Disclaimer: Xena:Warrior Princess is a trademark of Renaissance Pictures. Story mine, main characters not.
© March 1998 Charmer
'Why is the sky so purple?' Xena whispered aloud.
'It is your sky, Xena. As purple as your banner, and the colour of your soul.'
The warrior tried to see who had answered. It had been a female voice, softly spoken and gently refined. It was one she didn't recognise.
But she found that she couldn't turn; and her wrists were pinned wide.
Am I upright or lying down? she wondered hazily, for she couldn't tell. Her feet were lost to her, the sense of them forfeit within the limits of her flesh, or perhaps beyond. She flexed the muscles in her legs, and didn't know if her limbs moved or not. Where was the ground?
She felt hot, and passed her tongue across dry lips. Slowly she twisted her head. There was no other real pain, but now she saw the pure-spun threads that trapped her arms. There was nothing to them, nothing at all. Delicate and quietly iridescent, these crimson ribbons wouldn't hold a baby still. She pulled against them.
'You won't break those, Xena. I traded golden arrows for them in the north. Not even the Wolf can shred this silk.'
Xena tried to turn again, twisting against the impossible bonds. Was that the rigidity of a scaffold at her back, or unseen oblivion? Where did the light come from? Whose was the voice?
'Who are you?' she asked.
The speaker drifted into view, lending a seamless presence to the unknown void. The woman was tall, her build slim and athletic beneath a one-shoulder tunic of painful white. Her hair was straight and fair, lifting softly in an unknown breeze, and her eyes were blue-grey. She didn't seem quite real.
'I am Diana,' she said.
'Are you a god?'
Diana smiled. 'Who isn't these days?'
Xena frowned, and struggled again. She could hardly move, she realised. 'Where am I?' she asked.
'I'm not sure. I'm not familiar with your territory.'
The woman's smile dissolved. Her face was beautiful and strong, but there was a deep melancholy behind those grey eyes. Xena noticed that there was a fresh graze on the vision's forehead. Surprised to find a wounded god, the warrior studied her more closely, and glimpsed the bruised edges of a lesion that lay beneath the fabric at her chest.
'Gabrielle is at your side,' Diana told her. 'She tends your fever, bathes your wounds, and weeps for your soul.'
Xena's heartbeat quickened. 'Am I dead?'
'Did you listen?'
'Am I dying?'
The warrior inhaled sharply, and fixed a blue gaze on the strange goddess. 'Release me,' she said.
Her captor shook her head once, very slightly. 'No.'
Her anger building, Xena fought to free herself. Her strength seemed to have no measure against the ethereal yarn that held her.
'Don't fight Gleipnir,' Diana chided gently. 'These trimmed scraps would give a titan pause.'
Xena found her breath again. 'Why have you bound me?'
'So you can't run. There are questions which must be put to you, Xena.'
'I don't answer to the gods,' the warrior said shortly.
'These aren't our questions. These are questions asked by the world, and questions you should ask of yourself.'
'So,' Xena sneered, 'you're the goddess of questions. How quaint.'
Diana's expression remained neutral. 'I'm the goddess of the hunt.'
Xena's brow furrowed. 'Then you're Artemis?'
'No. Artemis won't face you.'
Xena laughed unpleasantly. 'Artemis is afraid of me?' she asked, almost believing it.
'You're supremely arrogant, Xena. Artemis is a noble god. You fought her amazons, and tried to murder her amazon queen. She knows that if she faces you she will destroy you. She does you a favour, as I do one for her.'
The warrior scowled. Her tone grew sullen. 'What do you want?'
Light and colours shifted around them, and it seemed to Xena that this singular void was hemming her in. The oddly-hued sky appeared closer than before.
The goddess didn't seem to notice and merely inclined her head. 'When do you plan to heal your soul?'
Xena stared at her. 'What?'
'You heard me, Xena. When will you mend what you have broken?'
The warrior was confused by the question. Her mouth twitched.
When Xena didn't reply Diana moved. The goddess edged closer and slipped behind Xena's outstretched arm to hover at her shoulder. She spoke quietly.
'Do you realise that Hades is mourning in the depths?'
Xena blinked. This question made even less sense than the first, and she felt like saying so. But other words came out.
'No. Why does he mourn?'
Diana sighed. 'He mourns because you might die.'
Xena was startled. 'Hades mourns for me?'
'No, arrogant warrior. Hades mourns for himself. If you die now, what will he do? Not all mortals are blessed with the other halves of their souls. For those that are, when death separates them they're soon rejoined in Hades' realm.'
Xena tried to look round to meet her eyes, but found it impossible.
'One day Gabrielle will travel to Elysia; but what kind of Elysia will she find, without the soul that she has come to know?'
It took Xena a few moments to respond. 'You're saying I'm destined for Tartarus?'
Diana almost snapped at her; but not quite. 'Of course you're destined for Tartarus, Xena. Your crimes are immense, and you so rarely show remorse.'
Xena tensed. 'I live with my guilt every day.'
'No you don't. You shun the blame.'
'That's not true!' the warrior gasped. 'Not true... I know I'm guilty,' her voice faltered.
'Do you?' the goddess wondered, 'then answer this... when you told Gabrielle about Cirra, did you tell her you were to blame for those innocent lives?'
'Of course I did. It was my army that destroyed Cirra.'
'Your army. Yes, you blamed the fire on your men, or on an accident,' her tone grew mocking, 'on an act of god.'
'I always blamed myself for those deaths,' the warrior argued.
'No, you said that Callisto blamed you. And who did you shed your tears for, Xena? Were they for Callisto? Were they for the butchered villagers? Or were they for yourself?'
'Let me go!' Xena snarled, jerking her face away. 'You're twisting the truth.'
'It's in truth's nature to be twisted,' came the response.
She felt the goddess move behind her. Diana stood at her other shoulder now, and leaned in closer.
'And then there's Britannia,' she said.
Xena swallowed. She felt so thirsty. 'What about it?' she muttered harshly.
'You've never admitted responsibility for that.'
A solid darkness fell across Xena's face, and her voice became a dangerous growl. 'What do you mean?'
'Only that your lust for revenge took Gabrielle there; and that your obsession with humiliating Caesar left a demon free to enter the world...'
'I couldn't have known...'
'... Though Ares warned you, but you paid him no heed, and Gabrielle was raped by an evil god.'
Xena froze. Her jaw hardened into rock.
'Oh...' Diana added softly, 'forgive my tasteless semantics, Xena. It must so damage your pride to know how much you failed your friend. Tell me, how jealous were you of Gabrielle's affection for her child?'
The goddess watched in silence while Xena struggled furiously. She waited a long time until the warrior had exhausted herself in a fit of helpless rage. Eventually Xena calmed again, but only because her muscles refused to fight.
After long moments Diana continued. 'And who helped Caesar get to Britannia? You.'
Xena's chest rose and fell heavily. Wearily she shook her head.
'No. Not me.'
'Yes. Caesar is your responsibility too.'
'I didn't create Caesar!' Xena hissed.
'But your greed ransomed him for republican gold, and with it he bought himself the power to conquer the world.' Diana's voice lowered to a whisper. 'Now our republic gives way to Caesar's dictatorship and thousands suffer and die. Because of you.'
'No! I won't take the blame for Caesar's victims!'
'Yet for Hope's victims you blame Gabrielle...'
Xena flung her head back. Above her the sky was darkening, and seemed closer than ever. Heavy clouds rolled in from the horizon, black and purple churning together in a threatening dance.
'You made a promise to her,' Diana continued. 'That night by the fire you made a promise to her, and you broke it. Do you admit that much?'
The warrior's head fell to one side. Her throat was parched. 'Yes,' she conceded.
'Do you remember what you told her?'
Xena closed her eyes and sighed. Her voice took on the near-bored tone of a mantra. 'I promised her I wouldn't become-'
'Not that!' the goddess interrupted sharply. 'Do you remember what you told her to be?'
Moments passed, and eventually Xena frowned. She lifted her head and turned towards the voice, finding the melancholy face beside her own.
'Don't you go changing, Gabrielle. I like you just the way you are.'
The warrior gazed into cool grey eyes.
'That's how you liked her,' Diana confirmed. 'You liked her forgiveness, and you wanted her pure. This was your Gabrielle, remember?'
Diana stepped away and stood erect. 'The struggling warlord's Gabrielle. She stood between you and a grief-stricken mob when your hands were drenched in their kinsmen's blood. She stood between you and a guilty village when your murdered father lay at their feet...'
Her words became slow and heavy, as though drawn out from a deep dark well and finally brought into the world above.
'... She stood between you and a new-born child when you raised your sword to the infant's throat...'
Shadows fell upon Diana's face as the sky bore down, and Xena could hardly see the gentle lips moving in the dark.
'... Just the way you liked her. That's what you told her to be...'
When the thunder came it was hollow and stale. There was no lightning, only dry wind and a swarming heat. Xena's lips cracked, and now she was alone.
Alone for hours. Alone for years. Thirsting through an arid night.
And then Diana appeared again, standing before her in a barely perceptible thread of light.
'I ask you again, Xena. When are you going to heal your soul?'
The warrior's voice was hoarse. Thistles spored inside her throat.
'My soul is broken?'
'You know it's broken, Xena. There's no gold in the purple; no purple in the gold.'
Xena let her head fall. She could see nothing beneath her, nothing at all. Only the void. 'But she has forgiven me,' she whispered.
'That was in her nature. You must forgive her.'
The warrior looked up, and met a steady gaze. Diana nodded, and spoke again.
'When a bone breaks it must be set. Set it well, and it mends stronger than before.' She approached and lifted a hand to Xena's cheek. The touch of a god could entice or sting, but in this strange oblivion Xena only felt a cool caress on her simmering skin.
'Mend your soul, Xena,' Diana said softly. 'Places must change, people must grow, and sometimes golden children die.'
The touch fell and the wounded goddess faded. Xena looked for her, but she was gone. Searching upwards, the warrior's eyes beheld the sky. It was lifting, and a drop of rain fell...
Xena moaned painfully. 'No, I can mend it...'
'The fever's broken!'
The physician wiped Xena's face with a damp cloth. 'Look, she's sweating it out,' he said.
Xena opened her eyes to a dimly lit room. A low thatched ceiling was above her and a straw mattress beneath her back. The coarse sheet was rumpled against her bare skin. Her side throbbed.
Gabrielle leaned over and almost cried. 'Xena, I was so worried about you. We were all so worried.'
'Here,' the physician passed the bard a water-skin, 'try again.'
Xena drank gratefully as Gabrielle held the skin to her lips. The water was blissfully cool down her tortured throat.
'You were right,' the physician told Gabrielle, 'she made it.' He shook his head. 'How did you know?'
Xena gasped after the last swallow. 'The raiders..?'
'All gone,' the bard reassured her. 'You went down during their retreat. The defences you designed held and they won't be back. We won, Xena.' She smiled.
The warrior still found it difficult to speak. 'How..?'
'Lucky javelin throw,' the physician explained, thumping his own torso, then wincing. 'It caught you just below the ribs; very nasty.'
'Yes, the danger's over. All you need now is rest.'
'Xena,' Gabrielle added, 'this man is a miracle-worker. You should've seen what a mess you were in.'
The warrior looked up at the physician standing by the bed. He was tall with fair hair, and blue-grey eyes. His forehead was bruised.
Xena breathed in deeply. 'Thank you,' she said.
The man smiled. 'No problem. Thank you for saving our village.'
He wandered off discreetly, leaving the warrior alone with the bard. Gabrielle took Xena's hand and sat on the edge of the bed.
'Xena, we owe him a lot.'
'He's injured,' Xena noted. 'What happened?'
The bard looked a little embarrassed. 'You were delirious. You hit him twice. It took three men to hold you, and I had to tie you down.'
Xena glanced to the sides and saw the creased strips of linen knotted at the edges of the bed. She grimaced. 'Is he okay?'
Gabrielle grinned. 'Well, even when you're sick you pack quite a punch. He keeps holding his chest and says he feels like he's been hit by a speeding chariot, but he'll be all right.'
They gazed into each others eyes for long moments. Eventually Gabrielle started to speak.
'Xena, I was afraid you were going to-'
Xena placed a finger on the bard's lips, hushing her.
'Gabrielle,' she began, 'I need to tell you something.'
The bard looked surprised, then waited.
Xena inhaled. 'Long ago I promised you that I wouldn't turn to evil if something happened to those I love. Do you remember?'
Gabrielle swallowed, and nodded silently.
'I broke that promise,' the warrior said. 'And that same night, I asked the impossible of you. I asked you to never change, to always be the way you were.'
Gabrielle watched her, and her grip tightened gently on the warrior's hand.
Xena moistened her dry lips with her tongue. 'But what I want to say - what I realise now - is that if you hadn't been the way you were, you wouldn't have asked me for that promise. And if I hadn't been the way I was, I wouldn't have asked you to remain the way you were...' she broke off and frowned, then resumed uncertainly. 'Am I making sense?'
Gabrielle nodded. 'Yes. Actually, you put that very succinctly.'
'I'm serious, Gabrielle.'
'I know you are. I'm trying to tell you that I understand.'
Xena swallowed. Her eyelids were growing heavy and she needed to sleep, to recover her strength.
'I won't ask you for that promise again, Xena,' Gabrielle said wistfully.
Xena glanced up. 'Because you think I can't keep it?' she asked, a tremor in her voice.
Gabrielle shook her head gently. 'Because you'd have no choice but to make it.'
The warrior gave a tired sigh of relief. She lifted the back of Gabrielle's hand to her own cheek, cherishing the cool softness.
'I broke us,' she said, 'and I want to mend us.'
Gabrielle's eyes glistened.
And somewhere the swirling hues of a purple sky were threaded with filaments of pure bright gold.
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