Disclaimers: See Chapter One for all disclaimers, warnings, etc.

I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: ljmaas@yahoo.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand

LJ Maas

Chapter 30: Out Of The Night That Covers Me…

"Yes, yes. That's her." Artus's voice rang clearly throughout Yu Pan's room.

The old Chin master sat on the floor with Gabrielle, holding her hands. They had spoken in hushed tones, presumably of things that had gone on previously between them. I had stepped backward, leaving them to have their moment of privacy. Eventually, I simply left the room to go in search of Atrius.

Upon my return, I found that Gabrielle still sat with Yu Pan. Her eyes red and swollen, the site caused an unseen band of steel to constrict around my chest. I wondered if he had found the strength to do what I could not, tell her the reason that he had hidden her memories. It would have been like him to do so. Always mindful of Gabrielle's welfare, I could still picture him trying to be as honest and straightforward with her as he always had been in the past. Yu Pan had a no-nonsense, matter of fact way of looking at life that Gabrielle had acquired from their time spent together as student and teacher.

Atrius had delivered Artus to me from our soldiers' camp outside of Amphipolis, and the moment the young healer entered the room, he recognized Gabrielle.

"Forgive me, Your Highness," he quickly remembered Gabrielle's current station in life.

"I--" she looked at me in confusion.

"I'm sorry, love," I said as I quickly crossed the room and knelt to take her hand. "This," I turned toward Artus, "Is the young man who helped you…that day. I've asked him to assist us."

"I see." Gabrielle stood and brushed the wrinkles from the simple skirt that she wore. She stood before Artus and I could see that there was not one shred of recognition within her emerald gaze. "I'm sorry, but at the moment, I seem to be lacking the necessary memories to remember you."

"Not a problem," he held out his hand, which Gabrielle graciously took. "I remember you, though. It may be five summers now, but you are unchanged. As beautiful a woman as you were a girl."

"You flatter me. Tell me, if you remember me, do you remember my baby?" Gabrielle got right to the point and I couldn't blame her. She suddenly looked tired and frightened all at once. It was no wonder. She had been through quite an emotional upheaval in an extremely short time.

"I do, Your Highness. I took your child as you asked and with my father's help, we hid her until we could place her with a family in the region. Curse my own memory for not remembering her name. I think you named her yourself. It's been so long, but if it helps at all, she lived on that day and did not perish."

Tears filled Gabrielle's eyes and I couldn't keep from stepping up behind her and laying my hands upon her shoulders. She looked back before leaning against me and I could almost feel her gaining some little strength from my presence.

"Thank you," she whispered. "And, to you," she said to Artus. "I owe you a debt that can not easily be repaid."

Artus bowed his head, but remained silent. Gabrielle pulled away from me and turned back to where Yu Pan still rested upon a cushion on the floor.

"I think the time has come, Master," she said.

"No," I said. Three sets of eyes stared at me.

"What do you mean, no?" Gabrielle asked.

"You don't have to do this, my love." I had no idea what I was doing, but in my head, I knew exactly what I meant and what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, those thoughts weren't translating very well at that moment. I took one deep breath to steady myself and looked from Gabrielle to Yu Pan.

"Gabrielle, haven't we already decided that it truly doesn't matter? You said yourself that we would take the girl as our own. I don't mean to sound callous or unfeeling in any way, but does it matter so much if she's your blood or not?"

"Xena," Gabrielle said through a half smile. "It doesn't matter one bit and I don't think you sound unfeeling at all."

"Then let's not do this," I replied.

"I don't understand. You've worked and planned this for moons. Now, when we're so close to discovering the truth, you want to give up?"

"Perhaps, in this instance, failure would be a less painful alternative," I mumbled.

She drew close to me and took both of my hands within her own much smaller ones. I couldn't hide the cold clamminess of my skin or the way my hands trembled.

"What are you afraid of, Xena?" she asked soberly.

"Seeing you in pain." I self-consciously looked around at the others in the room. Artus pretended to stare at the floor while Yu Pan didn't even attempt to hide the fact that he listened to all we said to one another. "I don't know why I waited until just now to see it, but it doesn't matter, Gabrielle. Here I am sounding cold again, but is it so important to remember one day out of your whole life?"

"Would you say that if it was the day you gave birth to Solon, love?" she answered softly. There was no bitterness or reprimand in her tone, and I understood her challenge.

"I just--I recall the day you told me. I remember your tears and the agony you experienced, and it was agony. Nothing I did could take away that pain and it hurt me as though someone had reached into my chest and ripped my own heart in half. Is it really worth it, to be able to look back?"

"Xena," she said as she squeezed my hands. "The import doesn't lie in remembering one specific day, even if it was the day of my child's birth. The significance is in being strong enough to look at my life in its entirety, the good as well as the terrible."

"Even if it's a pain you might find intolerable, unbearable to live with?"

She smiled once more. "Even then. I'm stronger now than I was then, Xena." She took a half step closer until our bodies touched. "As wonderful and perfect as our love is, when I told you about that day, I felt as though you were all I had in my life. I thought that without you, I wouldn't--couldn't survive. I thought yours was the only love I had. I know that's not true now. I have friends…family." She paused and looked back at Yu Pan.

"I know you don't want to see me in pain, anymore than I would want to see you wounded or in distress. Don't let my words fool you into thinking I'm full of some sudden bravado, though. Frankly, I'm a little afraid of what I'll remember and the way it might affect me. In fact, I'm a lot afraid."

"Then why go through with it?" I asked.

"My lovely, Conqueror," she squeezed my hands once more. "You, of all people, should know that the only way to tell how far we've come on a journey is by looking back to see where we've been."

I shook my head. "How can I argue with a woman so wise?"

"So, you'll stand with me on this?"

"I don't have to like it to be on your side, love. Of course, I'm with you. I'll never let it be otherwise. Master Yu Pan," I looked over at the healer. "What do we do?"


"Now that the two of you have uttered your cases, it is time to hear my mind," Yu Pan said.

"Master, do you disagree with my choice?" Gabrielle asked. I heard indecision and fear as it began to creep into her voice.

Yu Pan examined the pipe in his hand that had gone quite cold. He could not possibly deny the truth of his feelings, for they were there, emblazoned upon the features of his face for all of us to see. Of course, one of my gifts had always been my ability to read people from their facial expressions, to discern their body language. All this time, the old healer had remained silent as Gabrielle and I decided what we would do. The truth of the matter was that Yu Pan feared the situation as much, perhaps even more, than either Gabrielle or me. The question I asked myself was why? And, would he allow his personal feelings to control his actions, as I had wanted to do?

"Master?" Gabrielle repeated.

Drawn out of his stillness, I knew Yu Pan would answer honestly. It was unlike his nature to do anything less.

"My nuér, I am placed between two bamboo rafts upon a stormy sea. One foot lies on the first raft and my second limb rests precariously upon the other. It has seemed inevitable that the space between the two vessels should grow until a decision must be made and I must commit to one or the other."

Artus raised both of his eyebrows as he listened to the old man's words. The young man glanced my way.

"He always talks like that," I whispered to Artus's understanding nod. I instantly sealed my lips when Gabrielle gave me a quick version of the look.

"Now I'm more afraid than I was before," Gabrielle admitted as she looked from Yu Pan back to me.

"Forgive me nuér, I don't mean to terrify you, but I do wish you to know the implications involved."

"Now, you're saying there's more to this? I thought you said earlier that Gabrielle could remember with just one phrase?" I challenged the old healer.

"And so it will be that easy to bring Gabrielle's memory forward, but even though the method is simple, the experience is not."

"All right," I said forcefully. "Gabrielle, I'm back to you not doing this. We'll--"

"You're right," she responded.

It wasn't the speed with which she answered that surprised me; it was that she agreed with me. "You agree?" I asked.

"Forgive me, but may I speak before you make your decision?" Yu Pan spoke up.

We each nodded our approval and Yu Pan paused only long enough to take a puff from his pipe. It must have been an absentminded gesture for no smoke rose from the cold pipe.

"I believe that I have instilled fear within you, my nuér, with my reservations. I will not say, choose this way or choose that way, but I will tell you plainly what to expect so that you might make an educated choice."

"I'd like that," Gabrielle said.

"I'd feel better, too, knowing exactly what Gabrielle can anticipate," I said.

"I did not make the choice impulsively, the one to hide Gabrielle's memory of that day," he said to all of us. "It is a method of suggestion that I learned from my Master and is a technique as old as the air we breathe. My nuér, I only acquiesced because your pain was so great that even I could feel the physical hurt."

"I understand, Master, and I thank you. I don't want you to think that I hold any sort of ill will toward you. I realize that it must have been a difficult decision for you to make," Gabrielle said.

"I inform you of your pain, not to prompt you for any apology, but so you will know what you must experience now. Regaining your hidden memory is a simple enough task to accomplish, and I do not anticipate any difficulty. What you must be aware of is that once you recall this memory, you will feel the pain as strongly as when it first happened. Indeed, you will be in that moment. Even worse, initially, the pain will swell to ten times that of when you first experienced it. That is simply a side effect that I cannot control."

We were silent when he finished. Gabrielle looked terrified and I didn't know what to think. It was no wonder that Yu Pan seemed more fearful than Gabrielle or I over this whole scenario.

"Okay, we're really not doing this now," I said to Gabrielle. I received Yu Pan's message loud and clear. Whether it was the correct message was yet to be seen.

Yu Pan continued to gaze unfalteringly at Gabrielle, quite as though I had no say in the matter. To some degree, he was correct. Gabrielle had to make her own choice here. It was difficult for me to admit, even to myself. I know my words here sound calm. I was anything but. There was one undeniable fact, however, and it was that, no matter how much love and support I imparted, Gabrielle would have to withstand the worst of this suffering.

"Gabrielle--" I began.

"I know how you feel, Xena, but I'm torn. I--"

"I wanted to say that I have no right to decide one way or another for you, love," I said as I held up one hand to stave off her interruption. "Unfortunately, this is only a decision you can make because you're the only one that will have to suffer through the ordeal. I want you to know that no matter your choice, I'll do whatever I can to help you bear it. All I ask is that you don't let fear guide you in making your decision."

"Master," Gabrielle addressed Yu Pan. "Can you offer me any guidance as to how to choose? I mean, I don't want to be a coward, and this information is vital, but I'm just not certain. I keep focusing on the pain."

"That is normal, my nuér," he responded. "Come, sit and we will all share a cup of tea."

"Special tea?" I asked with an arched eyebrow as I knelt on the floor.

"Oftentimes, Conqueror, tea is nothing more than tea," Yu Pan replied.

His eyes sparkled with amusement, which immediately put the rest of us at ease. Odd, how each of us had been taking our cues from the old man. When we first entered his room, Yu Pan's emotions had run dark and fearful. We took up that baton and raced along with it, feeling our own fears and insecurities regarding the situation mount. Now that he had suddenly calmed, we felt ourselves doing likewise.

We watched Yu Pan as he made a pot of tea and eventually, poured each of us a cup. Each movement appeared effortless and without thought, but just the opposite was true. Making tea was as much a ceremony in Chin as any religious observance in Greece. Most people never realized that every movement was deliberate and had special meaning. He placed a serving of tea before each of us. The undersized cups matched the simple, but elegant, teapot. Made of clay and fired to a deep brown color, the sides of the pot and cups sported elegant brushstrokes of the face of a tiger hidden within a bamboo jungle.

"May I tell you a story?" Yu Pan asked.

"Tea often goes with a story around here," I explained to Artus, who had remained extremely silent to this point.

"Very true, Conqueror," Yu Pan added.

"And, in this case, is the story merely a story?" I smiled after I asked.

"Partly yes and partly no," he answered in his typically evasive fashion. "I tell this story so that we might all think of value," he added as an afterthought.

"Value, as in worth?" Gabrielle asked, taking a sip of tea.

"Precisely, my nuér. Perhaps it will help you with your current dilemma."

"Anything that will help, I'm all ears for," Gabrielle replied.

"There was a man called Bian Heh. With some effort, he dug up a large piece of rough jade from Mount Chu. Wishing to show his undying loyalty to his Emperor, Chuli, he decided to make the valuable stone a gift to his sovereign. Unfortunately, the court jadders judged the stone as common. The Emperor was furious that Bian Heh would present him with such an inferior gift. The Emperor's anger was so great that he had Bian Heh's left foot cut off.

"Some time later, Chuwu was crowned Emperor of the Chu region. Bian Heh still faithfully served his Emperor and wished to make right his previous gift. Still believing that the piece of jade he had found on Mt. Chu that day was worth much more than the court jadders knew, Bian Heh once more presented the jade to the Royal Court. Unfortunately, even though the Emperor was new, the court jadders were not. Even if the stone had looked like anything more than the rough piece of rock that it was, they would not have been inclined to admit their mistake. Therefore, Bian Heh's gift was deemed unsuitable and because of this, he lost his other foot.

"Many summers later, Chuwu's son, Prince Chuwen took the throne. Bian Heh had the idea that perhaps, finally, someone would see the true worth of his stone. His fear held him back, however. Already, he was a cripple, merely from trying to display his loyalty. He was certain that this time if his gift failed to impress the Emperor poor Bian Heh would surely meet with the executioner. He could not look beyond his fear, however. He simply sat down and began to cry. The pitiful man could not stop crying, and so, he went on that way for many days and nights. It was said that he wept so hard, his tears turned to blood.

"Eventually, the story of the man who could only sit beside the road and cry met the Emperor's ears. He sent forth men to find out who the man was and why he was so sad. Once the Emperor learned that the crying man was Bian Heh, he understood. It was only natural that the crippled man should be cheerless over his lot in life, but to that extent?

Chuwen ordered the man brought before him in order to hear Bian Heh's own words on the matter. With a mournful wail, Bian Heh cried out. "Why is it that you cannot see what I know in my heart to be true? Why have the court jadders denied my lovely gift time and again? I have been the court's loyal servant for many summers, and yet I have been branded as no better than a thief…a criminal."

Chuwen, a fair and honest ruler, took great pity on Bian Heh. He had the court jadders examine the stone, even as he looked on. Truly, the outside surface of the large stone was rough and dirty, hardly a piece of jade worthy of an Emperor. Chuwen knew something about value, however. Even though the stone appeared unworthy, Chuwen believed in the value of Bian Heh's word. The young Emperor also understood that appearances could be deceiving. Chuwen ordered his jadders to break open the stone and look inside.

"Just as Bian Heh knew all along, inside, beyond the rough and dirty outer coat, the translucent jade shimmered with energy and life. Once the stone was cut and polished, it became the rarest of stones and a guarded treasure in Chu. In memory of Bian Heh, and his loyalty to the crown for so many summers in the face of such adversity, Chuwen named the precious piece of jade, Bian Heh."

"Bian's Jade," Gabrielle said wistfully. She spoke in a dialect of the Chin language, but I had heard the saying before and recognized her words.

"Precisely," Yu Pan nodded his head.

"Excuse me?" Artus finally spoke. "I--forgive me, but I don't understand the language you used." I believe we had nearly forgotten that the young man could speak.

"It means Bian's Jade," Gabrielle replied. "It's a common saying that I learned while in Chin, but I had never heard the story behind its origin. It was used to describe something that was extremely precious in value, not necessarily in monetary worth, but in personal value."

"Quite a perfect explanation, my nuér. And, do you see behind my words at all?"

"I believe so," Gabrielle answered slowly.

All I could do was watch and wait for her answer, for I, too, wanted to learn what Gabrielle had heard that I did not. I was not a stupid woman, but Yu Pan had tutored Gabrielle extensively in his Shaolin way. Her understanding was far beyond mine in such matters.

Gabrielle looked at me as she spoke. "I think it all boils down to the value we place on finding out my daughter's name. Is it worth the pain to be suffered by remembering?"

"Isn't that what we've already been trying to decide?" I asked before I rose and stretched my stiff legs.

Gabrielle rose also, came closer, and stepped into my embrace. "It's no longer a question, love. It's not that I have to remember, but that I want to."

I should have known that would be her choice. Did I honestly expect her to back away from the challenge? "And the pain?" I asked.

She bowed her head before answering, as if trying to formulate her response just so. "I would say that the birth of my daughter, the memory of holding her, and possibly knowing her name, Xena, I value those memories above any pain I might suffer. I want to remember those things, but I don't think I can do it alone. I'll need your strength."

"Just as I promised, love, you'll have it."

"What more do I have to do, Master?" she asked of Yu Pan.

"Let us be seated once more and we shall begin. It will take no longer than mere moments," he replied.

Artus chose to leave the room just then. I think more from personal discomfort than for our privacy. Yu Pan instructed us to sit comfortably and nodded his approval when I sat slightly behind Gabrielle to hold her in my arms.

Yu Pan set an odd contraption upon the small round table near to where we sat. It looked to be constructed of wire, but not of ordinary bronze or silver. It appeared to be gold. It was lightweight and had been fashioned to hold something in the center and then turn upon that axis point.

Yu Pan set a large crystal in the center spot and gave the object a twirl with one hand. Indeed, the tiny machine continued to rotate without any help. It looked as though the small gears attached to the pieces of wire kept the thing spinning.

The sunlight that filtered into the room caught the crystal and painted sparkles of light across the walls. The repeated pattern, caused by the spinning crystal, could almost be felt, like the beating of a heart. It was like a pulse as it flashed across our eyes. Yu Pan sat before Gabrielle and they began to speak, sometime lapsing into Yu Pan's native language. I was familiar with that particular dialect and was able to follow most all of what they spoke of. I admit that I didn't understand some of it, but I could at least discern the words they spoke.

"Calm your mind, my nuér, and your zhèngqì (vital energy) will be able to flow smoothly. Concentrate your thinking, not on outside matters, but on what is happening within. Practice your Qi Gong (breath exercise). Relax…be calm…let you’re your mind free itself from all distractions. Feel the balance begin. Mind and body in harmony.

"Look inside, Gabrielle, and picture your memories. There is something missing. Your mind remembers that moment. Let it show you. Slowly now…breathe using tiaoxi (regulating breath)…slower…first there is koubi huxi (breathing through the mouth or nose)…now fushi huxi (abdominal breathing)…now, chongqì (filling the body with qi).

"Do you feel your qi?" Yu Pan asked.

Gabrielle nodded through opaline green eyes that looked into another realm, but seemingly saw nothing of the mortal world around her.

"Gabrielle, open up to me and remember," Yu Pan said in a tone so soft it was nearly a whisper.

When he said the phrase was simple, I had no idea. I thought that at least it would be some secret wording, filled with hidden meaning. Yu Pan went silent, watching Gabrielle, intently searching her suddenly emotionless features. Her body had frozen and I wondered if she was even breathing.

All I can say is that I had not expected this. I felt it within her muscles first. Her body jerked forward, pulling her up to her knees. Then, I heard the cry. She had taken a large gulp of air before letting loose with what I can only describe as a wail. It was unheard of. The sound was something akin to the mournful howl of a banshee woman. It was a cry wholly filled with pain and despair. I realized that Gabrielle had remembered.

It hit her all at once, much as Yu Pan had said it would. As if every bad emotion that Gabrielle ever felt, in her entire life, had been packed away and saved in a box, waiting until now to be opened and experienced all at once. She took in another huge breath, but this time she raked it in, as though unable to pull in enough air to breathe.

I knew what she felt just then, not emotionally, but physically. All the signs were there. When I was a youngster, no older than Cor, I got into a fistfight with a boy twice my size. He was an arrogant bully, but it wasn't him that I remembered all these seasons, it was that punch. He got in a clean stomach punch, dead center to my midsection. The punch immediately brought me to my knees. I remember feeling as though I would never breathe again. I surely thought that I would die that day because, not only had the boy hit me so hard that I expelled all my air with a heavy grunt, but I could not seem to make my muscles contract in order to take in another breath. My body had simply refused to function for me. I remember taking in small squeaking breaths until my abdominal muscles had eased enough for proper breathing.

So, I did what I knew would help Gabrielle, at least physically, at that moment. I couldn't heal her emotionally, but I could at least ease some of the physical pain she experienced.

"I've got you, love," I said as I kneeled behind her, placing both hands on her shoulders. "Take short breaths."

"Gabrielle," Yu Pan called her name sharply. "Shushu (breath counting)…focus your mind and your body," he said.

The word he used meant much the same thing as what I had said, but in that moment of pain and confusion, Gabrielle seemed to grab onto the word from the Chin language. It was as though, to her unconscious mind, Yu Pan's language felt more comfortable to Gabrielle than her native Greek tongue. I suppose it made sense due to her relationship with Yu Pan, but also because of the seasons she spent living in Chin. It was there where, for the first time, she had been treated as something more than a slave when she trained under the Order of the Rose.

"Breath, my love…slowly." I moved my hand around and placed the flat of my palm against Gabrielle's abdomen, pressing in and upward. I knew that the pressure and warmth from my hand would relax the muscles there enough to allow Gabrielle's lungs to draw in air.

"Gods! Oh, Gods!" Gabrielle cried out at last.

They were the first coherent words that Gabrielle had uttered since the ordeal began. There was nothing at all that we could do now, but to listen to Gabrielle's heartbreaking sobs and offer all the love and comfort that we could.

It would not have been possible for me to feel more pain had my very limbs been ripped from my body. My tears matched Gabrielle's, drop for drop. This went on for I don't know how long. I remember at some point that Yu Pan rose and went to the door. I believe I saw my mother's alarmed face, but Yu Pan quickly stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him. When he returned a few moments later, I briefly thought that I should have let our family know what we were going about.

I shall not write in detail about the words Gabrielle spoke, or the guilty cries that escaped her lips. Perhaps someday, she might write of such personal things herself. What I remember most about the incident was that I would fall upon my own sword before I would let someone I love endure such a thing again. Nothing, no words or explanations from Yu Pan could have truly prepared us for the experience.

Time passed quickly and not at all. The sunlight had turned to moonlight, bathing the room in a silvery blue glow. Gabrielle lay like a limp child's doll in my arms. She hadn't the strength to cry anymore let alone the tears. She had shed as many as her body would physically allow.

Gabrielle lay unmoving for what seemed like half the night. In truth, it was probably much closer to a candlemark or two. At last, she stirred in my arms and I looked to Yu Pan for help. He nodded as if Gabrielle's behavior was completely expected.

"She wakes." He said as he looked over his shoulder at my mother and Artus.

Artus reentered the room after Gabrielle had seemingly fallen asleep. Cyrene, on the other hand, fairly bowled Yu Pan over to gain access. She said she could stand the girl's cries of pain any longer. Bravely, Cyrene weathered the experience with the rest of us.

Gabrielle was slight and extremely fragile looking on the outside, but inside, this girl was made of steel. She opened up her swollen eyes and looked up at me. Her weak smile brightened my heart enough to place a large grin on my own face.

I bent down and kissed her forehead. "I think you fell asleep," I said.

"I feel as though it's been a fortnight," she replied groggily as she rose into a seated position. She ran a hand through her hair and looked around the room, running into the anxious stares belonging to Yu Pan and Cyrene. "I seem to have drawn a crowd."

Gabrielle was her old self and I wondered at first if Yu Pan's magic had worked.

"Artus," Gabrielle suddenly said. She had seen him earlier, but she had no memory of who the young man was. This time she looked at him with the sort of recognition old friends share.

I helped her rise to her feet and it did my ego good when I was the first one she threw her arms around. She responded in kind to Yu Pan and Cyrene. Taking both of Artus's hands in her own, Gabrielle stood before the young man and smiled at him.

"I knew you were different the first time I saw you," she said.

"I only wish I could have been as much help now as I was back then, Your Highness."

"I was just Gabrielle to you once, Artus."

"Well, that was some time back and you weren't the Queen of the Empire then," he replied with a smile.

"If it was good enough then," she added. "It's good enough for me now. In a way, you saved my life, and I know you saved the life of my daughter, my Amira--Xena, I remember!" she cried out, turning my way.

"Yes!" Artus joined in, pointing his finger at Gabrielle excitedly. "Amira! Yes, I remember now."

"Oh, now you remember," I winked at Artus, holding Gabrielle in my arms. She had rushed to me, talking rapidly in her excitement.

"I remember it all now, but it doesn't hurt like it did before."

"You didn't know she was alive before, love. Hold on just a moment." I walked over to the table and rolled open one of the parchment's Talemon had given me. Pulling the candle a tad closer, I examined the list for perhaps the thirtieth time. I looked up at Gabrielle with a grin wider than the Strymon River.

"Come here, love," I called to Gabrielle. I placed my finger along one line and Gabrielle read aloud so everyone could hear.

"Born to slave girl of unknown family, one baby girl. Name…Amira." Gabrielle's hand covered her mouth and she began to cry. They were good tears, if there can be such a thing.

Yu Pan beamed like a proud grandfather and Artus clapped me on the back as if I'd given birth to the child myself, or even more impossible, as though I had some sort of role in the conception. My mother hugged me, Gabrielle, and then me again.

"What a beautiful name, Gabrielle, how did you come up with it?" Cyrene asked.

"I had thought if I named her in the language of Abdular's people, he might…well, it was a foolish hope, but I had to try. I thought maybe he would allow me to keep her."

"And what does Amira mean in our language," I asked.

Gabrielle smiled as if at some private joke. "It means, princess."

"It all happens for a reason, doesn't it love?" Gabrielle asked me as we stood looking out Yu Pan's window.

"I can think of no better way to explain it all," I replied.

Our other three compatriots were huddled together, speaking of healing methods and herbs. My mother was in heaven. Not only did she now have another healer to converse with, but also the news of Gabrielle's child appeared to put a bit of spring in her step.

"Where are you off to, mother?" I asked Cyrene when she opened the door to leave.

She looked flustered, red in the Cheeks as if she had been high on drink. "I'm a grandmother," she stated. "So much to look forward to," we heard her mutter as she closed the door behind her.

Gabrielle laughed aloud and the sound hung in the air like tinkling brass bells to my ears.


Gabrielle paced our room in an animated fashion making plans, wishing, and dreaming, all at the same time. I, on the other hand, sat in the nearest comfortable chair and watched her. I found her excitement entertaining, but not at all contagious. In fact, I was growing rather sick at my stomach. My conscious mind blamed it on the fact that Gabrielle was spinning around the room like a child's toy and it made me something akin to seasick. Deep down, however, I could see what was wrong. I think the conversation Gabrielle and I had explained it all. Actually, both of us spoke, but I don't believe we heard one another.

"I wonder what she looks like," Gabrielle said.

"Do you think she'll like me?" I asked

"Clothes…we'll have to rearrange our private rooms in Corinth."

"Wonder how big she is. I bet I have to start putting things away, huh? You know, can't leave my daggers just lying about."

"I wonder if she's smart, or likes the same things I do."

"I hear she's a handful. Do you think at five summers children are…I don't know, trained?"

"There's so much to do, so much to plan. Oh, I can have Anya make up the most adorable clothes."

"Acasia said she bit him."

Gabrielle froze and looked at me. She slowly crossed the room and sat on the floor beside my chair. She took my hand and appeared rather serious. "Xena, in all the excitement, and my own happiness, I never even asked you if this is what you truly want."

"If this will make you happy, then of course, it's what I want." I smiled affectionately at her.

"Xena," she said in that admonishing tone. "You can't live your life that way, doing everything just for me. I mean, I love you for it, but it's hardly fair to you."

"Why not? It works for me." I grinned down. "Look, my love, I've spent the better piece of my existence living only for myself and I was always unhappy. Living for someone else is what makes me happy. I'm happy, you're happy. What's the problem?"

"When you put it that way, I'm not sure I can quarrel with an argument like that."

"That's the way I like it best."

She chuckled and laid her cheek atop my leg. After a long pause she said, "It does mean our lives will change."

"True," I agreed. "But I'm confidant that you can handle it."

"You?" She raised her head and arched one eyebrow in my direction. "You mean we, don't you?"

"Oh, yea…right. That's what I meant…we."

She rested her head on my leg again and I leaned back in the chair. The evening had finally caught up with us and I'm sure her head was just as filled as mine was with thoughts and ideas. We were silent for quite some time, and just when I felt myself drifting towards sleep, I couldn't help verbalizing that one last worry.

"You don't think she really bit Acasia, do you?"

To be continued in : Chapter 31: Five Years Have Passed...

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