Disclaimer: The characters from Xena:Warrior Princess belong to MCA/Universal, but the story is all mine. There is some very mild violence, but that's it. No Hack and Wack Gore, no profanity, no sex--have I bored you yet? Well, if you have nothing better to do, feel free to read my story. Comments are welcomed.
Two women walked besides a horse, one tall and dark, the other petite and strawberry blond. The shorter of the two was caught up in another heroic tale of evils defeated and lessons learned. The taller nodded at the bard to indicate that she had heard, though in reality, most of the conversation was tuned out. Her friend would drone on for hours, often only resting when her voice gave out. Though she was annoyed at times for this obsession, she was glad for the companionship, and it was a small price to pay
Gabrielle stopped to take a breath, her tale finished. She glanced at Xena and waited for a reply. The warrior turned at the moment she heard silence and told her she liked it. It had depth. Gabrielle smiled in pleasure and did a little skip. She hadn't been sure if her friend had been listening. Xena hid a smile that threatened to break out and pointed up the road. A small village stood in the distance.
"Want to stop there for a meal? I don't know about you, but I'm tired of rabbits and squirrels," said Xena.
Gabrielle agreed. It had been five days since they last stopped at a town or village. She wanted to spend time among other people for a change. They had been avoiding most of them in this area because Xena had raided heavily here in her past.
It was a sleepy little place, the smoke from the homes drifting in the moist air. A dog barked in the background, and people milled about in a relaxed manner. Children played with a leather ball, kicking and laughing in delight. Gabrielle smiled as the group swept past them and wished she could join them.
Xena looked at them wistfully, remembering her son playing the very same game not long ago. She pushed down the hurt and longings back into their little corner, and continued on. Gabrielle caught the look before it was hidden and placed a hand on her back in sympathy. Xena smiled her thanks.
They looked around for a place to eat, but saw nothing. The village was too small. It was a place of homes only, and they decided to move on.
"Just passing through?" a woman's voice asked. They turned around. And saw a large older woman. She smiled warmly at them in greetings.
"Yes. We were looking for a place to buy a meal, but..." Gabrielle said with a shrug.
"But our little town doesn't have anything. Don't worry, I'm not offended," she said as she saw the slight flush of embarrassment on Gabrielle's face.
"I could offer you a meal--but I won't take money for it. What I'd like is some company for awhile. It get's lonely around here you know." The older woman winked.
Gabrielle grinned at this kindred soul. She glanced up at Xena and got a indulgent smile of approval.They followed her to her home.
The woman opened the door to her home and motioned them in. The doorway was low, and Xena had to duck beneath it. The home was small and cramped, but it was tidy and well cared for.
"I should introduce myself. I'm Krela. And you are..?"
"Gabrielle. And this silent one is my friend Xena." At the introduction, Krela's smile faltered, but it quickly spread again.
"Well, it's certainly nice to meet you. Come sit down and keep me company while I fix something."
Xena noticed the faltering smile and worried about it. Her reputation wasn't the best, and they may not know or care about her new life. She had a bad feeling about this. She sat down at the small table and allowed Gabrielle to charm the woman. Maybe that's all it would take to get rid of the jittery feeling in the pit of her stomach. The woman's forced friendliness grated on her nerves.
"Gabrielle, what do you two do? I mean, two women traveling alone on the road and all," asked Krela.
"I'm a bard--sort of in the training stage--but I'm pretty good at it. Xena's a warrior. We travel around and help people out. You know, 'Kick the bad guys outta town and save the babies' type of thing," she jested with an endearing smile, " And what about you, Krela? Any family here?"
*Uh oh! Bad mistake!* thought Xena.
The woman stiffened noticeably. She put on a false smile before she answered, then turned her back as she retrieved plates from a small chest.
"No, dear. I'm all alone in this world," she said vaguely, not wanting to say aloud the words that would ruin her chance at revenge. She looked around as though something was lost.
"Excuse me for a moment. I need to fetch something from outside," she said while heading for the door. Xena watched her with suspicious eyes. Her inner alarm going off.
"Gabrielle, we need to get out of here. Come on."
The bard looked at her with confusion, but did as she was told. She collected her satchel and staff . She followed Xena through the door. Once outside, they found Argo surrounded by several men. They were trying to subdue her with ropes and poles. Xena whistled and Argo thrashed out at her tormentors, making them back off in fear.
More men came from around the house, word had spread fast about the arrival of Xena. They were out for blood. Armed with pitchforks and axes, they closed in.
Xena drew her sword, determined to protect herself and Gabrielle. She didn't want to hurt them, but she would if she had to. Gabrielle threw her satchel to the ground and twirled her staff impressively to intimidate the cowardly of the group. With timing born of long-term friendship, they charged as one, spreading out far enough away from each other to prevent getting in the other's way.
Xena used her sword to reflect away the homemade weapons, and used the flat of her sword to swat against their arms, causing them to drop their weapons to the ground.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle used her maneuvers to sweep the men off their feet, and to deliver blows to their ribs. The men were surprised by her speed and aggression. She might be a baby-face, but her staff was not gentle. They weaved around her carefully, respect and fear in their eyes.
Xena spun around, waiting for the next round. To her dismay, another group was entering into the fray. *How could such a small village have so many people?* Once again the fight began, but as well as they fought, they were overcome by sheer numbers. They found themselves at their mercy, battered and bruised, their weapons taken.
They were dragged into a small building that was made of stone, and lacked windows. Probably the closest thing they had to a jail. Xena reached for Gabrielle, who was nursing her arm, holding it close to her body.
"Is it broken?" Xena asked.
"I don't know. It's pretty swollen.," the bard answered. Xena gently probed it, and felt for irregularities in the bone. Gabrielle bit her lip from the pain, but remained silent. Xena sighed with relief.
"It's not broken, but it's badly bruised. We need to get it in cold water., and we need some way to clean up. But I kind of doubt they're in a helpful mood right now," she commented.
"You never know until you ask," Gabrielle said sagely. Xena lifted an eyebrow, and was rewarded with pain. Her forehead was cut and bleeding. She went to the door and banged on it.
"What in Hades's domain do you want?" asked a rough male voice from the other side.
"We need something for our wounds. You may hate my guts, but my friend has done nothing to you in the past. At least let me treat her," she shouted through the door. Silence was her answer.
She sighed and sat down next to her small friend. She painfully placed an arm around her shoulders to reassure her, but felt guilty for not following her instincts in the first place. If they had left when the older woman had reacted, this may not have happened.
Gabrielle was grateful for the kindness, and leaned gingerly into her shoulder. She felt a tear trickle down her face in fear for the both of them.
The sounds of an angry mob just outside the doors snapped them awake from their light snooze. They stood and placed their ears to the door, attempting to hear what was going on.
Listening carefully, they came to the obvious conclusion that it was a lynch mob. They had come to kill them. Xena's name was cursed, and many disagreed on the method in which she should die. Some preferred hanging, some death by torture, some wanted burning. Xena looked down to Gabrielle's pale face, fear pounding in her heart. She didn't deserve this, she was an innocent girl. They were going to kill her along side of her, her only crime was being a loyal friend.
Her desire for companionship now her greatest guilt. Her selfishness has brought Death to her friend's door, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. She felt the tears of swell in her eyes, unable to bear the pain. Xena pulled Gabrielle to her, apologizing the only way she could. She held on tightly, needing to feel her warmth and love for one last time. The door flew open, and she saw several men armed and ready.
Gabrielle turned her head, in shock and fear. Xena pleaded for the sake of her friend.
"Please, she has done nothing wrong. Do what you want with me, but spare her life, I beg of you.," her eyes shining with pain. Her heart-felt words fell on deaf ears, their souls hardened by hatred. They were grabbed and forced outside.
Xena's panic was a wild animal within her breast, she broke free from the cruel gripping hands and spun around to free her friend. Once again the people outnumbered her and knocked her unconscious by striking her repeatedly.
Gabrielle called out Xena's name, fearing for her friend. She struggled against her captors, trying to get to her.
"What is going on here?" said a booming voice over the mob's roar. Silence suddenly filled the air. An older man, leading a horse by it's reins, came forward. He looked over the crowd, staring into their eyes with outrage and challenge as they looked away in shame. He saw the beaten warrior woman on the ground, her face bloody and her arms and legs covered in bruises. He then looked at the young girl being held by the villagers. Her green eyes pleading and panic-filled.* She couldn't be more than twenty winters,* he thought to himself, *What could she have done to merit this treatment?*
He walked up to her, determined to hear her words for himself. He looked down at this small frightened girl and was instantly warmed by her soft grace.
"Tell me young one, why has the good people of my village gone insane? The truth now, I won't accept any lies," he said quietly. Someone from his village tried to speak, but he held up his hand to silence them.
Gabrielle looked up at this giant of a man, who easily stood a hand taller than Kanther. She saw compassion in his eyes, and felt the tension in her body subside.
"What's your name?' she asked.
"Ronen, my child. And yours?"
"Gabrielle. My friend's name is Xena," she said and pointed with her chin. He recognized her name. Her story didn't need to be told. Xena's name was hated throughout the region. Too many had died in the fight against the bloody warlord.
"Please, Ronen, let me go to her. She's hurt." she pleaded. He nodded to the men that held her, and they let her go. She rushed to Xena's side and gently pushed away the hair from her bloodied face. Her hands shook with helplessness at the sight. One of Xena's eyes were swollen shut, and her cheek looked as though it was broken. Gabrielle lifted the warrior's head and shoulders, and held her in her arms Tears ran down her face, uncaring of what they all thought.
Ronen watched the touching scene, and his heart went out to the women. How did a cold warlord make such a friend? What has she done to bring such a reaction from the youngster? They had a story to tell, and wished to hear it. Xena may yet die for her crimes, but not today. He ordered them back into their prison, and told the healer to treat their wounds. She spat on the ground, but did as she was told. Ronen was the leader, and must be obeyed.
He went into the building, and watched the girl fuss over her dark friend until the healer pushed her out of the way. He took her by the elbow of her good arm, and pulled her to the bench.
"Gabrielle..Gabrielle?" he touched her shoulder in attempt to get her attention, "Tell me, why do you care so much for this Warrior Princess? She's a killer, and a warlord, why do you travel with her? Where is the rest of her army? Why did the two of you come here alone?' he asked some of the questions that were rushing through his head.
Gabrielle looked into his eyes, amazed he didn't know. Didn't Xena's tales reach this far? True, the area was remote from it's neighbors, but surely some word of Xena's redemption has traveled this far.
"You really don't know, don't you?" she said with disbelief.
"Know what, my child?"
"That she's no longer that person. Hercules saved her soul, and put her on the path to redemption. She now helps the victims, and fights against the unjust. There is no army. Just the two of us. She saved the people of my village from slavers, and I've traveled with her ever since. She's my best friend.," she said simply, her words coming from the depths of her soul.
He saw the truth shining from her eyes, and was grateful and horrified. His people would insist on her punishment, not caring who she had become. He could talk them out of punishing this girl, but Xena was another matter. He stood up and looked down upon the face that had brought chaos to his door. In spite of the abuse that her face took, she was a beautiful woman. In spite of her maturity, she still had the softness of a child upon her features. His heart went out to her, but his duty was first to his people. He left the room.
The healer had taken care of their wounds, and left without a word. Gabrielle was exhausted and laid down on the narrow pallet next to Xena. Tears welled in her eyes, as the shock of everything hit her. She wept in fear and grief. The bard placed her face against her friend's arm and sought a little comfort. She didn't feel Xena stir until a hand stroked her cheek.Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked at the sight of her friend's sorrowful and confused eyes--though one was nearly closed completely from the swelling..
"We're still alive. Why?" Xena asked.
"The town's leader returned just in time to stop them. He ordered them to lock us back up and treat our injuries. I don't know what will happen next Xena. I'm scared!" she admitted. Xena rolled to her side with care, and wrapped an arm around her friend, placing a kiss on her forehead. She was frightened too. Not for herself--she had always thought she would die early--but for Gabrielle. She shouldn't have to face this. Guilt once more tore at her, ripping great chunks of flesh from her soul.
They fell asleep in each other's embrace.
Ronen brought in their meal himself, and not trusting the angry crowds, he had fixed the meal and brought it to them, fearing poisoning. He entered the room, and was touched by the scene before him.
They slept like trusting children, holding each other in their sleep. Gabrielle's words haunted him, remembering her words. The warrior had indeed changed, if she allowed this slip of a girl get past her defenses. They were truly friends of great depth and kinship. The two of them were so unalike, but the ties were there for all to see. He stepped closer.
Xena awoke at the footsteps that neared them. She stiffened and flipped to her back with a jolt of pain. A huge man stood there.
"What do you want?" she hissed.
"Relax, I'm Ronen, the headman for this village. I brought something for you to eat," he said as he lifted to plate in offering. She relaxed and shook Gabrielle gently. The bard stirred but didn't wake. She tried again.
"Gabrielle, wake up. It's time to eat." Gabrielle lazily opened her eyes and brought herself up to one elbow. It took a few seconds, but she noticed Ronen, then sat up.
They took the offered meal and began to eat. Xena had to chew slowly and carefully because of her swollen face. Ronen sat down besides them. He remained silent as they ate. They finally finished and he took the plates from them.
"I have some news for the two of you. I managed to get the people to drop their punishment for Gabrielle, but Xena, it was all I could do to make them agree to a trial. It begins tomorrow. I don't have any hopes for your chances. I'm sorry."
"If Gabrielle walks away unharmed, then I'm grateful. It's more than I had hoped for. Thank you, Ronen," she said warmly.
His heart sank. There was no longer a doubt in his mind about her new life. She was unselfish and brave.
"Gabrielle may stay with me, if she wants. She'll only be allowed to see you at midday, and only with an escort. They won't take any chances of her trying to set you free."
"No! Xena was held prisoner once before, and I hated being away from her. I'd rather stay here."
"If that is your wish, then so be it. I'm not going to deny you her company--but be warned. They won't allow you the ability to come and go as you please. It would be too easy for you to try and trade places with her, and I cannot allow that. If you wish to leave this room, you may only do so when I accompany you. Is that understood?"
"Yes. Thank you."
He stood to bang on the door and left.
Xena turned to her friend.
"Gabrielle, don't do this to yourself. When they kill me, I don't want you here. Leave. Now, for your own sake."
"Sounds like you want me out of here more for your sake--not mine. You know I won't leave you--no matter what the outcome!" she vowed.
"Gabrielle, we both know what the outcome will be. They will find me guilty, and sentence me to death. The trial is just a token. There's no hope. I don't want you to go through this, not again. This time, there won't be any gods there to help me out. I'm on my own with this. I AM guilty, and there is no way to deny it."
"There's always hope! Xena,. you just have to believe," Gabrielle said in a soothing tone.
Xena couldn't meet her eyes. Hope was not an easy thing for her. The only thing she had left in this world was already beside her, refusing to budge. She just had to accept it.
Gabrielle, got up and looked around, a dawning horror on her face.
"What is it?" Xena asked in panic.
"There's no place to...you know," she said with embarrassment.
Xena looked around and grinned.
"Better pound on the door then, or things could get messy," she said with a grin.
Ronen returned with the evening meal. He sat down with a plate of his own, and joined them. He wanted to ask them some questions.
"I'm curious, Xena. Why are you here in this area, where your reputation is at it's worst?" he asked.
"We were just passing through. Heading back towards Athens," she said without details. Gabrielle jumped in.
"Xena, tell him all of it. You don't have to be so stingy with the words!" she chided.. Xena squashed a smile.
"We were helping some people out with a theft problem. She caught the men and brought them to justice. They had killed one shopkeeper. The city guards couldn't seem to catch them. But Xena did--in two days!" she bragged.
Ronen looked at the feared Warrior Princess and saw an embarrassed woman. The two images in his mind were fighting, trying to find the true person. She met his eyes with a challenge, daring him to ask. He had to admire her, she had spunk, and he liked that in people.
"Why do you help people, Xena? For the glory? The Money? What?"
"To make up for my past," she said simply.
He stared into her face, seeing the sincerity there. She met his eyes without hesitating, no sign of deception. Xena truly felt this way. If she had changed her life---seen the errors of what she had been---then what the people wanted here would be a tragedy. They wanted to punish the Xena of old, regardless of the woman who existed now. Ronen could see it, but they would not or could not. He turned to Gabrielle, asking her to tell her tales without embellishment. The headman wanted to know everything.
She began with her own rescue from so long ago The way Xena had buried her weapons and armor, determined never to fight again. How she defeated Draco. Gabrielle then moved on to the story of how Xena had met her dark-self in the dreamscape, horrified at what she had seen. The bard continued for hours, well into the night.
Xena remained silent the entire time, stunned at the observations her friend had made about her. She had often thought her friend was too naive to understand, but here was her friend, opening up her very essence with the ease of a butcher with a sharp knife. Subjects that Xena had thought well-hidden had been taken in by the bard's keen eyes. Xena suddenly felt naked before the world. How did she know these things? And why hadn't the girl run when she had found them out? Feeling a deep awe for this young bard, who had befriended a blood-stained warrior, she could only sit back and reel from the impact of this new insight.
Ronen returned to his home, his mind a jumble after listening to Gabrielle for hours. He now knew more about Xena than her own mother. He could see clearly in his mind the turmoil of her life, the choices she had made--right and wrong--and the stoic acceptance of her guilt. What Xena inflicted on herself was far worse than any mortal could endure. He was actually amazed that she hadn't committed suicide from the sheer weight of her conscious, though he held a personal belief that Gabrielle's presence had a strong influence on that. Without the girl, Xena might have found a way to die and end her pain.
He had asked Xena only one question before leaving them for the night. He had asked her why she allowed Gabrielle to follow her. She had told him because of the unconditional acceptance she was given by her. He looked between the lines, the words not spoken, and heard the word --'love'.
He sat down before the fire in his room and wept.
Xena remained deep in her own thoughts, unaware of the concerned looks given her by Gabrielle. She needed time to think, to sift through what she had heard.
Gabrielle watched the subtle nuances of emotions on her face, trying to determine what she was feeling. It was too difficult, so she backed away and laid on the pallet in attempt to rest. The bard thought she had done the right thing. After all, Ronen wasn't closed-minded, and was genuinely trying to understand. He was the key to everything that would happen here, and she wasn't going to allow her friend's stubbornness and pride get in the way of salvation. Xena's survival depended too much on it.
Gabrielle pushed down the thought that Xena had a death wish, not wanting to really believe it. But in many small ways, it had loomed over her. The desire to end the pain, wanting the release from all of it, and believing she deserved death for her crimes. It was the only reason Gabrielle could think of when Xena allowed herself to be so easily taken. She could have escaped from here with little problem, yet she sat and did nothing--just like last time.
She had given the excuse then that she would always be running, but it seemed to her that it just easier to give up for Xena. Let someone judge her and get it over with.
The bard sighed and allowed her tears to fall down her face, to release her fears and sorrows for what was to come. She admitted to herself that the chances of Xena walking away with her life were slim, but would never allow the words to pass through her lips .The young woman drifted off to sleep, emotionally drained.
Xena walked over to Gabrielle and placed a blanket over her, her maternal nature taking over. She saw the dried tear stains on her face and her heart nearly broke in two. She leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her soft cheek and cried.
The next morning, several men along with Ronen entered their prison.
"Xena, the trial begins this morning. I have will ask one question.. If I allow you to leave this room unchained--will you attempt to escape?" he asked while probing her eyes.
"No. Regardless of what happens, I will not leave unless you release me. You have my word."
"Very well, then follow us," he said and turned. The men with him protested loudly, distrusting the killer. He silenced them and told them to step aside. Xena didn't look at any of them as she followed Ronen out of the room, her head held high. Gabrielle trailed behind. The men kept their weapons at the ready, prepared for a brutal attack. There was none.
Xena saw Argo in a small corral next to a house. She was unchained and seemed content. Xena touched Ronen's arm and pointed to the horse.
"How...?" she said, confused.
"I walked up to her and told her I was her friend. She allowed me to put her there. I've ordered everyone to stay away from her and I cleaned up the cuts she received. We get along quite well actually," he smiled. She smiled back and thanked him. Argo's well-being meant a lot to her.
"Would you like to say hello to her before we start?" he asked perceptively.
"Yes, thank you." She walked over to the fence. Argo ran over to Xena, happy to see her owner. They nuzzled each other as Xena gave her neck a hug and pat. Argo let off a series of snorts and nickers.
"I'm glad to see you, too," she told the mare. She backed away and rejoined Ronen. His men only stared at her, thinking she was some kind of sorceress. They didn't see the bond, only the results of it.
They continued on to the communal house, where the trial would begin. He pointed her to a isolated chair, and told Gabrielle to follow him.
He took her aside. "Gabrielle, the Elders are allowing you to speak for Xena if you wish. You will be responsible for her defense. I know it will be hard for you, but I can't judge and counsel at the same time. Do you wish it?" he asked. She accepted gladly.
"Very well. I want to warn you not to overwhelm them with glorious tales of her adventures. Keep it simple and honest. I don't want them thinking she has you enchanted or anything. You saw their reactions to the way she talks to her horse. They think she's unnatural somehow. Let them see her heart and spirit. That's all the advice I can morally give you. Good luck." He turned and joined the elders. The townspeople entered and took their seats, coming to see the killer get her just reward.
Xena sat facing her accuser. He paced furiously back and forth as he pounded her with questions, often answering for her. The Elders had to constantly remind him to allow her to speak.
"Do you deny that you are Xena, The Warrior Princess?"
"Do you deny that your army raided this village and killed people?"
"Do you deny that you yourself killed innocent people? No!" he answered for her again, "Because you relish killing and destruction. You enjoying seeing people die by your hands! You..."
"Krath! That's enough! If we need to tell you once more..." he threatened. Krath held up his hands in submission.
"Do you have *anything* to say, Princess?" he said with a sneer.
"Only this. I regret my past. I was lost, and Hercules helped me and gave me a chance to change. I've tried for over a year to do so. I won't kill in cold-blood again. Do with me as you see fit," she said while staring him in the eye.
He looked at her with contempt. Nothing would ever change his mind or opinion. She was a killer that needed to be eradicated. Gabrielle took her turn.
"Xena. Why don't you tell everyone about those earlier years?"
"You know all about them, Gabrielle. I was obsessed with protected my homevillage No one was going to threaten it with destruction again. I saw to that. Somewhere along the line, the need to protect became the need to overcome. I took more and more territory. My army grew. It took the life of a child to make me see the error of my ways."
"Tell us about the child."
"One of my men took my army while I was away and destroyed a village. Nothing was left untouched. Everyone died under their swords. I returned and saw the destruction--and heard a baby crying. They had missed him. I stopped them from killing him, and arrangements were made to keep care of him. My men overthrew me, and my army was lost to me. Then I met Hercules. He dug out the woman I once was, and returned her to the light. I haven't killed in cold-blood since."
Many of the people murmured in the background. Gabrielle couldn't tell if they were touched or thinking that she had lied. Everyone had respect for Hercules. He stood for justice and courage.. Many of the faces remained unchanged. They thought Xena a witch, and had fooled the great Hercules with her evil ways..
"And don't forget, you've spent all that time since then fighting injustices and helping the innocent," she said with a warm smile. Xena smiled back. Gabrielle returned to her seat.
The Elders, deciding that since the accused had not denied her crimes, would need no other people to come forward. They only wished to question Gabrielle, who had been her traveling companion for over a year.
They asked if Xena had spoken about her warlord days, about the battles she fought, the lives she had destroyed. Gabrielle answered honestly, holding back nothing. Her voice rang true and strong, clear that no falsehoods were spoken. The Elders looked at each other, seeing if any other matters needed to be addressed. They were about to end the trial and start their discussion in private when Gabrielle asked to speak for Xena. They considered it, and agreed.
Gabrielle turned to face the people of the village, her eyes meeting theirs. Her clear green eyes kind and soft. She smiled gently, not wishing to turn them against her for being too overenthusiastic in her speech.
"I want to tell you about Xena, the woman., and my friend. Things she would never say aloud about the woman inside. She can't really be defined. In many ways, she's still a mystery to me--her best friend. Xena keeps all the pain and guilt locked up inside, not allowing herself to be free of it. All the memories of the person she was are still very fresh in her mind. She has a remarkable memory, and I believe to this day, can see the face of everyone she has killed. They haunt her.
You think she is an unfeeling monster, but you couldn't be more wrong. I've seen her night after night, wake up from nightmares so horrible that she can barely keep her sanity intact. Every time Xena is faced with her past, she is tortured inside. The only hope in her eyes is to atone for her past, by helping the same kinds of people she once victimized. Even if she did this for the rest of her life, she will feel the stain of her past on her soul.
She doesn't even care if you find her guilty--not because she feels superior to you---but because *she* thinks she is as well. But in my opinion, the worst thing you could do to her is let__ her __live. The self torture she inflicts on herself is worse than anything you can do to her. I think she has a death wish, and that's why none of you were seriously hurt when you captured her. Xena could have easily escaped. All she had to do was__kill__you," she said slowly as she pointed her finger at all of them in a wide sweep. She saw the people shiver involuntarily with the knowledge that she was right. They fidgeted in their seats. Gabrielle knew she could say no more, so she sat down and waited.
The Elders ordered Xena returned to her cell, and filed out of the building. The room was so quiet than it was spooky. The guards pointed Xena and Gabrielle out of the building.
Gabrielle and Xena sat on the pallet, huddled together in anxiety. There would be no rest for them tonight. This would probably be their last night together and they didn't want to loose it to sleep. Neither could say anything, the words would not come. All they could do was cling to one another.
The night passed in agonizing slowness.
The sun began to rise, and Xena finally spoke.
"Gabrielle, convince Ronen to let you take me home to mother. Explain what happened, please? And I want you to keep Argo. I know she intimidates you, but she needs to be with someone that isn't a stranger to her. And I want you to ..." Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's mouth, ending her babbling.
"Don't. I can't take it when you talk like this. I refuse to think that far ahead yet. I just can't. Not now," she said miserably. Tears fell down her face. Xena wiped them away with gentle fingers, wishing she could ease her friend's pain somehow. Xena held back her own tears, wanting to be strong for her.
Moments later, the door opened and the guards warily motioned them outside. They went to the same building as yesterday. The guards told them to sit, but Gabrielle refused to be separated from her friend. She pulled a chair next to her, and gripped Xena's hand tightly.
The Elders walked into the room and sat down. Within minutes, the room was filled with people. They had debated among themselves. Many still wanted her death, while some had changed their minds. Others were confused and no longer knew what to believe.
The senior Elder stood and held up his hand, silencing the room.
"Xena, rise and hear our Judgement," he ordered. She stood and Gabrielle kept her grip on her hand as she also rose.
"We spoke all night. The opinions were weighed and a verdict and punishment agreed upon. We find you guilty..."The roar of the crowd drowned him out.
"SILENCE!!" shouted Ronen. The room suddenly went quiet.
The Elder continued. "We find you guilty of the crime of murder and pillaging. Normally this is punished by death. But the words spoken by your friend hit a cord within all of us.
Xena, you will sit in this room and face all the people that you have taken loved ones from. You will hear each of their stories of pain and hatred caused by you. And you will bear that cross for the rest of your days. The punishment will begin tomorrow. Once all those who wish to face you have taken their turn, you will be free to leave. If you give your word not to leave until then, you may travel within the village limits. That is our Judgement," he finished.
The room went wild. Gabrielle looked at Xena in shock, unable to believe her own ears. They stared at each other for long moments and turned to each other to embrace. Tears fell from their eyes in joy.
It had taken five days to listen to everyone. Xena had sat there in silence (As told by Ronen--'Don't apologize, just listen') They poured out their anguish and hatred, and in doing so, found their release. They walked away lighter for their experience. The weight was taken on Xena's wide shoulders.
The toll had been hard on her. She had lost weight and sleep. The nightmares had awakened her each night, but Gabrielle had been there for her. The bard was a pillar of strength for the warrior, holding her as she cried and shook from the remembered tales.
They said their goodbyes to Ronen, and mounted Argo. They were eager to leave. Xena spun Argo around and they left the village.
PS--I couldn't resist the heroes riding off into-the-sunset-type-ending!
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