Father of All Evil
“Gabrielle, no!” Xena watched in horror as Gabrielle sagged to the floor. She stumbled over to the gasping form as fast as her legs could carry her, falling to her knees beside her friend. “No…” She spared a brief glance for the dagger, knowing instantly that not even all the healers in the known world combined could fix this wound. Then her eyes tracked up, finding wide green eyes staring back at her, Gabrielle trying hard too keep her eyelids
open as to not drift away. A sob racked through her body as she reached out, cupping the bard’s face, at a complete loss for words.
Gabrielle managed a weak smile, lifting bloodstained fingers and wrapping them around the warrior’s hand. “That’d t…teach you to w… walk out on me, s…sidekick…”
“This is all my fault…” The warrior could feel the tears starting to run down her face, but she ignored them, keeping her eyes locked with the bard’s. “All my fault…”
A flash of light on the other side of the room made them both look up. A bright beam came bursting through the ceiling of the temple, the light falling right on top of the God of Justice. Mithras turned his face upwards, then closed his eyes and smiled. He seemed to drain the light in, and when the beam from above faded, he himself was emanating light, a bright glow surrounding his body.
“Thank you, Father…” He whispered, before opening his eyes again and looking at the two women sprawled on the floor, Xena cradling his Chosen in her arms. He took a few steps closer, before he was pinned down by angry blue eyes, a finger pointing at him dangerously.
“You stay away from her!” Xena hissed, blocking Gabrielle’s body with her own as much as she could manage. “You killed her, you bastard!”
The bard rolled her eyes at the warrior’s use of the past tense. “Hey… still l…living here…”
Mithras shook his head. “You’re wrong, warrior. Please…” Brown eyes stared at her intently. He took a few steps closer, Xena still watching him warily as he knelt down on the other side of Gabrielle. “Well done, Chosen…”
“P…Piece of c…cake…” Gabrielle managed, clenching her teeth as another surge of pain surged through her.
The God of Justice smiled at her reassuringly, then reached out, grabbing hold of the dagger’s hilt sticking out of the bard’s chest.
Xena was just about to protest when a surge of light flowed from Mithras’ hand into the dagger, making it glow. Slowly he pulled the metal out, Xena watching in amazement as the blood that had stained Gabrielle’s tunic disappeared slowly as the weapon was removed. Gabrielle watched the young god lift the dagger in a hand, glaring at it for a moment before tossing it away from them with such force it embedded itself in the stones on the altar. She smiled at him, then weakly lifted a hand, touching her chest, pulling down her collar a bit to see clean skin, not even a scar marking the spot where the dagger had just been.
“You’ll feel a bit weak for a moment.” Mithras’ voice stated, as the god touched her shoulder. “Your body will need to adjust to the sudden changes, it will only last a moment.”
Gabrielle nodded at him. “Thank you.” She then managed in a slightly hoarse voice.
“No, Gabrielle. Thank you.” He leaned forward, placing a kiss on her forehead, then stood and receded a few steps, giving her some space.
Xena looked at the scene in complete disbelief, her mind not managing to keep up with the rapid passing of events. “But… I…” She blinked. “This…?”
Gabrielle chuckled weakly. “Mithras and I came up with a plan… And I would’ve told you about it…” She shot an accusing stare at her partner. “But noooo… You had to drug me, run off and be the hero again, didn’t ya?”
The warrior bent her head in shame. “I just didn’t want you to get hurt…” Xena managed in a small voice.
“And you ended up elbowing me against the back wall. Nice job, Xe.”
The head bent even deeper.
The bard shook her head, then reached out and covered the warrior’s hand with her own.
Blue eyes peeked up at her apologetically.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, then just pulled herself up, reaching over and giving the warrior a kiss on the cheek. “I appreciate the thought though.” She conceded, getting a small smile in return. The bard closed her eyes, releasing a breath. She knew she should be upset with the warrior, she really did… But at this stage, she just didn’t care. It didn’t matter anymore now… She closed her eyes, leaning back as Xena wrapped her arms around her tightly. It was over. It was finally over…
Suddenly a thundering of hooves sounded, followed by a wild yell of victory. Moments later a large golden chariot, led by four perfectly white horses, passed through the solid walls as if they were thin air, circling above them before they floated to the ground. The horses screeched to a halt as they touched the stone floor, the chariot coming to a dead stop behind them. A young man, not much older than Mithras, with long black hair and dressed in full armour hopped off the wagon, turned and faced the God of Justice. He pointed his finger at Mithras. “You rule, bro!”
“Verethraghna.” The Persian god smiled brightly, pulling the new comer into a hug. “How’s father?”
“Better, so much better. Last time I saw him, he was getting out of bed for the first time in years… Well done, my brother.” He smacked Mithras on the back cheerfully before pulling back, pounding the air with his fist. “This is so great! I feel so powerful now, so whole… I…” He fell silent suddenly as he spotted the two women a little way off, who had scrambled to their feet as he’d entered and were now staring at him. Slowly he stepped up to them, focusing his attention on Gabrielle. “Chosen…” He managed, then fell to his knees before her, bowing his head so deep it nearly touched the floor. “Forgive me for ever doubting you…”
Green eyes blinked. “Buh… I…” She looked up at Xena helplessly, but the warrior looked just as stricken as she did. “Uhm... Don’t… Don’t worry about it…”
The Persian God let out a breath in relief, then straightened, still keeping his eyes focused on the ground. “My father has asked if you would be willing to meet with him. He wishes to thank you personally…”
Another moment of utter silence. “Wow… Uhm, I mean, sure…” The bard glanced up at Xena again. “Right?”
The warrior shrugged.
“Excellent.” He shyly smiled up at her now, giving them both a polite bow before turning back to his brother. “Father wants you to collect the essences and send them to the Fields of Eternity. He said they have suffered long enough.”
Mithras nodded. “Agreed.” He stated, then turned towards the crevice in the far wall, lifting his hands. For a moment nothing happened, then small wisps of bright light started pouring from the wall, flying around the room.
Gabrielle looked at the specs of various shades of whites and light greys circling above them in amazement. It was like the fireworks she’d seen in Chin, only thousands of times more beautiful. “Amazing…” She breathed, her eyes seeing more and more lights escape from their prison, twisting around Mithras. The God of Justice slowly lowered his hands and the spirits moved freely, flying closer to her and circling around Xena and herself, creating a cilinder of light around the two of them. Voices spoke to her, thousands of voices, all saying the same thing: Thank you.
“Do you hear them.” Gabrielle whispered, feeling Xena step up beside her.
“Yes.” The warrior nodded quietly, watching as one by one the lights went off, soaring straight up, through the roof and disappearing out of sight.
One by one spirits left them, until only one remained. It was smaller than all the others, but was a stunning pure white. It approached them last, slower then the others. Xena looked at it as it got closer and closer, then stopped straight in front of Gabrielle’s face, hovering before her silently for a moment, until it spoke in a soft voice. “I love you, mother.”
Gabrielle gasped, Xena only barely managing to wrap her arms around her as the bard’s knees buckled, nearly sending her to the ground. Gabrielle suppressed a sob, blinking, desperately trying to keep the tears out of her eyes, before reaching out a hand towards her daughter’s spirit. The bright light surrounded her hand for a moment, then swivelled around her one last time before soaring up as well, leaving Gabrielle to stare up at her until she had disappeared out of sight.
Gabrielle felt arms tighten around her in comfort and she fell into them willingly, tears of both pain and joy sliding down her cheeks.
Xena kissed the top of her friend’s head, rubbing her back soothingly.
Footsteps edged closer and Xena looked up to find Mithras looking back at them. “She’s happy now, Chosen…”
Gabrielle turned around to face him, keeping her arms tightly around Xena, her head pillowed on the warrior’s shoulder. “ I know.” She sniffed, wiping at some tears with the back of her hand. “I’m glad…”
“Good.” He smiled at her, then motioned toward the golden chariot, the horses scratching their hooves on the stones impatiently. “If you please…”
Gabrielle smiled through her tears, then nodded, heading towards the wagon. Xena followed close behind, taking a slight detour to retrieve her chakram that was still firmly entrenched between two thick stones.
Verethraghna, in the meantime, had strolled onto the altar, the God of Victory peering down at the bright red embers in the centre of a stone circle. He looked around him for a moment, checking if no one was looking, then lifted a boot and stepped on the burning particles, twisting the heel a few times before pulling back. “Crap…” He muttered, seeing they were still glowing, in spite of his efforts. The embers hissing at him dangerously. “Oh shut up. Loser.” He stuck his tongue out at the ashes, then turned and headed back to his brother and the two women, who were waiting for him beside his ride.
“Alrighty, step right up.” He bowed politely, motioning them into the chariot. They did and he stepped in as well, taking the reigns and turning towards Mithras. “Wanna come, bro?”
“I’ll fly, thanks.” Mithras smiled at him, then changed skin for feathers, flying up and settling on his brother’s outstretched arm. “I take it you’ll deal with this place?” He asked, motioning a wing towards his surroundings.
“It would be my pleasure.” The God of Victory grinned happily, then watched his brother fly up, before taking the reigns in his hands. “Hold on, ladies.” He stated, then clucked his tongue, easing off the reigns.
The horses immediately sped up, circling the temple one last time before heading for the far wall at top speed.
Xena winced, closing her eyes on instinct as the stones came closer and closer, getting a chuckle out of Gabrielle, who had already gotten used to going through solid shapes after her little flight into Tyre.
Moments later the sunlight hit Xena’s face and she opened her eyes again to see the darkness that had covered the mountainside before had receded completely, leaving the sun to spread its light across the land below. The warrior looked down, seeing the road she travelled only candlemarks before, the steep hill she’d climbed, the… She stared slightly right of the rockface, looking in disbelief at the part where pieces of stone had been cut out of the wall systematically, all the way up to the temple. “There were stairs?!”
Gabrielle looked at the outraged look on the warriors face, then burst out laughing, the tension draining out of her.
“I can’t believe I climbed all the way up the blasted wall when there were stairs…” Xena muttered, even getting a chuckle out of their divine companion.
Verethraghna pulled the cart back for a moment, the horses snorting in annoyance as they had to cut back speed. “Just one last thing we have to do now…” The Persian God grinned, lifting a hand and watching as a thunderbolt appeared, then tossing it down with great force. He stared after it as it left his hand and seared down, hitting the temple only moments later. An explosion followed, sending pieces of temple flying across the landscape, rocks tumbling from the rockface, falling down and covering the remnants of the temple under a thick layer of stones. “Stiiiirike!” The god chortled triumphantly, then turned and sped up his horses again, heading higher and higher, up into the bright blue skies.
The horses went faster and faster, their legs moving in a blur of motion. Light shifted around them like clouds, creating a sort of tunnel. Xena held on to the edge of the chariot with one hand and to Gabrielle with the other, peering in the distance. A golden shimmer blinked at the end of the tunnel and they rode straight toward it. Closer and closer, then there was a bright flash of light, blinding her for a moment. She blinked, in an effort to get her eyes to adjust to the brightness, then they focused again and she could see their new surroundings. They were in a large hall, the floor a pure white marble, the walls decorated with gold and silver patterns, twirling their way up to the ceiling. The room was full of people, no, gods probably, the murmurs dying down as they noticed the chariot that had appeared into the hallway.
“Welcome to our little hideout.” Verethraghna smiled brightly, hopping off his chariot.
Xena stepped down and looked around, her eyes taking in the sights in astonishment. Ares had shown her Olympus once, back when, but that place was a dump compared to the wealth around her now. The air around her was pure, refreshing, and it smelled like a night in the beginning of spring. Vibrant. Alive.
She turned to look up at Gabrielle, who was staring around her as well and she extended a hand up to the bard to help her out of the chariot and onto the marble.
Gabrielle’s boots echoed loudly in the complete silence that had descended onto the room. She watched Verethraghna walk to the lead horse and whisper something into his ear, after which the horse nodded with a snort, then took off, leading the chariot out of the hall.
Gabrielle turned when a sound caught her attention and she watched as the large golden doors at the far end of the room opened slowly, exposing a tall, older man, his long silver hair draped across his shoulders, leaning on a staff with one hand. His other was lying on Mithras’ shoulder, the young god having an arm wrapped around his father’s waist in support.
The gods around them all fell to their knees, bending their heads in acknowledgement of his presence.
Ahura looked around then took his hand of Mithras’ shoulder, motioning them up. “Rise children. None of this, come now… We have guests…” He smiled and turned to Gabrielle, giving his son a pat on the shoulder, before making his way towards her on his own, the sound of his staff tapping against the marble echoing around them until he stood inches away from Gabrielle, and she could see the hints of pure silver dancing in his blue eyes. He reached out and took hold of her hand, then bent his head and pressed his lips against the back, before straightened again, smiling brightly at the slightly stunned look on the bard’s face. “Thank you, Chosen. I owe you my existence. I will be forever in your debt.” He motioned around the room, indicating his family. “We will all be.” He then reached out and touched her cheek, looking at her intently. Looking through her in a way Gabrielle knew, as she looked back into his eyes. “You have suffered so…” He looked down, breaking eyecontact. “Because you had to be who you are… for our sakes…”
“It’s OK.” Gabrielle whispered. “It all turned out all right in the end, that’s all that matters…”
“Perhaps.” Ahura conceded, glancing up at her, then turning his eyes to meet Xena’s, the warrior standing slightly behind the Chosen, watching him. “Thank you for protecting her, warrior. In many ways, I owe you a great deal as well. You can be sure I will not forget this.” He watched Xena incline his head towards him silently, then he receded a few paces, leaning both hands on his staff. “There is much to be done now. My realm has to be returned to its former glory, the unity it once had. As evil is destroyed and the goodness of the people returns, so will my strength. This will take some effort, but in time, all will be as it was before.” He fell silent for a moment, then continued. “It is written you would be granted immortality, Gabrielle, but I do not believe this is what you want, is it?”
The bard swallowed, then blinked. “Uhm… I don’t wanna offend anyone or anything, but… no, not really, no…”
“Exactly, and I’ve considered what else to grant you as a gift of thanks, but honestly, I have no idea what I could offer you…” He looked at her. “Is there anything I could do for you?”
Gabrielle shook her head. “No, not re…” She paused, then took a few steps closer, reaching up and whispering into Ahura’s ear.
The god looked down at her, then shot a glance at Xena, before bursting out in laughter. “I think I can do that.” He let his laughter wind down, patting the bard’s cheek and sharing a conspiritual grin with her. “Consider your request granted.”
“Wicked.” Gabrielle chuckled.
Ahura looked at Xena again, smothering a grin, before motioning Mithras forward. “I have taken the liberty of bringing your horses to a small waterhole, half a days ride from the camp of your friend Alexander of Macadonia. I will send my son, Verethraghna, to watch over him, to assure the downfall of Tyre and the end of Xerxes’ reign.” He motioned towards Mithras. “My son will send you down to earth.”
“Thank you.” Gabrielle smiled at him, then at Mithras, who walked up to them, placing a hand on Gabrielle’s right and Xena’s left shoulder.
Ahura inclined his head towards them. “Good bye, both of you. May the light guide you always.”
There was another flash, and Gabrielle closed her eyes at the brightness. When she opened them again the sun was setting in the western sky, red rays slanting across the landscape. A shrill cry sounded above her head, and she looked up to see a falcon circling over their heads. Gabrielle smiled up and waved it him and the bird seemed to wave back between the flaps of his strong wings, before he changed direction and soared off, his form growing smaller, and smaller, until finally he was no more than a dot on the horizon, finally disappearing out of sight .
Gabrielle looked beside her, to find Xena standing nearby, the warrior’s eyes sliding across the landscape. “We’re back.”
Blue eyes turned to her, then Xena’s face creased into a smile as the warrior draped an arm across her shoulders. “Yes, we are.”
A neigh sounded and Argo came trotting up, followed by Chilon.
Xena smiled as her horse walked up to her, patting the mare’s neck. “Hey girl. It’s good to see you too... I… Hey!!” The warrior lost her balance and thumped to the ground as Chilon shoved her back harshly, brown eyes staring at her angrily.
Gabrielle laughed, giving Chilon a pat. “He’s mad at you.”
Xena’s eyes widened. “For what?!”
“You tied him to a tree.”
The warrior lifted her hands and let ‘m drop, rolling her eyes. “Normal horses get tied to trees al the time, you know?”
Chilon snorted indignantly, scratching at the earth with his hoof.
Gabrielle chuckled. “Oeh, you shouldn’t have called him normal, Xe.” She scratched the horse’s head affectionately. “You’re special, aren’t ya, boy?”
The stallion nuzzled her tunic in quiet agreement.
“All right, all right…” Xena pushed herself to her feet, crossing her arms. “I’m sorry, OK? How about I buy you an apple to make it up to you?”
A shake of the dark head.
“Oh, what do you want then? A whole basket?”
Chilon neighed softly, then gave her a playful push, before turning and walking off, back towards the water that was twinkling at them in the distance.
Xena stared after the stallion in disbelief. Gabrielle laughed, wrapping an arm around the warrior’s waist and tugging her forward. “You’ve just been outsmarted by a horse, warrior princess.”
Xena sighed, allowing herself to be dragged along. “I should’ve never given you that monster.”
The bard beside her chuckled, leaning her head against the warrior’s shoulder. Xena looked down at the blond head, then wrapped an arm around her. “How are you feeling?”
Gabrielle considered this for a moment, then looked up at her, green eyes twinkling. “Great.”
“Good.” Xena smiled, ruffling the bard’s hair affectionately. They walked along silently for a few moments. “It’s good to have this all sort of… over with… isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle let out a breath, closing her eyes and listening to the sounds around her, of the water and the animals, of the wind rustling through the leafs. “I mean, I still did things I shouldn’t have, and I have to live with that, but… it puts things in perspective, you know? Finally understanding why…” A short pause, then she glanced up at the warrior. “Hey Xena?”
“Would you mind if I just get very, very selfish now and ask if we can please go home?”
Xena grinned down at her. “You wanna head back to Greece, huh?”
“Yeah.” The bard nodded quietly. “I’ve sorta had it with all this warstuff…”
“Me too.” The warrior squeezed the bard’s shoulder. “I’ll talk to Alex. Tell him he’ll just have to manage without us from now on. I think, after all this, we could use a break.”
“Great.” Gabrielle sighed happily. “We can go to Amfipolis on the way back, right?”
Xena suspiciously raised an eyebrow at her. “I guess… Why?”
Her friend blinked up at her innocently. “Oh, I just made a promise to your mom, and I wanna keep it…”
“Hmm…” Xena muttered, not really liking the sound of that too much, but she decided to let the comment pass.
Another quiet moment, then the warrior cleared her throat. “Hey Gab?”
The bard smiled slyly, knowing what was about to come. “Yes?”
“What did you ask for?”
Gabrielle chuckled. “What do you think I asked for?”
Xena rolled her eyes. “I dunno, but I did not like the way the guy was looking at me one bit… C’mon, what was it? Tell me…”
“Why would I tell you?” The bard grinned deviously, enjoying herself immensely.
“Gabrielle!” The warrior’s voice sounded indignant.
“Well, it’s sort of a thing between Ahura and me, you know? I’m not sure if I’m supposed to let you in on it…”
“Gabrielle…” A low growl now.
A pause. “What if I told you I asked him to punish you next time you tried to ditch me by having you grow a tail and getting so obsessed with catching it you had to run around in circles chasing it until I woke up?”
The warrior stopped dead, her jaw dropping. “You didn’t!”
The bard turned and grinned wickedly. “Maybe not… But do you really wanna find out?”
Xena pointed a threatening finger at her. “If I wake up in the morning with a tail you are so dead…”
Gabrielle snorted. “Yeah, right…”
“Oh, you’ve got it coming now, Chosen.”
The bard winced at the predatorial grin spreading across the warrior’s face. “Did I mention Ahura gave me amazing tickling skills too?” The grin only grew wider. “Now Xena…” Gabrielle lifted her hands in attempt to calm the warrior down. “Can’t we talk about this…?” She hastily jumped out of the way as Xena launched forward, then turned and bolted, running towards the waterhole as fast as she could. Bootsteps sounded behind her, catching up to her fast and Gabrielle sighed to herself. “Gab, I have this vision you’re gonna end up completely soaked.”
Within seconds, her prophesy was fulfilled.
“Are you a person?”
“Hmmm…” Gabrielle leaned back in her saddle, tapping her chin. “Predator?”
Xena grinned wickedly at her.
“Stupid question…” The bard rolled her eyes. “Uhm… Can you fly?”
The warrior chuckled. “I wish…”
“Please don’t tell me you’re some species of cat again?” Xena wiggled her eyebrows in response. “Oh, Xena! There are zillions of those…”
“Yes, there are.” The warrior grinned. “But don’t worry, Gabrielle, we’ve got aaaaaall day.”
“Ugh…” The bard sighed, then suddenly her head shot up. She looked at the warrior, who had cocked her head, listening intently. “You hear that?”
Xena just nodded. “Horse, real fast…”
Gabrielle looked up, lifting a hand to her eyes to shade them from the sunlight, to see the road turn slightly up ahead. Moments later a large brown horse came racing from around the bend at top speed, a cloud of dust drifting up as it headed in their direction.
A moment of silence, then Xena’s voice sounded from beside her. “I can’t believe it…”
“Who is it?” Gabrielle asked, looking at the warrior, before turning back to the approaching rider. Then she recognised the face as well and she stood in her saddle, waving. “Halys!”
Grey eyes shot up, then recognised her and the woman pulled back her horse hastily, the animal’s hooves sliding to a halt in the loose sand. The lieutenant took a few breaths to steady herself, the sweat dripping off her forehead. “I found you.” She managed between breaths.
Xena frowned, looking at her. “What’s wrong?”
Halys turned and looked at her. “It’s Alex… He’s dying…”
“What?!” Xena’s eyes shot open. “How? Why? What happened?”
“You have to come with me.” Halys stated, ignoring the questions. “He’s asking for you, and I don’t know how much time he has left. Please…”
Xena shot a glance at Gabrielle, who looked back at her with worried eyes. “All right.” She turned back to Halys. “Let’s go…”
The lieutenant nodded, then turned her mare around, pushing her into a canter. “C’mon. I’ll tell you everything along the way.”
And in the days they travelled she did tell them. How about a month after the two of them had departed, they finally sacked Tyre, after which Esta and her troops left and returned to Athens. How they had travelled on down to Egypt, where Alexander was welcomed as the next pharaoh. How the people had treated him like a god. Halys had shaken her head at this, saying that the praises had gone to the young king’s head.
They’d all thought the war would end after their arrival at Egypt, but Alexander had decided his quest was not over until he’d taken the entire Persian kingdom. Ptolemaios and his family had remained behind in Heliopolis, but the rest of the army had moved on, heading east towards the lands of regents that had not yet given in to Alexander’s demands. Their armies were crushed, their cities pulverised.
Then Alaran had died. Gabrielle cried at this news, but managed a smile when Halys told her that the last words the lieutenant had said were ‘I can see her. She’s come for me.’ Knowing he and his wife were reunited made her feel better and Halys had nodded at this, saying she felt the same way.
After Alaran’s death Alex had gotten even worse. The lieutenant had been a good friend to him and the loss made him even more persistent. He wanted to cross through the swamps to India, intent to take over the whole of Asia. But the dreary weather and the strong Indian defences had finally forced him down, the moral of the troops sinking so deep Parmenios had begged Alex on his knees to turn back. When Alexander then realised what he had done, saw the shape of his troops, the death that was raging through the camp caused by the wet climate, he’d cried, then ordered the army to pack up.
They had decided to turn back, and finally return to Macedonia, when Alex had gotten sick. The healers had treated him with every medicine they could find, but the young king had just gotten worse and worse. Realising how desperate his situation was he had send Halys out to find both Xena and Gabrielle…
“We’re nearly there.” Halys stated, standing in her saddle, pointing towards a hilltop up ahead. “It’s just over this ridge.”
Xena pushed Argo forward, the horse picking up speed as she worked her way up the hill, finally reaching the summit. Xena looked down to see the camp. The army they had once been a part of was smaller now, the camp containing less tents than it had before, and ones that still remained looked older, some torn and smothered in mud.
Gabrielle pulled up beside her, looking at the camp as well, silently. Xena shot her a look, meeting green eyes for a moment, before she turned Argo and headed down the hill, Chilon and Halys’ mare following close behind.
Parmenios looked up as three shapes stepped into the room and he managed a smile, stepping away from his friend’s deathbed and walking towards them, pulling Xena into a hug, then walking over to greet Gabrielle.
Xena took a few steps closer, leaning over the shattered form resting on the pallet, dressed in fine Persian silk robes.
Tired eyelids blinked open and brown eyes looked up at her, then the king managed a smile. “Hi Xena.”
“Don’t worry, Alex, it’s gonna be OK… Let me just get my healerskit and I’ll…”
But the young king shook his head. “Don’t.” He took a raspy breath, his chest feeling oddly heavy. “It’s too late…”
Fiery blue eyes looked back at him. “It can’t be too late! I won’t accept that…”
Alexander managed a weak chuckle. “Always s…so.. stubborn. That’s what my brother l…liked about you, Xena… Liked and hated about you at the same time…” His eyes turned and he spotted another familiar face. “Hello Gabrielle.”
“Hi Alex.” The bard stepped closer, gently touching his shoulder, looking down at him. He’d changed so much, had transformed from a boy into a man now, the lines on his face showing the price he’d paid for his maturity. “You look horrible…”
He laughed, then fell into a coughing fit, which finally passed. He sagged back into the bed. “Don’t make me laugh… Hurts…” He managed, giving Gabrielle a smile nevertheless, before turning back to Xena. He bit his lip, closing his eyes. “I have failed you…”
“No, Alex…” The warrior shook her head, kneeling down beside the bed.
“I h…have mistreated my people… You were right, Xena…” He swallowed, forcing in another breath of air. “When you feel the power, you forget your good intentions… I did… People died…”
“We followed you because we wanted to Alex.” Parmenios’ voice sounded softly from the foot of the bed. “I’ve told you that so many times already… You’re not to blame…”
“Maybe…” Alexander spared a smile for his friend, then looked back at Xena. “You know why you’re here, don’t you? What I want you to do?”
Blue eyes stared at him, then the warrior shook her head. “Alex, I can’t… You know I don't want this...”
“That's…” Another coughing fit took over his body, draining about all the energy he had left, leaving him feeling weak. “That's exactly why I want you to do this...” His brown eyes looked up at her and he managed to lift his hand and reach for the chain hanging around his neck, a crown in a triangle of swords, the symbol of the royal family. He took the pendant in his hand, then tugged at it, the chain breaking from around his neck. Weakly he extended his hand, reaching for Xena’s and placing the pendant in the warrior’s palm folding her fingers over the metal.
Xena looked down at her closed hand, then back up to meet brown eyes smiling at her. “Take them home, Xena.” He managed,
then closed his eyes, sinking back into his pillow. His chest lifted one more time, a gentle smile crossing his face before he let out his final breath.
Xena looked at him, closing her eyes, a lump forming in her throat. She stood, then leaned over the young king, placing a kiss on his forehead. “I will. I promise, Alex.” She stood and turned, meeting tear-filled green eyes. She reached, pulling the bard into a hug, not being able to hold her own tears back any longer.
They stood like that for a moment, letting the grief wash over them until
the worst pain receded. Then Xena she looked up at Halys, who stood beside the sobbing form of
Parmenios, the lieutenant having sagged to the ground beside Alex’ bed. “Halys?”
The lieutenant looked up at her.
Xena took a breath, steadying herself. “I want you to send word to Ptolemaios. Tell him Alex is dead...” She paused a moment, closing her eyes. “And that I, as his successor, have decided to divide the conquered lands into three parts and he has just been appointed to be the next ruler of Egypt. Parmenios will take Alex’ place when we arrive in Macedonia. Who will be the next ruler of Persia is still undecided. Tell him the army is pulling back.”
Halys gave her a nod, mentally noting this all down.
“Then send someone up ahead to Pella. Tell them to prepare for a funeral.”
Another nod, then Halys turned and headed out of the tent.
Xena let out a breath, then walked to the bedside, where Parmenios was kneeling beside his friend. “Par?”
He looked up at her with watery eyes, before managing a small smile. “Yes, my queen?”
This got a wry grin out of the warrior, who then she placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently. “You look after Alex’ body for me, OK?”
Parmenios swallowed, closing his eyes, then he nodded.
Xena stood again, then headed out the tent, Gabrielle joining her, wrapping an arm around the warrior’s waist and leaning a head against her shoulder. “He’s at peace now…” The bard whispered.
Xena nodded softly. “I know…”
They walked on for another moment, then Gabrielle stopped dead. Xena turned, lifting an eyebrow at her. The bard blinked. “Do you know what just happened?”
The warrior lifted another eyebrow.
“The… The prophesy, Xena.” Gabrielle stuttered, walking over the warrior. “When you untied the Gordian Knot, the Fates said you would rule Asia, or a Nation would fall…”
“…And I’m not gonna rule Alex’ kingdom, but divide it into pieces…” Xena finished, shaking her head in disbelief. “Well, who ever said prophesies were just a bunch of crap…”
Gabrielle grinned up at her. “You did.”
That got her a reluctant chuckle from the warrior. “Yeah, I guess I did…”
“Uhuh.” Gabrielle smiled, then joined her friend again as they walked on. Xena stopped at the edge of the camp, taking a deep breath of the cooling air, watching the sun descend, sinking lower and lower, sending soft red rays across the land. “So…” Gabrielle gazed up at her friend, the warrior staring at the sunset quietly. “What happens now?”
Xena stared pensively ahead for another moment, considering the question. “Now we lead these people back to Pella, like Alex wanted…” Blue eyes shifted away from the horizon and looked down into green ones. “And then we’ll round up the final chapter of the legend of Alexander the Great and hope bards sing of him for years to come…”
Gabrielle smiled, leaning her head against Xena’s shoulder “I don’t think that’ll be much of a problem.”
Xena looked down at the blond head. “No?”
“Nah. I mean, this story’ll have battles, sieges, people fighting to do what’s right… It’ll have warriors and kings, premonitions, gods… And the good guys win in the end…” The bard shrugged. “What’s not to like?”
Xena managed a wry smile, leaning her head against Gabrielle’s. “The end?”
“The end is only a new beginning.”
A dark eyebrow raised. “The beginning of what?”
The bard smiled, turning her eyes back to where the last rays of light were now slowly fading. “The beginning of a new story.”
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