I WON'T BE THE ONE TO LET GO
Copyright August, 2003
Disclaimer: The characters Xena, Gabrielle and all the rest, belong to Renaissance Pictures, Universal, MCA, USA, etc. etc., are not mine and I don't pretend them to be, no infringement is intended, nor am I writing for profit.
Violence/Hurt/Comfort: Yes, to all three although about equal to the show, if this bothers you, you may want to read something else.
Love/Sex Warning: This story depicts maintext and declarations of love between two women. If this is illegal in your state, you are under 18 or if depictions of this disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Feedback: Always welcome and appreciated at IrishRed1855@cs.com
This is a POST FIN story and my first attempt at Xena fan fiction. After struggling with the loss of a close friend and writing an original story dedicated to her (I included a synopsis and link to it at the end of this story if you're interested), I thought a long time about Xena's death and after my experience I know I'd go to the ends of the earth if I could bring my friend back. It seemed to me that as much as Xena and Gabrielle have been through they deserve the opportunity to walk off into that sunset together so, as a result this is my imagination at work to provide some entertainment, hopefully a few smiles and as in all my stories a happy ending.
Special thanks to my hubby who understands the call of the muse, thanks for reading and may you all be blessed with friendship, loyalty and love. Irish
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
A friend is one who believes in you before you believe in yourself.
"I want to come back," Xena said casually as she watched Gabrielle begin to break camp.
"And I want you back," Gabrielle answered just as casually as she stoked the fire for breakfast.
"No you don't understand I have to come back."
Gabrielle looked up at her as she froze, stopped stirring the stew, left the spoon simmering in the pot and stood, "What to you mean you have to come back, what about those 40,000 souls you had to redeem, what about telling me you had to learn from me, the good, the right thing to do, the sunset, the hug, what about teaching me the pinch and to use the chakram, what about leaving me with just a ghostly presence for almost a year, what do you mean you want to come back," she stood turning her back to her, "besides what if I dont want it," she shot back.
Xena walked through her till she faced her.
"Don't," Gabrielle shivered, "that tickles."
"Look at me," Xena asked, "thats why have to come back."
Gabrielle slowly raised her head, "Why?"
"Because you can feel a tickle and I cant."
"You cant feel anything, of course not youre a ghost."
"I feel things but they're faint like theyre half there because ," she paused.
"Because ," Gabrielle drew out the word encouraging her.
"The other half of my soul is you, two bodies, one soul, Aristotle was right, besides I miss you, I miss us, I miss feeling what you feel when you laugh that laugh that causes your nose to crinkle."
Gabrielle smiled and her nose crinkled.
"See, that's what I miss, I miss feeling your happiness when you tell your stories or play with little kids, I miss feeling your innocence, only gods know how that survived, I miss feeling the way you do when you help others and ask nothing in return and most of all I miss your touch."
Gabrielle softened, her eyes misted and her throat tightened, "I miss you too and I feel things in almost the same way, the colors aren't as bright and feelings aren't as sharp, things just seem off, but I figure if that's the price I have to pay some god, who knows who, to keep you around if only as a ghostly presence then it's a bargain at best and you know how I love a good bargain," she paused, they locked eyes and exchanged smiles then her eyebrows knitted together, her eyes moving back and forth as they turned inward, mouth slightly opened question on her face as she looked at Xena recalling the earlier urgency in her voice, the word 'have' and tensed, voice tight, "so why now, why not when I asked, practically begged," her arms and hands, palms up, stuck out from her body, "what makes now so different?"
"Because Lao Ma told me it was time, the lesson had been learned," Xena said calmly.
"Time, lesson, Lao Ma, what are you talking about, what lesson?" Gabrielle became agitated as her head, arms and hands moved restlessly.
"Your lesson, the lesson of being a warrior, becoming what you were meant to be, on your own, being able to do what I couldn't, balance courage and wisdom, serve others, live for others, your enemies as well as your friends. A lesson she tried to teach me a long time ago, a lesson I couldnt teach you because I never learned, a lesson you had to teach me."
Gabrielle stilled her voice serious, "But you did learn, what about the greater good, doing the right thing, thats what you said, besides I let you go, what you wanted."
"Exactly, what I wanted not what you wanted, you are just as good as I am, knew everything I did, knew my soul as well as your own, every instinct in you screamed to drop my ashes, to bring me back, that the world was better with two than one, why didnt you do it."
"Because it's not what you wanted," Gabrielle's repeated emotionless, head lowered avoiding Xenas gaze.
"Because," Xena said forcing her to look up at her, "even though you knew deep down it was the right thing to do, you wanted to do what I wanted because you thought Id never forgive you for bringing me back after I told you the souls would be unredeemed and you feared Id leave you, right."
Gabrielle's eyes were downcast as she slowly nodded.
"The night before the battle I prayed to every god I knew, at least the ones I hadnt killed," she added with a sad smile as Gabrielle raised her eyes to her, "I even asked Lao Ma for the purity of essence and when she appeared to me she told me that as the sun set there would be many moons of darkness until the treasured one had spread her wings and full of heart flew like the wind, once the journey was complete the sun would rise on a new world and everything would flow naturally again. She again told me that I was destined for great things, then Eli appeared to me."
"Eli," Gabrielle whispered her eyes fixed on Xena, "what did he look like, what did he say?"
"He looked like he always did only brighter and said that there was a lesson to be learned, that the bright one had to shine, that it was going to be very hard on us but once we learned all would be as it was, the journey would be treasured and we would treasure each other."
Gabrielle remained silent but her eyes never left Xena as she continued, "Lao Ma told me that their god would never let those souls be unredeemed no matter what the circumstances, that our journey was incomplete, that we had a lesson to learn in order to continue because the world needed us both, alive and together. We had to have a unity of purpose and mind that we didnt have then, one heart, one reason, one soul. The mind-body-spirit between us had to be fully balanced and connected, our great destiny was ahead, a dark force was coming and we had to be able to defend others, even our enemies. Things had to be arranged so that we could still learn from each other yet not do what the other wanted because we think it would make them love us more," she looked at Gabrielle, "or because we feared they would leave us. This was your journey Gabrielle, it has been since we met, I was just along for the ride, it's you who Eli and Lao Ma were talking about, you're the treasured one, the bright one, my great destiny Lao Ma spoke of was to be your companion, to learn from you, to help you bring about a new world."
"Me," Gabrielle said numbly, eyes unblinking, staring at her, "no, you're the one."
"No Gabrielle," Xena said settling her hand on her shoulder, "you're the one."
After a few moments of silent thought Gabrielle looked at her partner, face, eyes and voice filled with hurt, "Why didnt tell me?"
"I couldnt," Xena's voice pleaded, breaking after seeing the hurt in her partner, "it would have changed your, our path and the lesson wouldnt have been learned. We would both have been condemned to this half-life, I had already interfered too much with your personal path of self-discovery, I had to step away for you to mark your journey and to become the person you were meant to be."
"All this so I could learn a lesson!" Gabrielle's voice rose in aggravation and Xena realized she was wrong when she thought her own vocabulary of curse words was extensive, cringed at hearing the words coming out of Gabrielle's mouth and was relieved when after a few moments they turned into unintelligible agitated murmurings. As Gabrielle's hands and arms flew wildly around her body. Xena wondered why she hadn't yet hurt herself, the higher her pitch the more she moved and even though Xena was a ghostly presence, she instinctually stepped back, "all this so I could walk around with half a soul, still see but be out of touch, so I could hurt inside even more than ," she couldnt finish and turned away then slowly turned back toward her, face red, voice angry, finger pointing, "You," Xena turned thinking she was pointing at someone behind her, seeing no one she pointed to herself, her eyebrows raised in question, she silently mouthed 'me' and not waiting for an answer began to back up, "you knew from the very beginning, didn't you, from the very first time you saw me, the very first night I came into your camp?"
"No," Xena defended herself passionately holding her hands palms up as if to stop Gabrielle's advance, "I thought Id always be alone, that youd travel with me for awhile then leave, I never thought youd stay, and thank whatever entity is responsible that you did. You saved me from a path of self-destruction and more importantly taught me the meaning of friendship and family. Ive learned so many things from you, to mix compassion with courage, to discover the goodness in myself, to find forgiveness for myself as well as others, to help without expecting anything in return, to trust, to have faith, to share one heart, one vision, one soul and most of all to see love, and then because or despite of it all, I had to leave you with just my spirit, to guide not control, to learn myself, to follow and not lead, the student had to become the teacher, that was my lesson."
Gabrielle's eyes stared at her then turned inward as she contemplated what Xena had just said. Sitting down heavily on the log next to the fire she gave herself time before she spoke in quiet thoughtfulness, "And I had to learn to pick my own path and become the person I was meant to be without influence," she looked up at Xena, "to learn to treasure the journey and each other, that weve gotten this far by never turning back, to trust and have faith and that despite our desire to control, things happen."
"Yes," Xena said sitting next to her, "did she talk to you too?"
"No actually I read her book, sometimes it pays to read directions, but what bothers me most is," her voice began to rise again, "if it's my journey why the spirits talk to you and not me, is there some type of secret spirit communication line somewhere and who else have you talked to about us?" her green eyes suddenly flashed, "Ares," they narrowed on Xena, "youve been talking with him havent you," a suspicious look shadowed her face, "you havent been you know."
"No," Xena exclaimed as she jumped up and put her hand to her chest as if in horror, "I dont even think thats possible, not the talking, the other," her eyes rolled upwards as she thought for a moment and a shade of a smile flickered across her face, "although I didnt think "
"Never mind," Gabrielle said sharply putting her hand in the air to interrupt her, "I dont want to know," and cursed as she picked up the spoon that had been left simmering with the stew.
"Anyway," Xena finished trying to calm her partner, "I havent seen of heard from Ares since we last saw him together remember, besides youre my soulmate you know that."
Gabrielles green eyes glared at her, burnt fingers in her mouth.
Uh oh, Xena knew that look and was glad her mouth was occupied with something other than the words she was knew was on the tip of her tongue, although there weren't many left that hadn't already been said but Gabrielle was a bard, a good one, and way more inventive with words than Xena, so to head off another tirade she slowly lowered herself next to her, face and voice soft, "Gabrielle, my soulmate, my best friend, my family," her head, face, eyes, the sides of her lips, shoulders and body dropped into her best forgive me pitiful look, "I dont deserve you," sweetness dripped from her voice.
Gabrielle kept silent for a few more moments until she could no longer stand her partner looking so pathetic, then she laughed, "Youre right you dont but youre stuck with me so deal with it, now dont change the subject, what else?"
"What do you mean 'what else'?" Xena piped up mood instantly changing
"There's always a 'what else' with you Xena," she spooned some stew into her bowl and took a bite, "go ahead drop the other boot you never bought me because if you have an idea of how to get back this is going to be difficult," she pointed her spoon at her, "nothing with you is ever easy, go ahead, I'm ready," she sat waiting, silently chewing.
"I bought you a new pair of boots," Xena said defensively as she stood.
"Yeah, but they weren't the right color or size because you never bothered to ask me before you bought them," Gabrielle replied looking up at her with impatience, "what else," she emphasized.
"I was ," she paused, looked away, rubbed her arms, looked up, scratched her head, looked at Gabrielle, looked down attempting to dig her foot in the dirt and finally said, "afraid." In one swift movement Gabrielle dropped her arms, laid the bowl on the log, stood, head, hands and arms again moving as she spoke with irritation, "afraid, that's your answer, what could you possibly be afraid of," she held her open hand palms up and out, "Xena the mighty warrior princess, you've stared down and defeated gods, kings, and warlords what could you possible be afraid ....of .," Gabrielle stopped seeing the surrender of love in Xena's eyes and stance.
"Oh, afraid, wow, I'd never have guessed," her voice and posture softened, "I never gave you any reason to be."
"Maybe we had to go through this to get to each other," Xena replied with a smile.
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, "Fine," she sat and poured a cup of tea, "next time we take the easy way."
Xena started to say something and Gabrielle held up her hand, "Stop, no more cryptic talk, my heads hurting as it is, none of the reasons matter anyway, getting us back together is whats important what do we do next."
"Epona," Xena said as if it should be obvious.
"Who's Epona?" Gabrielle asked now more confused than before.
"That's where we go for help," Xena answered, "hurry and eat so we can get started."
"Wait a minute," she reclaimed the bowl, "I'm not going anywhere until you explain, is this another spirit, what about Mt. Fugi?"
"She's real or at least she was, no our destiny lies north, the Keltoi tribes in Eire."
"Dont tell me, the secret spirit communication line, Lao Ma and Japa are a long way from Eire and I'm not rushing my eating it's bad for your digestion," Gabrielle said taking a bite chewing it slowly and deliberately.
Xena ignored her as Gabrielle talked around a mouthful of stew, "Xena no more secrets, I'm not blindly following you anymore, a full partnership, we talk it out, make decisions together, no one goes off doing things without the other knowing and approving, a compromising partnership, agreed."
"Lesson has been learned and agreed, from now on it's Gabrielle's world and hopefully I will just live in it."
"No if this works out it's our world and we'll both live in it, together."
"Isn't that what I said?"
Gabrielle looked at her skeptically, "together Xena, to geth er," she emphasized then finished by scrapping the last of the stew off the bottom of the bowl.
Xena gave her a 'who me' look and a hurry up gesture, "Wouldn't have it any other way, together, come on break camp we need to get started."
Gabrielle put the bowl down, stood up, and looked at her partner with hands on hips. "Oh, sorry," Xena said with inflection, "I forgot, that is if you agree," her voice dripped with sarcasm.
"What's that?" Xena said hearing Gabrielle mumbling.
"Oh, nothing," Gabrielle said exaggerating her smile as she began to pack up camp, muttering under her breath about sarcastic, smart aleck ghosts.
"Tell me about your friend," Gabrielle said as they settled into the room at the inn.
Gabrielle lay down and covered up as Xena sat on the edge of the bed. "I met Epona during one of my times without an army. I was traveling north and my horse was ready to foal and was having difficulty so I stopped at a village where some farmers told me lived a Druii."
"A Druid priestess," Gabrielle interrupted.
"What do you know of the Druids?" Xena asked, not surprised Gabrielle knew about them.
"It is the religion of the Keltoi, the tribes who live north of here, they consider the earth divine and worship trees and animals, anything from the land. They're priests, prophets, educators, judges and healers and we have something in common."
"Whats that?" Xena said.
"Were both bards, that's how they pass down their traditions, through stories."
"You know, you never cease to amaze me."
"Seems youre not the only woman of many skills here," Gabrielle said with as big grin.
Xena laughed as she continued, "Well, as I was saying, the farmers told me that this Druii had an uncanny ability to communicate and heal horses so I found the village and met her."
"What was she like?"
"She looked much too young to know anything about healing but luckily I was wrong. She didnt say much to me, and before I could tell her about my horse she went to her and put her hands on her head and belly. She told me that I would have to do exactly as she said if we wanted to save the mother and foal."
Xena looked at Gabrielle who was struggling to keep her eyes open. "I didnt know what to say so I just nodded. We were up all night with the horses but just as the farmers said she was uncanny in her abilities, Id never seen anything like it before or since. Needless to say both horses survived. When I asked her what I owed she just wanted me to teach her to ride and my debt would be paid so I agreed and stayed on as her guest."
"You stayed?" Gabrielle said forcing her eyes open.
Xena grinned, "Sometimes I stayed but youre right I didnt stay that long, one or two moons. Oh, I taught her to ride and she taught me about her way of life. We became friends, or as much of a friend as I could be back then before you taught me the real meaning," she stopped as she looked down at Gabrielle who pushed her lids up and smiled.
Xena got up and walked across the room while Gabrielle snuggled deeper into the bed, she turned on her side, put her arm under her head and closed her eyes, "Toward the end of the summer, Id decided to leave before the snows. I promised to visit, but never did. Epona kept the foal and I left with Argo."
"Argo!" Gabrielle opened her eyes and raised herself up on her elbow, "it was Argo?"
Xena pushed her back down, "Get your rest you'll need it for the coming moons and yes, it was Argo and I left Epona her foal."
The trip north was pretty much uneventful, they'd traveled for almost three moons, crossed mountains and water and were now in the land called Eire. The weather had gotten colder so Gabrielle had put away her top and skirt and exchanged it for a shirt with sleeves, a tunic, cape and breeches. Gabrielle wondered at the sites. She had never seen such a peaceful and tranquil place, beauty abounded whether in its lush green rolling hills or stark rocky flat lands or lakes, and every once in a while theyd find a circle of stones standing upright, and natural springs surrounded by flowers and altars, Xena had explained that these were sacred sites for Epona's people. She pointed out the sidh's, where it is said the fairys lived and if you watched and waited they would eventually come out to talk to you, "but you mustn't eat their food or you'll be confined to the fairy world forever."
Early on the sixth day of traveling from the coast they reached where Eponas clan lived. Looking out on the crest of the hills Xena, riding behind Gabrielle, could make out a lone rider on a golden horse.
"Epona," Xena told Gabrielle as she pointed.
"How can you tell?"
"The horse look familiar?"
"Give me a break, Xena, you're a ghost, you can see better than I can alive or dead. Hey, how come you can't just pop in and out or in different places like the gods did, I thought ghosts could do that."
"I dont know," she said, "just can't."
As she started up the hill, Epona met them halfway down, "Hello, Xena," Epona said.
"Hello, Epona," Xena responded.
"You can see her?" Gabrielle asked astonished.
"Of course, I'm a druii, I've seen her in my vision as well as you, Gabrielle."
Startled for a moment that she knew her name, Gabrielle turned to her.
Epona smiled, "Come, my house is just over that rise, a small village not far from Tara."
"Is it a big city?" Gabrielle asked finding her voice.
"Actually it's a hill or rather a large mound. It's where the druids all assemble once a year to celebrate midsummer. It's called the 'Seat of Kings' and houses the Lia Fail, which is the inauguration stone for the Kings of Eire. There are several buildings there including the great banquet hall, the Mi Cuarta, and each of the provincial kings have a house there along with a Grianan, a sun house, for the provincial queens. The house you'd be most interested in is the Star of the Bards, a meetinghouse for the poet, bards, and druids. The five great roads that lead to all of Eire begin at Tara. It's a sacred place to us and we've fought many battles to protect it. Maybe after our mission is complete and you are both back in the physical world, we could visit.
"I'd like that," Gabrielle said thinking about what she meant by 'both back in the physical world'.
They passed a sentry and Epona waved at him giving them access to the village. Her hut was at the end of the settlement. They stabled the horses and Gabrielle noticed other horses in the same stable, some she felt were familiar. "You have other visitors," she asked. "A few, it appears Ive become very popular lately," she sniffed the air, "smells like dinners ready, are you hungry."
"Do birds fly?" Xena chuckled as the flapping of swan's wings drew their attention to the lake behind Eponas house.
Epona laughed and led Gabrielle into her home. It was large and circular with a heavily domed thatched roof. Inside was one large room with a fireplace that took up one whole side and had chairs in front of it. A long chain held a cooking cauldron over the fire, which smelled like stew, and on the spits were what looked like pork. Patterned silks and linens hung on the inside walls dividing the hut into smaller rooms. Off the back of the house was another smaller roundhouse, which Epona explained was her workroom and bedroom.
The hut was well lit with firelight, candles and smelled of flowers and evergreen.
Gabrielle stopped short when she saw who exited through one of the linen rooms, "Eve," she hollered and rushed over to hug her.
"Hello Gabrielle, hello mother," Eve replied hugging Gabrielle.
"You can see her too?" Gabrielle asked.
"Of course, I'm my mother's daughter, I have many skills."
Gabrielle glared at Xena, "I dont know why I ask." Then her stomach grumbled and Eve said, "Well we better feed the monster," and yelled out the window that dinner was ready. Gabrielle started to respond to the monster comment when the door opened and Beowulf laden with firewood entered immediately followed by Wiglaf. "Beowulf," she yelled happily and after he laid the wood near the fireplace reached down for a hug, "and Wiglaf," Gabrielle smiled as she held his arm.
"Hello Gabrielle, hello Xena," Beowulf said.
Gabrielle looked surprised, "You can see her too?"
"Well shes a little fuzzy around the edges, but I can see her," Beowulf replied noticing Xena's unsmiling face and tense stance until he released Gabrielle.
"So can I, are you sure shes dead?" Wiglaf asked a little uncomfortable around a ghost.
"She is between worlds, they both are, neither dead nor alive," Epona answered him as she took out the plates and Eve helped by filling them with stew and pork, bread, cheese and herbs were already on the table as well as milk, ale, and wine.
"What do you mean between worlds?" Gabrielle and Xena asked together.
"One body, two souls, split in half, neither truly alive nor dead," Epona responded taking her plate to the table after making sure everyone was served.
"So what do we do?" Eve said.
"Put them back together," Epona said.
"How?" Beowulf asked.
"It wont be an easy path," Epona answered.
"Im not going to tell you I told you so, "Gabrielle said around a mouthful of stew, "but I told you so," she pointed her spoon at Xena then turned to the rest, "nothing with her is ever easy, I could have just dropped her ashes in the fountain on Mt. Fuji but no, it was about the learning, the good and right thing to do, 40,000 souls ,"
Epona interrupted, "Even if you had and brought her back then, something else would have happened to split you both, the Far Eastern lady and shining man in my vision said the both of you had to learn a lesson and Brigid gave her blessing for me to help."
Gabrielle looked up, eyes and mouth open.
"Close your mouth Gabrielle there's flies in here, certainly there's a secret spirit communication line amongst the many gods," Epona grinned.
"I saw a lady in mine too, pretty, long black hair, now that you mention it she did look like she was from the Far East," Beowulf said.
"Mine too," Eve said, "along with a shining man," she glanced at Gabrielle with a knowing look, "I think the woman was Lao Ma."
"Whos Lao Ma?" Beowulf asked.
"She was the wife of Lao Tzu, a leader from Chin, but she kept him in a sorta coma so she ran the country and wrote all the words they attributed to him. She met mother when mother was recovered but crippled from Caesars crucifixion attempt. She had partnered with a warlord named Borias and theyd kidnapped Lao Mas son, Ming T'ien although he didnt know he was her son till he was older. As a child he was kept from his mother and raised by his father Ming Tzu, Lao Ma was one of his courtesans until he sold her to Lao Tzu. They were hunting mother and Lao Ma protected her and took her to her kingdom. She used her powers to heal mothers legs and tried to teach her to use peaceful ways to serve others, even her enemies, to give up her hatred but she was too full of rage and bloodlust and more interested in raising her own army, so she refused Lao Mas teachings. Eventually Lao Ma used her powers to stop mother after she killed Lao Tzu and tried to kill the young Ming T'ien and mother left Chin with Borias. Later Lao Ma died at the hands of her son and Mother went to Chin to repay the debt. Gabrielle tried to stop her from killing him, mother was captured, tortured and sentenced to death, Gabrielle and Xena had a falling out but made up by the time of the execution. While Mother was chained to the stone cross, she heard Lao Ma and received what she called a 'purity of essence'. Mother broke the chains and was filled with an energy that allowed her to send balls of fire at her enemies. The castle crumbled and she eventually wound up killing Ming T'ien, although she lied to Gabrielle about it and it cause another whole thing about betrayal and lying that was mended when .,".
"I think they get the picture Eve," Xenas stern look and firm voice said enough for Eve to stop, even as a ghost her mother was still a formidable presence.
Everyone stared at Eve for several moments, "Hey, I read it in her scrolls," and pointed to Gabrielle.
Everyone turned their attention to Gabrielle and after a few moments of stone, cold silence, Gabrielle stood up and threw her arms out, "Why is Lao Ma visiting everyone but me, Xenas my soulmate."
"Because she is just that, your soulmate, Lao Ma knows that and hopes that your trust and faith in Xena has not faded," Epona said.
"Not another test," Gabrielle groaned.
"Yes, a test of faith," Epona said.
"OK, what do I have to do?" Gabrielle had finished eating and set her plate in the middle of the table with the rest.
"Lets clean the table and sit by the fire with some wine and Ill tell you a story," Epona said.
"The Book of Invasions, the Lebor Gabola tells us of many conquest and battles over Eire. According to the book the first invasions came from Nemed, a Greek from Scythia. He defeated the Fomorians and ruled Eire until he died then the Formorians defeated the children of Nemed. They sent messages of help back to Greece until a fleet arrived and fought a bitter battle leaving the children of Nemed victorious and the Formorians defeated. Later, a new group of Formorians arrived and defeated the children of Nemed who returned to Greece. During the second invasions, the Fir Bolg, who were descended from the children of Nemed who'd returned to Greece, were so powerful in their home country that they were enslaved, decided to escape and sailed for Eire. They defeated the Formorians and were the first to establish social and political order, living in Eire for many generations. In the third invasion, the descendents of Nemed, through his grandson, calling themselves the Tuatha De Danann had settled in the northern island of Greece where they learned the arts of druidism and magic, fought against the Philistines and when forced to flee returned to Eire which they felt rightfully belonged to them. With them they brought our most sacred objects, the Lia Fail, the stone which utters a shriek at the inauguration of the rightful king, the invincible spear of Lugh, the deadly sword of Nuada and the ever-plentiful caldron of Dagda, the good-god or father-god of Eire. They attacked Eire and after many battles defeated the Fir Bolg," she paused looking up seeing lost looks on some of their faces, "I'm sorry, sometimes I tend to ramble on and on."
"No," Beowulf encouraged, "it's fascinating, please continue."
She smiled, took a deep drink of wine then started again, "Between the third and fourth invasions, there was a battle known as the Second Battle of Moytura which is most interesting. In the First Battle, Nuada, the leader of the Tuatha, had his arm cut off at his shoulder. The Tuatha went to Miach, the son of Diancecht the physician and asked him to heal Nuada. He collected herbs representing each of the joints and sinews of the body and mixed them together, then applied the mixture while chanting a magical verse."
Gabrielle moved forward in her chair resting her elbows on her knees as Epona continued. "According to legend within three days Nuada had a new arm and was healed." Gabrielle straightened and started to say something but was stopped by Xena's hand on her shoulder and stilled.
"Nuada was made leader and had to defend Eire against the Formorians and after many years of preparation the battle began. During the Second Battle as they fought each other the Tuatha dead were always alive the next day, their broken weapons and shields always new."
"How did this happen?" Beowulf asked clearly entranced by Epona's tale.
"Dianchecht the physician had used his special skill to provide the Tuatha a magical well and when the dead were thrown into its enchanted red waters they were healed and restored to life."
"Where is this well?" Gabrielle asked voice full of hope.
"It was located near what is called the Giant's Causeway but is no more, when the Formorians found out about it they filled it with rocks and the land has now disappeared under water."
Gabrielle slumped in her chair seemingly defeated. "But," Epona held her arm and Xena squeezed her hand on her shoulder, "there is another entrance."
Gabrielle's spirit soared and she became excited and animated, "Where?" she whispered.
"Several days ride south of here, at a place called the 'Region of the Summer Stars', there is a high mount called many names, the 'Hill of Evil, the Hill of Dreams or the Hill of Visions', at this time of year it can be reached only by boat and at the middle of the top there is a stone circle and in the center a well, protecting a natural spring of red water known as the 'blood spring'. It's said to have magical restorative healing powers."
"When do we leave?" Gabrielle stood.
"At first light," Epona replied, "it will take make cycles of the sun to reach it, that is if you are all willing to take the journey. I cant promise it will be easy for as Gabrielles already told us and as you already know, nothing with Xena is easy."
Beowulf stood next to Epona and looked at Gabrielle, "I pledge that I will do everything in my power to help you bring Xena back for that will also bring the light back into your eyes." He held out his hand and Epona placed her hand on his, "And I pledge as well." He nudged Wiglaf who also stood putting his hand on Beowulfs, "And you have mine." Eve placed her hand on Wiglafs, "I also pledge," she said solemnly. Gabrielle smiled and stood placing her hand on them all, "We have a plan then." Xena put her ghostly hand on top, "We have a plan."
They were all packed and ready to go at daybreak. After ten sun cycles they reached the place where they would travel to the mountain by boat. As the ferryman dropped them off on the rocky shore at the base of the mountain he told them that theyd probably meet some pilgrims hed dropped off earlier that week. When they were ready to leave they were to light a fire and hed come for them. Beowulf and Wiglaf helped him shove off.
"Is this often a place of pilgrimage?" Gabrielle asked shivering as a strange feeling went through her.
"Yes, are you all right?" Epona answered.
"Yeah, just a chill," she answered.
"It's be best to add an additional cloak, it gets windier and colder the higher we get to the top. Most dont come during this season, because of the weather, but a few do."
"I hope they're friendly," Gabrielle said.
"Most pilgrims are," Eve said.
The trail encircled the mountain like a spiral and they climbed higher and higher. Halfway up and tired from the trek, they found shelter and decided to stop for the night. Gabrielle wanted to continue but Beowulf told her theyd probably need all their strength, mental and physical, for the next couple of days. She agreed and they settled in for the night.
Unable to sleep she was up early the next morning sitting on the edge of the trail looking at the sunrise. Xena sat next to her. "A little different circumstances than the last sun we looked at like this," Xena said.
Gabrielles expression was worried, "Epona says that when we mix the herbs with your ashes and drop them into the well youll probably disappear until you're restored."
"I know," Xena said, "does that worry you?"
"Im have a strange feeling about this, maybe you wont find your way back home this time," Gabrielle said staring straight ahead.
Xena smiled and slipped her arm around Gabrielles shoulder, "It's going to be that new world besides I promised Id never leave you even in death and I'll always find my way back home because you're my home, my best friend and family, I love you Gabrielle."
Gabrielle smiled and leaned into her, "I love you too," then stood up, "so lets get you back."
Eating a quick breakfast of salted pork, nuts and remembering Xena's many lectures about drinking water, they continued up the mountain finally reaching the top. It was flat with a stone circle in the middle as Epona had described and farther out toward the peak was a large tent, which Gabrielle assumed held the pilgrims.
The stones were the height of Beowulf and as thick, some stood and some lay on the ground as they formed a circular pattern around a small rock well, the edge maybe reached Gabrielle's knees, the water visible at ground level. Vines with small white flowers intertwined within and over the rocks of the well and a hazel tree stood nearby as if protecting it from the wind. Into the stones of the well were carved the symbols of the cosmos, water and never-ending circles.
"Ready Gabrielle," Epona said.
"Ready," she answered shakily as she took out the urn of ashes and opened it holding it steady, careful to catch all the herbs Epona poured into the opening.
"Shake the urn so they mix well then you must pour them in the water," Epona said as Gabrielle looked at her with hesitant eyes, "it was in the vision," Epona nodded toward the red water.
Gabrielle looked at her, could she do this, she hadnt let go of these ashes for a year and by doing this shed might lose Xena, maybe forever, a chill again ran through her body. Eve and Beowulf stepped up to stand on either side, barely touching. She felt comforted by their presence and a sense of calm filled her as she looked up across the well at Xena who smiled, "Follow your instincts Gabrielle." Gabrielle nodded, took a deep breath, leaned over the edge and poured the ashes into the middle of the water. Epona on the other side spoke words in her ancient tongue as she made hand motions over the well opening. Gabrielle didn't know how deep the well ran, but suddenly a rumbling shook the ground. They stepped back from the stones and watched astonished as the red water bubbled up even with the top of the well, the ashes and herb mixture floating calmly on the surface, then the water formed a cup in the middle capturing the ash mixture and the sides fell into it swallowing the mixture into the well and at the same time Xena disappeared.
Gabrielle pushed down her fear as she heard Epona declare, "She has been accepted."
"How long?" Gabrielle forced out in a halfway steady voice.
"It took three days for Nuada to grow back his arm, no telling how long for Xena although Ive heard shes a fast healer," Epona answered smiling.
"I hope that's still true," Gabrielle thought, the pain of the separation hitting her hard after having lost all sense of Xena as soon as the water took the mixture and felt a little sick. A cruel wind blew at them and Gabrielle turned to them, "You all don't need to stay, it may be weeks."
"Do you want us to leave?" Beowulf asked.
"No, but I dont want you to feel like you have to stay," Gabrielle said sincerely.
"Well, I'm not leaving," Eve said.
Beowulf looked at Epona and Wiglaf, "We've made our pledge Gabrielle, let's find some shelter."
"Theres an old shrine up here," Epona said, "Im sure Brigid wont mind us borrowing it for a while."
They followed Epona to an enclosed stone shrine. The altar was covered with flowers, the room was clean and there was a door and roof to protect them from the weather. "Can we build a fire in here?" Beowulf said.
"Brigid is the goddess of fire, Im sure she wouldnt mind," Epona said.
"Good, Wiglaf and I will gather some firewood, be right back," he touched Gabrielles arm.
A few moments later the door flew open. "That was quick," Gabrielle turned and stared as Najara stood in the doorway.
"Hello Gabrielle, I knew wed meet again," Najara smiled wildly.
"What are you doing here?" Gabrielle said harshly as Beowulf and Wiglaf were shoved into the room, arms held behind them, daggers at their throats.
"Im leading the pilgrimage to the shrine, I was told by the Jinn that you are trying to restore Xena to this world, they cant allow that to happen," Najara said motioning three men into the room to grab Gabrielle, Epona and Eve.
"Dont bother to fight me Gabrielle you know what I can do, your weapons or your friends die."
Gabrielle looked into Beowulf's eyes who shook his head no and reached down for her sais, pulled them from her boots, turned them and handed them to Najara. "Very nice," she said looking them over, "now the chakram." "Careful, it's sharp," Gabrielle said as she thought for a moment about flinging it toward her but the daggers were pushed into Beowulf's and Wiglaf's throats and when she saw a thin line of blood drip from the wounds, she handed it over.
"Owww," Najara yelped holding a bleeding hand. "Told ya," Gabrielle smiled with satisfaction.
Najara grabbed Gabrielle's arm, "Another stunt like that and you'll watch your friends die one by one, Xena's daughter last." Gabrielle's eyes avoided looking at Eve in case she was trying to trick her.
Najara looked directly at Eve, "Just like your mother, expendable," Najara smiled at Gabrielle, "now just relax for awhile while I take care of some business then you're all invited to dinner, no need to dress," and motioned for them to be bound. Ropes were wrapped several times around their bodies with their arms secured behind their backs and they all sat on the floor of the shrine.
"What business do you think she's talking about?" Gabrielle asked Epona.
"I suspect it has something to do with keeping Xena from being restored," Epona said.
"Can she stop that?" Gabrielle's voice reached a panic.
"Once the water accepted her ashes the process cannot be stopped, I'm not sure what she's talking about, she seems a bit fanatical."
"Fanatical," Eve huffed, "more like crazy."
"Glad I'm not the only one to notice," Gabrielle said.
"Well, these pilgrims certainly aren't friendly, who is she anyway?" Beowulf asked.
"Najara first claimed to be nonviolent and peaceful, who received visions from someone she called the Jinn. She tried to get Gabrielle to join her at a time when Gabrielle was confused about her place in life and in mothers life. She thought she wanted to set up a hospice and decided to join by accepting the light. Mother decided to leave Gabrielle with Najara because she said she always seemed to hurt her and it would be better for her, then she found out that anyone who didn't accept the light was killed so she confronted Najara. Boy, did Najara kicked mother's as...,"
"Eve," Gabrielle's stern look and firm voice said enough for Eve to stop, just like her mother's, a slight smile flashed across Eve's face as she continued, "Anyway, Gabrielle stopped Najara from killing mother and after mother awoke from the beating she went in search of Gabrielle, they set up a plan, unknown to Najara, where mother defeated her and turned her over to the authorities. The next time they met up with her, Najara had escaped from prison and by then Gabrielle had given up violence. Najara told Gabrielle that Eli had visited her in prison and that she should turn to peace. She asked Gabrielle to set up that hospice with her but Gabrielle refused saying she belonged with mother. Gabrielle believed that she'd changed her ways until Najara punched her to stop her from saving mother from getting hurt in a fight. Mother took that personally and they fought until mother stabbed her leaving her in some kind of coma and back in prison."
The room was silent and they all looked at Eve.
"Dont say it, you read it in my scrolls," Gabrielle said dryly.
"No, mother told me the story, she said she always regretted ever thinking about leaving you, ever," Gabrielle softened and smiled as Eve said, "you don't think Alti's involved do you?"
Before Gabrielle could respond Wiglaf asked, "Who's Alti?"
As Eve started to answer, Gabrielle swore to herself to hide her scrolls from her, but her thoughts were cut off when Najara threw the door open and for once Gabrielle was glad for the interruption.
Najara and her men stepped into the shine, "My mission is complete, Xena will not be arriving as planned."
"There's nothing you could do to stop the spell once it started," Epona said.
"Maybe not stop the spell, but I can stop Xena from exiting the well, it's now covered with a heavy, large boulder, it's very beautiful amongst all the other stones, but let's talk no more of it dinner's ready."
Najaras men pulled them up roughly and pushed them out of the shrine and toward the tent. The inside had rugs on the ground and a fire pit in the middle. The sides flapped against the wind, which seemed to be getting stronger. "The potion," Najara commanded one of the men and he handed her a wineskin. "Hold them," she pointed to Beowulf and Wiglaf, the men pushed them to their knees, forced their mouths open while Najara poured the liquid into them until they began to choke and had to swallow.
Their eyes suddenly became vacant and emotionless. "The potion," Epona said, "it takes away your will, look at them, they follow her commands no matter how crazy and don't question."
"Yes, it works well with men, not so with women and certainly not with a druii or a follower of Eli and I would never do that to you Gabrielle," she said as she raised her hand and placed it on Gabrielles cheek in what could almost be described as a lovers caress. Gabrielle stiffened. She whispered to her, "You know you could return to the Light, we would embrace you again into the fold, we could be good together Gabrielle, a great team, " she raised her eyebrows questioningly.
Gabrielle's face hardened and her voice rose, "I already have a partner and its not you, it never has been and never will be, Xena and I belong together. I thought I made that clear and even if she had left me I would have followed her."
Najara grabbed her hair and screamed into her face, "For what Gabrielle, more hurt, all she does is hurt you, keep truths from you!"
Gabrielles face reddened with anger, the tendons in her neck tightened and stood against her skin as she stepped toward Najara who leaned slightly backwards, "Were soulmates and yes sometimes we hurt each other, opening your heart and soul to someone involves that risk, but Xena and I make it work, its the learning, the lesson, the journey thats important and the best part of my life is her, who I am is reflected by my friends, they tell what kind of person I am, what do your mindless zombies who do your every whim tell about you," she finished by pushing into her.
Najara smiled and pulled her close, "That I am in control and your partners gone, Ive seen to that, besides even if by some miracle she returns I defeated her once Ill do it again, by the way does she miss that tooth."
Gabrielle pulled back and calmed, "I don't remember her mentioning it, besides I believe you were the one in prison afterwards," Gabrielle said feral grin forming, "and if Xena doesnt take care of you I will."
Najara stepped back and laughed out loud almost reaching a hysterical pitch, "My dear Gabrielle," Najara said grabbing the front of the ropes and pulling her toward her till she was just inches from her. Najara gripped her jaw and ran her finger down her face, Gabrielle grimaced and tried to turn away but was held fast by Najara's grasp, "You could never kill me, unlike your partner you could never kill anyone in cold blood."
Najara stepped back, "And Ill prove it." She took a sharp dagger and quickly sliced through the ropes, the pieces fell on the floor layering around Gabrielles feet. Najara turned the dagger in her hand, handle toward Gabrielle, "Heres your chance Gabrielle the Battling Bard," Gabrielle's jaw clenched, her face tight and tense, "oh yes Ive heard of you, heres your chance to do more than beat me, kill me, the spell will be lifted and you'll save not only your friends but Xena as well, kill me," she reached down, grabbed Gabrielle's hand, opened it and placed the knife in it closing her fingers around the handle. She then opened the middle of her shirt and stepped close to Gabrielle positioning it above her heart, "kill me," she whispered in a pleading voice.
Gabrielles hand squeezed the handle, her face intense, eyes blazing, she grabbed Najara's upper arm and held it tightly enough to leave bruises, pulled her close as she pushed the tip of the knife into her enough to leave a mark but not break the skin. Eve watched Gabrielle's body become tense and taut, saw her knuckles visibly white even in the dim light and saw her hand and arm shaking eventually extending to her entire body. She continued to watch as a drop of sweat fell off Gabrielle's chin, hit her hand, wound around her fist and dripped off hitting the floor.
Gabrielle glanced at the knife in her hand and saw the pressure it put against Najara's skin, she let Najara go giving her a slight push backwards and flipped the knife in the air grabbing it by the blade flinging forcefully into the tent floor. Eyes locked on Najara's and she missed seeing the knife go through the rugs and burying itself to the hilt in the dirt, "I wont kill you Najara," she said tightly, gaze and voice steady, "because then I would turn into something I despise, you."
Najara laughed, then nodded and a man stepped up next to Gabrielle.
"You care too much Gabrielle, thats your weakness," Najara sneered.
"No youre wrong, thats my strength," Gabrielle answered her eyes glaring.
Najara grabbed her hair and jerked her towards her, "You will join me," she hissed.
"Youre crazier than you actually are if you think Im staying with you," she growled spitting in her face.
Najara released her, wiped the spittle that dripped down her cheek, slowly ran her wet hand down the front of Gabrielles shirt then quickly backhanded her and Gabrielle slumped back into the man that had moved behind her. Feigning unconsciousness and feeling his hold loosen she suddenly lifted her foot and slammed it down hard onto his instep. He howled letting her go, turning she kneed him in the groin and he fell onto the tent floor groaning.
She didnt quite make it to Eve and Epona. One step away and something hard hit her in the back. She fell forward landing on her elbows. She bit her tongue as she clenched her teeth trying to fight the nausea as white lights exploded behind her eyelids, quickly followed by blackness. The thumping on her body faded as the darkness swallowed her, her last conscious thought being that this was really going to hurt later and probably leave a mark.
"Gabrielle." How could something that sounded so faint cause her head to hurt so much would have been something to ponder, but she had enough to do to keep the pounding down, "Gabrielle," stronger now but no less painful, her eyes opened if only to tell whomever it was to shut up.
"What?" she groaned exasperated. Her eyes blinked several times, tightened then opened fully. They were someplace cold and hard her voice echoed off the walls. Something wet was in her mouth and on her lips. She opened her mouth a little, sticking her tongue around and tasted a familiar metallic taste, blood, well, at least she had all her teeth, she almost laughed out loud at that thought but it would have hurt too much. She reached up to touch her head and felt cloth, knowing it was one of her sleeves since she felt the cold of the floor on her bare arm. A figure came into focus. It was smiling. "You OK?"
"Yeah," Gabrielle said as Eve reached down to help her sit up, "did I at least get some good licks in?"
"Well lets just say that once that man comes to his senses he wont desire female companionship for a while and his ability to father children is still questionable."
Gabrielle leaned into Eve and the cold of the wall, the wind howled outside, "I knew this wouldn't be easy, I see I got the worst of it."
"Well you did try and escape and I am nonviolent, besides Epona and I had it under control."
"Yeah," Gabrielle grunted, "I could tell," she looked around, "where are we?"
"The back of the shrine, a small passageway winds around back, only one way in and it's guarded."
"No back way?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nope," Eve answered, "already checked, just relax, you should try practicing patience," she replied as she closed her eyes and assumed her meditative stance.
"Patience!" Gabrielle howled clearly irritated, then wincing grabbed her head and lowered her voice, "I'm the most patient person here, as much time as I spent with your mother waiting for her to tell me the plan and usually never getting around to it. you're just like her, keeping secrets, not telling anyone what's going on ,"
"Gabrielle," Eve opened one eye and looked at her, "you're rambling and losing focus," then closed it and continued.
"Eve ," Gabrielle's voice warned, she sounded just like Xena, damn it where is she I can't feel her at all.
"Shush," Epona finally said to them over her shoulder. Gabrielle finally noticed her back was to them and she was using some kind of stick to draw something on the floor, chanting, her hands moved frantically.
Gabrielle looked at Eve who opened her eyes and looked back. "It's part of the plan," Eve said as she gently pushed into Gabrielle with her shoulder. Gabrielle chuckled, "That's how your mother and I usually ended up settling our arguments although a lot of time throwing water was involved."
"As long as it wasn't swords or sais," Eve replied smiling.
"Or chakrams or staffs,' Gabrielle said and as they both looked at each other, chuckles escaped from their lips, "I'm sorry Eve," Gabrielle started.
"I know," she replied
"That obvious, huh," Gabrielle said.
"Sorry, even the blind man noticed," Eve grinned, then her voice became serious, "it goes both ways you know."
"I know," Gabrielle said gently.
Epona suddenly interrupted, "Someone's coming, stall them."
Eve looked at Gabrielle, "She's a druii, you don't question just accept."
Eve stood up and grabbed Gabrielle's arm to help her, leaving her bent over hands on thighs leaning against the wall.
Epona dug in her pouch, "I need more time, Eve I need you to help me."
"What?" Gabrielle yelped and looked at her as if she were crazy, "what do you expect me to do attack, I can hardly stand."
The silver of Epona's eyes flashed in the dim light settling on Gabrielle, which provided the answer to her question.
"Don't look at me," Eve said pointing to herself as she kneeled next to Epona, "I'm nonviolent remember, besides," she pointed to Epona as if to place blame, "she needs help, just think battling."
Gabrielle straightened and with one hand on the back of her hip she bent slightly backwards, as Xena had taught her, and twisted gently to the right then left feeling the bones pop back into place as she mumbled something about sarcastic, smart aleck daughters, know-it-all druii's and louder, "Xena when you get back you owe me a good massage."
Epona had been searching her pouch finally finding the white powder, took it out and began to fill in the furrows she'd drawn into the dirt floor, the sign of dohmanh, the symbol for the cosmos.
Eve knew she was trying to see the large picture, past the details, to see the pattern. She could see her mouth moving but no sounds coming out. Eve mimicked her hand movements over the dohmanh a few times then made the sign of the triad. After breathing out, Epona took out some blue powder and made another sign, the abrainn, for water, on the cave floor and they repeated the same ritual.
Puzzled Gabrielle began to say something but by then both had again closed her eyes and begun to silently chant. "The things I do for you Xena, boy are you going to owe me bigtime for this," Gabrielle muttered hoping Xena would hear her but she still hadn't felt her since she disappeared earlier. She turned to Eve and Epona, "This better give us some answers and I hope they dont involve getting wet, I hate wet clothes," she might as well have been talking to herself as she held her side and limped toward the voices.
As Eve followed by Epona ran around the corner, she ran right into the men. Unresisting they grabbed her and Epona and pulled them out of the cave. She saw a cart with Gabrielle lying at the bottom, hands and feet tied. They threw the both of them into the cart and they fell into Gabrielle who grunted. Eve moved up towards the woman she knew as her other mother, turned her over and cupped her head turning it back and forth to examine it. Her breath caught as she saw her right eyebrow deeply cut and bleeding into her eye and her lip split and dripping down her chin, both would need stitches, but theyd have to wait until they could get out of this mess, which hopefully wouldnt be too long. Eve pulled a bag of seed under Gabrielle's head, Epona checked for broken bones and both were thrown off balance for a moment as the cart jerked forward.
"Gabrielle come on, wake up," Eve gently moved her head back and forth alternating between light taps and rubs on her check as Epona untied her.
"Just let me sleep a little while longer, Xe, I promise I'll get up, just a little longer," she mumbled turning her head using the seed as a pillow. Eve and Epona both smiled, "Gabrielle, Xena needs you, we need you come on wake up," more urgent.
Gabrielles eyes squinted at Eve and Epona. "I was having such a weird dream. I was getting beat up, could really feel it too," she tried to move, "uhhhhh, wasnt a dream was it?" She groaned as she tried to focus in on Eve and Epona finally only seeing two sets of worried eyes.
"No," Epona shook her head, "where does it hurt?"
"My head, my back, my arms, my sides and my legs."
"Well," Eve smiled, "that about covers everything."
Epona reached down and ripped Gabrielles sleeve off her shirt. "Hey, I might need that ya know."
"Its already got blood on it and dont think Im getting blood on my clothes its impossible to get out and besides you don't want to look foolish with only one sleeve, it sends a fashion statement."
"Thats some gratitude, most of this blood got there because I was doing something for you, which, by the way," Gabrielle said as she pushed herself up a little, spitting blood and again checking for all her teeth with her tongue, "if you dont mind my asking," voice now stronger, "what in the name of all the gods were you doing?"
"Youll see," they both grinned wiping the blood and Eve put her hand on her shoulder to still her. "I hope I can still see by then," Gabrielle grumbled as she settled back down.
Epona looked up and her grin widened as the sky started to darken bringing with it the rolling sound of distant thunder and rain clouds, suddenly the cart stopped and they both fell forward.
Rough hands grabbed Eve, pulling her out. She stood staring at a tall stake surrounded by wood, which was perched on the edge of the cliff that overlooked the beach. The same hands then pulled Epona quickly followed by Gabrielle and pushed them forward into Eve. They both reached down to help Gabrielle up and supported her between them.
Najara appeared dressed in a black robe, "Because of their sacrilege these nonbelievers must be forced to see the truth and join us, the fire will cleanse their souls," she turned to Gabrielle, "youve made your last mistake with me, the Jinn have filled me with more power than ever before."
As they were pulled to the stakes Gabrielle yelled, "Youre making a mistake Najara, let us go now or suffer the consequences later."
Najara laughed as Gabrielle whispered to Eve, "Shes making a mistake." "Shes crazy," Eve said out of the side of her mouth. "As a bed bug," Epona quickly followed.
They were tied back to back then everything and everyone stopped. Lightening flashed across the sky, outlining everyone in a bright, white light. Thunder closed in around them rumbling, shaking their very bones as the sky opened up releasing torrents of rain. "See," Epona yelled proudly over her shoulder to Gabrielle.
"I knew it," Gabrielle yelled back as the lightening flashed again, "rain, I knew wet clothes would be involved somewhere when I saw that water sign."
"Oh, quite complaining, you wont melt, besides your clothes are already ruined with all that blood, it might even wash some of it out," Epona returned.
"They'd might have been all right if someone hadn't ripped them, you need to work on your timing."
"Oh, I think my timings pretty good." Gabrielle turned her head as far as she could, her face questioning as the sky opened pouring water on her. She hated wet hair and the cold, drenched clothes now clinging to her body.
"Hard to burn wet wood," Epona yelled, "for traveling so long with Xena sometimes you are slow."
Gabrielle smiled despite the wet clothes, "Only in some things, lucky for you because of traveling with Xena Im able to take a good beating," she replied in her defense as she shook her head and water flew in all directions, "OK, OK, it was worth it."
Najara approached them. "Guess youre cleansing by fires all washed out," Eve smiled.
"It doesnt matter, fires only one means to an end hangings good too," she smiled back and turned to her followers, "untie them and bring the noose and horse from the cart."
"Never mind," Gabrielle yelled over her shoulder hearing the conversation, "it wasnt worth it." She struggled with them as Najara, maniacal smile covering her face, pointed at Gabrielle and the men pulled her towards the horse. Twisting her body, she futilely fought against them as they tied her wrists in front of her, then wrapped ropes around her body pinning her arms to her side. She shook her head violently trying to avoid the noose being put over her head, but it was useless. She looked over at Eve and Epona, saw them being pulled back, hands tied and held tight by some of the followers.
Najara approached her, "I'm offering you one last chance."
Gabrielle looked deep into her eyes just as lightening flashed across the sky lighting her face, the glow of two green orbs burned into Najara and she pulled back as Gabrielle responded, "And I'm offering you one last chance." Najara turned to her men and snarled orders. They dragged Gabrielle across the small open area and hoisted her unceremoniously onto the horse.
Her wet hair matted to her forehead obscuring her vision for a moment. Looking down she finally noticed who was pushing her up, Beowulf and Wiglaf. It didnt surprise her that Najara would use their friends against them although surprise briefly crossed her face as she felt a knife pushed in her hand and Beowulf smiled under the hooded cape, winking at her.
Knowing this was Eponas doing she didnt questioned just accepted, managing a slight smile and a weary wink. Getting Xena alive and whole was all that mattered, more than her own life, no, she corrected herself, no more sacrifices, faith, that's what Epona said, a test of faith, she'd have to have faith that they'd find a way out of this, everyone alive and together.
She held the knife under her hands frantically moving it back and forth, trying to get free and return to the well although she shouldn't have worried too much about being seen for the pouring rain hid her movements.
Epona tied, held and standing next to Eve focused on the horse. Aside she told her, "When the action starts get to the well to help your mother." Eve glanced at her as she closed her eyes, concentrated, then they opened and fixed on the eyes of the horse.
Gabrielle used her legs to steady the nervous animal under her. She'd never liked horses although she'd gotten used to Argo Jr. The noose felt heavy on her neck and her head jerked upwards as they threw the other end over the branch of a tree that was close to the cliff and tied it to the trunk. The lightening, thunder and rain, which should have made the horse skittish and jittery seemed to be having the opposite effect, the horse stood stock-still eyes locked with Epona's.
She looked over at Epona and saw her eyes open and focused on the horse. She and Eve were both being held by two men, one on each side, Eponas fingers were stretched out from the ropes, fingers moving slightly as if hypnotizing a cobra like they'd seen in India. The stone still covered the well, if they did all get out of this they'd have to get that stone off or Xena'd never get out, if the spell worked which she still wasn't sure for she hadn't had any sense of Xena since she dropped the ashes.
Eve looked at Gabrielle as the lightening cracked again, the horse continuing to stand still. She looked to the sky, the water streaming down her face, "Eli, please help us." She heard a voice, Eli's voice, but not his, "Do not fear, I am always with you, all will soon be as it was."
Eve looked to Epona, who was controlling the horse through her eyes, looking up she saw the lightening outlining Gabrielle and the horse in a background of bright, white light. "Weve got a plan," and she too closed her eyes and focused.
Gabrielles concentration on her cutting was lost and even though the ropes weren't cut halfway she was unable to stop the knife from slipping from her fingers as her head involuntarily lifted up and back. Her muscles tensed at the burning coming from the tattoo, and although she'd felt it before, this time it was different, an intense fiery searing of her skin that followed every line, every mark of the drawing causing her to face upwards, close her eyes, clench her jaw, release an audible groan, and arch her back pulling and tightening against the pain. The rain beat heavily against her cheeks and lids and unfortunately she was unable to see the beauty of the swirling pale incandescent energy that originated from the tattoo and encircled her body.
Beowulf and Wiglaf stepped back astonished, eyes wide, as they watched the energy burn through the ropes wrapped around her body and wrists, leaving the ends sputtering futilely on the ground against the driving rain, the energy seeming to gain strength as it spun out in all directions around her. Epona was pulled out of her concentration and glanced up for a moment certain she'd heard the banshee's wail, meaning someone would surely die tonight. Seeing Gabrielle and the energy swirling around her, she returned her gaze on the horse's eyes, determined to help her friend.
Gabrielle seemed unaware of the spinning energy or that she was free, she was listening to a voice in her ear, a voice she knew to be Lao Ma although she'd never met her, "Gabrielle, to save all you must surrender, everything, the pain, the hurt, the anger, the will, the desire, the hate, surrender it all Gabrielle, surrender."
She relaxed her body and surrendered, letting everything go, Xena, Eve, Epona, Beowulf, Wiglaf, Najara, the storm, the hurt, the anger, the pain, the will, the desire, the hate. She heard another voice, a mans voice, familiar, like Eli's but not, a smooth calm comforting voice that filled her with stillness and tranquility, "Look deep inside yourself Gabrielle the power is within you, have faith, faith in yourself, faith in Xena and release your fears."
A calm and peace filled her like a wave gently washes over the old sand leaving glistening, clean, unmarked sand sparkling in its place. Her eyes opened and held a new focus, a strength that Eve had never seen before. She watched her straighten her body, put her leg over the horse and slide down his side. Turning toward Najara she put her hands close together and the energy which swirled around her coalesced between them forming a bright ball of light, then moving her hands in a slightly circular pattern she pulled her arm back and threw the ball of light at Najara who deftly jumped out of the way and ordered an attack.
A kick here, a punch there, balls of light flew across the mountaintop, lightening it as much as the lightening, knocking down any of Najara's men that tried to attack her.
Eve felt the two men that held her suddenly release their hold, turned and saw them on the ground unconscious, Wiglaf stepped over them as he untied her and Beowulf did the same for Epona. Beowulf held out a staff to Epona who took it but before she turned to follow them into battle she grabbed Eve's arm, "Go to the well, help your mother," then ran off after Beowulf.
Eve started for well when Gabrielle turned and aimed a ball of light toward it, exploding the huge boulder into tiny pieces, forcing Eve on her backside from the impact. Shaking her head and looking at the well opening, she saw a hand, and then a bracer covered forearm reach out over the edge.
"Mother," she yelled, stood and ran for her clasping her mother's hand who took it and pulled until she was over the edge.
"I can touch you, you're alive," Eve exclaimed, the wetness from her eyes hidden by the rain and hugged her mother for all she was worth.
Xena hugged her back, "Yep I'm alive, are you all right?" she asked glancing at her quickly then gently pushing her back, eyes searching for her partner, "where's Gabrielle?"
"There," Eve pointed.
Gabrielle was standing close to the edge of the mountain top, energy swirling around her like water around a stone, kicking, hitting and throwing balls of light. It seemed as if she were someone possessed, like the stories she'd heard of her mother in Japa, focused on nothing but her enemies. Her head was straight, proud and unafraid and from what Xena could tell eyes were open, totally oblivious to her injuries, the raging storm, the pounding rain and the deafening thunder.
"It's the purity of essence, isn't it?" Eve asked gripping her arm..
"Yes," Xena responded, never taking her eyes off her partner, placing her hand over Eve's, "I always knew it was within her."
"It's beautiful in a way," Eve said.
"Gabrielle's beautiful when she's angry," Xena said, closed her eyes and concentrated putting all her faith in Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle." She felt her before hearing her voice and although unable to see her, turned toward Xena. Lightening flashed across the sky blinding her, the energy she'd felt before was suddenly gone, the burning in her back a faint memory and exhausted, bloody and barely conscious, she fell to her hands and knees in the mud. Breathing heavily and open-mouthed she took in more water than air and coughed violently.
"Gabrielle," Xenas voice, strong and firm echoed in her head. Spitting out water Gabrielle pulled her head up eyes searching for her partner but couldn't see, tendrils of wet dripping hair and the driving rain pushed against her eyelids so she did the next best thing, put her faith in Xena.
She then heard a great crack, then another, her eyes flew wide as the tree to which the noose was tied fell not ten feet from her separating her from the others.
"Xena," she yelled as Xena yelled, "Gabrielle," and accompanied by a wild yell Xena took a running leap, completed three full circles in the air and cleared the tree.
"She's back," Eve said proudly, the others snickering as if hearing old news and began chopping through the branches.
By the time Xena had cleared the tree Najara had her hand around the rope and was pulling Gabrielle toward the edge of the cliff. Xena could feel her exhaustion and despite the cold wind and rain, the burning of her back.
Gabrielle's fingers were wedged between her neck and the rope to keep from being choked as Najara jerked it again and again, propelling Gabrielle forward towards her through the mud. Gabrielle shakily pushed herself up only to see the edge of a sword coming toward her, she pulled back twisting her body but the tip caught her midsection and a line of blood flowed down her stomach mixing with the rain. Reaching for her side, she would have fallen except she felt Xena's body against her, steadying her, "Gabrielle, I'm here."
Gabrielle molded herself to Xena for just a moment and almost cried in relief and despite the cold pouring rain felt the heat of her body against hers, blood flowing through her veins, heart beating, she's alive, then Xena stepped around her gently pushing her behind her, her hand holding her sword, the other lingering momentarily on Gabrielle for reassurance.
Gabrielle worked at the rope around her neck but her fingers were numb from the cold rain and the rope was wet, muddy and slippery and wouldn't budge. Najara dropped the rope and now had a dagger in one hand and a sword in the other. Xena had nowhere to go, they were backed up to the very edge of the cliff. She felt Gabrielle begin to loose her balance, the wet mud giving way to a weight it was never meant to hold, and turned to grab her just as Najara swung the dagger catching her on her upper left arm.
As the edge gave way Gabrielle screamed Xena's name and just as Xena screamed hers she flung her arms around Gabrielle as Gabrielle flung hers around Xena and together they fell over the edge toward the rocks below.
Beowulf, Wiglaf, Epona and Eve had just broken through the branches to see the both of them falling over the edge. Eve screamed and ran for Najara who turned to face her, sword drawn. Beowulf along with Wiglaf immediately appeared protectively next to her, "Look," Beowulf said pointing. Her eyes widened as she saw her mother's arm hanging onto an exposed tree root her other, Eve somehow knew held Gabrielle. Her mother of many skills had managed to grab both as she went over the edge.
Najara followed his eyes also seeing her prey. "If I can't have her no one will, and you Xena must die," Najara yelled maniacally. She raised her foot and started to kick at her, but right before her foot touched her, Xena reached up and grabbed it, "I told you before she's mine and I've had enough of you" and pulled Najara, herself and Gabrielle over the cliff.
"Nooo," Eve yelled, as she and Epona, Beowulf, and Wiglaf scrambled to grab the rope as it flew by them and even though the strands burned into their palms they held on, wrapping it around their hands and wrists and digging their feet into the mud, they finally stopped it hoping that Xena had Gabrielle for if she didn't when the rope reached it's end her neck would break.
They needn't have worried for Xena had one hand wrapped several times around the rope, her other hand and arm had reached around under Gabrielle's arm and across her upper back holding onto her shirt, her legs tight around Gabrielle's waist, left the rope with plenty of slack between them. She was counting on them catching the rope, but if not, the worse that could happen would be a dislocated arm for her and it's not as if she hadn't had them before. Suddenly the rope stopped with a jolt and she knew they'd caught it.
"Ive got you," Xena shouted to Gabrielle feeling her weakness, her body slump into her, her arms barely able to hold onto her, "dont let go of me," Xena pleaded, having a fleeting image of another time similar to this involving a well, she hadn't let go then and there was no way she would now.
Gabrielle exhausted, wet, muddy, slippery and also very determined not to have gone this far to let go, held onto Xena as she felt her reach down and grab hold of the waistband of her pants, carefully pull her up and tighten her grip with her arm and legs around her body.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked worriedly looking down at her friend once she felt secure in her hold, and despite the wind howling around them knocking them into the side of the cliff, the rain beating heavily against them, the fact that they were soaking wet, muddy, exhausted beaten and bloody, Gabrielle answered in a hoarse, raw voice, "Oh yeah, lovin every minute of it." Even in the circumstances Xena chuckled at the response, the same one she'd given Gabrielle in a similar situation.
Eve, rope still in hand, positioned herself on the edge, and relief filled her as she saw her mother holding onto Gabrielle, "Are you all right?" she yelled down. Her mother's voice yelled back, "Gabrielle's hurt."
They all pulled frantically on the rope and after several moments of losing and gaining ground, they finally saw Xena's rope-wrapped hand appear at the edge. They grabbed Xena's hand and pulled her over and she refused to release Gabrielle until she knew they were both on safe ground. All were breathing heavily from fear and exertion and looked anxiously at Gabrielle, whose eyes were closed. Xena motioned for a knife and carefully cut the rope, taking care of the rawness around her neck, and feeling to see the extent of damage the sword did, kept her hand on the wound as blood seeped around her fingers, "Gabrielle," Xena said lifting her head, gingerly cupping her head with her other hand, "come on, wake up, I need you."
Gabrielle's eyes slowly opened. Her mouth moved but no one could hear. Xena moved closer to her. She spoke to her for a few moments, then closed her eyes and passed out. Xena sat back pulling her partner across her lap, hand still holding the wound on her stomach.
"Whatd she say?" Beowulf asked, all faces concerned and curious.
"She asked if Epona could please stop the damn rain and tell her she owed her a new shirt," she smiled and kissed Gabrielle's forehead holding her tightly to her slightly rocking her back and forth. Smiles filled every face on the edge of the cliff.
When Gabrielle next opened her eyes or at least tried to she was laying on something soft and tightly bundled. Her right eye refused to cooperate and stayed closed but she could see Xena by the fire out of her left. "Bout time sleepyhead." Gabrielle tried to move but couldnt.
"My hands, cant move," she rasped, her eye looked up at her friend, lit up and a slight grin formed on half her lip, "scratch my nose, will ya."
Xena's eyes misted, "Sure," her voice caught and she had to swallow hard before speaking and was glad for a few quiet moments as she scratched, "been waiting long to say that?"
Gabrielle smiled and nodded slightly as Xena chuckled and continued, "I wrapped your hands real tight, they're burned and raw, as is your throat, so dont talk unless you have to," Gabrielle started to say something but Xena stopped her with fingers to lips, "ah, ah, no talking, I put something on them for infection and to help them heal faster. The cuts aren't bad but needed a few stitches, I put some above your eye and in your lip, they're small and shouldn't show, but your stomach wound was a little deeper, it had to have a few more and it's wrapped too so basically your healers advice is to stay still and shut up."
"Your dream," Gabrielle whispered, feeling Xena's hand, her real live, warm-blooded hand on her nose and arm.
"Never," Xena said voice catching.
Gabrielle's cough became racking and rough. "Damn, I'm sorry," Xena said grabbing a cup from the nearby fire, "here I made some tea to soothe your throat." Gabrielle pursed her face, tightened half a lip and narrowed her good eye at Xena, who replied, "It tastes good, its got honey," Xena smiled as she waggled it in front of her.
Gabrielle started to lift her head immediately feeling Xena's hand gently supporting her while she lifted the cup to the good side of her lip.
After a few sips Gabrielle looked up at Xena, her voice soft and lowered, "Weve been given a precious gift let's not waste it, I dont think I could take any more sacrifices."
"There'll be no more sacrifices Gabrielle for either of us not even at the risk of losing ourselves because if I know nothing else in this life I do know were stronger together than apart, besides weve fought too hard and lost too much to get to where we are."
Gabrielle looked up at her, "And where are we?"
"Where we belong," Xena said as sure of this as anything as she put the cup down and still holding her head softly covered Gabrielle's wrapped hands with hers.
Looking at their hands, Xena lowered her head and began to stammer, "Gabrielle, I...I just want...I," she coughed, cleared her throat, grabbed the cup took a deep drink of the tea, coughed again when it went down the wrong way almost tipping it's contents on Gabrielle, set it down, looked up, looked around the cave, scratched her head, then finally looked down at their combined hands, started again, stopped, "I...um...I...," she shifted her hold and barely held her balance.
Gabrielle would have laughed out loud as Xena floundered for words and fidgeted except for the fact that it'd hurt too much, finally after a few more moments she placed her wrapped hand over Xena's, "I'm in love with you too," and looked at her.
Xena, noticeably relieved, let loose a breath, and ran her hand across Gabrielle's forehead pushing away a stray lock of hair, "Well I'm glad that's settled and from now on it's you and me Gabrielle, to geth er."
Gabrielle grinned and nodded her agreement, "Im good with that," her voice wheezed and she coughed and Xena grabbed the cup and held it as she took another sip.
"Love you Gabrielle, always have, you're all I've ever wanted," Xena said genuinely, eyes filled with the surrender of love.
"Back at ya," Gabrielle answered softly.
"Gabrielle, I know this may not be the time but this destiny of ours, the one Lao Ma said we had, of the dark forces that are coming, you know there'll be trouble."
Gabrielle rolled her one eye as she looked directly at Xena, "Old news, you know friends stand by each other when there's trouble."
Xena smiled remembering that's the same answer Gabrielle had given her as they started their journey, her throat tightened as she repeated the same thing she'd said then, "All right, friend," she whispered.
Gabrielle coughed a little as Xena made her take another drink and after she swallowed Gabrielle asked, "Is everyone all right?"
Xena cleared her throat before she spoke, "Everyone's fine, Eve and Epona helped me with you, they're in the shrine, I thought we'd like some privacy, I think Wiglaf has a crush on Eve and Beowulf seems entranced by Epona."
"That's good isn't it?"
"Well considering you're unavailable I hope he finds a good woman like I did."
Gabrielle voice faded, she had to get this out, she fought heavy eyelids, "Xena, when I didn't know what to do I concentrated on you, I put all my faith in you."
Xena just stared at her, "I did the same only I concentrated on you, I put all my faith in you and always will."
"Me too," Gabrielle mumbled as she began to fall asleep and as reluctant as Xena was to release her she lowered her head down into the furs but before Gabrielle's eyes fully closed she noticed the cut on Xena's upper arm, "you're hurt."
"It's just a flesh wound, Eve dressed it."
Gabrielle's eyes were closed as she spoke, "Did you find your chakram?"
"Yes, you want it back?"
"Naw, never could get the hang of it, you keep it, by the way you owe me a massage, a good one."
"Later," Xena said smiling, "get some rest," she said into Gabrielle's forehead as she kissed it while at the same time checking for fever. She rechecked the wound on her stomach looking and seeing no infection added some more of the herb mixture she'd gotten from Epona, redressed it, made sure her hands were still wrapped, pulled the furs up making sure she was covered, checked her eye and lip, put the teapot close to the fire, stoked it and lay down next to her.
"Xena," Gabrielle's voice slurred.
"Yeah," Xena said turning to her.
"Could we at least try the easy way this time?" she asked barely audible as sleep combined with relief and exhaustion overtook her.
"Whatever you want," Xena murmured her eyes closing, a smile on her face, "whatever you want."
Return to the Academy
AND THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
And while I've got your attention, I'd appreciate it if you'd take the time to read my other story, an original murder mystery, Two Shorten The Road written for my friend who died of lymphoma the end of last year, here's the synopsis:
Tressa Morgan, who has faced her own demons and come to terms with them, is a criminal psychologist and owns a successful investigative agency. While on vacation she agrees to help a young woman find her way back home. Bryg O'Malley is a successful author who's just won the Pulitzer Prize but it means nothing compared to her recent losses. Based only on Bryg's intuition and frightening premonitions they begin a journey that leads to friendship, a kidnapped sister, a betrayal, a series of serial murders and when the murderer is revealed Bryg's the only one who has the power to stop him.
It was a labor of love and I know she'd like it. If you feel so inclined you can find it at http://ourworld.cs.com/irishred1855/myhomepage/writing.html
Thanks again and may the road rise with you and the wind be always at your back. Irish