Disclaimer: The characters in this story: Xena, Gabrielle and Eve, are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal MCA. This story is not meant to infringe upon their rights or the rights of the actors who portray them. Also, any part of the Stand By You series is not to be copied, whole or in part, without the author's permission, and is not to be copied for public use or for profit.
Stand By You - Part 5
Written By: Caina Q. Fuller
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Xena entered the banquet hall of King Gabriel's castle. It had been two months since she had last spoken to Gabrielle, though she had led Gabriel's army into battle against her former companion on several occasions. Xena had done everything she could to get to her friend, but Gabrielle had learned much from Xena in their time together. Every time a village was taken by the Bard turned ruthless killer, Gabrielle would find some way to use the innocents she captured to keep Xena at bay.
On top of everything else, Gabrielle had amassed an army much larger than a mere two hundred. Well over a thirteen hundred men followed her now, and she was well on her way to realizing her goal of becoming the Destroyer of Nations. Gabrielle was spreading across the land like a scourge and Xena felt helpless to stop her without killing her. Already, in this short two month period the towns of Mende and Potidaea had fallen under her reign. And reign she did, with an iron fist. Gabrielle was quickly gaining a reputation of someone to be feared and worshiped, not challenged. Just as Xena herself had been so many years before.
As Xena looked around the banquet hall which had been transformed into a war room, she found it hard to believe that only five months before she and Gabrielle had been in this same room, celebrating Gabriel's wedding. If only Xena had had some clue, some small hint of what lay ahead, she would never have allowed Gabrielle to start off to Potidaea without her. If only she hadn't so stubbornly insisted on staying when Gabrielle wanted to get back to Lila and Sarah...
Xena shook herself from her thoughts and greeted Gregor's successor, and Gabrielle's namesake. Xena knew this was a time when Gabriel should be enjoying the sweetest moments of his young marriage with his wife, and starting a family. She felt guilty for heaping so much upon him so soon into his role as King, and so soon after his father's death.
Gabriel planted a light kiss on Xena's cheek then led her to the strategy table. He had told her beforehand that only the two of them would make the decision's regarding this new threat to his Kingdom. Because of the excellent job Gregor had done to maintain peace, his advisors were terribly inexperienced in the art of waging war, unlike Xena. They had seen a few skirmishes, but nothing like this. He was more than relieved to find Xena on his side in this matter.
As Gabriel unrolled the map of the Kingdom and surrounding areas, Xena studied his
face. Gabriel was a man who wasn't ugly, but not handsome either. What he lacked in looks he more than made up for in personality and honesty. He was always ready with a quick smile or a joke, but he was also wise beyond his twenty nine years, and where Gabrielle had built up a reputation of being fierce and cold, he had built a reputation for being kind and fair. Xena remembered the one dance they'd shared at his wedding, when he'd told her he would gladly lie down his life to save even the poorest servant in his Kingdom, and all of Xena's senses had told her he'd meant it. He was a good man and Xena vowed to herself this moment she would do all within her power to see he lived to rule long upon this Earth. She just prayed she wouldn't have to keep that vow by spilling Gabrielle's blood.
Gabriel traced a thin finger over the map which outlined what he considered to be the most vulnerable areas of his Kingdom's defenses. Most of the populated areas, she noted, rested in valleys protected on at least two sides by steep, rocky mountains.
"Here. The northern valley is the most vulnerable. It's heavily populated and easily accessible through the Pandoran Pass."
Xena smiled. "You named it after Pandora."
"She would be very proud of you right now. As would Gregor."
"Thank you Xena."
Xena cast a glance outside at the tumultuous sky. It was steel gray and as bleak as her soul felt without Gabrielle in her life. For all purposes, Gabrielle might as well be dead, because even in death, they couldn't be further apart than they were now. Gabriel rested a hand on her shoulder, sensing her mood.
"Are you sure you're up for this?"
Xena pulled her mind from the persistent images of Gabrielle's beautiful smile and gave the map her full attention.
"I'm as sure as I'm ever gonna be. You're right. If I know Gabrielle as well as I think I do, she'll come in from the north. I'll lead your cavalry there."
Gabriel nodded, glad to have a plan of action. "I'll have them ready to leave at dawn."
Xena began to walk for the banquet hall doors, leaving Gabriel in confusion. "Where are you going?"
"Eli's temple. I have an old friend I need to talk to."
Gabrielle had her own war room: her tent. A map of Gabriel's Kingdom lay spread out over the table she used for everything from eating to waging war. She leaned over that map now, identical to Gabriel's, and studied it with Huron who traced a finger over the northern valley.
"This is the prime place to begin our attack. It's heavily populated. We could make a fortune in one day selling all of those people."
Gabrielle sat back in her throne-like chair and put her feet up. Huron, by habit in the two months they'd been lovers, removed her shoes and began to rub her ever swelling ankles.
"What's bothering you love?"
Love, Gabrielle thought. The very concept almost made her stomach churn, but she gave no outward sign of her emotions. Hiding the way she really felt was quickly becoming an art to her, and one she was learning well.
"I'm not bothered, I'm concentrating." She let her voice turn cold. "You're distracting me. Stop it."
Huron made not attempt to hid the hurt her words caused him. At first, Gabrielle had thought his honesty of emotion his most endearing quality. Now she was beginning to see it as a weakness and it disgusted her. Maybe, she thought to herself, she should replace him with someone a little...harder.
"You become colder with each passing day Gabrielle. I'm not the only one that see's this. The men are picking up on it too."
"Good. It'll keep them in line."
"It's like you don't care anymore."
Gabrielle answered him with a chilly laugh and began to pace the room. She was five months pregnant though she looked barely three, and she wondered if this were a good sign. Maybe the child was weak and it would...
"What's so funny?"
"You! I may be to cold Huron but you...Well. You're way to hot with emotion."
Huron faced her, his anger building. This was not the woman he had fallen in love with. She was becoming a monster, even in the eyes of a warrior like him. "You look down on passion now?"
"Passion?" she said, screaming the word back at him. Gabrielle flew over to him, startling him into taking a step back, rage burning in her eyes. It seemed the least little thing could set her off anymore. She was becoming unpredictable. "Passion should be reserved for the sheets and for battle. Passion is not feeling sorry for yourself just because I don't smile at every little glance you throw my way! We're not children Huron! We're killers."
"Yes, cold blooded killers!" They were screaming at one another now, toe to toe and nose to nose. Huron found it heartbreaking while Gabrielle found it almost intoxicating. "Only I'm not so heartless that I can't admit I love you!"
Gabrielle fell back as if he'd pushed her, feeling as if her breath had been stolen. There was an overwhelming desire to...to.... That wall of ice around her heart was melting and she felt sorry for the things she'd said to Huron. By the gods she was feeling something for the first time in a long, long time.
She came to herself just as Huron pulled the tent flap back to leave. She couldn't let him do that. Not now. Not when she was feeling something.
Huron froze, hearing something in Gabrielle's voice. Feeling? Vulnerability? He turned back to her, sorry himself for being so cruel to her. He loved Gabrielle so much sometimes he felt it would kill him. He knew the kind of woman she'd been when she traveled with Xena. Kind and loving. She had fought against men like him, and by doing that she'd thrived. Now that she had come over to his side of the fence he saw it was killing her soul. Huron would gladly give her up if it meant saving that light he used to see in her eyes. He just didn't know how.
Gabrielle sat back down in her chair. "We will attack from the south. Xena will be looking for us from the North, leaving Gabriel's castle vulnerable."
Huron closed the flap but did not venture back inside, not yet. "His castle is surrounded by treacherous mountains. We'd never make it."
"Not on foot, no. That's why when we attack, we do it from the water. Huron...stay. I'd really like you to stay."
Huron came back into the tent, and took his place at her feet. It was a far cry from being "I'm sorry," but it was something.
It was something.
Eve entered the temple dedicated to Eli with Calantha, Gabriel's new bride. The room was simple, almost to the point of being bare. Only he altar and a few plain tapestries adorned this room. That was one of the things Eve loved about the followers of Eli. When she entered one of their temples you could leave such things as pain and anger behind and bask in the warmth of his love. This place felt truly Holy, unlike the temples to the god of Olympus.
"I come here often, just to think," Calantha said in a hushed voice. In a place such as this, even a conversational tone of voice sounded too loud, though they were the only ones in the room.
"What do you think about?"
"The blessing's I've been given in life, from the Lord."
Calantha moved to one of the prayer mats on the floor. The Queen's actions were as fluid and graceful as that of a dancers, not one movement wasted or clumsy. She seemed to be gliding through life instead of just maneuvering through it as Eve did. Eve was by no means a klutz, but she wasn't near the lady this woman was. Perhaps that was the source of the twinge of almost-jealousy Eve was feeling as she studied the woman who'd had things Eve herself had never been given. She had been brought up with every advantage Caesars money could buy, to be sure. She had been dressed like a doll in the most expensive of clothes, fed the very best food, educated by the most genius minds Rome had to offer. She had been honed into a warrior to be feared, but the one thing a child needed most she had never received: love.
In all the time she'd grown up under the privilege of Augustus' name, never had anyone encouraged her to return love or nurture the kinder side of her soul. She had been wealthy, but she had never been happy.
Then Xena entered her life. At first Eve had viewed her mother as a threat to everything she knew and held dear, and rightly so. Xena was a threat to all of that. Eve had just been to angry and full of hate to see that Xena's love, pulling her away from the life of killing and conquest was exactly what she had been needing all her life. Eve, under Ares deadly and selfish guidance, had been about to step over the edge and into what Xena rightly called an abyss. Now Eve knew a joy and peace that brought her life fulfillment, and she wondered, not for the first time, if she could live without that.
Eve closed her eyes just as she settled onto the prayer mat. She gave Eli her usual apologetic prayer for destroying so many of his followers, then tried to clear her mind. If she wanted to get in touch with Eli for answers to the steadily worsening situation with Gabrielle, she would first have to get in touch with herself.
Eve allowed her mind to go blank. She concentrated on not listening to any particular sound or feeling any part of her body. The secret, she had found for herself, was to blend all of those things in until they became like a black void within which she could lose herself. Only then could she leave the physical world and enter a place she could listen to what she called the voice of truth. No so much someone speaking but a feeling that showed her what direction she should take to stay on the right path. This time, however, she allowed her soul to ask it's only request.
For the first time since she discovered how to get to this place of peace did she hear a voice. At first she wondered if perhaps she was hearing someone in the temple. Then she slowly realized it wasn't a man speaking, but another soul. A soul wit a familiar voice, and it spoke to her.
"...Don't try to understand. Just watch..."
Eve didn't know where she was, but it felt like Heaven. Fields of green grass stretched as far as her eyes could see. To her right was a magnificent forest, filled with singing bird and playful animals of every kind. Any flower that came to her mind appeared as if by magic, filling the warm air with it's sweet perfume. Eve floated through this place, pulled along on the wind the way a leaf would be guided on the current of a lazy river. A feeling of peace melted over her soul, warm and comforting.
Eve floated out of the trees to find herself looking at the most beautiful, pristine lake she'd ever seen. It's waters were black and unfathomable, and it was fed by an incredible waterfall that stretched a hundred feet into the air. It was majestic in it's beauty and it stole her breath away. Eve settled on the ground, her feet covered by blades of the softest, greenest grass she'd ever seen or felt.
Eve searched around herself for the inexplicably familiar voice, then spotted him at the top of the waterfall. A man stood there, smiling down at her. He was bearded and handsome with long locks of dark hair and piercing blue eyes. She smiled back at him, excited and curious about who he was and why he seemed so familiar to her. Had she ever met him before?
Her curiosity turned to horror when he put one foot out over the edge of the cliff. If he fell from that height, he would surely die.
"No! Stay back!"
The stranger hesitated for only a brief moment. "Have a little faith."
He stepped out over the edge, and instead of plummeting to his death he floated out across the water, and came to rest on the lake's surface.
"Who are you?" Eve asked, awed at the sight of a man standing on water without sinking through.
Instead of answering, he held out a hand to her. "Come to me Eve."
"I can't." Eve said. She was only a mortal, and something deep within her told her the water's of this lake were not meant to be swam in.
"Like I said before. Have a little faith. Step out and come to me."
Eve took a deep breath. She didn't know why but she knew she could trust this being. She was safe with him, and he would not lead her astray.
Eve went over to the edge of the lake and looked down on the impenetrable blackness.
"Keep your eyes on me."
Heart pounding and mouth dry, Eve took her first step out onto the water, and hand outstretched to him. Walking on the lake was like walking on a wet sponge. It gave beneath her but the surface never broke. She was filled with an uncontrollable urge to giggle, and she gave in to it. The man took her hand, then embraced her.
"I'm walking on water! Amazing!"
"Yes, it is."
"Who are you?"
They broke the embrace though he still held onto her hand.
"My name is Eli."
Xena entered the temple to find Queen Calantha kneeling next to Eve. Calantha's beautiful face was pinched in a frown of concern as she gently shook Eve and called her name in an attempt to get her attention, but she got no response from Eve. Xena went to her daughter, anxiety tickling her stomach.
"What's the matter?"
The Queen looked anxious and shook her head helplessly. "I don't know. I finished praying and told Eve I was leaving, but she didn't respond. I've been trying to wake her for almost a minute."
That tickle of anxiety turned into a pang of fear as Xena watched Eve's normally rosy lips turn blue.
"She's not breathing!"
Calantha all but jumped to her feet. "I'll get my personal physician! He's a skilled healer."
Xena lay Eve down onto the prayer mat and began to breathe into her daughter's mouth. Just as Xena feared, Eve's heart had also stopped beating. Over the years, Xena had learned that by pounding on a persons chest in a certain spot, she could either stop or start their heart. Xena pounded on Eve's chest like that now, breathing for her, but to no avail. Eve lay on the prayer mat before Xena, dead.
"Eve! Evie, sweetheart, wake up! Wake up!"
Suddenly, Eve's eyes flew open and she sat up, gasping for air. Xena held Eve to her chest, and stroked her hair.
"What happened?" Xena asked in a voice weak with emotion.
"I met Eli. Mother, I know to save Gabrielle. I know what has to be done.
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