THE BIRTH OF SOLAN
by Eva Allen
DISCLAIMER: Characters which have appeared in the TV series Xena:
Warrior Princess or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys are the sole
property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Their use in this
story does not represent the intent to make a profit or otherwise
infringe on the existing copyright. All other characters are the clever
invention of the author.
Copyright for this fanfiction held by Eva Allen, July 1998.
BE ADVISED: This story includes the depiction of sex between two
consenting adult women. If this offends you, please find something else
Special thanks to Mary for taking time to read, advise, and encourage.
And thanks to Jeanne for answering my many questions about giving birth
Constructive criticism and unadulterated praise are always welcome!
Write to me at email@example.com.
All day the dull, cramplike sensations had come and gone, moving through
her body like a long, tired funeral procession. But later, in the
darkness of the night, when the pains began in earnest, she started to
hope that her time was near at last. Even so, she did not move, but lay
there on her side in the darkness, waiting for what was to come. She
lay unmoving, staring at the thin cloth walls of the tent, wondering how
they managed to support such a heavy weight of moonlight and shadows.
She had not really been asleep when the pains began, had not slept well
for weeks now, with the child kicking and shifting inside her each time
her own body was still. So she had lain there, night after night, on
the low, fur-covered bed where she had once lain with Borias, and
sometimes she still reached out without thinking, reached out for his
warm, sinewy body, and found only cold, empty air.
She lay there now, alone in the darkness. She lay in the place where
she and Borias had lusted and panted for each other, moaning and
sweating, bruising and cursing each other in the power struggle they
called sex. On this bed where she now lay, the child had been
conceived, the child they had neither dreamed of nor wanted, the child
who had no place in the lives of two warlords driven only by the desire
for wealth and power.
For a time, there was no more pain, and then it came again, pushing its
way sharply through her body before fading away. There was no need to
go yet, no need to move, even, no need to do anything but wait. Outside
the tent, men's voices and footsteps sifted through the night. It was
the changing of the guard, which meant it must be nearly midnight.
She had kept her secret well, had guarded it as zealously as the
centaurs guarded the secret location of the Ixion stone. Thank the gods
it was winter and she could wear a heavy cloak to hide her swollen
belly. Even on the warmest days she wore it, keeping it draped
carefully about her so that it hid the grotesquely misshapen figure that
was now hers. The cloak had been her salvation, the cloak and some old
tunics that had belonged to Borias. She had worn his trousers, too,
with darts cut in them and a drawstring loosely run through and tied
above the swelling -- the swelling that grew within her day by day,
threatening to reveal her weakness and give her army reason to question
her command. She could not lose control, could not show herself to be
weak in any way. She was the Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations,
delighting in the terror she saw in her victims' eyes.
She had not even told Borias that she was pregnant, had been afraid to
let him gain the upper hand. Yet he had gained it anyway, betraying her
to the enemy, going to the centaur camp and revealing all her plans to
Kaleipus. That filthy bastard Borias, that scum, that low-down dirty
dog! He had once wanted the power of the Ixion stone as much as she
did, but he had turned on her, and in some fit of cowardly nobility had
betrayed her quest.
Another pain moved through her and she eased herself over onto her back
in a futile effort to relieve her discomfort. When the pain had passed,
she pushed herself up to a sitting position, hating the awkwardness with
which she was forced to move, hating the pain she knew had barely begun,
hating the child within her and the man who had fathered that child, the
man who had betrayed her. And this hadn't been the first time. He had
betrayed her once before, in the land of Chin, had betrayed her to Ming
Tzu, who had had her hunted like an animal by his dogs. Borias had
never loved her, had never cared about her except insofar as she was
useful to his purposes. Nor had she loved him. Their relationship had
been nothing but a battlefield, a place where each one tried to outsmart
and use the other in a bid to gain the ultimate power. Well, she had
won, in the end. Borias had betrayed her, but he was dead now. He had
paid for his betrayal with his worthless excuse for a life.
But if she had told him, what then? If he had known that she carried
his child, would he have been as quick to betray her? She closed her
eyes and wrapped her arms around her chest, rocking slowly back and
forth. She had not known, herself, had not admitted that she could be
with child until she was into her fourth month. The morning sickness,
the missed moontime bleedings, the thickening of her waistline -- all of
these she had ignored or explained away. And when at last she could
disregard the signs no longer, she had tried to rid herself of the
child, having heard old women whisper that such things could be done.
She had sought out a healer, a man known for his skill with herbs. She
had gone to his hut, and had stood looking at the multitude of dried and
packaged herbs, knowing there must be some among them which would
achieve her purpose. She had gone there and begged him for the herbs
that would cure her, had begged and pleaded to be relieved of the burden
she carried. But he had refused to hear her pleas, had turned away,
saying he was a healer, not a murderer. He had scorned her and called
her a wanton killer, a destroyer of life. He had withheld from her what
she needed so desperately, and no amount of money she offered him or
even rough threats could make him change his mind.
Another pain came, and she waited with bowed head for it to pass,
remembering now the old woman she had visited, a creature with clawlike
hands and a strange, raspy voice. The old woman had cast a spell, using
many smoky incantations, a spell which she claimed would bring the birth
to pass long before the proper time. But the spell had not worked. The
thickening and swelling of her body had continued against her will, and
although she rode hard and fought hard and took long swims in cold lakes
and encouraged Borias to vent all the force of his passion on her body,
nothing produced the result she so desired. Day after horrible day, the
child continued to grow within her, and she knew that Borias would soon
notice, would soon perceive her weakness. She knew she could not keep
her secret from him much longer.
But on the very night she had meant to tell him -- that very night he
had come to her talking like a madman, talking of a change of heart,
professing his admiration for the centaurs, for their honesty and
courage. He had tried to persuade her to give up her quest for the Ixion
stone, but she had refused. She wanted -- no, desperately needed -- the
power it would give her, needed that power now, especially, when her
condition rendered her so vulnerable. She needed all the wicked power
trapped within the stone, needed it to conquer all her enemies, to
conquer the whole world, and to destroy Caesar, above all. If Borias
didn't want to share in her conquests, that was fine, but she herself
would not be dissuaded.
She should have seen it coming, his betrayal, should have recognized his
unexplained absences and increasing moodiness as signs. But so
preoccupied was she by then with her pregnancy that her ears refused to
listen and her eyes refused to see. The morning after their
confrontation, he was gone -- gone to betray her to the enemy, to those
despicable, not-even-human centaurs he now claimed to admire.
With a heavy sigh, she wrapped one of the furs around herself and
staggered clumsily to her feet. She had gone to bed with all her
clothes on, even her boots, which she had taken to leaving on anyway
because it was so difficult these days to reach them to lace them up.
And besides that, they served to lend support to her swollen ankles.
Slowly, she began to pace back and forth within the confines of the
tent, to pace as she had so many nights over the worn rugs that covered
the dry, matted grass. The tent had stood on this spot for almost three
weeks now, the length of time her army had held the centaurs under
siege. Borias' betrayal had given the initial advantage to the enemy,
and they had used it to drive her forces back. But she had quickly
seized control, regrouping the men, inspiring them, and leading them
into battle again and again, until at last the centaurs were trapped,
cornered like rats behind their fortifications.
Yes, she had them where she wanted them now, surrounded and at her
mercy. She felt certain she could crush them with one last, all-out
offensive, yet she waited. She waited for the centaurs to run out of
food and arrows, to weaken and perhaps surrender -- although they had
proved such fierce fighters that she doubted they would. She told her
impatient troops that they were waiting for the centaurs to weaken so
that they could be more safely attacked, but in reality she was waiting
only for her child to be born. No longer able to haul her heavy body
into the saddle, she could not ride, as she should, at the head of the
attacking force. And so, day after day, the siege dragged on, the siege
which her men hated, but which she welcomed as good fortune. Soon it
would be over, though. Once the child was out of her body -- and she
hoped that within a few hours now it would be -- she needed only a day
or so to recover and the final battle could begin.
She smiled, thinking of the victory that would be hers, then grimaced as
another, sharper contraction took hold of her. Stopping near one of the
center tent poles, she gripped it with both hands and leaned her head
against it. Her labor had surely begun. She felt certain the time was
near, but how long should she wait? The midwife had told her she would
have plenty of time, that first babies almost always took many hours to
be born. Still, she would feel better if she could get out of the camp,
away from anyone who might hear if she cried out or made some other
sound. Yes, she would go very soon.
But when the pain had subsided, she stood, still clutching the tent
pole, feeling, if not frightened, then at least profoundly alone.
"Borias," she murmured, and in spite of the rage she still felt toward
him, at that moment she wished for nothing more than to feel the comfort
of his arms around her.
She had sent three of her best men out to capture him, had sent
Estragon, Dagnine, and Cretus. She had sent them with the strictest
orders that Borias was to be brought to her unharmed. She had given
them to understand that she wanted to deal with him herself, that she
planned to avenge his betrayal in her own chosen way. And she had her
plan all ready, her trap neatly set. She would punish him with his own
remorse, would take his hand and lay it on her swollen belly, would let
him feel the child kick and move, the child he had planted within her.
When he learned the full extent of his betrayal, he would be sorry, she
knew. He would come back to her then, and they would make up just as
they always did, with a night of wild passion, rutting like animals on a
bed covered with animal skins. She remembered now that she had smiled,
thinking about how it would be, anticipating the excitement and the
pleasure of it.
But late that night Estragon had come to tell her that Borias was dead,
that they had found his sword-pierced body in the woods near the centaur
camp. And she had been totally unprepared for the chilling pain that
clutched her gut, or for the way her hands began to tremble
uncontrollably. She could not even speak at first, but luckily there
was no need to do so. Estragon had talked blithely on, as if he were
delivering the best of news. He told her they had left the body for the
centaurs to discover, having first performed a few mutilations well
befitting the traitor dog Borias had been. Let the centaurs honor him
if they had a mind to, he had said, laughing. Let them honor him as the
hero they apparently believed him to be.
She had responded then, at last, had said something like it was about
time someone killed the bastard, or something lame like that. Then she
had thanked Estragon and dismissed him with the order that she was not
to be disturbed again that night. After which she had spent the long,
torturous hours in the tent alone, alternately pacing and lying,
unsleeping, on the bed. How had it happened? Who had killed him? Had
her own men done it? They would deny it, she knew, but she also knew
their anger at Borias' betrayal was almost as great as her own. Or
maybe someone in the centaur camp had done it, had wanted to make it
look as if she were the murderer. In the end, it did not matter. Both
the centaurs and her own men would believe she had ordered him killed.
There had been so many times when she had thought she wanted him dead,
but now that he was, she felt no relief. He had managed to betray her
once again, had betrayed her one last time, leaving her alone to deal
with the odious burden of her pregnancy. It had been the ultimate
betrayal, and she pictured him now, watching her from the Other Side,
watching and laughing at her in that irritating way he had, and she
hated him for it. She hated him for betraying her, for impregnating her
and then leaving her. She hated him for being dead. And through all
the hours of that long, dark night, she had nursed her hatred, had clung
to it like a life raft in an angry sea, had used it as a shield to keep
herself from knowing, to keep herself from feeling what she did not want
to feel, to keep herself from missing him as she did, with every fiber
of her being.
* * *
She released her hold on the tent pole and began to pace again. Her
memories had grown as heavy as the unborn child within her. She did not
want those memories, did not need or want the added burden of them. She
felt another pain beginning, but she set her mind against it, ignoring
it as she paced steadfastly back and forth within the tent. Were the
pains coming closer together? She could not tell for sure. Certainly
they were coming regularly now, as they had not earlier in the day. Was
it time to go, or should she wait a while longer? She came to an abrupt
halt as she felt a sudden rush of warm liquid pouring down her legs,
soaking her trousers and running into her boots. Embarrassed to think
that she had lost control of her bodily functions, she ran one hand over
the wet fabric and sniffed her fingers. It was not urine, she realized
with relief. Her water had broken. It was time to go.
Shrugging off the fur she had wrapped around her shoulders, she dropped
it on the bed and picked up her heavy woolen cloak. Putting this on,
she moved to the opening of the tent, pushed aside the flap, and stepped
outside. The camp was drenched in moonlight, a thick, oppressive
moonlight which revealed no human activity, but only the long rows of
tents standing still as stones. She crossed to a small tent nearby,
hesitated briefly at the doorway, and then ducked inside. Four figures
wrapped in blankets lay sleeping on the ground. Approaching one of
these, she bent down as far as she was able and nudged it with her toe.
"Deros," she whispered.
"Huh?" the young man mumbled, then turned over and peered up at her with
sleepy eyes. "Xena?"
"I need you to deliver a message for me," she said, still in a whisper.
"Yes. Come outside."
She backed out of the tent and moved a few paces away to wait for him in
the shadow of a tree. In a few moments he emerged, his feet in unlaced
boots and a blanket clutched around his shoulders.
"I'm sorry to wake you," she said softly when he came to where she
stood, "but I need you to take an urgent message to the village. Do you
know where the blacksmith's shop is?"
"Yes," he said, nodding. "I was there two days ago when I took Darphus'
horse to be shod."
"Good," she said. "There's a house next to the shop, on the east side,
with a small fig tree in the yard. Go there and ask for Calandra. Tell
her Xena sent you to say that the moon has risen."
"The moon has risen," he repeated, giving her a quizzical look. "Is
that the whole message?"
"Yes. She'll know what it means."
"Should I wait for an answer?"
"No. Just come back here when you've delivered it. And then at first
light I want you to go to Darphus and tell him--" She stopped, gritting
her teeth as another pain ran through her, hoping Deros could not see
her face in the shadows.
"And tell him what?" the messenger asked.
"I'm sorry," said Xena as soon as she was able to speak again. "I
thought I heard something."
He glanced around apprehensively.
"No, don't worry," she said quickly. "It was just my imagination."
"So what should I tell Darphus?"
"Tell him that I had some business to take care of and that it may be a
day or two before I get back. Until then, he's in charge. He knows
what to do to maintain the siege."
"All right," said Deros. "Is there anything else?"
"No, that's all," she said, "But Deros," she added, moving closer and
putting her hand on his shoulder, "don't tell anyone about your trip
into the village. That message is to be delivered in the strictest
confidence. Can I count on you?"
"Of course, Commander," he said with a grin. "Have I ever let you
"No, you haven't," she said, squeezing his shoulder and then releasing
it. "You've been a trustworthy aide and a brave fighter. In fact, I've
been wondering whether you wouldn't make a good scout for me -- if you
think you would like that kind of work."
"Yes, I think I'd like it very much!"
"Good. Next week I'll arrange for you to start training. Now go and
deliver my message."
"Consider it done, Xena," he said, and with a salute-like wave, he
turned and disappeared into his tent.
She walked slowly back to her own tent and slipped inside. Picking up
her sword, she hooked its scabbard to a strap which she then looped over
her right shoulder so that the sword hung down her back. In the past,
she had worn the weapon on a belt at her waist -- in the past, when life
was simpler and there had been no need to hide her body under a heavy
cloak. But the past was gone now and the present required her to make
Moving about the tent in the cloth-filtered moonlight, she opened a
wicker chest and knelt in front of it, pulled out a clean tunic and then
dug down until she found an old, loose-fitting chiton. She had not worn
the garment for many months, but she hoped to wear it again soon, maybe
tomorrow, as soon as this ordeal was over, as soon as the child was out
of her, and her body had resumed a more normal shape. And then, within
a couple of days, she would surely be able to wear her leathers again,
her leathers and her armor -- the battle dress she had so missed wearing
during these last few months.
The cold, damp trousers clinging to her legs made her wish she had a dry
pair to put on, but Borias had left only one pair behind, and that was
the pair she now wore. Well, it didn't matter. When she got to the
cave, she could take the horrible things off. She wouldn't need them
anyway for what she was about to go through.
A new contraction began and she sighed deeply, closing her eyes until it
had passed. Afterwards, she rummaged in the chest again and pulled out
a section of an old, frayed blanket. Then, closing the chest, she
lurched awkwardly to her feet. She spread the blanket out on top of the
chest and laid the chiton and tunic on it. Next, she added a hairbrush,
two small loaves of bread, a handful of olives, several figs, and two
apples. Wrapping everything in the blanket, she tied the bundle up and
tucked it under one arm. Then she crossed to the tent's opening, lifted
the waterskin from the hook where it hung on a tent pole, and took a
long drink. With a last, quick glance around, she hung the skin over
her shoulder and stepped out into the night again.
When she reached the edge of the camp, she stopped in the shadows and
looked to see who was on guard duty. After a couple of minutes, she saw
him, moving slowly along the camp's perimeter. It was Dagnine. At the
other end of the camp, around the centaur fortifications, the guard was
much heavier, but a few watchmen had also been posted here, where there
was little potential for action. She could pretty much predict that
Dagnine was not happy to have drawn so boring an assignment.
Standing still in the shadows, she waited, knowing she must let the next
pain pass before she approached him. Dagnine was a skilled warrior and
a fearless fighter, but he was clever in a sneaky, conniving sort of
way, and for that reason she considered him dangerous. Neither Borias
nor she had ever trusted him, and in fact, Borias had ordered Dagnine
flogged on more than one occasion as punishment for his
insubordination. And while he had not caused any real problems since
she herself had taken command of the army, she knew it was just a matter
of time until he did.
The pain began, and she steeled herself to endure it silently and
without moving. Concentrating her thoughts on Dagnine, she watched how
he walked, his body slightly twisted, his head thrust forward. Severe
battle wounds received some years ago had left him marked forever with a
grotesque scar on the left side of his face and a left arm that was
virtually useless. But he had refused to give up the warrior life,
compensating for the weakness of his left side with the skill of his
right, as well as with the strength of his cunning.
Feeling the pain ease up, she stepped quietly out of the shadows and
moved towards him. "Dagnine," she called in a low voice.
He whirled to face her, clearly startled, but just as clearly trying to
hide the fact that he was. "Xena!" he exclaimed, smiling in that false
way she hated. "Did you get lonely in your little tent and decide to
come out and visit me?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Dagnine," she said with her own false smile, "I
just need to leave the camp to attend to some business, and I want to
make sure you don't mistake me for a deserter and stab me in the back."
"Very prudent of you," he said, laughing. "But surely you don't think I
would do such a thing."
"No, of course not," she said sweetly. "I expect my soldiers to
recognize me at any hour of the day or night -- to recognize both my
person and my command." She paused for a moment to let the words sink
in, then continued, "Darphus will be in charge while I'm gone, and I
don't want to hear you've given him any trouble."
He grinned. "Now Xena, you know I would never think of giving my
commanders even a moment of trouble."
"If I knew that, we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?" she
returned, then added, "I'll be back in a day or so." She started moving
away, but stopped when he spoke again.
"When are we going to get up enough nerve to attack those stinking
centaurs?" he asked.
She turned back to face him, deciding to ignore his insinuation of
cowardice. "Very, very soon," she said, and this time her smile was
He seemed pleased with this answer and she walked away from him across
the moonlit field, aware of his eyes on her back. She walked as
deliberately and as confidently as she could, although her pace was, of
necessity, somewhat heavy and awkward. And as she felt the next pain
coming on, she made herself keep walking, concentrating on putting one
foot steadily in front of the other. She walked away without looking
back, walked away from Dagnine, whom she did not trust in the slightest,
and to whom she could never give the power of knowing her secret.
* * *
In the woods on the other side of the field, she stopped and leaned her
back against a tree for several minutes while she caught her breath.
Everything seemed so difficult these days -- sleeping, walking, getting
dressed, sometimes even breathing. How could this small thing growing
inside her cause such a huge disruption in her life? It didn't seem
fair that this should have happened. She had done nothing to deserve
it, other than to be born a woman. Could this be why so few women
became warriors? Well, men were the lucky ones, she had always known
Glancing back towards the camp, she saw that Dagnine had resumed his
rounds. The cold night air was creeping under her cloak and making the
still-wet trousers feel icy. She needed to get moving. She needed to
get to the cave, where she could light a fire and warm herself.
Straightening up, she drew a deep breath and let it out, then began to
make her way through the deep shadows among the trees. She knew the
route well, but could not travel very fast, both because of the partial
darkness and because of the heaviness of her body. After a time, she
came to a more open area, a place where dry grasses poked up between the
rocks, and where a stream, swollen by the winter rains, made its turgid
way down from the hills.
She walked along beside the stream for some distance, following a dim
game trail, pausing periodically to rest and wait for contractions to
pass. Eventually, the path began to climb, leading slowly and gradually
upwards, with rocky outcroppings on one side and the stream on the
other. She continued her laborious trek for a while longer, watching
the landmarks closely. Then, finally, she turned off the trail and
rounded the large boulder which hid the entrance to the cave.
Standing beside the opening, she listened carefully for a short time,
then drew her sword and stepped into the black interior. The moonlight
did not penetrate here, but she knew the contours of the small cavern
well, knew where everything was -- or knew, at least, where she had left
everything at the end of her last visit a few days ago. She felt her
way slowly along the left wall until she came to the blankets and furs
which lay spread out on the ground, like a gentle invitation to her
tired body. Kneeling on the bedding, she listened again, but heard no
sound other than her own labored breathing. Cautiously, she laid down
her sword, her bundle, and the waterskin, then took off the belt which
held her scabbard. Crawling forward a couple of paces, she located the
woodpile by touch and began to lay a fire on the ashes within the circle
of stones. When the kindling was ready, and the tinder in place, she
struck two flints together and quickly blew the spark into a flame.
A new contraction began, but she ignored it as best she could,
continuing to nurse the tiny flame, bending over it on hands and knees,
fanning it carefully until the bigger pieces of wood started to catch.
When the fire was burning well at last, she clambered to her feet and
opened her cloak, found the knotted drawstring of her trousers and
untied it, then slid the damp garment down over her belly. It dropped
to her feet and she kicked it aside, then stepped to the fire and held
the cloak open so that the heat could warm and dry her legs.
In a short time, the yellow firelight flickered its way into the dark
corners of the cavern, making the stone walls appear strangely soft and
warm. It was not a particularly large cave -- perhaps some eight paces
by twelve -- but it was plenty big enough for her purposes. She had
found it soon after the siege began, had sought it out in the same
instinctual way that a mother wolf seeks a den. And after having found
it, she had visited the place often, gradually stocking it with food,
bedding, and a good supply of firewood.
She had spent the night there, too, on more than one occasion, trying to
accustom her troops to her eccentric pattern of comings and goings. And
her ploy had apparently been successful. Deros and Dagnine had both
accepted her leaving tonight without blinking an eye. Darphus, too,
would think of it as a now-normal occurrence, and command of the army
would pass smoothly to him. And if she died this day in childbirth and
never returned? Well, she suspected that Darphus had certain ambitions
of leadership. He would be a happy man.
She smiled grimly and stepped away from the fire, then lowered her heavy
body onto the bedroll. After checking to make sure her sword was within
easy reach, she leaned back against the wall of the cave, covered her
now-bare legs with her cloak, and took a long drink from the waterskin.
She had considered coming here alone to give birth, had considered it
very seriously, in fact, aware that her secret would be safer if no one
else was involved. But although she knew a great deal about healing,
and about treating every manner of battle wound, she had had little
contact with other women, and almost no experience with childbirth.
That's why she had decided, in the end, to hire the midwife. She had
realized, at a certain point, that while she was not afraid to die in
battle, she was indeed afraid to die in childbirth, as so many women
did. Above all, she was afraid to die alone, in this weak, woman's way,
alone in a cave where her body might never be found and given a
warrior's final rites.
The pain gathered once more within her, stronger this time, and she
allowed herself a low moan. How bad would the pain get? Would it be
more than she could bear? Surely not, for she had known much pain
already -- had known the pain of battle wounds, had felt swords and
arrows pierce and tear her flesh. And she had known the pain of
crucifixion, the agony of having both her legs broken at Caesar's
command. Yes, she had known pain, had endured it, had lived with it,
had triumphed over it. Surely she could do so again.
But she kept remembering the screams, kept remembering how, as a young
girl, she and the other children had sometimes stood outside one of the
homes in their village, hearing a woman's screams from within, feeling
both the fear and the fascination of knowing what those screams meant.
And she remembered most vividly of all the night her brother Lyceus was
born, remembered it clearly even though she had been only two years old,
remembered the pure terror she had felt at hearing her own mother's
Her mother. Cyrene. Suddenly, Xena found herself wishing she could
simply conjure her up from one of the rocks inside this cave. Cyrene
had suffered through this ordeal not once, but three times. She would
know what to do. She would know what words to say to comfort her
daughter. She would hold her hand and smooth her brow just as she had
when Xena was a child. Yes, maybe she should have gone home to
Amphipolis to have her baby. Maybe she should have abandoned her army,
turned her back on the warrior life, and gone home to her mother.
But no. To arrive home as she was, unmarried and heavily pregnant,
would have only added to her mother's shame. Cyrene would reject her,
as would the people of Amphipolis. Oh, they had been happy enough in
the beginning to have her lead the defense of their town, but their
pride had soon turned to anger. When their sons marched eagerly off to
battle and never came home again, the villagers blamed Xena. The
fools! Didn't they realize that wars could not be fought nor peace won
without some loss of life? Did they think she did not feel their pain?
Her own brother, Lyceus, had also been killed. Lyceus, the little
brother she adored, the little brother she had taken care of and played
with for so many years. He had been brutally killed in that first fight
against Cortese. She had always done everything she could to protect
her soldiers, but she was not a miracle worker, after all. What did
But soon she would have all the power she needed to triumph. Soon she
would crush the centaurs and capture the Ixion stone. With the power of
the stone, and with Ares' blessing, she would conquer the world and rule
in peace as the Warrior Queen. Then she would go back to Amphipolis and
they would have to honor her. They would see then that she had chosen
the right path. They would wave palms to welcome her and would fall
down at her feet. They would love her then, would be glad to claim her
as one of their own. They would honor her as their beloved daughter,
the peasant girl who had become the all-powerful Conqueror.
Another contraction gripped her and she gasped, not so much because of
the pain as because of the words which suddenly sounded in her head.
"To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself is to know the
Way." And in her mind's eye, the speaker of those words appeared, a
slender, silk-clad woman with black hair and almond skin, a woman whose
dark eyes shone with wisdom and peace. Lao Ma. Xena clamped her hands
over her eyes, trying to erase the image. She did not want to think
about Lao Ma. She had enough pain to deal with right now without the
added pain of those memories. When she had left the Kingdom of Chin,
she had shut all those memories away in a corner of her mind, had closed
the door on them and resolutely turned the key in the lock. But now it
seemed they had escaped. How had it happened? And why now? Had Lao Ma
herself somehow set them free? Had she used her powers to break down
the door and release the memories just to torment her warrior princess?
Xena opened her eyes, sighed a deep sigh of frustration, and heaved
herself awkwardly to her feet. Moving to the fire, she added more wood,
then began to pace distractedly the length of the cavern and back
again. Lao Ma had saved her life -- there could be no question about
that. She had saved her from the fangs of Ming Tzu's dogs. "Come with
me, if you want your freedom," she had told the warrior, and Xena had
gone with her, seeking freedom only from a horrible, bloody death. But
later Lao Ma had offered her freedom of a different sort, had handed her
the key that could unlock the cage of anger in which Xena had imprisoned
But it had been so hard, so very hard to give up the bloodlust that had
nourished and sustained her ever since Caesar's betrayal and M'Lila's
death. Her rage was the focus of her life, the only meaning in her
existence. If she gave it up, what would be left? The thought was much
too frightening to contemplate.
And yet, out of devotion to Lao Ma, she had indeed tried to give it up,
and had made some poor attempt to bring her feral will under control.
Out of her devotion to the woman who had saved her life, she had done
this. And she had done it, too, out of awe for Lao Ma's power, and out
of a certain desire to gain that same kind of power for herself. The
surprising thing was that there had been moments -- entire hours, even
-- when her efforts had met with success. She would never forget the
day Lao Ma had healed her legs, would never forget the exquisite sense
of wholeness she had experienced while the other woman's hands moved
over her. She had felt Lao Ma's healing power like a glow of perfect
peace within her body. She had never known anything like it before, and
probably never would again.
Xena paused in her pacing, sensing the start of another contraction.
She slid her hands under her tunic, running them slowly over the bare
flesh of her distended belly, wishing that it were Lao Ma's hands which
touched her, wishing for the deep comfort that only that gentle woman
could bring. "Lao Ma," she moaned softly, bending over slightly as the
pain increased. "I betrayed your trust. I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Then, after a minute or so, when the pain eased, she slowly
straightened, and began to walk again.
She should have known the joy could not last, that the ecstasy of
healing love she had felt that day would quickly vanish. Yet for a
brief time she had managed to surrender her will, and her legs had been
made well and strong again. Afterwards, she had actually floated in the
air with Lao Ma, serenely radiant, basking in the warmth of her
teacher's smile and soft caresses. How long would it have lasted if
Borias had not walked in? Why had he come and spoiled everything, the
bastard? She had been making such progress, and she had seen the pride
and love in Lao Ma's eyes. But Borias' arrival had shattered the golden
peace within her just as Lao Ma had shattered that vase a few days
before. Everything Xena had gained was lost, and it was all his fault.
Coming to a stop near one of the cavern's walls, she kicked at it
angrily. Then, leaning her head against the cool, rough surface, she
closed her eyes and sighed. No, it had not been Borias' fault. She
knew that. Lao Ma had invited him to the palace, apparently believing
that Xena was now ready to forgive. But Lao Ma had been gravely
mistaken. One glimpse of Borias was all it took to bring the warrior's
lust for vengeance pouring back through the floodgates of her soul. She
could not let his cruel betrayal simply go unpunished, and so she had
attacked him viciously, with all the fury of her fists and the strength
of her newly-healed legs. But, to her surprise, he did not lift a
finger to defend himself. Lao Ma was forced to protect him, Lao Ma, who
must have been feeling such pain to see the fruits of her labors so
quickly thrown away. But for Xena, the old ways had proved too
powerful, too alluring, too familiar, and in the end, they had won out.
Oh, she and Borias had been reconciled, all right -- in an act of wild,
sexual frenzy. And afterwards, he had helped her snare the barbarous
Ming Tzu in a dice game, and then murder him. Only Lao Ma's fierce
intervention had kept Ming T'ien from meeting the same fate as his
father. Xena and Borias had left the Kingdom of Chin a few days later,
had left at the fervent request of Lao Ma, whose trust they had betrayed
and whose dreams for peace they had laid waste. After a long journey by
sea and by land, they had at last arrived in Greece, where they had soon
managed to kill three warlords, take over their armies, and continue
their quest for power and wealth. And in all that time, in all the
months since leaving Chin, in all their long days and long nights
together, they had not even once spoken of Lao Ma.
Xena straightened up as a new contraction took hold of her. The pains
seemed to be more intense now, spreading from her womb to her lower
back, and this one was the worst so far. When it eased up, she moved to
the opening of the cavern. Pulling the cloak tighter around her, she
stepped out from behind the large boulder and peered up at the sky,
noting the position of the constellations. The moon still lingered, low
and slightly hazy, in the western sky. Within the hour, it would set,
and the first hints of dawn would soon follow. She turned her gaze to
look down the hillside, scanning the rough trail for as far as she could
see. There was no sign of movement, no hint that anyone was coming.
Glancing back at the moon, Xena shifted her weight impatiently. Where
was that girl, that Calandra, the one she had hired to be her midwife?
Surely Deros had delivered the message and the girl was on her way to
the cave by now. But maybe she couldn't find it -- even though, when
Xena had brought her here two weeks ago, Calandra had said she knew the
area well and could find the place again easily.
Frowning, Xena went back into the cave. Maybe Calandra had simply
decided not to come. Who knew if the girl could even be trusted? She
might have just taken the retainer fee with no intention of following
through on her promise. She might be sitting in her house right now,
laughing at the warrior's plight. Well, Xena knew she could get through
this thing alone, if she had to. How hard could it be to have a baby,
after all? You just sweated through a few hours of pain, pushed the
baby out, and cut the cord. It was as simple as that. And when it was
over, when she had gotten through it, she would hunt that worthless girl
down and make her suffer. Yes, she would be more than sorry she had
ever even considered breaking her word to the Warrior Princess!
It had not been difficult for Xena to find the village midwife. One
discreet inquiry, made of a woman carrying a baby in the marketplace,
had led her to the small house where Petra lived, beside the
blacksmith's shop. But Petra had been unwilling to meet the demands
Xena put forth. She had other clients, she said, women of the village,
who were likely to give birth soon. She would not desert them to run
off to a remote cave in the hills someplace to deliver Xena's baby.
Frustrated, the warrior had offered more money, had argued and fumed,
but seemingly to no avail. Then at last, Petra had left the room and
returned with the girl, whom she introduced as her daughter, Calandra.
Xena had balked, at first, at the idea of using a girl of only sixteen
winters as her midwife. But Petra assured her that Calandra had been
helping attend births for the past five years, and vouched strongly for
her competence. Xena still wasn't happy, but she appeared to have no
options. So the three of them had haggled over the details of the
arrangement and the fee to be paid, until finally all was settled.
Calandra had agreed to come at any time to the cave and to stay there
for as long as she was needed. And most important of all, both she and
Petra had promised to keep their mouths shut about the entire affair.
As well they should, Xena thought, considering what she was paying. She
made her way to the back part of the cavern and crouched down beside the
rocks where she had stashed her supplies. Sorting through them quickly,
she pulled out a small cooking pot, then crossed to the bedroll to pick
up the waterskin. Taking both items outside, she walked to the edge of
the stream and knelt down, dipping first the waterskin and then the pot
into the cold water. When both were full, she got to her feet and
carried them, dripping, back towards the cave, stopping to look down the
path once more before retreating to her rocky den.
The fire had made the cave warmer, and Xena found a certain measure of
comfort in its cheerful glow. She set the pot down a short distance
from the fire circle and then added a couple of good-sized logs to the
flames. Resuming her seat on the bedroll, she leaned back against the
rock wall and closed her eyes. For the first time, she allowed herself
to feel her body's weariness. What a pathetic excuse for a warrior she
was -- her labor had barely begun, and she already felt so tired. She
grimaced as the pain came again, tensing her body to meet it. Then, as
the contraction began to weaken, she relaxed and, without any intention
of doing so, fell asleep.
She dreamed that she was running -- running on crippled legs over rough
terrain, trying to escape Ming Tzu's dogs. With each step she took, her
legs felt heavier, and the ache grew stronger in the old broken bones.
Her terror mounted as the dogs gained on her. Already she could hear
them panting and snarling and snapping their teeth. Gasping for breath,
she forced herself forward, step after torturous step. If she could
just get to Lao Ma, she knew she would be safe. And so she ran on and
on, until finally her legs gave out and she sprawled on the ground,
clutching at Lao Ma's silk robe. "Help me!" she gasped. But Lao Ma
only shook her head. "I cannot help you, Xena," she said sadly. "I
cannot help you until you learn to love peace and forgiveness more than
you love anger and hate." Then, pulling her robe loose from Xena's
grasp, she turned and walked away.
"No!" cried Xena. "Lao Ma!" But the dogs were already upon her,
snarling and ripping into the soft flesh of her belly, sending a shock
wave of pain through her body. She woke with a strangled cry, startled
to find someone standing between her and the fire. Snatching up her
sword, she thrust its point defensively at the intruder. The
silhouetted figure was that of a woman -- a slender woman with dark hair
and dark eyes -- and Xena, in the first moments of fear and pain
following her nightmare, believed it to be Lao Ma. Almost immediately,
she realized her mistake.
"Calandra," she said flatly. "It's about time you showed up. I was
beginning to think you weren't coming."
"Well, it doesn't look like you've had the baby yet," the girl said
offhandedly, "so I guess I'm here in plenty of time. And besides," she
continued, "if I'd known I would be greeted at swordpoint, I might have
reconsidered about coming at all." She slipped off a pack she'd been
carrying over one shoulder and set it down. "Why would you take a thing
like that with you anyway, when you're just going off to a cave to have
Xena slowly lowered the sword, then laid it aside. The flippant tone of
the girl's voice grated harshly on her nerves. "I'm a warrior," she
said coldly. "I don't go anywhere without a weapon."
Calandra shrugged and unwrapped the wool mantle she was wearing over her
linen chiton. Picking up her pack, she moved to the other side of the
fire and laid her belongings down. "It's actually kind of homey in
here, with the fire and all," she said, looking around.
Xena watched her, but felt no need to answer.
The girl moved closer to the fire and held her hands out to warm them.
Looking across at Xena, she now became very businesslike. "When did the
pains begin?" she asked.
"I had dull pains all day, kind of like cramps," the warrior responded.
"Then the sharper pains began around midnight. And my water broke."
"Good," Calandra said, nodding. "I assume you've made an offering to
Hera," she added.
"Why would I do that?"
"Well, to ensure a safe delivery, of course," Calandra said, sounding
Xena laughed. "I don't put much faith in that god stuff," she said.
"The only god I care anything about is Ares, and I doubt if he takes
much interest in the fact that I'm having a baby."
The girl didn't answer, only stared at the warrior and rubbed her hands
together somewhat nervously. After a few moments, she came over and
knelt beside Xena. "I need to check to see how far along you are," she
Xena looked at her and then opened her cloak.
Calandra folded back the tunic and ran her hands over the warrior's
belly, probing gently here and there. "The baby seems to be in a good
position for delivery," she said, then glanced at Xena's face and added,
"Now I'll just find out how much you've opened up."
She slid her hand down and Xena suddenly realized what the girl intended
to do. Biting her lip, she slowly spread her legs apart. The last
woman to touch her in that place had been Lao Ma. She fixed her gaze on
the opposite wall of the cave and resolutely shut out the memory.
"The opening is about two fingers wide right now," Calandra reported,
holding up one hand to demonstrate. "Before the baby can be born, the
opening has to be five fingers wide."
Xena frowned. "How long will that take?" she asked.
Calandra laughed. "If I knew that, I could be the oracle at Delphi,
now, couldn't I? It will take as long as it takes. With every birth,
it's different, but my guess is that it will be at least six or eight
"Six or eight more hours!" Xena exclaimed, slamming her fist down on the
blankets. "I haven't got time for this! I have an army to lead and a
war to fight! What in Zeus' name am I doing stuck here in this wretched
cave waiting for--" She broke off with a small gasp as the pain of a
new contraction caught her by surprise.
"Maybe you should have thought about that before you messed around and
got pregnant," Calandra said, with irritating smugness.
"Getting pregnant wasn't my idea, believe me," Xena said grimly through
Calandra laughed. "Xena, the Destroyer of Nations, finally conquered by
a tiny little baby! That's quite an image, isn't it?" she said. "And
just what are you going to do with the child once it's born?" she went
on. "It's really going to cramp your style to have to nurse a baby out
on the battlefield, isn't it? Have you figured out yet how you're going
to do that?"
"I'm not," Xena said bluntly.
"Oh, you're not. Well what, exactly, are you going to do with the
child?" Calandra asked sarcastically. "Are you going to just kill it,
like you do everyone else who gets in your way? Is that why you brought
the sword? So you could kill your baby as soon as it's born?"
Xena met the girl's gaze unflinchingly, but offered no answer. She saw
Calandra's eyes slowly widen in horror.
"You are, aren't you?" the girl whispered. "You're going to kill your
"What I do with the child is my own business," Xena said, her voice cold
"No, you're wrong about that," Calandra shot back. "You're paying me to
help you deliver a healthy baby, and that makes it my business, too!"
"I'm paying you to help me get through this thing alive."
"Oh, and you don't even care what happens to the baby?"
Xena hesitated for the slightest moment, and then said, "No, I don't."
Calandra sat back on her heels, shaking her head slowly as she continued
to stare at the warrior. "I've never heard a mother talk like this,"
she said finally.
"I'm not a mother," Xena snapped. "I didn't choose to be a mother, and
I refuse to be called by that name!"
"What about the baby's father?" Calandra asked. "Does he feel the same
way? Or do you even know who the father is?" she finished, in a snide
tone of voice.
Instantly, Xena's hands shot out, her fingers deftly targeting the
pressure points on Calandra's neck. The girl gasped in sudden pain and
fear. "What have you done to me?" she choked out.
Xena grinned. "I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain," she said
calmly. "If I don't release the pressure points, you'll die in less
than a minute. That's how easily I can kill you, and don't think I
won't do it, if you make me angry enough." She leaned close to the girl
and tipped her face up so that the frightened dark eyes looked into her
own. "Now, you don't have to like me," she went on. "That's not what
I'm paying you for. I'm paying you to do your job, which does not
include insulting me. I don't like being insulted. It makes me angry
-- especially when I'm in pain. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Good," said the warrior. Then, in a quick motion, she released the
pressure points and sat back against the wall again.
Calandra slumped forward, her body trembling as she drew in great,
ragged breaths. Her long, black hair lay spread across the bedding and
over one of the warrior's legs. Xena felt her rage drain away almost as
quickly as it had come, the physical sensation of it now replaced by a
sharp labor pain. She closed her eyes for a few moments, then opened
them and sat watching the girl's huddled figure, feeling all at once
strangely moved by Calandra's youth and vulnerability. Perhaps she had
acted too harshly. Lao Ma would have said she was using an axe to kill
a mosquito. Xena smiled grimly. Well, it was probably too late to feel
sorry now. The damage had been done. Calandra would likely go running
home to her mother, and the warrior would be left all alone to give
Maybe it would help if she apologized. But apologies had always come
hard for her. She reached out to touch the dark hair where it lay
across her leg. She hesitated and then, finally, she said in a low
voice, "Calandra, I--" She stopped to take a deep breath. "I shouldn't
have done that. I'm sorry."
The girl raised her head and stared at the warrior, but she did not
speak. After a moment, she got slowly to her feet and moved, a bit
unsteadily, to the other side of the fire.
"You're going to leave me now, aren't you?" Xena asked. "Well, go
ahead. Everyone else does."
Again the dark eyes turned to her, and after what seemed like a long
time, Calandra said, "I guess it's really true what they say about you."
"What do they say?"
"That you're a ruthless killer who cares nothing for anyone or anything
Xena sighed. "I suppose that's an accurate description," she said.
"But if you knew I was like that, why did you agree to be my midwife?"
"I guess I didn't quite believe that anyone could be that evil," the
girl said, staring briefly at the fire before looking back at Xena.
"But mainly I agreed to come because of the money," she went on. "Most
of the women whose babies we deliver try to pay us somehow -- maybe with
some vegetables they've grown, or some eggs, or even a whole chicken.
Or sometimes they give us a nice piece of fabric that they've woven.
But the chance to earn as many dinars as you were offering-- I just
couldn't pass that up."
"Don't you have a father to help support you?"
Calandra shook her head. "No, he took off when I was very young and
never came back again," she said. "Since then, my mother has supported
us with her work as a midwife and by doing some sewing and weaving."
Xena was silent for a minute, then she said, "My father left, too, when
I was young. I just woke up one morning and he was gone. My mother
said she didn't think he'd ever come back, and it turned out she was
"So we have something in common," Calandra said.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." Xena looked at the girl for a
moment and then looked away.
Calandra bent to pick up some wood and add it to the fire. "Was it just
you and your mother after he left?"
"No, I had two brothers. We ran a tavern. I guess my mother still
does. I haven't seen her for years."
"Do you miss her?"
"Sometimes," Xena said. "Mostly I try not to think about her."
Struggling to her feet, she walked to the rocks at the back of the
cavern. Another contraction was beginning, but she tried to ignore it.
She knelt down and pulled out a roll of furs and blankets from the pile
of supplies. Then, as the pain increased, she clutched at one of the
rocks and moaned softly.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she looked up to see Calandra bending
over her. "Must be a bad one," the girl said.
"I'll be all right in a minute," Xena muttered.
"Where do you feel the pain?"
"Here," the warrior said, putting a hand on her lower back, "and also
around here in the front."
"Well, I hate to tell you this, but it's going to get quite a bit worse
before it gets better," the young midwife said with a crooked smile.
"Yeah, I know," Xena said grimly. The pain faded and she straightened
up, offering the bedroll to Calandra. "These are for you, if you think
you want to stick around."
"If I promise not to insult you, will you promise not to kill me?" she
"Okay, then I'll stay." Calandra grinned and reached out to take the
bedding. Returning to the fire, she began to lay out her bed across the
fire circle from Xena's. "What kind of food did you bring?" she asked.
"Nothing fancy," Xena said. She stood up and walked to the back wall,
where a basket hung suspended from an outcropping above her head. The
rope which held the basket was knotted around a small boulder, and
untying this, she lowered the basket.
"Why did you hang it up there?" Calandra asked.
"To keep animals out of it."
"Oh. Good idea."
Xena peered into the basket. "It's mostly dried stuff -- fish and
vegetables and fruit. Oh, and a packet of salt and some herbs for
tea." She handed the basket to Calandra, then went back to her own
bedroll and opened the bundle she had brought from the camp. "I've also
got some bread and fresh fruit. Here, put this in the basket," she
said, handing over the food.
"Are you hungry? I can make some fish broth," Calandra said, looking up
at the warrior. "It will help keep up your strength."
"Okay," said Xena, although she didn't feel very hungry.
The girl went to work cutting the dried fish into pieces, while Xena
resumed her restless pacing. For a time, neither of them spoke, but
then Calandra said, "How did you become a warrior?"
Xena sighed. She didn't feel much like being sociable and this girl was
proving to be more talkative than she had expected. "A warlord attacked
our village," she said in a tired voice, "and my brother and I organized
a defense." Xena stopped speaking as a new contraction began. Leaning
against the cave wall, she waited for it to pass, and then began walking
"What happened after that?" Calandra asked. "After you defended your
"I took our little army out and started conquering all the towns around
there. I was just going to make a buffer to keep Amphipolis safe, but
one thing led to another and-- Well, I ended up a warlord myself."
The girl considered this information for a moment, then said, "How old
Xena stood still and stared at her.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have asked that!" the girl said quickly.
"No, it's all right-- It's just--" Xena paused in confusion. "I guess
I don't really know how old I am anymore. I haven't been keeping
track. Let me think." She calculated in silence for a few moments.
"Nineteen," she said finally. "I must be nineteen. Or maybe twenty.
But I really think it's nineteen."
"So you're not much older than I am," Calandra said softly.
"No. Not in years, anyway." Another pain came, and Xena moved to the
back of the cavern and sat on one of the rocks there.
Calandra watched her for a moment and then dumped the fish and some salt
into the cooking pot and set it in the coals at the edge of the fire.
"You must be a good commander," she said. "Otherwise the men wouldn't
follow you into battle."
"Yeah, I'm good," Xena said with a cynical smile. "In fact, leading an
army may be the only thing I'm good at."
Calandra regarded the warrior for a few moments, then asked abruptly,
"Are you going to kill the centaurs?"
"Absolutely!" the warrior said, her smile broadening into a grin. "I'm
going to kill them all! Just as soon as this crazy birthing business is
over, my army is going to wipe them off the face of the earth!"
"But why?" Calandra asked. "Why kill them? What do they have that you
Xena's grin faded and she looked narrowly at the girl. Did Calandra
know about the Ixion stone? How could she? No one in her army even
knew about the stone. Only she and Borias had known, and they had had a
difficult time of it torturing the information out of one of the
centaurs they'd captured. She got up and began to walk again, more
slowly this time. "It's not that they have anything I want," she said,
as casually as possible. "It's just that they are dirty, disgusting
creatures, and the world would be better off without them. That's
reason enough to kill them. Surely the people in the village would
"Yes, some of them would," Calandra admitted. "Some villagers hate the
centaurs, just as you do. But some of us feel differently." She bent
forward to stir the broth, and Xena stopped her pacing and stood
"We've had a lot of contact with the centaurs," the girl went on, "more
than most people have, I guess, since their settlement is so close to
our village. Many of us played with centaur children when we were
young. We attended their celebrations and they often came to ours."
Feeling another contraction beginning, Xena moved slowly back to the
rock and sat down. "So you like the centaurs?" she asked,
"Yeah. Well, I mean they're just like anybody else. Some are more
likable than others." She hesitated, and then added, "My older sister
married one of them."
"Married one of them!" Xena exclaimed. "You've got to be kidding!"
Calandra shook her head.
"You mean to tell me that your sister actually shared a bed with one of
those filthy animals? That she let him--"
"Yes! And he wasn't a filthy animal!" Calandra said fiercely. "He was
kind and brave, and he loved her deeply. They loved each other very
much and they were very happy together!"
The girl turned away and stared into the fire for a minute. Then she
got to her feet and began to pace slowly, as Xena had done. "My sister
died in childbirth two years ago," she said quietly. She stopped a
couple of paces from the warrior and looked at her, then turned away and
went on speaking, as if to the wall of the cave. "My mother and I did
everything we could for her, but the baby was so big, and my sister's
hips were so narrow. Both of them died . . . but only after three days
of horrible agony." Her voice broke and she walked to the wall,
reaching out with one hand to trace a pattern in the stone.
Xena sat watching her, not knowing what to say. She hoped the girl
would go on talking, but she didn't, and when the silence had lasted for
several minutes, the warrior finally felt compelled to break it. "A
Roman I used to know--" she said, and shuddered slightly as Caesar's
image flashed across her mind. "This Roman once told me there was a way
to cut a woman open and take the baby out. In fact, he claimed that he
himself had been delivered by this method."
Calandra turned and looked at her, and Xena was surprised at the depth
of pain she saw in the girl's dark eyes. "Yes, we'd heard of that
procedure, too," she said, "but we weren't sure how it should be done.
My mother had never performed any type of surgery, so she was afraid to
try it -- especially on her own daughter."
"But if you knew your sister was dying-- You might have at least been
able to save the baby. I think I would have taken that risk."
"You would have taken that risk to save a baby centaur?" Calandra asked
Xena looked away. She had forgotten that small detail.
The girl went back to the fire, crouched down, and stirred the contents
of the pot again.
"Calandra," Xena said, "you, of all people, have good reason to hate the
centaurs. It's their fault your sister died. If she hadn't married one
of them, she would be alive today."
The girl sat back on her heels and looked at the warrior. "You have a
strange sense of logic, Xena," she said. "My sister might have died in
childbirth no matter who she married. It wasn't her husband's fault.
He was such a gentle, caring soul. He would have died a thousand times
if that would have kept her from harm. He stayed with her through the
whole ordeal. She died in his arms." She stopped for a moment to brush
her sleeve across her eyes. "He was devastated by her death -- I think
he took it even harder than we did." She looked at Xena again. "I
could never blame Kaleipus for what happened. Never, in a million
"Kaleipus!" Xena said in amazement. "Your sister was married to
Kaleipus, the leader of the centaurs?"
"Well, he wasn't the leader then, but he is now. They couldn't have
chosen a better leader, if you want my opinion. He's so brave and wise,
and he cares so deeply about what is good and right. And he's not the
only one, Xena. There are many wonderful, noble centaurs. All they
want is peace. I don't see why you have to kill them."
Xena stared at her. Her mind was spinning, and the blur of thoughts and
images made it impossible for her to think straight. All she knew for
sure was that another contraction was about to start. "I'm going
outside," she said. "I need some air." Then she lurched awkwardly to
her feet and stumbled out of the cavern.
* * *
She stood on the verge of the stream, feeling the contraction swell and
then ebb within her. The moon had set and only the dim outlines of the
shapes around her were visible in the darkness. Could it be true, she
wondered, staring at the rushing black water. Could it be true that
Kaleipus and the other centaurs were really the fine and noble creatures
Calandra had portrayed them to be? The girl was young and had seen
little of the world. What did she know of goodness? Or of evil,
either, for that matter? Xena, on the other hand, was well acquainted
with evil. She knew that the centaurs were evil. She had been told so
by many people. How could all those people be wrong?
But she could not shake the image of Kaleipus holding his dying wife in
his arms. This was not the Kaleipus she had seen on the battlefield.
The warrior Kaleipus was a skilled fighter, fierce and brave -- she
would grant him that. But she had never imagined that he or any centaur
was capable of human emotions such as love or grief. Yet Calandra would
have her believe that such a thing was possible.
She sighed in frustration and raked her fingers distractedly through her
tangled hair. She might have dismissed the girl's story more easily if
it had not been for the fact that Borias had described the centaurs to
her in much the same terms. "Noble," "generous," "honest" -- why had he
used those words? And how had he come to see their enemies in such a
positive light? Well, Borias was dead now and she would never know what
had happened to change his thinking. It was just like him, though. He
had always been thinking, always trying to understand his opponents and
defeat them in some clever mind game. She herself had had neither the
inclination nor patience for such nonsense. Those who wouldn't give in
to her demands would simply be killed. That was the best way, the
But it took a strong army to do things her way. It took a lot of
power. That was why she needed the Ixion stone. And that was why
Borias had apparently decided she shouldn't have it. What had he said
to her that night? She cast back in her mind, trying to recall. "That
much evil power doesn't belong in the hands of someone like you." That
was what he had said. And she had responded sarcastically, "Oh, and it
does belong in the hands of someone like you?" "No," he'd said,
"neither one of us should have such power. The centaurs understand that
and they will die before they let us get ahold of that stone." "Fine!"
she'd said. "Let them die then. One way or another we'll still get the
stone." "Not if they're all dead," he had said, wrapping his hand
around the back of her head and pulling her roughly close so that he was
speaking right into her face. "Not if they're all dead and no one is
left to tell us where the stone is hidden." Then, releasing her
abruptly, he had turned and stalked out of the tent.
That was his way, she thought. He had always been so logical about
things, always trying to think things through instead of acting from the
gut as she did. But why had he betrayed her? She still didn't
understand it. When he betrayed her in Chin, the reason was obvious --
he was angry because she wrecked his negotiations, first with Ming Tzu
and then with Lao Ma. And then he saw a way to profit from her
kidnapping of the boy, Ming T'ien. Anger and greed -- those had been
his motives, and they were motives she could easily comprehend.
But this thing with the centaurs -- that had been a different matter.
Had Borias really been so convinced of the nobility of the enemy that he
had gone over to their side? Had he so feared the consequences of
Xena's getting hold of the Ixion stone that he had acted unselfishly for
the greater good? She supposed that it was possible. But maybe he had
only pretended to befriend the centaurs so that he could get the Ixion
stone for himself. She swore softly under her breath. She would never
know, for the grave would never reveal its secrets.
Turning, she walked back to the boulder at the cave entrance and slammed
the palm of her hand against it. "Borias, you bastard," she muttered.
"How could you leave me like that?" She leaned against the cold, rough
surface for a moment, then pushed herself away and paced back toward the
creek. He hadn't wanted her to have the power of the Ixion stone.
Well, she would show him! She would get it anyway. There was no way he
could stop her now.
The pain came again, not sharp this time, but an aching in her lower
back. She felt the child moving within her and laid her hands on her
belly. Then, for no reason at all, she began to think about Lao Ma
again. Lao Ma had been through this. She had known the pain of giving
birth. But unlike Xena, she had wanted her child, had wanted and loved
him fiercely, even though Ming Tzu had sold her away to Lao and kept the
boy for himself. Xena had not known, when she kidnapped the strange,
silent child, that Ming T'ien was Lao Ma's son. Not that it would have
made much difference. At that point, Xena would have simply viewed the
corrupting of Ming T'ien as revenge for Lao Ma's civilizing influence on
Borias. And she had done her best to corrupt the boy, teaching him what
she herself had learned only by bitter experience -- that love was a
fraud and that those who claimed to love you would only betray you in
the end, betray you or reject you. Love was a thing of weakness, an
emotion not to be trusted or believed in. That was what she had taught
Ming T'ien. And she had taught him, too, the power of fear, that you
could make people do anything you wanted them to if they were afraid of
She started at the sound of her name, and turned quickly toward the
cave. In the dim light, she could just make out the figure of a woman
with long, dark hair. "Lao Ma!" she exclaimed softly.
There was no answer for several moments, then the young woman said, "The
broth is ready, if you want some," and disappeared behind the boulder.
Xena walked slowly back to the cavern, entered, and sat awkwardly on her
bedroll. Calandra brought her a steaming bowl of broth and a large
piece of bread, then returned to the other side of the fire and poured a
bowl of broth for herself. Sitting cross-legged on her blanket, the
girl regarded the warrior for a time in silence. Finally, she said,
"What was that name you called me?"
"What name?" asked Xena, dipping her bread in the broth and chewing off
"I don't know. It was a strange name -- Lao or something like that."
"Yeah, that was it. I heard you say it once before, when I first got
here. I think you were having a nightmare or something."
Xena glanced at the girl, then lifted her bowl with both hands and
sipped from it.
"So who is he? Or she?" asked Calandra.
"A woman I knew in the Kingdom of Chin," Xena said flatly.
"The Kingdom of Chin? Where is that?"
"It's to the east, many weeks' journey from here."
"What were you doing there?"
"Mostly killing people," Xena said matter-of-factly. Then she bit into
her bread and tore off a mouthful, watching the girl's reaction.
Calandra grimaced and sipped her broth. "Was Borias there, too?" she
"Borias? What do you know about Borias?"
"Just that the centaurs consider him to be a great friend -- a hero
"Oh," Xena said, raising her bowl to her mouth again.
"So was Borias there?" Calandra persisted. "Was he in that Chin place
with you? Did he kill people, too?"
"Oh yes, he was there," Xena said with an evil grin, "and I'm sure he
killed at least as many people as I did."
The girl chewed her bread silently for a time, then asked abruptly, "Is
he the father of your baby?"
"You ask too many questions," Xena grumbled. She tipped her bowl up and
drank the rest of her broth. Then, wiping her mouth on her sleeve, she
glanced over at Calandra and saw that the girl was still waiting for an
answer. "Yes," she said finally. "Borias is the father."
"What did he think about the baby? Did he think it should be killed?"
"He didn't know about the baby. He betrayed me," Xena said bitterly.
"He betrayed me and deserted me. I never got the chance to tell him."
Calandra got up and moved around the fire to take Xena's bowl. "Are you
the one who killed him?" she asked.
"No," the warrior said in a tired voice. "I ordered him captured and
brought to me unharmed. I don't know who killed him."
"Did you love him?"
Xena stared at the girl as a sudden realization struck her. Looking
down at her swollen belly, she said in amazement, "The pains have
"Yeah. I haven't had one since I came back in here."
"Did you have any while you were outside?"
"One or two, but they were weaker than before."
Calandra crouched down beside Xena, setting the empty bowl aside. She
felt the position of the baby and then checked the opening again.
"Three fingers," she said and sat back on her heels.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked anxiously. "Why did the contractions stop?"
Calandra shrugged. "It happens sometimes. My mother says it happens
when a baby is having second thoughts about being born." She gave the
warrior a hard look. "Would you want to be born, knowing that your
mother was waiting to kill you as soon as you came out?" she asked.
Xena looked at her without answering.
Calandra picked up the empty broth bowl and stood up. "The contractions
will start again," she said. "In the meantime, I suggest you get some
sleep, if you can."
Xena sat there, still without moving, watching the girl cleaning up the
bowls and adding wood to the fire.
After several minutes, Calandra looked over at her. She hesitated, then
came back around the fire and knelt next to the warrior. "Why don't you
take your cloak off," she said. "Then you can lie down and I'll cover
you with it."
Xena unfastened the cloak and leaned forward so that Calandra could take
it off of her. But when the girl reached over to do so, Xena laid a
hand on her arm. "Isn't there some way to get the contractions started
again?" she asked urgently. "Some herbs or something? I need to get
this over with. I have to get back to my army."
Calandra shook her head. "The baby will be born when it's ready," she
said. "You can't make it come any faster just by willing it."
"Stop willing," a gentle voice repeated in Xena's head. It was the
voice of Lao Ma.
Calandra patted the blanket beside the warrior. "Just lie down and try
to rest," she said.
Xena stretched out on her back and Calandra spread the cloak over her.
"Do you want to take your boots off?" the girl asked.
"Yeah," said Xena and started to sit up again.
"Lie still. I'll do it."
Xena hesitated, then sank back down on the blankets, wondering how bad
her feet smelled after not having been washed for a couple of days.
Letting someone else take care of her made her feel distinctly
uncomfortable. She much preferred to take care of herself.
Calandra unlaced the boots and pulled them off, then gently began to
massage one of the warrior's feet.
"What are you doing?" Xena demanded, pushing herself up on her elbows.
"I'm rubbing your feet," the girl said with a smile. "Just lie back and
Xena lay down again. "Is that part of your job," she asked, "rubbing
pregnant women's stinky feet?"
"It's part of my job to help you relax, so it will be easier for the
baby to be born."
"I'm not very good at relaxing," Xena said.
"Well, try to, anyway. Does this feel good, what I'm doing to your
"Just close your eyes, then, and think about how it feels."
Reluctantly, Xena closed her eyes, then took a few slow, deep breaths.
"Do you know what I like to think about when I'm trying to relax?"
"What?" mumbled Xena, having no real interest in knowing.
"I like to imagine that I'm just sort of floating in a great big pool of
Xena didn't answer. The girl's small hands and soothing movements
reminded her of Lao Ma's. Little by little, she felt the tension
sliding away from her heavy body. And then, at last, she sank into the
soft darkness of sleep.
Continue to Part Three...
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