Full Disclaimers in Chapter I: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan.yahoo.com
Xena was just about to emerge from the brush when she felt the familiar nausea of the Loom’s changes. One moment she was amidst the greenery of the hillside, the next she was surrounded by acres of shining pink paving stones topped by columns, enclosed on all sides by Roman structural design. She was in the very centre of the main square of the Forum, standing just below a large raised monument. The cornerstone of the building read that it was the resting place of the remains of the deified Julius Caesar. Xena cursed heatedly and spoke to the skies.
“I take it this is the choice I made in another timeline? Or did you just not like the whole lake idea and changed it for me?”
She was not expecting any answer, and was startled when a voice behind her spoke.
“I knew you would have to come here. To spit on that bastard’s grave, right?”
She spun about and looked at a sight that stole her breath. It was Gabrielle, just a few feet away. Looking exactly as she had last seen her, centuries before, except now she was in full Roman garb; a crimson toga with a similarly coloured sash, her blonde hair in ringlets in what she assumed was the latest style. For a moment her senses spun, until she swallowed and shook her head slowly. “No way. Gabrielle? I don’t think so.”
The vision in front smiled and moved towards her. “That would be the easy way, right? To think that I’m Hope, or someone that just looks like me, wouldn’t it?”
She pulled Xena closer and tilting her head, kissed Xena on the cheek, long and lovingly. Even in shock, Xena’s arms had begun to draw around her when the woman withdrew. Xena stared at her face and the strange bitter smile questioningly until rough hands grabbed her from behind. Several more soldiers stepped forward, and one spoke to Gabrielle. “Thank you for the identification, Ma’am. We’ll take it from here.”
Again Gabrielle smiled her cold smile and demurred, “if you don’t mind, I‘d like to walk along.”
Surrounded by twenty armed soldiers, Xena shrugged off the hands and glared at the chains the solders held. “You don’t need those,” Gabrielle told them. “There’s nowhere for her to go and she knows it.” Xena said nothing but waited for them to begin advancing before falling into step with them, with Gabrielle alongside her. Gabrielle’s voice was light and conversational as the procession moved forward. “I’m beginning to change my opinion about Rome, you know. Only here a few days, and,” she indicated the soldiers flanking them, “look at the friends I was able to make.”
Without turning to look at her, Xena spat out, “you really don’t think I’m going to fall for this crap, do you? Gabrielle would not do this.”
Gabrielle’s next words came with a bitter edge that stung. “No, Gabrielle would never be resentful. Never need an apology. Never be a human being, would she?” She gestured to the soldiers to stop and when they did, she slapped Xena, hard, across the face. Her cheek burning, Xena turned her head to stare down at the woman. Gabrielle’s eyes were burning as she continued. “What did you expect? You left me… alone. Twice. Beyond death! You promised me!”
“This isn’t you, Gabrielle, I know it isn’t you.”
“Do you remember how you left me? The Xena I knew would have seen through those lies in a second. But you were too selfish, too sure that you’d finally found your out, found your peace and redemption at last. You didn’t think about the pain you’d be putting me through, you didn’t even ask me! In the end you were just like, like the Gods and everyone we fought against! ‘Swallow this pain, Gabrielle, It’s for the Greater Good.’” She spat into Xena’s eye. “It was all a lie you wanted to believe so you could escape your pain. Escape the chance of ever being happy… happy with me. So now it’s my turn to make myself happy.” Another gesture from Gabrielle, and the soldiers began to march again, hauling the prisoner with them.
When Gabrielle spoke again, her voice was again conversational. “You know what I get for betraying you, Xena? I get that treaty that Caesar burned. Protection for the only women who stood by me to the end and beyond. So the Amazons are safe, and the joke is, “ and she laughed, “ I would have turned you in for free.”
Now that they were past the Temple to Caesar, Xena was able to see a larger structure rising above the massive Temple to Venus and Rome like a concrete sun. It was some kind of amphitheatre, though ten times larger than any she’d ever seen before.
Matching the conversational tone of the woman beside her, Xena said, “last time I was here, Nero had a large lake right there. What is that place?”
Gabrielle smiled. “It’s where we’re headed. Thought it would be appropriate. After all, it’s another round killing thing.”
The head priestess of the Temple of Venus and Rome had grown steadily unsure of the developments surrounding the supposed Chosen One, especially in Gabrielle’s absence. Leading the doubts had been the discovery of a wrapped gift on the altar sometime after she had returned to consciousness. It had been labelled in Latin; to Gabrielle, and she knew her Goddess had placed it there.
“MORTALS give gifts to the GODS!” she was remonstrating to the Virgo Vestalis Maxima in the offerings room. “NOT the other way around!”
The Maxima was not in a sympathetic frame of mind. “I can’t believe you let her risk her life by wandering around the City of Ares. She’s a stranger to all of this and therefore merely a child in many ways.”
“Let her?” the Priestess exploded from her simmering aggravation. “Do you really think I would risk all these years of planning by the blessed Venus now?”
A cough by the doorway startled them both. Gabrielle closed the door carefully behind her before speaking. “Look, it was no one’s fault. I’m back now and no one saw me. I had to go. You had no idea what Xena might look like and I’m the only one that might be able to spot her. Anyway, I didn’t have to go very far.”
“You found her?” asked the Maxima in amazement.
Gabrielle nodded. “She was being marched along the Via Sacra below the Temple, surrounded by Roman guards. All I could see was the top of her head, but I knew… it was enough for me to know it was her.”
“Where were they taking her?” asked the Priestess of Venus
“To the Coliseum,” Gabrielle replied quietly.
The Priestess was puzzled. “That doesn’t make any sense. According to Venus, He’s put her through much worse than armed combat. There must be something else. This is His last chance to break her, He must have something special…” A frown flew over her face and she turned to ask Gabrielle, “How did you know the Flavian Amphitheatre was also called the Coliseum?”
Gabrielle shrugged casually. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading since I got here.”
“Yes… well,” she said, but she continued to gaze searchingly at Gabrielle.
The Maxima ignored the questioning and revealed her larger concern. “All the more reason she must not go there,” she said taking Gabrielle into her arms protectively.
Gabrielle pulled away. “You think I’m going to leave her there? Anyway, Aphr… Venus said I was supposed to draw What’s-his-name out. So let me do my job.” She drew on her headdress to leave, practically daring either woman to try to stop her. When they managed to restrain themselves, she nodded and walked towards the doors. Then she stopped, as though remembering something. “I think Venus had a gift for me?”
The Priestess seemed to be grinding her teeth before she pointed to a package on a marble table. Gabrielle approached it, almost warily, before unfolding the cloth. Neither of the other two women could see what it was or read the strange, sad expression that passed over her face.
She took a deep breath, gathered up the bundle and continued to the door. As she exited she tossed back, “Tell Aphrodite to be ready. I don’t know what it’ll be, but she’s going to get her diversion.”
There was an awkward silence after she left. Finally the Priestess asked quietly, “Can we trust her? She has such anger…”
The Maxima chided, “You make it sound as though there is any choice. How can you not follow the guidance of a Goddess? I have faith in her perfect wisdom. Do you not as well?”
The Priestess looked to the door, but said hurriedly, “of course…”
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