By R.G. Heller
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, ect. ect. ect… are owned by Universal/MCA studios. No infringement is intended.
Sex: Not that I know of
Violence: Nothing that exceeds the shows
Timeline: Sixth season after the episode “Legacy,” but before the “Abyss.”
Personal note: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. I welcome feedback and will respond to your mail. Originally I began writing this piece because I was disturbed by the season five finale, but the story took on a life of it’s own. I hope you enjoy it. I would also like to thank my beta reader Terry. Thank you so much!!!!!
The rays of the sun were already beginning to burn Gabrielle’s shoulders and it had just recently risen. Only a few open clearings like the one the travelers now passed through existed on their chosen path. For the most part, the forest areas at least provided some shade and it seemed cooler. Though, with the pace Xena had set combined with the irritating itch surrounding the bard’s legs as the tall golden grass scraped against them, and the sting of the sun on her body, causing a headache to slowly emerge, Gabrielle didn’t care much to be anywhere.
Awaking in a startled state, the bard had not been conscious for long before noticing a strange dark skinned woman sitting on a log, about ten steps away from where she and Xena slept. She was stroking the head of a beautiful dark black wolf who was standing silently still next to her, holding in her right hand a tall, thin branch. The young woman was long and skinny, and she brandished wild, curly black hair that was unevenly pulled back into a long ponytail. She was barefoot and wore a brown stained shift that had been cut all around and only came down to her belly button. A frayed blue wraparound skirt accompanied it, and both hung loosely from her body.
Unconsciously the bard grabbed her Sia, leapt to her feet, called Xena out of sleep while at the same time kicking her twice in the back with her heel, and took up a defensive posture. “Who are you?” Gabrielle asked starring straight into the girl’s eyes, as Xena took up a similar stance next to her. The woman did not respond. Instead she carefully looked them both up and down, holding the expression of someone who had just seen a ghost. “Who are you?” Xena repeated the bard’s question, saying each word slowly and loudly. This time the woman stood up after patting the motionless wolf on the head. Her eyes were wide and remained fixed on the two women before her. She stood silent, breathing heavily. “Well?” Xena questioned lifting both eyebrows, hoping maybe to scare her into responding.
“I…I…” was all the girl managed to utter, her stale voice cracking. Her cheeks flushed and she clasped her free hand over her chest and sighed deeply. Water surfaced on the edge of her eyes, and a few tears made an appearance, but were quickly wiped away.
Relaxing from their positions, Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other in shock and bewilderment, both hoping the other had an idea of how next to proceed. Finally, the bard slowly set her Sia on the ground, and still kneeling, softly said, “ It’s OK. We won’t hurt you. What’s your name?” The woman moved her lips as if to answer, but remained silent. “I’m sure you have a name,” the bard continued, raising her eyebrows and smiling at the young woman as she stood up. Still getting no response, Gabrielle stepped forward. “I’m….”
“I know who you are,” the woman abruptly and unexpectedly responded, while taking a careful step backwards. The bard looked over her shoulder at the warrior, who, just as taken by the situation as she, slightly shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. “I’m…I’m…” the girl started, her voice shaking. Composing herself for a moment, she uttered, “I’m sorry,” and then began to carefully start walking backwards. Fully turning away from Gabrielle and Xena, the woman whistled strangely, at which the dark wolf took up position at her side. She moved slowly into the forest, revealing to the bard and warrior wide long scars on her lower back, and on the back of her right leg, that seemed to stretch from the back of her knee all the way to her heel. Gabrielle winced. Hurriedly stepping forward she yelled, “Wait.” The girl did not stop.
“Gabrielle,” the warrior said softly. The bard looked back over her shoulder with a worried expression. Xena simply replied, “No. Let her go.” The bard looked back at the young woman who would soon be out of sight. “No.” repeated Xena a little louder and with authority. Sighing and frowning Gabrielle gave in. “Fine,” she said, almost in a whisper. She knew Xena was anxious to see Eve again, and whether or not she wanted to, she knew now was not the time to get involved in any new situations.
After they had broke camp, Xena had immediately begun laying out her day’s plan to the bard, preventing either of them to dwell in thought about their morning interaction. Gabrielle tried to listen but her thoughts remained locked on the strange woman, and after a short while of mechanical nodding and timed intervals of “yeah” or “good” the warrior finished, and silence came over the two. Lagging, the bard soon ended up a little behind Xena, her thoughts left to freely wander.
“Gabrielle. Gabrielle!” Xena said again, stopping and looking over her shoulder at her lingering friend. “What? Uh?” Gabrielle muttered, as she snapped out of thought and looked up to find herself now quite a distance behind the warrior.
“Yeah. Sorry. I must have…I just got lost…. in thought and…and…”, the bard answered, breaking into a jog to catch up to her friend.
“I told you earlier I wanted to set a fast pace. Xena turned and resumed her hard pace, not waiting for Gabrielle to catch up. “The path seems clear and safe for now. I want to take advantage of the daylight. We shouldn’t have more than a few days to go,” the warrior finished, glancing a second time behind her at the bard.
Hector looked up at his friend with a curious eye, his head tilted a little. He walked out ahead of the young woman, scanning the forest and periodically looking back to check on her. When she stopped, he sat and waited, but the strange noises and actions of his friend disturbed him, and he soon slowly walked back toward her, panting and exerting extreme caution.
After her cold sweaty palm had slipped a second time down the long branch she supported herself with, causing her to trip and nearly fall, the young woman finally stopped and forcefully let out a long deep breath she had taken. The ground was rough and the disabled woman, slowly being consumed by anger, had attempted to walk faster than she could handle. She closed her eyes and covered them with her free hand attempting to gather herself, ignoring the tears that slowly slid down her flustered cheeks. Calm down, calm down. C’mon Cassandra, relax. It’s OK. It’s OK. Her own consolation proved useless against the feelings building inside her. She resisted the urge of screaming out, as not to scare her friend, but she knew that soon this anger would have full control. Her chin began to tremble and a hot sting rushed through her face. No! Stop! Stop it! Finally, she spat out something resembling a word, and lowered her head toward the ground crying deeply, succumbing to the painful emotions.
At first, the cool repetitive licks across her knee went unnoticed. Slowly though they brought her back, and her breaths became deeper, and tears lighter. She unclasped her hand from over her eyes and dropped her arm to her side, dangling her fingers. “Hector,” she uttered in a hoarse voice as if she had some bad news to tell him. He began to lick the warm salty liquid from her fingers and nudged her leg a few times in between. A small smile cracked on her red face, and with one breath she blew out the remaining anger and doubt and recomposed herself. She looked down at her friend with determined eyes, and slightly nodded her head at him, like in agreement with some unspoken command. “I know, I know,” she said as Hector sat back and looked up at her. “You’re right.”
It was midday now, and Gabrielle didn’t believe Xena intended on stopping anytime soon to take a break or even eat. She couldn’t remember the last decent meal they’d had since returning, surviving off dried meat and berries they carried with them. Her stomach growled and she rolled her eyes at herself, wondering how she could even feel hungry given her present state of being. The day had only grown hotter and the sun was at its peak, but they were within a forest now, shaded somewhat by the trees.
The bard wiped her hand across her forehead and removed the sweat and damp sticky hair that rested upon it. She seemed to be sweating more than usual and her eyes stung from the repeated contact with the watery substance that continued to roll into them. The headache that had teased her earlier had moved into both temples, and seemed to grow stronger and more painful with each step she took. Sharp pulsations jolted through her head at somewhat irregular intervals, and the pounding sensation they caused prevented her from focusing on any one thing for any extended amount of time. She wearily watched as the warrior moved farther and farther ahead of her.
Gabrielle compelled herself to keep going, forcing one leg in front of the other, taking short heavy steps until finally she stopped, knowing she wouldn’t make it much further without tending to herself. She searched around in a small leather sack that hung across her shoulders and found a small handkerchief she had acquired in a village that they had hastily traveled through only a short day ago. The bard watched as Xena walked out of sight, and she lifted both eyebrows and pressed her lips forward for a moment.
She unfastened the waterskin that hung from her belt and took a long drink. The water wasn’t very cold, but it would have to do, and Gabrielle drenched the thin cloth in it. She folded it over once and wrapped it around her forehead, tying it tightly and firmly against the back of her head. Water dripped down her face and she closed her eyes and remained still, trying to relax, waiting for the inevitable shout of her name once the warrior finally turned and realized she was alone.
The ground thundered in the distance with the sound of cracking branches and leaves. If the bard hadn’t known it was only her friend, she would have been inclined to climb a tree to get out of the way of whatever it was that was coming towards her with such force. She squared her shoulders and tried to make a stern face, but she was overcome by dizziness, and she swayed back and forth a few times before putting her hand out to her side, securing it against a large cypress. Slumping back against it, Gabrielle mumbled something under her breath and allowed her throbbing head to fall back against the hard and rigid trunk of the tree. She turned her eyes towards Xena, in time to see the warrior’s expression change from mad to worried.
“Gabrielle? Gabrielle?” the warrior shouted at her tired friend as she ran to her.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” the bard answered, pushing herself off of the Cypress with her back and turning to face Xena.
The bard began to wobble a little and Xena caught her. “Hey, hey. What’s wrong? Are you OK?” The warrior guided Gabrielle back to the large tree by her shoulders, and positioned her up against it.
“Xena! I told you I’m fine,” the bard retorted in an irritated tone.
“Yeah sure. Let me look at you,” the warrior said, scanning Gabrielle’s eyes and feeling both of her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“Xena please,” the bard said calmly, grabbing her friend’s wrist and lowering it from her face. “I’m alright. I just needed a little break.”
“Well why didn’t you say something Gabrielle?” Xena asked as she curiously tugged on the handkerchief around the bard’s head. “What’s this?”
“I’m hot. I thought it would help me stay cool.”
“I’ve never seen it before. Is it new?”
“Yeah, I picked it up in that village yesterday,” Gabrielle said waving Xena’s hands away from the handkerchief and her head.
“Oh. Could we afford it?” Xena continued accusingly, stepping back a little from the bard.
“Xena, I’m not in the mood. Let’s just get going. I’m fine,” the bard said, bumping shoulders with the warrior and marching out in front of her.
“What?” the warrior said in a confused manner, shaking her head and turning to face her friend’s back.
“Gabrielle, wait,” she continued softly. “Why don’t we rest for a while and eat something. I know I set a hard pace. I’m just anxious to see Eve. It’s been awhile. I’m sorry. We haven’t eaten yet today. Why don’t we just relax a bit. You look exhausted.”
The bard’s shoulders slumped and she lowered her head towards the ground with an exaggerated sigh. “Xena, I already rested here. I can eat something while we walk. I’m fine. Let’s just keep moving,” she finished with her back still to the warrior.
“Uh huh. What’s the real problem Gabrielle?” The warrior’s eyes were serious, but her voice sincere.
Spinning around the bard threw a nasty glare at her friend and angrily crossed her arms over her chest. All right. First, I am not in a hurry to see your daughter. In fact I would have much rather taken the time to try and find out exactly why that young woman wondered into our camp today.” The bard uncrossed her arms and started gesturing with her hands as she spoke. “You told me we were going to rest in North Africa, and we got involved in a war, and I… and since we’ve gotten back you have hardly spoken a word to me.” Gabrielle paused for a moment, frowning. Looking straight into Xena’s eyes she finally said, “And what you have said, certainly had nothing to do with how I felt or with what I wanted.” The bard shook her head back and forth in agreement with herself and continued to stare down her friend, placing her hands on her hips.
“What? Gabrielle what are you taking about? I miss my daughter. I do…
“Yeah, well I wouldn’t know about that.”
The warrior sighed in disbelief and slightly turned her head. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked the bard in a concerned manner walking toward her slowly.
“Xena,” the bard started in low tone, looking at the ground and turning away from the warrior. “I’m not going any further. You and Eve can meet me back here in a few days. I need to be alone.”
Xena squinted her eyes slightly and looked away from the bard. “Fine Gabrielle, you do that.” The warrior continued on her path, stopping once to look back at her friend. Gabrielle remained stationary until Xena was out of sight.
The bard tried to stay angry, but her head ached so terribly now that all she could think to do was wander back to the Cypress she had recently rested on and sit down and lay back against it. She wasn’t very positive that she could have continued on with Xena even if she wanted to, and she really was exhausted both physically and mentally.
Gabrielle poured some water over her head and tried to meditate. Finally she fell asleep, but the pain in her head pulled her in and out of consciousness for most of the remaining day. She waited urgently for sundown, hoping the night would be cool, and the darkness and quite of it, her healer.
Shadows seemed to be moving about a short distance from the bard, but whether or not they were real was undetermined, and presently, not really of much concern to her. She looked straight out from where she sat, not considering turning her head or speaking one word. Only simple details could be comprehended. It was night, she was still in the same place, against the same tree, her head still hurt, and she was extremely cold.
Hector stopped abruptly. He raised his head, carefully smelling the air. Glancing back at his companion, he trotted forward a few steps and threw his head back near the ground before heading full throttle into the darkness. Cassandra waited. Hector would return to safely guide her. She hoped he had found them again.
They had walked well into the night, and Cassandra knew she must allow herself and Hector some rest soon. At the outset she had decided they would keep moving until Hector located the two women, but a recent cloud cover blocked the already minimal amount of light shining into the forest from the moon, and slowed their travel dramatically.
She felt his presence as he reproached her. The black wolf was camouflaged well by the night, and it seemed as though he moved with such care that even a gentle breeze made more of a rustle. The wolf gently rubbed up against her legs and then returned to her left side. Leading Cassandra forward, he stayed in contact with her and kept a watchful eye. Hector’s behavior indicated to her to try to move as quietly as possible and her thoughts shifted continuously. Her stomach churned and she clasped her free hand tightly. It has to be them.
Resting on her knees, Cassandra gently removed the hair from the woman’s forehead. She wished she had had something to cover her with, but the woman had thrashed about so terribly through most of the night, that it might have made little difference. Shifting around a little the frail young woman moaned while turning herself on her side. She suddenly opened her eyes. Cassandra watched. She had done this twice earlier, but both times shortly gone back to sleep. Suddenly the woman sat up, startling Cassandra, but she regained her poise promptly and began to softly speak to her.
“Hey, Hey it’s alright. Settle down. You’re OK.”
“Where am I?” the woman asked immediately in a very solemn tone but with a confused look.
“I found you here late last night and it’s nearly sundown now. You had a fever but it broke midday. I removed your belongings. They’re behind you.”
Relaxing her shoulders, the woman sighed deeply and rested her head in her hand for a moment. “Oh, I am so stupid,” she mumbled before looking at Cassandra. Her eyes were heavy and each movement was slow and seemed to require a bit of contemplation. She looked back behind her and grabbed her waterskin, dragging it across the ground to her side.
“I filled it with fresh water earlier.”
“Hmm. I suppose I owe you a thank you,” said the woman tiredly as she plopped the water filled jug into her lap. “Who knows what would’ve happened if you hadn’t found me.”
Cassandra’s expression remained unchanged. She had a stoic look about her, but her ever-increasing heart rate was equipped with the truth, and she battled with what to say. “Gabrielle, right?” she finally said with some confidence, before the bard had a chance to start questioning her.
“Yes,” Gabrielle responded, giving Cassandra an intent look. “I know you, don’t I?”
“Yes,” the young woman said while using her walking stick to help herself back to a standing position.
The bard followed the woman with her eyes while at the same time studying the area as best she could. “You had a wolf with you.”
“Yes,” Cassandra nodded. “Supper,” she continued, answering the next obvious question. She paused for a moment but quickly started in again, preventing the bard from proceeding with more questions. “I need to start a fire. Why don’t you relax here a while, we can talk more later.” The young woman turned and made her way towards a small pile of wood. Gabrielle was anxious to speak with the woman, but she sill felt a little woozy and decided this time just to do what was suggested. Anyway, she wasn’t going anywhere and she doubted she was in any danger. So she stretched a bit and quietly watched the young woman.
Gabrielle had forgotten how good rabbit could taste. She chewed slowly, enjoying every morsel. “Thank you,” she said in-between bites, hoping to start a conversation with the young woman, although just making eye contact with her was proving to be difficult. Cassandra made no gesture of acknowledgment to the bard and just continued to eat and stare into the fire.
“I don’t think you told me your name, or your friend’s” Gabrielle kindly prodded, determined to get the woman to talk with her. Looking over at the bard, she replied in a very subtle tone, “That’s Hector, and my name is Cassandra,” she said, turning her head upwards towards the sky for a moment, then looking at Hector who replied with a few whimpers and gestures with his front legs. “I think a storm is headed our way. We should probably move while there’s still some daylight.” Cassandra grabbed her long walking stick and turned it upright, positioning it firmly on the ground. She stood and looked shyly at the bard. “Are you feeling OK to travel? You’re still very pale,” she asked without meeting eyes.
“I feel fine. I wasted the whole day sleeping. I should be OK,” Gabrielle answered with a confident smirk on her face. She had suffered a dizzy spell while trying to make her way over to the fire for dinner, but she was pretty sure Cassandra hadn’t noticed. Besides, it was doubtful they were going far, and she was certain that they would be traveling slower than she was used too.
Gabrielle ran back toward the Cypress to recover her things as Cassandra put the fire out. She hastily bent down, reaching for her sack, but instead secured both hands on her knees. Don’t. Don’t. Close your eyes Gabrielle.
“Are you OK?” asked Cassandra taking a few steps towards the bard before stopping.
“Oh yeah,” the bard mumbled under her breath. “Im fine,” she said, securing her sack and cautiously straitening up.
‘It’s not much of a shelter, but we should stay fairly dry.” Cassandra stood a little out in front of the bard before a decently sized stream and pointed to a small and rigid dirt and rock overhang that jutted out of a steep low ridge just beyond the water. “The stream’s not deep. We can walk across it.” Hector had already crossed with a few quick leaps and impatiently paced back and forth as Cassandra carefully moved through the stream using her stick as a stepping guide.
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment. She briefly clasped a hand to her stomach and took a few deep breaths. The bard watched the young woman as she crossed the stream and then glanced at Hector. She reached the bank before Cassandra, and helped the young woman out of the water. “Do you know this area pretty well,” Gabrielle questioned, once again trying to make conversation with the quiet woman. “No,” is all she got as Cassandra passed by her.
“It’ll be tight if we both want to stay dry,” the young woman mumbled, her head only half turned back toward the bard. Gabrielle wasn’t too concerned. Anyway, close quarters would give the bard a more opportune chance to hound the strange woman with questions. Gabrielle sat down, placing her leather sack behind her to rest her back against. Her feet lay beyond the overhang’s reach, but at least most of her body would stay dry if it began to rain. Cassandra stood for a few moments and watched the stream, reluctant to join this woman that she had so hoped to find.
Darkness rapidly overtook the forest, and like the night prior, not a star was to be seen through the pinhole openings of the forest brush. Thunder could now be heard in the distance, and it steadily grew louder and longer. Hector sat between the two women, and rested his head on Cassandra’s right thigh. As close as they were, the women could hardly make each other out. The bard had gained no further ground in revealing the identity or intentions of the strange woman, and now that the weather was getting worse it seemed useless for her to start any deep line of questioning, although she was becoming quite irritated. However, she wondered if the woman would have even stayed with her through the night, had the weather been better.
Hector’s company and location also complicated matters. With every shift or grunt, Gabrielle flinched in surprise. She was absolutely perplexed by how intimidated she was. With no way to determine the animal’s mood or even movements, she found herself in constant worry about what it was doing and even thinking, but eventually the travel took its toll, and she drifted off to sleep shortly before the rain began. Cassandra remained awake for most of the night, debating with herself and listening to the bard.
Successive warm bursts of air collided with Gabrielle’s face, and as she became more aware, her head seemed to automatically attempt to escape them and their smell. Turning her head as far to the left as possible she opened one eye. “Hector,” Cassandra whispered forcefully, “let her sleep.” Hector retreated across the stream to his friend’s side. The bard grabbed her nose a few times, wiggling it back and forth, trying to extract the stench of the wolf’s breath from her nostrils. “Hmm. How long have you been up?” she tiredly asked, having trouble keeping her eyes open. “I’m sorry Hector woke you. There’s no need to get up,” Cassandra replied walking back toward the stream.
“No, no,” Gabrielle continued in an argumentative tone. “What time is it?”
The woman hesitated for a moment sensing the bard’s frustration. “It’s almost midday. I…”
“What!” Gabrielle exclaimed angrily, more upset with herself than with Cassandra. “Why didn’t you…” The bard stopped and sighed, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead a few times.
“I know you didn’t sleep well last night. I thought it couldn’t hurt to let you rest some today,” Cassandra countered, looking into the stream.
“I slept fine!” Gabrielle said while standing very hurriedly, almost slipping in the mud that her unprotected feet had lay in during the stormy night.
“I just want…well, I just thought I was helping.” The woman’s manner turned defensive and she began to take small steps backwards to retain her distance from the bard.
“I know. I know, ” Gabrielle said calmly, relaxing some. “I’m sorry. I really…I’m just angry with myself. You’ve taken care of me for two days and…” Gabrielle looked at the woman intently. Cassandra, how did you find me the other night?”
Cassandra swallowed hard and kept her eyes fixed on the stream.
“Look, I just want to know more about you. Why are you out here alone? Do you want something from me or Xena?”
“I don’t know,” the woman quietly responded.
“I don’t know!” She repeated, turning to walk away from Gabrielle.
“Cassandra wait! Wait!” the bard yelled, crossing the stream as hastily as possible. ” Hey! Hey!” she said grabbing the woman firmly by the arm. “Please.”
Cassandra stopped, but did not turn to face Gabrielle. “I don’t know who I am. I don’t know. I have been in the forest for almost six seasons now, and I don’t know who or where my family is. I don’t know where I am from, or even how old I am. I don’t even know how I became crippled. I only have Hector. My name, I gave myself.” The bard carefully placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “It’s OK.” Cassandra turned, but let her head hang.
“ I know about you and your friend though. Not to long ago I overheard some travelers speaking of you. They said you had returned. Your names didn’t mean much to me at first, but soon after I began remembering things. Stories, about you.” A pause ensued as the woman attempted to return to a normal breathing pattern, wiping the back of her hand across her face, removing tears and snot. She looked up at Gabrielle but was careful not to meet eyes.
“How could I know them? Someone must have told them to me. Someone I knew. Maybe even my father, or mother. I didn’t’ even know where to begin looking for answers. But then I just…I just found you. I couldn't … well; you’re the first connection to my past. I… I thought if I could travel with you for a while or something I might…I don’t know. I just want to remember. I just want to know who I am. It's a stupid idea I'm sorry. "
“No it’s not. Of course you can travel with us. I’m sure your family’s out there somewhere. Xena should be back in a few days. She went to get her daughter. I’m glad you found us. I’m sorry…”
“No.” Cassandra covered the bard’s hand with her own. “Thank you.”