"The Festival of Saint Gabrielle"

by Alan Plessinger

Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "The Festival of Saint Gabrielle" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.

This story deals with events from the episode "Ties That Bind". If you havenít seen that episode, Iíd suggest you read something else.


Chapter 1

"Salmoneus! By the remaining gods, youíre stillÖyouíre still alive!"

"And youíre still cute!" he said. "Gabrielle, whatever rejuvenation formula youíve gotten ahold of, let me help you market it. Weíll split seventy-thirty."

"Itíll never be popular. What are you selling, here?"

Gabrielle looked over the little trinkets, holding them up and examining them. They looked like religious icons, but not any religion sheíd ever seen or heard of. Many of them looked remarkably like tiny wooden pitchforks. There were also some paintings and images of a woman who looked familiar.

"Donít you know?" asked Salmoneus.

"Would I ask, if I knew?"

"Gabrielle, donít you know what this town is? Donít you know where you are?"

They were interrupted by the sound of a very deep female voice crying out, "Kill Ďem all!"

"What was that?" she asked. It came from a tent set up in the middle of town.

"A re-creation. A religious play."

"Salmoneus, come with me. I have to see this."

"You go. I canít leave my stall."

Gabrielle ran over to the tent to take a look. Most of the audience was seated, so she had no trouble seeing what was going on. A short, pudgy woman in black leather was swaggering around the stage with a fake sword, making threatening noises and acting very badly.

"Not so fast!" said another, much taller woman in a brown skirt and top. She wore a fake-looking strawberry blonde wig.

"You expect to defeat the mighty Xena? Where are your weapons?"

"I donít need fancy weapons for the likes of you," said the woman in the strawberry blonde wig. And as she picked up a wooden pitchfork, the whole crowd started cheering. And they cheered even more as the taller woman started beating the crap out of the woman in leather.

And suddenly Gabrielle realized where she was and what this was about.

"Stop! No more! Please donít hit me again! Have mercy on me, Gabrielle, for I am no match for your power and your glorious righteousness."

Who writes this stuff? thought Gabrielle

She couldnít watch any more. She left the tent as quickly as she could, and as she headed back to Salmoneus she spied a pair of statues close to the tent. She stopped to examine the tableau.

Well, thatís a little bit better likeness, she thought. Not much, but a little.

The statues were of her and Xena, a more accurate representation, but she was still much bigger and taller than Xena. It was an action pose, Gabrielle with the ever-present wooden pitchfork, about to beat up Xena. Xena was cowering in fear.

She then looked up and read the banner overhead, flapping in the breeze.

THE FESTIVAL OF SAINT GABRIELLE

Oh, man! thought Gabrielle.

She made her way back to Salmoneus. She waited patiently while he made a sale.

"Salmoneus, what the hell is going on here?"

"Isnít it obvious?"

"No, itís not obvious! I recognize the town, and I know what happened here, but how could the story have gotten so screwed up in onlyÖ"

And once again the missing twenty-five years of her life came back to haunt her.

"Only thirty years?" said Salmoneus. "Where have you two been for all this time, anyway?"

"Itís a long story. And Iím afraid to tell you. You might want to tell it to everyone and screw it up completely to make a profit."

"Oh, no, donít go blaming this on me, Gabrielle. Lotia created this festival all on their own. Iím just an honest businessman making a small profit exploiting a bizarre religious fixation in a slightly deluded backwoods town."

"You knew the real story and you didnít tell them?"

"I donít know the whole truth, Gabrielle, but obviously I know you never beat the crap out of Xena. But I donít give a damn what the truth is. Why should I? I donít get two dinars for the truth. I need a story that will move the merchandise."

"Salmoneus, this is wrong! People shouldnít worship other people! Or if they do, they should at least get their facts straight! And just what the hell is a ĎSaintí, anyway?"

"A person of exceptional righteousness or virtue."

"Iíve got to put a stop to this."

"No, Gabrielle, please donít! This festival is a goldmine for me every year. OK, forget about me, think about these people. Think about what youíve done for them. So maybe they donít have the facts completely straight, so what? However you did it, you saved the entire town that day, didnít you?"

"Sort of."

"Well then, let it rest! The story is just fine as it is. And in all the world I couldnít pick a more perfect face to fill the role of ĎSaintí. Look at your likeness here, Gabrielle. Thereís no exaggeration needed. Youíve always had a somewhat luminous quality."

"Really? Thanks! Oh what am I saying, I canít go along with this. Damn Xena anyway, I bet she knew about this. Thatís why she wouldnít come into town with me."

Gabrielle put one hand to her forehead and tried to think.

"Salmoneus, thereís got to be someone in town whoís old enough to have been here when this happened. Someone who was an adult at the time."

"Sure, thereís plenty. Letís see, thereís Areliesa. She claims to have been there when all this happened. And she says she spoke to you."

"I remember Areliesa. Letís go see her. I need to talk to someone in town who knows the truth. I need to find out how things got so out of hand."

"I canít go now, Gabrielle. Itís the height of the festival."

"Oh really? Could I have your attention, please? Everyone? I am a bard, from Poteidaia. My name isÖ"

"OK! OK! Iím going! See, Iím closing up right now! Pay no attention, folks, sheís just a little excited from the festival."

Salmoneus closed up his stall, and as they left Gabrielle could hear some of the villagers whispering to each other.

"Who is she?"

"What was she going to say?"

"She kind of looks likeÖ.no, couldnít be."

Chapter 2

As they made their way to Areliesaís hut, Salmoneus asked, "So what is the truth, anyway?"

Gabrielle related the story, and Salmoneus responded with a low whistle.

"Man! You really are a hero!"

"No, Iím not."

"Oh, stop it, Gabrielle. You were ready to die, werenít you? You expected to die."

Gabrielle shrugged.

"Well, it seems to me that the story is close enough to the truth as it is. Xena was going to wipe out the village, and you did stop her by hitting her with one of these."

Salmoneus held up the miniature wooden pitchfork hanging around his neck, by way of illustration.

"But thereís nothing about Ares!" said Gabrielle. "Nothing about the fact that he goaded her into it. Nothing about the fact that Xena and I are friends, or even that we knew each other! Nothing about any of the good Xena has done, since then."

"Oh come on, Gabrielle. Ares may have tricked her, but she wasnít under a spell or anything, was she? I knew Xena before you did, and I know sheís done plenty of good in her life, but this was a horrible example of the worst and nastiest part of her coming to the surface. It was an aberration, I know, but still, for one day in her life she was back to casting herself as the bad guy, or girl, or woman, in this drama, and if you really care about the truth then you canít pretend otherwise. What do you think youíre accomplishing by telling the truth? Who are you doing it for? For Xena? Do you really think making her slightly less bad in their eyes is gonna help any? Iíve always believed that thereís no point in screwing up any really good story with too much truth."

Gabrielle had tuned out Salmoneusís speech about halfway through. She began looking apprehensively at the villagers as they passed.

"I keep wondering if one of them is going to know who I am," she said. "There must be some of them that were children when this happened."

"You wonít be recognized. Youíve changed a lot."

"Yeah. I seem to have gotten a lot shorter, somehow."

"Here we are," he said as they arrived at the hut.

Chapter 3

"Youíre Gabrielle? The Gabrielle? You canít be. You look like her, but youíre way too young," said Areliesa.

"I assure you," said Salmoneus, "sheís the genuine article."

"Iím a little bit younger than I should be because of some godly mischief. Ares did this to me."

"I see. Well, have a seat, Gabrielle! Have a seat! Have some dried figs. I wish I had something better to offer you. Itís not every day I get a visit from a saint."

"Iím not a saint, Areliesa, and I want to know why all these lies are being told about me and Xena."

"What lies?"

"You know I didnít beat her up with a pitchfork."

"I know that you hit her. I know that you knocked her down, and I know what wouldíve happened if you hadnít."

"But what about Ares? Does anyone even know he was part of the story?"

Areliesa sighed heavily.

"Saint Gabrielle, I know we might not have the story down perfectly, but we pieced it together as best we could. None of us who were there have any idea what Ares was doing there. I know that Xena fought him, but I have no idea why. I couldnít make any sense at all of anything they were saying to each other."

"And did you happen to notice that Xena is at least a head taller than I am?"

Areliesa looked ashamed.

"Saint GabrielleÖ"

"Please stop calling me that."

"Iím sorry. Gabrielle, I know that thereís a few facts I couldíve corrected if I wanted to, but you have to understand, until someone had the idea of the festival of SaintÖof you, many of us couldnít go to sleep without hearing the words ĎKill Ďem all!í echoing through our nightmares. Maybe we like our saints a little larger than life, and maybe we went out of our way to make Xena look weak and foolish, but it doesnít really matter, does it? The important fact is: you saved our town, Gabrielle. What does it matter how you did it? Did you know that when it happened I was already pregnant with my firstborn? A soldier held a knife to my throat that day, and when Xena gave the order I felt the knife bite into my flesh, and I thought of my poor child and all the precious moments I would never get to spend with her, all gone, gone forever because of this woman, this Xena. And then I heard you, and I felt the blade halt at my throat. And I donít know what you said to her, but I know what you did. And I know that Iím alive today and I got to see my children and grandchildren grow up because of you."

Gabrielle put one hand to her forehead. Her eyes were downcast.

"Doesnít anyone know what Xenaís made of her life since then?" she asked. "Havenít any of my scrolls made it to Lotia?"

"One of them found its way here, but it was burned. We consider them lies. Heresy. Theyíre not allowed in town."

Gabrielle started to shake her head.

"This isnít right. This isnít fair. If you have to judge Xena, fine, I canít stop you, but at least judge her on the facts. Youíve created this festival celebrating brutality, going against everything I ever believed in, and youíre doing it in my name. Itís wrong. What I believe in is forgiveness. Youíve had thirty years to vent your anger at Xena. Maybe she deserved it, but enough is enough. Itís time to forgive."

Areliesa looked somewhat ashamed and embarrassed.

"Gabrielle, I owe you my life, and Iíll do anything you say, but you canít really expect us to forgive someone who tried to kill us. Thatís unheard of."

Gabrielle didnít quite know what to say to that, so Salmoneus put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Letís go, Gabrielle."

Chapter 4

Gabrielle got her provisions and made it back to the campsite in record time. She leaped off her horse and ran over to Xena, one very pissed-off bard.

"The Festival of Saint Gabrielle?" she said.

"Made it into town, did you?"

"GabrielleÖ" said Eve.

"Stay out of this Eve. This is between Xena and me."

"Xena didnít do anything wrong," said Eve.

"She mightíve told me about it."

"Would you have gone into town if I did?" asked Xena.

"No. And whyís it so important that I go into town?"

Xena stood up.

"Maybe so you could see why I canít."

"Oh, youíre going into town, Xena. Youíre going into town, and youíre going to apologize to those people. If they wonít accept it, fine, thatís up to them, but youíre going to face them."

Xena came a little closer to Gabrielle.

"Krykus the Second is taking the town tomorrow, Gabrielle. Thatís why weíre here. I wouldnít be here otherwise."

Gabrielle threw up her hands.

"When were you planning on telling me this? We need to get the villagers organized."

"No. This one is just me. Iím not endangering the villagers. Iíll take Krykus on myself. Thatíll be my way of apologizing to them, because I canít face them, Gabrielle. I canít. Itís bad enough, all the things Iíve done before I ever met you, but this is different."

"I donít care how different it is, Xena. After you take on Krykus, youíre going into town and you will face them."

"Gabrielle, Iíve let you have your way a lot over the years, but not this time. I wonít do it. I canít."

Gabrielle looked at her in disgust for a few heartbeats, and then left her to stand next to Eve.

"Look at your mother, Eve. Xena the great Warrior Princess. Xena the great coward. Still hiding from her past. Canít face what sheís done. I was going to go into town and tell them Xenaís changed. But I guess she hasnít changed at all."

"Gabrielle, I thought you wanted me to stay out of this," said Eve.

"So you have no problem with this, Eve? Is this what your motherís been teaching you? If itís hard to do, donít do it."

"I stand by my mother."

"She expected you to face Virgil. But I guess the rules are always different when it comes to her."

Xena was about to tell Gabrielle to stop talking about her like she wasnít there, when she heard a horse approaching. It was Salmoneus. They could hear him calling Xenaís name long before he got within sight of the camp.

"Xena! Come quick! Weíre under attack!"

Xena quickly mounted her horse, and Eve got on behind her.

As Gabrielle got on her steed, she said, "I thought you said the attack was tomorrow."

"Looks like I was wrong."

"You were wrong?"

Xena and Eve raced right through the town without stopping, and took the fight to the town border. Gabrielle galloped to a stop in the middle of town, meaning to take care of four soldiers who were pushing over stalls and carts and causing general mayhem, as the villagers cowered in fear. They had hacked the two wooden statues of Xena and Gabrielle to pieces.

One of them had a torch and was headed straight for one of the huts. The whole town could turn into another Cirra if she didnít stop him. She headed her steed directly at him, jumped from the saddle and collided right into him, knocking him from his mount. She got up on her feet and faced him, sais drawn. He took a swing at her with the torch. She caught it in one sai, leaped into the air and kicked him hard in the midsection.

She ran to the nearest watering trough and doused the torch. A couple of the soldiers drew their swords and came at her. She used her sais defensively against the swords, looking for an opening.

She thought she could hear some murmuring from the villagers.

"Itís her! I tell you, itís her!"

"Couldnít be. Sheís too short. She too young!"

"But look at her. Look how sheís fighting."

"So?"

"Look at her weapons. Theyíre pitchforks!"

Chapter 5

Gabrielle finished off the rest of the soldiers. She was breathing heavily, and sweat dripped from her body. She couldíve finished them off more quickly if sheíd been willing to kill one or two of them, but no child should have to live with that sight as their earliest memory.

As the soldiers lay in a heap, unconscious, she turned and faced the villagers.

One by one, they started falling to their knees. Gabrielle sighed heavily.

"Oh, will you get up!" she said. "Youíre worse than the Amazons."

They got up and looked uneasy. Gabrielle chided herself for losing her temper with these people, who had really done nothing wrong. She resolved to try to be a little more Gabrielle-like around them.

She smiled, and immediately saw the effects of her smile on the faces of the villagers.

I still got it, she thought. And rebuked herself for her pride.

"Could someone please get me some rope?" she asked. Three or four different men scrambled off at once to their huts. They hurried back with rope and offered it to Gabrielle, each of them very insistent that his rope was the best, the finest, the one most suitable to that particular job, whatever the job turned out to be.

She smiled again. She was really enjoying it all way too much.

She grabbed all the rope from the men and started tying up the soldiers. Salmoneus arrived, and he helped. When she was done, she turned and faced the townsfolk.

OK, no more kidding around, she thought. Time to get serious.

"To answer the question on your minds, yes, I am Gabrielle," she said. "Iím sorry Iím not quite as tall as you would like. I tried to be taller, but it didnít work out. Iím also a lot younger than I should be, which is due to something one of the gods did to us. But Iím not a Saint, just an ordinary woman. And Xenaís not a terrible person, either. She almost did a terrible thing that day, but sheís done many wonderful things since then. Sheís done a tremendous amount of good in the world, in fact, right now sheís fighting for all of you, against Krykus. Sheís the hero; not me. And weíre not enemies. Weíre friends. Youíve gotten the story dead wrong, and Iím going to correct it if it takes forever."

She looked for some comprehension in their faces.

"Iíll tell you what, letís head into the tent. Iíve got a few stories to tell you."

On the way in she asked Salmoneus to stand watch outside and report any trouble. She was worried about Xena and Eve, but she hoped they could take care of themselves while Gabrielle did her best to patch up Xenaís reputation.

Gabrielle got on the stage and started in with a brief explanation of Xenaís unfortunate history as a warlord. She didnít attempt to alter or soften the hard facts of Xenaís life. She told the story of Xenaís meeting with Hercules, her decision to change her ways and seek redemption, her meeting with Gabrielle, and the first time she ever met Ares, when Ares tried to get her executed for a crime she didnít commit. Then she launched right into the tale of the "Ties That Bind". She didnít tell it very well because it wasnít a story that she often told out loud. She usually didnít want to tell stories that made Xena look bad. But still, she didnít shy away from the truth. If they had to hate Xena, they were going to hate her based on the true facts or not at all.

Then she launched into a story she could tell with a great deal more skill and confidence. The story of "The Greater Good", a story that involved Salmoneus. She followed that up with the story of "Callisto".

"Thereís only one way to end this cycle of hatred, and itís through love. And forgiveness."

As she related the fireside conversation between herself and Xena, she took a brief, critical look at the audience to see if she had them in the palm of her hand. If she did, she could risk another story, otherwise it would be time to leave them wanting more.

She knew she had them, so when she finished she launched into her absolute favorite, "One Against An Army." There were parts of the story that made Gabrielle look wonderful and parts that made her look incompetent, but she related them all faithfully, sticking to the truth. The important part was the love between them. If she could show how much she loved Xena, maybe she could get others to love her as well.

She didnít get to complete the story. Salmoneus and Eve came into the tent, carrying a wounded Xena between them.

Chapter 6

"Iím all right!" protested Xena. But her leg was very badly wounded. Gabrielle examined the wound, and the stitching and first aid performed by Eve. Not bad, but it could still use some cleaning.

"Could someone please get me some hot water and some clean rags?" Gabrielle asked of the crowd. A woman rushed off to get them.

The crowd started whispering. It wasnít easy for them to deal with seeing Xena this way, a woman they had despised for thirty years.

"Is the village safe?" asked Salmoneus.

"Yeah," said Eve. "I killed Krykus. His army scattered."

"I told you not to kill him, Eve," said Xena. "He has a kidnapping charge in Athens. We couldíve taken him in."

"Iím sorry. I panicked when I saw him attack you from behind."

"I told you, Eve, we need to give them a chance. Everyone deserves the same chance I had."

Xena sat on the edge of the stage. She looked up, and seemed to notice the audience for the first time.

"Hi," she said.

A few people murmured subdued greetings.

"Iím Xena," she said. "Iím guessing youíve heard of me."

A few nods.

"I was just telling them a few stories, Xena," said Gabrielle.

"Yeah. I guessed. Look, thereís nothing I can say about what happened here thirty years ago, except that Iím sorry. I know that doesnít mean much of anything, considering, but I am really andÖand truly sorry. I canít ask for your forgiveness. I know Gabrielle would want you to forgive me, but I would never ask that of you. Gabrielle is a very forgiving, very wonderful person. She has an incredible talent for forgiveness, but she doesnít realize how hard it is for the rest of us, sometimes. I know she doesnít much like ĎThe Festival of Saint Gabrielleí, but I just want to say, I have no problem with it. If you want to dress up in costumes and sell trinkets and put on plays to remind yourself how much you hate me, have at it. Itís no less than I deserve."

"XenaÖ"

"No, itís true, Gabrielle. And I wouldnít change a thing about the festival. Itís perfect the way it is, especially the title. Because she is a Saint. She saved my soul that day, thirty years ago, and sheís been saving it every day since then, more times than I can count. When she hit me with that wooden pitchfork,

I got back on my feet and I thought, 'I'm gonna kill her! I'm gonna kill her!' Then I saw the look in her eyes. She was so angry at me, but there was no hatred, no fear. She expected to die for what she had done, but she wasn't afraid. She was begging me, pleading with me to come to my senses before it was too late."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. Xena was starting to lose control a little bit, and she didnít want to get emotional in front of all these people.

"Why do you stay with me, Gabrielle? How you could you stay with someone who would do something like that?"

The water and rags arrived, so the answer to that question would have to wait. Gabrielle cleaned the wound and changed the dressing. Outside she began to hear rumblings of thunder.

"Mother, youíll have to stay off that leg for a day or two," said Eve.

"I know."

"Can anyone give us a bed for the night?" Gabrielle asked the crowd.

"No! Gabrielle, the campsite will be fine," said Xena.

But the rain had started, and Gabrielle made it clear that they wouldnít be spending the night out in the rain, Xena with a wounded leg and all. The innkeeper informed Gabrielle that there wasnít a bed to be had, because of the festival.

"Iíve got a room," said Salmoneus. "I guess I can sleep on the floor."

Xena agreed, and they stood up and prepared to go.

But first, Xena looked at the crowd and said, "Iíll tell you what. It looks like Iíll be here for a day or two. Tomorrow Iíll sit on the porch in front of the tavern, all day long. Gabrielle wonít be with me. Anyone who has anything to say to me, come by and see me. No weapons; you wonít have to be afraid of me. Ask me anything. Tell me anything you want. Tell me how much you hate me. I accept your hatred, or anything else you have to say."

"To be followed in the evening," said Salmoneus, "by another performance from the Bard of Poteidaia."

The crowd looked puzzled, so Gabrielle said, "Thatís me."

"Tonightís performance was free, but itís traditional to kick in a few dinars when a bard performs," said Salmoneus.

Gabrielle assured the crowd that the performance would be absolutely free. She heard Salmoneus wince, so she started to coax Xena and Eve out of the tent. Salmoneus followed, asking if he couldnít get Gabrielle to autograph a few little articles, and also mentioning the possibility of an exclusive scroll concession in the town. Gabrielle was starting to regret the sleeping arrangements.

Chapter 7

The next day, Xena held court in front of the town tavern, accepting all comers and listening to what they had to say. Many of the older people who were present for the actual event had no problem coming up to her and telling her that they hated her and wished her dead. Xena accepted it humbly, and said that she was sorry. She looked ashamed, and she wasnít acting.

Eve sat next to her. The only reason that Xena ever acceded to Gabrielleís wishes was the fact the Eve changed her mind and decided to side with Gabrielle, so it was only fair that Xenaís daughter should be there to try to help her mother through this. And it was a learning experience. Eve might one day have to do something very similar.

Xena would not consent to be spat on, in fact she kept a rag in her hand to prevent that very thing ( her phenomenal reflexes came in handy, as always ). Other than that, and other than the fact that she intended to defend herself by warding off any blows directed at her ( though there were none ), she accepted everything that anyone had to say or do to her.

For the most part, though, it was mainly villagers coming up to ask about Gabrielle. Xena related everything she knew about her, all sorts of facts that the townspeople never knew. The fact that she was an Amazon Queen, her close relationship with Aphrodite, the fact that she knew Homer and had talked him out of quitting the Academy, the relative merits of short versus long hair. Xena wasnít usually much of a talker, but when two Gabrielle fans get together they can sometimes talk for hours. Xena wondered if she should mention that she had once tried to kill Gabrielle and that Gabrielle forgave her, but maybe that wasnít something Gabrielle would like mentioned.

There were a few conflicted young men who wanted to talk about the warriorís life. They knew, or thought they knew, the terrible toll that being a warrior exacts on a manís soul, but they thought they had the talent and the heart of a warrior, and they felt an obligation to use them in the name of the Greater Good. Xena did her best to tell them what she knew, but made it clear that she couldnít make up their minds for them. She told them that if they expected to find glamour they might seek it somewhere else than on a battlefield. She said that she had always felt that the only acceptable reason to fight a war is because the other side starts it. She answered questions about the blessing and the curse of a warrior spirit. And she agreed to spar with a few of them when she felt better, but until then Gabrielle would make a fine sparring partner. Eve seemed a little disappointed that her mother had overlooked her own abilities, but said nothing,

By the end of the day there were a few of the older villagers who had come to see her in the morning, returning to tell her that they were tired of hating her. They were willing to let go of their hatred because it was wearing them out. They had thought about it, and they decided that if Gabrielle could be Xenaís friend, maybe there was something in Xena that was worth forgiving. Xena quietly thanked them.

Gabrielle spent the day talking to the villagers. Eventually she had to get away by herself for awhile. She tried to find the exact spot where it had happened. She realized that it would be inside the tent, right under the stage. She stood on the stage and tried to remember what she was thinking, back then.

Kill me, Xena. Take it out on me if you have to, but please, please leave these people alone.I love you, Xena. I forgive you.

She was already starting to learn, back then, that you canít travel in the company of a wild animal without sometimes expecting it to attack. But what a beautiful, elegant, deadly wild animal. An exciting wild animal with a good heart and a noble soul.

Itís worth it. It is so worth it.

And it was kind of fun, being worshipped by a whole town this way. It was dangerous and troublesome, and she knew it had to stop, but it was fun while it lasted. Whenever she or Xena find themselves being worshipped by a crowd, itís usually bad news. The chants of "Xena! Xena! Xena!" were always the beginning of trouble.

Xena and Gabrielle already worshiped each other. Thatís plenty.

"Whereís your staff?" asked the young woman.

Gabrielle turned and faced the villager who had managed to sneak up on her.

"Did you ever figure out that arrow-catching trick?" asked the woman. "Iím still available, if you want to practice."

The woman smiled, like the two of them were sharing a secret. And suddenly Gabrielle realized that the woman was not from around Lotia.

"Lea!" she cried! She leapt from the stage right into Leaís arms. "My little warlord Lea! How are you?"

"Iím great! You look so young, Gabrielle!"

"Clean living. You were just a child when I left you. Now look at you! What are you doing here?"

"Getting another one of these."

She held up a commemorative plate with Gabrielleís image on it which sheíd bought from Salmoneus.

"Iím afraid my little Gabby accidentally broke the last one," said Lea. "I couldnít believe it when they said you were here. Oh, I wish Iíd known! I wouldíve brought my copy of ĎDeath Maskí for you to autograph."

"Lea, why do you have pictures of me in your home?"

"Oh come on, Gabrielle! How could I not? The woman who saved my life? Who played with me and made me laugh and forget how scared I was? You canít imagine how sad I was to see you go. I practiced with a very small staff for years afterward."

"Will you be here tonight, Lea? Iím storytelling."

"Oh, I wish I could, but I have to get back to my family. GabrielleÖI just canít believe it, after all these years! You know, when they said you were here I was a little scared to meet you. Sometimes, you know, when you meet a hero of yours, theyíre different than you expect. But youÖyou havenít changed a bit!"

Gabrielle laughed. She knew that sheíd changed plenty, but maybe not as much as she thought. They hugged again.

"Whatís funny?"

"Nothing," said Gabrielle. "Itís justÖthis has been a very good weekend, for me. I hope it turns out as good for Xena."

"Gabrielle, thereís something Iíve always wondered," said Lea. "In my copy of ĎDeath Maskí you mention the two of us playing together, but you never once mention that you saved my life. Why not?"

Gabrielle shrugged.

"Wasnít important to the story. Not that your life isnít important, or anything."

"Gabrielle, all your adult life youíve been singing the praises of Xena. Who sings of you? Your fans need to know more about you."

"Lea, it was never about me. A neutral voice is best, for a narrator. Iím just a sidekick. Iím not supposed to have fans."

"Then you should never have been so wonderful. Gabrielle, please, change the scroll, for me. How many people are brave enough to save even one life? It should never go unheralded. Please, tell everyone you saved me. No one believes me!"

Gabrielle promised sheíd make the addition. They said goodbye, and Lea left. Another soul that Gabrielle would never have been able to know and help and influence for the better, if she hadnít gambled it all on a life with Xena.

As the sun went down Xena and Eve headed to the tent for a big feast and another performance by Gabrielle. Gabrielle was thinking of finishing up "One Against An Army", but since Xena would be there she thought sheíd give the Warrior Princess a break and spin a few "Gabrielle and Joxer" tales. She thought "For Him The Bell Tolls" would be a funny crowd-pleaser, followed by "The Quill Is Mightier". She had no problem telling funny stories about her own incompetence, and the anecdote would be the perfect antidote for all the worshipful "Saint Gabrielle" nonsense.

But first they had a small presentation to make. As Xena sat down, Gabrielle announced that the decision had been made to rename the festival. Together, Gabrielle and Salmoneus unrolled the banner announcing the new name.

THE FESTIVAL OF FORGIVENESS

Xena stood up.

"Uh, well, thank you," she said. "I appreciate you doing that for Gabrielle. Iím sure that itís probably not what most of you wouldíve wanted, butÖthank you."

Gabrielle put down the banner and went to Xenaís side.

"Xena, I donít think you get it. We held a secret ballot, and only those who were present at the time thirty years ago were voting. XenaÖitís unanimous."

Itís not often the warrior princess is shocked. She looked all around the room, from one villager to the next. Unlike before, they were all making eye contact with her.

"Unanimous?"

She sought the eyes of some of the older villagers who had unloaded their bile that morning, particularly the ones who never took it back.

"ButÖthe things you said. How could you change your minds? How? Why?"

These were stoic villagers, unwilling to single themselves out by speaking. But, finally, one of them said, "Because you donít ask for it. But you need it. So do we."

It began to dawn on Xena that this was not some little unimportant offhand gesture, but a real change in all their lives. Things that they had done to others that they thought were beyond forgiving, well, maybe now they had the right to ask forgiveness. Grudges that some of them had held for years started to seem trivial and pointless. All sorts of new possibilities were opening up. Anything was possible, if you just had enough courage. And thereís all kinds of courage.

Xena didnít know what to say.

"Thank you," she said at last.

She started to sit down again, but Gabrielle yanked her out of her chair and threw her arms around her in a big hug. And Xena smiled.

A lot less people have seen Xenaís smile than have seen Gabrielleís, but it can be pretty dazzling in its own way. When she smiled it seemed to release all their tension like a trigger on a catapult.

A big cheer went up. The band started playing, and the Festival of Forgiveness began its first big celebration.

Chapter 8

Salmoneus had to sneak out of the festival early. He managed to collect a fat commission by getting a new sculptor to the town in record time, to create new statues of Xena and Gabrielle. He had to go meet with him and talk business.

They sat in his stall and negotiated. Salmoneus admitted to the sculptor that he wasnít quite sure what sort of tableau they were looking for, but he didnít really understand why that should affect the fee one way or the other.

As they dickered, Xena and Gabrielle headed back to the inn. Eve had had a little too much to drink, and rather than try to move her they decided to make her comfortable where she was and leave her snoring. Gabrielle supported Xena, so she could stay off her bad leg.

They stopped before the mutilated statues. Xena looked up at what was left of their likenesses, which were never very accurate to begin with and were even less so, now. She had one arm around Gabrielleís shoulder, and Gabrielle kept an arm around her waist.

And suddenly Xena lowered her head and started making some strange sounds. Itís funny how crying can sound so close to laughter, sometimes, and Gabrielle didnít know which it was. It was both. Sheíd never heard this sort of reaction from the Warrior Princess before. Or anyone.

When Xena lifted her head, she was smiling but her eyes were tearing up a little.

"Thank you, Gabrielle," she said. "You are just magic."

"Iím not the one who transformed you, Xena. When I first met you I was so impressed with what you could do with a sword, but thatís nothing compared to what youíve done with your life."

"I love you, Gabrielle."

"I know."

As the two stood looking up at their disfigured likenesses, Salmoneus, from across the square, said to the sculptor, "Thatís it! Thatís the tableau! Quick, make a sketch."

The sculptor made some quick doodles on a parchment, then said, "I need a view from the front."

Xena and Gabrielle turned around. Xena asked, "Howís this?"

The sculptor indicated that they both needed to be looking up, and Xena was so happy she was able to do it without feeling stupid. But it wasnít too long before she started feeling like an idiot, and said, "Thatíll do, for now. More tomorrow, if you need it."

The two of them headed off to bed. Salmoneus asked, "Did you get it?"

"Iíve got a good start. Who are they, anyway? The tall one is gorgeous."

"They both have their points. Would you be interested in purchasing a Gabby poker?"

"A what?"

Salmoneus held up one of the miniature wooden pitchforks, which heíd shortened a little and painted a metallic gray.

"A Gabby poker. Gabrielle the Good fought off an entire army with a pair of these, not ten feet away from this spot. No? Come on, get in the spirit of ĎThe Festival Of Forgivenessí!"

THE END

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