Gabrielle, Goddess of the Heart      


As Xena and Gabrielle huddled together under a blanket, the thunderstorm raged on, soaking them to the skin. They flinched with every lightning strike that seemed to hit a little closer than the one before; were startled with each terrifying clap of thunder.

"You know, we could be warm and dry in some rundown, flea-bitten tavern somewhere." Xena grumbled, as much to herself as to Gabrielle.

"No one's stopping you," Gabrielle answered sullenly.

Xena was silent. She knew trying to reason with Gabrielle was useless.  For more than a month she had tried to talk Gabrielle into leaving the  lake they were camped next to. For more than a month she had tried to find some way to pull Gabrielle out of the depression she was in. Nothing worked.  It was all Xena could do to get her to eat even one meal a day. The only way Xena could get her to bathe was to throw her into the lake.

Xena had talked to her until she had run out of words.  After losing her powers in her battle with Dahak, Gabrielle only wanted to sit by herself and wallow in self pity. Nothing Xena said made a difference.

So many times in exasperation Xena was tempted to ride out, leaving Gabrielle alone with her misery. But she knew in her heart she would never leave her; could never leave her. But how to get through to her? Gabrielle was convinced that without her powers she was useless, that without the power to Heal she had no purpose in life.

Gabrielle wanted to stay hidden from the world. How could she look into the eyes of those who were sick or dying, knowing there was a time when she could have ended their suffering? How could she tell them she couldn't help them, that they were just going to have to endure their illnesses, suffer with their pain, or were going to die?

Eventually the storm passed them by, and Xena began to clean up the debris left behind. She rebuilt the campfire, spread out their clothes and extra blankets to dry, and tended to the horses. Gabrielle continued to sit with the sopping wet blanket still around her shoulders, oblivious to the chill and dampness.

Xena finished cooking supper, ate her fill and left a plate next to Gabrielle, knowing it would still be there in the morning, untouched. As the sun set, Xena took the wet blanket from Gabrielle and wrapped a dry one around her. In the east, a bright, full moon was beginning to rise in the clear, rain-washed sky. 

Xena had barely settled in for the night when she heard Argo and Milkspot, Gabrielle's horse, becoming restless and agitated, someone was coming. Xena slowly drew her sword. Now she heard footsteps: two, maybe three people. As she rose to her feet, they approached the campfire - a man, a woman and a small child, all shabbily dressed.

"We saw your campfire," the man said nervously. "We hoped you wouldn't mind if we warmed ourselves for a while. Then we'll be moving on."

"Don’t mind at all," Xena replied, and began to add more logs. "That was some storm, huh? You folks must really want to get where you're going in a hurry to be traveling at night."

The man just nodded. No one spoke for a while. Then Xena noticed the child, a boy about 6 years old, was staring at the plate of uneaten fish next to Gabrielle.

"How about something to eat?" She asked. "It's only fish, but it's not too bad."

The man and woman looked at each other as if they didn't know whether they should accept the food, so Xena reached over, picked up the plate and divided the fish among them.

"What about you friend?" the woman asked.

"She's had enough," Xena replied.

Watching the three travelers as they ate, it was obvious to Xena that they hadn't eaten for quite a while. She rummaged around in her saddlebag and brought out the last of the cheese and gave it to them, which was also quickly devoured.

"Lots of fish in the lake," Xena said. "If you want to spend the night here, I can fry up a mess of them for you in the morning."

"Are you sure? We don't want to be any trouble."

"It's no trouble. Besides, I'd like the company."

The man and the woman both glanced over at Gabrielle, who had not moved or spoken the entire time, but neither said anything. Xena gave them dry blankets and once again settled down for the night.


The next morning Xena was up at first light, and by the time the others had awakened, she had caught, cleaned, and was about to fry up a half dozen large trout.  Xena took one for herself, put one next to Gabrielle, and gave the rest to the three travelers.

"By the way, my name's Xena. And that's Gabrielle. She's doesn't feel too well, so you'll have to excuse her if she's not very sociable."

"My name is Petras. This is my wife, Losam. And our son, Asa."

"You're welcome to stay as long as you'd like. We've been camped here for a good long while now. The water's clean, plenty of firewood,  and the hunting and fishing are good." Smiling at Asa, Xena continued, "And there's nothing like a refreshing swim during the heat of the day." Shyly, the boy smiled back at her.

"You offer is most generous, but we really must be moving on. We don't know how to thank you for your kindness and consideration," Petras said.

"Think nothing of it. But if you're sure you have to be leaving, at least take the rest of the fish, for later." And once again Xena took the uneaten fish she had set next to Gabrielle.

As the small family disappeared down the path leading away from the camp, Xena wondered why they had no provisions, no blankets, food, or extra clothing.  It was as if they had left in a hurry from wherever, not stopping to take anything with them.

"None of my business," Xena thought to herself as she watered and groomed the horses.

Xena was debating with herself whether to try once again to talk Gabrielle into leaving when she heard the sounds of bows twanging and then screams coming from the direction Petras and his family had gone. Jumping bareback on Argo, Xena galloped down the path, sword in hand.

It didn't take  long to arrive on the scene of a dozen men, half of them armed with bows and arrows, and half with swords standing over the bodies of Petras, Losam and Asa.  Arrows were sticking out of the two adults, and one man had just run his sword into the child and was about to strike another blow.

Argo stopped suddenly, allowing Xena to catapult over her head into the middle of them. The first to die was the one who had stabbed the boy. With her sword flashing, Xena sent more to their deaths. Several of the archers ran off a ways to be able to fire their arrows at Xena. Her Chakram made short work of them as they tried.  It wasn't long before the ones who were able, ran off, leaving the wounded to fend for themselves.

Seeing the fight was over, Xena immediately turned to Asa. There was no need to check on Petras and Losam. It was obvious from the number of arrows in them there was nothing she could do for them. The boy was still breathing, but badly wounded. Rather than try to mount Argo with him in her arms, and have him bouncing around, Xena decided to carry him back to camp on foot.

As Xena cleared the woods and the campsite came into view she began to call to Gabrielle to get bandages from Argo's saddlebags. Slowly Gabrielle looked up at Xena running toward her. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, and she couldn't quite understand why Xena was carrying a small child. And why was blood running down her legs and staining the sand with every step?

"Move Gabrielle!" Xena yelled at her. "Get the bandages! What are you waiting for?"

Suddenly the fog lifted and Gabrielle realized what was happening. By the time Xena reached her, Gabrielle had bandages and the water skin ready. Gently Xena laid Asa on a blanket and began to examine the wound. She didn't like what she saw. She looked up at Gabrielle, who also came to the same conclusion - the boy was probably going to die. The stab wound was too deep and he was bleeding too much.  But despite that, Xena dressed the wound, hoping for a miracle.

After the bandage was in place, Xena washed the blood off the boy. Then she told Gabrielle to watch him while she went back to site of the ambush to retrieve the bodies of Petras and Losam.


"You mean there was nothing there?" Gabrielle asked.

"Nothing but bloodstains. No bodies,  no bows, no arrows, no swords. It's like nothing ever happened there."

"Except for the bloodstains," Gabrielle added.

"Except for the bloodstains," Xena confirmed.

"Do you have any idea of who did it, or why?"

"Not really. At first I thought maybe they were slavers, but they wouldn't have killed them."

"What about some religious cult? Maybe they were running away from them."

"With all the evil Dahak unleashed, that's very possible. But I doubt if we'll ever really know."

They were silent for a while, both watching Asa as he drew ragged, painful breaths.

Finally Gabrielle said, "If only I was still able to Heal...."

"I know," Xena answered. And she watched as Gabrielle's eyes began to fill with tears.  As Gabrielle’s head began to bow, Xena realized that she had to do something before she sunk back into the depression she had been in for so long.

"I need you to tend to him for a while," Xena said as she began to saddle Argo. "I'm going to find those bastardly cowards. They're not going to get away with this."

Before Gabrielle could protest Xena was riding off.  Gabrielle watched until long after Xena was out of sight. Then slowly she allowed herself to look at her patient, not realizing she was searching for signs of fever, or thirst, or pain. Asa awoke several times, and each time Gabrielle was there with the water skin to give him a drink, if only a swallow or two. 


As the afternoon began to fade into evening, Gabrielle managed to find enough wild greens and berries to make a small meal for herself.  She took the last of the fish and cooked it down to make a fishy broth for Asa, taking care to remove all the small bones.

He awoke just before sunset and Gabrielle was able to get him to drink most of it. As he lay there awake, he was watching Gabrielle as she tended to Milkspot. After she had gathered more firewood and added some to the fire, he asked, "Where are my parents?"

"Xena went after them, those men who attacked you took them away. But don't worry, she'll find them." She didn't have to heart to tell him they were dead.  She continued, "My name is Gabrielle. I guess I wasn't very good company last night."

"I thought you were just asleep or something."

"Do you know who those men were that attacked you and your parents?"

Asa looked down to the fire for a moment, then lay back on the furs and blankets he was laying on. "I'm very tired, and my side hurts, I think I'll go to sleep now."

Gabrielle nodded, saying nothing. It was obvious he was afraid to talk about them. She made sure he was as comfortable as possible, then banked the fire to wait for Xena.


The next morning Xena still hadn't returned. Gabrielle was able to trap a couple of small rabbits and was cooking them for breakfast when she heard Asa moaning in his sleep. And after checking on him she realized infection, and fever, were setting in. 

On the opposite side of the lake was a small stand of willow trees. She swam across the lake, peeled the inner bark from two of them and returned to boil the strips in water, making a fever reducing potion.  After  it had cooled she managed to get him to drink some of the bitter liquid, saving the rest for later.

She then washed him down with cool water and changed the bandage. The wound didn't look as bad as the previous day, but she could tell he was still bleeding internally, losing his precious life blood.

As the morning turned to afternoon and then into evening, Gabrielle was  beginning to worry about Xena. But still she tended to Asa, giving him water or broth, or the medicine whenever he woke up.  There were times he stayed awake but was too weak to do anything but lay in Gabrielle's arms as she talked to him, telling him of the adventures she and Xena had experienced. 


On the third morning, several hours after sunrise, Xena returned. Gabrielle could tell she had been in battle. There were cuts and scrapes and bruises on her arms and legs and across one side of her forehead. Even Argo had cuts on her. As she got off the horse, Xena asked about Asa.

"He's getting weaker. Every time he goes to sleep I wonder if he'll wake up again. But what about you? I see you found them. Sit. You can tell me about it while I take care of these cuts."

"I found them alright. They had a camp about a day and a half ride from here. There were about twenty men, and about half of them were archers.  They had quite a few guards posted, so I took to the trees and was able to get right into their camp.  I still don't know exactly what kind of people they are. They had a few  families there too, but I couldn't tell if they were captives or not.  I never did find Asa's parent's bodies."

"So how did you get all banged up?"

"Bad luck. I decided it would be better if I just left, and just as I got to the edge of the camp a girl about 10 or 11 looked up, saw me and gave the alarm.  By the time I got to Argo there were at least a dozen men waiting. I managed to avoid most of the arrows, but between trying to protect Argo and fight them off, a few blows got through. I guess they weren't really prepared for an all-out fight because after a while they started running off. Just as Argo and I rode off ourselves, I heard one of them yelling something about me going after reinforcements and they were going to have to  move the camp."

"I wondered why you said 'They had a camp.' I thought you might have burned them out."

"No. Like I said, there were women and children there, that's why I just decided to leave. But what about you? Are you getting any rest?"

"Some. Asa sleeps most of the time, so I sleep when he does. But we are getting a little short on provisions. I really hated to leave him for any length of time. I never knew when he'd wake up, and I wanted to be there when he did."

Just then Asa moaned, and said something neither could understand. Xena started to go to him but Gabrielle was ahead of her.

"I'll do this," she said as she put the water skin to his lips. "If you'll see about hunting up something to eat."

"Sure, no problem," Xena answered, glad that Gabrielle seemed to be very much back to her old self.

When Xena returned with a small deer over one shoulder Gabrielle was holding Asa and she heard him ask, "When will I see my parents? Did Xena find them?"

"Soon," Gabrielle answered, barely controlling her voice. "You'll see them soon."

She knew he didn't have much longer to live. Gabrielle looked up at Xena, and both women saw tears in the other's eyes.

"Gabrielle," Asa said, "They're not coming are they?"

Gabrielle slowly shook her head, “No, I’m afraid not.”

Asa's hand went to Gabrielle's cheek to wipe away a tear. "Will you be my Mama, for a little while?"

"Of course I will. For as long as you want."

Asa smiled, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep. Gabrielle gently laid him down, then walked to the lake to wash her face, trying to stem the flow of tears.

Even though the venison was a welcome change, not much was said as they ate supper. As they settled for the night, Gabrielle lay down next to Asa, her arm around him, as she had done for the past few nights.

Sometime in the night Xena heard Asa call out, "Mama?"

"I'm here, Little One," she heard Gabrielle whisper back. "Your Mama's here."

When Xena awoke the next morning, Gabrielle was sitting up, holding Asa's lifeless body against hers, gently rocking him, her cheeks stained with tears. When she saw Xena looking at them, the tears began again.

Asa's funeral was a simple one. His body was buried in a secluded area not far from the lake and then covered with rocks as protection from scavengers. For a long time afterward neither spoke, and Xena could sense Gabrielle sinking back into her depression. Finally, Xena sat down next to her. "Talk to me, Gabrielle."

At first she thought she hadn't heard, but just before Xena could speak again, Gabrielle said, "Why, Xena? Why couldn't I have had my powers just one more time, even for the span of one or two heartbeats? That's all it would have taken. I could have Healed him.  Xena, why did he have to die?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle. That's just the way things happen. But we can take comfort knowing that now he's with his parents."

"I know, I know. Xena, I only knew him for a few days, yet I - I loved him so much. How is that possible?"

"Because of who you are, Gabrielle, don't you see? Even though you couldn't Heal him, you gave him something he so desperately needed."

Seeing the confused look on Gabrielle's face, Xena continued. "You gave him kindness and compassion and tenderness and affection. You gave him love, Gabrielle, a Mother's love. What else is there?"

"But it wasn't enough, he still died."

"Gabrielle, I don't know why the Fates will take this one but not that one. But I know this, when MY time comes I dearly pray you'll be there. Because I will die happy seeing your face and knowing your love will be the last thing I experience on this earth. And that is exactly what you did for Asa.  You couldn't Heal his body, but he knew he was loved to the very end."

Gabrielle leaned against Xena, her head resting on her shoulder, eyes closed. Xena's arm went around her. For a while, a long while, they just sat together, neither talking. Then Gabrielle straightened up and took a deep breath.

"You're right, Xena. Even though I can't Heal anymore, I CAN make a difference. I do have something to give. Something - something worthwhile."

"Sure you do! That's what I've been trying to tell you all along."

“You have, haven’t you? You’d think by now I would have learned to listen to you.”

“Well, we all make mistakes now and then.”

"You know, I think I could use a swim. I haven't had a good, refreshing bath for too long. Are you with me?"

"All the way," Xena answered.

Then Gabrielle jumped up and was running for the lake. As Xena began to run after her, Gabrielle yelled back to her, laughing, "Last one in...!"


                                      THE END

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