Requiem for the Warrior Princess
Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess and that world of hers, including Gabrielle and all of the others, do not belong to me. They are RENPIC's. I guess, though I don't really know. I won't make any dollars, dinars, drachmas, lira, (or insert your monetary unit) on this story. I didn't write this for money.
Violence: Just like any episode. Still PG anyway.
Spoilers: Is There A Doctor In The House
Timeline: About a year after the above ep
Thanks: To my bardic circle friends who made this be better than it was. Thanks Circlers!
I *borrowed* a certain description from the show. I hope it isn't worth being sued over. <g>
To my readers: I hope you enjoy the read. I like writing and I like getting feedback even better. Let me know what you think: email@example.com
Six armed guards discovered the weakness of the warrior princess. Their spear tips nicked Gabrielle's skin, and a trickle of blood slid down her neck. She took in the scene; she couldn't have taken them all on and won, but gods be damned, she'd been used against Xena. Again.
Gabrielle hated it. The bittersweet metallic taste of blood coated her tongue as she clamped down on it. She learned it saved her serious injury, and it hadn't been an easy lesson. She watched Xena's approach-- her heart felt tremendous joy and serious trepidation.
Xena, destroyer of nations, walked straight into them, with her piercing blue eyes focused on the bard.
"Xena, don't give up! They'll kill you!" Gabrielle yelled. It wasn't a waste of breath. The method of her yelling gave Xena a little extra time to consider what they would do.
"Gabrielle, quiet!" Xena spat, eyes locked on the girl, she gave her an indiscernible nod. A nod to let the bard know she wasn't angry with her for being captured, and the pounding wound down in Gabrielle's chest, and it slowed the trickle of blood.
Xena then swung her head and gaze to the man doing the talking.
She neared the group holding her best friend and stopped. Two still held their spears to Gabrielle's throat. The other four watched Xena carefully. Their grimy battle charred faces, led to thick necks and heavily muscled arms and hands that held swords and spears. They quickly encircled Xena. Grabbing at her weapons and various other things, Xena stood stock-still and allowed their hands to go where they shouldn't. She'd deal with that later.
Chained thrown brutally around her shoulders and cinched by men on opposite sides of her, bit into her arms. Realizing they'd left her wearing armor, one of the men yanked at her grieves and gauntlets and pulled them off. They tightened the chains without removing her breastplate, or her dagger.
The leader strolled up to her and reached carefully into her cleavage to retrieve the dagger. "I hope I don't embarrass you, Xena," he said, seemingly sincere.
"Hardly," Xena said smirking and shaking her head a little. "You said you'd let her go."
"I did, didn't I?" the leader said. "Let her go."
"But sir, she was with her when she injured the general," one of the men complained.
"A deal, is a deal," the leader slowly spoke and grimaced. Xena had heard the same words from Draco. But, he wasn't Draco and Xena wasn't sure who he was or what he wanted her for.
"Sir, if I might speak to you for a minute," one of the men asked the general, clearly agitated.
"No, Hermodes! Release her at once!" the leader yelled. Hermodes jumped at the venom spat at him and almost fell over Gabrielle. After seeing her freed, he turned to Xena. "I guess you're wondering what this is about?" he said without giving her time to really consider it. He knew she was quick and he wanted the advantage. "It's about General Marmax of the Mitoan Militia, do you remember him?"
Xena recognized the name immediately, and had a sinking feeling settle in her gut. "Yes."
"First things first. I'm Practicus, general of the Mitoan army. My men are, Argos, Timon, Sethos, Gaeus and Cyrus. We're here to serve this warrant for your arrest. We've jurisdiction in Poteidaia and Amphipolis. You're to be tried in front of the magistrate Veritas in the temple of Esclepious. Do you remember it?"
Xena nodded and reached for the parchment, but since her arms were chained to her body, she couldn't bring her hands above her waist. She read it easily enough; Gabrielle attempted to help her, but was held back.
Xena read over the words, clearly shocked she raised her head and looked at Gabrielle, and then General Practicus. "Marmax is dead?"
"As if you didn't know," Hermodes yelled under his breath. He hated the woman, and Marmax's respect for her was idiocy.
Practicus shot him a stern look. Imbecile, he was tired of dealing with idealistic recruits still in training pants. "That young idiot is Hermodes, the general's serving boy."
Stung the soldier ran to Practicus side and yanked his arm. "I'm a soldier who served under the general, I was not his serving boy!"
"Calm down Hermodes, it wasn't meant to insult you. It was just a quick way to show how close you were to him." Practicus word's seemed to ease Hermodes anger. He turned to Xena and saw she wasn't amused. He had arrested many warlords and they would've scoffed at his show of weakness. Yet, Xena didn't. He sensed she wasn't as stupid or as cruel as many of his prisoners were. "General Marmax died less than a moon ago," he waited for Xena to respond. "You killed him and you stand there like you're shocked."
Stunned, Xena was speechless.
"That's impossible! We haven't seen Marmax in almost a season!" Gabrielle yelled. "Look! There is something you need to know. I'll be helping her and in order for her to get a fair trial you'll have to let me see that document," Gabrielle argued like a magistrate before a hanging judge.
Practicus studied the eyes of the girl. He thought she could be trusted and he was usually right about people. He motioned for the men to allow Gabrielle to look at the parchment.
Xena read the words with Gabrielle and then again by herself. Xena found the feeling she'd experienced earlier had been right on target, and Gabrielle shared it too: disbelief.
It seemed, complications from shoulder injury killed the General, an injury he'd sustained nearly a season ago. Xena's blade caused the wound that eventually killed the General; not intentionally perhaps, but Marmax's death was her doing, nonetheless.
Gabrielle swallowed hard after the look Xena gave her. It was going to be a battle.
Xena felt the chains pinching and breaking her skin. She needed to move to a more comfortable position, and figured as long as she was bound she wouldn't find it.
Argo whickered and offered some sympathy as she trotted along side the wagon. Hermodes tried to lead the mare, but found the horse far more agreeable when she flanked Xena. Gabrielle sat across from the warrior princess, separated by two of the men, and not allowed to speak verbally. They had spoken volumes with just their eyes, a look, a nod, an exhale; they'd worked on it for moons.
This time was different, and Xena couldn't look at Gabrielle anymore. She couldn't stand seeing the fear in her watery, sea green eyes. It wasn't hard soaking in her gaze when Xena knew she could take care of the producer of Gabrielle's fear. In this case Xena felt different and she wasn't sure why it haunted her.
The ride through the landscape was rough and rocky. The Mitoan hillside had changed little since they'd found Ephiny in advanced labor and a war raging around her. Memories flooded, swirling masses of bodies, injuries, and ignorance of human suffering.
Xena's memory of the place was sharper than Gabrielle's, but the girl could see the intense thoughts invading Xena's mind's eye. She wished she could sit near her, hold and comfort her. She'd wished that many times of late. Their relationship had just been mended and they were learning how far to go. And when to stop.
They faced uncertainty again, soul mates, friends forever, and they'd just gotten through Tartarus. Xena understood when she saw memories of the past slip over Gabrielle's head and sink into her. She wondered if the bard remembered her fist pounding down upon her tender chest, and her angry screams of fight! fight! Tears splashing upon her lips, tears that turned to joy when Gabrielle sucked in an infant breath and was reborn from the dead.
Xena remembered thinking the general was the key to stopping the war. Getting Marmax to see the carnage and making him realize war wasn't a game you played to win. All enemies lost, the lives of the soldiers, and people who were in the way, and people like Ephiny caught between one side and the other. Marmax was needed to stop the madness.
She remembered bringing her blade down and aiming for the spot where she'd do the least damage. It was a gamble, and it paid off, she'd thought, until now. Xena felt tired. Another trial she'd have to face, and another rap from the spectre of her past.
Gabrielle coughed, but Xena didn't look at her. Her heart was heavy and she knew if the girl looked at her she'd try to lift her burden. Xena wanted to wait and see what she faced, because she'd been tried before and won. She had figured on having to pay the hangman someday, but she'd hoped Gabrielle wouldn't go through another exhausting trial. It didn't work out that way, and she found she wasn't surprised.
They came to a stop in front of the temple, and it had changed considerably. There now stood a building with several sections and each held a hospice. They went around the building to the rear. Several soldiers were already there and when the soldiers traveling with her dismounted the group of them pulled Xena from the wagon. She landed sharply on her knees.
"Hey! Easy," Gabrielle shouted.
"Sorry, your majesty, but this here," one of the men yanked on Xena's neck chain, "is a murderer. This how I handle all of 'em. Including the warrior prin..cess." He roughly pulled Xena to her feet, and became even more annoyed when Xena smiled and winked at him. He shoved her toward the entrance, with Gabrielle hot on his heels.
The hospice had a makeshift jail cell, and it would be Xena's home for a while. General Practicus entered the room and took a seat at a desk and looked over the parchment. The soldiers pushed Xena down and chained her to a chair. Gabrielle sat nearby. She couldn't sit anymore, and she started pacing after a few hour-long minutes; she couldn't take it any more.
"What now?" Gabrielle looked at Xena, but... her head down and blue eyes clearly not seeing anything in particular, her thoughts were elsewhere.
"The magistrate will be back in a day, until then, we wait," General Practicus stated, trying to sound judicious, but failing miserably.
Gabrielle could feel her blood begin to rush and the pulse at her temple beat out an angry rhythm. His answer was unacceptable. "Xena is supposed to sit there, chained like an animal for an entire night and day!"
Xena raised her eyes to her friend. "Gabrielle, calm down," she looked at the general, "the chains are going to need to be loosened. I'm losing the feeling in my arms." She felt disheartened, the many times she been hunted and hated like an animal. She smiled in spite of herself, maybe being executed could let her find some true sleep. Boy, was she glad she didn't say that out loud. The bard would've killed her!
"I can do that, but Xena you'll have to promise to not escape. I've heard you are a woman of her word. Will you tell me you won't try to escape?" Practicus waited, but he wasn't really sure if he should completely release her.
"I won't make any efforts to escape," Xena said wearily. The idea of a hot meal and a good nights rest would do her some good. Gabrielle needed to do the same. "Is there a place where she can get some rest?" Xena added.
Practicus had a soldier release the chains, but kept her hands manacled. "There's a room in the hospice for families of the sick folks. She could stay there tonight," he said and checked the space between the cuffs.
"Xena, I'd rather stay with you," Gabrielle started to protest, but seeing Xena's face told her Xena needed some time to collect her thoughts. "Could we have a moment of privacy?" Gabrielle asked Practicus.
He nodded and stepped outside. Gabrielle went to her friend and hugged her awkwardly. "I know you need some time to figure out what our next move is. So, I won't get in your way." Xena started to speak. Putting her hand on Xena's lips Gabrielle continued. "I'm in this with you Xena, because I care for you and I feel like it's my fault."
"Gabrielle, you didn't have any influence on my wounding Marmax, you knew nothing about that. You just wanted to stop the war..."
"Xena," Gabrielle shook her head. "I know. I just wish you didn't have bad things happen...."
"I know," Xena raised her bound hands over Gabrielle's head and wrapped her arms around the trembling bard.
"Xena, do you ever get tired of all the trials and treatment that you get from people who know nothing about you?" Gabrielle asked as she hugged Xena and rested her head on Xena's chest.
"Yes, I do. But, Gabrielle most of the time the trials and treatment is warranted. I was not a nice person." Xena said, and Practicus entered the room.
"I'm sorry, but I need to get you settled so we can all get some rest," he said to them both. And he stepped back outside.
"I doubt I'll sleep tonight," Gabrielle said and hugged Xena harder for a moment and then let her go.
"I think I'll sleep okay. Especially if a certain bard would promise me she'll go to the room in the hospice and stay there," Xena said looking into green eyes, and hoped she could believe that the bard would rest. But she knew better.
"Okay, I will," Gabrielle answered. She hoped her expression could convince Xena she would rest, too. But she knew better.
The general came back in with a young boy. He introduced him to Gabrielle, "This is Felios, he'll show you the room."
"Hello Felios, I'm Gabrielle," the bard said. She cast a last concerned look to Xena, turned reluctantly away and left with the boy.
"Tell me Felios, have you ever met Hippocrates?" Gabrielle asked the boy; he nodded. "Does he still take care of patients here?"
"Yes once, a long time ago. Before he started his new hospice in Thessaly," the boy said excitedly.
Gabrielle's eyes dropped with her heart. The boy didn't like the sadness on her face. "But, Gabrielle, he is here, are you sick?" the boy asked, his eyes widened.
"No, I'm not sick, but can you take me to him anyway?" Gabrielle asked, as hope strummed her heart.
"Oh yes. Follow me," the boy said and took off running. He looked over his shoulder to make sure Gabrielle could keep up. His eyes lit up when she passed him and tapped him on the shoulder. He ran faster, caught up with her and led her breathlessly to a simple small wooded door. "In there, I am not allowed to enter."
"Oh?" Gabrielle wondered why, but decided not to ask. Instead, she tossed the boy a dinar and he smiled and thanked her repeatedly. She laughed as he skipped back from where they'd just come.
She opened the door and silently stepped inside. Many sick people lined the floors, small cots made for beds and few blankets covered them. Gabrielle could hear Hippocrates' voice from the rear of the building and headed that way.
He was feeding an old man and talking in a calming voice. Gabrielle watched silently and after a few moments the old man slept. Hippocrates gently wiped his face and pulled a thin blanket to the man's stubbled chin.
Gabrielle stepped in front of the healer and he almost ran over her. His mind elsewhere, he started to step around her.
"Hippocrates?" She said his name quietly. His head jerked up and he frowned. Not the reception Gabrielle had expected. "Hippocrates?"
"Gabrielle," he said and, with his hands full of gauze and dishes, wrapped his arms around the bard. "Welcome."
"Can we talk someplace," Gabrielle looked around the building. "Outside maybe?"
Hippocrates nodded and laid down the items in his hands. He led Gabrielle out into a beautiful courtyard, flowers lined the walk; planted in a spiral they led to a well in the center of the area. Hippocrates motioned for the bard to sit on a bench. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry for my reaction. You didn't deserve that."
"What's going on?" she asked.
"I know Xena must have been arrested and it's my fault. Hermodes told the people about Xena wounding Marmax, and he knew Xena had told me about it also. I told them she said she'd wounded the general. Tartarus broke loose after that, and the people blamed her for his death. I didn't intend to hurt her," Hippocrates blurted the words without giving Gabrielle a chance to question. He wanted to get it off his chest uninterrupted. Gabrielle blinked and digested what he'd just said.
"Xena wounded the general, but she didn't kill him," Gabrielle defended the warrior, but didn't understand why she felt she needed to do that with a friend.
"But, Gabrielle," Hippocrates got up and began to pace. "You see, really... Xena's wound, I mean the wound that Xena inflicted on the general, got better and then... suddenly it was much worse, and infection settled in the wound. The infection killed Marmax. I know Xena didn't mean for him to die...."
Gabrielle rose abruptly. "Xena did not kill Marmax...."
"I know you believe she didn't kill him on purpose...." Hippocrates unconsciously backed away from the angry little woman.
"Xena, did NOT kill Marmax," Gabrielle said through gritted teeth. "She is not a murderer, unintentional or not!"
"But you see, she didn't mean for the wound to get infected. I saw her treat it, but Gabrielle it wasn't enough. He died because of the wound, and that makes Xena...."
"Don't say it," Gabrielle's veins popped out on her forehead and neck. She was trying to stay quiet on behalf of the people who ailed inside.
"I know I'm hurting you, I think we can explain that Xena only meant to hurt the general enough to see the terrible carnage of battle...." Hippocrates eyes locked on Gabrielle's. "... when he saw how people suffered, he ended the attacks and initiated peace talks, her plan worked. But, he just,...he didn't get well." He could see she was having great difficultly understanding the logic of the incident.
"Hippocrates, those people want blood. If we say, 'yeah Xena killed the general, but,' the only thing they will hear is 'Xena killed the general!'. She didn't do it," Gabrielle could understand the logic of the incident, but she knew also that Xena was a gifted healer and Xena had told her that the general's wound was healing properly.
"Gabrielle, the villagers and the army are good people. I trust them all to do the right thing," Hippocrates said, but he detected the doubt of the world in beautiful green eyes. His heart went out to Gabrielle, and he wished he could show her that he was right. "They don't murder innocents."
Gabrielle looked at the young man; his golden hair, his beautiful trusting eyes, and she knew he believed in the virtue of people. Once she felt the same way, but one lesson she'd learned the hard way, was people believed what they knew. Often, villagers living far from others, getting few visitors and traveling very little, knew only their lore, their beliefs, and their concepts of right and wrong. Xena bore the weight of those narrow, yet honest, opinions of justice. She wouldn't argue any longer. "Where could I find a place to sleep?"
Hippocrates stood there for a moment studying her face. She was beautiful and wish things weren't so difficult for her. He wondered why she suddenly gave up? Did she accept the fate of Xena's welfare? Was she humoring him?
"Hippocrates?" Gabrielle said his name. She knew she'd perplexed him but she was tired and didn't want to pursue the argument. He wasn't listening to her.
"Oh, this way," he said and went inside. She followed. He led her to a small cloakroom and helped her set up a cot. He waited and she turned to face his still bewildered eyes.
"Hippocrates, I know you did what you thought was right, and that is what I'm doing too. We'll just do what we must. I'm not angry with you," Gabrielle could sense she just took a large weight off him.
"I never wanted to hurt Xena, I think she is one of the greatest people I've ever known. I guess... I'm sorry," he said and a look of pain swept his features.
"Don't do that to yourself, we'll be fine, okay? We can take care of ourselves and you must do what you must do," Gabrielle gently brushed the back of her hand across his cheek. "I'd better rest now."
He smiled, nodded and left her with her thoughts. Thoughts of Xena's defense, and what she would need to do next. She sat on the cot and lay back looking at the cracked gray ceiling. She missed the stars and Xena's presence at her side. Morpheus called and fitfully, she slept.
Xena moved and tried to get comfortable. She'd been considering the outcome of the events that had been a bad choice on her part. She peered through the window, studied the stars, missed Gabrielle, and pondered the future. If Marmax had died from the wound, she was responsible. But, Marmax had been doing well, and the wound was sealed and pink, healthy. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, the chains jingled and Practicus checked on her.
"You all right?" he asked.
"Yea," she attempted a smile.
"I know you've tried to change your past. I also know you were trying to save lives when you wounded the general, and you accomplished that. I was there the day your friend died, and when you brought her back," Practicus pulled a bench next to the cell where Xena sat eyes down, chains moaning in the dampness.
"When she came back," Xena corrected.
"Yes," Practicus said and rubbed his chin. "She had a part in it too. She's not very happy right now. Although I can't blame her. Uncertainty is quite nerve racking. When Marmax died, the army and the people came near to civil war. The thing that pulled the people together..." he stopped a moment and studied Xena's eyes. "When Hermodes said you're the one who wounded him, the people had a target to vent their frustration and the search for his killer united the m."
"Yeah," Xena said.
Practicus stood and peered out at the stars. "I wouldn't hate them Xena. They're...."
"Trying to do what's right?" Xena snapped; she didn't mean for the words to be so abrupt. "I know."
"I suppose you have a right to be angry. I know if your intent was to kill the general he'd been dead back then. I must tell you I'm quite torn over the thing. You could die...." Practicus shook his head. "If I opened the cell and removed the chains would you attempt to escape?"
Xena got up and pushed the door open, walked to the astonished man and gave him the manacles. "No, I won't attempt an escape." She dropped the chains in his hands and returned to the cell.
Practicus smiled, he didn't expect that. She was woman of her word, and he had to ask. "If you're found guilty, will you go to your death on the gallows peacefully?"
Xena thought about it and she looked at the man's eyes, gray and moist. She shook her head, "I don't know. I won't know that until the time comes."
"Fair enough, you'd better rest now, and I'll be on the bed there," he pointed to a small cot in the corner of the next cell. "I sleep when I guard prisoners such as yourself; prisoners I can trust."
Xena nodded, "Thanks."
*******Gabrielle tossed and turned, finally she gave up on the idea of sleep. She rubbed her eyes, and considered Xena's defense. How could they defend Xena's admission of wounding the general? It meant death and she knew Xena wouldn't lie. Even if it meant her life, truth was a lifeline to Xena, and to toss it aside would defeat her transformation.
Gabrielle went to the window and watched the stars twinkling. There had to be a way. There had to be.
Gabrielle laid back she had at least two candlemarks before dawn, and the bard finally slept, but fitfully.
Outside the temple a cock's crow roused her. She sat up and took in her surroundings, and then she quickly headed for Xena's cell. Xena watched her as she crossed the hall and entered the room.
"Did you rest?" Gabrielle asked, but she knew the answer before Xena lied to her.
"Yes, did you?" Xena asked too, knowing the same thing.
"Like a fish in the sand," Gabrielle tried to laugh but she didn't feel that happy.
Several people rushed past the cell. After hearing frantic cries, Xena sent Gabrielle to investigate their source. Gabrielle left the room and walked down the corridor. She saw several people standing in an open door and she made her way through the people and saw the healer there.
Hippocrates pulverized herbs in a hollowed out stone and touched the mixture to his tongue. He desperately tried to stop the bleeding of a small child who had fallen off his family's wagon and opened a wound that poured out his life's essence. Hippocrates had applied cobwebs and direct pressure, but nothing worked. The boy's parents eyed him, hoping he had the ability to save their son. He applied the poultice, and pressing as firmly as possible without causing further injury he prayed to Esclepius. No matter the pressure, nothing worked; the boy's blood was too thin to stop.
Frustration knitted his brow and he glanced up to see Gabrielle standing in the door. He walked to her and she could tell he was distraught.
"What is it?" she asked.
"He's dying, I can't stop the flow of blood. I've tried everything too," Hippocrates motioned to the boy and a single tear slid down his tanned cheek.
"Xena can help," Gabrielle said, but she didn't get the response she thought she might get.
"No, it is the will of the gods to take my son," the boy's father said, quietly, sadly.
"I don't think the gods mind help with healing. They have much to do and that's why they want mortals to learn the way of healing. My friend can help. I know it," Gabrielle pleaded.
The boy's mother nodded at her, and she left to fetch the warrior princess. They made it back in less than a quarter of a candlemark. Xena put her pressure points to work and waited. Hippocrates stared, amazed with ability she possessed when it came to the art of healing. She had significantly slowed the flow, and he was sure it would completely stop. The boy's mother and father wept, and Hippocrates held back, but his vision was heavily blurred.
Hermodes ran into the room. "How is he father?"
"He'll survive thanks to her," his father said nodding toward Xena.
"No," Hermodes said quicker than he intended. "You let her touch my brother!"
"She saved his life!" his father defended Xena, but understand why his son would attack her.
"A murderer," Hermodes screamed. "She'll destroy you like she did Marmax. She's evil! Fools!" He pushed his way out of the room.
"Xena, thank you, Hermodes is...hurting, and I'm sorry for his actions," his father explained. "He was worried about his brother. When Hermodes was about 6 seasons, a woman warlord attacked our village, and we lost his eldest brother. He is a good boy, he was just upset." Hermodes' father wiped his forehead.
Xena said nothing.
The guards led Xena back to her cell. Gabrielle asked to walk with her, and the guards agreed to allow them to talk privately. But they were nearby enough to prevent any attempt at escape.
"Xena, what are we going to do?"
"Gabrielle, I've been thinking, and well, maybe you should go home now," Xena said to her shocked friend.
"What?" Gabrielle asked confused.
"I think maybe this is one that I cannot defeat. I wounded Marmax, and his wound killed him. I'm guilty Gabrielle, and I think maybe I should not fight justice," Xena spoke gently, but firmly.
Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes, and her heart broke. "You're giving up, aren't you?"
"No, I'm facing the truth," Xena said. She looked at the ground and then waited for Gabrielle to speak.
"The truth? Xena, you know you saved many people by stopping the war, and the village itself along with the temple would've been destroyed. The truth is...."
"I killed Marmax," Xena said flatly.
Frustrated Gabrielle stamped her foot. She stopped walking and the guards nearly ran into her. Xena stopped too, but she refused to look Gabrielle in the eyes.
"What's going on?" one of the guards aimed his spear at Xena's chest. The other drew his sword and watch Gabrielle closely.
"So, that's it then, go home Gabrielle. It's been fun, you run along now, while I allow myself to be slaughtered," Gabrielle spat at Xena. "Be good while I martyr myself! Is that what you're telling me!"
"Gabrielle," Xena said slowly, sadly. "I know this hurts you..."
"No, you don't!"
"I do," Xena argued. I do."
The guards saw the exchange and stepped back, they didn't want to know what the prisoner and her friend were arguing about, but it sounded like Xena wanted to be left alone.
"You say you know that it hurts me, but you say it willingly? Do you want to hurt me?" Gabrielle pleaded.
"Stop it," Xena said, angrily.
"Why?" Gabrielle cried. "Xena! Why are you quitting?"
"I'm facing my past, Gabrielle," Xena said. She had calmed herself tried to explain. "I knew it might come to this, I'm facing the facts and paying the price of my deeds. I can accept that now."
"No, you're not accepting, you're giving up. You've been through worse and succeeded. You're tired aren't you?" Gabrielle asked as a tear coursed, uninterrupted, down her cheek. "Are you so tired you'll allow yourself to be killed?"
Xena wiped the tear away. "Gabrielle, please, I'm trying to change, to atone. I've got to face the truth someday, and I think I can handle the truth now," Xena pleaded.
"Xena, I can't handle it, please, don't give up," Gabrielle began to cry.
Xena wanted to take the bard into her arms and hold her until she stopped shaking; she wanted to be able to make the pain disappear, but she knew what she had to do. "Go home, please." Xena said harshly and walked away from Gabrielle.
"Xena!" the bard yelled. "Xena, please!"
Xena looked straight ahead.
"Xena!" Gabrielle's anguished voice cracked.
Gabrielle turned and ran back the way they'd just came.
Xena shook her head as a tear slid down her cheek.
A small woman entered Xena's room carrying a tray with bread, a bit of cheese and a cup of goat's milk.
Xena smiled at her as she laid the tray on a small table. Xena recognized her as the injured boy's mother.
"I know you must be hungry, I can't thank you enough for saving my son. I'm Serna, glad to meet you," Serna extended her arm. Xena clasped it for a moment and then let go. Serna smiled sadly. "But, I'm afraid I have something of a dilemma here."
Xena studied her eyes, honest and bluish gray. "Can I help you with something? Is your son worse? Do you need my help?" Xena asked.
"No, nothing like that, and it is I, that can help you," Serna turned away. "My son is a good boy, Xena."
Xena nodded and urged the woman to continue. Serna looked around the room and out the window. She shut the door and then sat across from Xena. "You see Marmax was his idol. He loved the general and he felt the world should bow before Marmax. Why, even his father didn't get the respect the general got from my son."
"And, Marmax cared for my son, but not the way that my son hoped. He cared as any general would care for any soldier. Hermodes was angry with you. After you stopped the war. He thought you tamed the general with peace."
Serna smiled sadly, and she looked into Xena's clear blue eyes. She didn't appear to be the evil that Hermodes had described, and, Xena even smiled back. "I know he really believes you're an evil influence. I wish my son would confide in me less sometimes. His trust is not something I violate easily, but now it is what I must do. And," Serna started sobbing. She waited until she had calmed and then continued. "I cannot allow him to die, Xena. We thought we'd lost him when our village was attacked. But Marmax got though to him, and he worked with him. They were going to find and destroy that warlord. I have heard stories about how you've changed."
Xena's mind raced, and she understood what Serna was trying to say. It would be hard for her to clear her situation without a death-- hers, or Hermodes.
Serna looked Xena directly in the eyes, "Xena, my son... has a problem with you. He said General Marmax died when he called for peace, because Hermodes felt the general had sold out. Marmax promised his men places of power and prestige. But peace took away the spoils of war. Peace devastated Hermodes."
"And he blamed me," Xena said shaking her head. How many times had she been through the same thing?
"Yes, he did. Xena?" Serna stooped in front of Xena. "I helped him, I'm sorry. You saved my youngest son, but it is either your life, or Hermodes? How do I choose?" Serna sobbed.
"You don't have to choose, it's up to the magistrate," Xena said slowly.
"You don't understand, my son..." Serna tried to speak but Xena put her hand to the woman's lips.
"I do understand, you cannot betray your son, I won't ask you to do that. Now, go to your ailing boy, he needs you," Xena ordered.
"I thank you, you are not a bad woman Xena, I hope you know that," Serna said as she backed out of the room. "Thank you."
Xena watched the woman go. Maybe a good night's sleep will do her good.
The temple had been extensively remodeled since Xena had last been there. The statue of Esclepious was now situated near the back corner wall. A large chair sat behind a large rock table; the local magistrate sat behind it in the center, to his left were two white haired men with grim expressions. To his right Practicus and Hermodes, sat respectively. Practicus, attired in his full military regalia, dwarfed the boy. In front of him was what Xena figured to be Marmax's helmet and sword.
Xena sat in a chair near the table with guards on both sides of her. When she entered she looked for Gabrielle, she wasn't in the temple and that worried Xena.
Hermodes shot dirty looks at Xena with his eyes narrowed. He looked as if he had not slept well and was cranky about it. Xena tried not to return his gaze, she didn't like antagonizing the boy, but she seemed to be doing that without any effort.
"We will come to order now, I am magistrate, Veritas. This is a trial of the people of Thessaly versus Xena, of Amphipolis. Xena has been charged with the murder of General Marmax. We will hear from two people for the people," Veritas motioned toward the men on his right. "Practicus, and Hermodes. Two people for Xena, Hippocrates, and Gabrielle of Poteidaia."
Hippocrates and Gabrielle had not arrived yet.
"Gabrielle and Hippocrates?" Veritas called out their names, but there was no response. "Does anyone know why they are not present?"
No one moved.
"Guards, search for Hippocrates and Gabrielle. Bring them and if they resist arrest them and bring them anyway. I don't have time for folly," Veritas demanded.
Two guards raced out of the temple.
Xena watched the door and waited. Low mumbles permeated the air of the temple. People wondering if the delay was a ploy, or if someone like the bard she traveled with, was planning on breaking her out.
Xena's blood pressure soared when the guards came in with Gabrielle in tow.
"What have you to say young woman?" Veritas asked.
"I don't have to be here, there is nothing I can do that will change the minds of these people. I don't want to watch you destroy my best friend," Gabrielle stated in a clear, but very husky voice.
"You don't want to offer a defense for her?" Veritas asked.
"She doesn't want to be defended," Gabrielle said angrily. "She thinks she is guilty, how could I defend that?"
"Is that true?" Veritas asked Xena.
"Good! Sentence her!" Hermodes said.
"Quiet!" Veritas demanded. "Do you understand the sentence for murder, young woman?"
Xena nodded, "I do."
"So you're saying you killed Marmax?" Veritas asked.
"I'm saying I caused his death, and I will accept the sentence," Xena said sadly.
Gabrielle slid into a chair near the door.
"You admit your actions lead to Marmax's death?" Veritas wanted to be certain.
Xena pursed her lips and nodded.
"Then, I accept your admission. Causing someone's death is clearly not the same as murder, but the penalty is still the same. In two days at sunset you are to be hanged by the neck until dead. May the gods free your troubled soul. This hearing is finished," Veritas nodded at the guards and they led Xena from the side door of the temple.
Gabrielle stayed where she sat. Xena looked back for her, but didn't see her.
A day passed before Gabrielle could visit with Xena, anger, fear and distress clearly troubled her thoughts. She couldn't believe the outcome of the whole affair. Uncertainty clouded her judgment and she felt as if her future had suddenly became cloudy and lonesome. After a fitful nap Gabrielle realized she'd left Xena alone because of her own fears. She squared her shoulders and visited Xena.
Xena sat head-down on the cot in the cell she had occupied for the entire ordeal. She wished her last conversation with Gabrielle hadn't been so heated. She really missed her chatter and company.
"Hello," Gabrielle tried to say cheerfully.
Jumping to her feet Xena hugged her. After realizing what she'd just did she backed up. "I'm sorry."
"No, Xena, I owe you the apology. I abandoned you and at a time when you needed someone most. I'm sorry," Gabrielle said.
They hugged again and lingered in each other's arms for a minute or so.
"Gabrielle, I never wanted to hurt you. I've got so much to face, I expected to... eventually meet justice, and I... should pay," Xena said, relieved to be able to express her thoughts.
"Xena, you've done so many good things, helped so many people. You've atoned for the past. You ask nothing from the people you help. Look at what you've done, even injuring Marmax was a deed done for the greater good," Gabrielle stopped.
"Gabrielle, I know this is hard for you. I think you should go back to the Amazons and stay with Ephiny for a while. I don't expect you to stay until..." Xena swallowed hard and searched for the words.
"Xena, I promised you to take you back to Lyceus, I meant that. I will never leave you Xena, and I wish I could make up for my actions yesterday," Gabrielle sobbed.
Xena embraced her, "Ssh now. It'll be okay."
"I can't live without you Xena," Gabrielle choked out.
"You must," gently pushing Gabrielle back Xena cupped her hands around the bard's face. "I'll hear your thoughts."
"Xena, it's going to happen?" Gabrielle asked, hoping she was wrong.
"Yes, I think so," Xena smiled sadly.
"I still have a day, I could maybe find more evidence to...." Gabrielle grasped at anything that might help.
"Stop. Please, I'm not afraid," Xena said. Her brows knitted at Gabrielle's expression. "Gabrielle, please stay with me until...."
Gabrielle gave the Warrior Princess a warm smile and a promise. "Xena, I will never leave you again."
A large sandbag fell through a trap door; a resounding snap, like that of Xena's whip in action, broke the rope and sand flew.
Xena dressed in her shift watched on of the guards toss her leathers into her cell. He said something about being dressed to die. Gabrielle picked them up, and helped Xena get them on. Her hands manacled in front she had trouble adjusting the straps and Gabrielle pulled them in place.
Another crash through the platform, but the sandbag ruptured and Xena heard the magistrate curse.
Gabrielle watched Xena's eyes; she didn't know what to say, because the whole scenario seemed stilted and unreal. Her heart bound with the weight of the gallows couldn't be consoled. No matter how hard Xena tried, Gabrielle's smile was draped with despair.
The magistrate checked the weight and tried again, and this time the bag and rope held. Satisfied the weight and strength of the rope were correct the magistrate breathed a bit easier. He wanted the hanging to be humane.
Gabrielle tried to get Xena to eat. A large thick steak with gravy and port were offered as her last meal.
"Xena, you need your strength," Gabrielle stirred the food.
"I'm not hungry, thanks," Xena said to the worried bard.
"Okay," Gabrielle said and then retrieved a small bundle the magistrate had allowed her to share with Xena. She handed it to Xena.
"What's this?" Xena asked.
"Open it," Gabrielle said and tears formed.
Xena unwrapped a container, and she grimaced and smiled warmly at Gabrielle. "Dumplings with the red stuff inside."
"Uh huh," Gabrielle couldn't speak.
"Thanks," Xena said and ate the dumpling ravenously. She ate the entire serving, and she did it for Gabrielle.
Just as the sun sank below the horizon Veritas called for the guards to bring forth the prisoner. Gabrielle hugged Xena and then was forced to wait. Guards walked ahead and behind Xena as she stepped out of the room and walked proudly to the gallows.
Xena climbed the stairs between the guards. With each step and the crowd fell more silent. Xena drew in a long and steady breath, and looked out at the people there. She never really understood why people like to watch others die. She searched until she saw the beloved blonde head.
Gabrielle mouthed, "I love you." Xena nodded, and thumped her chained fists into her chest and then out to Gabrielle.
"Xena, are you prepared to pay for crime?" Veritas asked.
"I am," Xena said unemotionally.
Turning to the people, "Xena of Amphipolis, known as the Destroyer of Nations, and the Warrior Princess, you've admitted your guilt for the death of General Marmax, you are to be hanged until you are dead. Do you have any last words?" Veritas asked.
"I'm sorry for any pain I've caused," Xena said. "Gabrielle, there was no one better in my life than you." She then nodded to Veritas.
The hangman placed a hood over her head. She started to deny it, but thought it would be better for Gabrielle. The noose pulled tightly around her neck. She waited for the sound, and her heart wept, she knew she would die but she hated to die with Gabrielle as a witness.
Gabrielle's blood rushed loudly through her ears, her heart raced and she began to sweat profusely. Wringing her hands she rubbed Xena's chakram until blood trickled to the ground. She lowered her eyes and closed them tightly. Quietly she said, "Even in death, I will never leave you... even in death I will never leave you... even in death...."
She hoped there would be no pain, and stiffened she heard Veritas say, 'now.' Gabrielle cried the entire day, from the moment she prepared the dumplings to when the guards pulled her from Xena's arms in the cell, and then later when she retrieved Xena's body from the healer's yurt. She borrowed a wagon from Serna, and found the woman had left a wrap with bread and cheese. She didn't eat any of it.
She left the valley and headed for Xena's homeland. After a candlemark she stopped near a bubbling creek and got a sip of water and filled a bucket for the horse. She let Argo drink her fill and slowly walked around the wagon. Gabrielle felt drained of fluids and emotion, and she decided she could finally pull back the linen that covered her soul mate. Afraid Xena would be horribly deformed, she yanked the covering back; butterflies battled in her stomach. She prepared for the worse and looked, but she was surprised. Xena's neck was just slightly bruised, and perfectly aligned. "Hippocrates," Gabrielle breathed his name in a sigh. He had taken Xena's body down and to the yurt after he pronounced her dead.
"Thank you," Gabrielle wished to the young healer. She stoked Xena's bluish face. "I guess you call this justice Xena, I think it is a terrible thing." Gabrielle sobbed. "The good you could've done... forever lost now. I promised to take you home, and that's what I'm doing. I love you, Xena," She kissed Xena's cold forehead.
Stoking a sinewy neck, Gabrielle appreciated Argo's living warmth. She gently tugged the horse's reins and they started the journey to Amphipolis. Gabrielle dreaded the task of delivering news to Cyrene: Xena had joined Lyceus at last, news to shatter her mother's heart.
Gabrielle delivered Xena to the mausoleum, and slowly went to the tavern, to find Xena's mother.
The dimly lit tavern held few patrons. Gabrielle felt suddenly very tired, and sat in a booth near the door. She wanted to run, to take off and flee until her feet could no longer carry her, to find a place of safe-haven to lay down her weary soul, and gather the remnants of her heart. She wondered if it could ever be one again.
Cyrene saw Gabrielle enter the tavern, and when the bard sat in the first seat she neared, Cyrene felt a sense of fear creep through her soul. She saw the grief on Gabrielle's face and turned her eyes to the door. Cyrene decided to wait until her daughter came in to greet Gabrielle. She didn't realize it but she held her breath; her head began to pound, her lungs pleaded for a breath, and her heart pummeled her chest. She wanted desperately for Xena to come inside.
Finally, her lungs sucked in a ragged breath and Cyrene dropped to her knees. All eyes turned to Xena's mother, and she began to sing the Glede Ma Glede, anthem of Amphipolis. Gabrielle ran her hand through her hair and went to help Cyrene. The song broke up into short choked sobs. She clutched Gabrielle's arm as the bard led Cyrene to her private quarters.
That night people packed the tavern. Gabrielle was surprised at the turnout, and addressed the people. "I suppose you've heard of the death of Xena," she looked around the room. There seemed to be a unified look of sadness on the faces there. "Cyrene is not doing well, she's quite shocked actually. As I was when Xena faced her past and gave her life because she stopped a war."
Several people started talking and were shushed by others.
Gabrielle nodded and grimaced slightly. Tears slid down her face and dripped upon her chest.
"I am Gabrielle, bard of Poteidaia. I would like to tell you about Xena."
Gabrielle squared her shoulders and collected her thoughts. Clearing her throat she began:
"I sing a song of Xena, Amphipolis dark haired child:
Gabrielle sat down and laid her head on her hands and sobbed.
Somewhere a voice said:
"She was Xena: Warrior Princess.
Is it ever the end of Xena?
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