by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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Usual tedious disclaimer:
MCA/Universal owns the rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Joxer, Cyrene and whoever else might cross over from their Xenaverse. Any other characters are my creation and merely interact with MCA/Universal's characters. Yes, women love women here.
Gabrielle rolled off of Xena, satisfied. Life was going pretty well, she and Xena had been married for an incredible and exciting thirty-two years, Xena had a beautiful granddaughter, Telesilla, and they had two wonderful godchildren, Rebecka Diedra and Cyrene Ruth. Rebecka and her husband, Saul, had a two year old son, Xeres, and Cyrene Ruth was at the tavern and inn constantly, learning how to run things, just like her namesake, Xena's mother, Cyrene. Plus, she had finally reconciled with her sister, Lila, and found out that she had a niece and nephew by Lila and her husband, Marcus. Yes, life was pretty grand.
"Gabrielle, I've been talking to you for several minutes, but you appear to be wool-gathering," Xena said.
"What?" Gabrielle asked, chagrined at being caught not paying attention.
"I said that you appear to be wool-gathering," Xena said with a smile. "I asked you if Cyrene was coming over today to help you plan the menu for lunch again. Maybe we should consider turning the inn and tavern over to her, then we could call it Cyrene's and it would not be false."
Gabrielle looked at Xena for a long time, then slowly answered, "Yes, she is coming over and planning the lunch menu. But why the big deal about anointing her as the next manager? Some premonition?"
"Nope, not at the moment, but we won't last forever and I would like to travel some more, just like Mother did. After all, she lived to a ripe old age and I'm creeping up there. I'm sixty-two, dear, and I won't last forever," Xena explained.
Gabrielle hugged Xena fiercely, then pulled back, looking at her wife. Xena still had those startling blue eyes, but her once raven hair was almost pure silver now. She was still tanned and fit, but her face had a network of deepening lines and her fingers were swollen and misshapen from years of work and a light case of arthritis. "Xena, don't even think such things. I won't have it."
Xena kissed Gabrielle, then asked, "Are we planning to get dressed today? I'm a bit chilly, you don't make the best blanket in the world."
Gabrielle slid off the bed, grumbling about old women who were always cold. Xena just laughed as she washed up and got dressed.
Several hours later, Gabrielle was in deep conversation with Cyrene when she heard the scream. She grabbed her staff, which always stood by her office door, then dashed outside to the courtyard where Xena was already facing the thug, sword shining in the sun. The thug was holding onto a village girl, yelling, "I'll sell her as a slave if I don't get the hundred dinars!"
Xena calmly explained, "We don't take kindly to extortion here, so just let the girl go, and come along quietly. You'll get a fair trial, I promise."
The thug stared at her, yelling, "Just who are you to talk to me that way?"
"I am Xena. Perhaps you have heard of me," Xena replied.
A gleam came in his eye as he turned the girl loose. "Yes, I have heard of you, Xena, Warrior Princess." Before Xena could reply, he charged her, sword level with her heart. Xena backpedaled, parrying smoothly. A hush fell over the gathering crowd as the swords rang with deadly music, neither getting the upper hand. Gabrielle stood, waiting for a sign from Xena to either stay back or come bash the dude in the head. Joxer and Diana came out from their store, also waiting for a sign.
The sign never came. Xena stumbled on a tree root and the thug slid the sword home with a savage grin. Xena stared at him, then slowly looked at the blossom of red on her shirt. She tried to staunch the blood with her hand but the sword had been placed through her heart. "Gabrielle..." she whispered as she fell back.
"I just killed the great Xena!" screamed the thug in triumph. The crowd stood, stunned, but Gabrielle felt a swirl of rage descend on her. Racing to Xena, she dropped her staff and grabbed the great warrior's sword and faced the thug. He laughed even harder, looking at this small woman who had to be his mother's age, maybe even his grandmother's age. His laughter did not last long; Gabrielle skewered him with Xena's sword, wordlessly.
For a moment, time seemed to stand still. The crowd was absolutely silent, then started murmuring. Gabrielle slowly dropped Xena's sword, then sank to her knees beside her lover, cradling her head, then unleashing an agonizing cry of grief. Gabrielle's cry echoed throughout the village, silencing the crowd again.
No one seemed to know what to do until Diana cautiously walked to Gabrielle and knelt beside her, slowly pulling her away from Xena's body. She whispered in Gabrielle's ear, then pulled her up and walked her back to the inn. Joxer stood for a long moment, then called out to his daughter, "Cyrene, bring me a sheet to cover her with." As his daughter ran off to get the sheet, he turned to several of the villagers and said, "Get that carcass out of here. Throw him to the beasts, he doesn't deserve burial or a pyre." Several of the younger men immediately jumped to follow his orders.
Diana finally got Gabrielle to take some tea to send her to sleep. She asked one of the staff to get Joxer and bring him over to the inn. When he arrived, she took him to Xena's private office and sat him down. "Joxer, Gabrielle is absolutely senseless with grief. She keeps babbling about damning Ares and asking for the ambrosia. I don't think she can plan the funeral, we will have to take care of it for her. What did you do with Xena's body?"
Joxer had to swallow several times before he could answer. "Cyrene and I put her in the icehouse. I've already sent my best men on my fastest horses to tell Solon and Julia, and Rebecka and Saul. I've also send word to the Amazon Nation. Gods, Diana, why did Xena have to die?"
Diana pulled Joxer in her arms as he started sobbing. She rubbed his back as she said softly, "We will all miss Xena, Joxer. I've known her all my life and somehow, I feel that she would prefer to go out fighting rather than to die peacefully in bed." She could feel Joxer struggling to regain mastery over his emotions. "Baby, go ahead and cry. I'm here for you, as you will be when I stop long enough for this to really hit me."
Joxer finally stopped sobbing and sat down in a chair, wiping his eyes, exhausted. "You're right, Diana, she would prefer to die fighting. What are we going to do with Gabrielle?"
Diana rubbed her forehead wearily, thinking. "I don't know yet, dear, but I have a funny feeling that Cyrene will be taking over the inn faster than she expected. Rebecka can't help, she and Saul are running your office in Corinth full time. I'm tied up with the store and you're tied up with your courier and import/export business. Oh, does anyone know where Lila is?"
"No. She and Marcus are traveling somewhere, their daughter Sarah is running the business now. I'll send some of my men to look for her, though." Joxer looked up at his wife and sighed. "I've never really had to make these types of arrangements before. I mean, when Xena's mother died, she made the arrangements. What do you think Xena would want?"
Diana answered by pointing out the window. "See that hill in the distance? Xena's family has been buried in a cave in there for several generations. Her brother Lyceus is buried there, as are her parents. I'm not sure where Toris, her other brother is now. Xena showed me the burial chamber several years ago where her mother died."
"One question answered then. I guess we get to plan the food this time, since Gabrielle isn't herself," Joxer said, forcing himself to think.
"I know, Joxer. I just hope that your men can find everyone in short order." Diana took one last look at the hill, then turned back to her husband. "We just have to play it by ear."
Gabrielle still was not talking the next morning. Diana had sent Cyrene to stay with her and Cyrene reported the next morning that Gabrielle called for Xena in her sleep off and on all night. "Mother, I finally had to crawl in bed with her and hold her until she calmed down. She clung to me so tightly that I'm surprised that I don't have bruises this morning. I don't think we should leave her alone until she is used to the idea of living without Xena."
Diana looked at her daughter for a long moment, then asked, "Would you mind staying with her for a short while longer then? I hate to saddle you with her, but you have been working closely with her at the inn."
"Sure, Mom, I don't mind. I'd better get back, though, and check on how things are doing. Bye, see you later." Cyrene kissed her mother, then left. Diana watched her youngest daughter leave, then turned back to her own business.
The funeral was set for the next day. People were trickling in from all parts of Greece for the funeral and filling up the inn rapidly. Solon, Xena's son and his family came the day after Xena's death. Rebecka and Saul had just arrived from Corinth, saying that they left Xeres with a neighbor, that he was too young to travel that far. A large contingent of Amazon warriors arrived with Ephiny and Dorcas. Hercules, his wife Lissa, Ioleus, his wife Tamara arrived right after the Amazons. Autolycus, the King of Thieves, arrived last. Ephiny went directly to Gabrielle, softly telling Cyrene that she could leave for now.
"Gabrielle, it's me, Ephiny. Please speak to me." Ephiny said, sitting beside Gabrielle on the bed she had shared with Xena for so many years. Gabrielle just stared out the window, tears sliding slowly down her face. Cyrene had warned her that Gabrielle had not spoken since Xena's death while awake, but had been calling for Xena in her sleep. Ephiny reached over and gently stroked Gabrielle's face, noticing that time had left its mark in the way of fine lines. "Please, Gabrielle, speak to me." No response. Ephiny stood up and started pacing. "Gabrielle, don't do this to me. We're all worried about you, dear friend. The whole Amazon nation is in mourning, did you know that?"
"I don't want to continue living without her," Gabrielle said softly, still refusing to look at her. Ephiny came back to the bed and gathered Gabrielle in her arms, rocking her like a baby. "Ephiny, I feel so empty, like the time that Xena and I had fought over the death of Hope. Gods, I thought I'd never get her back, but we finally worked it out." Gabrielle swallowed hard, then continued, "I can't live without her, Ephiny, I just can't. I keep waiting for her to come through that door, telling me about how well the militia is doing, or that the audience is waiting for my tales, so to get my butt in gear."
Gabrielle lifted her head and looked into Ephiny's soft brown eyes. "Why? Why did she have to fight him? Why not let someone else take care of the problems? That's what the damned militia is for, by the gods!"
Ephiny looked into Gabrielle's red-rimmed green eyes, speechless. She had become used to talking for an entire nation, negotiating delicate treaties, but was a total loss of words to soothe Gabrielle's heart. Finally, she said softly, "I don't know, Gabrielle, but I think Xena would rather have gone down fighting than to die of old age. But rest assure, she is in the Elysian Fields, I know it in my heart."
Gabrielle buried her face in Ephiny's shoulder, but did not start crying again. They sat like that for a time, then Gabrielle finally looked up at her dear friend. "I guess I'd better do something, like get ready for the funeral tomorrow."
"I think Diana and Joxer have taken care of all the arrangements, they said it was the least that they could do." Ephiny stroked Gabrielle's hair, then asked, "Is there anything I can do?"
"Just be my friend," Gabrielle whispered forlornly.
The funeral was difficult, but extremely well attended. A mixed honor guard of the local militia and an Amazon unit bore the coffin to the temple for the service. Gabrielle seemed to have frozen her emotions, neither crying nor showing any other emotion. Joxer and Diana sat on either side of her, protecting her from the crowd.
Finally, Dorcas, the Amazon priestess, motioned for silence. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to say our final good-byes to Xena, Warrior Princess. I have not know Xena well, but have been acquainted with her for over thirty-two years, since she and Gabrielle married in this village. Xena was born here sixty-two years ago to Cyrene and Atrius, then left after the warlord Cortese tried to decimate Amphipolis. She defended the village, but lost her soul. Years later, Hercules helped her regain her soul, and Gabrielle became her constant companion and later her wife."
Dorcas paused, then continued, "Xena is survived by one son, Solon, his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Telesilla. Her wife, Gabrielle, has a niece and nephew by her sister Lila and brother-in-law Marcus, and they had two goddaughters, Rebecka and Cyrene, daughters of Diana and Joxer." Dorcas spoke for several more minutes, then turned over the service to Diana.
Diana walked up to the coffin and looked at it for a long moment, then turned back to the assembled people. "I have known Xena all of my life and have been blessed by knowing her. Xena was my hero, my big sister when I was growing up. She saved me from the torments of others when I was too small to save myself. I never stopped loving her, even when she ran off and became a warlord. I was pleased when she finally came back home with Gabrielle, then settled here twenty-two years ago. If it weren't for Xena and Gabrielle, I would have never met my husband, Joxer." Diana stopped to wipe her eyes, struggling to steady her voice. She took a deep breath, then plunged on. "Xena delivered both of our children and was godmother to both of them. I am proud to have been associated with her." She stopped again, then gave up, leaving the coffin in sobs.
Ephiny walked up to the coffin and placed her hands on it for a moment, then turned and faced the crowd. "When I first heard of Xena, it was Xena, Warrior Princess and Destroyer of Nations. But, like Diana, my child was delivered by Xena, under grueling circumstances. My first real impression of Xena was a woman who was driven, cold, tightly wound and frighteningly efficient. Yet, she was gentle with me, even though she had to cut me open to deliver my son, Xenan. I also saw a different side of her when Gabrielle staggered back into the temple, dying. Xena actually pulled Gabrielle back from death, nearly going crazy before Gabrielle started breathing again. I remember thinking, this is the cold, heartless Xena? A woman who would nearly go crazy with grief when her friend died? Over the years, I have been close to Xena and Gabrielle both and have grown to love them as true sisters. For me, Xena embodied the ultimate warrior, but Gabrielle will always be my queen, and I her regent."
Ephiny stepped down from the altar area and sat back down. Others delivered short speeches, then Dorcas delivered the final message before the coffin was taken to the cave, to lay Xena next to her family. The crowd followed, then slowly dispersed, many heading back to the inn for pot luck. Some even claimed to have seen Ares in the crowd, looking unusually solemn, but it was ultimately determined to be just a rumor.
In the weeks that followed Xena's funeral, Gabrielle rarely spoke to anyone more than she had to. She let Cyrene take over all of the day-to-day management of the inn and tavern, rarely coming out of her office. Cyrene reported to her parents that Gabrielle spent days reading and re-reading scrolls she had written of her life with Xena. "I don't like it," Cyrene said one night, "she still has many years ahead of her. Maybe if we could have found Lila it would have been different."
Joxer looked at his younger daughter fondly. "Cyrene, I have a feeling that it would not have made a difference. Xena and Gabrielle were true partners in every sense of the word. Xena fought to come back to life, she loved Gabrielle that much. Gabrielle gave up a chance to rule the Amazon Nation for Xena. Gods know they had some really rough times, but I always thought that Gabrielle was stronger than this." He rubbed his forehead, thinking for a moment. "I'll send some more men to try to find her sister, but I doubt it will do any good. No one has been able to get through her fog of grief."
Diana looked up from her accounting scrolls. "Too bad that Rebecka and Saul had to go back so fast, but since they had left Xeres behind, and him only two..." Diana rubbed her eyes, then looked back up at her younger daughter. "I thought that Mom took it hard when Mama died, but she came through fine, after a rocky start." She signed. "I just don't know what to tell you, baby."
Cyrene said, "I guess I'll just continue to run things at the inn. Good thing Gabrielle and Xena had been training me, but I'm not sure I can fix things like Xena did, she was a whiz with tools." Cyrene scratched her chin thoughtfully, then finally said, "Well, I'd better go back to supervise the supper crowd. See you later. Love you both." She went over and hugged and kissed each parent, then left the house.
Diana stood up and walked over to where Joxer was seated, leaning over him and wrapping her arms around him. "Joxer, do you think that Gabrielle can snap out of this?"
"I don't know, Diana, but I sure hope so. I'd hate to lose two friends." He kissed his wife's hands, then added, "I just hope she doesn't sink into madness."
Gabrielle continued to worsen. She barely ate and started losing weight. Some days, she wandered aimlessly around the surrounding fields, always ending up at the burial cave. The townspeople watched out for her, usually detailing a member of the militia to follow her at a discrete distance to assure her safety. Cyrene was usually able to talk her into bathing regularly, but had to usually supervise the bath or Gabrielle would sneak out without it.
One morning, Gabrielle managed to sneak away without anyone following her. She went to the cave and stood by Xena's coffin and started talking to her. "Good morning, darling. I still miss you terribly." She slowly circled the coffin, then screamed, "You deserted me! How could you desert me when we should have spent twenty more years together! It's just not fair!"
"Oh, but my dear Gabrielle, life is never fair," said a mellow voice. Gabrielle whirled around, finding Ares sauntering towards her. When he reached her, he touched her cheek gently, saying quietly, "I know you are in pain, Gabrielle, but rest assured that Xena is in the Elysian Fields, where she belongs."
Gabrielle slapped his hand away, glaring at the God of War. "How dare you touch me! At least you should be proud, she died fighting! Now you can have her to yourself!" she screamed.
Ares looked at the bard for a long moment, then said quietly, "I miss her too, Gabrielle. Hades won't let me in to the underworld very often, he says that I send too many good men and women there ahead of their time. But, I never thought I'd see the day that Xena would go to him, to finally cross over the river for good. To be honest, Gabrielle, I don't regret trying to make her into the head of my army, but I do miss trying. In my own limited way, I loved her, not as much as you loved her."
Gabrielle eyed him suspiciously. "Ares, you only love yourself. How dare you claim to love my Xena!"
"Oh, our little bard is feisty again, I see!" he said silkily.
Gabrielle reacted by flinging herself at Ares, trying to beat him senseless. He allowed her to rain blows on him until she was exhausted and sobbing. Ares gently pulled the sobbing woman to him, cuddling her in his arms, whispering soothing nothings in her ear until the tears finally subsided. Then, he pulled her down with him, sitting on the cave floor, propped against the wall. He just held her for a while longer, then finally loosened his arms, allowing her to sit back up.
Ares spoke again, keeping a warm hand on her back. "Gabrielle, you must believe me when I say that I miss Xena. I miss baiting her, I miss pissing her off, I miss setting traps for her. But most of all, I miss her zest for life. I know that she misses you too, but you must go on with your life. Do you want Xena to live? Then you must tell people about her, keep her alive in your memory and in theirs. Make copies of your scrolls, make sure that the Academy at Athens has several copies. Keep copies here in Amphipolis. Don't die, live, live for Xena and her memory."
Gabrielle listened to Ares, finally looking at him and saying, "But I hurt so much inside, Ares, I don't know if I can live without her."
Ares stood up and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. "But you will be reunited with Xena in due time, I promise. In the meantime, honor her memory. Go visit Solon and Julia and Telesilla, tell them about Xena. Live, damn it, live! You just don't realize how rare of a love you have with Xena, a bond that transcends death itself. I promise, you will be with Xena, but first you must live before you die." He kissed Gabrielle's forehead, then looked deep into her green eyes. "Besides, I do believe that Diana is losing money on groceries due to your lack of appetite--hey, no fair!" he laughed, barely warding off the blows that Gabrielle tried to land on him. As he laughed, he disappeared from view.
Gabrielle looked at the spot that Ares vanished from for a long time, then finally walked back over to Xena's coffin. Tracing the breastplates on the lid, she thought about Ares' words. "Xena," she whispered, "I do love you. Maybe Ares is right, I should keep you alive in my heart by telling others about you." She leaned her cheek against the coffin, then finally straightened up. "Good-bye, dearest, see you on the other side. But not today." She picked up her staff, then slowly walked back to the village.
"So there we were, surrounded by Persians, Xena whirling like a mad woman, fighting off the soldiers single handedly as I lay dying upstairs in the loft. I saw the roof moving, just like in my dream, but instead of the plummeting soldier slicing Xena's throat, she took care of him. She found the antidote and brought it to me barely in time, bringing me back from certain death." Gabrielle looked at her audience, playing them like a fine lyre.
"But what about your boots?" asked a small boy.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh, after coming from the brink of death, I made her promise to buy me another pair." Gabrielle grinned. "A very fine pair, I might add. Thank you, you've been a terrific audience." Gabrielle left the stage of the Academy and wound her way back to the table where Solon, Julia and Telesilla sat.
Telesilla looked at her in awe as Gabrielle took a long drink of cider. "Did my grandmother really fight of an entire army by herself?" she asked in awe.
"Yes, she did, many times, Telesilla." Gabrielle looked at Xena's granddaughter proudly. Telesilla had grown to look much like Xena, tall, muscular, raven haired, but with hazel eyes rather then piercing blue. "You look so much like her..." Gabrielle added, her voice trailing off.
Telesilla laughed, adding, "Thank you, that's quite a compliment. Oh, I tell you that I'm engaged to be married?"
"No, tell me about him," Gabrielle encouraged the young woman. As she listened to Telesilla's plans, she sent a silent thought to Xena, "You'd be proud of your family, Xena. Solon, a famous peacemaker, Julia a fine poet, and Telesilla a talented seamstress. I just wish you were here."
As Gabrielle listened to Xena's granddaughter, she sensed a warmth and peace she had not felt in many months, just like when she used to fall asleep with Xena's arms around her. Maybe Ares was right, she could keep Xena alive by keeping her memory alive. She'd better deliver those extra copies of the scrolls to the library tomorrow, she mused. She'd do it to keep a promise to Ares. And to Xena.
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