't die, Sasha reasoned simply.
Xena couldn't help but laugh and Gabrielle felt herself smiling. The best I can do is promise to try and stay alive as long as possible.
Okay, the child agreed. Mom, it's like a voice that said something to me.
What's that, Sash? Xena asked.
Beware of stag horns.
Okay, I won't die and I'll avoid any deer, Xena grinned.
Okay, Sasha grinned back.
Gabrielle leaned over and hugged both of them.
Let's go! Hall called out and the two moms hugged the child tightly and mounted their horses.
Xena tried not to let Sasha see the worry and sadness in her face as they rode off, leaving the child with Eponin.
Just outside the next village they picked up the six warriors Beowulf had recruited for the hunt.
Gabrielle was once again amused by the difference in cultures between the Vikings and Greeks she knew. Like heroes of myth and legends, these warriors were looking at the hunt for a monster that had killed countless warriors, women, children and animals as an adventure. Instead of worrying about coming back alive, these warriors laughed at the possibility of being killed in battle and being famous even if they were dead.
In fact, some of them looked forward to dying in a good fight rather than facing death by old age.
Another thing that surprised Gabrielle was how the warriors responded to Xena, they almost worshipped her.
Xena had run into such attitude before and hated it. These warriors worshipped her because of what she had been, the ruthless warrior. The woman warrior who would use anyone she could and kill or move anyone in her way.
They admired her warrior skills, her battle tactics and her policy of no mercy. They loved the warrior who could rack up a body count without a second thought. They loved the warrior who didn't care who was among that body count, innocent or villain and at the same time they were honorable men who would defend those same innocents with their lives.
Xena spent most of the day growling and waving away the warrior admirers.
Gabrielle also spent the day fending off advances but not because of her warriors' skills. All of the Vikings, including Beowulf, couldn't believe that the little bard could be deadly in a fight. Gabrielle didn't know if letting them know about her gladiator reputation would help or cause more disbelief from the group of huge warriors. The bard grumbled that even their horses were bigger than hers.
She also could tell that Xena was distracted with her own problems with the warriors or else more than one of them might have found himself sitting on the road with a broken arm after approaching Gabrielle too often.
By the end of the evening one warrior did have a bloody nose from Xena's fist when he demanded that she demonstrate some of her battle moves and another had a black eye when he insisted that the little Greek bard should really marry him and let him protect her. He had proposed marriage with his hand on Gabrielle's thigh and with each word it had gotten higher. The Viking had found himself sitting on the ground holding his eye and the side of his head from where a fist had connected with his eye and a sai with the side of his head.
Then he was trying to scramble backwards as Gabrielle was holding a very angry Xena back from hurting him even more.
The Greeks fell back behind the group after the afternoon break, for some space away from the Vikings.
Xena, if I have one more proposal to share my bedding tonight I'm going to scream, Gabrielle declared.
Trouble, little one? Xena finally snapped out of her own thoughts and grinned at her mate.
Nothing much, Gabrielle shrugged, letting her irritation drift away at the sight of her mate's blue eyes and smile. Tell me, love of my life, she continued. Are we best friends or mates on this trip?
Well, considering you've won over more than half the warriors and Beowulf himself would probably walk through fire for you already, I think we'd better be mates and get their minds elsewhere, Xena grinned.
Gabrielle growled and then threw her hands up in frustration. What is it about me?! she demanded.
Ever think it might be from your father?
My father? Gabrielle suddenly became thoughtful.
He is the God of the Sun and, if even half the tales are true, he does get around a lot and has no problems in the romance area, Xena pointed out.
Sasha has visions, I get love-sick warriors, the bard complained.
And I get the bad boys, Xena reminded her mate and was pleased when the bard playfully whacked Xena on the arm.
Then Gabrielle's face got serious. This one is going to be bad, isn't it?
Yeah, I think so, Xena admitted.
Before the two Greeks could discuss it further a commotion ahead of them caught their attention. Xena kicked Argo into a trot in-between Hallvor's horse and one of the warriors. Gabrielle rode up the other side of the female Viking and grabbed the warrior's arm as she started to grab her sword.
The werserker turned with a growl, baring her fangs and then her eyes softened and her grip on her sword pommel relaxed and her fangs receeded.
Gabrielle looked over and saw Xena holding the male Viking warrior by his collar, her hand on his sword arm as well.
What in Tartarus is going on? Xena demanded.
All the other warriors had stopped and Beowulf rode up with a frown upon his face.
What is going on? he demanded.
Trying to find out, Xena responded. Now, one of you tell us what is going on.
I was just being friendly, the male warrior said in a sullen voice. I asked who her family was, she's obvious Norse.
He wouldn't let it alone, Hallvor growled back.
What is the problem? Beowulf demanded.
Ask her! the Viking male warrior grumbled.
My family is my business and no one else! Hall snapped back.
Beowulf waved his hand impatiently to silence both Vikings and looked at Xena.
Is her past as much of a problem as yours? he asked.
Yes, according to your customs, Xena admitted.
Gabrielle, knowing how serious the Vikings took their family ties, kept quiet.
Is she a wolf's head? Beowulf asked.
Xena and Gabrielle hesitated and both looked at Hall. The female Viking glared at Beowulf and then at the other male warrior. She finally looked back at Xena and nodded.
Yes, she was also with me when I fought Grendel last time. We need her, Xena responded.
Beowulf seemed to think for a moment and held up his hand for silence as several of the male warriors grumbled and complained among themselves.
Our best heroes have been wolf's heads and AllFather himself insisted on Xena. She vouches for the woman and that is good enough, he declared.
A couple of the men grumbled but the one warrior Hallvor had been arguing with stuck out his hand towards the female Viking. After a moment's hesitation, Hallvor grasped his forearm in a warrior's handshake and Xena smiled, relieved.
The small group broke for camp a couple of candle-marks later and Xena was pleased that some of the other male warriors were approaching Hallvor, comparing weapons and discussing axe throws with the seemingly young female Viking. A couple of the others were grumbling and ignoring the young outlaw but Beowulf and the others seemed to accept her at face value on Xena's word and the warrior was pleased. They didn't need friction in their new group, not when they were about to face Grendel.
Xena looked over with raised eyebrows as one of the male warriors went tumbling by her, having been flipped head over heels by her mate. Gabrielle's face was red and her green eyes were flashing brightly.
Xena quickly stood up and motioned for Gabrielle to stop and not follow through with hurting the male. The male Viking sat near the fire, looking up at the bard in surprise.
"How did a little thing like you do that?" he asked with a grin as his mates laughed at him.
"I told you all that she would surprise you," Xena grinned and moved behind Gabrielle and placed her hands on the bard's shoulders. She felt Gabrielle relax slightly and lean back into the warrior's chest. Xena spotted Beowulf's eyes narrow slightly. "Now listen up, all of you," Xena continued. "Gabrielle is as much of a warrior as any of you and she might even have more kills than most of you."
Xena hated bragging about Gabrielle's kills, knowing how her mate felt about having to kill at all but it was something the Viking warriors would admire and would make them trust the bard's warrior skills more. She tightened her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders reassuringly as the bard stiffened.
"She's also spoken for," Xena growled. "That means paws off. Get your mind out of your trousers and think about facing Grendel."
"What kind of man would let a little and beautiful thing like Gabrielle go wandering around Germania looking for monsters?" one of the men demanded.
"Me," Xena answered simply and felt Gabrielle's head lift slightly as both of them challenged the others with their eyes to have a problem with their relationship.
"You are mated, not just travel mates?" Beowulf questioned, his eyes a little hurt.
"Yes," Gabrielle responded, showing her bracelet from under her bracer. "Our bonding bracelets."
"They are married and off limits," Beowulf declared to the men and ignored the smirk from Hall. The men grumbled but no one seemed too upset by the turn of events and Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle with a sigh of relief.
"I love you, Xena," the bard whispered.
"And I love you," Xena responded and turned the bard around in her arms. "No matter what happens I want you to know that you have been the best thing that ever happened in my life."
Gabrielle laid her head against her taller mate's chest and held the warrior close.
Both noticed the chill in the air and frowned.
Within two days they were close to the territory of Jarl Healfdane and the mine that once held Grendel captive. Gabrielle noticed that the usual bluster and carefree attitude of the Vikings sombered slightly as they entered a forest of winter-bare trees. They had gone so far north that there was still snow in patches on the ground where the sun never hit.
It wasn't so much the barrenness of the trees or the quiet of the woods that had sobered the group up, it was all the skeletons dotting the landscape. Some of the skeletons still had on broken armor or broken swords clutched in their bone hands, others were too small to be women or men. Gabrielle felt a shiver run up and down her spine at the sight of children's bones.
Animal bones were also among the human ones. Beowulf, himself went pale with the realization that the bones had been gnawed on and most hadn't lost their flesh to the elements or carrion but to something large stripping the flesh from the bone, probably to eat.
Xena felt her stomach doing backflips, knowing that she was ultimately the cause of the nightmare facing them.
Hall shivered as well, remembering her own encounter with the creature that could cause such destruction and how close she and Xena had been to dying.
"Xena," she said, riding up next to the bard and warrior. "Last time we fought her our swords were useless. What plan do you have this time?"
The warrior noticed Beowulf listening for the answer as well and held up her chakram. "This is a weapon that was forged by some lost god so many seasons ago it was almost forgotten. It can cut through the weapons of Hephaestus, our blacksmith god. I'm counting on it being able to cut through Grendel's skin," the warrior explained to the Vikings.
"Magical weapons against a monster is good," one man commented and the others nodded.
Gabrielle smiled as the men began to talk among themselves again and seemed more confident.
"You know, if you said Argo could fly and you were a Valkyrie, they would believe you," Gabrielle commented.
"Yeah," Xena grumbled. "I know. I've come across idiots wanting to be like what I was, the Warlord, but they were only a handful or already following a Warlord. Up here it's the entire culture almost but different at the same time."
"You mean like how they can worship your battle skills and slaughter and yet be so honorable in their own culture and lives?" Gabrielle asked.
"Exactly, they want to be brave in battle and actually die in a good fight. At the same time honor is everything to most of them," Xena smiled as they rode along.
Gabrielle noticed that even though everyone seemed more confident, the voices were still kept low and everyones hands stayed close to their weapons. She looked over at Hall and wasn't surprised that the werserker's eyes kept darting back and forth as she leaned forward in her saddle, almost sniffing the wind.
Xena moved Argo up next to Beowulf as he raised his hand to stop the warriors. Both leaders looked around with frowns.
"We're close to the mine, we should see or hear something by now," Beowulf complained.
"I agree, something's not right," Xena muttered. "Wait here."
With a short cry Xena spurred Argo into a trot down the overgrown trail leading to the mine. The warrior knew that Grendel would have spotted them a long time before getting this close. She and Beowulf had decided on a direct approach rather than trying to sneak up on the monster. They were hoping that Grendel would be confident in her special protection against weapons and attack them without much thought to who she was attacking.
They were counting on the men keeping the monster busy while Xena got close enough to use the chakram. It was a risky plan, everything depended on Xena getting a killing shot in before too many of them died.
Argo skidded to a stop with a snort of protest at the entrance to the mine and Xena had to agree with the sentiments of the faithful and intelligent creature. The smell of decay almost made her gag and brought tears to her eyes.
Surrounding the mine entrance were great piles of bones and decaying bodies of both animals and humans. From the bones dotting the countryside and the bones here Xena estimated that the human victims of Grendel probably numbered close to a hundred. A huge number of victims for one creature.
Xena pulled her feet out of her stirrups and moved onto Argo's saddle. With her battle cry she vaulted off the horse and flipped onto her feet several yards away to the front of the mine, sword and chakram in hand.
Before her body had settled onto the ground the warrior rolled forward and came up with sword striking and chakram held up defensively.
Xena frowned, her brows furrowed in puzzlement as she stood upright. Her sense were on heightened alert and she sensed nothing, not even with her exceptional hearing. The gate was still there, bent and rusted but still there and nothing else seemed to be.
Still moving cautiously, Xena went back to Argo and mounted the horse. With her frown deepening she urged Argo back towards where the Vikings and Gabrielle waited.
After two candle-marks the mine had been mostly explored by the warriors with torches. They had found where the creature slept and ate and where it had been imprisoned and had tried to dig out all those years but they didn't find Grendel herself.
After two candle-marks inside the dank, dark and smelly mine everyone was more than anxious to be away from the place and quickly scurried outside. Gabrielle felt herself shivering and she wasn't sure if it was from the dampness or the atmosphere of the place. The bard had been to Tartarus on a couple of occasions and hadn't enjoyed it but it would be preferable to this, she thought. Even the rats seemed bigger and more vicious in this maze of darkened tunnels, some of them collapsed and blocked.
The group moved upwind a good distance from the mine, leaving two of their number to watch the mine, and settled in for the night.
Now that their relationship was clear to everyone, Gabrielle sat between Xena's legs and leaned back into her warrior as Xena's arms wrapped around her. Most of the Vikings were sharpening their weapons, arm wrestling or telling tales softly.
Xena knew that Gabrielle and most of the warriors had been affected by the sights outside and inside the mine and tried to block the pictures of the bodies and bones out of her mind, herself. She held the bard tight.
Both Gabrielle and Xena noticed that the warriors kept their voices low and their eyes were constantly darting around. The sight of so many skeletons had unnerved most of them. It was one thing to face a glorious death in battle, it was another to face a monster and end up being eaten. Most of the men and both Greeks had been in battle before, they had seen the wounds war could cause. This was different, this was more horrific than any of them could even comprehend.
"And I thought Cerebus was always in a bad mood," Xena muttered.
Hallvor sat down in front of the Greeks.
"Thank you for vouching for me," she said simply.
"No thanks, needed. You were a very good warrior then and I have no doubt you've improved. I also want to try and capture Grendel alive, I need you for that," Xena answered.
"Why alive?" Hall questioned.
"That's the only chance we have to figure out how to reverse that spell."
"Do you think you can cure Grendel?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"I don't know. After what she's become I'm not sure," Xena admitted. "I'm hoping to at least reverse Hall's condition."
"If it's a choice between Grendel killing more innocents or my wolf side, choose killing Grendel," Hall growled.
"I'm tired of losing choices," Xena growled back, remembering how Gabrielle had sacrificed her chance at being cured of her bacchae curse in order to save Xena and neutralize the god-killing powers of the chakram and so many other no-win choices in her past.
"You know those warriors aren't going to be happy trying to capture Grendel alive," Gabrielle pointed out.
"I know and I can't explain it to them either," Xena complained.
"Let's just face that when it comes," Gabrielle suggested.
"This place sends shivers up my spine, I admit it," the females overheard one of the Vikings raising his voice. They glanced over and saw three of the warriors huddled around the fire, sharpening their weapons and looking out into the dark every few seconds.
"Alright, I admit it as well," another one spoke up. "This is a cursed place of death, not of battle but of slaughter and death."
"I agree, I can't wait to get back to Jarl Healfdane's Stag Hall and drink mead and sit by the warm fire," the third spoke up.
Gabrielle sat upright as Xena jerked to her feet and rushed over to the men. They looked startled by the intensity in the warrior's eyes.
"What did you call Jarl Healfdane's Hall?" she questioned.
Beowulf rose and approached the men and Greek with a frown as Gabrielle and Hall walked over from the other side.
The Viking warrior, Hathgar, looked puzzled. "It is called Heorot, Stag's Hall because of all the stag horns mounted on the walls and above the doors. Jarl Healfdane is a great hunter."
"Xena?" Gabrielle questioned.
"Sasha's vision! Beware of Stag horns," Xena answered through gritted teeth.
"Oh sweet Artemis, that's where Grendel is!" the bard whispered.
"You mean Grendel is at Jarl Healfdane's hall?" Beowulf demanded.
"Yes, Sasha is gifted with sight and she saw danger, something about stag horns," Xena answered.
"Mount up! The Jarl and our friends are in danger!" Beowulf shouted and the Vikings scrambled to grab up their sleeping furs and pack their horses up for travel.
"Beowulf!" Gabrielle shouted, "We can't ride in the dark in this forest, one of the horses will break a leg!"
"We have to move!" Xena yelled back as she rolled up their bedding. "Sasha, Pony and the others can't stand against Grendel. We'll ride with torches."
"Damn!" the bard swore as she grabbed her cloak up.
It was close to dawn when the riders came into sight of Heorot, Stag's Hall.
"Xena?" the bard whispered as they approached the hunting hall of Jarl Healfdane. The place was dark with no sign of the ever-burning fire in the firepit. As the band drew closer and spread out they already had their weapons out. No dogs were barking and there were no guards at the main gate.
Both the gate and the main door to the halls were standing open and everything was dark.
Xena and Beowulf dismounted with Hallvor and Gabrielle right behind them. The four of them approached the hall slowly, weapons drawn and torches held high. Several of the men split to either side of the hall to approach from behind and from the roof.
Xena entered slowly with Gabrielle at her back and then Beowulf with Hallvor at his back.
Beowulf held his torch high, revealing the front half of the hall. Xena's eyes scanned quickly for movement and danger and then began to take in the scene. She wasn't surprised when she heard a strangled cry from Hallvor and Gabrielle muttered something to the gods and quickly dashed outside.
Xena felt her heart almost stop.
Beowulf turned and went to the door shouting for the men to bring more torches.
Xena uttered a desperate cry and began searching through the hall for any sign of Sasha, trying to identify anything familiar among the horror.
"Sasha!" she shouted, hoping against hope that something was still alive in the hall but received no answer or sound.
Beowulf and his men quickly joined her in searching for anything living.
Gabrielle stepped back into the hall, trying to choke down her fear and dinner. She was ashamed having gotten sick but the sight of the hall was worse than anything she had ever seen, even at the mine.
The hunting lodge was typical of a Viking hall - long and one large room with a smaller room at either end. Several fire pits ran down the center of the room and sleeping benches lined the walls. A cook area was at the far end of the building and a huge table near it.
Gabrielle knew from experience that the room at the end was probably Jarl Healfdane's room and the one at the main entrance was for shielding against weather and storage of furs and boots as people came and went out of the hall in winter.
The Hall looked as if it could hold fifty people easily and the bard reflected there might be that many here. She couldn't tell.
"Beowulf," Hallvor called out. "How many here?" she asked, echoing Gabrielle's thoughts.
"Twenty five, including the Jarl," he called back, moving a chair off another body.
The bard thought the only way they could count the victims would be to count the skulls.
Body parts were everywhere in the hall and the walls were red with blood and gore. Gabrielle tried to watch where she was stepping to avoid crunching down on a hand, arm or leg but it was difficult. What little furniture in the hall was also in pieces and scattered among the body pieces.
Gabrielle forced herself to look at the body parts, trying to see if one of them was Eponin or Sasha and fought back from gagging. One of the male Vikings lost his battle with his dinner and rushed for the main door, holding his bloody hands out in front of him. The bard sympathized greatly and none of the man's comrades laughed or teased him when he came back into the hall.
Bits of hair were left on table edges, blood was soaking into the firm packed ground and painting the log walls red.
"Xena!" Gabrielle finally called and spotted her mate at the far end. The warrior looked up towards the bards, her eyes frantic. The bard shook her head and began moving towards her mate. "Nothing, no Amazon clothing and no Sasha," she said, trying not to look at the head of a young woman staring up at her from the floor.
The bard looked up and found she had no way to escape it. The arm of a male was caught in the rafters.
"Sasha!" Xena screamed again, her hands bloody from the search and eyes still frantic.
Beowulf and Hallvor joined the bard next to Xena as her eyes darted around desperately.
"If anyone could get Sasha out of here during an attack it would have been Pony," Hallvor said, trying to encourage the warrior mother.
"Hall's right," Gabrielle agreed.
"Xena, there is no Amazon among the dead and no female child," Beowulf reported to the warrior. "They aren't here."
Xena closed her eyes and struggled for control. Her eyes were still bright with intensity but she was calmer in a moment when she opened them.
"Alright, Pony would try and leave a trail. We have a candle-mark until dawn, we can search then," Xena stated.
"Yes," Beowulf agreed. "We'll gather the dead and try to identify them and then we'll burn the hall with them in it. A good and honorable funeral for Healfdane and kin."
"We'll be outside looking for Grendel's tracks," Xena stated.
Beowulf turned to his men. "Alright, we don't have time to bury our kin and friends. Line up the heads and see if we can tell who is who and then we will burn the hall in honor of them."
The Vikings steeled themselves to the task and began sorting through the body parts.
Gabrielle moved quickly outside and waited for Hallvor and Xena to catch up.
Xena felt her hands clenching at her sides and tried to relax. The warrior felt her eyes soften as a tear escaped down her cheek and let Gabrielle hug her for a moment. She knew the little bard was terrified too for Sasha and Eponin.
Hallvor began searching around the Hall for tracks leading away while the couple tried to comfort each other
Just before dawn the Vikings raised their drinking horns in a salute and threw burning torches into and onto the hall.
Gabrielle felt her jaw tightening as the great logs began to catch. There were so many bodies inside. Far too many to try and bury, burning was a way of taking care of the bodies and honoring them in ancient Viking tradition at the same time.
Xena hummed the burial song as the timbers screamed in protest.
Gabrielle thought the only time she had been more chilled was when they had been forced into a snowstorm in Siberia for days but this chill was different. This was a chill of fear and horror.
It was late afternoon when the finally found the missing Amazon. It was Hallvor's howl of anguish that alerted the warriors as the female Viking Amazon scouted ahead. They had been following the Amazon trail signs in the trees left by Eponin. The signs occasionally told that Sasha was with her.
Then the trail signs ended and the blood trail began. Hallvor had whispered with Xena for a moment and the Warrior Princess turned and suggested to Beowulf that Hallvor scout ahead and the rest of the group fall back a little. The Viking agreed and fell back to ride with his men.
Gabrielle leaned over towards Xena on Argo.
What's going on?
Hall can partly change to the wolf and it increases her senses, she can track Eponin even better than I can, she doesn't want the Vikings seeing her as a partial wolf, the warrior answered.
Good idea, the bard agreed. Werserkers and berserkers weren't unknown in the north but they were uncommon and sometimes feared even by their Viking brother warriors.
At the sound of Hallvor's cry the entire group broke into a gallop over a field and into the woods and found the Amazons at the base of a tree in a densely wooded area. Eponin's head was in the lap of adopted Amazon and she appeared dead to the band of warriors approaching. Dried blood covered her face and most of her body. Her clothing was ripped and Xena could make out a large gash across Pony's left leg and another across her stomach.
Is she ..? Gabrielle asked softly.
She lives, Hallvor answered, her voice harsh. The bard assumed it was from the werserker's transformation just moments earlier.
Everyone dismounted and Xena rushed forward to check and tend the Amazon's wounds.
Gabrielle, Hallvor, look for signs of Sasha, Xena ordered as she cut away what was left of Pony's leathers and woven clothing. One of the Vikings rushed up with a pack filled with healing herbs and bandages.
Gabrielle and Hallvor returned a few minutes later and shook their head at Xena's questioning eyes. The warrior looked pained and turned back to tending to Eponin. The bard crouched in front of her mate.
It's not good, Xena answered. If that gash across her stomach is too deep nothing will help.
Can you tell yet? Hall asked.
Not yet, we'll have to wait and see. I can stitch up the other gashes, Xena responded. There's a good lump on her head and I don't know when or if she'll wake up.
Oh gods, Eponin, Gabrielle whispered, gently stroking the forehead of her friend.
Hallvor and everyone waited impatiently. Xena tending to Pony's wounds, Hallvor sharpening her axe, Beowulf and the other Vikings trying to track Grendel.
It was a candle-mark before the wounded Amazon opened her eyes and was barely able to talk. Eponin managed to speak in short bits in Greek. When Gabrielle translated what she said chilled everyone.
Grendel was intelligent, could speak and demanded Xena in exchange for Sasha.
No one was surprised when this announcement led to one continuing argument between Xena and everyone, particularly Gabrielle. No one but Xena was in favor of the exchange and the bickering went on for over a candle-mark until Xena sent her chakram flying over everyone's head, causing most of them to duck and breaking up their arguments.
Enough! she shouted as she caught the chakram. Listen, all of you! I don't know if you know the history of Grendel or not but I am responsible for this monster. I used magic to change a Valkyrie named Gerulda into Grendel the monster. I'm responsible for everyone she has killed. I'm the reason your Jarl, your kith and your kin are dead!
Gabrielle felt tears flowing down her cheeks as Xena shouted her evil past to the men. The bard heard Hallvor growl as the Viking Amazon held Pony in her arms.
Xena, your guilt over your past is your business, Beowulf finally spoke, removing his gleaming helmet. AllFather Odin himself asked for you to set this right but I don't think even He is demanding your sacrifice at this point.
How do you know, Beowulf? Xena snapped. He's notorious for demanding sacrifices.
Yes, but would he want your life before we solve the problem with Grendel? the large Viking reasoned and Gabrielle had to smile at that reasoning. Even Xena frowned, considering the logic.
I say we finish this in the morning, he continued, follow the trail and see if we can rescue Sasha. If we can't, then we consider trading you for your child.
Xena looked over into the fiery green eyes of her mate and felt her shoulders sag in weariness, worry and compromise. She nodded and lowered the chakram.
Gabrielle turned on her heel and stormed off into the trees.
Beowulf could see the pain in Xena's eyes as the rest of the men worked at setting up camp.
Gabrielle came back to camp but was quiet during the evening meal. The male Vikings were more subdued than usual, having burned their friends and families' bodies seemed to overwhelm them and dampen their normally rowdy spirits as well as the tension between the women. Even though it was a chilly evening Xena resisted wrapping her arms around Gabrielle at the campfire, the intensity was radiating from the bard and no one wanted to get close to the brooding little blond.
Xena was grateful when Gabrielle snuggled down into the warrior's arms in their bedding as usual. After brooding about Sasha being gone and the possibility of losing Xena all evening, the warrior wasn't sure Gabrielle would sleep with her that night.
The warrior held her close and kissed the top of the bard's head.
"I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered.
"I know and I love you, Xena," Gabrielle responded softly, "I just can't take the thought of losing you."
"We've always known that it would probably happen," Xena pointed out.
"Not like this," the bard countered. "I expected you to fall in battle, like these Vikings. Or to be saving someone, not giving yourself up without a fight to a monster."
"A monster I created," Xena reminded her.
"A monster who will continue to kill even if you sacrifice yourself for Sasha," Gabrielle countered angrily.
"At the cost of our daughter?" Xena asked in a whisper.
Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's chest. "No, you know that."
"I know, little one," the warrior said softly. "We'll figure it out."
Xena held the bard close, both crying quietly.
Gabrielle felt Xena turn over in their bedding and turned over herself. The bard felt herself drifting back into sleep when something sharp hit her in the back of the neck and then in her spine. Gabrielle tried to move and grab her weapons but realized with sudden fear that she couldn't move and couldn't speak.
"Gabrielle, it's me!" Xena's voice whispered in her ear.
'Okay, this is not funny!' the bard desperately wanted to say and found she could barely whimper.
"I'm sorry, little one," Xena continued and Gabrielle felt herself rolled over on her stomach. The bard wanted to scream as she felt her arms and wrists being tied behind her back and then her ankles.
Knowing Xena, it would take a long time to get out of those knots. The bard bit her lips in frustration and tried to scream again. When she opened her mouth a gag was quickly stuffed in her mouth, followed by a cloth tied around her mouth behind her head.
Then she felt Xena's body behind hers and the warrior's arms wrap around her.
"I'm so sorry, my love," Xena whispered, Gabrielle could hear the pain in the voice. "I don't have time to argue with all of you and I can't face leaving you in the daylight. I'm going to make sure Sasha is safe. I'll either rescue her or exchange myself."
The bard tried to scream, move, moan, do anything and couldn't.
"I'm leaving half of the chakram here, either you, Beowulf or Hallvor get close enough to Grendel to use it if I don't come back. Just make sure Sasha is safe," Xena's voice threatened to break. "Gods, little one, I love you so much. If I don't come back, wait until Sasha is grown before you follow me, please."
Gabrielle tried to blink back the tears streaming down her face.
"You were and are the best thing in my life, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered. "I can only get through this with your love. I'll try and come back."
Then the warrior hit Gabrielle again on the back of the neck and back and was gone, leaving the bard screaming quietly into her gag and struggling against the ropes.
It was Beowulf who was up before dawn in the cool air and noticed the squirming and whimpering coming from the bedrolls of the Greeks. He was about to leave them to their privacy but something didn't seem right to the Viking. Beowulf stopped for a moment and then approached the bedrolls slowly, knowing Xena reputation as a warrior. He didn't want her to wake up with her sword in hand at his throat because he startled them.
"Xena? Gabrielle?" he called softly and was puzzled when the small sounds increased slightly in volume and intensity. Sensing something was out of the ordinary he poked the furs cautiously with his foot and drew his sword.
Instead of hitting something solid, the foot sank into the furs and blankets.
The Viking knelt down with his sword at the ready and pulled back the furs to reveal more furs underneath on one side and Gabrielle on the other, tied up and gagged.
"Thor's Hammer!" he cried out and quickly cut the bard's bonds with the sword and attempted to help her sit up as Gabrielle ripped the gag from her mouth. She cried out slightly as she attempted to move her arms and legs after being tied up throughout the night. She was finally able to sit up and looked around the camp and back at Beowulf, her eyes frantic. "Xena!" she screamed, her voice harsh from struggling.
The entire camp was in an uproar in a moment.
Beowulf looked at the furs and the bard removing the cut ropes from her bloody wrists and ankles and his eyes narrowed.
"How long?" he demanded.
"About a candle-mark after we went to sleep, I think," she croaked out. "Hallvor!"
The male Vikings and Viking Amazon crowded around the bard, some of them puzzled but most figuring out what had happened quickly.
"Find her!" the Amazon Queen demanded from the Amazon.
"Pony?" Hallvor questioned.
"One of the men can stay behind with her, the rest of us get Xena and Sasha back," Gabrielle snapped.
"Yes, my Queen," Hallvor nodded and grabbed her weapons and was on her horse within moments without putting a saddle on.
Gabrielle knew that the Viking would use those wolf-senses to track the missing warrior and that Hallvor wanted a head-start ahead of the main group.
"Everyone mount up! Leave your bedding here, saddles and weapons only! Move!" Beowulf bellowed and helped Gabrielle to her feet and watched her wince as she started to put on her bracers. The tall Viking reached out and pulled the bard to him and started examining her wrists.
"Bandage those before putting the bracers on," he ordered and then frowned, noticing the massive scarring on both sides, just above the wrists on both arms. Beowulf looked at the smaller woman questioning.
"I was crucified by Caesar to get to Xena," she explained, pulling away and reaching into one of the packs she and Xena carried for bandages.
"You are a brave little thing, Gabrielle," Beowulf stated. "I am honored to ride and fight by your side."
Gabrielle stopped wrapping her wrists to look at the Viking and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Beowulf. I know what that means to you."
Then the bard's eyes filled with tears and she looked in the direction where Hallvor had gone riding off.
Beowulf reached out and began helping the bard with bandaging her wrists. After a moment Gabrielle relaxed and let the large Viking help her.
"We'll get them back, Gabrielle," the Viking reassured her. "You are her soul-mate, aren't you?"
Gabrielle brushed away the tears angrily and buckled on her bracers and grabbed her boots up. "Yes, we are."
"If she dies then you will die," it was more of a statement than a question and the bard nodded in agreement. "Then we must make sure your mate doesn't die," Beowulf declared simply.
As Beowulf turned to grab his equipment up the bard looked at the sky and screamed Xena's name again.
The band of Vikings and bard were on the move with saddles barely hitting the backs of their horses before they were riding away from the camp, the hooves of the horses crunching in the early morning frost.
Xena's sharp eyes took in the sight of her daughter and the warrior mother whimpered softly.
The child was almost at the top of a very tall pine tree, suspended from a branch by a rope tied around her waist and chest. At the bottom of the tree with the rope in hand was Grendel, waiting patiently.
The warrior quickly scanned the area and her options.
After a few minutes of scouting the area, both on land and through the trees, Xena sighed and steeled herself.
The warrior stepped into the daylight and into Grendel's view.
Mommy, no! Sasha screamed and Xena resisted looking at her child, knowing she might lose it if she did. The Greek didn't want to show any emotion in front of the monster she had helped create, emotions could be used against her.
Not that she expected to survive this encounter. Xena threw her sword at Grendel's feet and waited, watching the creature closely.
Let the child go, I'm yours, Xena said simply.
The band of warriors rode hard and fast, catching up to Hallvor several times as the Viking tried to trail Xena.
Beowulf frowned. How in Hella's Halls did Xena find Grendel?
I don't know, Gabrielle complained. Maybe her connection with Sasha. The child is gifted.
She would be a spae-woman here in the North, Beowulf commented.
Spae woman? Gabrielle questioned.
A woman gifted with sight and knowledge of magic, the Viking answered.
They are sometimes feared in the South, the bard commented.
It depends on what magic they work here, some are feared for their powers for evil. Most are looked to for word of future or aid in healing, Beowulf grinned. Do you not have the tie with Sasha?
No, my bonding at birth with her was denied me. I was a slave in Italia when she was born. Gabrielle answered, a touch of bitterness still in her voice.
You love them very much, he commented.
More than my own life, she responded.
It was late afternoon when they heard a hunting horn ahead of them and spurred their horses on even faster. Just up the trail they found Sasha on Argo with Hallvor.
Gabrielle leaped from her horse and grabbed the child into her arms as Sasha dashed to her.
Mummy! the child wailed.
Sasha! Gabrielle cried, holding the child tightly. Where's your Mom? Where's Xena?
She stayed with the monster. The monster let me go and Mom told Argo to find you, the child choked out between her tears.
When did you leave your Mom?
It was just after the sun came up, the child answered.
Grendel has had her at least eight candle marks! Gabrielle exclaimed.
Then let's ride! Hallvor shouted.
Gabrielle mounted Argo and Sasha mounted Gabrielle's horse. The bard leaned over Argo.
Argo, find her, the bard whispered. Find Xena!
The Vikings and child spurred their horses quickly to try and catch up with the bard as the faithful Argo shot off as if the horse was well rested instead of having traveled hours.
Gabrielle leaped from Argo before the horse had skidded to a stop in the meadow and was climbing the tall pine tree before the rest of the group even entered the clear space. The Amazon scurried up the tree branches as the Vikings and little girl crowded around the base of the tree. Ignoring skinned palms and scratches on her arms and face from errant branches, Gabrielle climbed higher and higher.
The bard reached the rope and grabbed it, untying it carefully. She slowly began letting the rope lower it's weight. Gabrielle tried not to think about what was at the other end of the rope right then, trying to block out the sight and memory of Xena hanging by her feet, high above their heads.
The sight of Xena bruised, battered, bloody and appearing dead. Just like Sasha's vision.
At the base of the tree had been another body.
Beowulf and Hallvor carefully lowered Xena to the ground while one of the Vikings brought fresh water and bandages. The others ringed the area with swords drawn, in case the monster decided to return.
Gabrielle quickly descended the tree, fortunate not to lose her grip and fall in her rush to reach the ground.
Oh gods, she cried at the sight of her mate, so pale and unmoving. Is she?
She still lives but barely, Beowulf answered.
The bard glanced over at the warrior hovering over the other body at the base of the tree. Gabrielle couldn't make out anything except long blonde hair and lots of blood.
Is she alive? she asked.
No, her chest is ripped apart, the Viking answered. I don't know her.
Gabrielle dismissed the mysterious stranger and turned to Xena. Hallvor, start stitching up some of the those wounds after cleaning them, try and stop the bleeding. She instructed.
The bard tried to ignore the fact that it was her mate she was checking over and working on and just do the work she had learned from Xena after so many years and too many fights.
The warrior was battered beyond recognition. Her blue eyes were swollen shut and bloody and her raven hair was caked with blood. Gabrielle did a quick inventory of injuries and bit back her tears.
The Greek turned Xena's head to the side to keep the warrior from choking on her own blood as it flowed from her mouth and nose. It was almost certain that the Warrior Princess' jaw was broken, a couple of teeth missing and a broken nose. Moving lower revealed to the bard that Xena's left shoulder was dislocated, right arm broken, and most ribs broken.
Xena's breathing was labored and shallow. Gabrielle quickly thrust a dagger into Xena's side as Beowulf held back one of the warriors. The Vikings looked on in disbelief as the bard inserted a hollow reed from one of the medical packs and held the reed in place. She looked up at the stunned warriors.
Helps release the blood from the lung and it fills with air again, she explained, trying not to think of how she had learned that from her warrior. She had always prayed that she'd never have to use it on any of her family or friends and especially on Xena.
Gabrielle glanced at the blood flowing from Xena's mouth and choked back her fear and tears. The bruising on the warrior was intense at the base of the spine and stomach. Grendel had meant to kill the warrior slowly with internal bleeding and there was nothing Gabrielle could do about that.
Gabrielle, I can't stop the bleeding in some of the wounds, Hallvor cried, frantically working on several injuries along Xena's stomach and thighs. She's bleeding too quick.
I know, Gabrielle said softly. She's bleeding inside.
Hallvor stopped at the sound of defeat in the bard's voice and looked at her Amazon Queen.
Mom's bleeding too fast to heal, isn't she? Sasha asked.
Yes, even with her god-healing gifts, it's too much, Gabrielle answered honestly, stroking Xena's hair out of the warriors closed eyes.
The bard remembered when an arrow had nicked Xena's heart and the warrior had survived but that had been with the help of the warrior's mother, the goddess Hecate. This time there were too many wounds, inside and out. Gabrielle had seen beatings like this on criminals in the arena of the Circus as a gladiator and none of the victims had lived long.
The bard watched her warrior as she heard Sasha beginning to cry beside her. Gabrielle looked at the half of the chakram Xena had left with her and the other half clipped to Xena's belt and began to frown.
Suddenly the bard leaped to her feet and raised her bloody hands to the sky, looking at the sun.
Apollo! she screamed. Father!
Beowulf tried to maintain his composure but the Viking next to him wasn't as successful and stumbled back several feet as a bright light filled the area near centered near the bard. As their eyes focused once again the Vikings were awed to see the Greek God of the Sun standing before them, looking down at the bard.
Daughter, he said simply, glancing over at Xena. You don't usually ask for help.
Please, Father, she pleaded, going down to her knees. Anything! Please save her!
Apollo's face softened and he pulled the bard up by her hands. Gabrielle, you've always been one of my favorites and I would help if I could.
One of those non-interference things? she questioned bitterly.
Yes, he said simply.
The bard pulled out of his hug angrily and spun on her heel. When she turned back to look at him, Apollo wasn't surprised to see the bard's green eyes flashing angrily.
Why? she demanded. The gods usually interfere all the time in human lives if it suits you! How many children do you have, Apollo? How many times has Hera chased some poor mortal woman almost to death because of Zeus' affairs?
What would you give to save your mate, daughter? Apollo asked.
Gabrielle barely noticed Beowulf signaling the other Vikings to stay back and not say a word.
Anything! You know that! she responded angrily.
Yes! she snapped.
No hesitation in your answer, I like that. You've always have thought Xena was the warrior, Gabrielle, but your bravery goes beyond hers in some ways, the God the Sun and of Healing commented. Only a deity or a demi-god could even hope to heal Xena now.
Please, Apollo! Gabrielle's eyes lost their anger as she begged for Xena's life.
It's time you learned some things about yourself, Gabrielle, Apollo stated. Most of the Olympians thought you both would have figured it out by now without being told. Oh well, it's done.
What are you talking about? Gabrielle snapped. She's dying!
Gabrielle, Xena is the daughter of two gods and a human. She's not human and she's not god either but somewhere in between.
We figured that with the god healing thing, Gabrielle responded.
You were told that your god healing abilities were also a gift, Apollo continued. That wasn't quite accurate. You already had them, they just became more pronounced after your death on that cross on the Ides of March.
What are you saying, I'm a demi-god like Xena? the bard questioned.
Yes, you are my daughter and you have the blood of Bacchus running through you, he stated.
Thanks for reminding me, she muttered.
How old do you think Hercules is? he suddenly questioned.
Gabrielle frowned. Hercules? I don't know, he was at Troy.
Apollo surprised everyone by laughing. You mortals! You haven't thought about it, have you?
Gabrielle frowned, she was in no mood for riddles as Xena's life force slowly flowed from the warrior's mouth and numerous wounds.
Okay, he's over two hundred years old, is that what you're getting at? she demanded.
Yes, a demi-god. Son of Zeus.
Gabrielle frowned. Xena is the daughter of Zeus.
Yes, and more demi-god that Hercules. His mother was human, Apollo grinned.
Then she'll live? Gabrielle asked hopefully.
No, she's immortal, not invincible. She still is dying from her wounds, Apollo stated, losing his grin.
Then why bring it up? Gabrielle demanded.
Gabrielle, you are the daughter of the God of Healing and Youth, look inside, Apollo instructed. You can give her your energy and take her place, if you dare. Personally, I'd prefer to see you live but it is your choice.
I can save her? the bard whispered, looking down at her mate.
Yes, you have healing abilities but it's at the expense of your own energy, Apollo revealed.
How? she demanded.
Think carefully, Gabrielle! Apollo begged. She's dead in but moments, you have an eternity of life ahead of you.
God of Healing AND Eternal Youth, he pointed out.
When I died I become a demi-god and eternally young? Gabrielle questioned.
Yes, you stopped aging the day you died.
And Xena? she asked.
She died on that spiritual journey she took for Hecate, she stopped aging on that day, he answered.
Eternity without Xena? the bard frowned.
And if you change places with her, she'll spend eternity roaming the earth without you, Apollo pointed out.
She has Solan and Sasha, Gabrielle stated simply. She turned her bright green eyes to her father. How?
Apollo closed his eyes with a heavy sigh and when he opened them again they were saddened. You are blood bound to her, reach out and find her spirit and send it back here. Give your energy to her body.
Gabrielle nodded and knelt beside her warrior. She looked up and wasn't surprised to find Apollo gone and Beowulf with his hand on her shoulder.
Please don't do this, he asked. I don't know what you were saying with that God of yours but I can tell the look on your face. You're going to trade places, yes?
Yes, she answered simply, realizing that all the Vikings except Hallvor hadn't been able to understand the Greek she and Apollo had been speaking.
This isn't what Xena would want, he pointed out. She knew what she was doing when she gave herself to the monster.
No, she didn't, the bard countered. She was a mother saving her child. I'm trying to save this part of the world. Something Xena taught me a long time ago, sometimes you have to give into the Greater Good. Xena has a better chance at killing Grendel than I do. She's also Sasha's mother and a better warrior. If it's a choice between me and Xena, then Xena is the better choice in this situation.
You'd say that no matter what the situation, Hallvor snapped.
Probably, but you know I'm right, Gabrielle stated simply.
There has to be another way! Hallvor protested.
There isn't and there's no time, Gabrielle snapped and sat down next to her warrior and looked at Xena, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
Gabrielle looked at the sun and at Sasha. She quickly drew the child into her arms and held her close for a moment.
Sasha, I love you very much but I need to save your mom, she tried to explain.
You're going to die instead of her? Sasha questioned, tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked between her mom and her mum.
Yes, the bard said truthfully.
Like the time you made Mom fight the Persians instead of saving you? Sasha asked.
Gabrielle was surprised, she didn't know that Xena had told their daughter that story and found herself nodding.
Yes, like that, she agreed. You and Solan need her and she can beat the monster better than I can.
No! Sasha cried and flung herself into the bard's arms again. Gabrielle felt herself about to break down.
Beowulf, please, she begged and the large Viking took the child from her arms and the bard tried to ignore the child's wails.
Tell Xena I love her, she said softly to Beowulf and Hallvor and then closed her eyes, slipping into the trance the Amazons and Xena had taught her, her spirit reaching out for the well-known connection between her and Xena.
The warrior groaned and tried to open her eyes slowly. Her body felt like it had been stomped on by two Cyclops and then thrown over a cliff. Years of experience told Xena that she had been through a really good fight and had been on the losing end.
Xena, a voice got through the fuzziness. Can you hear me?
The warrior opened her eyes and attempted a smile as she took in Hallvor's face.
How bad? Xena questioned.
You'll be fine, Hallvor said simply.
Xena frowned and gauged her own body damage. She felt battered and bruised but couldn't feel anything broken. The warrior began to feel a chill sweep over her body; Xena remembered her jaw breaking under Grendel's fists. She also remembered choking on her own blood from shattered ribs. Now the ribs weren't broken and neither was her jaw.
Xena's jaw tightened and she sat up abruptly. Gabrielle!
The warrior looked around frantically and took in Beowulf and the male warriors, Sasha sitting next to her, holding Xena's hand and Hallvor. Then Xena felt tears beginning to fill her eyes as she glanced down at the covered figure next to her. Hallvor wouldn't meet her eyes. Sasha had tears streaming down her cheeks and was sobbing softly.
No, please, Xena begged quietly. Beowulf turned away with his head held low. The warrior pulled back the bard's cloak and stifled a sob as she took in the peaceful face of her mate lying on the ground. Xena quickly checked for a pulse and spun to Hallvor when she found none and realized Gabrielle was already cool to the touch.
How!? she demanded.
She yelled for Apollo and he told her how to use her healing abilities to exchange herself for you, Hallvor tried to explain.
Healing abilities? Xena questioned.
Mum had abilities from being a demi-god like you, Sasha sobbed.
Apollo said that you two quit aging the day you both died and you'll live forever, Hallvor said through clenched teeth, watching Gabrielle's body.
No, Xena whispered and struggled to her feet. No! Apollo! she screamed.
This time the Vikings weren't as surprised when the Greek God appeared in their midst as they set about lighting two camp fires.
Apollo's eyes were red and his face was sorrowful.
Undo this! Xena demanded, pointing at Gabrielle.
No, as much as I want her alive, Xena, Apollo shook his head. She made the choice and gave her energy to you. I can't undo that.
Damnit! Xena shouted, If you can't then who can?
None of the Olympians, Xena, Apollo shook his head and began fading from her sight.
I didn't ask for this! the warrior protested.
I know, but she did. Take care of the monster and raise your daughter, that's what she wanted, Apollo said and faded out of sight.
Xena looked at the stars making their appearance in the sky and screamed Gabrielle's name.
Beowulf waited for a candle-mark before approaching the warrior. He knew it was going to be a long night for everyone but especially Xena. They had left their gear at their campsite with the warrior and Eponin so the group was huddled in their cloaks around two fires. The body of Gabrielle covered nearby, casting a quiet spell over the group.
Xena? the Viking questioned softly.
The warrior sat on a log sharpening her sword and glanced over her shoulder.
What happened, Beowulf? Xena asked finally.
She closed her eyes and went into another space. Your body began to jerk and hers began to glow with a light. When the light cleared she was laying next to you. She reached out and held your hand, said your name and stopped breathing, the Viking explained simply.
Xena felt the tears beginning to flow again.
I knew what I was doing, she shouldn't have done this, she muttered.
She told us that you had the best chance to stop Grendel and raise Sasha, that you were the better choice. Beowulf said.
Never! Xena snapped as Beowulf sat down on the ground in front of her. Gabrielle is the light of the world, she keeps me out of the darkness. I can't live without her.
You have to until Grendel is dead if you wish to honor Gabrielle's memory, he stated simply.
Xena's eyes narrowed in anger and then softened. You're right. Tomorrow we track Grendel, kill the bitch and figure everything else out later.
Your god said that you are forever young but not invincible, like Hercules, Beowulf commented. What will you do without Gabrielle?
I don't know, Xena admitted, tears falling. I have to take care of Sasha until she's grown.
What happened to you? Beowulf asked.
I gave myself up to Grendel, Xena began. She let Sasha go and then we fought. I managed to get in a few good strikes but it wasn't enough.
The warrior continued sharpening her sword, trying to distance herself from the memory of her encounter with Grendel as she told it.
I remember her hoisting me up into the air and she began really beating me, Xena's jaw tightened. Then I heard Grimhild's voice.
The warrior slowed her sharpening, deep in thought. She was a Valkyrie, Beowulf. Sent by Odin to help me several times when I've been in the North.
Xena didn't look up at the Viking but knew his face was one of surprise. Most Vikings never saw their deities or Valkyries and Xena knew that this was part of the source of their admiration of her. It seemed to the warrior that she couldn't seem to escape dealing with the gods no matter where she went.
The night seemed colder to the warrior as she thought about Gabrielle and she fought off a shiver.
I saw her fighting Grendel, Xena continued. Of course she fought better than any human I've ever seen. Only Ares was better. It still wasn't enough.
Beowulf saw a fresh tear fall down Xena's cheek.
Grendel put both fists through Grimhild's chest, she whispered, sharpening her sword forgotten. Then I heard horses and Grendel disappeared.
Must have been us, Beowulf reasoned. Your Valkyrie kept you from being killed immediately.
Yes, so that Gabrielle could die!
Beowulf tumbled over on his backside as Xena jumped to her feet.
Damnit! she screamed, slashing at the nearest tree with her sword. Gabrielle!
Beowulf barely turned his head but the warrior had already spun around, launching her chakram at the sound within a moment.
Both Viking and Greek warrior were surprised to see a cloaked figure holding her chakram, having caught it in mid-air. The cloaked one pulled back his hood to reveal a handsome Viking male of middle age with an eye patch over one blue eye.
Xena and Beowulf glanced over at a pine tree as two ravens cawed at them.
Odin, Xena said simply and caught the chakram as the supreme Nordic deity launched back at her.
Xena, Beowulf, Odin responded, moving closer to the two warriors.
Can you help Gabrielle? Xena demanded.
And what price would you pay? Odin smirked.
Any! she snapped.
Strange, that's exactly what she answered in order to save you, he commented, his face still hard.
Odin, please, the warrior whispered.
Begging, Xena? Odin questioned. I never thought I'd see that day.
Whatever you want! she snapped. Yes, this is my fault, all of it. I know that and I'll pay any price you ask, just bring her back!
Not that simple, Xena, the god stated.
What do you want from me? the warrior asked.
To end Grendel's reign of terror. Too many have fallen already, Odin said simply. Take your band to Hrothgar's Hall, he's Healfdane's son. Gather as many warriors from all around that you can. Send them against Grendel in five days, it'll take many to wear her down enough to capture.
Capture? Beowulf questioned.
Yes, Freya has a plan to aid Xena in reversing the spell that turned one of her Valkyries into Grendel and possibly help Hallvor, at the end of the battle I and several others will be there. Bring your child and Hallvor as well, the god instructed.
I'm sorry, Xena, Odin finally looked sympathetic. The Norns won't reveal their plan to me, she is your price tag for Grendel.
Take me instead, please! Isn't that a better sacrifice? she begged.
I don't know, he admitted. Take her body home to Greece or to her Amazons, her spirit will have a choice of one of our halls, her Amazon land or the Elysian Fields. She has earned any place of her liking.
Xena's head hung in defeat as the god of the Vikings walked away, followed by his ravens and wolves. Her tears flowing freely.
For the next few days Beowulf found himself in charge as Xena wandered aimlessly around the steading of Hrothgar. Not even Sasha could break her out of her depression. The warrior spent many candle-marks on top of the wooden log fence, staring into the dark forest and sky.
The weather was turning colder and the warrior didn't seem to notice, forgetting her leather coat or fur cloak half the time she went outside. Hallvor and Beowulf were consistently aware of ensuring Xena didn't freeze in the cold of a Northern night.
Only Queen Wealththeow, wife of Hrothgar, was able to get the warrior to eat or catch moments of sleep.
Eponin leaned heavily on her crutch and watched Wealththeow approach the Warrior Princess slowly with a plate of food on the third evening. The Amazon Regent had recovered fairly quickly except for a broken leg that required her to use crutches to get around the well fortified steading of Hrothgar.
Hallvor walked up beside her Amazon sister and followed Eponin's gaze as the Viking Queen tried to encourage the Greek warrior Xena to eat something.
One advantage the adventure seemed to have was that Eponin and Hallvor were talking again and acting as if everything was as before Pony found out that Hallvor was a werserker.
Wealththeow was beautiful, generous and kind. As tall as Xena with reddish golden hair that reminded Eponin of Gabrielle's hair when she had first met the little bard and blue eyes.
Maybe it's her resemblance to Gabrielle and her kindness that gets through to Xena, Eponin commented.
She is a lot like Gabrielle in the younger days, then? Hallvor questioned.
Yes, there was an innocence about Gabrielle that was almost irresistible or annoying, depending on the person, Eponin smiled a sad smile. I never thought anything could break that. She never really lost it, she just became experienced.
A Roman slave, gladiator, Amazon Queen, bard and warrior, Hallvor commented. That's experienced. She grinned.
Yes, and mate to Xena, Pony said simply. Quite a list.
What will happen to Xena once Grendel is dead? Hallvor questioned.
If Gabrielle were alive, I'd say they'd go back to their lives of raising Sasha and saving the world, Pony said, sitting down on a bench to relieve the pressure on her legs. Without Gabrielle I have no idea what Xena will do or become.
She couldn't go back to being the Warlord, could she? Hallvor frowned.
I don't think so, Pony joined in her frowning. I hope not, anyway. She has a lot of years since she fell into that darkness and Gabrielle said that Xena has faced a lot of that darkness and won.
I remember the Warlord, she almost had enough power to take on the gods themselves, Hallvor stated. Now that she's a demi-god and knows it, what could stand in her way?
Not much. It was Gabrielle's light that kept her from ever falling into that darkness. I just hope that focusing on raising Sasha and the light that Gabrielle left with all of us will be enough. Pony prayed.
They watched as Wealththeow slowly led the warrior towards the bathing hut after Xena had finished eating most of the food the Queen had brought her.
Gods, when she explodes we'd all better take cover, Eponin commented.
Ja, Hallvor agreed.
Xena found herself letting Wealththeow bath her once they had gotten into the bathing hut and steam room. It seemed to the Greek that she had no energy for anything, not even the basics of living. Feeling Wealththeow's touch in the bath brought back a flood of memories of Gabrielle doing the same for the warrior, scrubbing her back, comforting Xena, just being there.
Wealththeow, softly rubbing Xena's back, saw the tear hit the water as the warrior's head fell forward but continued with her administrations until Xena's body was shaking with sobbing. The Viking Queen drew the warrior into her arms from behind and Xena felt her control break as she clung to the gentle and loving arms holding her as she wailed.
Xena was barely aware of the gentle arms and hands helping her out of the bath later and into the cooling down room. The soft but firm hands toweling her down and letting her body adjust to the coolness of the land once again.
The warrior was asleep before Wealththeow pulled the sleeping furs over Xena a short time later in the main hall.
It was still early in the evening, barely after dusk but the warrior was sound asleep in moments. Warriors, servants, wives and common wives were filling the hall for the evening meal along with the noise that usually followed a Viking meal in the cheerful hall of Hrothgar. Most of the occupants ignored the sleeping figure on the bench but a handful would stop for a moment and look down at the warrior. Most had looks of sympathy, very few curiosity for the legendary Warrior Princess.
Pony and Hallvor approached Queen Wealththeow as she took up a seat next to her husband at the table, both Greek and Viking Amazon glancing over at the sleeping Warrior Princess.
Thank you, Queen Wealththeow, for your kindness to Xena, Pony began.
No thanks are necessary, Amazon, Queen Wealththeow smiled, taking her husband's hand in her own as he brought it to his lips and kissed it. The love between the couple was very apparent. She is so wounded in the spirit.
Yes, Queen, Hallvor agreed as they took seats at the table.
I have heard stories of the great Xena and of her battles here in the North, King Hrothgar commented, stroking his red beard. Of how she took on the gods themselves. Now to see her like this is a shock.
She loves the little Greek very much, Beowulf commented, sitting down next to Hallvor.
Yes, I've heard the recent tales of them in the North and some from traveling skalds from the south. They were an amazing team. A shame about the little one's death, Hrothgar stated.
She was remarkable, King Hrothgar, Eponin stated.
A commotion at the entrance to the Hall turned all eyes to the main doors and brought several warriors to their feet with swords in hand as shouting filled the hall. At the doors several riders on horseback forced their way through the servants, spurring their horses into the hall to the foot of the table.
The lead rider glanced around among the warriors and glared at Beowulf. With a Viking shout he drew his sword.
Quiet! Hrothgar shouted, jumping onto the table with his own war axe drawn. Everyone grew silent as they waited to see what would happen.
Eponin noticed that Xena was now sitting up on her fur bed with chakram in hand, appearing groggy.
Heatholaf! Hrothgar shouted at the rider. How dare you draw iron in my hall! What is the meaning of this? he demanded.
The Viking being addressed, Heatholaf, was short for a Viking but imposing in his apparent strength of stocky body and rage. His blond beard was almost overshadowed by his red face as he took in the sight of Beowulf.
There are many heroes in this hall, great Hrothgar, Heatholaf responded. I have seen your own brother Heorogar, Hrethel, Wulfgar of the Wendles, Ecglaf and his son Unforth, Beanstan and his son Breca, Folewald and others, but among you is the son of a lowly base coward who killed my father! the Viking yelled, striking his fist against his chainmail shirt with sword in hand.
Beowulf, already on his feet, stepped out from the bench and held his hand on his war axe.
Yes, there are many heroes here, Hrothgar agreed. All having answered my call to face the monster known as Grendel. Also among them are Finn, leader of the Frisians; and Hnaef, Hildeburgh, Guthlaf, Hrothulf, Oslaf and others. Some of them, such as Finn, are in a blood feud with my family and myself. I have ordered a truce for the common good of destroying Grendel. You will honor that truce and swear by the sacred Thor's Hammer that you will not raise a blade or fist against Beowulf or anyone else you have quarrel with or you will leave my steading in shame as a headstrong puppy!
Heatholaf's face grew even more red and everyone in the hall weren't sure if the Viking would turn his anger onto Hrothgar at his harsh words and scolding. Heatholaf finally lowered his sword and nodded at Hrothgar.
I agree to the truce you have asked, King Hrothgar, he said in an even voice. I will do nothing against Beowulf or his kin during this adventure and I will treat him as a brother in arms.
Hrothgar turned to Beowulf. The tall Viking removed his hand from his war axe and nodded to the Viking Jarl.
I will treat Heatholaf and his kin as my brothers in arms during this adventure against Grendel and we will honor the truce while in your service, great Hrothgar, he stated. I swear by Thor's Hammer, Mjollnir.
I swear as well, Heatholaf responded.
Good, now give your horses over to the servants and come and eat, Hrothgar demanded and everyone returned to whatever they had been doing.
Pony watched Xena replace the chakram under her pillow and close her eyes again and the Amazon breathed a sigh of relief that the warrior was returning to sleep. Pony prayed to Artemis that it be a restful sleep, Xena hadn't slept well since Gabrielle's death.
Just before dawn on the fifth day, scouts reported seeing the monster approaching the main steading. Seemed that everyone had the same idea on the same day, a confrontation in the woods.
Xena knelt beside the tightly wrapped body in the snow and pulled back the material covering the bard's face.
The warrior held back a whimper. The bard looked so pale, like she had on the cross when Gabrielle had died. The body had been placed in the stable and servants had kept snow piled around it. Xena planned on returning the Amazon Queen to the remainder of her tribe for proper Amazon ritual funeral rites.
Gods, Gabrielle, Xena whispered, stroking the bard's cheek. I never believed that it would be you to go first, not after surviving that stupid war and coming back to me, surviving the cross, living through Ares' attacks.
The warrior felt the tears beginning to flow down her cheeks.
Guess I've never accepted the fact that you could die without me. I've managed to get you back before but it feels different this time, little one, Xena whispered. Maybe it's because you've always been a fighter, sometimes even stronger than I've been. You gave up this time, is that what's different?
Xena heard the crunch of someone entering the stable and her hand went instinctively to her chakram.
Xena, Hallvor's voice called softly and the warrior relaxed.
Yes? the warrior responded.
It's time, the warriors are mounting up in a few minutes, Hallvor said softly and left the stable.
Gabrielle, I know you can hear me, Xena said as she covered the bard's face again. I don't know if I'll make it out of this, if I don't, wait for me.
The warrior was pleased to find Wealththeow waiting outside the stable. The Viking hugged the Greek and smiled at Xena.
Thank you, Queen Wealththeow, for your kindness, Xena said simply.
You are very welcome, Weal smiled. You needed strength to face this monster and I need you strong to protect my husband, kin and warriors.
Xena smiled at that logic and knew the Viking cared beyond just those ulterior motives. Wealththeow was one of those rare humans who genuinely cared about others, like Gabrielle.
I'll do my best to protect them and end this nightmare, Xena promised.
It was still dark when they left the steading.
The battle was one that the skalds would sing about for decades to come. The band of Vikings spotted the large creature just at dawn in the dense forest near Hrothgar's steading and rode forth with so many Viking war cries that the trees themselves shook from the sound.
Grendel answered with a roar that scattered any animals remaining in the area.
Xena had told the warriors about Grendel's protection against swords and spears so each warrior carried a torch, hoping that this would prove to be one of the monster's few weaknesses. The warrior had been right; the creature shrank back from the flames but with her longer reach, easily overcame her fear and began ripping the mighty Viking warriors to shreds.
Xena sent her chakram flying again and again that day but it barely seemed to cut the giant creature's armored skin. Still, it was the only thing that was getting through the creature's defenses.
Hallvor had joined the fight from the moment it had ensued and after an unknown time, fell back breathing heavily. Nothing seemed to be working against the monster and the Viking heroes were falling in bloody heaps around the creature.
One warrior grabbing at his torn armor and ripped out stomach, another looking confused as the life left his eyes, blood pouring out of his throat.
The Viking Amazon growled deep in her throat and felt herself beginning to shift from human to part wolf as she saw Xena thrown backwards into a tree by a back hand from Grendel.
At the sound of the growl the creature turned and looked at the werserker.
Xena shook her head and watched the two creatures launch themselves at the other. The two supernatural beings met in the middle of the space with a mighty crash that send two warriors falling backwards as they had approached Grendel.
Xena's eyes widened at the sight of the werewolf-like werserker and the giant Grendel battling. Hallvor had practically leaped into Grendel's arms, under the long reach of the monster and had one clawed hand around Grendel's throat and the other drawn back to slash at the monster's face. Grendel had the wolfling raised up off the ground and was attempting to grab the wolfling to smash her to the ground.
Before Grendel could get a good grip on the wolfling, two ravens dove out of the air and began harassing the creature, trying for Grendel's eyes. The monster yowled in anger and threw Hallvor away from her into a tree.
Xena and the other Vikings still standing winced in sympathy as the werewolf fell out of the tree to land heavily on the ground with a growl.
The ravens were followed by two wolves rushing the giant armored creature and taking her legs out from under her. Before Grendel could regain her feet, Xena sent her chakram sailing again, cutting Grendel across the throat.
Grendel howled, holding her bleeding throat and slashing out with her claws at the ravens, wolves and any Viking foolish enough to get close to her again.
She's becoming weak! someone yelled and in response a figure appeared out of the woods with a gleaming golden sword and golden helmet with a boar figure atop. He rushed forward and slashed at the monster and dashed back into the woods before Grendel could slash at him.
Freyr! Xena heard someone whisper in awe near her. The sword had cut through Grendel's armor scaled skin across her stomach. The monster regained her feet with a roar of anger and grabbed a Viking warrior up and tore him in half.
Xena vaguely recognized the Viking as Finn, leader of the Frisians.
Hallvor, crouched low, launched herself at the monster again and, once again, they met claw to claw until Grendel threw the wolfling into another tree. This time Hallvor landed even harder and grabbed at her back with a howl of pain.
Xena and Beowulf stopped in their tracks as they watched Grendel grab at her back, seeming to be in pain as well.
They're connected! Xena cried, seeing an answer. When I cast that spell on both of them it connected them!
What do we do? Beowulf demanded as Grendel killed another one of his friends.
When Hallvor is injured then Grendel is injured, Xena explained.
Are you asking us to kill Hallvor? Beowulf demanded.
No, Xena whispered, realizing the full extent of the connection between monster and werserker.
We can't defeat it! Beowulf cried.
I won't sacrifice another innocent for something I've done! Xena snapped back and threw her chakram at Grendel again and cursed as it came back to her, barely cutting the monster's skin along an amr. The warrior could almost swear Grendel was laughing at them.
The warrior turned to see Hallvor trying to pull herself upright.
Do it! It's the only way! the Viking Amazon demanded.
No, damnit! We'll find another way! Xena protested.
Both turned at the sound of a high pitched scream in time to see another warrior go down under Grendel's claws.
Odin! How do we do this? Xena screamed.
You have the answer, warrior, a voice sounded back.
Damn you and your sacrifices! Xena shouted back. You turn on your best heroes and have them killed. How many do you want, damn you?
You know the battle we face in the future, I take warriors in their prime, Odin's familiar voice carried to her.
I don't give a damn about your Ragnarok! Xena shouted back. I'm not going to kill another innocent!
Then all will die, including your daughter, the response came.
Xena, do it! Hallvor shouted and Xena screamed, sending the chakram at Hallvor with a deadly backhand aim.
Xena and Beowulf rushed forward and grabbed the Viking Amazon before she could fall forward on her face, the chakram sticking out of her chest. Blood began flowing from the young woman's mouth as she changed back to human in Xena's arms.
Now! they heard someone shouting, more screams, roars and commotion but they didn't even glance over.
Hallvor? Xena questioned. The Viking Amazon opened her blue eyes and coughed on her blood but attempted to smile.
Look, it worked! Hallvor muttered and attempted to point past the warriors.
The warriors glanced over and saw Odin, Freyr and the remaining Viking warriors throwing a golden net over the creature as Grendel struggled around a gaping wound in her chest. The creature howled in rage as Odin wrapped a golden rope around her hands for a quick restraint.
Xena's eyes widened once more as Odin raised his spear and Freyr raised his spear. No! she screamed as the weapons came down, the spear going through Grendel's chest and Freyr's sword severing the monster's head from her body.
What? Xena demanded. What about Hallvor?
Easy, warrior, a gentle voice ordered.
Xena looked up into the most beautiful face she had ever seen in her life. The tales of Helen, Cleopatra and Aphrodite didn't compare to the overwhelming beauty and sensuality.
The woman wasn't dressed in typical female Viking clothing but in something close to what Gabrielle normally wore - leather top leaving nothing to the imagination but with a long leather skirt split up to the hip. A beautiful necklace of gold, amber and jet rested comfortable at her breasts.
Freya, Xena stated simply.
The original spell was one of selfishness and greed, Freya stated as she knelt by the wounded Viking Amazon. This time you and your friends and family have sacrificed everything to end Grendel's reign of terror.
Don't take Hallvor too, it's not her fault! Xena pleaded.
Freya smiled as she brushed a strand of her black hair from her face. I don't intend to. Your mate gave her life for you and Hallvor was willing to give hers to stop Grendel and now Grendel is dead. Enough sacrifices.
Xena looked around at the destruction surrounding them and sighed heavily. She had no idea how many had fallen to Grendel but it was more than half of the number they had started out with. Several Vikings knelt next to their friends or kin in sorrow and tribute. Two were kicking the lifeless body of the monster in anger and a couple were sitting with their backs to trees, obvious exhausted.
Freya nodded. Yes, there was a time when you wouldn't have even noticed the dead surrounding your victory, the goddess commented.
Now I do and it hurts, Xena agreed. How many died today? How many died because of Grendel, because of me?
Too many, I agree, Freya stated. And now this part of it is over.
Freya looked around at the gathering warriors and the child running towards her mother. Xena grabbed Sasha into her arms and hugged the child tightly.
Sasha drew back and quickly began examining her mother's injuries. Xena smiled at the child's concern.
I'm okay, Xena reassured her daughter. Just scratches.
Sasha, are you ready to help? Freya asked the child and Xena frowned.
What are you talking about? Xena demanded.
Sasha is gifted because of who her parents are, you know this, Xena, Freya began as the child left Xena's arms and sat next across from Freya, Hallvor between them. It's time she learned some of those giftings. Beowulf, take the warriors and return to the Steading of Hrothgar and celebrate. The end of Grendel was at your hands, no mention is to be made of Xena or the gods.
Yes, goddess, the Viking said simply with a bow and began herding the Vikings toward what remained of their comrades, gathering their dead for burial.
Xena continued to frown as Sasha and Freya joined hands across Hallvor's wounded body and closed their eyes. The warrior was also gifted with shaman abilities and recognized the goddess and child going into a trance.
Xena had no idea how long the child and goddess of love, sensuality, and earth magic sat like that over the wounded Viking Amazon but she knew it was long by the aches settling in her body from the battle with Grendel and the lowering of the sun past it's zenith in the sky.
Finally Hallvor coughed and blinked her eyes open and looked down at her chest, pulling her torn tunic aside to reveal a chest undamaged by the chakram.
She looked up into the serene faces of the child and goddess with an amazed look on her face. Xena grinned as Sasha and Freya broke contact and smiled back at Hallvor.
The goddess turned to Xena as she rose from her sitting position on the forest floor and Sasha helped Hallvor to her feet.
Thank you, goddess, Xena said simply.
My pleasure, Freya smiled. She's fine and will mostly have control over her wolf-self. She still will probably turn into the wolfling during battle but she won't turn during sex anymore.
Xena breathed a sigh of relief and she heard Hallvor choke back a sob of gratitude.
You friend will be fine and Grendel is dead, Odin said as he walked up and stood beside Freya. The Norns are partly pleased.
Xena lost her smile and she heard Hallvor growl as well.
Partly? Xena demanded. What more do you want? Gabrielle is dead, more than thirty warriors are dead just today, women and children, and Grendel was lost as well.
Your child has a destiny here in the North, Odin continued.
I've been told that, what about it? Xena demanded.
Both Freya and I have lost a Valkyrie because of your dealings with Gerulda and Grimhild, Odin stated.
You're not taking Sasha! Xena growled, suddenly wishing that Beowulf or Eponin were with her and Hallvor.
She needs training in her shaman gift and who better than a goddess? Freya asked gently.
If I want that I'll call on my mother Hecate! Xena stated, pulling Sasha behind her.
Xena, her powers are going to go insane when she hits her first blood cycle, Freya informed the warrior. I can protect her and everyone around her and train her. You're not losing her forever.
I missed out watching my son grow up, I'm not giving up my daughter! Xena snapped, drawing her chakram. Something that's changed since I was here all those years ago, Odin, I can hurt gods!
Not any more, Xena, Odin shook his head, almost sadly. You would make a magnificent opponent but you no longer have that ability. Your Fates and our Norns revoked that after your fight with Grendel. You were given that ability because of Ares and he is gone.
Xena felt her heart racing as she absorbed this knowledge. She had no leverage against the gods without that ability. The warrior's eyes narrowed.
You're not known for your honesty at times, Odin, she declared.
I swear by my spear that it's true, you can't hurt us or kill us, the supreme deity stated and Xena knew he was telling the truth.
Mom? Xena turned and looked down at her child with worried eyes. It's okay, I want to stay.
What? the warrior whispered and knelt down by her child.
You told me once that Gabby Mum almost let herself die so that you could fight the Persians, for the greater good, Sasha reminded her daughter.
And what greater good does this serve, Sash? I can't give you up!
I've seen two different future visions, if I don't stay and learn then I'll be worse than you ever were, Sasha explained, sounding older than her years.
We can fight that together! Xena begged. I fought against the darkness, I can help you get through it.
I know you want to, Mom, Sasha smiled. But it won't work and Gabby mum will need you soon.
She's going to face doubt and darkness worse than anything you've been through, Sasha stated. Not outside but inside.
How? Xena questioned.
The warrior closed her eyes, hoping and praying that she had heard the familiar voice and at the same time wanting to reject it. She opened her eyes after a moment and turned to find her mate standing where the body of Grendel had been before the Vikings had removed it.
Gabrielle looked back at her mate with a confused look on her face, dressed just the same as when Xena last saw her alive, complete with sais at her boots.
The warrior turned to the gods angrily.
Not even with that price! she hissed. Gabrielle wouldn't want that!
It was a choice made by many deities, the Fates, the Norns, your bard and child, Xena, Odin said gently. She'll stay with us for several seasons, be trained and then return to you.
Xena felt Gabrielle walk up to mother and daughter slowly and resisted the urge to reach out and pull the bard into a massive hug.
Gabrielle would never agree to losing Sasha in exchange for her life! Xena protested.
Sasha? the bard questioned and turned her eyes to the two Viking deities. You want Sasha?
I want to take and train her to use her powers when they blossom at her first moon cycle, Freya explained.
When will her cycle come? Gabrielle asked.
In two winters, Freya answered.
Then why are we deciding this now? Gabrielle demanded.
Because now is the time to decide it, Odin snapped.
What if we return in two winters and let you train her while we stay here in the North? Gabrielle attempted a compromise.
Xena is known for her stubbornness, Odin pointed out, Would you bring her back?
Xena grabbed at the hand as it rested on her shoulder, realizing that Gabrielle was indeed flesh and bone and alive. The warrior looked deep in her daughter's eyes and finally lowered her head.
Yes, if it is Sasha's wish, she agreed.
Then I am satisfied, Odin declared. Xena, this isn't a punishment, I swear.
She will learn much and will be a hero in our land and history, Freya put in.
Would you give up your child? Xena snapped back at the deities.
Xena, I swear that you'll see her frequently, Odin stated and Xena finally nodded, pulling Sasha in for a tight hug.
Keep well, warrior, Odin said and Xena wasn't surprised to find him gone when she looked up.
I swear, Xena, that she will be happy, Freya tried reassuring the Greek warrior. Now that you're immortal, you'll have the rest of her life to enjoy time with her. It'll be no worse than sending her to school in Athens.
You're probably right, Freya, Xena stated, standing up and wrapping her arm around her mate. But I'm still not happy about it right now.
Understood, Freya smiled. Be well and enjoy your life with Gabrielle.
Xena turned to face her mate, her mind still refusing to accept that the bard was once again in her arms.
Gods, little one, she whispered as Sasha jumped up and began hugging them both. Is it really you?
Yes, the bard answered simply and pulled back a little to look Xena in the eyes and glanced down at Sasha with a smile. I found out after I crossed that the Norns were willing to send me back if Grendel was defeated. They didn't want to risk you returning to the darkness.
Gods, I am so tired of dealing with gods and goddesses and monsters, the warrior complained.
Me too, my love, Gabrielle agreed, hugging both mother and daughter again.
Let's get back to the Hall and get warm, Xena suggested.
Yes, Gabrielle agreed as Xena picked up someone's fallen cloak and wrapped it around her bard. Gabrielle wasn't dressed in her Northern clothes and it was getting dark in the cold North.
The celebrating was well under way when the Greeks entered the steading, Gabrielle blushing at the stunned look on most of the servants, warriors and women of the village.
They all know I died, don't they? she questioned as she walked alongside Argo.
Yes, your body was in the stable, kept in snow, Xena answered, shaking her head.
What, my love?
Gabrielle, it's been five days and nights without you, Xena complained. I'm trying to adjust here.
Me too, the bard stated.
A shout of glee broke their concentration and the bard found herself lifted high in the air and then crushed against a very large, fur covered chest.
Beowulf! she gasped. Don't kill me now that I'm alive again!
The Viking put her gently back onto her feet with a blush and looked her up and down in disbelief.
It is really you? he demanded.
Yes, the Norns let me come back, she stated with a grin as Xena and Sasha dismounted.
It was just before dawn before the two Greeks were able to break away from the celebrating to crawl into their sleeping furs along the hall's walls. Xena brushed away a tear from her eyes as the bard settled into her usual spot in Xena's arms, head resting on the warrior's chest.
What is it, Xena? Gabrielle asked softly.
I missed you so much, Xena whispered back, breaking into tears as Gabrielle shifted to hold her warrior.
Me too, the bard smiled and held Xena tightly. It was so hard watching you suffer because I was gone.
What was it like? Where did you go? Xena asked.
Can we talk about that later? Gabrielle asked softly. I'm still adjusting to the fact I was dead and now I'm not. It's not like the other times when I didn't know I was dead and came back almost immediately. I had time to think about it.
I can't give up Sasha, not after losing you, even for that short time, Xena stated.
We'll handle it, lover, Gabrielle said reassuringly. We'll be here in the North with her and I trust Freya to let us see her. She is the daughter of the God of War, grand-daughter of Zeus, and daughter of the most feared Warlord in Greece.
I know and I look around us now, Xena said bitterly. I see how many more have died because of something I did when I was drawn to the darkness and I never want that for Sasha. I just don't want to lose her either.
I know, my love, Gabrielle whispered, letting Xena begin to drift off to sleep. We'll face everything together.
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