That the Night Come
January 27, 1998
Disclaimers: Yep, another unauthorized snatching of Universal/MCA's characters.
The title and poem comes from William Butler Yeats. I came across it and the Muse just came out screaming.
Gabrielle watched her dark-maned friend begin an almost un perceivable squirm. Three years of traveling together had allowed her to learn many of the warrior's nuances. Tonight, it wasn't even anything she could truly put her fingers on--but it was there nevertheless. Xena had ever so slightly stiffened a few moments ago and her easy banter, though still present, took on an edge. Her smile faltered only the tiniest bit and her eyes didn't meet the bard's nearly as often.
"Xena, what's wrong?" she asked softly. Xena gave a small shake of her head, and pretended ignorance.
"Nothing's wrong. Why do you ask?"
"Xena, you can't pull the tough warrior act with me. Something is bothering you--I can tell." Gabrielle placed her hand on her friend's forearm, running her thumb along the warm skin as she sought out her friend's eyes. They met and kept locked for several moments. "Tell me about it."
Xena lowered her blue eyes and stared at the rough surface of the wooden table. Her mouth twisted as she considered her words. Finally, she took a deep breath and spoke.
"See that man over there? The one with the silver medallion."
The bard turned her body slightly, following Xena's gaze. A middle-aged man sat there, peeking over the rim of his mug, studying the former warlord. His look was emotionless, like he was merely looking at them because he had nothing better to do. The strawberry blond shivered and returned her eyes to Xena's.
"Do you know him?"
"Yes. He once belonged to my army. His name is Haralth."
"And?" Gabrielle prompted.
"He...well--it's hard to explain. At the time I knew him, I was at the height of my power. He just brings back memories is all."
"Want to talk about it?"
Xena walked along her men, a large mug of ale in her unsteady hand. They had raided a town a few candlemarks earlier and found a large cache of kegged alcohol. She and her men had wasted no time loading it onto one of their war wagons and hauling it out of the ruined community.
Now she and her men were well into their cups. The warriors mingled in groups to enjoy their evening. Some were engaged in boisterous games while others sat around, eating and drinking. Xena walked among them, sassing her favorites and occasionally whacking a man if he got too familiar. She would laugh and they'd join in, knowing she was in a good mood.
They all seemed to be enjoying themselves--except for one. The Warrior Princess focused her fuzzy eyes upon Haralth. He sat alone, apart from everyone, staring into vastness of the night sky. His expression was empty in his contemplative pose. She walked around the group of men and headed for him.
Xena actually liked the quiet man and thought it her duty to cheer him up. Haralth had joined her army a few moons earlier and had impressed everyone with his quiet capabilities. She had thought it odd that he had even chosen to be a warrior. In her mind, he would have been better as a scholar rather than a fighter. Oh, she couldn't fault his abilities, but she couldn't help but wonder why he chose to be a killer rather than a teacher.
The quiet man had been teaching several of the men (on the sly in order to protect their tough reputations) how to read and write. He also taught simple mathematics. Xena had caught them several quarter-moons ago and his explanation was simple. What good was all their loot if they didn't know when they were being cheated? He was sensible and spoke with a lot of common sense. She found herself going to him for advice more and more. He listened with an opened mind and never condemned. Haralth became a father figure, brother, and advisor to many who went to him. He was always there for anyone, so seeing him alone and a little morose touched something inside her warrior heart.
She walked up to stand beside him and lowered her hand to his broad shoulder. He didn't even twitch.
"Haralth? Are you feeling okay?" she slurred slightly. The man sighed deeply and turned to look up at her face. He ran his warm hand over hers and then patted the ground in an invitation to join him. Xena sat heavily on the ground next to him and raised an eyebrow. His expression looked serious.
"Xena, I've decided to leave."
"You know no one leaves my army. Once you join, you are mine until you join Hades in his realm."
"I know," he whispered.
Xena stared at him, realizing what he had planned. "You were just going to sneak out tonight since most of the men are drunk, weren't you?" She watched him nod. "Why? Can you at least tell me why you are leaving?"
Haralth looked at her. Her tone was no longer angry, but rather it was filled with hurt. He slowly placed an arm around her shoulders and turned her to face the encampment.
"What do you see Xena?"
"See? I see my army. I see my camp."
"Anything else?" his timbred voice asked. Her shoulders shrugged under his large arm.
"What should I be seeing? It's an army camp."
"It's a camp, yes. Xena, have you ever wondered why I ever joined your army? I know you have--and I've heard more than one man talk about it. I don't fit in here--not really--and more importantly--they are correct. Let me tell you something of myself.
About five moons ago, I was teaching school in my village. I remember my last day there very clearly. It was a beautiful Spring day and I took my class outside to enjoy the sunshine and mild weather. The children were a little restless, but that's to be expected after being cooped up inside most of the Winter. I saw my wife walk by on her way to the village well.
She was carrying our newborn daughter in one arm and I remember how much joy that sight brought me. My wife and I had gone childless for six years before we had our little girl. The healer said she would probably be our only child. She was a gift from the Gods.
Anyway, I saw my wife try and lift that heavy bucket and chided her. I told her to sit down with the class and I would carry the bucket to our home. I remember her teasing me about being overprotective and pinching my chin. I grinned at her and said yes--now go sit down! She stuck out her tongue at me and I carried the bucket home. I had no sooner placed the bucket on the table when I heard screaming."
Xena suddenly sobered, realizing where the story would head and felt a cold hand grab her guts. She sat there, frozen in a dread-filled trance as he continued.
"I ran outside and could actually feel under my sandals the beat of the horses as they thundered through our village. I stood there, stunned for a moment until I realized I needed to protect my family and students."
Haralth's voice changed to a bitter tone. "I didn't even run a handful of steps. A marauder had ridden up from behind me and stabbed me with his spear. I passed out. When I woke up, I could smell smoke and everything was quiet. The sun was going down and I knew I had been unconscious for a long time. I could barely move because of the pain, but I had to find out if anyone was alive. I remember how hard my heart was pounding from fear.
I stumbled through the village and found no one. The silence was so eerie. Not even a dog or chicken was to be heard. My fear propelled me even faster and I got to where I had left my wife. I found her. She and my little girl were dead. She was lying on top of one of my students. She must have died trying to protect them. After that--everything became a little hazy. Nothing seemed to really register until I found a banner." He looked into her eyes.
The Warrior Princess shuddered and couldn't escape his gaze. "Whose banner did you find Haralth?" He didn't answer right away. He let the minutes pass by before he broke the silence.
"Yours." he whispered.
"You joined my army...you wanted to kill me--didn't you?"
"That was my intention, yes. I thought once I joined, I could easily slip past the defenses and take my revenge. But I couldn't do it, Xena. In spite of everything, I just couldn't hold onto the anger. I saw too much behind that act of yours. I don't think your soul is completely black yet. You can still save yourself from your path of destruction. I also think you are going to let me stand up and walk out of your camp and to Tartarus with the code. Aren't you?"
He watched her as she barely nodded her head. He stood up and walked around the tree they had been leaning on and walked out of her life.
Xena turned her head to look at him again and only saw an empty chair.
Page - Romantic