The characters Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Renaissance Pictures and no copyright infringement is intended in any way.
I took the last bite out of my apple and then carelessly tossed the core over my shoulder. Standing up, I dusted off my behind. "Well, Gabrielle," I muttered, "you'd better get going." I stepped out from under the shade of the big beech tree where I had been sitting and walked over to my horse. "Well, girl," I said, patting the mare's neck, "in a couple more hours we'll be home again." Now being as I was in fact just east of Tegea the reader might think I had gotten too much sun or something. After all, this was a very long way indeed from Poteidaia. Truth was, during those years I considered anywhere Xena was to be my home and right now I was happily on my way to join up with her again after spending a whole week apart.
As happened quite often she had been beseeched by some king to come quickly and help clean up one petty mess or another. It had promised to be one of those mundane little jobs that although quite serious to the parties involved and could even be described as delicate in nature, nevertheless was not going to be one that taxed her talents very much. And as she sometimes did she had suggested that I skip making the trip with her and go off and do something on my own. In our early years together I mistook this as first, thinking she believed I would be in her way and then, after my ability to defend myself had flowered, as an indication that she thought that maybe on this particular case I was not good enough to help her. Naturally this was not the case at all. For all her intensity and all her awesome power Xena was very, very sensitive. She just did not like to show it. And sometimes she would sense either one or both of us just starting to, how do I say it, not get bored with one another actually but maybe starting to take each other for granted juuuust a little bit. Sure enough, these little sabbaticals, even if they lasted but a day, always gave us cause to reflect on just what we had together and how special it was and just how much we meant to one another. I came to understand this for what it was, a good and healthy thing but, even so, the best part about one of these was of course the sweet reunion with my tall, raven haired lover.
Now as I turned my horse up the road I looked forward to making her give me all the juicy details about their "problems" as she called them and about what she had done to solve them. And of course, a little warrior sugar later on wouldn't be such a bad thing either.
For the better part of the last three days I had been in the coast town of Thyrea, sleeping late, blowing a few dinars, writing some, and generally taking it easy. But as the last day, the day I was to leave and rejoin Xena, neared I found myself more and more wishing the sun would just hurry up and set already so the next day could come and I could be on my way. Finally it had arrived and here I was, on a deserted road nudging my horse into a trot and looking forward to the time when I would see my warrior again.
About an hour later, as I rounded a little bend in the road, I saw a man step out of the undergrowth and onto the road where he then turned to face me. Just looking at him as I approached, I could readily see he was not exactly what one might call the dangerous type. But then again one never knew with some of them. Come ooon, I thought, a little irked, I don't have time for this. Please don't let this be another bandit wannabe thinking he's found an easy mark. As I drew near he held up his hand and for some reason I felt he wasn't going to be a threat. Not that it mattered. By this time Xena had worked with me so much that there really weren't too many guys I had to worry about in a one on one fight. And especially not this one. As I came along side I reined in my horse and got my first real good look at him. He was about as tall as Xena but very thin--gaunt even. His skin was very pale and he was dressed in the worst old rags you ever saw. Judging from the odor assaulting my nostrils I did not even want to try to guess when he had bathed last. However the thing that really struck me about him was his eyes. They were bloodshot, sort of sunk back in his head and had dark semi-circles under them. This in itself would have been unnerving enough but it was the look in those eyes that really made me begin to wonder about him. In my seventy-five years I have seen gods, monsters, and very many evil men but to put it plainly I have never seen anything more unnerving in my life. His eyes had a burning quality to them and when he looked at me is was almost as if he was able to see right into my soul. It was very chilling.
"Ho there," he called as I came to a stop.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"You are the Poteidaian known as Gabrielle, are you not?"
"How did you know that?" I asked suspiciously. Maybe he had seen me in Thyrea, I thought. That would explain it, I reasoned. He saw me there and then when I departed he must have rushed along by a different route in order that he might get ahead of me.
"That is not important," he replied. "What is important is that you could be in grave danger."
"Oh?" I sat up straight in my saddle and swept the surrounding area with my eyes. "Looks safe enough to me." Gabrielle, that little voice of caution inside me warned, you had better keep an eye on this bird after all.
Speaking in a flat, monotoned voice he said, "It is not here that peril awaits you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Death will touch your hand this day, Gabrielle, if you make the wrong choice."
There's nothing like the possibility of holding hands with old Death to garner one's attention however I did not want to seem too interested. "Well, to tell you the truth, the only potential threat I've seen all day is...you," I said.
"Danger is not always so easily recognized yet that does not make it any less emminent," he said.
"All right then, I'll bite," I said, a little impatiently. "Just what is it that wants to do me in? Bandits? A griffin? Some ticked off god maybe?"
"Nothing," he replied cryptically, "if you choose wisely."
"Well that's good," I said airily. "Because it's really too hot at this time of day to be dealing with mortal peril."
"It is not wise, little one, to make sport of those trying to help you," he said ominously.
By now I had had about enough. "Look, I said, "I don't know who you are or how you know my name but I've got to meet a friend over in Plenis and I really should be own my way."
"I think your friend Xena would rather have you a little late as a lot dead, don't you agree?"
"How did you...?"
"As I said before, that is not important."
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Does my name matter?" he replied.
"Why won't you give me a straight answer?" I demanded. "You say that I may be in danger. Fine. But how do expect me to believe you if you won't even tell me your name?"
"My name is Simon," the man said.
"Oh. Umm, okay...Simon. So just what is it you want me to do?" Every nerve in me was screaming that I should just kick my horse into a gallop and leave this odd stranger behind in the dust yet somehow I just...couldn't.
The man now known to me as Simon locked those burning eyes in on me and said, "About one half league down this road you will come to a path that slants off to the left," he said. "This path is narrow and very rocky. It is full of holes and goes over one steep hill after another. It is a very arduous route. By contrast the main road is smooth and level and easy to traverse." Here he paused for a moment and then, slowly and with great emphasis on each word, he uttered, "By all that you hold dear to you I ask that you choose wisely the route to take."
I must say that by now he had my undivided attention. "What's going to happen?" I asked, anxiously.
"I cannot say."
"That doesn't make sense," I retorted. "You can warn me something is about to happen to me--"
"May happen to you," he interrupted.
"All right then, may happen, to me but you can't tell me what it is? Come on."
"I am sorry, Gabrielle," he said. "But this is as far as I am allowed to go. I can tell you no more."
I looked at him curiously and repeated my question. "Who are you?" In the deep recesses of my mind, however, the real question dying to spring forth from my lips was "What are you?"
Simon smiled what could only be described as a cheerless smile at me and replied, "A friend."
From off in the distance there came a low rumble of thunder. Just for a moment I turned away from him and looked westward toward the sound. "The rain will be here in a couple of hours," I observed. "Simon, I'd sure hate to get caught out in--"
But he was gone.
"Simon?" Quickly I darted my eyes all about but Simon was nowhere to be seen. "Simon?" Gauging the distance to the nearby brush, I concluded there was no way he could have reached it in time to disappear. Was there? Why had he left so abruptly? More importantly, why had he gone through all that trouble to warn me? What did he care? Could he have been sent by someone else? I wondereed. Maybe. But if so, by whom? What is going on?
Sweeping my hair straight back with the palm of my hand, I took one last, nervous look around. I happened to glance down at where Simon had stood and there was no sign whatsoever of footprints.
"This is too weird," I mumbled, nudging my horse into motion. As I cautiously made my way down the road I caught myself stealing little glances over my shoulder every so often. "What do you expect to see?" I asked myself aloud. Again I heard the rumbling off to the west. Damn, I thought, I really rather not get my butt wet for nothing.
Before long I topped a little rise in the road and, sure enough, forking out to the left across a little swag, was a path. That is, I suppose one could call it a path--if they were generous. In reality it was no more than a sort of a thin brown scar cutting across the swag and up the adjoining hill.
So here it was. It was plain Simon, or whoever he was, wished for me to take the "path." Why else would he have presented it as an alternative? But was this really necessary? My eyes followed along the path as it scaled up that steep rocky hill. This is stupid, I thought. Who in their right mind would abandon such a nice road as this and set out upon that monstrosity? But the warning.
Again the thunder boomed off in the distance but I could tell it was closer now. If I take the main road I'll be back with Xena in no more than a couple of hours. And I won't get soaked to the bone either. But the warning. "All right, Gabrielle," I said under my breath, "you've got to make a decision here. The path or the main road. The path...or the main road."
Once more the ominous thunder rumbled, almost seeming to echo Simon's words, "Choose wisely the route to take."
"All right!" I exclaimed. "You win. I'll take the damn path. With a deep sigh I dismounted and brought my horse's reins around to the front. There was no way in Tartarus I was going to be able to ride over this thing. "Come on, girl," I muttered in resignation, "let's get this over with."
I took one last, wistful look at that big, fine, smooth road and then began the long, torturous task of stepping around, across, through, and in seemingly every rock, dead tree, mud hole, and dung pile, left over from the creation of the earth. Two hours later I had managed to cross just two hills and standing on the summit of the third one I saw I had at no less than four more to go. Gabrielle, you have got to be the biggest ass in all of Greece, I thought ruefully. What on earth could have made you do such a stupid thing? For a time I considered turning back but I figured I might as well go on now since I had already come this far. Xena wasn't the only one that could be stubborn.
Descending the other side of the hill I stepped on a loose rock and went down like a sack of potatoes. When I hit ground I banged my left elbow hard on still another damned rock and the resulting pain caused me to cry out sharply. I sat there on my butt for a few moments holding my throbbing elbow and feeling sorry for myself, wishing the pain would abate just a little bit anyway. It didn't. Holding my arm against my tummy, I grimly got to my feet and took up my horse's reins. "Well," I sighed, "it can't possibly get any worse than this."
For now, you see, it started to rain--hard. Looking up to the heavens, I gritted my teeth and shouted, "What is this, Get Gabrielle Day?"
On and on I went, stumbling over rocks and stepping into holes for the gods only know how long. And for the entire time it rained...and it rained...and it rained, pounding me and my poor faithful horse ceaselessly. Finally it got to the point where my entire life consisted of just putting one foot down in front of the other. It seemed like all I had ever done and all I would likely ever do. I was beyond being tired. Now I was just numb. Boy, I thought, Xena is going to think me a complete idiot. "Xena," a little voice inside me asked, "who's that?" I didn't bother with it. Instead I just kept putting one foot in front of the other...one foot in front of the other...one foot...
In the back of my mind I now became vaguely aware that something had changed. What? my muddled brain wondered. I stopped and numbly looked around me. The rain had stopped. I stood there for a few moments just blinking when suddenly the realization came to me that I had met back up with the main road again. I wonder where I am, I thought. I was too exhausted to care. Now that the rain had ceased I just wanted to lie down there in the wet grass beside the road and sleep. Why not? I wearily reasoned. Almost dark. Too tired to take another step, too tired to ride even. I think I'll just...
"Huh?" Was that someone faintly calling my name? "Simon, is that you again?" Naww, I thought, it can't be. There's nothing else on this earth but me, my horse, and these damn rocks.
I squinted my bleary eyes looked off in the direction of the voice. It took a moment for it to register on me that someone was on horseback approaching very quickly.
"Gabrielle!" the dark apparition called again.
I wrinkled my nose and squinted again. "Xena, is that you?"
Xena thundered up to me on her big horse and in less than the blink of an eye was off and on the ground. "Gabrielle," she cried, running toward me, "where in the gods' names have you been?" She took me in her strong arms and hugged me ever so tightly. Leaning back, she swept the wet hair out of my face. "I've been worried sick about you," she said.
Smiling stupidly at her, I jerked a thumb back over my shoulder toward the path. "I uh, took a shortcut," I said.
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"That path back there," I explained. "I took that path over the hills. Stupid huh?"
She stared in the direction my thumb was pointing and then looked oddly at me. She then gently placed the palm of her hand on my forehead. "Gabrielle," she asked, "are you all right?"
"'Course I am," I said. "Now that you're here. Why?"
"Sweetheart," she said gently, "there is no path."
"What are you talking about?" I snorted. I turned around to point, "I just came down--"
Xena was right. There was no path...only a solid cliff face. "Wait a minute," I said shakily. "This can't be. I--I was just on it. Xena, I'm telling you there was a path there."
"Shh, shh, it's all right," Xena cooed. "It doesn't matter anyway. What's important is that I found you."
"Xena, I don't know what's happening but I'm sorry about that," I said. "I would have been there sooner but I left the main road somewhere back there and I--I guess I got lost."
"It's a good thing you did," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, I was waiting for you up ahead at the tavern as we planned when suddenly this guy came bursting in and said a huge rockslide had obliterated a long stretch of the road." She pointed over my shoulder back down the road. "Back that way."
Much like the sun burning away the morning fog this statement cleared away the haze from my head. "Wait a minute," I said. "When did this happen?"
"This is the odd part," she said. "One would have thought all that rain might have been the cause of the slide but by all accounts it occurred a good hour before the rain even started."
Suffice it to say all the mist in my brain was gone now. After some quick mental calculations I realized the area Xena was talking about was exactly where I would have been had I stayed on that road and not made my little detour. Talk about cold chills up ones spine! "That is so strange," I said.
"What is?" she asked.
I then proceeded to tell her about my encounter with Simon, about his warning, and about my subsequent ordeal over "Hades' Path" as I had come to call it. Upon finishing I could see that she wanted to believe me but...
"Xena," I said solemnly, "I swear to you everything I have said is the absolute truth."
She said nothing but again she looked over my shoulder in the direction where my path was--had been.
"You still don't believe me, do you?"
She looked at me tenderly and smiled. "Of course I do," she said.
"No you don't."
"Gabrielle, I do. Honestly."
I'll show her, I thought. "Here," I said triumphantly holding up my elbow, "look at this. Maybe now you will believe me."
My warrior looked first at the joint and then helplessly at me. "But, Gabrielle, I..."
"Told ya," I crowed. "That will teach you to doubt me." Then it came to me. The elbow was not swollen nor was it hurting anymore. Indeed there was not a mark on it anyplace. I stood there gawking wide-eyed at it for a moment too dumbfounded to say anything.
Seeing my consternation, Xena slipped her arm around my waist and drew me near. "Come on," she said soothingly, "let's go back to the tavern and get you out of those wet clothes."
I simply could not understand it. It had all seemed so real to me. Had I actually been hallucinating or something? I remembered the apple. Could something in it have caused my senses to run wild for a few hours? Some kind of drug maybe? Who knew? I certainly didn't. Without another word I mounted my horse and together Xena and I rode to the tavern.
Once there I gratefully soaked in a tub of warm water while Xena dried my clothes over the innkeeper's fire for me. Later, after a sumptuous meal of roast duck, I decided to do something different so I ordered a mug of very strong wine.
"Are you sure," Xena asked, eyeing me with amusement.
"Yeah," I assured her.
"Make it two then" she told the innkeeper.
After receiving our wine we strolled back over to our table and sat down. "I tell ya, Xena," I said, "I still don't know what to make of what happened today. I could have sworn I was stopped by a tall, thin man. I took a drink of the wine and for a moment I thought my tongue had gone numb. "Goodness," I squeaked, striving mightily to suppress a cough, "that certainly has a bite to it, doesn't it?"
"Uhh huuh," she said wryly. With that she turned her mug bottom up and drained its entire contents. "Aaaaaaaaaah." She thumped her mug down on the table and flashed that mischievous little grin of hers.
"Show off," I muttered, partially sticking my tongue out at her.
"Practice, Gabrielle," she said impishly. "I used to drink this stuff for water. Now if you really wanted to get drunk..."
"That's okay," I said, holding up my hand. "I think I'll pass." Another lesson learned, I thought.
"I wouldn't worry about what happened today too much," she said. "What counts is that you're all right and you're here with me."
"Do you think it was the Fates somehow?" I asked. "Could they possibly have sent Simon to warn me?"
"I doubt it," she replied. "The Fates would not interfere like that. Besides--"
"Excuse me," a voice off to our right said. It belonged to an old man intently eyeing us from the next table. "I don't mean to pry but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation," he said.
Xena raised an eyebrow and looked hard at him. "And?"
"This Simon fellow you spoke of, young lady, you say he was tall and very thin?"
"Very thin," I replied. I don't know why but another image popped into my head. "And he had a kind of red spot over his right eye."
The old man's eyes grew wide and he leaned forward. "Twenty years ago today," he said, "two men were walking along that very road out there. This was long before they improved it. Anyway, like I said, these two guys were walking along this road when suddenly three bandits jumped out and attacked them. One of the men was knocked out almost immediately and when he came to...he found his friend had been killed."
"How awful," I said.
"Yeah. He uh, his skull had been bashed...exactly where you saw the red spot on your friend today, Gabrielle."
I felt the tears well up in my eyes as they sometimes did when I was very scared. "You mean to tell me that...the man I saw today..."
"Simon," said the old man.
"Simon...was--is a..." Here I gulped hard, "Ghost?"
"It was Simon who was killed there," said the old man, "and every single year since on the anniversary of his death he has been seen by someone on that road," said the old man. "Of course he doesn't always bear tidings of danger but nevertheless he always returns to the place of his demise."
"That other guy, Simon's friend, that was you, wasn't it?" observed Xena.
"Not only that," replied the old man with a nod. "He was my brother. That's why I come here to the tavern every year on this date. Someday before I die I hope to see him again for myself."
"But why did he choose me?" I wondered aloud. Xena had told me the sad news about how at least four people were known to have been killed in the rockslide.
"Maybe he liked you, Gabrielle," said the old man. "Simon always did have an affinity for blondes."
A couple of times in our later years, long after we had settled
down, I managed to talk Xena into going back there in the hope that she too
might get a glimpse of the spirit, ghost, specter, whatever you want to call
it, that had saved my life. We never did. And over fifty years later I still
haven't figured out that part about the phantom path. But if Fortune some day
places you on that road and by chance you happen to meet a thin man with
a red spot on his forehead there, well it would behoove you greatly to listen
to what he has to say.
A Final Psalm for Gabrielle
Twas in the middle part of spring,
When first this lass mine eyes beheld.
She was just a little bitty thing,
She said her name was Gabrielle.
I liked her from the very start.
She was kind, and brave, and spoke so well
That 'fore I knew it she stole my heart,
This loquacious, vexing Gabrielle.
She said she wished to be like me.
But those thoughts I would dispel.
'Cause in my heart I hoped to be
One day more like Gabrielle.
From guileless girl to Warrior Bard
In less time than it takes to tell.
She practiced long and studied hard,
The gritty, gifted Gabrielle.
Her face is like the light at sea
That points the way through heavy swell.
It tames my rage and comforts me.
I thank the gods for Gabrielle.
For lo these years she's walked with me
And each time my heart doth swell
When at morn's first light I wake and see
My precious, sleeping Gabrielle.
Upon her lips, her breasts, her Womanhood,
My own lips love to dwell.
It seems so right and feels soooo good
To make sweet love to Gabrielle.
When time and history are at their last,
With my bones but a dusty shell,
Still, whenever through them bleak winds pass,
They'll forlornly whisper...Gabrieeeelle.
I sing of Xena, proud and brave.
Fierce warrioress to whom I gave
My heart and soul so long ago.
My one true love, I miss you so!
Though her past was dark she never tried
To run away from it or hide
Behind lame excuses explaining why
She caused so many folk to die.
But on that most momentous day
When Hercules showed her the way
To Justice, Honor, and unchained hearts,
Her shattered soul pieced back its parts.
And to this day I remember well
The first time that my eyes befell
This warrior woman, tall and lean,
She was like none I'd ever seen.
With skillful hands and flying feet
She bade Draco's vile men retreat.
And in that forest's gloomy light
I came to know love at first sight.
I already knew my life was changed,
And though it was by now arranged
That I should marry 'gainst my will,
I refused to swallow this bitter pill.
Even now in my mind thoughts doth occur
As to why she let me walk with her.
Did she pity me, like me, or had she some plot
To leave me behind the first chance that she got?
Whatever it was I do not now care.
For the rest of her life I followed where
My brave warrior led us, near or far,
My wagon hitched to her illustrious star.
Great kings, the gods, and warriors tall,
I saw her stand against them all.
Ten times ten, ten times again,
She battled for Justice among nations and men.
And through the decades that so quickly passed,
We grew ever closer until at last
Speech rarely was needed for us to impart
What was thought in the mind or felt in the heart.
She lived to be four score and one.
And then at last, her labors done,
She smiled the smile I knew so well
And squeezed my hand as Darkness fell.
How dost one live when from her torn
Her Love, her Life, that passion born
So long ago and far away.
Her guiding light until this day?
For two whole days I sat and cried
While dear old friends all vainly tried
To console my grief and ease my pain.
And mend my broke heart up again.
But she still walks within my dreams,
Through gentle fields, by quiet streams.
And in those dreams I see sooo clear,
I run to her and hold her near.
With smiling face she strokes my hair,
And tells me I must not despair.
For when grim Death dost come for me
'Twill only set my spirit free.
And for whatever time eternity yields,
Warrior and Bard in the Elysian Fields,
Will be as one and never part,
Not soul, nor mind, nor loving heart.
I sing of Xena, proud and brave,
Who calls to me beyond the grave
In whispers on the still night air.
Gods! I so yearn to join her there!
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