As Gabrielle watched the spot where Michael disappeared as he ascended to the heavens, his final words were burned into her memory.
"As you were meant to be." He said.
He said she and Xena were meant to be together. But there was something else he said? What was it? What were his exact words?
"Come on, Gabrielle, think. What did he say?" she said out loud. Then it came to her, his words were, "When you return to Japa, and when you find the way for her to be forgiven for the lost souls and she returns to her body, you two will still have many battles to fight for the redemption of her soul."
"He said when I return, and when I find the way for her to be forgiven, and when she returns to her body. . . ." Over and over she repeated those words, euphoric with the thought that she and Xena WOULD be together again, just like they used to be, just like they were meant to be!
Her hand went to the small glazed vial tied with the leather cord around her neck; the vial that carried a small amount of Xena's ashes. Gripping it tightly, she allowed one tear to fall. Then wiping it away she continued to pack the saddlebags and load them on her horse.
"Just one more thing," she thought as she went to the foot of a rotted tree where she had buried her sais and Xena's Chakram.
Taking them to the river, she washed and dried the sais then slipped them into the loops fastened to outsides of her calves. Then she washed and rinsed the Chakram.
"You know, Xena, I'm just holding this for you." She said. "I'm bringing it back to you."
Just before she mounted the horse she thought of yet another thing she had to do.
"Ares!" She shouted. "Ares! I need to talk to you!"
A few moments later Ares appeared in a flash of light.
"So what can I do for you now?"
"I need a favor."
"I'm heading back to Japa. . . ."
"Ah, yes, and you want me to transport you there so we can get Xena." Ares said smugly as he interrupted. "I knew you'd come to me."
"Wrong and wrong again. What I need for you to do is find Eve and Hercules and tell them I am going back to Japa after Xena. And tell them not to worry because I know for a fact that I am going to get Xena back into her body and we'll be coming home.
"You know for sure. And just how do you know?"
Gabrielle hesitated, not sure if she should mention Michael to Ares, but then decided it wouldn't hurt anything. "Michael told me."
"Michael? What kind of name is Michael? And who is he anyway?"
"He is an Archangel."
"Okay, I'll bite. What's an Archangel?"
"He is one of the guardian angels at the entrance to the heaven of Eli's God."
"Eli AGAIN? Won't he ever go away? I'm really sick of hearing about Eli. I didn't kill him just to have you people keep bringing him up! Besides, what makes you so sure this Michael knows what he's talking about?"
"Because I believe the God of Eli has more power over this world than any of you Olympic gods ever did. And I believe what Michael told me came from Him."
Ares shook his head sadly. "One day you poor mortals will realize what fools you really are, believing in all this one-god nonsense."
"Well, I guess that remains to be seen. But back to my original request -- will you or won't you find them and give them the message?"
"Yes! I'll do it. But are you sure you don't want my help? It's going to take you months just to get back there."
"I realize that, but I think I need the time to prepare myself for what I'll be up against. Even though Michael told me I'd get Xena back, he also said we would face many hardships. And I need to try to think of a way to redeem her soul so she can return to her body."
"Well, you won't mind of I look in on you from time to time, just to make sure you're all right?"
"Ares, we've never really gotten along, so why now are you trying to act like you care what happens to me?"
"Gabrielle, it's no secret I care a lot about Xena. More than I should, and certainly more than I want to. But since it's obvious I can't get her back, and maybe YOU can, then it's in my best interest to do what I can to help out occasionally. Yes, I'll tell Eve and Hercules what you are doing. But don't be surprised if I show up every once in a while."
Before Gabrielle could answer, Ares was gone.
As Gabrielle headed east, she went over in her mind once again what Michael had said, wondering just what kind of demons Xena still had locked away in her past.
"I'm sure there are still many things she's never told me." She said aloud, as much to the horse as to herself. "Maybe because she was ashamed of them. Or maybe she was worried I'd think she was some kind of monster. Or maybe she just really forgot. If I had past like hers, I'd probably want to forget some things too. I've probably forgotten a few things along the way. Maybe I should start writing in my scrolls again. But just the good things that happen. There's just been too much unhappiness and pain these past few months."
Gabrielle rode in silence the rest of the day, not really thinking about any one thing in particular. As she made camp for the night, she started thinking again about her scrolls, and some of the adventures she had written down that she and Xena'd had. It wasn't too long before her thoughts came to Callisto, the evil Callisto, the one who had sworn to destroy Xena. And from there she recalled, laughing, the first time she saw Joxer. He was trying to capture her for Callisto, hoping Callisto would let him join her army.
How EASY it had been to disarm him. No matter how hard he tried, whether with his sword, something resembling a knife, or that pitiful crossbow, he was no match for her staff. What an inept warrior. It was strange how he came to grow on them, and somehow became a good friend. It was so sad he had to die like he did, and at Eve's -- NO, not Eve! At Livia's hand! Poor Meg.
"Meg!" Gabrielle exclaimed out loud. "By the gods, how could I have forgotten about Meg, and Virgil! They must have heard the rumors if both Eve and Hercules did. I've got to visit them. They deserve to know the truth."
As Gabrielle started planning a route to take her to the small farm they where they were now living, she realized she would be going five, maybe six days out of her way. "I guess I'll just have to lose the time, what's six days out of three or four months?"
On the afternoon of the fifth day Gabrielle rode up to the thatched house. There were a few goats in a small pen, some chickens and a couple of half-grown pigs.
"Hello!" She yelled out as she dismounted. "Anyone home?" After tying the horse's reins to one of the support timbers of the house, she walked to the front door, but before she could knock, Meg opened it and walked outside.
"Hi there, Gabs," Meg said as she looked past Gabrielle, looking to see if anyone was with her.
Not seeing who she was looking for, she turned to Gabrielle. And then noticed Xena's Chakram at Gabrielle's waist.
With her eyes beginning to water, she said. "Then it's true? What we heard about Xena?"
"I don't know what you've heard, but if you're asking, yes, Xena is gone. She was killed months ago in a land far to the east called Japa."
Meg could no longer control her tears, and fell into Gabrielle's arms sobbing. Suddenly, Gabrielle felt very uncomfortable. Between Meg looking so much like Xena, and then being held like Xena would sometimes hold her, Gabrielle's own eyes began tearing up. For a long while they stood in the one spot, consoling each other. When they broke apart, Gabrielle looked for Virgil, when she didn't see him, she asked where he was.
"He's gone two villages over, to the south." Meg answered, sniffing. "He's got this idea about buying some more goats. He thinks we can make a little extra money selling goat cheese. I know he'd like to see you, but he won't be back for a couple more days. You hungry?"
"I could eat."
As Meg fixed supper, Gabrielle gave an abbreviated version of the story, purposely leaving out any mention of Eve.
"So you think this Michael is on the level?" Meg asked. "What was it you said he was, a Harpy Angel?"
"No, an Ark - Angel. And yes, I believe him, completely."
Meg nodded as she continued fixing supper. While she did, Gabrielle was studying her. "So this is what Xena will look like in 25 years." she thought. "It's amazing how much they still look alike."
"You know," Meg continued. "For a time I really hated Xena after Virgil told me she stopped him from killing Livia. I couldn't believe she wouldn't let him avenge Joxer's murder." For a short time she was silent.
Then she said with fresh tears in her eyes. "I still miss him, Joxer I mean. There were only two men in my life who treated me like I was special - my daddy, and Joxer. I knew what I was, and Joxer did too, but he never mentioned it and he never held it against me."
Meg took a deep breath and wiped away the tears. "Anyway, like I was saying, I hated Xena, or I thought I did. And when Virgil came back from town and told me he had heard that Xena was dead I was so glad, until I realized I was crying like a baby. You know, Xena treated me good, better than she had to. And if it hadn't been for you and her I might never had met Joxer. I never was one for praying to the gods, but after we got married, I thanked them every day for him. And when Virgil came along. . . ." Meg broke down again, unable to stop the tears.
"Will you look at me!" She finally said as she shook the tears away. "Blubbering just like an old lady!" Then she forced a laugh. "What am I saying? I AM an old lady."
Gabrielle put one hand gently on Meg's arm. "Meg, on my way back here from Japa, there wasn't one night that I didn't cry myself to sleep. And every morning when I realized it wasn't all just a horrible nightmare, it was all I could do to keep from crying again."
Meg smiled a little, then blew her nose. Nether one spoke for a while. Gabrielle was about to suggest they go to bed when Meg said, "You know, Gabs, Joxer never stopped loving you."
"Meg," Gabrielle started to protest, but Meg put her hand up and Gabrielle let her continue.
"It's all right. I learned to live with it. After you and Xena disappeared, Joxer took it pretty hard. He was always hanging around the tavern I worked at. I don't know where he got it, but he always had money to drink with. More than once I let him sleep it off in my bed. After a while he wasn't so bad. I guess he finally accepted it that you two were really gone. A couple of years after that we got married, and I was beginning to think that maybe he was over you, until Virgil was born. Joxer would put him to bed at night and would tell him stories about the adventures you three used to have. I guess he didn't think I was listening, but I was. I wasn't really spying, I just was interested. But after a while I noticed that he said your name much more than he did Xena's. And even after Virgil was asleep, Joxer would sit by the bed for a long time. Sometimes I could see him wiping away a tear."
Gabrielle wanted to say something, but didn't know what.
Meg continued. "Joxer stopped telling him the stories when he realized Virgil wanted to be a warrior just like his dad. But Joxer didn't want him to end up dead, fighting in some war somewhere for no good reason."
Before Meg could say more, Gabrielle suggested they go to bed since she wanted an early start. Meg acted like she wanted to talk some more, even mentioned how quiet it had been the past two days with Virgil gone, but instead showed Gabrielle where to sleep. The next morning when they got up frost was covering everything.
"Looks like an early winter this year." Meg noted. "You got any winter clothes with you?"
"Actually, I thought I would buy a good, heavy coat with some of the money I should get from selling my horse."
Meg went into another room and came out with a long deer skin coat with a woolen liner. "You take this. It's probably a little big for you, but it's warm enough. Virgil got it for me last winter."
"Meg, I can't take this. What would Virgil say? And besides, you said yourself it's going to be an early winter. You need it more than I do."
"Oh, Virgil won't mind. He'd want you to have it. You're the one who's gonna be out in the open. I got me this nice warm house to stay in."
"But, Meg. . . ."
"But Meg nothing. I'm not giving it to you, it's just a loan. You can give it back to me when you bring Xena back."
Gabrielle slipped into the coat, and Meg was right, it was much too big for her - her fingertips barely showed past the ends of the sleeves, and it was almost to her ankles, but it was warm.
"Thank you, Meg. I'll - we'll, get it back to you before next winter."
"And while you're at it, I want you to take this smoked deer meat. It almost never spoils, and you gonna need lots of provisions it you're gonna be traveling for two or three months."
Knowing her protests would be ignored, Gabrielle graciously accepted the food, and an extra water skin Meg insisted she take. They hugged one last time, then Gabrielle climbed on her horse and with a final wave, rode toward the rising sun.
As the morning wore on and the sun climbed higher, the coat became too warm to wear, so Gabrielle took it off and tied it across the back of her saddle. While she rode along, she replayed the conversation she and Meg had the night before. She wondered how long Meg had kept her feelings inside, and why now would she talk about them? It sounded almost like. . . . Gabrielle suddenly felt a chill as the thought she didn't want to consider fought to be recognized. Then it came forth: It was almost sounded like a deathbed confession!
"No." Gabrielle said out loud. "It couldn't be. There's nothing wrong with Meg, except that she misses Joxer. But what if there is something wrong with her? What if instead of buying goats, Virgil was out looking for a Healer? Maybe even a specialist of some kind?"
Gabrielle thought back, trying to remember if there was any signs she should have noticed. "Her eyes were clear," She thought to herself. "She wasn't coughing; her voice wasn't raspy. She didn't feel or act feverish. I don't remember any unusual odors about her."
"Gabrielle," She said to herself, "You have to stop thinking so negatively. You didn't used to be like this. Meg is fine!"
Several days later the peak of Mt. Olympus came into view as she approached the foothills. Once again she thought of Meg. "I wonder if I should ask Ares, or maybe Aphrodite to check on her. No, there's no reason to."
Gabrielle was tempted to see if she could contact Aphrodite, just to see her, to talk to her, but thought better of it. She didn't know what frame of mind she was in. If she was as upset as Ares hinted, well. . . "I've cried enough tears." Gabrielle said. "I wonder if the gods cry. Probably not, especially not over the death of a mere mortal. But would Aphrodite cry over Xena? Or over me?"
A few days later Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at the peak of the mountain as she rode away from it, one last look. Her next destination was Amphipolis. From Mt. Olympus it was just a short journey east to the coast, but instead she traveled north, then east, to Thrace. She knew she couldn't leave for Japa without one last visit to Xena's remains, her ashes resting in the family vault. She could have easily made up the six days she lost visiting Meg, but this was something she just had to do.
Back to the Academy