To Die by the Sword
By Leslie Ann Miller
Disclaimers - The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sex/Violence Warnings - Two women who love each other, but nothing graphic. No violence in this piece, either.
About the story - I wrote this as an entry for the Fourth Bard's Challenge, with a deadline of June 10, 2001. However, I finished it long before FIN 1&2 aired. It won second place.
Many thanks to my beta reader, Ellen, for her excellent assistance.
"He that leadeth into captivity shall go into
captivity; he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword."
- Bhagavad Gita (Song Celestial: 4)
I wake before the sun has risen, the barest touch of
silver visible through the pines as it tickles the eastern horizon. I've always
loved this time, even in my warlord days. It was always easy to steal a moment
of quiet solitude before the troops began to stir. Even now, when it's just
me and Gabrielle, it gives me a chance to watch her sleeping, something that
would normally fill my heart with more peace than I ever thought possible.
Gently, I extricate myself from her warm arms, careful to tuck the sleeping furs around her neck and chin so the chill, pre-dawn air won't wake her with its cold touch. With a heavy heart, I note that she is again frowning in her sleep, the slight crinkle between her eyebrows telling a story of unhappiness more eloquent than any words.
This -- and the nightmares -- started after she killed Korah in the desert. Though we haven't spoken of it in months, I know his murder still weighs heavily on her soul. It's as if a bit of the light in her face and eyes has been extinguished by that act, replaced by the shadow of guilt and self-loathing.
They are feelings I understand only too well, and yet there is nothing I can do to help Gabrielle work through them. I hate my helplessness in the face of her misery, and curse the irony of it. Gabrielle can forgive me for all my evil past, all the lives I've taken, innocent and guilty she can forgive anyone the most grievous crimes committed against her personally -- yet she can't forgive herself for one mistake.
I rise stiffly, feeling the ache of too many past wounds and the strain of abused muscles. Damned if I wasn't starting to feel my years. I could still kick Ares' butt, but old age is an enemy I can't kill with any weapon. To live by the sword is to die by the sword, and most warriors die young. I've lived longer than I ought, given the brutality of my life. I snort softly to myself. Unnatural, that I've died more than once, yet here I am, starting to feel the cold in my bones like an old woman.
I stoke the fire quietly. Gabrielle will appreciate the warmth when she gets up. I look back at her, so vulnerable in her sleep.
Vulnerable, yet not so. My eyes stray to the sais in her boots. Gabrielle is a warrior now, too.
I sigh. Hasn't she always wanted to be like me, a warrior? I'll never forget how pleased she was when she first heard herself called the Battling Bard of Potideia. It meant she was recognized for her fighting abilities, and rightfully so. She is not yet my equal, but even Ares sees her potential. For all her kindness and compassion, her sais are as lethal as her smile is disarming.
She's come so far from the young girl who chased after me all those years ago.
While it's true she tried to follow the path of peace for a while, it proved to be an impossible choice with me as her chosen companion. Any path is all right, Xena, as long as it's with you. Any path, she said, but it is my path she wound up on and have I ever really given her any choice in that? The constant danger, the daily battles the path of the warrior, the life of the sword. To be with me, she had to accept them, deal with them. She is a bard at heart, but she's chosen the path of the warrior to be with me.
I look away, unable to bear the shadows cast on her face by the firelight.
Gods be damned. To live by the sword is to die by the sword. Warriors die young. What kind of life is this for Gabrielle? In my quest for self-redemption, I've led her on a path that put that cursed frown on her face. The light of her innocence and youth is gone, her smile of pure joy is a thing of the past. How empty she looked after the attack on Helicon! Empty and unhappy.
And now my peaceful mornings are burdened with a new source of guilt. As if I didn't have enough already.
I settle myself on a cold stone and take out my sword to begin sharpening the blade. Dammit! Why can't she just forgive herself so we can get on with life? Warriors kill. She has to get used to it. Live with it, just like I do.
Just like I do.
You know, it's funny. I'm usually a pretty insightful person, particularly when it comes to the motivations of others, but it took me until this moment to realize that I can be pretty dense about myself.
Gabrielle is living with it just like I do. Guilt, self-loathing, self-condemnation and doubt -- they're old friends of mine, aren't they? Isn't she trying to redeem herself now, just like I am? Oh, the degree is different -- she doesn't have the deaths of entire villages on her hands -- but the results are the same. For years I believed that the quickest solution to any problem was to settle it with a sword. That, after all, was the warrior's way. Gabrielle, in her innocence, taught me differently, but now that she, too, is a warrior, it seems that she is also quick to draw her weapons. Look at how she urged me to kill Borias's son, Belach; her younger self would never have done that.
Maybe she was right, and maybe we've come full circle. She is blossoming into a fine young warrior with bloodshed as her quick response, and I am looking for a peaceful way out.
That's it, isn't it?
I am looking for a peaceful way out. Yes, I am getting tired of this life. Death, bloodshed, violence. I feel my age in more than just my bones; I feel it in my soul. Maybe I picked up something in that future life when I was the Mother of Peace. Maybe I picked it up from Eli or my daughter. But there is a better way. Maybe it's not possible for me in this life, with my past and my history. Maybe it isn't possible for Gabrielle, given her life with me. Maybe we're both doomed to live by the sword and die by the sword. Maybe one or both of us is destined to die young. Permanently.
I feel the tears on my cheeks, but I ignore them. I love this woman with all my heart. She is my salvation. She is my future. I can't imagine living without her, and I know she feels the same about me. I no longer want to die by the sword; I don't want her to die by the sword. I want to live -- truly live. I want to share long years filled with warmth, comfort, and love with this beautiful, courageous woman beside me. My soulmate. My bard. My Gabrielle.
I firmly believe that we have some choice in our fates. We have a choice in our paths. Gabrielle has chosen to follow me, -- but I can choose where I lead her.
Maybe it's time I change our course.
Maybe it's time to slow down.
Maybe I can learn to forgive myself, so Gabrielle can learn to do the same.
The first orange rays of sunlight pierce the trees and fall on Gabrielle as I sheath my sword and kneel beside her. The disquiet in her face isn't so troubling now that the sun has chased the shadows away, and the sense of peace that the morning used to bring me has returned. I have a plan, and it is always good to have a plan.
I kiss her cheek. Wake up, sleepyhead.
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