"Why Do You Submit?"
by Alan Plessinger
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstories used in "Why Do You Submit?" are the sole property of MCA/Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.
Gabrielle, my Gabrielle, was growing more and more furious. She paced back and forth in my cell, building up a head of steam, getting angrier and angrier.
"Why do you always do this?" she shouted. "You stand up to kings, gods, warlords, but fifty-one percent of some little town elects this boob chief magistrate and you submit to him like a whipped dog!"
"Heís not a boob, Gabrielle. Heís a good man. He knows the facts and he knows the law."
"Xena, you canít allow him to do this to you. He doesnít understand."
"It doesnít matter that Iím guilty?"
"Yes, youíre guilty, youíre guilty of plenty of things. So why didnít you just turn yourself in a long time ago?"
"Maybe I should have," I said.
"Are we going to pretend again, that it was a different person that did all these things?"
Gabrielle stood close to me and took my face in her hands. Dear God, how I loved her.
"Xena, youíre the greatest warrior Iíve ever known, and this is just war by another means. When we go into that courtroom, Xena, you are going to fight for your freedom, side by side, with me. Iím not fighting your legal battles alone, this time. If you sit there in silence, like youíve done before, I swear Iím going to slap your face right in front of everyone!"
"Oh, wouldnít I? Just watch me. Weíre going to convince the magistrate that youíve paid for your crimes a dozen times over."
"And if we donít?"
"Then weíre leaving. If he canít see the truth then heís not worth bothering about."
"Look at this, jail, Xena! This place is a joke! You could bust out of here without even trying hard. Itís almost like they want you to leave."
"Gabrielle, please try and understand. I need to take responsibility for the things Iíve done."
"This is the gallows, Xena!"
She let go of me. She took a few steps back, and looked at me. Then she shook her head.
"You wonít do it," she said. "I donít know what Iím worried about. You wonít submit to these fools. Xena Warrior Princess in chains, allowing herself to be led up the steps, allowing the noose to be put around her neck. Itís ridiculous. Itís funny."
"I suppose I didnít allow myself to be sent to Shark Island Prison, then."
Once again she shook her head, like I was a recalcitrant child. She banged on the door of the cell for the guard to let her out.
"I need to do some studying," she said. "Iíll be back in a few hours. Weíll prepare your case."
And she was gone.
I went to the window of my cell and watched her leave. If I really had no more than a few days of life left to me, I wasnít about to deny myself that view.
I heard some hammering in the distance. They were putting up the gallows.
Extra guards had been brought in from somewhere to handle my execution. I could hear them marching.
I remember Gabrielle once asked me, after a particularly successful battle, after the cheers of the villagers had died down, "Donít you enjoy this, Xena?"
I didnít know how to answer. Itís true, we had beaten back a tyrant with no loss of blood or life on our side, and the villagers were happy, Gabrielle was happy, everybody was happy but me. I was relieved, but nothing more.
I realize, now, that the reason I couldnít answer that question was because it was the wrong question. Itís as though I were to say, "Gabrielle, do you enjoy breathing in and out? You do it very often."
I donít hate it and I donít enjoy it. I do it because I need to do it in order for my soul to survive. That is all. And I canít believe it has to end this way.
I donít fear death. Been there, done that. I donít fear pain, or hunger, or cold. The only thing Iím afraid of is an eternity without my sweet Gabrielle.
Gabrielle turned and smiled at me. She knew Iíd be watching her.
The night before I was to be executed, I had a dream. I dreamed there was no Gabrielle.
My life was the same, traveling from town to town, fighting for the greater good wherever I was needed. But I knew there was something missing from my life. I had a vague, aching longing, but I couldnít put a name to it.
The reaction to me was the same reaction the villagers of Poteidaia had, that night I met my soulmate. Thank you very much, now move on. I was trouble. No one was glad to see me, everyone was glad to see me leave. Villagers whispered behind my back. They gave me nervous looks. Children were frightened of me.
I told myself it no less than I deserved. I tried not to care.
One night I was given a burlap sack of bread and cheese and meat, and asked to move on. I asked if I could eat indoors, because it was raining. I was told no. I looked at the faces of every villager in that little inn, looking for someone who wasnít scared or nervous at the sight of me, looking for some gratitude for what I had done for them. Nothing.
I went outside and stood under the eaves, looking at the downpour, clutching my little bundle. My wounds ached in the damp.
I thought, "They canít do this to me. They canít treat me like a dog, after all Iíve done for them."
I went back inside and sat down, and began eating.
The innkeeper, a huge man, came over and said, "Leave, Xena. No one wants you here."
"Iíll leave when Iím done."
"Go to Tartarus."
He grabbed me, and I knocked him down. He came at me again. I stood and drew my sword. He froze.
Other men were standing, drawing their weapons. I looked at them, and I saw the courage in their eyes. They were willing to fight to protect their town. They were the heroes. I was the tyrant.
Damn it! Didnít they understand that things had changed?
Or maybe they hadnít changed much after all.
I sheathed my sword, grabbed my little bundle and left.
I marched out into the rain, thinking that it wasnít supposed to be like this. I headed toward Argo. My stomach muscles tightened, and I fell to my knees. I slumped against a fence post and started crying. I looked around in a panic, because no one should see me cry. There was no one I could trust enough to allow them to see my tears.
I looked up into the rain. I was all alone, no friends, no love in my life, no one to trust me or believe in me, no one who cared if I lived or died. My own mother hated me, and I couldnít blame her.
I thought that if only I could put a name to that missing part of my life, that would be the key. And suddenly I had a name. And I threw back my head and shouted that name into the night.
"What is it? Whatís wrong?"
I had awakened her. They were allowing her to spend our last night together in my jail cell. She was asleep in my arms.
"Shhh, itís OK. Itís alright, just a bad dream," I said, as though she had cried out instead of me. "Go back to sleep."
I didnít think my Gabrielle would be willing to leave it at that, but she was. She drifted back to sleep, but only after she murmured, "Youíll never submit, Xena. I know you. Youíll never allow them to do this to you."
"Shhh," I said.
The moonlight was streaming into the cell, glinting off my chakram in the corner. Gabrielle had smuggled it into the cell, as usual.
She was right. Security in this place was a joke. Maybe they really did want me to escape.
But I had been found guilty. Gabrielle fought passionately. She argued that the court had no jurisdiction, since I was a powerful force for good throughout all of Greece, not just this little town, and it would require the ruling of a higher court to end my role as protector of the innocent.
I helped Gabrielle as much as I could. I would never dispute that I was guilty, but I asked the court that I be allowed to continue to atone for my crimes in my own way.
But the law doesnít work like that.
I lifted my eyes heavenward and prayed to the One True God. I had been praying to Him quite a lot recently. I wanted to believe that there was one Deity out there who was actually worthy of my prayers, and I was determined to believe that of Him until I was proven otherwise.
"Dear God, I know I have to do this, but itís so damn hard. I try to have faith that thereís a higher purpose in all of this. I want to believe that this wouldnít happen without a reason. But itís so hard, God, itís just so hard to let go of this perfect love. After all our fights and all the terrible things weíve done to each other, our love still feels stronger every day. And I just canít say goodbye to her, even though I think itís the right thing to do. So Iím praying, God, but I donít know what Iím praying for. I suppose Iím asking for the strength to go through with this, if thatís what I should do. And if it isnít what I should do, then please let me see that. And wherever I wind up, please just let us be together. Please. Please."
One little tear fell from me. That was about all I could allow myself.
"Dear God, all my life Iíve felt like a woman with a part of me missing. As though I was missing an arm or a leg. And then Gabrielle came into my life, and it seemed to me that maybe she was missing a leg, too. And I thought that maybeÖif we could just hold onto each other, as tight as we possibly couldÖmaybeÖbetween the two of usÖmaybe we couldÖsomehowÖlearn to dance."
My soulmate stirred in my arms. I stroked her lovely face. She let out a sigh of satisfaction.
My dream was one that seldom occurred in real life. When we came to a town that needed our help, Gabrielle made it her business to get to know as many of the villagers as she could on a first name basis. She had started doing that our first year together. And the few times they tried to treat me that way, Gabrielle was quite capable of staring them down and calling them all by their first names, berating them and making them feel ashamed.
There was only one time she was unable to turn them around. We were forced on our way, and Gabrielle couldnít believe that they could treat us that way. It was always "us", never "me". She fumed about it for a week afterwards. At one point she looked at me quizzically and said, "Arenít you mad?"
And I impulsively hugged her. I didnít do that with anyone but Gabrielle.
No, Gabrielle, Iím not mad. I didnít have to be. You did it for me.
And I love you for it.
Gabrielle left in the morning. She hugged me and said, "Iíll see you later."
"Gabrielle," I said, "Respect my wishes."
She hugged me again, and whispered into my ear, "I canít rescue you without your help."
The guards led her out.
They manacled my wrists together behind my back, then they manacled my ankles. The chain holding my ankles together was long enough for me to take strides of normal length. So I could at least have a little bit of dignity as I was led to my death, rather than having to hobble my way to the gallows like a comical figure.
I stood on the trap door as they put the noose around my neck. I scanned the crowd for Gabrielle, but she was nowhere to be found. She couldnít watch me die.
I squinted into the sun and wondered what eternity would be like, this time. Would I be back? How many second chances does one woman get?
They asked me if I had any last words. For some reason, I thought of the old barroom joke about the first man who was ever hung. In answer to the same question, he says, "Yes. I donít think this damn thing is safe!"
But I shook my head and said nothing.
And suddenly Gabrielle was there. She was everywhere, it seemed, fighting her way to the gallows with her sais, past a phalanx of guards. They were converging on her from all over. It looked to me like they would be too much for her.
Oh, Gabrielle, why couldnít you just accept my decision? Iím not worth fighting for. Iím not worth dying for. Canít you see that? And now you need my help, and I canít save you. Thereís nothing I can do.
They were releasing the trapdoor, but there was some problem with it. I could feel it jerking back and forth beneath me as they tried to spring the catch. This was it. I had only seconds of life left in me.
Gabrielle. Goodbye, Gabrielle.
"I canít do it. I canít. I want to live! Damn it, I deserve to live!"
I amazed myself with my own thoughts. Then the trapdoor sprung, but I had already leapt into the air. Next I was hanging upside down from the crossbeam by the chain that held my ankles together, like a trout on a gaff. I couldnít do anything while that blasted noose was around my neck, and I couldnít get the manacles off my wrists without something to pick the lock.
Then Gabrielle came running up the steps, armed with a sword sheíd grabbed from somewhere. So much for being outnumbered. She sliced quickly and cleanly through the rope that held my neck to the crossbeam. She helped me down, and I quickly scanned the crowd and saw at least three soldiers with crossbows aimed in our direction.
"Gabrielle, get off the platform, now!" I yelled, and for once she did what I told her. She landed and tucked into a roll. The three arrows sailed in my direction. I leaped high into the air, flipped my body and caught one of the arrows behind my back.
An arrow. What a perfect thing to pick a lock with. I was quickly out of my wrist manacles before any guard could get to me.
I looked to my Gabrielle, hoping to see her impressed. When had I become so vain and petty that I started doing these impossible stunts just to impress her? My eyes found her sweet face, but she was so happy that Iíd decided to live, she had no time to be impressed.
Sheíd grabbed the keys to my leg manacles from somewhere. Iíd lost track of the guard who had them. Two soldiers came at her from two different directions, and she tossed the keys to me and prepared to face the attackers.
I caught the keys, and undid the manacles holding my ankles together. The soldiers still couldnít get to me because of Gabrielle.
Two swords came at her from two sides. She caught them both in her sais. And then it was my turn to be impressed.
She flipped into the air, and twisted the swords out of the soldierís hands!
When did she learn to that? My Gabrielle has been holding out on me.
She tossed both swords in my direction. I caught them just in time to begin defending myself, as a few of the guards got past Gabrielle.
As soon as I had a chance, I whistled for Argo. I heard her come galloping. I had no idea where theyíd been keeping her, and I didnít care. I mounted, and rode straight for Gabrielle. With one arm I lifted her up and behind me as I had done so many times before.
We passed the chief magistrate who had sentenced me. I looked him straight in the eyes. I tried to show him I had nothing but respect for both the office and the man, as I said, "Iím sorry. I couldnít."
I have no idea if he heard me, but I believe I saw acceptance in his eyes. Or maybe I just wanted to believe that.
We were being pursued on horseback, but we just had time to pass the stables and let Gabrielle call out for her own horse, Quill. We galloped together away from the town, the soldiers in hot pursuit. I thought Gabrielle would want to switch to her own horse. I kept expecting her to let go of me and jump to Quill, but she never did, and it wasnít because she was afraid to.
As she held me tighter and tighter, and as I felt her cry and tremble against me, I realized what it was.
She didnít want to let go of me.
We lost our pursuers. It wasnít hard.
When we couldnít hear them any more, we stopped and dismounted. Gabrielle wouldnít let go of me, and she wouldnít stop crying. She hadnít cried since Ephinyís funeral.
"Hey, itís OK," I said. "Iím alright. Itís OK."
"Damn it, why do you have to put me through this? Why does it take something like this to make you realize what you mean to me?"
"Iím sorry. You were right and I was wrong. I couldnít go through with it. You know me better than I do, Gabrielle."
"No, I donít. I thought you were going to let them do it. I was so damn mad at you. Xena, please donít ever put me through that again."
"You know that if it wasnít for youÖ"
"Gabrielle, I shouldíve done the honorable thing. This is nothing to be proud of."
"I donít care if youíre proud or ashamed. Long as youíre alive."
"So now Iím officially an outlaw. And youíre an accomplice. Now weíll be hunted wherever we travel. Persecuted, pursued, always on the run, harassed wherever we go."
Gabrielle let go of me, and took a step backwards. She looked at me quizzically.
"So whatís going to change?"
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