But for Hope
by: de Bonheur
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle et. al. belong to MCA/Universal, and are used without intent for commercial profits. Author's copyright does not extend to said characters.
Notice: The author retains all rights automatically attached to the creation of this work.
Warnings: This is a work of alternative fan fiction and may be offensive to some readers.
Author's Note: Gabrielle's story about Ariadne is excerpted and quoted in verbatim from Ovid's HEROIDES, X: Ariadne to Theseus.
On a grassy incline overlooking the dock, wild flowers bloomed a second time. In this fine still day, a small form sat and watched the boats sail in and out the narrow harbour.
The month had began with punctuations of stormy weather; the rain starting as suddenly as it ceased. For the past week, every dawn, the same sojourner would walk a candle mark to the gulf, and spend a better part of the lighted day looking at the horizon expectantly.
It has been dried for two days. This morning, partly wanting to avoid having to engage in small talks with her father's fishermen friends, she forwent the small roofed shelter by the wharf. Instead, she opted for the quieter and more solitary knoll.
Sitting on her heavy brown wool travel cloak, with a half eaten apple in one hand, and quill in another, the bard watched the waters sparkled in the sunlight, lost in deep contemplation.
Then, she looked again at the piece of parchment she was working on, and read aloud the last paragraphs to herself...
'At the moment of waking, I, still drowsy, turned on my side and reached to touch my Theseus but I could not find him. Terrified, I rose from the abandoned bed. I strained my eyes to see by moonlight, there was nothing to see but the ocean's shore.'
*Why do I let Lila talk me into this?* She exhaled. Putting down the fruit and the quill, burying her face in her palms, and shaking her head ruefully.
Her little sister had requested a story for the celebration of the mythological hero's triumphant return from Minos, after killing the minotaur. Thinking that it would be a pleasant distraction, the bard acquiesced. Then Lila told her what she really wanted...
'The winds were also cruel: your sails blowing out were stretched tight in a southern gale. I had never thought I would see such a sight; suddenly I was cold and quite faint, life nearly left my body. But anguish roused me, and made me cry with all my strength: "Where did you go? Wicked Theseus, come back."'
A story about Ariadne and how Theseus had abandoned her after she saved him from the labyrinth, with her brother's life and the protection of her father's kingdom as the costs. Lila, the ever romantic, thought this tale of the princess' devotion and sacrifice to her love would have a more interesting angle.
*Gods, I don't think I can write this... it's reminding me so much...*
It was a week ago. The bard and her warrior had arrived back in Poteidaia. That same night, having just settled in the guest room, without warning, Xena announced to Gabrielle she was to leave the next day. By the sea. Alone.
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know, Gabrielle."
"Can't I come with you?"
"When will you be back?" Growing fear and trepidation.
"I don't know." Sadness and finality.
"You are coming back, aren't you?" Tears falling. Frantic.
"I don't want to lose you, my bard." Resignation. Regret.
They fell silent; then clung onto each other as if there were no tomorrow. The next morning, in the cold grey pre-dawn hours, the warrior wrenched from the bard's embrace and walked out of the house and into the downpour.
To think that everything was all right before the separation, the bard would have been completely lying to herself. Xena had been in a deep funk since her mentor's trial and execution. Gabrielle knew things would not be easy for a while.
Some nights during their travel, at times when the warrior thought her bard wasn't paying attention, she would watch her intently. The deep azure eyes provided no clue as to what was inside the dark head.
Except. Once, amidst emotions struggling behind cold blue shutters, Gabrielle caught a glimpse of something, something she couldn't quite recognised. Something remote. Distant.
Still, the bard believed whatever was bothering Xena, they would work out together. She nudged, she probed, she pleaded, she waited. She anticipated every hurdle, and had expected to deal with the worst possibilities. She was not prepared for this.
And despite the Warrior Princess' parting words, her reassurances, and the reiteration of her intention to not lose her bard, Gabrielle could not be sure that she would be back...
'Then you were gone beyond my sight and only then did I free my tears. Until that moment my eyes had been dulled by pain. What more could those eyes do than weep for me when your sails had disappeared from my sight?'
Wiping away the moisture with her fingers, the small woman tilted her head to the sun's position. She put away the quill, and the unfinished story. An inhalation and a grimace; and the remaining apple got tossed into the satchel still carrying her mother's nutbread, untouched. Securing the cloak about her shoulders and retrieving her staff, Gabrielle began her trek home.
Before turning on to the path away from the coastline, the bard gazed out at the ocean once more. She would be back for one last time tomorrow morning. Of course, she had been telling herself that for the past five days...
. . . . . . .
In the garden, Gabrielle stared toward the direction of the sea. Dinner had been difficult. The bard had told her family days ago that Xena, not wanting her companion to suffer unnecessarily, had decided to brave the rough waters and the storms and handle their latest assignment alone. She had avoided going into any details.
In fact, Gabrielle had evaded all her family's questions about them or their travels. As it was, every day, every hour, every little thing, brought back intimate memories, bewitching glimpses of the time she and her warrior had shared. The bard prayed to the Muse Thalia for aid in hiding the blunt ache in her chest.
She jumped, and swung around, her breath caught in her throat.
"You shouldn't be out here, you'll catch your death," came her father's gentle admonishment. He stopped beside Gabrielle and collected her small body in his cloak and embrace, keeping out the drizzle.
"Oh, it's not that cold," she protested, only just then noticing the misty rain in her eyes, and ran her hands over the goosebumps on her bare skin.
"Is everything okay?" Herodotus craned his neck to look downward at the pale face.
Blonde head nodded, but said nothing.
Silently, the older man put his arm around his daughter's back, warming her as he led her inside. Closing the door against the stark cold.
Gabrielle retreated to the room she and her warrior had shared for two nights. One from two different visits, each equally fateful. Only, during the first she had looked forward to the ensuing dawn.
Still, in a way she was glad to be alone. In the dark mood that settled over her, the bard wasn't confident she could put on a smile for her little sister.
By the yellow candle light, with sleeves originally made for a taller wearer rolled up, the bard set facing the window at the desk, and worked on her story...
'Often I go to the couch where we once slept, a couch that would not see us again, and I touch the hollow left by your body - it is all that remains - and the cloths that once were warmed around your flesh. I lie down on the bed wet with my tears, and cry, we were two lying together, give back two; let us leave together as we came.
'You would have died in the twisting halls without the string that I gave to be your guide. You said to me, 'I swear by these perils that as long as we live, you will be mine.' We are alive, Theseus, but I am not yours.'
The increasing wind, the candle smoke, the squinting in the sun all day, the fatigued from writing all night, plus many other reasons the bard hadn't yet thought of, filled again her green orbs with moisture.
Inhaling deeply, putting down the quill, the bard looked up to the gray-orange sky, and whispered a prayer to whichever god would listen. She glanced around toward the bed behind her, and sighed. And laid her head on her forearms folded on the desktop.
Later that night, the door quietly opened, a tall form crept in, and draped a blanket he took from the empty bed next door about the bard's slim shoulders.
Looking at his older daughter wrapped in her favourite blankie, he wished he could promise her that everything would be all right. Just as he did when she was a child. If only it were within his powers...
He blew out the candle and left as quietly as he came.
. . . . . . .
The sun took refuge behind thick clouds. The sky blended with the sea. Everywhere was a haze of gray. The smell of the ocean air portended the fierceness of the sudden storm. The rain has been growing stronger since the morning.
Tall dark form stood watch as waves lapped on the hull. It had been a long day for the sailor, not because the ship had presented any difficulties; she was skilled in her tasks. But because she had been plagued by guilt and worry over her friend, and by other emotions she didn't care to name. For, to name, she would have to acknowledge and admit.
Because of her stature, her abilities, her strength, she was always the protector, the overlord, the Warrior Princess. For as long as she remembered, she needed to be in charge, to command, to dominate. To be in control.
During the times when her campaigns were less than successful, she would lead her army head on into the enemy's fold and let the blood of her victims wash away traces of anything she might have felt. She would let the battlelust overtake her thoughts, her emotions.
Even now, when things got just slightly out of control, she would drill and work her body beyond human measure and let her mind dwell on the physical aches instead.
Gabrielle had accused her of willing her emotions away. Gabrielle, the only person, save Cyrene, who ever dared reprove her of anything.
And in the warrior's darkest moments, the bard would intrude relentlessly, forcing her out of the self-absorption and hardened cynicism.
But now she was drifting, along the waves of the sea, without direction, aimless. Like the restless wind. And she felt like a newborn babe before it learns how to smile. Depressed. Alone.
This was the only time the Warrior Princess could remember feeling her loneliness. When she stepped into the rain and sailed out of Poteidaia a little over a week ago. It was as though something had been ripped out of her insides, leaving a hollow, aching void.
She didn't know where she was, except without a place to go. Xena still didn't know why she left.
She told herself she needed time to think, to sort things out. But all she thought about for the past week was her bard; and all she figured out was that life was miserable without her. It was not like she didn't already know this. This was the reason behind her problems...
*Maybe this was a test. But for whom? For what? Myself? Gabrielle? Both of us? Our love? Its strength? Its depth?* The warrior couldn't decide.
When they first started travelling together, the warrior had recognised the hero worship in a young village girl. That was easy to read and understand.
The day she realised and acknowledged that their friendship bound them together stronger than blood, Xena asked her friend just what exactly she had seen in the ex-warlord. Gabrielle just smiled mysteriously, and told Xena she was her best friend and that was that; and that was enough for the bard.
The warrior had thought about asking Gabrielle why she loved her, how she could so willingly give up a peaceful existence, a family... her family, or even the rule of a nation of Amazons who adored and worshipped her. But then she decided she didn't want to know.
*Or maybe I didn't want her to start questioning her wisdom of being involved with a used-up cold-hearted warlord with a price on her head, who tries so hard just at a chance for redemption...*
Once a wise sage had asked her: 'A person who is attached to things will suffer much. Gain or loss... which is more painful?'
*Which indeed, Warrior Princess?*
When Xena was temporarily sightless, she became aware that she would missed gazing at her friend much more than at all the other beautiful objects in the world.
When she was a warlord, night was the most favourite part of her existence. Gradually, the warrior found herself craving the day and she felt the deepest gratitude to the sun. Because in the light, she could watch her love, and bask in the smiles which revealed the universe to her.
And now, the bard's image haunted the warrior. Even out here in the ocean. She would see her, so she thought, just beyond the field of her vision - smiling, gesturing, laughing. Xena knew her bard wasn't really there; but still, many a times, not being able to help herself, she turned toward the mirage.
'Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty because there is ugliness, good as good because there is evil. Therefore, having and lacking rest upon each other, difficulty and ease complement each other, voice and silence harmonize each other.' The Warrior Princess was told by the sage, a long time ago.
And standing in the rain, with the chill of the wind and the sea around her, Xena realised it wasn't up to her. She didn't have a choice.
Somehow, she had allowed herself to feel human, to feel small, to feel needful, to feel hopeless and defenseless.
*Xena, Warrior Princess, the Destroyer of Nations, at the mercy of one small bard. How pathetic.*
The wind whipped her dark tresses, and ruffled the fine hair on her arms, sending shivers along every nerve ending. The railing seemed to vibrate, but the trembling was caused more by just the cold or the elements.
Ropes were untied and tied again. Sails were moved and raised. The ship surged ahead on its tack.
Small houses and villages come into view as the warrior sailed into the Thermaic Gulf. As the boat moved into the narrow harbour from the open sea, Xena kept her searching gaze on the horizon. She dared not hope.
. . . . . . .
In the rainy afternoon, the villagers gathered in the townhall, and listened in rapt attention to the young bard they proudly claimed their own...
'I could pray that you had seen me from the stern, that my sad figure had moved your heart. Yet try to see me now, not with your eyes but with your mind, as I cling to this rock that is drenched again and again by the waves.'
Their bard, however, was thanking the Muses that she could remember her lines at all. She could not stop thinking of her warrior. Whenever Gabrielle tried to turn her attention to the matter at hand, the memories would become more compelling.
She saw Xena in every pair of clear blue eyes that met her gaze. The long black hair. The tall frame. The broad shoulders. She swore she heard the warrior's deep voice. And her heart even skipped a beat when she spotted a pair of laced up boots earlier. It was frustrating.
Gabrielle wished she could be out by the dock, waiting. Instead she was stuck on stage, telling stories. That cursed story in particular...
'These hands are weary of beating my sad breast but I stretch them out to you across the vast sea. By these tears, tears produced by what you have done, turn your ship, take another tack, sail back swiftly. And if I die before you return, it will be you who carries my bones from this place.'
Then the storyteller realised tears were rolling down her own cheeks. Coming here really hadn't been such a great idea. But at least she finished the tale. Good thing it was a sad story and she was the bard. She took solace in the fact that most of her audience were just as moved.
A woman wailing amidst thunderous ovation captured her attention, and she turned her head. Half way, a familiar figure standing at the far end of the room, leaning against the wall, caught her eye. Gabrielle forgot her affected listener. And her supportive public.
Courageously believing that it wasn't her vision playing tricks on her again, the bard took another look.
Yes, the azure eyes, the dark hair, the sun-kissed face, the tall strong frame, the leather boots... all at one time, all on the same person, and not in little pieces. Sporting her dark cloak, the warrior was drenched from the rain and looking a bit dejected, but to the bard, the most beautiful sight in Elysium couldn't compare.
Gabrielle had to bite her lips to not fly off the stage.
For Xena, time came to a stand still when green met blue. And with a swift, upward smile that made the warrior's heart race, the bard decided the Warrior Princess' fate.
. . . . . . .
The downpour had stopped, and the clouds had already begun to break. Wind blew the still wet fabric of her cloak, releasing a whiff of the ocean. Trees glistened with crystal droplets trembled.
The wooded area which formed a border around the village ended. And the warrior descended upon the clearing. The ground had not yet absorbed the waters; and she walked across muddy ground that slowly grew more sandy.
Xena asked herself as she reached the edge of the path, wondering for the hundredth time just what she thought she was doing.
*Stay. Retreat. Stay. What the Tartarus difference would it make?*
She straightened her shoulders and faced the small form approaching rapidly and purposefully the open area.
Gabrielle met her gaze. She didn't look away, but maintained the same steady, bright, open simper.
*That look. Oh gods, that look. Oh gods, that smile. For me. That movement. Towards me.*
The nagging fear, the helplessness, were soon obscured by the ecstacy of her bard rushing toward her.
And nothing mattered when surprisingly strong arms wrapped around her, and demanding lips pressed firmly against hers.
Xena flung her arms about the bard and clasped the lithe body against her hard, trying to squeeze out anything and everything that came between them.
"I'm so sorry, my bard."
"S'okay. I'm just glad you're back."
"It hurt so much when Aeschylus... Then I got scared, I'm afraid someday you'll leave or be taken away, and I won't be able to do anything..."
"Shh... I love you, and I'm not going anywhere."
She meant it.
The warrior finally dared to believe. To hope.
And like the night they made love for the first time, the warrior pressed her head against Gabrielle's body, her arms wrapped tightly about her waist. Seeking salvation in their togetherness.
And the bard ran her hand through the long tresses, and hugged tightly the broad shoulders, holding the warrior closely against her heart. She grinned at her partner, and out at the world.
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