This story imagines what Xena and Gabrielle each might have been doing immediately after Xena’s beating in THE GAUNTLET, before they meet in SINS OF THE PAST.  Thanks to Xena’s Little Bitch for her “Wish Come True” XWP fanfic, which planted the seed for mine.  – IQ






By IseQween


                                                                                               May 2023                 



Part 1


She heard someone outside the cave where she’d taken refuge.  Any other time her survival instincts would’ve kicked in, as they had during the brutal gauntlet her former soldiers just put her through.  She’d risen from the dirt triumphantly, spit in their faces and stumbled away -- that bit of bravado draining her last physical and emotional reserves.  Whoever came to finish her now might finally make good on the boast, “I’m the man who killed Xena.”


Linius paused before entering.  His ex-commander was not someone you snuck up on.  She may lie broken and bleeding, but the fact she still lived underscored her formidable constitution.  He stuck his head in.  “Xena?” he called softly.  “It’s me.  Linius.”


She smirked at the man’s caution.  Otherwise, she willed herself to remain motionless, eyes closed, refusing to let the slightest groan suggest her true weakness.  “What.”


“It’s okay,” he assured, approaching slowly.  “Here to help.”


She’d pegged him as someone more loyal to her yet seen his face among those forming the gauntlet.  “Why.”


Linius knelt beside her prone form.  “Darphus is not worthy of replacing you.  He won most over with promises they could do, take whatever they wanted.”  He sighed.  “You know the rules.  We had to line up.  A few of us only acted like we hit you.  Hoped you’d make it.  Darphus figured you wouldn’t.  Got men willing to see you die anyway.  That ain’t right.  You should get away before it’s too late.”


She finally gazed at him.  “How?”


“I brought healing supplies, a few road rations.  That merchant, Salmoneus, gathered some of your gear.”  Linius took a large bag from his shoulder.  “Your boots, a heavy shift, cloak for now.”


Xena swallowed.  Her long body hurt from head to toe.  Do nothing and leave to the Fates whatever happened next?  Persuade Linius to end it then and there?  Risk more agony, another defeat to escape?   To what end, what future, with so little energy to plan or motivation beyond pride?


“Can barely breathe without passing out, let alone run.” 


Linius patted her shoulder.  “That Palomino wouldn’t let nobody tame ‘cept you?  Waiting outside.  Doubt anybody’ll care or notice if she comes up lost.  I put on her the fancy new saddle you had made.”  He winked.  “You’d miss tryin’ it out?”


Despite the pain, Xena chuckled.  “You sayin’ I’m that easy?”


Linius smiled back.  “I’m sayin’, be a shame to let all that go to waste.”  He smirked knowingly.  “Maybe let Darphus enjoy it instead?”


A beat passed before Xena summoned an answering growl.  She took a deep breath and struggled to sit up.  Linius held her steady.  He quickly tended and wrapped her larger wounds.  Together they managed the torturous process of replacing her soiled garments and dressing her for travel. 


“Ready?”  He anchored himself to help her to her feet, shouldered her upright to a wobbly stand.  “I’ve got you,” he said, sweeping her up to carry and lift aboard her mount.  He secured her with ropes around her legs and waist.  “Got you this far,” he teased.  “Wouldn’t do to take a tumble.”


Xena blinked through the stars darting across her vision.  “Where’m I going?” 


“You’re from Amphipolis, right?  I’m gettin’ you to the road there.”


Xena nodded.  She stroked the Palomino’s head and rested her elbows on the solid body, before turning to Linius with moist eyes.  “I owe you big for this, my friend.  You’re the true warrior I thought.”


Linius bowed his head.  “Thanks enough, comin' from you.”  Checking to make sure of no observers, he led them through the trees to the designated exit.  “I stored your weapons, everything else on the mare.  Drink as much as you can,” he instructed, indicating one of the water skins.  “This path dead ends at the road.  Go left, west.  You’ll need your wits about you for that, okay?”


“Yes, sir,” she said with a weak salute.  “I’ll do my best.  And you, you’ll put distance between you and Darphus?”


“Off to the mountains.  I’ll leave a false trail, drop one of your bloody rags, so they’ll think you went that way too.”  He stood tall and saluted. “May the gods be with you, Commander, until we meet again.”  He slapped the horse’s butt and watched until the woman who’d recruited him into her army disappeared.  



“Gabrielle?  Finished hanging the laundry?”

The young redhead sighed, her hopes for time to herself evaporating in the warm spring breeze along with the sweat on her brow.   “Yes, Mother.  Need me in the kitchen?” she asked, heading inside.

“No, something better.”  Hecuba turned from the chicken she’d been plucking.  She gave her daughter a knowing smile.  “An errand.”

“Yeah?”  Gabrielle perked up.  “Errand” usually meant leaving the farm for an hour or two.  Didn’t matter to her for what, since it wouldn’t involve plucking, picking, plowing or puttering. 

“Those baskets over there?”  Hecuba crooked her head toward the back wall.  “My pies and cakes for the fair.  Celia wants everything for organizing the baking table.  Carry them to her, in the wagon, for safe keeping.”

Gabrielle skipped over to give her mother a hug.  “I’m on it.  I’ll get the pushcart.”  The two loaded the delicate cargo and transported it to the wagon. 

Hecuba’s husband frowned at them as he passed to refresh himself at their well.  He came over to peer in the wagon.  “You trust her with those?  In this weather?”

“Be careful but timely.  No distractions,” Hecuba ordered Gabrielle with mock gruffness.  Winking, she continued, “We know how you attract traveling merchants, performers and bards. “

“I promise to be timely.”  Gabrielle shot a look at her father.  “And not trade the wagon for scrolls.”

“Humph.  If you do, see how far that takes you, ‘cause you can’t come back here.”

“Husband!  Don’t scare her like that.”

“Somebody needs to,” Herodotus chided his wife.  “Left to you, she’d be living in the clouds.  Chatting with strangers instead of learning skills fit for marrying, before we’re too old to support her.” He glowered at his daughter.  “Perdicas is a good man.  He won’t wait forever, for you to come to your senses.”

Gabrielle kept her eyes from rolling as they usually did at the frequent mention of her approved savior from spinsterhood.  “It’s okay, Mother.  He’s just looking out for me.”  She climbed up to the wagon bench.  “Double check the harnesses for me, Father?”  She winked at Hecuba as Herodotus importantly inspected each bit and piece of leather attached to the horses.

“Everything’s in working order,” he concluded. “No equipment excuse for accidents or delays.”  He turned to Hecuba.  “Where’s she going?”

“Celia’s place.”

“Should be back before supper, then.”  He scowled at Gabrielle.  “You got that?”

“Yes, sir.  Back before supper.  Am I free to leave now?”

“Yeah, go on with your stubborn self.”  Herodotus shook his head.  “Might as well be talking to the mule,” he muttered, watching his first-born drive away.

“Herodotus, don’t be so hard on the girl.  Nothing wrong with her being a little different.  Smarter and more spirited than most around here.  She really does have a talent for words and people.  Won’t interfere with her homemaking skills.”  Hecuba used the corner of her apron to wipe water from her husband’s chin.  “You used to like some of those qualities back in the day,” she murmured.  “Had a few yourself.”

He snorted.  “You too.  Look where that got us.”

“Are you complaining?”

Herodotus shrugged.  “You turned out all right.  Not so sure about your apple.”  He gazed down the path his daughter had taken.  “Every time I look up, seems she’s rolled farther from the tree.”


Xena somehow remained conscious until she reached the road to Amphipolis.  She didn’t really care where she was headed, long as the direction minimized chances Darphus would get another chance at her.  Once on her way again, she slumped over the Palomino’s shoulders, allowing herself to succumb to her pounding head, drowsiness and caress of the warm spring breeze. 

A few passersby noticed the strange woman apparently dozing on horseback.  None felt drawn to investigate.  The bandages visible and ropes securing her suggested escape from something or someone not advisable making their business.


Gabrielle left Celia’s exhilarated.  She’d made the trip in good time, shared tidbits of gossip and now munched on samples of dessert destined for the fair.  She figured she had a couple hours to work on her stories before heading home.  She steered the wagon in the opposite direction toward one of her favorite getaway sites.  Her mind wandered to an idea prompted by Celia’s revelations about a neighboring teen who’d disappeared.  Some conjectured him a runaway from punishment for misbehavior.  Others warned of evil spirits at play.  Gabrielle preferred picturing him pursuing a dream in Athens.

She was nearing her destination when something drew her out of her reveries.  Movement in high greenery between the forest and road.  The wagon team snickered a bit, maybe warning of a large animal.  Caution warred with her curiosity, the latter as usual winning. 

“Whoo!  Haaaa!  Grrr!”  she yelled, waiting to see if something ran out or away.  She heard what sounded like a soft whinny.  She whistled.  The bushes stirred enough for her to glimpse a horse’s head.  “Huh.”  She stood on the wagon seat.  “You lost, fella?” she asked loudly, then chuckled. “Like he’s gonna tell me.” 

She stepped down and inched her way toward the bushes.  “I’m coming over.  Just wanna make sure you’re okay.”  She carefully pulled aside the vegetation – stunned by what she discovered.


“Mmmm.”  Xena rolled her head.  “Ohhhh,” she groaned, vaguely recalling it being a bad idea to move any body parts.  Something about too many blows, falling, running ….  No … not running.  Riding.  Sleeping, eating, drinking on a horse.  But not anymore.  Seemed to be flat on the ground, surface hard, but softer than grass. 

She cracked open an eye.  Her blurry vision at least confirmed she indeed lay outdoors, in a forest, though not behind the tall grass she last remembered.  Just as she began wondering about the horse, she heard a snort, quiet hoof steps … and a light human tread.  She closed her eye.

“Oh, you’ve returned to the land of the living,” exclaimed a cheery voice.  “Had me so worried!  I was afraid to leave you but thought your horse might like the feed I carry in the wagon for emergencies, which I certainly considered this.  Not that I thought she was more important or anything.  I mean, more than you.  Speaking of which, how do you feel?”

Xena felt a small, soft palm on her forehead.  Obviously its owner deemed her conscious and no threat.  She ran her tongue across her lips and rasped out the safest answer.  “Thirsty.”  Her head was lifted and a water skin lightly pressed to her mouth.   After a few sips, she finally opened her eyes to a young, feminine face hovering, concerned but smiling. 

“Enough?”  At Xena’s nod, the girl withdrew the skin and slid a blanket under Xena’s shoulders, slightly elevating her upper body and pillowing her head.  “There.  That should be more comfortable.”  The girl positioned herself cross-legged at Xena’s side.  “Well, you’ve said your first word.  Progress, since up until now I’ve had to do all the talking – not surprising, given your condition when I found you.  Do you remember that?”

Xena gingerly shook her head.

“Well, see, I was out running an errand for my mother.  I wanted to work on some ideas I had, so decided ….” 

Xena’s brow furrowed.

“Oh.”  The girl chuckled sheepishly.  “Sorry.  I tend to get carried away.  I’m a bard.  Well, more in training at the moment.  You’d probably rather I skip setting the scene for now and get to where I entered the scene?”

Xena quirked an affirmative smile.

“Okay.  I glimpsed your horse first.  I came to check and found you lying on her, with ropes to keep you from falling off.  I could tell you were hurt.  I mean, you were really out of it.  I moved you to this spot, deeper in the forest.  Safer than so close to the road.  It’s one of my favorite places.  Has a brook over there, through those trees.  I got you down and on a blanket.  Somebody had already bandaged some of your wounds.  You have a couple big lumps on the back of your head too though, maybe cracked ribs, serious scratches that could use tending.  Good thing is, I didn’t find any infection.”

“How long …  here?”

“Before I came?  Not sure, but I got the feeling maybe a few hours.  Your horse wasn’t that restless or lathered or anything.  From the state of your bandages, I’d say you’d been on the road a day or so.  It didn’t take that long for me to get you settled and your horse fed.”

Xena blinked, trying to clear her sight.  “Who … are you?”

The girl giggled.  “Oops.  Introductions would be nice, huh?  I’m Gabrielle of Poteidaia.  I live with my parents and sister on a small farm not far from here.  And you?”

Xena considered her response.  She rubbed her brow. “Head hurts.  Things still kinda fuzzy,” she answered truthfully.  She gestured toward the saddlebags deposited nearby.  “You check?  Through my stuff?”

Gabrielle ducked her head.  “Um, I did. I was hoping –”

“S’okay.  Any clues?  About … me?”

Gabrielle nodded, quickly crawling to the bags.  “I did find some interesting items.”  She came back and displayed a sword.  “From the knives and a round thing sharp enough to cut fish that I’m guessing you use more as weapons, a leather outfit, I’d say you’re a warrior of some kind.  That could explain your wounds too, if you were in a fight.”

Xena stroked the sword blade. “Some warrior.  Getting beat up this bad.” 

“Clearly you were outnumbered.  I mean, one opponent couldn’t have done so much damage.”  Gabrielle pulled her knees up, wrapped her arms around them and closed her eyes.  “I see you alone.  Maybe in town getting supplies.  Or scouting.  You were ambushed.  You fought valiantly ‘til they overpowered you.  Left you for dead.  But you’re too strong, determined.”  Gabrielle paused to peek at Xena through one eye.  “I could tell that from your muscles.”  She closed the eye and continued, “You dragged yourself to your horse.  Barely conscious, you got to the nearest road.  Found a decent place to hide.”

“Mm.  Bandaged wounds?  Tied self to horse?”

Gabrielle frowned.  “Hmmm.  Maybe you started out with an associate, who ….  No.  It was a stranger.  A villager.  The bad guys ambushed this villager.  You rode to the rescue, while he ran to safety.  He came back afterwards, discovered you alive, treated your wounds.  Yes!  He’s who got you on the horse, secured you and sent you in this direction.  Away from the bad guys.”  She clasped her hands.  “That could be, couldn’t it?  If so, you’d be a hero!” she declared, pressing her hands against her chest.  “What do you think?”

Xena stared at the girl.  Dumfounded and amazed.  Where in Tartarus had all that come from?  A naïve soul who dreamed of princesses and castles in the sky?  A slightly “touched” teenager who couldn’t tell fantasy from reality?  Who sat there anxiously expecting a serious response to this fabrication?  Xena chewed her lip, surprised at her reluctance to burst this budding bard’s bubble. 

“All your stories end happy?”

“If possible.  It’s what I like imagining.  You know, ways to find light?   No matter how dark?  If you can see it, you can do it, is my motto.”

“Ah.  Well, think you’re right, about me being a warrior.  More likely part of an army.  A militia or … gang.  Not roving around by myself.”


“Assassins, mercenaries might.  They can be warriors too.”

Gabrielle pondered that.  She shook her head.  “I don’t see you as that kind, and your battle clothes look too unique for a militia or army.”  She chuckled.  “Not that I’ve seen many.  Of course, not a lot of women fight.  Probably need custom ….   Ooo, unless you’re Amazon?”

“Gabrielle.”  Xena suddenly felt exhausted from both her condition and the wannabe bard’s musings.  “Didn’t you mention chores?”   

Gabrielle’s eyes widened.  “I did!”

“Getting late.  Expected home for supper?”

“Gods!  I’d forgotten.”  Gabrielle glanced at the sky.  “I … I should ….”  She regarded Xena uncertainly.  “But what about you?  You’re in no shape to –”

“I’ll be fine.  Used to ….”  Xena cleared her throat.  “As a warrior, body’s probably used to these situations, healing itself.  Weather’s good.  Got water, rations.  Just need rest.”

Gabrielle winced guiltily.  “And here I’ve been working you like an audience.”  She stood.  “Okay, I’ll get out of your hair.  For now.”  She crossed her arms.  “You know I’ll be back.”

“Up to you.”

Gabrielle grinned.  “I am known for my persistence.  Don’t worry about my parents.  I’m pretty creative too.”  She arranged necessities within Xena’s reach, before backing away.  “You won’t sneak off?”

Xena studied the girl a moment.  “I’ll be here.  Couple days should do.”

“Okay, see you tomorrow, if all goes well.  Oh, and I won’t mention you to anybody.  You, um, seem to … uh … need your privacy?”

“Appreciate that.  Thanks.  For … everything.”

“You’re welcome.  I really enjoyed this.  Well, not you being hurt, of course.  You know, being able to help, talk with somebody … interesting.” 

“Mm.”  Xena smiled, yawned, shifted to get more comfortable and let her eyes close.

“Be safe until I can check on you.  Bye for now.”  Gabrielle gazed a moment at the silent mystery woman.  On instinct, she blew a kiss that way before heading for her wagon.

Once en route, the young redhead’s mind raced faster than the wagon team.  The sooner she got home, the sooner she’d have to begin spinning tales about her recent and intended actions.  Actions her parents wouldn’t approve.  She might be innocent to the world at large but wasn’t stupid.  She surmised the warrior could be in trouble, on the run from something – possibly a crime or feud far different than a hero hounded for doing a good deed.  Whatever, she felt drawn to her discovery, surprisingly protective.  Didn’t want others’ noses complicating the warrior’s freedom or options.

She did have difficulty picturing this woman in the company of fighting men, even if confident and independent enough to hold her own.  She had never seen such a physique as powerful, when she’d examined the warrior for wounds.  Yet the face – bruised and swollen as it was – resembled that of a sleeping child, its promise not yet extinguished by limits, rejection, cruelty.  Barriers Gabrielle had pledged to herself she would fight in defense of her own optimistic nature and dreams.

“I guess this is it,” she told the horses as she reined them in just before dusk.  She summoned her best “Wow, time flies, is that lamb stew I smell?” demeanor and sprinted inside her home.


Tired as she was, Xena couldn’t rein in her racing thoughts.  One moment – yesterday? – she’d known who she was, intent the world would too.  Content to go through, step over, use whomever to protect herself and whatever she cared about.  To quench her thirst for understanding and harnessing the myriad forces that controlled who would fall or stand supreme. 

Her mind flashed back to the attack on Amphipolis that had propelled her to this juncture.  Most of her kinfolk cautioning to wait it out, give in, run, accept the inevitable.  Herself and brother Lyceus declaring, “Not today.”  Mounting a successful defense.  Lyceus dying in the battle.  His big sister, blind with grief and rage, choosing a course of retribution with no consciousness of the consequences.   Seeking the company of men powerful enough to legitimize their greed, enduring painful lessons about the true costs in betrayals, deceit and false sanctuaries.

Today?  She was no defender of innocents.  No commander of soldiers carrying out her will.  No Hercules wandering about helping people, with purpose dictated by happenstance and others’ weaknesses.  She’d thought of this legendary hero after the gauntlet – to defeat him and restore her reputation for building another army, certainly not to follow in his footsteps.  No, her path had been one to the glories and conquests prized by his half-brother, Ares God of War. 

She didn’t have much heart for any of that now.  Was she even a true warrior?  Her code not to kill women, children and those who surrendered tarnished by scum who’d committed such atrocities anyway.  Scum she’d surrounded herself with while claiming to be a step above.  Linius had been the rare exception.   

As if on cue, a whinny interrupted her dark reflections.  She glanced appreciatively at the golden mare nibbling on greens.  Bless him, Linius had chosen well.  “Come’ere, girl.”  The horse obeyed, dipping her head for a nose caress.  “You stuck with me, huh?  Got me here like we’ve been together for years.  Looks like it’s just the two of us, if you can stand my moods.”  She chuckled when the mare seemed to neigh acceptance.  “Well, that makes me feel better.  G’won back to your delicacies.”  Xena turned to her side and watched the horse amble off.  “Believe I’ll get a few winks in, with you standing guard.  Thanks.”


Gabrielle sat with her family at the table as they began their meal, fingers crossed she could dodge revealing certain details about her day.

“So, Gabby, what did you get into, that took you so long?”

Gabrielle loved Lila, but sometimes her younger sister couldn’t catch a clue about when to keep her mouth shut.

“Well, I had a good chat with Celia.  Did any of you hear about Samuel missing?  His parents don’t know where he is.  There’s talk about evil spirits –”

“Gabrielle!” Hecuba huffed.  “You know that kind of nonsense has no place at dinnertime.”

“Yeah, Gabby.  We know you ran into somebody interesting.  You always do.  Spill it.”

Gabrielle girded herself.  “Well, there was one party.  Sure you want to hear about an attack on an innocent villager by possible raiders?  I mean, that’s not exactly a good conversation topic now either.”  She shuddered.  “Blood and guts.  This poor soul being mauled until --”

“Where?  Near here?”

“I’m not sure, Father.  They’d been traveling awhile.  Getting as far away as they could from trouble.  Normally I might’ve asked more questions, but as you know, I was on a schedule.” 

“Pfft.  Like that’s ever stopped you before.  Fine.”  Lila puffed up.  “Maybe for once what I have to report might do?”

“Oh, Lila, don’t be so dramatic.  It’s your choice to let your sister entertain us.  You’re the first one interrogating her.  Go on.  Let’s see how long you can work your mouth without eating.”

“Motherrr.  That’s not fair.  I’m the one inside all the time, helping you around the house.  Who wants to hear about my latest sewing stitch?  What herbs I experimented with to improve lamb stew.  Or a better way to sweep –”

“Enough!” Herodotus slammed his palm on the table.  “Lila, if you’ve got something new to say, get on with it.  We’re all ears.”

“Sorry,” Lila murmured.  “I didn’t mean ….”  She cleared her throat.  “Lydia’s finally getting married.  You’ll never guess the lucky guy.”

Gabrielle sighed in relief as Lydia’s upcoming nuptials captured everyone’s attention.  Lila could get on her last nerve, but sometimes was a life saver.  The redhead found herself free to ponder her next moves.  When dinner ended, she helped clean up, then stepped out onto the porch where Herodotus enjoyed his after-dinner pipe.

“Nice evening,” she observed, plopping down on the bench next to her father.  At his questioning frown, she plunged ahead.  “I didn’t want to upset Mother and Lila. You know, saying more about that gory ambush?  It did leave me with a few questions.  Mind if I get your view?”

“My view?”

“You know a bit about battles, right?”

“A bit.”  Herodotus puffed on his pipe.  “Fought when I was younger against warlords threatening the area.  Was in the local militia for a while.  Can wield a sword, hatchet passably.  That what you mean?”

“Did soldiers often beat up on the enemy once they were down?”

“Say again?”

“Seems somebody tried to help the villager who got ambushed.  From a rescuer’s body, looked like the bad guys did their worst after the fight was over.”

“Waste of time, not particularly honorable to most military men.”  Herodotus shrugged.  “Unless it was personal. Or ruffians proving a point.”

“Speaking of strange, some thought they saw a woman fighting.  Not sure which side.  Maybe Amazon?”

“Don’t know much about ‘em.  Keep to themselves.”  Herodotus rubbed his chin.  “Not known to fight outside their own group or lands.”

“Huh.  The witnesses could be mistaken.”  Gabrielle mock shuddered.  “What other women would be mixed up in skewering folks, even for a good cause?”

“Only one I can think of.”  Herodotus tapped his pipe against the rail. “Grew up not far from here.  Amphipolis.  Supposedly started out defending the village.  Young, around 16 at the time.   Next thing, she’s formed her own ragtag troops.  Intimidating folks away from harming Amphipolis, demanding booty.  Disappeared a long time.  Word was, she’d become a holy terror across the seas. Been sighted more recently warlording back in Greece.”

Gabrielle swallowed.  “Do you know her name?  What she looks like?”

“Xena.  Known now as the Warrior Princess.  Tall.  Dark hair.  Carries a round weapon special to her.  Said to fight like a demon, have a war cry that scares birds out of trees.”

“Thanks, Father.  You know me and my curiosity.  I’ll leave you to your pipe.”  Gabrielle got to her feet.

“The militia tried to recruit Perdicas,” Herodotus stated, staring ahead.  “He declined.  Prefers preparing to be a good provider for his future wife.  Has his eye on a girl I know but understand less and less.”  He regarded his daughter.  “Claims she wants to celebrate peace and love.  More interested in warriors who kill, than decent men who care for crops and family.  Talk about strange.”  He turned away dismissively to replenish his pipe.


Part 2

Gabrielle rose before dawn the next day, not surprised to find her mother already at work in the kitchen.

“You’re up early.  Excited about the fair?”

“The fair?” 

“You forgot it starts today?”  Hecuba felt Gabrielle’s forehead. “Only illness keeps you from being the first to check out every stall and entertainment.”

“Um ….”  Gabrielle quickly ditched her first excuse for using the wagon again, calculating how long her new option might take.  “With Celia’s menfolk on the road, she could use help transporting the baked goods to the fair.  I was thinking I could do that?”

“Uh huh.”  Hecuba chuckled.  “You sure it’s not more about stealing time for one of your stories?”

Gabrielle gulped.  “Story?!”

“It may surprise you to know you aren’t the only one around here with curiosity.”  Hecuba resumed chopping vegetables.  “Your father mumbled about you talking – in his words – ‘stranger than usual.’  Questions about military types and battles.  Warrior women.  Rather strange for a gentle soul who hates – in her words -- ‘murdering innocent creatures for our selfish needs.’”

Gabrielle grinned sheepishly.  “Can’t fool you, huh?”

“Deceit is not one of your strong points, thank the gods.  I too am curious about your sudden interest in such things.”

Gabrielle leaned against the doorframe.  She trusted her mother’s discretion but hated betraying her new acquaintance’s confidence. 

“It’s true, I mostly write about people doing good in the world.  Making it better.  That ambush I mentioned?  Got me wondering, how can I be a real bard, exploring only one side?  If I ignore what might motivate those who do bad?  Wouldn’t it be a more complete, fairer picture, considering us at our worst as well as our best?”

“Child, I’m grateful you’ve grown up only knowing the good.  That’s the heritage your father and I wanted you to carry inside, pass on to a family of your own. It’s developed a young woman not afraid to be giving, open, understanding.  Who sees the good in everyone, no matter how little they have or how undeserving.”  Hecuba sighed.  “I’m proud of that, but it scares me too.  You’ll run into the other side soon enough.  Have we prepared you to handle that?  The types of people, places or situations that could hurt you?   Cloud that sunny spirit?”

Gabrielle snorted.  “Like you need worry about that in Poteidaia.  I have to rely on my imagination.”  She snickered.  “Or talking to travelers I run into.  Although Father gave me a few insights.  As a female myself, I’m especially curious about the woman warrior those folks saw. And the Amazons.  Like, how do they balance giving life and taking it?”

Hecuba pretended to thrust her knife at a phantom intruder.  “You’d see, if someone barged in here threatening any of you,” she growled with a murderous expression.

Gabrielle took a step back, gaping.  “Mother!  Really?  I’ve never seen this side of you.”

“I hope you never do, but it’s in there.  As they say, nothing more dangerous than a mama bear protecting her cubs.”

“Whew!”  Gabrielle fanned herself.  “Like Father, you’ve given me an important insight.  See?  I don’t have to join a gang or hang out in the tavern at this stage in my education.  Although ….”  She ducked her head.  “I would appreciate that time today.  You know, to work stuff out for myself?”

Hecuba rolled her eyes and turned back to her work.  “Eat something before you do your ‘favor’ for Celia.  Bring back some evidence you browsed at the fair.  And get your behind back here before dusk.”


Xena greeted the rising sun propped against a tree trunk munching an apple, less troubled she still lived, congratulating herself instead for being a busy beaver.  She’d stumbled through her pain to Gabrielle’s idyllic brook, washed herself and blood-sticky tangle of hair in the refreshingly cool water, built a modest fire, mixed healing herbs to ease the throbbing in her head and now tightly bound ribs.

“Not bad,” she judged, surveying the makeshift campsite.  A cup, bowl, slab of wood holding dry rations and plucked daisies adorned a small cloth.  She snorted wryly.  “When did I last go to this much effort?  For an accidental ‘guest,’ who might not show?”  More strangely, did she actually look forward to seeing the ebullient redhead again?   She shook her head in wonderment, before giving in to her drooping eyelids.  Next she knew, furtive footsteps warned her to grasp the sword at her side.

“Whoa!  I come in peace.  Sorry for startling you. I thought you were napping.  Didn’t want to wake you.  Now that I have, good morning!”  Gabrielle dropped a bundle near the fire and squatted beside Xena.  “Wow, you look much better!”  She scrutinized the warrior’s face.  “Eyes not so bloodshot.  What a pretty blue!  And your hair ….  I can see the red highlights.”  She shuddered.  “Not from blood anymore, thank the gods.  Which means you made it to the brook.”  She glanced around.  “Had enough energy for a fire.  And such a … welcoming … table setting.  I’m impressed!”

Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek.  “Morning to you too.  Thought company might drop by.  My mother runs an inn.  Taught us to always put your best foot forward.”  The warrior pointed to her fresh shift.  “Even dressed for the occasion.”

“Well, you look beaut- um, quite presentable.”  Gabrielle smiled shyly.  “Wait.  Your mother?  Does that mean your head’s cleared?”

Xena bit her lip.  “Mm. About my childhood, some past experiences.  Brain’s still resistant to more recent events.”  She gazed at the fire.  “Too painful, maybe.” 

“Understandable, with head injuries.” Gabrielle patted the warrior’s arm.  “Any progress is good.”

Xena nodded.  “So, you see how I’ve spent my day so far.  How about you?  Things go okay with your folks?”

“Uh huh.”  Gabrielle refrained commenting on the warrior’s continued deflections away from herself.  “I used the town fair as an excuse to get away again.  Oh, which reminds me ….”  She went over to the bundle she’d brought.  “Had to get proof I actually spent time browsing.  Picked up something for you while I was at it.” 

Xena examined the oval silver hair brooch Gabrielle handed her, momentarily speechless.

“You’re probably not into bangles and baubles, with your line of work.  I went for pretty but practical.  Hope it’s okay.”

“I, um, couldn’t find my old ones.”  Xena swallowed.  “Very nice.”

“Considering your state yesterday, I was little worried ….  Well, let’s just say your cleaner, more orderly tresses came as a pleasant surprise.  Wanna try it out?” 

Xena couldn’t resist the redhead’s eager green eyes.  “Sure.”  She chewed her lip as Gabrielle fussed with the best placement, surprised she hadn’t raised the usual defenses that got others out of her hair fast enough – certainly before the literal touching and managing going on now.

“There.  That should work.”

“Couldn’t have done better myself.”

“All part of the service.  Speaking of which, are you hungry?  I brought ….”  Gabrielle paused, glancing at Xena’s meal preparations.  “Supplements to your fine offerings.”

Xena laughed.  “You do have a way with words.  Yeah, I could force myself to indulge.”  She started to get up.

“No, stay there.  I’ll bring your … table … over.  Argo’s already indulging,” Gabrielle threw over her shoulder as she gathered things together.  “I passed her on my way in.  Gave her more feed.”

Xena’s mouth dropped.  “Argo?!”

“Well, you never called her anything besides ‘the horse.’  Maybe didn’t remember?  Like you haven’t your own name,” Gabrielle muttered under her breath.


Gabrielle sat next to Xena.  “The name.  I thought of it on my way here.  Her coloring reminded me of the Golden Fleece.  Jason sailing to find it on a ship called Argo?  I pictured your horse carrying you on adventures like that.  Hercules was an Argonaut too, you know.  Fitting name for bearing heroes.  That’s just how I see her, of course.”  Gabrielle handed Xena a kabob.  “If it’s gotten too cold, I can heat it over the fire awhile.”

Xena took a bite.  “No, it’s fine.  Dive in,” she encouraged, mainly to give her brain time to catch up with her exuberant visitor.  Questions, expectations, brooches.  “Argo.”  What next?  No doubt creative probing to crack recalcitrant interviewees.  The girl was smart, intuitive, perceptive.  Persistently curious.  No way the warrior could keep putting her off.  The real question was, why had she risked even this brief connection?  This closeness with someone who knew so little about her, yet acted privy to more than Xena knew about herself?

“How long can you stay?”  Xena asked as they finished eating.

“You’re setting out tomorrow?”

“That’s the plan.”

Gabrielle glanced at the sun.  “Most of the afternoon.”  She sighed.  “As long as I can. Unless you’d –”

“Not a problem.  Could probably use help with a couple things.”  Xena smirked.  “Besides, I’ve kept worse company.”

“Yeah?”  Gabrielle beamed.  “I talk most people to death.”

“You might’ve noticed I’m more of a listener.”

“Uh huh.  Probably without hits to the head.”

Xena chuckled.  “Lot of insight for your age.”

Gabrielle rubbed her nose.  “Thing is, that can only take a bard so far.  Experience is important.  Meeting different people.  Not much I can do about that in Poteidaia.”  Gabrielle got up to make tea. “Another reason I hoped your memory’d improved,” she acknowledged when she returned.

“Pfft.   Doubt it’d lead to a happy ending.  For either of us.”

Gabrielle moved to a nearby tree stump and faced the same direction as the warrior.  “My folks accuse me of attracting strangers like honey.  You know, whenever I’m out and about.  It’s kinda true.  I mean, I see them as a story, I guess, because all of us have one.  I end up talking to them, learning about various places and customs and ways they support themselves or spend their free time.  If I’ve been out awhile, I’m expected to go on and on about it at supper.  Which, of course, I’m more than happy to do.”

“You don’t say.”

Gabrielle laughed.  “You noticed, huh?  Well, yesterday I had to come up with something to cover for what I’d really been doing all that time.  The story I made up?  About what happened to you?  I used that.  Not the part about finding you,” she hastened to add.  “I said I’d heard about a villager being ambushed, witnesses reporting a warrior coming to the rescue.  A woman.  My father didn’t think she was Amazon.  Only woman warrior he knew of turned out to be from around here.  Xena of Amphipolis, known as the Warrior Princess.  Except, he said more likely marauding than saving.”

Both women continued staring ahead in the silence that followed.

“Mm. I assume that worked?  Since they let you out again?”

Gabrielle snorted softly.  “Sort of.  They found my curiosity about warriors ‘strange.’”

“As opposed to lovers or enemies coming together in peace and harmony?”

“Ha.  Pretty insightful yourself for – what? – 20 something?”  Not expecting more than the puckered lipped response she received, Gabrielle blithely continued, “Naturally, they worried I’d get involved with types of people and experiences they’d worked hard to protect me from.  I told them a true bard needs to see, understand the whole picture.  You know, for accuracy.  You can’t always sing about rainbows and discount the storms that came before.  You can’t appreciate stars without the night.  I believe it’s the same if you want to truly capture why people are who they are, do what they do.  Even the so-called ‘bad’ ones.”

Xena sneered.  “Nothing mysterious about them.  Rage, greed, cowardice.”

“They didn’t start out that way.  They were born innocents, like us.  Take this Xena,” Gabrielle said, cutting her eyes at the warrior.  “Father figured she was about my age, when defending her home sent her on her path to destruction.  What if it’d been me?  How might I have changed?”

“Oh, yeah, I can see you as a ruthless warlord, rampaging across the land.”

Gabrielle giggled.  “Right, more likely trying to talk them to death. Running for the hills if my choice words didn’t penetrate.”

“Like you ran from me?”

“I didn’t ….  Oh, I get it.”  Gabrielle shook her head.  “You were unconscious, for Gaia’s sake.  Why would anybody run?”

“Others did.  I sensed them on the road.  Conscious or not, they could tell something seemed ‘off.’  Had the good sense to leave me be.”

“Well, yes, I –”

“Get to know strangers, their strange ideas.  Risk being called ‘strange’ yourself.  Takes courage to stand up for what you believe.  To be different.  Curious.”

“Huh.  Hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“You should. Just as important as taking up arms.  Maybe more.  Got enough tales about bravery on the battlefield.”  Xena stretched her upper body, both women chuckling at the resulting pops and cracks.  “I need to move.  Start getting myself together.”

“So soon?” 

“S’okay.  Plenty to do while you’re here.”  Xena patted the back of her head. “Deep cut hasn’t closed right.  Still seeping.”  She picked up her healing pouch.  “Think you can stitch it?”

“Ohhh.”  Gabrielle shrank back a little.  “I’ve never …. I mean, sure, clothes and such.  But skin?”

“Same thing.”

“I might hurt you.”

“Nah, got a thick skull.”  Xena lightly thumped Gabrielle’s head.  “Almost as hard as yours.”  She scooted forward.  “Put this paste on first.  It’ll dull the pain.” 

Gabrielle slid in behind.  “I don’t know about this.”

“You haven’t had to patch farm animals?”  Xena snickered.  “Bet you saw most as pets.  You were gentle, right?”

“Oh, of course.  It was hard at first, but Father said we might lose them otherwise.  I pretended they were little babies.  Talked and hummed to them,” Gabrielle said, beginning her task.  “This one poor lamb had fallen into ….”

Xena smirked smugly as Gabrielle launched into her tale about “Lambie.”  The girl indeed had a soothing touch, complemented by her relaxing stream of words.  A tap on her shoulder indicated the operation concluded. 

“See?  Barely felt a thing.”

Gabrielle did a little bow.  “Anything else, m’lady?”

Xena got to her feet a bit shakily.  “Gods, should know better than sit so long, even gimpy.  No,” she said as Gabrielle jumped up to steady her.  “My muscles need the work.  You can brush … Argo,” she suggested with a “don’t say a word” glare.  “She could probably use the attention.”

Gabrielle covered her mouth, confining her glee to the barest fist pump as she trotted off.  Xena began a slow version of her exercise routine, grimacing at the numerous twinges and stiff joints.  Gabrielle returned to find the sweat drenched warrior with one foot up on the tree stump, leaning on her raised knee, sucking in gulps of air. 

Without preamble, Gabrielle handed Xena a water skin and cloth and sat attentively a reasonable distance away.  The warrior took a long drink, toweled herself off, straightened to her full height, gave Gabrielle a look and continued her drills.  The girl watched her morph from awkward half speed to a dizzying series of smoothly executed sword thrusts and acrobatics. 

“Whew.  Think that’s enough for my first day back on the job.”  Xena sauntered over to the firepit.  “Could use an afternoon snack.  Any more kabobs?”

Gabrielle hopped up and rummaged through her sack.  “Will meat pies do?”

“Compared to jerky?  You betcha.”

The two ate in companionable silence.   Gabrielle then wandered off to pick berries for the warrior to take with her.  Xena began organizing her belongings for travel. She didn’t have much to pick between, since her double-sword rig and elaborate warrior outfits hadn’t made the trip here.  She preferred what Salmoneus had packed anyway – the recently acquired long blade and sheath, simpler copper armor and dark brown battledress.  No need for ostentation, given her new goal. 

When the sun was halfway through its western descent, the two relaxed by the fire with tea.  Xena prodded Gabrielle to tell a few of her favorite original stories. The last sounded a lot like the one of a lone hero, now with backstory about the woman warrior defending her village, losing her way and ultimately deciding to help innocent victims in distress.

“So, what do you think?  As you know, I’m kinda new at bad guy stories.”

 “Yet still managed a happy ending.”

“She made her own.  Endings can be beginnings too.  Good leading to bad, bad to good and so on. Where you land at any one point in the cycle isn’t necessarily permanent.”  Gabrielle fiddled with a twig.  “Speaking of which, have you decided where you’ll go next?  What you’ll do?”

“Back the way I came.  Take care of ….  There’s probably unfinished business.”

“You don’t need your memory to know it would mean trouble and danger, however you got those wounds.”

“That’s a warrior’s life, Gabrielle, whatever side they’re on.  It can be just as dangerous turning your back, running.  I may not have had much choice before I got here.  I do now.”  Xena raised her hand to ward off imminent interruption.  “Not right away.  There’re a couple places I can finish healing.  I’ll see how it goes after that.”

Gabrielle studied the twig in her hand.  “You don’t see for yourself what I do.”

Xena’s jaw clenched.  “No.”  Her expression softened.  “Not at the moment.”  She glanced up.  “Time you started back.”  She allowed a lop-sided grin.  “I see a bright future for you though.  Brighter, if you don’t piss off your parents.  They know whereof they speak, about minding the company you keep.  I can vouch for that firsthand.”

“Sure you shouldn’t stay another day?  There’s so much I’d … you could do.  Rest.  Exercise.  Stock up on rations.”

“Gabrielllle.”  Xena patted the girl’s shoulder.  “I’ll take it easy, be careful, for a while.  Promise.  Come on,” she said, rising and gently nudging Gabrielle to her feet.  “I’ll walk you out.”

Gabrielle blinked back tears when they reached the wagon.  “I’ll really miss you.  I feel we’ve been friends my whole life, yet there’s so much I haven’t had the time to learn.  You know what to call your horse now, what to call me.  I only know you as ‘my mystery warrior woman.’”

Xena exhaled a deep breath.  “What you’ve done ….  It means a lot to me.  I’d probably be dead, if not for you.”  She snorted wryly.  “Plus, tamed my hair.  Named my horse.  Hard to forget you, saying ‘Argo’ every day.  Hmmm ….  Maybe I should take up the quill?  Write about how you rescued me?”

“Your … hero?”

The warrior shrugged.  “They don’t have to come in leather.”

Gabrielle bit her lip.  “That’s the nicest thing anybody’s said to me.” 

“Yeah?  Huh.”  Xena helped Gabrielle into the wagon.  “Did you name your phantom hero yet?”

“What?” Gabrielle sniffled.

“The warrior woman.  In that story I inspired.”

Gabrielle stared at Xena.  “Um, yes, I did.  To myself, I call her … Xena.”

“Mm.  Not bad for a warrior.  Strong.  Short.  Easy to say and remember.”  At Gabrielle’s soft snort, Xena chuckled wryly. “Unless maybe you’re concussed.”  She smiled warmly. “‘Xena.’ Works for me.”  She stuck out her hand.  When Gabrielle took it, she curtsied.  “Pleasure meeting you, Gabrielle of Poteidaia.  I’d be honored to end up the warrior you see.”  She winked, pivoted and strolled back to her camp.


Part 3

Xena felt more energized as she headed east the next morning.  She set a leisurely pace in recognition of her less-than-optimal condition.  She massaged her sore thighs.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid doing all those drills. Just had to show off,” she admitted to her equine companion.  “Your new buddy would’ve been happy with me simply breathing.”

The mare bucked her head.

“You disagree?  She’s not your buddy?  Good instincts.  Your new mistress is a glutton for loyalty.  To me.”  Xena rubbed the golden head.  “Eh, the kid was okay.  Somebody nice for a change.  Satisfied with a good laugh, campfire chats.”

Argo neighed.

“Pfft.  The hero stuff?  That was more for her than me.  Not that I really mind.  You know, letting her keep that picture of me.  Something better for both of us on dark days.”

The two journeyed on the road awhile, until Xena veered off to a trail she recalled leading to a small village.  She led Argo into the bordering trees, stretched, nibbled on berries.  At dusk she stealthily approached the blacksmith’s shop.  Discerning only one person inside, she pushed the door open.

“Anvil,” she said, using the proprietor’s nickname.

The smithy turned, squinting through the smoke from his forge.  He took a couple steps forward.  “Xena?”

“So they say.”

“Heard you were dead.”

“Another try.”  She shrugged.  “Another fail.”

“You know I’m done with fighting.”

Xena nodded.  “Need a safe place to recuperate a couple days.  Get my weapons, horse’s shoes in good order.  You up for that?”

“For you?  Anytime.”  Anvil pointed to a clear area.  “Put your things there.  I keep a cot here for naps.”

“I’ll fetch Argo.”


“My horse.  Long story.”   She returned to find Anvil seated at a small table with a flask and two mugs.  “Still drinking that rotgut you favor?”

“Keep a step above for special occasions.”

Xena took a sip.  “Mm.  I’m honored.”  She winked.  “Should help ward off infection too.”

Anvil laughed.  “Step above, with the usual kick.”  He relaxed back.  “So, my not yet dead friend.  What can you tell me?”

They chatted amicably about old times, rumors and Xena’s intention to take care of “an outstanding issue.”  Anvil checked her head wound, helped rebind her ribs and supplied fresh healing herbs.  No customers came to disturb them.  On the third day, Xena felt ready to move on.  The two exchanged well wishes, Anvil thanking her again for business to start and maintain his shop.  She mounted Argo and resumed her eastern course.


Gabrielle felt as if in a haze the first few days after leaving Xena.  At her parents’ concerned inquiries, she finally declared, “Time I grew up.  I’m pondering the responsible thing to do next, okay?  I’ll be ready to say more soon.”  Satisfied “responsible” boded well for their daughter’s proper future, they had no problem allowing her free time to hike to her “meditation” spot.  When she reached it, she experienced an emptiness, a foreboding she hadn’t before. 

Xena had been the first to share Gabrielle’s oasis.  Ironic, given the circumstances and nature of the other individual.  Why had she felt so comfortable?  More alive and … mature?  As though she could spend the rest of her life getting to know the world through the warrior’s guarded, yet expressive blue eyes.  Laughing at herself, she dropped onto the tree stump.  “Talk about childish.  I belong in Xena’s world as much as she does in mine.  The two of us wandering around, doing good together?  Some fantasy.” 

No, if she wanted the freedom, the power to be herself, she’d look to more realistic models right in front of her.  Women like Celia and Hecuba allowed their menfolk respectable space but ruled the roost.  Also had stature outside the home, in markets and most community endeavors – even when judged, like herself, as “strange” or “flighty.”

She dragged Perdicas from the fringes of her mind, where she’d relegated him since his proposal they wed.  Her childhood friend truly wanted her.  Would make a decent husband and father for the children she’d always envisioned.  Did not possess an abundance of intelligence, but willingly deferred to hers, as he did to most her ideas.  Would probably support her in carving out periods for barding.  True, this scenario might entail a fake acquiescence she’d disdained as beneath someone who espoused truth and honesty.  The payoff would be her own home, no parents governing her every move or desire, few limits on how she shaped her personal environment.

“Not quite the person you met, huh?” she asked the warrior she imagined sitting beside her.  “The one who weaseled her way to getting herself and you here?  Wiped away your blood, drew a needle through your scalp?  Had the audacity to name your horse?  Paint a picture of you which you didn’t recognize?”  She snickered. “Honestly?  I hadn’t seen that ‘hero’ before either.  If she truly existed, maybe she could keep up with you.”

Sighing, Gabrielle absently brushed her hand across the spot where Xena’s blanket had lain.  She felt a small, smooth, oddly shaped bit of wood.  A hair brooch Xena couldn’t find, had thought lost?  “Or,” she murmured, pressing the brooch to her breast, “did you leave this for me?  A memento of our time together?  A sign maybe we’ll meet again?” 

Gabrielle hugged herself, once more picturing “Xena’s” Gabrielle and “her” Xena on the grand adventure neither could quite see.  She pushed Perdicas to the background again.  He could wait until she returned home and announced her marriage plans.  For now, she’d spend the remaining time in her refuge with the mysterious warrior woman she’d found and – the Fates willing – not lost forever.


Xena disdained subterfuge.  She cantered to the entrance as though the dilapidated fortress were hers, which it had been.  The guards’ mouths dropped, but none moved to stop her.  Finally one yelled out, “It’s Xena!  She’s back!  Coming in!””

Men hastily gathered, opening a path for the golden mare.  They waited in silence to hear from the mounted woman.  She merely crooked her head toward the commander’s quarters.  A warrior ran inside.  He exited alone.  “Darphus says to come in.”

Xena remained as she was, ramrod, scanning for, but apparently unconcerned about, any arrows aimed at her back. 

“You heard ‘im,” one of Darphus’ cronies warned.  “Move your horse or we’ll move it for ya.”  At his signal, a handful of men started toward their visitor.  About the same number moved to block them.  One spoke up.  “Whyever Xena’s here, it’s ‘tween her and Darphus.  No sense mixin’ in, keepin’ ‘em from gettin’ to it.”  After some posturing and grumbling, a hush fell over those waiting.  A few raised their fists when Darphus finally emerged.

“Xena.  We should call you Warrior Puss, ya got so many lives.”  Darphus guffawed along with his cronies.  “You come to fight under me?  Too bad.  Your banishment didn’t have a time limit.”  He scowled at her continued silence.  “Means you can’t challenge me for leadership either.”  Her slight head crook and sneer led him to reach for the sword he hadn’t bothered to bring.  “What?  You here to fight against me?  You know it’d be to the death.”

Xena nodded and dismounted, handing Argo’s reins to someone behind her.  She unsheathed her sword and sauntered toward her prey, closing in as if she would walk right through him. 

Darphus swallowed at the death in her eyes.  “Hold!” he said, backing up.  “You want a duel?”  He waved his empty hands.  “With me unarmed?”

“Xena was unarmed!” someone shouted.  “She’s just one woman, not like the gauntlet!”

Xena paused to take a bystander’s sword, tossed her own to her former lieutenant and resumed advancing towards him. 

With a wall at his back, Darphus began circling Xena.  “I knew you were crazy!  Too crazy to follow.  Believe you can’t die because of Ares’ protection.  You slunk off last time.  Enough for anyone else to leave things be.  Not you.  Too full of yourself to accept defeat and move on.  Go!  While I’m in the mood.”

Xena assumed a casual stance, lip curled, watching Darphus edge around her.

The cordon of bystanders grew tighter, cutting off any notions Darphus had of escape.  Resigned to his fate, he brandished Xena’s sword.  “Only right I draw your blood with your own blade,” he snarled rushing towards her.

It was over in the blink of Darphus’ eye, one thrust through his heart.  Xena retrieved her own pristine sword from his lifeless fingers and held it up, glad she hadn’t tainted it with his blood.  Some of the men cheered, presuming her raised weapon signaled reclaim of her army.  She paid them no mind.  Walked expressionlessly to her horse and left as she had come – without a word.

Her goal completed, Xena rode west again, with no more of a plan than when she’d left Darphus behind a few weeks ago.  Less, considering back then she’d considered beating Hercules to win back her army or start another.  Without the will for that, what now?  Amphipolis?   As if she hadn’t lost that too. 

“Come on, girl. Let’s take a rest.”  She guided the Palomino off the road, looking for a stream.  When she found one, she stripped and simply lost herself in the cool water.  After, she lay on the bank, arm flung across her eyes, feeling she’d lost not just herself, but all the options she could see. 

“Ah, Lyceus, if only you were here.”  He’d been her inspiration, her point of light.  His courage was pure, impervious to the anger and vengeance that overtook his sister.  Like Gabrielle, he had seen something of the hero in her, always confident she’d do the right thing. 

She could picture Lyceus with her in the young bard’s fantasy – the siblings traveling across the countryside aiding those in distress, like Hercules and Iolaus.   Lyceus probably would’ve liked that, gladly followed her just as he had into battle for their home village.  Her fists clenched.  If he hadn’t died at her side instead.  His sister survived, should’ve dedicated herself to his ideals rather than making a mockery of them.  She owed him that.

Xena sat up.  Was it too late?  To honor that debt?  Could she do so even without his innate sense of the greater good?  What more did she have to lose, save her presently useless life?  Trying her best might also pay toward the countless lives she’d destroyed at her worst.  She nodded to herself, gathering her clothes with a renewed sense of purpose.

“Argo!  Break’s over.  Got more unfinished business to take care of.”


Part 4

“These samples are beautiful.  Which do you prefer for a bedroom?”

“Whatever you like best.”

“Is this workbench big enough for your carving projects?  Or that one?”

“Sure.  You pick.”

Gabrielle trudged home from her latest outing with Perdicas.  His dependence on her choices had tired even her tireless brain.  She’d assumed there’d be more conversation, mutual decision making.  Apparently getting her own way all the time harbored unanticipated downsides.     

“Back so soon?  Thought today was for shopping home goods.”  Hecuba smirked at her daughter.  “Even living outside requires more necessities than you had time for.”

“What about a cave?” Gabrielle grumbled, dropping onto a dining chair.  “I’m tempted to escape to one.  By myself.  I swear, Perdicas can’t catch a thought of his own.  Has the imagination of an oak.  Once he gets that ring on my finger, I fear he’ll turn into a log.  Pfft.  Me too.”

Chuckling, Hecuba seated herself across from her daughter.  “Patience, my child.  As I’ve said, we have our roles.  There’ll be fishing, hunting, field things he’ll be interested in, that you’ll be glad he goes off to handle on his own.  You have time to iron out wrinkles before you wed.  Keep seeing him, learning about him as the one you’ll spend your life with.”  She winked.  “That big imagination of yours should be more than enough to cover you both.”

Gabrielle’s eyes rolled.  “Believe me, I’m trying.  Anything I can help you with in the meantime?”

“I’m doing my big wash today.  We’re all gathering at the lake.  Chance to commiserate and learn more about the fun you’ll have as a wife.”

“Sounds … great,” Gabrielle responded dryly.  “Educational.  You know how I’m always up for that.”

“You can’t wander off today,” Hecuba warned as the two got up.  “There’s talk of possible marauders in the area.  Our men will be there to keep an eye on things, just in case.”


 Xena had spent days seeking candidates for rescue.  Her attempts were rejected as unnecessary, not enough, suspicious or an even bigger threat.  She’d come to this current village, stationed herself near the entrance and prepared to scout more information about prospective victims.

A drunk harassed a young woman. After a minute or so, she discouraged him with her basket to his head.  Two groups yelled at each other, squared off as if to fight.  Before the first fist made contact, a stout matron hurried to intervene, said something and the groups dispersed shamefaced. 

A dozen uniformed riders raced to a halt in front of the dry goods store.  A few dismounted and swaggered up and down the street.  Xena readied herself for action just as an aproned gray-haired man exited the store.  He handed a bundle to one of the horsemen, who unfurled what turned out to be a large gold banner and waved it jubilantly to his comrades’ cheers.  They all rode out singing about some victory.  Xena shook her head, both confused and disappointed by such potential good deeds.

“Hey, lady.”  A young boy peered up at Xena.  “You a warrior?” he asked, tugging on her battle skirt.

“Why?  Somebody bothering you?”

“Yeah.”  He pointed to the young woman who had foiled the harasser.  “My sister. Won’t let me have a sword like yours.  I need you to cut off her head.”

Xena resignedly retreated back to the road to Amphipolis.  Without conscious intent, she eventually found herself beside the high grasses near Gabrielle’s oasis.  She ruffled Argo’s mane.  “This your idea?  Again?  Sorry, doubt our benefactor’ll be here this time.”  She slid off anyway and walked them to the spot where she had recuperated.   She squatted to run her hand across the ground.  “Ah, she must’ve found it,” she murmured, smiling.  “A little something to remember me by.”

Easing down on the tree stump, she gazed around the area.  “It was all right here, wasn’t it, girl?  Close to camping with Lyceus.  The chatterbox may be innocent but not stupid.  Knew she should’ve feared me and cared anyway.  Made me smile – really smile.  Made me think about myself.  Outside myself.  Care about who I might be.”  She gazed at the sky. 

“Thing is, I tried what she sees.  Didn’t have a clue.  All I know is being a warrior.  Not for what or why or how anymore.  Just a tired, used up warrior.”  She exhaled a long breath.  “Darphus was right,” she acknowledged bitterly, leading Argo back to the road.  “Too full of myself back then to know when to let go.  Well, couple more stops, I’m thinkin’ we call it quits.”

They ventured into the forest, exited to climb a majestic hill with a view of the rolling emerald landscape that mirrored Xena’s home valley. “Beautiful, huh?  Makes me wanna keep going, maybe visit Mom.”  They descended and encountered the burned-out remnants of a shelter.  A boy emerged, explaining how someone named Xena had come from the sky, throwing thunderbolts, breathing fire, turning his parents into smoke.  Similar destruction in numerous other settings haunted Xena’s vision.  “And that, girl, is why I can’t.” 

She continued on aways, dismounted and let the reins wrap around a fallen branch loosely enough that Argo could free herself.  A small clearing nearby offered sufficient space for what she needed.  She dug a shallow hole, shed her battle gear and began burying these vestiges of the warrior she’d been.  A commotion of some sort interrupted her thoughts on what she’d do next.  She hid in high bushes as people ran past her.  Raiders.  Herding villagers to the virtual doorstep of where she’d hoped to find peace.

Gabrielle stood aghast with the huddled villagers.  She felt as though she’d entered one of her stories – the new version that explored bad guys like these, intent on gathering slaves.  Herodotus and his fellow guardians had been no match for the marauders who easily corralled them and rounded up Hecuba and the other women doing laundry at the lake.  “Be careful what you wish for,” Gabrielle chided herself.  “Especially without a clue what you’re in for.”

She searched the frightened faces cowering before the lead thug, who demanded they “give up the girls or be hacked into little pieces.”  Her parents along with everyone else appeared too frozen in helplessness to defend themselves, let alone their cubs.  And no rescuers in sight.  Gabrielle drew herself up to her full petite height and raised her chin.  “If it’s gotta be me, I guess it’s now or never.”

Xena’s eyes widened in disbelief.  Couldn’t be!  Gabrielle?!   She wondered if she’d stumbled into some dreamscape, watching the redhead thrust herself forward, eyes blazing, to confront their captors, commanding, “Take me!  Let the others go!”  Shrugging the lead thug’s hand away when he grabbed for her.  He responded by reaching for a whip. 

“Not today,” Xena growled.  Nearly self-defeated mere moments ago, the warrior felt fire reigniting in her veins and launched herself behind the slaver to grab his hand. 

Gabrielle’s eyes widened in amazement.  Her warrior come to life, to save them after all?  Dressed in … her underclothes?  Green eyes momentarily locked with blue just before Xena went down from a blow.  The warrior rose, continuing to dispatch raiders like rag dolls. Yelling a battle cry to scare birds out of trees, her round weapon disarming the enemy with a deadly “whoosh.”  Inspiring the suddenly brave villagers who now fought along with her.

In the end, the lead slaver now cowered before the villagers’ improbable savior.  Sneering, she used her sword to flick away the dark blue sash he wore that designated the warlord he fought under.  “You’re with Draco.  Tell him Xena says hello,” she announced, her name alone sending shivers through both the attackers and their victims.  


“Gabby?  Are you all right?  What in the name of Zeus got into you, challenging him like that?”

“I’m fine, Lila, thanks to Xena.  In fact, I’m inviting her to --.”

“No!  I know that look!  This isn’t one of your fantasies.  She’s dangerous!  Didn’t you hear?  Even those slavers fear her.”

“Look after Mother,” Gabrielle ordered in her older-sister voice.  She strolled toward where the warrior knelt, digging up her battle gear.  “Hi.”


Gabrielle crooked her head questioningly at the warrior’s dirt-covered belongings.  “Washing?” she teased.  “The lake would be better.”

“My mistake,” Xena replied wryly, shaking out her garments.  “Didn’t think they’d need cleaning.”

“Xena, right?  That’s what you and the others called you.”

“Mm.”  The corners of Xena’s mouth curved up.  “Those folks who tried to hold you back?   Heard one call you ‘Gabrielle.’”

“Uh huh.  My mother and sister.  I’ll introduce you.  We’d like you to come with us, to thank you properly.”

“’We?’”  Xena snorted softly. She gazed at the townsfolk whispering among themselves, throwing disapproving looks her way.  “I’d say you speak for yourself.”

Gabrielle crossed her arms.  “I speak for what’s right.  You got knocked down, yet another blow to the head.  The least we can do is tend your wounds, offer food and drink.”  She glanced at her family.  “They should all know now I’m not afraid to stand up for that.  To them or anybody worse.”  She maintained her stance as Xena finished dressing.

“Gabrielle….”  Xena blew out a long breath. “Not sure it’s a good idea for me to --.”

“To accept our hospitality?  What would your mother say?”

Xena huffed.  Snared with her own words.  Apparently influenced by the whimsey of Fates insistent on interweaving her thread with that of a certain bubbly cherub. The redhead’s bravado had unexpectedly reminded Xena of the warrior she initially wanted to be.  Shown how that didn’t require an army.  Maybe she could still convince Draco to stay away from Gabrielle’s village.  Work at being the daughter Cyrene and Amphipolis might claim with less shame. Honor her debt to Lyceus after all.  This brief detour shouldn’t delay her long, with the villagers happy to see her gone like the slavers.

“Fine.  Argo and I did owe you.  We even now?”  Xena began walking toward where she’d left the Palomino. 

“Mm, not quite,” Gabrielle responded, mentally defining “even” as side by side.   “I don’t see it as a competition.  We each have our gifts.  Our strengths.  You may recall one of mine happens to be persistence.”  Which now meant doing whatever it took to leave Perdicas, her family, the certainties of her "old” life behind in pursuit of an unknown future with a mysterious warrior woman.  Xena had shown her – would in fact be -- the way.

“I’m pretty … persistent … myself,” Xena retorted, cutting her eyes at Gabrielle, pretty sure the redhead entertained notions of following the warrior on her reformed path toward certain danger, death and questionable decisions.  Something Xena would do her best to prevent.  Particularly with someone who reminded her of Lyceus and didn’t deserve to die at her side like him because of their “hero.”

“Hey, girl, look who I ran into,” Xena informed Argo when they reached the mare.  “You know how your friend here likes to brush and feed us.  We’ll tolerate a few moments.  After that,” she said, pausing for emphasis, “we’ll be on our way.” 

The three set out for Gabrielle’s home.   

Xena chuckled smugly.  “Told ya you were braver than you thought.”

“Yes, you did.  I wished for you at first, of course, before I realized your version of me would have to do.”

“I saw it, you did it?”

“You remembered!”

“You talked, I listened.”

“Barely,” Gabrielle muttered under her breath.

“Say what?”

“Whyever you came this way, the warrior in my story would’ve been rising up, not burying who she was in the dirt.”

“Hey, I ‘rose up,’ unearthed my weapons.”  Xena snorted, recalling the gauntlet that had preceded this new phase.  “Seem to be making a habit of it.”

“Uh huh.  I meant just before.”  Gabrielle rubbed her nose.  “You know, when you were … doing whatever that was with your things?”

Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek.  “I tried the good deeds route, okay?  Dead end.  Then this spunky bard obsessed with heroes magically popped up again.   I --”

“Saw the warrior in my story and did it!” Gabrielle exclaimed, smiling smugly. 

“Mm.  As you observed, I didn’t come here prepared to do heroics.”

Gabrielle snickered.  “True, you weren’t exactly dressed for the occasion.”

“Mmhm.  So, if you want accuracy….”

“Uh huh?” Gabrielle narrowed her eyes.  “I’m listening.”

“I’d write, ‘The warrior saw the bard doing it, so jumped in.’”

The two laughed, each silently committing to the steps she’d take toward tomorrow.  One resigned to navigating a new path alone.  One determined to see the two of them make that journey together.

The End


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