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The Conqueror Series

Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand

LJ Maas

Chapter 23: The Expense Of Spirit In A Waste of Shame…

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and I reached down to kiss her forehead. My lips brushed against dry, overheated skin. She was even warmer than before and I suppose the worry showed in my eyes, but I believed her too feverish to notice my expression. In fact, her own visage told me that she wasn't completely aware of everything around her. To my heart's delight, she recognized me and offered an extremely weak smile.

"Are we on a boat?" Gabrielle asked.

I couldn't hold back a small chuckle. "No, little one, we're in the wagon. We're on our way home."

Gabrielle winced slightly and I cursed my thoughtlessness. I hadn't realized my exact words until after I had already uttered them. She didn't say anything further and I wondered if the word home had simply evoked a memory of the previous evening that she couldn't fully remember in her present condition. I simply decided to continue.

"We left as soon as the sun rose, Love. We should be home this evening."

"So soon?" she rasped.

"We left the majority of the foot soldiers behind so we could move faster."

"Am I that sick?" She spoke so coherently that I forgot she was only, mentally, half there. Her eyes told the real story, as she appeared to struggle to stay alert.

"Not at all, love. You have a fever, but I bet it's gone by the time we get back to the inn." I didn't lie exactly, but in truth, I was more worried about her illness than I let on. Gabrielle rarely felt poorly, unlike me who tended to wake each day with some sort of pain caused by the way I had abused my body for so many seasons. "If not, some of Cyrene's soup will fix you right up. Here, drink some of this."

"Oh, that's terrible," she said after taking a minimal swallow.

"I know, but if I told you that ahead of time you wouldn't have taken it. Sorry, but it's good for you. It'll help keep that fever under control. Here, take a drink of water. It will wash away the bitter taste."

She shook her head after one small swallow. "It hurts too much to swallow."

"You really need to keep drinking as much water as you can, Love."

"I'll try later," she said as she settled back against the pillows once more.

I thought she was ready to fall asleep again until I could feel the weight of her gaze watching my every move. I replaced the water flask on the peg it hung upon and turned to look at her.

"I'm so sorry, Xena."

"Whatever for?"

"I didn't mean to cause so much trouble last night. I just meant to…I'm not sure what, but it was almost like…like I didn't have any control. I didn't really know what I was doing. I just let my emotions take over and lead me."

"I know that, my love, and you owe me no apologies. We can talk more about everything that's happened, but right now I only want you to concentrate on one thing."

"Getting better?"

"Who says you're not an oracle?" I winked at her as my jest caused her to smile again.

Gabrielle was asleep before I even left the wagon. We stopped for a few moments to rest and water the horses. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs, even though part of me was loathe to leave Gabrielle alone. Ephiny, who had hovered as close to the wagon as possible since Gabrielle returned to camp, gave me an idea.

"Do you mind sending someone to sit with Gabrielle? Preferably someone she knows."

"I'd be happy to," Mika answered from behind me.

I turned to glare at her. "I don't want you anywhere near her."

"Mika, you're supposed to be on point," Ephiny said. "Get back up there."

"Yes, Commander."

The young woman looked as though her world had ended, but I was still too angry with her to care. I knew that Gabrielle would chastise me for such behavior, but it was something that I didn't seem able to control, especially not without Gabrielle at my side. Obviously, this whole homecoming had worn on my nerves, as well.

"She and Shanta get on well. Why don't you take some time to get some rest yourself, though?" Ephiny waved to a nearby Amazon. After a short exchange, the woman ran off, apparently to find Shanta.

"Mostly because as tired as I am, I know there's no way I'd sleep at this point. At least not until we get home where there are healers close by."

"I guess I'd do the same," Ephiny answered, patting my shoulder. "How is she?"

"I think her fever's getting worse. The medicine I made up isn't strong enough to fight anything serious, but I don't have the herbs to make anything better."

Shanta, one of the Amazons I recognized because of the time she spent as Gabrielle's personal Amazon guard, ran up and saluted the both of us. Ephiny explained and Shanta seemed happy to sit with Gabrielle.

"See if you can get some water down her if she wakes," I said before Shanta climbed into the wagon.

We set off once more, but I rode Tenorio a small ways behind the wagon. Ephiny was good company for me. Being a warrior herself, she knew enough not to prattle on, but rode in silence beside me. Acting rather unlike myself, I began our conversation first. I thought it quite odd that I should want to talk about what had happened in the last two days. I never wanted to discuss such things, especially if they had anything to do with feelings or emotions. Gods, what Gabrielle had done to me. I remember thinking that it was rather wonderful, actually.

"Hades of a couple of days, eh?" I asked.

"That it is. You know, I've been thinking. After all Gabrielle has been through, mentally and now physically, maybe your little surprise package will be a welcome surprise for her."

My silence hadn't been meant to confuse Ephiny, but I didn't know how to explain what I was feeling.

"Did I say something wrong, Xena?" She actually looked concerned; perhaps worried that she'd said the wrong thing somehow.

"No, my friend, not at all. I just--I don't know what to do about that now."

"What to do? I'm not sure I understand."

"I'm not sure Gabrielle can take any more of my surprises," I answered. "What if it turns out like this did? What a fucking disaster."

"You're not seriously thinking about not telling her about the girl, are you?"

"Ephiny, Gabrielle's been hurt in a way that I don't think she'll ever--look, I pray to Athena she'll get over it, but I know she'll never forget it. How can I set her up like that again?"

Ephiny's manner was one of thoughtful silence. She offered no excuses or false hopes, which I appreciated. "It's true, her homecoming wasn't what she wanted it to be, and I'm with you. I hope it doesn't affect her in an adverse way, not permanently anyway. Gabrielle's a difficult woman to gauge. You know her better than I do, but I honestly think she's about the last person in the known world who would ever give up…on anything, no matter how difficult. The woman I see as Gabrielle would, given the choice between living a dull, but easy life and living a painful, even difficult life that's full of love and meaning…well, I think she'd choose the latter."

"You have completely lost me, woman. What in Hades is all that supposed to mean?"

"Sorry," she chuckled. "I was sort of thinking out loud. I was thinking about what a unique young woman Gabrielle is, I guess. No matter what she's been through, she always manages to see the positive side of a situation."


"Meaning that as much as you love her, Xena, you can't ask her to be less than she is. Whether the child is hers or not is irrelevant, don't you think? You love her too much to refuse her anything and she's the sort of woman that wouldn't hold it against you if it turned out badly. You two really are the perfect match when you think about it."

"Very funny," I answered, pulling back on Tenorio's reins. Our animals came to a stop and I waved over a soldier to take my mount. "Guess I have some rather heavy thinking to do."

"You'll do the right thing."

"I have to thank you for this little talk, Ephiny," I said as I dismounted. "I started out a little confused. Now, thanks to you, I'm completely confused."

"Anything I can do to help, just call on me, Conqueror." She winked and spurred her horse away.

"Some day, Amazon…some day," I muttered under my breath.


Gabrielle's eyes opened, but I knew immediately that she did not see me. She looked right at me as I brushed damp tendrils of hair from her fevered brow, blotting the beads of perspiration that gathered there. She took a few sips of water for me and even answered one of my questions, but her countenance was different. This was not my Gabrielle staring up at me.

"How do you feel, Gabrielle?" I asked.

"Are we still in port? The ship is rolling like we're still at sea."

I just stared down at her, unsure what to say. Gooseflesh rose up on my arms even though the heat of the day caused me to wear only a thin underneath shirt. The feeling that Gabrielle had been looking, not at me, but at someone in her memory persisted.

"At sea?" I asked. I was even at a loss as to how to answer. I suspected it was the fever speaking, but her speech caused her to seem so alert.

Quite unexpectedly, her hand shot out and she grabbed my wrist, her pincer-like grasp making my fingers tingle.

"Artus, please help me. I know you're not like them," she said.

I was in a daze, I suppose. I was uncertain how to react. Should I try to bring her mind into the here and now, or was I to go along with what I assumed was a feverish memory from the past? I decided to add as little as I could get away with to the conversation in hopes that she would realize who I was.

"Help you?" I asked. "What kind of help do you need, Gabrielle?"

"Bless Athena. I knew you would be as kind a young man as your father. My baby, Artus, he's going to kill my baby. Please, can't you do something to save her?"

Tears fell from Gabrielle's eyes and I suddenly realized that my cheeks were wet with my own tears. My heart felt as though it had been painfully ripped from my chest. She seemed to be patting an invisible bundle at her breast, as though her child lay there feeding.

"Please," she pleaded again. "Save my baby. You must know some woman who might want a healthy girl. Please, Artus. I have some gold hidden away. It's yours if only you find a way to save my child."

I didn't care who this Artus was, or what he had been to Gabrielle. I didn't care if this was supposed to be a part of Gabrielle's memory or not. I pulled her to me and held her tightly. I cried with her as I kissed her forehead.

"Have no fear, Gabrielle. I will save your child. No matter what the cost, I'll see that she is safe."

I felt her body relax the moment I uttered my promise.

"Thank you. Everything will be all right now," she said as she settled into my embrace.

I let myself cry for quite some time afterward, listening to Gabrielle's rasping breaths as she finally slept. I was sure she would remember none of our conversation when she awoke, or once her fever broke so I allowed myself the luxury of feeling another's pain and sorrow. It was something that I didn't remember ever having done before.

Gabrielle's delirious musings certainly assisted me in at least one way. I had made up my mind. I could hear Athena's laughter in my mind as I silently asked her for the strength to become a parent at my age.


Four days had passed since we arrived back in Amphipolis. Gabrielle's fever had finally broken earlier in the day. I sit in our room and write in my scrolls by the light of a single candle so as not to disturb Gabrielle's sleep. Her rest had been sporadic at best. She had been unusually quiet today. She seemed depressed with a faraway look in her eyes as though she was thinking on something quite intensely. Mother had tried to convince me that it had been due merely to the toll the illness had taken on Gabrielle's body. I feared, however, that it might have been something more. Yu Pan took my worries seriously. Either that, or he had humored me by saying that he would speak to Gabrielle once she felt a little stronger.

I rose to check on Gabrielle. I pulled the silky coverlet up, wrapping it around her more securely. She slept soundly and I thanked Athena that the delirious, fever induced dreams had ended. She looked pale, but at least her face had a peaceful appearance, the first such expression in days.

I returned to the desk and continued my tale. I had finally been writing down some of the more emotional moments that I had experienced since returning home to Amphipolis. It had been difficult to write about such things, especially the more emotional conversations between my mother and me. I could only hope that someday Gabrielle would be able to write of her homecoming, the miserable experience that it had been.

Future readers of these archives would have to be content to see this portion of our journey through my eyes alone. Gabrielle had not written in her scrolls since before we left for Potidaea. I didn't want to say that I knew she would return to her quill for I had seen many people's loves turned to stone after traumatic events in their lives. I had hopes, however, that Gabrielle would begin writing again. She was too strong a woman not to come back from such adversity. I didn't know if she would ever feel comfortable enough to write about what happened in Potidaea. Perhaps some day, when the pain and the memories were not so raw.

I found myself wandering downstairs, but my hope for company deflated when I saw that only a few dim lamps burned. I was sure Cyrene was about somewhere, busily preparing for the next day, but I didn't want to disturb her. I thought of seeking out Atrius or Ephiny, perhaps even Solan for a game of King's Men, but at the same instant, I wondered if I really wanted any company at all. If that sounds like a contradiction in desires then I have explained how I felt rather well. In fact, explaining how I felt would involve saying that I had no idea how I felt. Perhaps anxious was the word for it. In any case, I found my legs directing me toward my old room.

I began to peer through baskets and drawers; tentatively at first, not really certain I belonged there. My feelings changed as I found only my belongings among the possessions. I felt tears fill my eyes as I thought of the heartbreak Cyrene must have experienced to compel her to keep the room as it was. I thought of Gabrielle, enduring unending pain and humiliation in her life in the hope that someday she would return home, then having her world crash in on her upon realizing that home had become more of an ideal in her mind than a physical place. Her parents had ruined that for her.

Had Cyrene ever suffered such emotions? She spent her life waiting, hoping her wayward daughter would return having learned what home really meant. The woman spent a good portion of her life hoping that dream would become a reality. How ironic that Gabrielle should have been the one to bring that about. I wondered if Cyrene had ever built up an ideal Xena, or if I disappointed her illusions with the woman I was now.

A large smile replaced my frown. There, in the bottom of a reed basket, lay two silver scroll cases. I gently picked them up and shook them, hearing the rattle of parchment within the container. I unsealed the cap, which opened with a pop, and looked at the contents in amazement. I remembered purchasing them at the bazaar only two days before Cortese's army invaded Amphipolis. Cases for scrolls, whether they held one or ten scrolls, were usually made of leather. The silver cases with their intricate engravings and inlaid pieces of onyx were different from anything I'd ever seen before.

"But, Xe…you hate to write," Lyceus said. He chuckled at the pining expression I had developed for the treasures.

"Yea, but these are special. You know, for sometime when I really need to work on something important."

"What could be that important?"

"Well…" I searched my brain for an example to justify my purchase. "Like my will."

"With Cortese's army only two days away, I wouldn't kid about that."

"Oh, you know what I mean. Hey, Lyceus…can I ask you something?"

"Yea?" he drawled slowly.

"Geez, why do you always sound as though I'm going to ask you for a bucket of blood?"

"Because I know you," he answered.

"Very funny. I'm feeling a little insulted." I tried to put on an affronted expression.

"Oh, all right, I'm sorry. What did you want to ask?"

"Lend me four drachmas."

Lyceus thought it was an extravagant waste of my…well, his hard-earned drachmas, but the shopkeeper's pitch had captured me. He explained that the cases had been created so that once the cap was set in place; it created a perfectly sealed and airtight compartment. Amazingly enough, the man hadn't cheated me. I unrolled the scroll, halfway expecting it to appear faded, or even the dull brown color that age brought to the material. It looked as fresh as the day I bought it.

I looked up quickly, feeling the weight of someone's gaze upon my back. Selene stood in the doorway, leaning on the side of the entryway. She looked at me strangely, her expression quickly turning to one of almost compassion. Had she heard me say something aloud? I wondered if my memory of Lyceus and I on that day had been something I verbalized or only inside my head. As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished and Selene once again looked at the world through pools of blue contempt.

"I didn't know anyone else was around," I said.

"Taking a stroll through your childhood?"

"I suppose," I answered as I tossed small items back into the baskets. Why was the girl so infuriating?

I imagined what Gabrielle would say. She had told me that Selene was jealous of me, but envious of what? What had Selene lacked during her childhood that I had the better of?

I put away a few items, giving myself enough time to think. I had promised my wife that I would speak with Selene. I figured the easiest way to start would to simply be nice to the girl. Gabrielle had gotten through to my sister's friendly side. More than once, I had seen Gabrielle merely ignore Selene's grating comments. I thought that if Gabrielle could do it, I could, too. I had no idea how to be nice to Selene until I looked down upon the scroll cases, which I absently twirled in my hands.

"I'd like to give you something," I said.

"What?" She looked as though my offered gift was going to be a dose of mountain sickness.

In that heartbeat's moment of time, I realized that she was surprised at the gift. More than that, I recognized that my way of behaving toward her had been far from inviting. Admittedly, my trip here had been filled with stress from the start, but in this startling moment of epiphany, I saw that the jealousy lay, not with Selene, but with me.

It was suddenly so clear to me. It wasn't Selene, at least not wholly. I had been the guilty party all along. Yes, she had attitude to spare, but I could have made it much easier. Why had I been jealous of Selene, this gangly girl who hadn't grown into herself quite yet? Once I comprehended the truth, it was stupidly simple. Just as she held it against me for being first, I was just as resentful at her for coming along second. She had it the easy way. She never had an army attack her hometown, lost her younger brother in battle, or watched her older sibling run from battle, branded as a coward. She never had to have her mother strike her in disappointment and rage. She came along after it all, after Cyrene had made her mistakes as a young mother and when life was good. Essentially, in my opinion, Selene had the best of it all and plainly, I didn't like her for it.

"Look, Selene, I know we haven't really gotten along since I came back--"

"That's not my fault," she was quick to interrupt.

I smiled weakly. "No, it wasn't, not completely anyway."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She didn't sound defensive, only confused.

"It means that you have a chip on your shoulder the size of Olympus, but--I haven't exactly treated you right since I got here."

"Oh," she said, even more confused now.

"Here, I'd really like you to have these." I handed her one of the scroll cases, which she accepted slowly. She turned it all around and I watched as the expression on her face eased. Her pinched features relaxed and I realized how much she reminded me of my mother.

"You actually look more like mother than me," I said. You remind me of what she looked like when I was a child."

"Really?" She smiled and I believe she liked that idea.

"Well, uhm…thanks. I don't really mean to be such a…I don't know. This is beautiful. What's it supposed to be, anyway?" she asked as she turned the case again in her hand.

"It's a scroll case. Look…" I pulled the top off with a resounding pop and laid the parchment out flat so she could see it. Then, I rolled the scroll up again and showed her how it slipped into the metal tube.

"Cool, huh?" I said, hoping she would feel the same enthusiasm I had when I purchased them. "I wasn't that much younger than you when I bought them."

"It's beautiful…nice work, but I'm not sure I should really take it." She looked away from me so I couldn't see her face, but I noticed the tenseness had returned to her voice.

"Sure, I bet you could use them."

"I…I don't think I would actually."

"That's not what Gabrielle says. She thinks you're quite the storyteller. I bet if you wrote them down on these they'd last forever. In fact--"

I moved my seated body aside just as the metal object came hurtling at me. "What in Hades--"

"I don't need you pretending to be nice to me just so mother will like you better and I don't need any of your hand-me-downs!"

She ran out of the room, leaving me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.


"Those are not for you! They're for Gabrielle." My mother said just as her fingers came down atop my hand.

"Ow," I tried to make it look as though her slap had hurt me worse than it actually had by rubbing the affected area.

"Oh, please." Cyrene rolled her eyes then winked over at Gabrielle.

"I think she has your number, love," Gabrielle replied, followed by a small smile. Her smiles had not been near their usual magnitude since our return from Potidaea. I understood, but pined for Gabrielle's previous demeanor.

"My child," Cyrene said to Gabrielle. For some reason she had taken to calling Gabrielle that yet, I'm not certain why. "She may be the Conqueror of the known world now, but she's been using that same pout to get her way since she was four."

I quickly realized my lower lip was actually sticking out a small bit just as both women looked over at me and laughed. Gods, introducing these two women was going to be the end of me, I just knew it.

"All right, I can take a hint. I shall go downstairs and have my morning meal with my real friends." I attempted an affronted expression and winked at Gabrielle.

"I'll share," she replied.

"No, downstairs is just where you should go. That will give me time to help Gabrielle clean up if she feels up to it."

"No, Cyrene, really, I can manage on my own."

"Nonsense. You've been in bed for days. I'll give you a hand and I won't hear otherwise. Besides, it will give us a chance to talk." Cyrene patted Gabrielle's hand affectionately.

As worried as the thought of Gabrielle and my mother alone in a room made me, I saw the positive side to it. Gabrielle needed to talk about what had happened and who better to speak with than a mother? Friends and family were one thing, but I hoped that Cyrene's unique relationship with Gabrielle might spark my wife toward some cleansing conversation.

Yu Pan had looked in on Gabrielle over the days she had suffered with fever. His herbs had put her on the swift road to recovery, but she had been too ill to speak with him at length. First thing that morning, Gabrielle had requested Yu Pan to visit her. I figured if our combined love and support didn't exorcise Gabrielle's demons, then no one would be able to.

I didn't want Gabrielle to think I was abandoning her, even if it was to my mother. "Will you be all right?" I asked.

"I think Cyrene's taking good care of me. I'll be okay."

I left the room after bestowing a quick kiss on each of the ladies' cheeks. I rather enjoyed the surprised look on my mother's face after receiving such affection from me.

Breakfast had actually been a rather cheerful affair. Gabrielle's return to good health had placed everyone's spirits a little higher. Delia and Anya enjoyed themselves as Cyrene's helpers at the inn. Although mother didn't much like the idea of guests working, the two had convinced her that they were more family than guests. Solan spent most of his day as a student with Yu Pan. Since their upcoming trip to Chin would be upon them by the end of the summer, Solan had begun studying the language and customs of the various provinces their in earnest.

Atrius and Ephiny had become an unlikely pair of comrades. They spent a great deal of time talking of battles and strategic warfare, even setting up sparring matches between the Amazons and Empire soldiers. I suppose that with such career warriors it was inevitable that they should gravitate toward one another. Cor had the time of his life watching and learning from the two.

Tenorio and I went for a ride and the stallion stretched his legs along the green hills of the Strymon River. Selene and I practically ran into one another in the barn. I had nearly forgotten last night's incident between us. Seeing my sister brought about feelings of confusion mostly. That surprised me, but it was apparent, by the expression on Selene's face, that it surprised her, too. I think we both expected my anger to rise over her actions, but I found myself, not wishing to fight with Selene as much as understand her and her motivations. What had caused her to chuck that scroll case in my direction?

"Good morning, Selene." I patted Tenorio's neck, finishing his brush down.

"Surprised you're talking to me," she said as she concentrated on her feet. Her eyes darted back and forth

"We all have our moments. I know I've had mine."

"Look I--well, I didn't mean to act like a brat last night."

"Like I said, we all get that way some of the time. Selene, if you ever want to talk about…I don't know…things, you just have to--"

"I know you mean well, and I'm sorry about my behavior last night, but let's not try to become best friends or anything."

"Gods above, Selene, we're sisters. Don't you think we should become closer than friends?"

"Why?" she asked.

"Why?" I repeated, stunned by her question. "What kind of a question is that?"

"I think it's a perfectly natural question. I've been around for seventeen summers, Xena, and all that time we've been sisters. Now, all of a sudden you want to be a part of our family. Well, what if we don't want to be your family? What about that?"

"And have I done something to you that was so terrible, Selene, to make you feel that way?"

"Yes. You come in here expecting--"

"I came here with no expectations at all."

"But you did! You expected everyone to just accept that you're back. All this time you never thought about us, wondered what we were like, or even if we'd like to see what your stupid castle looked like!"

I was silent for a few heartbeats trying to make some sense of her tirade. "Is that what you'd like, Selene? Would you like to come and visit us in Corinth?"

"Well, maybe…"

She appeared to have suddenly run out of steam. I believed that she expected there to be more fight in me than she was able to provoke at the moment.

"I mean…Gabrielle said…she said you were…" She shuffled her feet and I could see her cheeks turning red. For all her bluster I had to remember that she was still more girl than woman.


"She said you were going on to see…"

I took a deep breath, hovering near the edge of my patience threshold. I tried to put one of those expressions on my face, one like I had used with Gabrielle in days gone by. Getting information from my young slave had been about as infuriating as this conversation.

"We were going to see," I slowly said, hoping the lilt in my voice would prompt her to continue.

"Um…" she picked at the wood of the nearest stall gate.

"Selene," I began as gently as I could. "This conversation might actually go somewhere if you could manage more than three words at a time."

That pinched her bottom, which was the effect I was going for. I saw, just then, that there were times when her attitude might come in handy.

She huffed out a large breath and stood straight, crossing her arms across her chest. "Amazons!" she exclaimed loudly.

"But we have Amazons right here," I responded, slightly confused. I swear, on the battlefield or in one on one combat, nothing escaped me, not one detail. I could see a trickle of sweat rolling down my opponent's temple at twenty paces. Put me in the midst of people, talking about real situations and emotions, however…well, in short, I might as well have been a blind woman.

"I don't want to just meet Amazons, I--oh, forget it!" she huffed.

I don't know if the fog cleared from my brain on its own or if Athena slapped me in the back of my head, but the light shone brightly at last.

"Ohhh, you want to see the Amazon village, how they live…you want to see…you know…how they...um...live."

"Yea," she said as she exhaled in what sounded like relief. "You know…how they...live."

"Well, I suppose I could talk to mother about it. She--"

"Won't let me go," Selene answered. She lowered her head and I was surprised at the air of finality her words had.

"You're going to have to have a little more faith than that. Mother seems to have mellowed in that regard. I'm sure--"

"You're not listening to me," she said sharply. "She's not going to let me go. She never lets me--"

"Do anything a young lady shouldn't do," I finished for her.

She nodded in silence.

"Because of me," I said, suddenly able to see the invisible wall that existed between Cyrene and Selene. Now I understood why Selene had grown up holding such a grudge against me.

She flopped down and sat upon a small milking stool. "No weapons, no fighting, no sports. She wouldn't even let me study with the other kids when the village hired a tutor from Athens. She didn't like that he taught self-defense as part of the athletics. She was always so afraid I would turn out--"

She looked up from her rambling rather quickly. To her credit, at least she had the nerve to look embarrassed. "I guess it's not really your fault, Xena. You just made a pretty convenient target."

I must say that I think Selene wore confusion much better than arrogance. "I guess you never figured to meet me, so you spent a lifetime blaming me for all of it."

"Well, I had to. I couldn't blame mother."

"Why ever not?" I chuckled ironically.

"Well…she's, I mean, after what she was through with you…I guess I just…I couldn't make her think that I was going to turn out the same way."

I nodded in sympathy. "So you gave up your life to be the perfect daughter."

"I didn't really give up my life," she countered.

"She stopped you from being who you really are." I paused to sit on the ground beside her. "But, in her defense, I bet she never even knew she was doing it."

"Yea," she perked up. "That's kind of how I looked at it. It wasn't so bad when I was younger, you know, but now…" She rubbed her face with both hands, stopping to clutch handfuls of her dark hair. "I don't know what to do anymore.

"I know what to do."


"Let me talk to Gabrielle first and I'll get back with you. Don't worry, little sister, we'll work it out some way. Leave it to me."

"Really?" For the first time, I saw something like hope burn in her eyes.

"Hey, being the Conqueror of the Known World ought to have some perks, don't you think? I have to say though, Selene, I like you a lot better when you're not throwing things at me."

She laughed, somewhat self-consciously at first, but I figured it was a start.

To be continued in : Chapter 24: Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright...

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