Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo, Solan, Cyrene and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
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Xena was still amazed by the rapid changes and movements, but she was getting used to it. Now she had a better idea what to expect. She looked around her and spotted at a distance two figures walking on the way leading to the village.
She continued to look carefully as she identified the figures as her slightly younger self and Gabrielle. Looking at Gabrielle it suddenly struck her, how much they had both changed. Gabrielle was merely a girl when she joined her. Wide eyed, innocent, so receptive. She was so afraid of corrupting her, of becoming a bad influence on her, that she didnt even realize how great Gabrielles influence on her had been. That young, inexperienced girl had taught her more about life, people and love than any other person she had ever known.
Xena kept following the two figures, listening in on their conversation, remembering. Only now, looking at her slightly younger self, could she admit how scared she actually was that day, while she was walking down the path she had long before vowed never to tread upon again. She was afraid of realizing she had made the wrong choice, giving her child to one of her bitterest enemies. She was so relieved to see what a beautiful, healthy boy her son had grown to be. But his words were like a dagger to her heart, especially since she felt that she partly deserved them.
Xena watched her other selfs face. Oh, how she tried not to show the sharp pain that had suddenly taken over her, but Gabrielle immediately picked up on it and questioned her if she knew the boy. Her heart quivered when she uttered the words "my son". It only hit her then and there that she hadnt used that word combination ever since the day she gave him away.
She kept watching, getting reminded of how much Gabrielles questions tormented her. How could she explain to Gabrielle what she could hardly explain to herself? Her own conscience was hard enough to deal with even without Gabrielle fueling it more. She became angry and argumentative, but she knew it wasnt Gabrielle she was really angry with, it was herself, and she didnt even know what made her more angry the fact that she gave her son away in the first place or the fact that she didnt feel she could live with that decision any longer. It was unfair of her to want him back now, she realized it, but she did want him, she wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything else in her entire life. And he hated her. Or at least so it seemed at first.
It wasnt easy to get through to him, she didnt think she could, but she decided to give it a try anyway. When Gabrielle told her that her son had been abducted her heart almost stopped. It figured. For nine years the boy lived peacefully and the minute she arrived she got him into trouble. Borias was right. She made him a walking target. But then she managed to save him and to get close to him and it was as if a whole new world of feelings just opened up to her, a world she hadnt even known existed.
Watching from a distance, Xena knew what was going to happen. Just like before, faced with the hard choice, her counterpart was going to choose differently. She stood and watched, trying to guess when and how her other self was going to say the magical words and how the boy was going to react.
Then they were sitting by the lake, and Xena knew that it had to happen then and there. She even had her own guess about the exact moment, but she still waited quietly so she could hear for herself. When they started talking she didnt even need to come closer. She could hear the words coming from within. All the words that were said between her and her son that day were engraved in her heart and remained there all that time.
"Solan..." the other Xena started, just like she did, and just like then the boy gazed at her with his big blue eyes wide open. "People do things sometimes that they regret. Things which, at the time, seem like the right thing to do."
The boy looked confused at first, but then he seemed to catch on.
"Like when I tried to hurt you?" he asked and his mother looked aside, surprised.
"A little," she replied, but hurried to reassure him. "But don't feel bad. Most of the time we don't know if what we did was right or wrong ... not until later."
Solan was becoming more and more confused, she could see that. She needed to find a way to say it to him and to do it quickly, before he would start concluding that she thought that he did something wrong.
"Something I did a long time ago was wrong," she started again.
"You mean trying to kill the Centaurs and get the Stone?" the boy asked. Again she was surprised. She tried to take the situation in. She could just stop there. She didnt say anything too suspicious yet. She could just back off and he would never know. But she couldnt. She couldnt leave without telling him the truth. She couldnt let him go on staring sadly at a gravestone on an empty grave.
"No. Not exactly. Theres something else. Something you dont know about."
The boy kept looking at her attentively until she finally resumed speaking. The words just lingered, as if she had to forcefully pull them out of her mouth.
"Nine years ago I gave birth to a son," she started, her voice trembling. "I was young, I was alone and frightened. I loved him so much that it scared me. I didnt know what to do."
The boy looked at her, his naive blue eyes concentrated on her face.
"What happened to him?" he asked and a tear fell from the womans eye as she reached her hand and held her sons face.
"I gave him up. I gave you up. And not a single day passed when I didnt miss you or wonder what had happened to you."
The boy glanced at her, uneasy.
"It cant be," he said, shaking his beautiful head. "My uncle said that my moms dead."
His mother looked at him softly.
"But it is true," she said, smiling at him. "I am your mother and Im very much alive."
Still the boy did not look happy. He was becoming increasingly disturbed.
"He lied," he finally uttered, with a hurt look in his eyes. "He always says that lying is bad. How could he lie?"
"Dont be mad at him," the woman quickened to plead with the boy. "He only did what he thought was best for you."
The boy lifted his eyes and looked at her face.
"And so did I," she finally added, almost unheard.
The boy kept looking at her for the longest time, and she was beginning to doubt that the move she had just made was the right one, but then finally he moved closer and put his arms around her waist, hesitantly placing his head on her breastplate. Her hands moved slowly, slightly shaking, to stroke his hair. She couldnt believe it. She couldnt believe any of it.
"Mother," the boy said. "Mother. My Mother."
She held him closer to her heart, closing her eyes, taking in those sweet words that helped produce the serenest smile her face had ever known.
They sat there for a while. Xena could only imagine how her counterpart must be feeling. She missed the feeling of having her son in her arms, but she knew that what her counterpart was feeling had to be so much better than anything she herself had ever experienced, for now that the secret was out, her counterpart didnt have to hold anything back anymore. She could allow herself to hold the boy in a way that only a mother holds her son. Then she tried to imagine what was going on inside the boys mind. She knew all this couldnt be easy on him. That was part of the reason she herself decided to back away. She was afraid of confusing him, but maybe she was wrong. Solan looked happy to have his mother by his side and that measured up against everything else she could think of.
Suddenly the boy pulled away and turned to look at his mother again.
"I still dont understand," he said. "If youre alive, why didnt you raise me?"
Xena watched as her other self was trying to come up with the best way to explain to the boy the reasons for giving him up. She remembered how she thought about it many times, but never could find the right way to convey those complex thoughts and considerations to such a young boy.
"You remember all the things you heard about me? How I was bad? How I killed people? I didnt want you to come out bad like me. I wanted you to be raised by good people."
She looked at the boy to see his reaction. He seemed to accept her explanation. Still she had to make sure.
"Do you understand?" she asked.
The boy nodded.
"Can you forgive me?" she went on asking, her voice nearly betraying her.
"Sure," the boy answered, effortlessly. "I forgive you."
And his mother, relieved, braced him to her heart.
Even with his head on his mothers chest like a baby, the boys mind was still working. Xena could detect his contemplative expression from afar and it made her smile. Then suddenly the boy grinned and turned to look at his mother again.
"Youre good now, arent you?" he said in a resolute tone. "You can raise me now."
His mother was immediately flushed with an unexpected wave of heat.
"But youve got a life here, Solan," she said softly. "You've got things that I can only dream of. Things that I have always wished for my son."
The boy gave his mother an intense look.
"You have the village and your friends and you have Kaleipus who loves you like a father."
Solan turned away from her abruptly.
"I understand," he muttered quietly, with his back to her. "You still dont want me."
"No," she almost shouted while forcing him to look at her. "Dont you ever think that. Not even for a moment. I love you more than anything. Theres nothing in the world that I want more " she suddenly stopped.
The boys pair of clear blue eyes met his mothers matching pair.
"Then let me come with you," he said.
His mother silenced.
The boy turned away again and began walking.
"Okay," she finally said "I just have to talk to Kaleipus first."
She stepped away. Xena remained and examined the boy. He still seemed confused, but he looked very happy, more happy than she could remember ever having seen him. She did the right thing, she thought to herself, but her heart was still unsettled. She followed her alternates footsteps and arrived at Kaleipuss hut.
"You said you didnt come for him," she could hear Kaleipuss roaring voice from afar.
"I really didnt," the other Xena said defensively. "I wasnt lying."
There was a brief silence and then Kaleipuss voice was heard again.
"We had a deal," he started saying, his voice suddenly weakening. "I raised him like a son."
"And Im grateful for it," the other Xena said, "more than youll ever know."
Xena could hear the sound of Kaleipuss hooves clunking on the wooden floor as he was pacing nervously around.
"What do you mean to do?" he asked quietly. "You cant keep roaming the country like you have. You cant put him in any kind of danger."
"I realize that," the alternate Xena answered gravely. "I still have to work out the details. But Ill do whatever it takes. Be sure of that."
Kaleipus did not answer, but his sadness was so great it was almost tangible.
"I wont hold him back," he finally uttered, sounding defeated, "not if his mind is really set on going with you."
Xena watched as her other self walked out of the hut, walking as erectly as ever. She did not stir until she saw Kaleipus coming out of the hut as well. He suddenly seemed ten years older. Xena couldnt help feeling very sorry for him. She thought of the long hard years she spent, missing the baby she had given up and she hadnt even known him then. Kaleipus was going to lose a son he had very much known.
Right at that moment, the cloaked figure appeared from behind Xena. Xena was already developing a sense of knowing when it would appear. That time, however, she did not immediately approach it but instead kept standing in a distance, trying to assess it. There was something about that figure which was so familiar to her - the movements, the voice, the contour, but somehow all those things didnt add up to one whole person. It nearly drove Xena crazy, but she had no time for solving riddles. She had to stay focused on the actions of her other self.
"What now?" she asked worriedly, remembering the horrible images from her last adventure.
The cloaked figure did not answer but instead pointed Xena in the direction of a horse. It was Argo. Xena quickly mounted her, asking no questions, and followed her other self who was leaving the centaur village accompanied by Gabrielle and her son.
They walked for days, but Xena had no sense of time passing. She was more fascinated than she had ever been by the sights and sounds that were revealed to her. All the images she had always imagined suddenly came to life. Her son, walking with her and Gabrielle. Her son, gazing at her adoringly as she spoke. Herself, teaching the boy how to fish. Herself, sitting by the fire, watching her sleeping sons face as she guarded both him and Gabrielle.
But the most surprising and the most pleasurable thing of all was watching the bond that was forming between the boy and Gabrielle. On the fourth day of traveling they found a big, straight branch and Solan picked it up and announced that it was his new staff, and that he wanted Gabrielle to teach him how to use it. He was very eager to start his training at that very moment, but his mother sat him down and taught him how to carve and chisel it with her sword, so it wouldnt have any sharp ends. Then she spent the next few days watching amusedly as the boy practiced again and again the moves that he had learnt from Gabrielle.
At dinnertime, he always sat mesmerized by Gabrielles tales. The alternate Xena scolded Gabrielle more than once about the tales that she chose to tell her son, especially about those which she said glorified her too much. But secretly she enjoyed it. After years of hearing the bitter truth about her wicked ways from not so favoring sources, hearing some of her latter adventures from Gabrielle could work to balance her image in her sons eyes.
She was amazed by the boys receptivity. She sometimes tended to forget how young he really was, especially since he proved to be so smart and resourceful. He almost always helped her catch food for their meals, and he had many times come up with imaginative and innovative ideas that completely surprised her.
She was getting closer to him every day. She could still tell, though, that he hadnt resolved all his questions and doubts about her giving him up in the first place. She could also tell that he greatly missed Kaleipus, his friends and his village. He needed stability, that she knew, and she had a pretty good idea how to provide it to him.
"Are you sure?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly when her friend first laid out her plan before her.
"As sure as Ill ever be. I dont know, Gabrielle. Youre usually the one who has strong feelings about what is right. Do you ever know for sure?"
Gabrielle did not answer. She was obviously still not convinced.
"But you havent been there for such a long time. Do you really think its a good idea to return now? With Solan?"
Xena watched as her alternate looked aside, weighing the pros and cons in her head, in a way she usually didnt do. She was responsible for her son now. She couldnt afford to be reckless.
"I feel that I ought to give it a try, for his sake," the other Xena said, pointing her chin in the direction of the boy, who was practicing his staff not far from there.
"As you wish," Gabrielle said and Xena was washed over by a very strange feeling.
"I think we should do it," her alternate said, emphatically. "I really think we should."
Gabrielle laid her hand on top of her friends.
"Then Im right with you, Xena. Lets go."
A few days passed and the other Xena had still not told her son where they were heading. Xena knew why it took her so long. While explaining things to her son she would have to come to terms with them herself, and that was always a hard thing to do, especially for her.
Finally it was Solan who started that conversation, asking where was it that they were heading.
"Amphipolis," his mother answered dryly.
"Amph Amphipolis?" the boy said tentatively. "Never heard of it," he remarked. "Where is it? Why are we going there?"
Xena laughed at his flow of questions. He reminded her a lot of Lyceus. Nothing had ever passed him by. He just had to know everything, and so he was always so full of questions.
"Its my village," the other Xena found it difficult to utter those words. "Its where I grew up."
Solan looked at her, pensively.
"You mean, when you were a child?" he asked. It was clear that he had trouble imagining his tall, strong, impressive mother as a little girl.
"Yes, thats exactly what I mean," the alternate Xena finally let out a smile.
"Thats super!" the boy said excitedly, the realization finally sinking into him. "You have to show me everything," he made his mother promise.
The boy could still tell that she was worried.
"Arent you happy to go back to your village?" he asked.
She smiled sadly and ruffled his hair. He was so sensitive to everything.
"I am. But its complicated. You see, I havent been there for a long time. Im not sure how theyll accept me."
The boy was confused.
"What do you mean? Why wont they accept you? Arent they your friends?"
The woman choked.
"They were, before I you know. Before I did all the things I did. It may be hard for them to understand that Ive changed."
Solan looked at her thoughtfully.
"Ill tell them," he suggested. "Ill tell them all about how I used to think you were bad before I met you and how I changed my mind after I got to know you, even before I found out that youre my mother."
A cloud came over the womans face and it obviously upset her son, who had no idea how to interpret it.
"Thats another thing," the woman finally said, noticing her sons irritation. "They dont know about you yet. I have to tell them." She checked to see that she had the boys attention before she continued. "I will do that, as soon as I get the chance, but you have to promise me to let me be the one to tell them. Do you understand?"
Solan nodded, but she wasnt sure.
"What I mean is, dont tell anybody youre my son, not until I tell you you can. Okay?"
The boy nodded again. This time she knew he had understood.
As they were coming closer to Amphipolis, Xena watched her alternate becoming more and more agitated. She could understand it. The last time that her counterpart was in Amphipolis she was nearly stoned to death, and although when she left the village it seemed that her mother and the rest of the people accepted that she had changed, she still wasnt sure.
The alternate Xena took the last few steps on her way to Amphipolis as if she was walking on broken glass. Gabrielle knew better than to rush her. Solan, on the other hand, was excited and curious and couldnt wait to get there already, but sensing that he had better let his mother go through whatever she was going through, he stayed close to Gabrielle and kept telling her all kinds of stories about what he was going to do once they got to Amphipolis.
Finally they were there. Everything looked exactly the way the alternate Xena had remembered it. The houses, the trees, the barns. Even the smell was the same smell that she remembered from when she was growing up. The inn was just around the corner. She felt as she used to feel when she did something wrong and was sure her mother had already found out about it from the neighbors.
She opened the door. It was quite dark. Cyrene stood by the counter. She was busy joking with some of her guests while pouring ale into their goblets. At first she didnt notice the new guests. Then she realized that somebody had just come in. She turned her look towards the door and she could not believe her eyes. There stood her daughter, whom she hadnt seen for such a long time, with that nice young girl who accompanied her on the last time she was there and a beautiful young boy. She walked over to greet them, still stunned.
"Xena," she could hardly speak. "I wish you had written me and told me you were coming."
"Its okay," the woman answered without looking at her mothers face. "I understand if you dont have rooms for us. Well manage."
"Dont be silly," Cyrene scolded her. "Dont you think I can make place in my own inn for my own daughter?"
Solans eyes lit, and Gabrielle, noticing it, drew him back. He understood and kept quiet, although his heart was racing. He had a grandmother! All those years, growing up in the centaur village, he had always dreamed about having a real family a mother, a father, siblings, grandparents. Now his dreams were coming true, bit by bit. Why hadnt his mother told him about his grandmother? He didnt know what to make of her behavior.
"Sit down, you must be hungry," Cyrene said, looking at the boy in particular.
He was a handsome boy, she thought. He seemed very friendly with Gabrielle. Was he her brother? She asked her daughter. Gabrielle only had a sister, her daughter informed her. There was something familiar about his smile, something that touched her heart. She wanted to please him. She tried to think about the best treat that she had in her kitchen, something special that she could give him.
"Ill be right back," she said and went inside.
The alternate Xena, Gabrielle and Solan sat down. The older woman found it almost impossible to concentrate, but she knew she had to attend to her son.
"So, how do you like it here so far?" she asked in the most cheery voice she could retrieve.
The boy measured his words. He didnt want to upset her and since he had no idea what kind of an answer his mother was looking for, he was very cautious.
"It seems nice, I guess," he said, careful not to let his enthusiasm show.
"Im glad you like it," his mother answered, and the boy was relieved. He wasnt sure how to get to what was on his mind, but luckily, his mother did the work for him.
"How do you like your grandmother?" she asked.
"I dont know yet," he answered truthfully. "She seems very nice."
He was just about to ask her why she hadnt told him about her when Cyrene came back to the table, carrying a large tray with three slices of cherry pie. The boys eyes lit.
"Cherry pie! Thats my favorite kind!"
Both his mothers and grandmothers eyes turned on him.
The boy began eating, unaware that he was being watched.
Xena followed her alternate self who was following her mother to the kitchen.
"Who is that boy?" Cyrene asked, but in her heart she already knew the answer.
"Hes my son," her daughter answered, surprised that the words came out so easily.
"You didnt tell me you had a son," Cyrene noted.
The younger woman smiled cynically.
"It wasnt like I had the chance," she said. "You wouldnt talk to me."
Cyrene silenced. She started chopping vegetables. Xena could tell that she was nervous. She always started chopping vegetables when she was out of words.
"Who is his father? Where did you keep him all these years?" she finally uttered.
"I will tell you everything soon, I promise," her daughter said weakly.
"Youre tired," her mother noted. "Id better get your room ready."
She walked out of the kitchen and into the back room, leaving somebody else to attend to the other guests.
Xena had often wondered what would her mothers reaction be upon learning that she had a grandson. Even now, two years after his death, Cyrene had no idea of his existence. Although she and her mother had become very close in the last few years, she saw no reason to upset her by telling her about Solan and his untimely death.
By the time Cyrene came back, Solan was already very sleepy. He still insisted that Gabrielle would tell him a story before he went to sleep. Xena watched them with a sad smile. There was so much she had missed on. There was so much she could never change. There were so many choices she could never undo. She began feeling angry at the mysterious cloaked figure. What sense did it find in showing her all the things that she couldnt possess? Why torment her like that? Why judge her to a life of observing, without being able to take part in the most desirable actions? She tried to summon the figure by wishing, but it wouldnt come. She kept watching as her other self undressed and slid beneath the covers. How strange it was for her to come back to sleep at her mothers inn, after all those years. The smell of home. It was both comforting and tormenting. That smell reminded her of all the things she had lost her childhood, her innocence, her brother. She could never be a child again. But now she had a child of her own, and she could help in creating for him great memories of a carefree childhood. Immersed in those sweet thoughts she fell asleep.
The next morning when the surrogate Xena woke up she was in a much better mood. Everything went well, better than she had dared to expect. Her son noted the change and accepted it favorably.
"You have to show me everything," he said enthusiastically over breakfast. "Remember? You promised."
His mother smiled and told him to go ahead and start touring the village. She would join him later.
After her mother had finished all of her urgent chores, she came to sit by her, holding a bowl of hot soup in her hand. The younger woman ate, quickly, and answered her mothers questions as briefly as she could. She told her of Borias how they had met, how they had joined forces, how she had found out that she was pregnant with his child and everything else leading to the day she came back to the centaur village and met with her son again. She was surprised by her mothers favorable reaction when she told her of how she had given Solan away to Kaleipus.
"You did good," Cyrene said shortly. "You were in no condition to raise a child back then."
Back then, Xena thought. Did that mean that her mother thought she was ready to raise her son now?
"So what do you plan to do now?" Cyrene finally asked.
Her daughter chose her words carefully.
"I was thinking " she started, then stopped. "I mean, I was hoping " she stopped again.
"Youre welcome to stay here as long as you want," her mother completed her words and for the first time in a very long time the older woman felt that she had a daughter once again.
When the younger woman came out of the inn, she saw her son running up to her, his face completely radiant. He had already made new friends. They were the children of the children she used to play with as a child. She felt that in a strange way the right order of the world had been restored. It was all so odd. If anybody had asked her even a few weeks earlier what she wanted most in life, that would be the last answer she would have provided. And yet, everything seemed so right all of a sudden.
She took her son to all her favorite hideouts, like she had promised. He liked the oak tree best, just like she knew he would. They climbed it together and sat up high, observing the whole area. She had already forgotten how beautiful it all was.
They raced back to the inn. She won, but she had to admit that the boy was gifted. And he adjusted to the new situation so quickly and easily. At dinnertime he already volunteered to help Cyrene at the inns kitchen. Looking at her son helping Cyrene, learning from her, joking with her, and at Cyrene, guiding Solan, laughing with him, touching him so lovingly, she knew she had made the right choice. Solan was going to be very happy at Amphipolis.
A few nights later, Gabrielle came to talk to her. She thought of heading back to Poteidea. Now that Xena and Solan were settled in Amphipolis she saw no reason for staying. There were many things that they had to work out and she felt it was best that she left them to work them out by themselves.
Xena was curious to see how her alternate was going to deal with the situation. She knew that the Gabrielle she knew, the Gabrielle that had traveled with her for five long years, would have never thought that she was in the way. She would have never left her, Xena was sure. Too much had happened between them to ever make that possible. But that Gabrielle was different and so was her other self. They didnt share the history that she was now replaying in her mind.
And still, her other self managed to convince the other Gabrielle to stay. She told her how valuable she was both to her and to Solan and how, as happy as she was right then, she couldnt imagine life without her. Gabrielle seemed surprised. She obviously did not hear such words often. Xena shook her head agitatedly. She missed her Gabrielle. She wondered what was happening in her life. What was she going through now that Xena was on her bizarre quest?
A few more days had passed, and Xena was already beginning to wonder what she was waiting around for. But since the cloaked figure was nowhere to be found, she decided to make the best of her time. She cherished every moment she had with her beloved son, even if she was only an observer, and could not talk to him or touch him or make him aware of her presence. Just seeing him so happy, so full of life and joy was enough for her. It was worth everything, even if those sights served as constant reminders to the wrong choices she had made.
Xena was still pondering those thoughts when suddenly she heard footsteps approaching near. She turned around and saw her other self, who came inside the stables and drew near Argo, looking gravely into the mares eyes. Argo gently placed her head on her mistresss shoulder, for comfort. Her mistress moved her head slowly, caressing the mares face with her cheek, her eyes half closed. She needed to be comforted. She had such conflicting feelings about all that had happened. On the one hand, it was the realization of everything she had ever wished for - a peaceful life, with the three people she loved most in the world, in her home village which she had never stopped missing. But something wasnt quite right. Something was lacking. She couldnt bring herself to admit it out loud. She felt restless. She hated feeling that way. She felt that she was betraying somebody, everybody, but she couldnt change the way she felt and she couldnt even confide in anybody with those feelings, not even Gabrielle.
"You understand me, dont you, girl?" she said softly.
Argo neighed, shaking her long, flexible neck. A loud noise from outside broke the beautiful interaction. Both Xena and her other self rushed out.
Outside, they found Solan, speaking with an unfamiliar man. The other Xena jumped high, spinning in the air, finally landing between her son and the strange man. She first pushed the boy quickly behind her and then turned to attend to the man.
"Who are you?" she questioned him, while holding her sword to his unsuspecting throat. "What are you doing here?"
The man was shocked and afraid. He began stuttering.
"I came looking for you," he barely uttered. "Our village is under attack."
Overwhelmed by her own reaction, the other Xena let the man go. She turned around and signaled to Solan that she wanted him to go back to the tavern and leave them alone. Solan lingered, looking at his mother hesitantly, but the expression on her face was grave, and so he reluctantly obeyed. The woman waited until the boy was out of hearing distance.
"What were you two talking about?" she asked, pointing her sword in the direction of the boys distancing figure.
"I just asked him if he knew where I could find the warrior princess," the man quickly answered, "and then you showed up."
The woman carefully examined the mans face while sliding her sword back into its sheath. She looked for signs of insincerity. All she had found were signs of exhaustion and confusion. She was being irrational. She had never acted that way before. Then again, she never had her son in her care before. Having him in her care changed everything. Her life was never going to be the same. She couldnt just leave him now, when they were just getting to know each other, and go save strange villages like she did before. She was trying to find a way to break the news to the poor man when Gabrielle appeared from behind her.
Gabrielle looked at her friend, then at the man, then at her friend again.
"Whats going on, Xena?" she asked worriedly.
"Nothing is going on," her friend answered impatiently.
"Who is this man?" Gabrielle asked again, whispering as she drew near.
"My name is Philias," said the man, slightly bowing his head to Gabrielle in an apparent polite gesture. "I come from the village of Theresia to look for the warrior princess."
The warrior princess looked away. Gabrielle tried to meet her glance. There was silence. Then Gabrielle smiled gently at the man and asked him to excuse her. She grabbed her friends hand and led her aside.
"What is it, Xena? Youre acting strange."
Her friend shook her head, her eyes still not meeting Gabrielles.
Gabrielle kept silent for a moment, measuring her words.
"Youre not going to help him, are you?"
Her friend lifted her eyes in surprise. She was not prepared to hear those words, not from Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sensed her friends surprise.
"Im not saying you should," she quickly added. "Im just surprised that you wouldnt."
"Why are you so surprised, Gabrielle?" the alternate Xena snapped, suddenly feeling insecure. But looking into her friends gentle eyes made her calm down. "You know the situation," she finally replied her friends tacit question. "Everything is different now. I have Solan. I cant just run around saving villages whenever I feel like it."
Gabrielle smiled understandingly.
"Are you worried about leaving him alone so soon? Cause if you are, dont be. He loves it here. Hes already made so many friends and he and Cyrene adore each other. He wont resent you for leaving. Hell understand. Its something you just have to do."
The older woman shook her head. She was still disquieted.
"If anything, hell respect you more for it," Gabrielle added.
"You think?" the other Xena squinted, as she was trying to catch Gabrielles exact expression.
"Dont tell me you havent noticed how much he admires you," Gabrielle said in a semi-scolding tone. "He just loves having the warrior princess for a mom."
That last remark released a hesitant smile from the warrior princesss lips and Gabrielle couldnt help being amazed at how insecure the big bad warrior could sometimes be.
"If its any help, I promise Ill keep an extra-close look at him, although I assure you that wont be necessary."
Xena watched curiously to see what her other self would do. Finally her alternate nodded, then placed a hand on her friends shoulder, smiling thankfully, while making her way to the tavern to deliver the news to both her mother and her son.
Xena kept watching Gabrielle. That was the Gabrielle she knew. Dependable, trustworthy, always the good friend, always so comforting, so reassuring. How lucky she was to have her in her life. How different, how empty her life would be without her.
A few minutes later the other Xena came back, accompanied by Cyrene and Solan. Gabrielle immediately joined them as they came into the stables. The three surrounded the warrior while she was getting Argo ready to go. Solan was chattering happily, telling his mother about all the things he was going to do that day. Cyrene was holding him close to her body, patting his head and face. The alternate Xena looked at the two of them, finding it harder and harder to leave. With much effort she managed to move her eyes and look at Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled at her reassuringly and nodded. The alternate Xena reached out her hand and met Gabrielles. Gabrielles hand was warm and soft as she gently squeezed her friends hand. That squeeze was all the warrior needed. It gave her the strength she lacked in order to do what she knew she had to do.
The warrior gave her son one last long hug and hopped on Argo. She kept looking back, at the three most precious people in her life who stood there, waving at her. On her way out of the village she met with Philias who, feeling that he already knew what the answer was going to be, had started walking back to his village. Coming nearer, the warrior extended her hand towards the surprised farmer and helped him get on the horse. Without exchanging a word the two of them galloped away.
Xena was about to follow them, riding her phantom Argo, when the hooded figure suddenly appeared and made her climb down.
"What is it?" Xena said, but her heart was already cringing in fear. Something was going to go terribly wrong.
The hooded figure didnt answer. It disappeared as it came. Xena resented the way it mysteriously appeared and disappeared every time, but she had no choice on the matter. All that was left for her was to wait, but nothing happened. Not for the first day, not for the second day. She was beginning to wonder whether the figure actually knew what it was doing. By the end of the third day she wished it didnt.
That day started out as a beautiful day, not the kind of day one would think could end badly. Solan woke up before dawn and headed down to help Cyrene prepare breakfast for the inns guests. Gabrielle stayed in bed as late as her conscience would allow her. Finally she stretched, got up, and stood in front of the half open window, breathing the fresh air in. Suddenly she heard the sound of something breaking. She hurried downstairs, picking her staff from against the wall on her way. She felt embarrassed when she realized that it had only been one of the dishes, which accidentally fell from the hand of one of the guests. Cyrene hurried to clean up the mess. Gabrielle sat down on one of the benches, still alarmed. She had a strange feeling. It was nothing she could explain. She felt foolish.
Solan soon came with her breakfast, but she had lost her appetite. She looked around her, searching. Xena tried to look closely into her eyes, in an attempt to read her thoughts. She used to be able to do it, but she had to remind herself that that wasnt her Gabrielle. The Gabrielle she felt so connected to was somewhere far away, and the eyes of the Gabrielle who was sitting before her now could not reflect her thoughts as clearly.
After breakfast, Solan started to clear off the dishes when Cyrene took them almost forcefully from his hands and insisted he went outside to play.
"Are you sure you dont need any more help here?" the boy asked.
"Yes, Im sure. Now go outside already," his grandmother scolded him fondly.
The boy smiled at her, then at everybody else in the inn. They all smiled back. Everybody loved the golden boy. Finally he winked at Gabrielle and rushed outside.
Cyrene wiped her hands on her apron as she walked to the window. She watched her grandson running towards some boys and joining their game. Then she turned back and sat by Gabrielle.
"Come on, what is it?" she asked the young woman.
Gabrielle was surprised. She had no idea she was that obvious.
"Nothing really," she said and immediately clamed up.
"Youre worried about Xena," Cyrene stated after a short silence. "So am I."
Gabrielle turned to her and opened her mouth. She wanted to unburden herself, but she stopped at the very last moment. It was bad enough that she was feeling so nervous and edgy. There was no reason to make Cyrene feel that way too.
"Dont worry, sweetheart," Cyrene said, placing her hand on the girls shoulder. "You know Xena. Shell be all right."
Gabrielle nodded apprehensively. Cyrene seemed to have not noticed Gabrielles doubts, for she turned around and went back to her guests.
Gabrielle decided to go for a walk in the woods. Being close to nature had always made her feel better. She remembered how Xena once told her that she and Lyceus used to hold mock sword fights in those woods. Xena didnt usually talk much about her childhood. Gabrielle couldnt help thinking how happy Xena must have been in those days. Her face always wore such a soft expression in the rare times she mentioned them. But losing her brother ended it all. The pain that his death had inflicted upon her was so intense that it had changed her forever.
Gabrielle shook her head. She didnt want to think about it now. She wanted to concentrate on happy thoughts. She closed her eyes and focused until she could almost swear she was hearing young Xena and Lyceus running and shouting between the trees. She liked that.
Gabrielle had no idea when was it that she fell asleep or how long she had been sleeping, but when she woke up the sun was already up in the sky and she was feeling even worse than before. She jumped up and hurried back to the village.
Xena was beginning to feel very nervous herself. She knew she had been told to stay put for a reason. She also knew that Gabrielles premonitions often turned out to be correct. She dreaded the moment she would be faced with the answer to all her questions, but she also knew it would not take long.
Everything that followed happened so quickly and looked so unreal that at first Xena was hoping that she was merely hallucinating. She was following Gabrielles hasty steps back to the village. Then Gabrielle stopped, her eyes widening fearfully, her hand fastening around her staff as she charged forward. She fell half way through. Then there was a high scream. It was Solans voice. He ran to her. She was all covered with blood. A knife stuck out of her chest. Solan looked around him, his eyes begging for help. Xena would have given everything to be able to react, but she knew she couldnt. She was there as an observer only, nothing more. Solan ran to the inn. He could hardly see the way with the tears completely blocking his view.
Cyrene rushed out and knelt down at the motionless body of the girl. She laid a trembling hand on her throat. Then she looked at Solan and shook her head agonizingly. Solan buried his face in her lap and sobbed heartbreakingly. Cyrene put her arms around the boy, looking lonely and helpless.
After a while his sobbing subsided. His frightful silence attested to the state of shock he was in. Cyrene was torn between the conflicting wishes to not upset him any more and to know what had happened. The second one prevailed. She raised the boys chin so she could look into his eyes and then asked him tenderly to tell her what had happened.
His eyes widened so much that they almost appeared black. Then the tears burst again. He looked so tormented. Xena wanted to be able to hold him in her arms and take the pain away from his beautiful, innocent, young eyes.
"They didnt mean to kill anybody," he muttered, his tears rolling into the corners of his mouth. "They just came to steal."
Cyrene shook her head.
"Who were they? How do you know that?" she asked.
"I heard them talking while I was sitting in the oak tree. I should have never interfered. If I hadnt interfered none of this would have happened," said the guilt stricken boy.
"None of it is your fault," Cyrene immediately responded. "Do you understand?" she said in a firm voice while forcing the boy to look at her. Then, in a softer voice she pleaded with him to resume his story.
"I wanted to stop them," the boy whispered, lowering his eyes, so as to avoid his grandmothers gaze. "I wanted to be a big hero and save the village, like Mom," he added in a voice so soft it was almost completely unheard.
"What did you do, Solan?" she asked, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to even move.
"I jumped on them, from the tree, with my staff," the boy admitted faintly.
Cyrene let out a sigh. She regretted it instantly.
"You see? It is all my fault," the boy whimpered.
"No, it isnt. You just did what you thought was best," Cyrene said, her throat slightly resisting. She did not want to cry in front of the boy.
"What happened next?"
Cyrene hated herself for asking more, but she had to know. She knew Xena would want to know all the details and no way was she going to let the boy go through having to tell her himself. She would have to tell her daughter what happened instead.
"They grabbed me and took my staff," Solan continued. "I dont think they were going to hurt me."
"But then Gabrielle saw you," Cyrene completed the picture herself, "and she tried to save you."
Solans throat was too sore to speak. He nodded.
"And they panicked and threw the knife at her," Cyrene continued, embracing the boy.
The boy nodded again, then lifted his eyes and looked into his grandmothers.
"They didnt mean to," he said. "They got so scared when she fell. And I..." Solans voice broke.
Cyrene put her hand on his mouth, then moved it slowly across his cheek. She started rocking him again. They stood like that for a short while. Then Cyrene turned to the people who began gathering around them and arranged for Gabrielles body to be carried to her inn.
Later that night Cyrene sat by one of the tables, a candle by her right hand, a blank parchment spread in front of her. She took it from Gabrielles bag after everyone had gone to sleep. She thought it would only take a few minutes. She did not want to leave Solan for too long. But now she was sitting in front of the parchment, finding it impossible to seize upon the right words. What was the right way to tell her daughter that she must hurry back because her best friend, the closest soul to her on earth, had died?
Her eyelids were getting heavy. It was a long and stressful day. She didnt even know where her daughter was at that point and how long it was going to take for the messenger to get hold of her. She finally dunk the feather in some ink and wrote "Hurry back. We need you here promptly."
She sealed the scroll and put it aside. She would find a person to deliver it first thing in the morning.
The alternate Xena was already on her way back when she got the message. She had a horrible feeling. She was certain that something had happened to Solan. She beat herself up for leaving him. How could she have allowed herself to listen to her warrior instincts instead of her maternal ones? She should have never gone away. And now something was wrong and she didnt even know what. Her mother didnt specify. But she knew her mother well. She just didnt want to alarm her. She galloped as fast as she could, not resting even at night. Two and a half days later she was home. Approaching her village she could already sense that things were worse than she had thought. Her limbs were completely numb from riding so many days almost without resting. She nearly fell when she jumped off Argo, but she soon stabilized herself and staggered in the direction of the inn.
Upon hearing the familiar step, Cyrene hurried outside to meet with her daughter. They met only a few steps away from the inns door.
"Where is Solan? What happened to him?" the alternate Xena immediately asked.
"Solan is all right," Cyrene said, feeling she was partly lying. Solan had not been himself since Gabrielles death. "Its Gabrielle."
Her daughters eyes darkened. She instantly knew.
"How long has she been dead?" she asked quietly.
Cyrene made a quick calculation and finally uttered "about six days."
Deep in her heart, the other Xena had known it all along. Six days ago she had a very strange feeling, one that she had never had before. She tried to disregard it, but it wouldnt go away. She tried to find a logical explanation for it, but she couldnt. Now it was all clear. Still, she was too stunned to be able to feel anything at that point. She asked for all the details. Cyrene hesitated. She had no idea how her daughter would react if she was made aware of her sons innocent but nevertheless fatal involvement in the tragic death of her friend. She was so afraid of shaking the unstable grounds upon which her daughters relationship with her son was founded. Finally she decided to stay as true to the original story as possible, leaving out only the part about Solans plan to stop the thieves. She made it sound as if he was grabbed by the thieves because they found out that he had heard their plan. There was no use upsetting either of them any more by being too precise about it at that moment.
The younger woman rushed in to see her son. Right away she noticed how pale and weak he looked. She could easily tell he hadnt slept much in the past six nights. The boy was very relieved to see her. He held her so tight she was hardly able to breathe, but feeling herself the need to hold on, she tightened her grip of him even more. They sat there for a long while. Finally she moved the hair from the boys haunted forehead and kissed him. Then she got up. Cyrene knew where she was going to. Silently she pointed in the right direction.
Gabrielles casket was in the middle of the cold room. Her friend found it extremely difficult to move towards it. She took small, anxious steps. Finally she stood right in front of it, so close, too close. She slowly moved the lid. The body was well preserved, and still, the sight of it was too disturbing. The alternate Xena took a step back. Then she knelt down and forced herself to look at the casket. Her lips slowly moved.
"I should have let you go home when you wanted to," were the only words she could pronounce.
It sounded so cold. She bowed her head. How could she possibly say what was in her heart?
"You should have never died defending my son. I should have been here. I should have protected him myself. What was wrong with me? How could I have left him?"
The warriors upper lip began to quiver. She ceased talking for a minute. She drew closer to the casket and with much effort looked inside.
"Its all my fault, Gabrielle. Im the reason youre dead. And Ive never even had the chance to tell you..." she choked. A tear rolled from her eye and fell on the marble cheek of her friend. "Ive never even told you how much I loved you."
Feeling she was being watched, the woman turned around. There was nobody there. For a moment she thought it might be Solan. Her thoughts wandered back to him. He was taking it all so hard. There she was, with her best friend dead and her son completely tortured and torn and there was nothing she could do. She had never felt so helpless. That feeling filled her up with rage. She stormed outside.
"Xena," her mother called after her. "Where are you going?"
She didnt answer, but increased her speed.
"Xena, please stop and tell me where youre going," her mother called again, but she feared she already knew the answer. "It wont make you feel better," she shouted at her daughters distancing figure. "It wont change whats happened."
The warrior quickly mounted her horse.
"Xena, please dont go. We need you here. Your son needs you."
But the warrior was already too far away to hear her.
Cyrene knew it wouldnt be hard for her daughter to find the thieves, even without having a detailed description. She always had been good at what she was doing. It was what Cyrene both most admired most feared in her daughter - her determination, her thoroughness, the way her mind just got locked into what she felt she had to do. So many times that determination of hers turned out to be disastrous both to her and to her surroundings. Cyrene had the uneasy feeling that that was going to be one of those times.
She entered the inn and went to check up on her grandson.
"Where is my mother?" he asked right away.
He must have heard Cyrene shouting, or Argo galloping outside his window.
"She... she went riding. I think she needs some time on her own, to.. to absorb all thats happened," Cyrene said slowly, weighing her words very carefully.
Solan turned his head. He had such an expressive face, like his mother used to have as a child. Cyrene had already learnt how to read it.
"Youre not still blaming yourself, I hope," she said tentatively.
The boy did not answer, but it was clear that he was.
"We all make mistakes," Cyrene said. "Theres nothing you can do about it now."
"Have you ever made a mistake that got somebody killed?" the boy asked solemnly.
Cyrene shuddered. She couldnt possibly give a truthful answer to that question. The sight of her dead husband flashed before her eyes, but she couldnt even now decide whether she had done anything that brought to that awful night in which she killed him.
"Maybe, indirectly," she finally said, after thinking long and hard. "And your mother sure have made many such mistakes," she carried on, feeling her way as she was talking. "But were only human, and we make mistakes, and we must forgive each other, and most importantly we must forgive ourselves."
Solan looked up and met her gaze. She could tell she wasnt getting through to him. She wished her daughter were there. Somehow she had the feeling that the boy would have had an easier time believing it if she had been the one saying it.
Finally the boy was getting drowsy. His grandmother wrapped his fragile body with the blanket and closed the door behind her.
When his mother wouldnt come back that night or the next day, Solan finally realized where she had gone to. The boy looked very disturbed upon that realization. His eyes, already red from crying all those days, became even redder.
"She went after them, didnt she?" he demanded of his grandmother.
Cyrene nodded quietly.
Before she even had the chance to add anything, the boy ran to the woods.
Watching her grandson rushing away, Cyrene found it difficult to suppress the anger she was feeling towards her daughter. Sometimes she just couldnt understand her. She was badly needed in Amphipolis, not only in order to take care of her son, but also of Gabrielle. After all the time she had waited so she could have the chance to discuss the funeral arrangements with her daughter, off she went again, and now Gabrielles family was at Amphipolis and the burial couldnt be delayed any further. She seriously thought that her daughter would want to attend it, as painful as it was going to be. And it was going to be even harder on Solan, and as much as she herself had tried to help him through that difficult time, what he really needed was his mother, and she wasnt there for him.
At first, Cyrene figured that Solan just needed some time to be by himself, and chose the woods for some solitary contemplation, just like his mother used to do when she was a child, but when he failed to arrive to dinner, she was beginning to worry. An hour later, the whole village was up and about. All the villagers and the inns guests were walking around, holding torches in their hands, calling out Solans name, but there was no answer.
Everything was deteriorating, Cyrene couldnt help thinking. What started as a dream come true for her - seeing her daughter again, realizing that she was the grandmother of an angelic little boy, being able to convince both her daughter and her grandson that Amphipolis was their home - all was destroyed. Nothing was left of the joy she had felt only shortly before.
That night, Cyrene took another parchment from Gabrielles bag, only now she didnt have to think long. She knew exactly what she was going to write.
"Solan is missing. He has run away. Stop this useless search for revenge and get back here immediately."
The searches took place all night and all day. By the evening of the next day the boy had been found. He was safe and sound, only exhausted and looking even sadder than before.
"What were you thinking?" Cyrene asked after hugging the boy silently for a while. "Dont you know that running away never solves anything?" she added more softly. "I was so worried about you. The whole village was. We all love you so much. I dont know what we would have done if anything had happened to you," she added.
The boy motioned and tore himself from his grandmother, speechlessly. Then he started walking, his head bowed, until his figure disappeared inside the inn.
Xena watched the boy as he made his way to his room. He looked so desolate. She felt so sorry for him. She couldnt help wondering how many times he had felt that way in the past. How many times could she have been there by her sons side when he was sad or afraid or even happy? She never thought of it until her son died. And now her alternate had a chance to make up for lost time and what did she end up doing? She went off looking for vengeance. That wasnt right. Vengeance was indeed useless. Nothing could be done about Gabrielles death now, but if her alternate would have stayed with her son, maybe she could have eased his guilt a little. She hadnt even stayed long enough to listen to him. He didnt have a chance to confess to her. And now he had the death of three more people on his conscience. That wasnt at all right.
The other Xena arrived two days later. Her mother had never seen her so distraught. She wondered if her daughter was finally beginning to understand the implications of what she had done.
"What happened?" she immediately snapped.
"We found him," Cyrene tried to say in a reassuring voice, but it was very much tinted with the anger she still very much felt for her daughter.
"What happened? Why did he run away?" her daughter repeated, agitated.
"I wanted to stop you," the boy, standing barefoot at the door, quietly rejoined. "I wanted to tell you not to do it, that it was my fault and that they shouldnt die," he blurted. "But I guess its too late now. Youve already killed them, didnt you?"
The boys mother just stood there, completely overwhelmed.
"What are you talking about? It wasnt your fault. Stop saying such things."
Her words made the boy break into a loud sob. She hurried to hug the boy, but her eyes were lifted and she was looking helplessly around. Cyrene avoided her daughters look. Feeling it, her daughter released her hug and told Solan she would be right back.
"Tell me all you know and do it now," she commanded in a low but hardly restrained tone.
Cyrene told her everything, this time including the boys exact actions. She watched quietly as her daughter completely discolored.
"Why would he do such a stupid thing?" she asked her mother. "Both Gabrielle and I have told him so many times not to play the hero. When you have a chance, run. You dont start fighting unless its the very last resort. I thought he understood that," she continued.
"Dont be too hard on him, Xena," her mother said. "He meant well."
"He got Gabrielle killed," her daughter cried distressfully.
"You got your brother killed," Cyrene suddenly blurted and the minute those words flew out of her mouth she wished she could retrieve them, but it was already too late. Her daughter turned to her, looking as if she was plunged at the heart by a sword.
"I cant believe you just said that," she said. "After all these years, youre still blaming me for his death," she whispered.
"No. Thats exactly what I was trying to say," Cyrene said. It all came out backwards. "Yes, that was the result of what you did, but you were trying to save the village. I understand that now. And as much as it was painful for me to lose Lyceus, and as much as it was hard for me to forgive you for it and for everything that happened afterwards, I understand why you had to do what you did. And you must try to understand why your son did what he did. He wanted to be a hero, like you. He wanted to save the village. And yes, he made a huge error, he realizes it now. But he is still a child, and he is still your son, and he needs your love, not your judgment, just like you did, from me."
With the last words, Cyrene could no longer hold her tears back. Her daughter watched her, astounded. She was not prepared for such words. She and her mother had danced around the subject of Lyceuss death for so long. She was beginning to think it would never come up. She knew they had a lot more to talk about, but she also knew that attending to her son was more urgent at that moment. She squeezed her mothers arm, in a gesture that expressed so many different emotions, and went back to her son.
"She told you everything," the boy half asked, half declared.
His mother nodded.
"You must really hate me now," he added.
The woman sighed deeply.
"No. I dont hate you. I could never hate you. Youre my son," she uttered, her voice sounding so tired and sad.
"Are you angry?" he asked.
"Not at you," she answered. "Im angry at myself."
The boy looked at her questioningly.
"Ive been selfish," she said, not looking at her sons face. "I wanted to have you so much that I let you leave behind all youve ever known and join me, even though I had no idea where we were going. And I gave you the wrong impressions. I let Gabrielle tell you all those heroic stories about me because I wanted you to love me and be proud of me. I didnt take into consideration how it might affect you."
The woman could tell that her son was looking at her even without moving her head in his direction.
"But I wanted to come with you," he said, sounding confused.
"I know you did. But I should have known better. I shouldnt have let you come with me, even if it meant having you angry with me for a while. I should have done what was best for you, not for me. None of this would have happened if I hadnt taken you away from where you belong."
The boy suddenly got nervous.
"What are you saying?" he whispered.
"I think it would be best for you to go back to Kaleipus and the centaurs," his mother sounded as if she was drowning.
"I was right," he said after he had a short time to think. "You do hate me. You want to get rid of me now."
The woman seized her sons shoulder and turned him sharply towards her.
"No," she said, making him look at her. "Im doing it because I love you. Ive made a big mistake and many people have paid for it already. Look at you," her voice rose, while tears began rolling from her eyes. "When I met you you were such a cheerful, carefree boy. Youre miserable now."
The boy looked at her, perplexed.
"Im not leaving you, Solan," the woman choked. "Ill come visit you all the time. Im just trying to right a wrong. Do you understand?"
But the boy turned away. All he could see was that his mother was planning to leave him again.
The next morning, Cyrene said goodbye to her reluctant grandson and anxious daughter.
"Hes angry with me," her daughter said, after the boy wandered off. "He thinks Im trying to get rid of him."
Cyrene smoothened her daughters dark hair.
"Itll take time," she said. "Hes too young to understand. Im sure when he grows up..."
"He wont even talk to me," her daughter said in a lost voice.
"I know its hard," her mother began, hesitantly, "having your child not talk to you."
Her daughter bowed her head. Things were never simple between parents and children. She knew it first hand.
"But eventually hell come around. You have to believe that. And youll have to be patient."
The younger woman looked at her mother painfully.
"I know its not going to be easy," the older woman said while caressing her daughters face.
The younger woman stood for a long while, staring into her mothers eyes, until she finally gathered up the nerve to ask what she had been dreading to ask.
"Do you think Im doing the right thing?" she let out cautiously.
"I dont know for sure," her mother answered frankly. "But I know you think its best, and I trust you."
Her daughter gave her a sad half smile. Cyrene grabbed her daughters arm and pulled her close. Her daughters body was tense and unquiet. She twitched to release herself from her mothers hug and then turned away and went outside to join her son. As she was approaching him, he turned away resentfully and began kicking pebbles. The woman sighed. She could see it was going to be a long, hard way down to the centaur village. She seized Argos reins and began walking. The boy followed them silently.
Sadly watching her other self and son walking away, a familiar feeling suddenly crept over Xena. She turned around sharply. There, as she had expected, stood the hooded figure, watching her watching the scene from afar.
Xena felt herself becoming more and more irritated.
"What is the moral this time?" she asked cynically. "That I could never make a good mother? That I could never desert my warrior ways or resist a good vengeance when it comes my way?"
The hooded figure seemed surprised.
"I didnt say that," it said, sounding somewhat upset, even hurt. But a moment later it turned surprisingly compassionate. "Is that the way you are feeling?" it inquired in a soft, sincere voice which once again sounded so familiar. Xena had a feeling that the mysterious person was somebody very close to her, but if so, how could she not tell who it was?
"I understand your frustration," the figure continued and its voice suddenly reminded her of her mothers, but it couldnt possibly be her. The cloaked figure was considerably taller than Cyrene. And there were some things that it said which werent at all characteristic of her.
"Who are you?" she blurted, irritably. "How do you know all the things you do?"
Xena could feel the figure smiling a sad smile.
"Youll know everything in good time," it replied softly.
Xena sat herself down on a rock, looking again in the direction of her distancing alternate self, horse and son. They were still walking very far from each other. That image made her both gloomy and pensive.
"I still think it was wrong for him to die not knowing that I was his mother," she finally uttered.
The figure did not reply, but it seemed very attentive.
Xena went on thinking quietly for a little while longer, and then continued.
"But maybe he just wasnt ready back then," she reasoned. "Maybe he was too young."
She suddenly turned to the figure, her face looking a little more lively. "
When I came back again, a year and two months later, he had grown so much. It was unbelievable. He was so much more mature. Maybe he would have understood then."
The figure turned to her sharply. Something in her movement caught Xenas eye. But before she had time to really think about it or even form an intelligible idea in her head, she heard the familiar words - "as you wish" - and again, she found herself on the road to the centaur village.
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