Disclaimers: The following story is classified as Fan Fiction. The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and others who have appeared in the series, Xena: Warrior Princess, are the property of MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I only borrowed them. The story itself is mine and cannot be redistributed in any form without my consent.

Timeline Notes: Immediately after the close of "Sacrifice II."

Xena's Choice
by LZClotho
(c) July 1998

E-Mail LZClotho at lzclotho@aol.com



The rocks of the edge bit into her flesh. Xena found it strange she could feel that when she felt almost nothing else. The image imprinted on her mind numbed everything. Even the tears coursed over her cheeks unnoticed. Gods! By the gods! Gabrielle! Oh, gods! No!

She never screamed. She couldn't find her voice to utter even the smallest sound. She sank to the edge of the rocky chasm, transfixed by the red hot lava glow below. Filling her vision was the frozen moment of only a breath before: Gabrielle's face framed in golden hair, both hers and her child's. Those green eyes shining with the knowledge, acceptance, responsibility, love, and pain of the decision she made. The numbness set in for Xena when she realized she saw no regret, no surprise, no doubt.

The ache that memory left in Xena's chest was the only other thing the warrior could feel she realized. The pain squeezed her chest so tight she felt she might stop breathing. Gabrielle didn't regret leaving her, wasn't surprised Xena had put her in this position. Was glad she was gone. The tears tracking down Xena's cheeks renewed.

Suddenly Xena reached out with a hand, closing it around the throat and squeezing the windpipe of the man who'd dared step too close. The gleam of a weapon had been the only thing to catch her eye, triggering the inborn reflex.

"Hey... hey! Let... go!" Xena looked up, noticing the struggling man. Her grip didn't loosen. He pushed and pulled against her grasp to no avail. The netted, homemade armor clanged raucously, irritating her enormously.

She studied his face, in fascination almost, watching the brown eyes frantically circling around in search of help. There is no help for anyone, she thought dully. Not you and certainly not me. She studied the man's adam's apple bobbing up and down, just above where her fist squeezed. She had an urge to punch it, bobbing there like that.

"C'mon... Gabrielle... was... my... friend... too." With a last frantic push and surprising Xena with the bard's name spoken aloud in the deafening silence, Joxer gained his release. The woman tossed him several feet away where he landed with an obscenely loud thump in the silence.

Xena shushed the noise with the abrupt wave of her hand. She looked around the room. Silence. So fitting, she thought. Finally my surroundings match me. Empty.

Her face creased in a frown, uncertainty wavered just behind her eyes. Someone was supposed to be near, grasping her hand, telling her she'd won. She'd done a wonderful job.

Dahak had been defeated. Hope was gone. Even Ares had left. Good had triumphed over evil. Xena had done what was expected of her. So where was the noise? Where were the cheers, the celebration?

After every battle she'd led with her army there had always been raucous celebrations. Screams and cheers of "Xena!" filled the air as her men indulged themselves in drink and women. She herself would stay up with the few men she considered friends rather than underlings, drinking long into the night.

She hung her head, suddenly consumed with bone deep exhaustion. Then too, she'd left her army because of a hunger to change her life, to lose the cheers of men applauding her vile deeds. Since meeting up with a certain green-eyed young woman outside Poteidaia, Xena's victories had been met with a different kind of noise. Sometimes it was only a quiet smile, or an exuberant "Wow," in a hushed, awed voice. But there was always that earth-shattering hug. Then the evenings -- those evenings, Xena sighed -- Gabrielle would offer an unabashed retelling of every move Xena had made through the fight.

An image of Gabrielle, immersed in her storytelling, raised up in Xena's mind, choking off her breath with a painful sob. Just as she calmed, the bard's voice echoed in her head, shattering her control:

"Cecrops had the answer all along. That's what Poseidon meant when he said he didn't even have any idea where to look. It wasn't the love he could get that would save him. But his love for others." Her face had taken on a mesmerizing twinkle. "I should have guessed that."

The bard's soft face had taken on a serious look for just a moment, and Xena had put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. Now, moons later, Xena wondered why she'd done that. What had Gabrielle needed from her that Xena had felt compelled to give with that physical touch?


Gabrielle's face again rose in her mind. The face from the pit. There had been, for the briefest of moments, the same expression on Gabrielle's face as she cradled her daughter's body in the air over the chasm. Finally Xena felt the tears on her face. The cocoon of silence shattered around the warrior. The outside sounds and scents cascaded upon her. Her chest hurt terribly and though no sound came from her crying, she felt her mind fill with cacophony.

She wanted me to accept her. The pain of that realization filled the warrior with agony the likes she could only compare to her anguish at Solan's death. Xena struggled to her feet for the first time since falling to her knees at the edge of the sacrificial chasm.

The warrior looked around, dimly aware that the followers of Dahak had departed. She glanced over to the far wall. Ares, too, had vanished. Looking down, Xena noted Callisto's body remained where she'd dropped dead from the strike with the Hind's blood dagger.

Her hands tingled, and Xena realized she had a problem. Where was the dagger? She looked down at her empty right hand, reliving the moment she'd driven it into Callisto's stomach, ending the goddess' existence.

Xena realized now how pained Callisto's existence had been. She'd learned to live with the taunts, even had come to find them comforting in her many encounters with Callisto. But the blonde warrior-turned-goddess had lived, changed and died by Xena's hand. She had tormented those Xena protected, and challenged the deepest held truisms of Xena's warrior life.

Gabrielle's presence had made Xena forget for a time exactly what she'd given up, indeed buried, in order to complete the tasks the Fates had decreed for her life. For a warrior where would exist the need for compassion, or mercy? Nowhere. Where was need for a woman who "stopped and smelled the flowers"? Until Dahak had targeted her and Gabrielle, even Xena had begun acknowledging what she'd buried. Every day she'd come closer to the moment she had been prepared to share with her son. A return to motherhood. A try at a life with family, peace, and contentment. Dahak had drawn out the warrior, the heartless, focused, and cruel Warrior Princess. The warrior who could kill without thought, without remorse. Xena felt the feralness of a growl bite at her throat, as she tasted a moment of triumph.

Dahak was defeated, at last.

Her shoulders sagged and the tears slowly returned. The peace Xena had fought for was going to be empty. No Solan, no Gabrielle. No future, and no past. What kind of a peace was that?

Joxer came to stand next to Xena, offering the warrior the dagger he'd picked up from the floor near Callisto's fallen form. Brushing her hand over the blade, she took it absently.

She turned to the chasm, the image of mother and daughter tumbling toward the lava flashing in her mind's eye again. Gabrielle had been stronger than all of them. She had been tortured by Dahak, then tormented by the hidden knowledge of having kept Hope from Xena's hand. In the middle of all that she'd been guided into an insane deal by the thought that Xena left her to do Lao Ma's bidding. Solan's death, too, she'd felt guilty for.

In atonement and in sacrifice, Gabrielle had taken the final act into her own hands. Surrendering herself in order to save the world.

The bard had done it against the Persians too. Convincing Xena to stay and fight when all the warrior wanted to do was run away despite her brave words to the traitorous Persian. Xena suddenly felt small and insignificant. The grievances Xena held against her fate stacked up to nothing next to the things Gabrielle had tackled. And beaten.

Gabrielle had learned all the lessons Xena espoused so well. The truth hit the warrior only now. Xena had learned nothing. The Greater Good. Just words she'd heard once, and repeated like a mantra when she was low. But Gabrielle had done what was needed to save Salmoneus from that army and save a village of workers. Too, despite her anger at the idea of freeing Callisto, the bard had committed to the larger goal when she had allowed Xena to give the immortal ambrosia in exchange for a very chancy bet that Callisto would rid them of Velasca. Xena shook her head. At the time, when Gabrielle had offered the thought that maybe Callisto was sorry that she'd done the things she had, Xena had laughed.

Now Xena realized that had been Gabrielle's way of reminding herself the greater good had been served, no matter the pain to herself.

On the boat returning from Rome, Gabrielle's pain at her decision to withhold the ring from Crassus had briefly coaxed Xena to ask: "How many more times will you follow me into battle?"

Now, Xena had the answer, though Gabrielle had given her a gentle one she'd not taken seriously then: "I'm here because I want to be here, Xena. I love you."

Gabrielle had been the poetess, the eloquent one, talking constantly. Xena realized now that the bard had kept one thing very well hidden.

Her strength. Xena had always served as the decisive one, silently insisting on leading their partnership. Gabrielle had learned to hide her opinions. Even as Xena led them across the Grecian lands in search of her peace, Gabrielle had carried hers along with her.

In the last year, the gentle bard had it ripped from her, only to gain it back in an act so startling it had ripped the sound from life, the smells from the air, and the thoughts from Xena's mind.

As Xena had pushed against Hope's powers being used against her, there'd always been this small part of her confident enough, cocky enough to believe that she'd survive the fight. Gabrielle's last moments flashed through her mind again:

Ares called out to the bard from the corner Xena had backed him into. "It's in your hands now, Gabrielle. Will you let her do this?"

Gabrielle yelled Hope's name, momentarily drawing the demi-goddess's attention away from Xena. The warrior was about to strike when Gabrielle's body flew between the Hind's blood tainted dagger and Hope's body.

Mother enveloped child in a grasp meant to throw them both off balance. Just as Xena had taught her, Gabrielle used her own weight to bring Hope down. The two toppled into the chasm, Xena compelled magnetically to watch the sight.

"Are you ready to go?" Joxer asked her.

Shaken from her numbingly vivid recollection, Xena looked from the chasm to Joxer's face, said nothing and only nodded. He took her arm. She allowed, for the first time in her life, someone else to lead the way.

The warrior's shoulders sagged. Gabrielle hadn't given up on Xena. But Xena, in thinking even for the briefest moment that Gabrielle had, had lost the centering force in her life. Gabrielle had been the compass by which she guided her steps every morning until she put her head down to sleep at night.

Now silence reigned at the death of the bard of Poteidaia. Xena doubted she'd ever be strong enough to break it.

I will always be with you, Gabrielle. Even beyond death. Thinking those words, Xena bid her friend, and her own soul, farewell. After telling Gabrielle those same words in the border town against the Persians, Xena had gone on, with Gabrielle's help to beat the odds and win the day. But Gabrielle was not around to assist. She would not be around ever again.

Unlike Thessaly there was no body to yell at, no way for the warrior to beg the slight blonde to come home. Xena's control of the situation had fled. Numbness settled in instead. Suddenly she had a torturous moment where she desperately wanted death. She looked at the magically tainted dagger in her hand.

A firm hand wrapped around her own before she could lift it.

Joxer's eyes met her and the usually affable man looked angry. His brown eyes had gone tan, his brows furrowed and his jaw squared more firmly than Xena had ever seen. There was pain in his eyes, which she knew mirrored her own, and shame filled her.

He pulled the dagger from her grasp and pointed down. Sit? She couldn't feel her body, how could she sit? "No."

"Do it."

Xena's eyes closed and she fell backward, knowing her reflexes would catch her. It never failed. With a sigh, she cushioned her fall with her hands, and lowered herself to the ground. She did not bother to dust the scraps of decaying leaves, the small chips of branches and wood, or the dirt from her palms, instead squeezing it painfully into her palms, feeling the pain like a penance in her dazed state.

Everyone dead. Everyone dead. She looked up at Joxer. No, not everyone. She looked around the small campsite where Joxer had brought her. The canopy rustled overhead, blown by a soft wind, which she felt pull through her hair as well. She glanced up into the setting sun. Everything felt peaceful, but Xena frowned. It was all a lie. The evil still lay out there somewhere. Evil never died.

Without a word, she accepted the jerky strip Joxer passed her, but she did not eat. She stared into the fire the warrior had built, watching the flickering flames wishing some of their warmth could touch her soul. She was so cold.

Suddenly she had a clear vision of conversing with Hades upon her death.

"Too tortured for Elysia," he declared. "But you're not deserving of Tartarus."

"It's over. I can't go on living."

"Then find a way to throw the balance in one direction or the other," Hades murmured.

Throw the balance one way or the other? Throw the balance one way or the other. I deserve the guilt of every moment of my crimes; the pain of every death I've ever caused inflicted again upon me. She deserved an eternity of pain for failing her friends, her family, her Greece.

"You have chosen."

The voice came from behind her. Xena looked up. The campsite, fire and Joxer were gone. She sat, not on a log, but on a small gilt cushioned stool in a small chamber.

"I'm going to tilt the scales," was all she said. Her voice was quiet, almost non-existent.

Ares simply nodded and smiled, slow, almost sensuously. Xena's skin itched. "I know." His voice, smooth as silk, washed over her, humiliating her with a taunting edge. "I did say win-win, didn't I?"

Slowly, the warrior nodded. "I've lost everything."

Dispassionately, she watched his eyes flash. He smiled and grasped her arm. "Except your ability to fight." He pulled her face to his, willing her to deny it.

Xena hung her head and let Ares lead her deeper into his dominion, swept up. She had no illusions this time. There were no dreams of a life of power, riches, wealth. There weren't going to be any battles for noble causes, the underdog or the helpless. Her life would be nothing but the fight. She was no more than a puppet.

Xena thought to pray, but didn't know to whom. So she just asked that someone's blade could put her out of her misery. Send her to Tartarus as she deserved. Ares' hand on her arm was the only thing she felt, and it made her skin crawl. She forced everything from her mind, hopes, dreams, memories... feelings. It was easier to feel nothing. Otherwise, the warrior feared, she would die from suffocation.

 Gabrielle landed on the ground, rolling away from the impact of her feet. She still had her arms wrapped around her daughter. Disgusted, she pulled her hands away from the other woman's body. She looked up at the sky above, seeing a whirlwind, fires at the center, beginning to close overhead. The barrenness of the land around her startled her senses.

Her clothes smelled of smoke, the soft tan leather skirt singed from the fires through which they had tumbled. She rubbed her face, trying in that brief moment to find calm. She pulled her hands away finding them covered in soot. Dismayed she rubbed her hands on her skirt, trying to get them clean.

Hope moved beneath her chest. Gabrielle sat up, studying the woman as she also pushed herself to a sitting position. For a long moment the two just sat there, looking at each other and around at their surroundings, wondering what the other was thinking.

Fingering her robes, looking a little dazed, Hope noticed the blood-stain on her robes. She waut>PD ~]z-Px*!uH?j_s=2VT ֣'ǝ *<ԠvƺpP1\ȊnD ܬE]0P"2&|= $w~Lsm/8}0Hcî@-KwsREKX;;3r9)W 'o"-f?V(bUg 7/Eeѽzr1&S5?U?LQ/Nk{:wX(rZSߏ_(Zܣg]Ҙo-"`u"s€͌0a:y5 Ȍft``ۻͤ FףYLPu1@mXl L'9BTXL-tF w5~LTGETears pricked at her eyes as she argued with herself. This woman was no concern of hers. I just tried to kill her because the world needed her gone.

But the harder Gabrielle tried to push the issue from her mind, it seemed the louder Hope screamed. Until finally, there was nothing left but the insistent crying and screaming, and the bard couldn't think clearly any more.

She finally moved toward the other woman. Tentatively, she touched her daughter's shoulder just as another pain seared through the slight woman's body.

"What is it?" Even as she spoke, Gabrielle hated herself for caring. But Hope's anguished face as she returned to lying on the ground drew Gabrielle close despite her attempts to remain unmoved.

"My stomach hurts!" There was no imperiousness in the tone, only the anguished cry of a girl for her mother. Gabrielle hearkened to it and knelt closer. Hope pulled away from her, pain from her suffering glossing her green eyes, warring with a child's look of sorrow. "Go 'way."

Gabrielle looked into those eyes and saw the sorrow, and the pain. "I don't know where to go," she answered. "So I might as well stay here and help you."

Hope sat up, surprised by that. Suspiciously, but unable to hide her curiosity, she asked, "Why?" Another pain gripped her stomach and she screamed. Startled by her own outburst, Hope clapped a hand over her mouth and shoved again at Gabrielle's hands.

Gabrielle looked at Hope, looked up at the sky, and then out over the land. Not even a desert palm broke the sameness of the landscape. She turned back to Hope, a crazy thought passing through her mind: This must be what it's like inside Xena. She had no idea why she said that. "I can't let Hope..." Drawing back to the present she shook her head and looked at the younger woman on the ground. "You... die."

Hope gritted her teeth and pointed up at the sky. "You dragged me into that hole with you. What did you expect to happen?"

"Do you know where we are?"

"This is Dahak's realm. I was supposed to bring him up through the hole. Not us down through it."

"What's happening to you now?" Gabrielle stood up.

Hope's face changed from the certainty with which she'd just spoken to worry. "I don't know. It hurts." She pressed her palm against the lower portion of her black and red robe, raising her hand covered in red. "And I seem to have been cut somehow."

Gabrielle studied the blood on Hope's hands. It was very, very red, almost black. Only a really bad wound, a fatal wound, turned that color of red. "Xena didn't strike you with the dagger, so where is all the blood coming from?" The bard pulled at the robe to look more closely at the blood stain.

Another pain hit Hope then and the woman grasped Gabrielle's arm. There was a moment when Gabrielle flashed back to the barn where she'd labored to birth Hope. Xena had been with her. She'd grabbed Xena's arm in a similar way on a contraction.

There was a sympathetic lurch deep in the bard's stomach as she realized that Hope must be about to deliver. "But it's too early... You can't be."

Hope's face showed confusion as Gabrielle helped her lay down. "What?"

Gabrielle laid a hand over Hope's distended belly. More calmly, she explained, "I think you're in labor."

Hope bit her lower lip but tried for a smile even as a contraction rippled across her frame. Abandoning her attempt at a smile, Hope let worry cross her face. "But it's not ready."

Gabrielle started to pull aside Hope's robes. "I don't know how I can -- but I'll try to help."

"No!" Her voice was high-pitched, strained. Hope shivered and pulled back from Gabrielle's touch. She pushed at Gabrielle's hands. "All you want to do is kill him! Get away from me."

The blonde demi-goddess forced herself to her hands and knees, trying to drag her less than cooperative body away from Gabrielle.

The bard remained kneeling on the sand, hands resting on her knees, watching Hope struggle away from her. "You need help."

"I won't get it from you, Mother," Hope shot back, biting her lip against the contracting muscles in her stomach. She gripped her lower belly, her hand coming away coated in more blood. "I'll find my father to help me." The sky rumbled overhead. "Ah," she smirked, "There he is."

Hope pushed to her feet, straining, and Gabrielle rolled back onto her heels and stood. Her daughter started to walk away then again fell again to her knees.

Gabrielle bit her lip and then frowned. Shaking her head and sighing she dropped to her knees again beside her daughter. "Shhh, Hope. You're not going to be able to go anywhere." Hope closed her eyes and shook her head, as tears coursed unchecked down her cheeks. Gabrielle pushed aside hands that no longer fought her intervention, and pulled aside the robe. She swallowed. "You're covered in blood."

"Make the pain stop!" Revealing her inexperience and actual youth, Hope wailed in pain.

Gabrielle shivered. "I don't know that I can." Her hands came away from Hope's thighs covered in blood. "I can't find any wounds. I think you're miscarrying."

Hope didn't hear. Her body had taken over. Grunting and straining, Hope's condition progressed into hard labor, and the young woman was unprepared. Her breathing became irregular and she panted ineffectively to progress the delivery.


Hope, wild-eyed with panic and pain, barely registered the commanding tone.

"Slow your breathing, Hope. You have to concentrate. Work with the contractions. Not against them."

Gabrielle pulled off her leather belt to give her daughter something to bite down on as the pains came constantly. She ripped off a long strip of the robe and used it to brush away the sweat from Hope's brow. Giving the rag over, Gabrielle ripped another strip from the robe and used it to wipe away the blood from her legs and thighs.

"Oh, help me!" The blonde young woman nearly doubled over as a contraction enveloped her entire middle. She became unbalanced on her elbows and fell backward.

Hope struggled to sit up again, Gabrielle felt the rippling muscles beneath her palms on Hope's stomach. "You're going to have to do this."

Biting her lip, Hope retorted, exhaustion and pain edged her voice. "I can't!"

"Pay attention." The bard saw a small head push from Hope. Quickly Gabrielle moved around between Hope's knees. With curt orders to the reluctant, exhausted woman to push, or pause, or bear down, Gabrielle guided the baby's body from Hope. She held the child in her palms covered in blood and fluid. Gabrielle noticed it was a male... In the same moment she realized its chest did not move. He was dead.

Hope struggled to her elbows, seeing her unmoving baby. "You killed him!" Crying tears the new mother grabbed for her stillborn child's body. Gabrielle reluctantly released the boy's frail body into her hands. "You killed him!" Hope's green eyes pinned her mother accusingly in place.

Tears spilled over the bard's cheeks. "The fall... I didn't... He was killed by the fall." Hope shook her head and wiped at the anger on her face, now crying over her baby's body.

Suddenly Gabrielle's mind saw not Hope, but Xena crying over Solan's body. Gabrielle fell back stunned and anguished. If I'd killed you, Hope, I'd have spared you -- and Xena this pain.

The bard pulled her own knees to her chest and hugged herself. Her eyes never left Hope's profile, as the woman cradled her dead child in shaking arms. Both women cried tears that wracked their bodies in shaking sobs.

Hiccoughing, Hope wiped her eyes and looked up once at Gabrielle. The pain in the green eyes of both women created a bond in that moment. They were truly mother and daughter, knowledge of each other's entire history of emotions passed between them. The demi-goddess' voice was dead, emotionless when she spoke. "Go home, Gabrielle. Dahak has lost." Lifting her hand from her son's pale, bloody body, Hope raised it toward the bard.

Gabrielle, tears streaming down her cheeks, closed her eyes against the vision of a soft blonde head nestled against his mother's cheek. She could say nothing.

 Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle opened her eyes. She found herself in a dark room, seated on a small chair apparently in the corner. There were large hulking objects shadowed around her. There was no movement, no sound, and Gabrielle sniffed, strangely, no smell in the air.

"You aren't going to find anything here." The voice startled her, coming out of the darkness behind her.

Gabrielle turned and tried to peer through the darkness. "Who's there?"

A small figure walked from the darkness, taking more definite shape, but still there was no light to illuminate a face, providing identity. Despite her exhaustion, Gabrielle felt a touch of fear at the unknown. "Isn't there a torch around here or something?"

"No. This is the darkest place on earth."

"Do you know where we are?"

"I do."

"You seem to know me."

"I do. You taught me how to use a staff."

Gabrielle gasped. No light was needed to confirm the identity of the other person. "Solan?" Her voice was filled with barely contained pleasure. She reached out into the darkness toward the boy.

Youthful arms grasped Gabrielle around the shoulders. "Um, hello."

Questions clamored in Gabrielle's head each demanding to be asked first. Finally one waded its way to her tongue. "What are you doing here? I'm dead?"

She could barely make out the soft shake of his head. "No. But here, you might as well be."

Gabrielle grasped his shoulders, proving for herself that they were both here together, real. "But you're dead. My... Hope killed you."

"It's all right. I knew Hope was your daughter. And yes, I'm dead, but honestly, you're not."

"So how is it you're here?"

"This is where everyone went, Gabrielle."

"Everyone, who? What is going on, and where are we?"

"Xena's mind. We've been forgotten."

Gabrielle shivered. Forgotten? "That's not possible." She shook her head. "I was just with Hope in Dahak's world."

"Yes, and when she released you, admitting Dahak's defeat, you came back to our world. But there's no place for you out there, and you're not dead. So you've been put in here with us."

"Who's us? We're not the only ones here?"

Gabrielle could just make out that Solan raised his hand, pointing behind her. A small light began to shine in the room. Very small, it broke through the darkness in only a few key locations. Gabrielle turned, taking in all the faces. Solan. Kaleipus. Callisto. Talmadeus. Telemachus. And many more she did not recognize. It seemed everyone killed since Xena and Gabrielle had started traveling together was in the small room. She noticed a small figure further back in the space, half hidden by another warlord killed by Xena.

"Cyrene?" She looked over her shoulder at Solan, then back at the slight older woman. "But you're not dead." She grasped Xena's mother's hands and squeezed.

"To Xena I am. Like you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle and Cyrene sank together to the stool. Solan stood guard over both women. The rest of the apparitions, Gabrielle noticed, faded away into the darkness.

The bard, holding Cyrene's hands, looked up into Solan's face. "Can you explain?"

"We're inside Xena's mind. The part of her mind she's shut off from her consciousness." He braced his tall, lanky form on a chair back. "Everything you see are things Xena has forced herself to forget. A painful memory comes up, she locks it in here. She's adding new things to it every day. Every moment she comes across something too painful to face, she shuts it off and shoves it here."

"It's a place to hide all her baggage," Cyrene supplied.

Gabrielle nodded. "I guess I can understand that. But what I don't get is how or why?"

"Why is easier." Cyrene put a hand out to Solan, who grasped it and came close behind the older woman. "She's gone back to Ares. Maybe he had something to do with her ability to just lock away her memories." Xena's mother shook her head. "I don't know."

Xena's mother and Solan escorted Gabrielle around. While the various emanations of people had disappeared, all sorts of things from Xena's life cluttered the space around them.

Cyrene was in the middle of relating to her the story of the chair Gabrielle had found herself sitting in upon her arrival. Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes open.

"It was her favorite chair. She was so mad." Cyrene's face took on such a wistful look. "So very mad at her younger brother for breaking it during one of their after dinner fights. She did not speak to him for a full moon."

Gabrielle's eyes popped open. "She fought with her brother Lyceus? I thought she loved him."

Cyrene smiled. "Xena loved Lyceus as if she was his mother. Constantly priming him, teaching him everything. Xena was his mother. I was not." The older woman shook her head. "I was so mad at her when Lyceus died defending Amphipolis. It wasn't what you think. I knew it had been right. They were right to do what they had. But she took him from me -- and then killed a child I had not even had a chance to know."

Gabrielle nodded. "The example of you allowed the other villagers to attack her for their losses as well." She rubbed her temples tiredly. "I'm sorry, Cyrene. But, um, is there any place I can lie down?"

Cyrene nodded. "There is a smaller room off this one. It should be very quiet." She helped Gabrielle to her feet and put her arm around the bard's shoulders. "We might as well get comfortable."

Gabrielle paused and looked at Cyrene. "We will get out of here. We will figure out a way to get Xena to hear us again, to feel us. To let us back into her life." Gabrielle laid down on a small cot Cyrene led her to in the small room filled with toys.

Cyrene shook her head. "We're locked in here. She's on a reign of terror... again. Out there." Xena's mother sat briefly on the edge of the cot while tucking a small blanket up over the bard, pulling it snugly up to her chin. "I doubt there's much we can do."

"We'll have to find a way to wake up her conscience." Gabrielle grasped Cyrene's hand and gave it a squeeze. And I will. I can't stand to be in here, locked away from the world. Away from Xena. Gods, that hurts! Gabrielle resolutely closed her eyes and tried to keep the pain from her features. Xena, what happened to you?

Cyrene soothingly rubbed her back. "Now you get some sleep." Cyrene stood and left the bard to her slumber.

Gabrielle focused on the shadowed figures in the room, and the concentration nudged her mind from frantic activity to peaceful sleep. She rested her temple against a small, stuffed horse, the tan fabric soon was coated with tears.



Ares walked among his camped army on the plains outside Athens. The men were in various groups, practicing with swords, or aiming at straw-stuffed targets, or invigorating each other in stirring hand-to-hand.

He paused watching two particular brutes forcing each other back and forth in the center of a small ring of men and rope. Swift fists and swifter feet battled for control over one another. One swift, lucky left punch and the other man was left reeling. However, he shook it off, turning his own fist against the other soldier's stomach.

Ares smiled at the blood which streamed from both noses, and the upper cut which drew blood from a lip. Gods, I love war.

Across the way, he noticed a slowly moving figure against the horizon, coming into camp. A soldier stood at attention as the person passed, and a dishearteningly bland wave of the hand was his reply. Xena! Ares fumed and watched, his mind turning back to his problem.

This was the eve of his greatest battle for control of Olympus and Greece. Xena, his Chosen, the mortal echo of his own greatest strengths stood at the gates of Athens...

And hesitated.

Ares caught another glimpse of her stepping through the camp, not bothering to nod to men who offered up praise. The God of War slammed his right fist into his left palm. Damn, she was going too calmly into this. She said she had everything under control. From a preparedness standpoint, yes, he agreed it appeared everything was in readiness. The army of soldiers assembled was the finest trained, the most elite Greek fighters.

Ares pulled his fingers in frustration through his hair, causing much of it to stand on end. Xena -- he could see it in her eyes when they practiced together -- fought with every ounce of skill she had, save one. The love of the kill. Her crystal blue eyes no longer flashed daring laughter, challenge, and supremacy when she wielded her sword. Casting her chakram was a half-hearted notion at best.

Ares had fought many years at Xena's back. He had orchestrated many opponents for the Warrior Princess. Never, ever, he growled, had she given him reason to believe she was incapable of killing. Until now.

"I'm not certain she's going to live through this." Ares bit his lip realizing he'd spoken aloud, acknowledging his fear. Suddenly he regretted having orchestrated things so that she would follow him again.

He shook his head remembering Xena's pain-darkened eyes when she crawled up that mountain to scream her pain and rage to the world for the death of her son. Now, there wasn't pain, wasn't rage, wasn't a fire of any sort. Whereas her son's death had been able to prompt her to thoughts of vengeance, the death of the bard seemed to have killed her very soul.

Viciously he shoved aside his doubts and shook his head. "Ridiculous." He squeezed his fist more tightly, reaffirming his strength. "Xena will do as I say, and she will prevail." He raised his fist, silently defying the hidden Fates, right now spinning and determining the outcome of the morning's battle. "I -- the God of War -- have spoken!"

Drawing his sword, he walked back to the center of camp. His scowl sent soldiers hardened by years on the battlefield scurrying as though they'd never faced a sword in their lives. Normally Ares would delight in raising such a reaction among men. Now his scowl only deepened, until his swarthy face was a hideous twisted mask when he stopped in front of a tent.

Pushing aside the canvas he scanned the interior, and found Xena in the heavy shadows seated on a cot, methodically cleaning her sword.

"Where did you go?"

"Out to the perimeter markers."

"Find anything amiss?"


He noticed a platter of vegetables and roast boar now cold. "You haven't touched the meal you were brought." He picked up a slab of the meat and chewed it thoughtfully.

"Not hungry," she replied. "You remember, I seldom was hungry right before battle."

He indicated the metal in her hands with a wave of his hand. "You've been sharpening that thing for three days straight. Why don't you do something with it?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "A sword is a warrior's weapon. Keeping it honed is the first rule every child who wants to be a soldier ever learns."

Ares raised a hand, starting to make a point, but dropped it. "We're still moving out in the morning." He tried to make it a demand, to get a rise out of her. Her emotionless mask unnerved him more than he was willing to admit.

She shrugged and continued the irritating scraping along the edge of her sword. The noise, normally a soothing, heartwarming sound to the blood-thirsty god, slowly began to grate on his mind. Finally he grabbed the weapon and pulled it from her hands.

"Damn, get excited about this! We're about to take Athens in the greatest battle of known history! You have the largest army out there ready to sing your praises! By sunset tomorrow we will sit together on the throne of Greece's largest province!"

Her voice was dull, monotonous, as she replied with a litany. "Warrior Princess of Kalmai. Destroyer of Nations. Death to the enemies of Ares. That's what I'm here for. Well, I'll lead your troops and fight your war." She flipped over his head and landed near the tent's opening. "After I take a bath."

She ducked out of the tent before he could respond. Fuming, muscles tensing, and head pounding, Ares threw her sword against the wall of the tent. The carefully sharpened blade ripped the tent canvas in a long slice from waist height to the ground as it fell.

He bellowed in outrage. Outside, soldiers cowered from the sound. The Warrior Princess strode toward the hot spring near the encampment unfazed by the God of War's display of temper.
The first thing Gabrielle noticed when she awakened was the pale light driving some of the cloying shadows from the room. After rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she scooted to the side of the bed looking around the room. She spied a thin blue ribbon resting on a clothes chest, and used it to tie back her hair, after somewhat addressing the tangles with her fingers.

There was a soft knock on the half-closed door. "Come."

Cyrene appeared carrying a small tray. "Hello." The older woman nudged aside the door with an elbow.

Gabrielle pointed around the room. "The light. Do you know where it comes from?"

Cyrene shrugged, offering a small cup of juice.

Gabrielle shook her head, took the drink noticing the small, dented tin cup. "Where did you find this?"

"It's Xena's first cup." Cyrene sat on the bed next to Gabrielle, looking around before getting to her feet. "Everything, it seems, is here." The older woman moved around the room and gently touched some of the objects. On the chest rested a waxed sinew brush, the wood-carved hand well worn with the imprints of small fingers.

Looking down at the stuffed animal she'd fallen asleep with, Gabrielle finally examined it closely. It looks like Argo, thought Gabrielle, studying the pale yellow yarn making up the mane and tail against the tan fabric. Gabrielle took another moment to look around. She touched the clothes chest where she had found the blue ribbon. "Xena's things," her voice filled with reverence, and pain, at the long separation she endured from her friend.

She had very little chance when they were together to find out about the warrior's perspective on her youngest years. Now, sitting in the middle of the locked away portion of Xena's tormented mind, Gabrielle had her chance to find out about Xena's childhood.

Xena's mother's hands drift over mementos of her daughter's childhood. There was a small wooden box inlaid with seashells. Inside Cyrene showed Gabrielle a tiny scroll. "It was the first word she learned to write other than her name. I couldn't believe it. So I kept it. She found it in my room after Lyceus died. I guess she took it. I couldn't find it after she left."

Gabrielle looked at the word captured in uneven, but clear child's scrawl. Gabrielle's own first words probably had looked much the same. The lines conveying that sense of concentration, of shaky skill deftly trying to accomplish a desired goal. She wondered what five-year-old Xena had seen that had made her want to express this thought, over "mother", "father" or any of the other usual first words a child learned to communicate: "Peace"

The bard looked around the room again. Somewhere, Gabrielle realized, was not only the key to the child Xena had been. Here also lay the secret to the woman Xena wanted most to be, the part she'd had to lock away in order to survive the swords life threw at her.

Cyrene noticed the bard's pursed lips, and odd tilt of her head. "What are you thinking, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle indicated the horse in her hands. "I may have an idea." She stood up. "I need you to help me find the entrance, or door, to this place. Have any ideas which way?"

Cyrene shook her head. "I could ask Solan. He was here first. Maybe he knows more about it."

Gabrielle nodded. The two women went to the other room.

Solan stepped from the shadows, and Gabrielle felt a sharp pinge of pain at the smiling face. He held up his hand. "Don't. The past is over and done with. I'm dead. There's no getting around that."

Gabrielle nodded, too choked up for the moment to speak.

Cyrene filled the space of silence. "Gabrielle says she might have an idea. But she wants to know where the entrance is. Any ideas?"

Solan bestowed a boyish smile on Gabrielle. "I don't know if it's an entrance, but I have seen a door I haven't been able to get through."

Gabrielle pondered that for a moment. "I love curious boys." She smiled. "Come on, show me where it is."

Cyrene left Solan and Gabrielle to go off on their own. The older woman contented herself with cleaning up the small rooms of Xena's belongings, painfully sifting through memories of her daughter's remarkable youth, while she waited for Solan and Gabrielle's return.

 Gabrielle and Solan moved along a narrow corridor. Rooms opened off the hall. Glancing inside each, the bard saw rooms containing reminders of whole periods of Xena's life.

"Cyrene was right. It looks like Xena's locked everything in here."

Solan nodded. "It was pretty empty when I arrived. She really must have decided to toss everything out. Start over again."

Gabrielle nodded. "I asked her once not to become a monster if anything happened to me. Somehow, I have a feeling this is all my fault."

Solan grasped the bard's slender shoulder. "Don't go blaming yourself. You're doing okay, Gabrielle. If anyone can figure this out, I bet you can."

Gabrielle stepped through the threshold at the end of the corridor and looked back over her shoulder at Solan. "You have a lot more confidence in me than I do at the moment."

"There's the door." Solan looked around the room. "So, what's your plan?"

Gabrielle settled on the floor, studying the inanimate things piled against the walls. "I'm hoping that door opens at some point. Maybe when she tries to push something in, we can slip out."

"What about Cyrene?"

"Oh, I'm not leaving without her. I promise."

Solan smiled and shook his head. "I didn't think you would. But Xena's been shoving things in here to forget them. She's not going to let us just slip out unnoticed."

Gabrielle thought about that for a moment, and then she heard something.

Walking to the door, Solan and she pressed their ears to it and winced. Something ferociously growled on the other side.

"That's the first time I've heard that."

Gabrielle nodded. "Well, we may have a bit of a fight."

Solan sighed. "Guess nothing can be easy."

Gabrielle settled again on the ground to wait, and asked a question that pricked her mind sort of out of context. "Can I ask you something, Solan?"

Solan folded his lanky form and sat next to the bard. His face lost its smile. "You're not going to ask me about Illusia are you?"

Gabrielle frowned, her lips pursing. "Um, well, actually, I was. We didn't have a chance to talk."

Solan squared his shoulders. "I made a promise not to discuss it." He smiled. "Trust me though, Gabrielle. I was never happier than to find you and Xena took advantage of the time... to square yourselves."

"Then I was right. Somehow you arranged our transport to Illusia."

"But everything in there was manifested by you and Xena, from your guilt, and the confusion."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Did you know she killed me in there?"

"Well, a manifestation of you, yes."

"I couldn't believe it when I saw it."

"She tried to kill you out in the real world, too, Gabrielle. I knew if she succeeded, it'd kill her. Inside." Solan shook his head at some further thought, but said nothing.

"I know that. I realized it... and it hurt. She's is capable of such powerful emotion... destructive emotion. I never imagined it directed against me."

Gabrielle settled in the quiet company of Xena's son to see what happened. She tried not to think of wishing Xena were here, spending the time she was, waiting, with her son. Unable to speak of her uneasy thoughts, Gabrielle leaned her head back against the wall and watched the door through half-closed eyes.

Solan too seemed content to remain still and quiet. She watched him look around the room several times, his blue eyes falling on this or that thing, a questioning crease to his forehead. He'd shake his head and move to something else.

"Gabrielle," he asked once. "Do you think she really means to never remember ever again?"

Gabrielle lifted her head and closed her eyes, contemplating how to respond. Finally she settled on the truth. "I don't know."

Blue eyes met green and half-smiles turned into half-frowns. Things between them fell once again into a quiet lull, and the time passed.

 Xena stepped from the forest and out onto the rocky side of the hot spring. The water bubbled in one corner and she dropped her greaves from her wrists. The leather hit the ground with a soft thud. Bending at the waist, she slipped her fingers through the ties on her shin guards, letting the leather protection fall away. She settled on the ground, loosening her bootlaces and slid her feet from the warm leather. Methodically she unwrapped the cloths from around her ankle and toes, wriggling the small digits in detached fascination.

Another typical day. Training the men, working with the archers and the mounted troops, increasing their quick responses to her commands, until the mere beginning indication of words and her inflection, told them exactly what to do, so that she didn't have to expend the time or concentration to issue the whole command.

Tomorrow, Athens will fall. Greece would belong to Ares.

Xena didn't care. Automatically, she came to her feet and shrugged out of her leather tunic and short skirt. The battlefield so far had not brought her promised oblivion. If tomorrow could, she would arrive in Tartarus gladly consigned to serving her time.

The moonlight illuminated her sheer form as she slipped into the warm water. Her body floated in the warmth which would have matched her body's temperature, except for the cold stillness she felt in every limb. It emanated from her mind which comfortably was blanketed with a fog of nothingness.

The water around her was warm as herself. The swirling eddies soothing her limbs while she tried to think. A soft voice she could barely hear registered in her senses and suddenly SPLASH! Hot water cascaded over her shoulder, shocking her into breathlessness.

"Hot enough for you?"

Xena looked up into the face of a rather large gregarious village woman whom Xena had promised to help get rid of a giant. Minya?

Dreamily, Xena started scanning around the tub, catching a quick glimpse of wet blonde hair and her fingers pulling through it over wet shoulders.

Viciously, Xena dunked her head under the water, squelching the memory in a shock of light as she forced herself to remain underwater until the lack of air brought pain to her chest.

Xena gasped, nearly choking on the spring water. For a second as she shoved away the memory, Minya's dirt-brown eyes had been replaced with emerald green.

The warrior came up sputtering, her chest hurting and eyes beginning to sting with tears. Furiously, she grabbed at the small pack from her belt, pulling out a bit of soap and a coarse cloth. With pain her intent not cleanliness, Xena scrubbed her arms, and face, pinkening the skin, and not caring as she scratched its softness.

She had to rid herself of the memory. The only way was physical pain. She pushed harder against Minya, trying to force the idea into the darkness.

 Gabrielle and Solan stood as the door started to shove open. Gabrielle grabbed the door, and pushed and pulled trying to free it from Xena's mental grip. She pulled the door in, and felt a large form fall against her in the half shadows.

"Solan, help me!"

Gabrielle felt Solan pull at the person coming through the door. To help, Gabrielle shoved hard to get around the thick body. She gasped as the form fell over her leg and she pulled away in time only to grab the door before it completely shut. She peered out into the void beyond the door.

"Xena!" Bracing herself against the door, Gabrielle tried to see anything in the darkness beyond. When she couldn't, she cried out again, knowing the warrior would not hear her, but desperately hoping to somehow remind the warrior of her presence.

There was a sudden furious pull, as if the wind yanked it from her hands. The door tore from Gabrielle's grasp and slammed shut.

The bard fell back, panting from her efforts and rolled over onto her stomach so she could push to her feet.

Solan was sprawled as well. Atop him, pushing to her own feet was a woman of large frame, long curly brown hair, and clothed in leather.

Gabrielle stumbled to her feet and studied the new arrival. "Minya?!"

The woman turned around and frowned. "You're Xena's little friend, aren't you?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Gabrielle."

Minya nodded absently and looked around. "Where am I?"

"I can't tell you right now. I have something else to do. Why...Why don't you head down that corridor and see what you can find, okay?"

Minya amiably nodded and shrugged, walking out the door into the corridor.

"Who was that?" Solan dusted himself off and moved to Gabrielle's side.

"Seems Xena remembered a good deed she wanted to forget. That was Minya. Xena and I helped her and a fellow named Hower defend their village from Gareth, the Giant." She looked fearfully at the door. "I hope she doesn't think to try and forget Gareth. I wouldn't want him landing on top of me." She rubbed her back. "Minya's a bit heavier than I thought."

Solan looked again in the direction Minya departed, then back at the doorway. "Are you sure we can do this? How are we going to get Xena's attention if she fights so hard to keep that door closed?"

Gabrielle sat down again, and leaned against Solan's shoulder, feeling a bit tired. "I don't know. But maybe we can prick her conscience."

She rubbed her head against Solan's cheek. "Next time we get a chance at the open door, let's have something to throw out there."

Solan nodded. "I'll have to give it some thought." He looked at the doorway. "If we're lucky, you can catch a short nap before anything else happens."

"Aren't you tired?"

"Nope." He shrugged, trying to smile. "I'm dead, remember. When I get out of here, I'm headed back to the Elysian Fields."

Gabrielle nodded solemnly. "I wish I could make it up to you, Solan."

"You can't. Besides, I wouldn't want you to try. Gabrielle. She's my mother, yes. And I love her. It was startling to find her crying out for me after I died. But I heard it, as well as the things she didn't say. And I understood. Really."

Gabrielle rubbed his cheek. "She was so happy to see you, Solan."

"The last time we had a chance to speak, I had asked her to take me with her... and you."

"You did?"

"She seemed scared of the idea... at first. And then... she looked like she liked it. She had told me to pack my things and when it was all over we'd set out together." He bent his legs and wrapped one arm around his knees and the other around Gabrielle's shoulders. "I was packing when Hope found me."

Gabrielle felt the tears prick again at her eyes and this time could not stop them. "I'm ... sorry..." Gabrielle's voice caught on every word as she tried to stifle her tears, yet still speak what she felt she had to say. "I sent... Hope there... thinking... she'd be safe... I... didn't... know."

"Hope duped many people, Gabrielle."

"But not your mother... I mean, Xena." The bard sat up and studied the only thing she'd brought from Xena's bedroom... the stuffed horse. "Right from the beginning she sensed Hope's evil. I didn't want to believe it."

Solan nodded. "You shouldn't have had to believe it, Gabrielle."

"It made things so much more difficult."

"You are not my mother, and she is not you. If you two started thinking exactly alike that's the time to split up, understand me?"

Gabrielle sighed. "How'd you get to be so wise, Solan?"

The young man bit his lip.

"It has to do with the deal you made to get us into Illusia, doesn't it?"

Solan scooted back and tried not to meet Gabrielle's eyes. "Please don't ask me."

Gabrielle frowned, but finally nodded. "Just so long as you know what you're doing. I am thankful that you're here, actually. Someone to talk with. Cyrene is so lost. Aside from the stories about Xena's things, I don't know if she'd be as much help."

Solan looked over the bard's shoulder at the doorway. "It was quite a surprise to meet her, you know." He stood and leaned against the frame of the open doorway. Gabrielle stood and came to his shoulder. "I didn't know my mother was still alive for such a long time, and then to meet my grandmother. Weird."

"She didn't know..."

"She still doesn't. I befriended her simply by explaining that I had met Xena when she helped my 'father' Kaleipus. I can't muck with the knowledge of the living."

"Are you saying that she'll remember being trapped in her daughter's mind?"

Solan nodded. "Xena's going to have to answer quite a few stymied people if you actually manage to set everyone free, Gabrielle. Cyrene will think she was simply dreaming but the knowledge will be there."

Gabrielle sighed. "I'll have to be really careful. I wouldn't want to cause Cyrene pain."

"She's been through a lot?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Xena almost had to kill her, to save herself from the Furies. And too, Cyrene killed Atrius, Xena's father, when he told her -- Xena was seven -- that Xena was meant for Ares. He intended to sacrifice her to him."

Solan frowned. "I didn't know that. So she's really Ares' chosen?" The young man frowned and pulled away from the door. Gabrielle, startled, watched him walk around the room.

"Gabrielle, I think you ought to catch some sleep. We'll come back here and try again in a little while."

The bard bit her lip. "What? What is it?"

Solan pushed her hand from his arms. "Please, Gabrielle, go nap. I've got something I have to do."

Gabrielle looked him over carefully. Finally, she frowned, but nodded. "All right. But... Solan, can you promise me you'll give me as much as you can? Whenever you figure out what you can tell me."

Solan grasped Gabrielle's shoulders. "I'll do my best, Gabrielle. You and Xena deserve to be together again. She needs you." He brushed her cheek before kissing it. "And you need her too, don't you?"

Gabrielle nodded, then walked back down the corridor through the collections of Xena's things. Locked away things that told the story of a life... a life that the warrior wanted to forget. And that made Gabrielle cry all over again.

Xena sputtered in the water, trying to regain her calm. Her head began to hurt. Forcing herself to concentrate on breathing slowly and helped by the soothing warmth of the water, she felt the headache begin to subside. With a shiver, she finally stepped from the water, and pulled herself onto the bank.

"Ready to come in, finally?"

Not turning, Xena wrapped herself in the thin cloth Ares tossed at her, covering herself in the absorbent material. "Thanks for the towel."

"So, finally, you thank me."

"What do you want?" She dried herself and moved to pick up her leathers. Stepping behind a bush, she shrugged into her tunic and skirt. Straightening it, she came out.

Ares watched her. "Your heart's not in this, is it?"

"What heart? Warriors don't need hearts. They just get in the way."

"That's not you talking. Something else going on I should know about?"

Xena shrugged and pulled back her wet hair. Braiding it quickly in a single thick plait down her back, she wrapped one of her leather bindings around the ends. She didn't put on her wrist greaves or the sworl of chest armor, though she did slip into her boots and strap on her shin guards.

She watched Ares pull his fingers through his hair and noted the fly-away look of his thick black hair. "You wouldn't tell me even if something was up." He drew his sword and tossed her on the ground near her feet. "I'll get a rise out of you one way or another!" He growled and lunged.

In the space of the next breath, Xena had retrieved her own sword and the metals clanged together in the air over her head, her muscles straining to repel his strike. Behind her sword arm, Ares caught a glimpse of her face. Nothing. No emotion. Nothing. He pulled his sword back and struck again. "Damn you! Fight me!" he barked when all she did once again was block his strike, not strike out on her own.

He circled with her in the clearing, offering slapping strikes with his weapon and practically reduced to begging her to strike him back. But maddeningly all she did was parry his blows.

Suddenly Xena had a flash of another battle. Surrounded by Persian military, beaten into the corner with a crowd of them around her. Their sword blows rained down on her, exhaustion touched her muscles. She dropped to one knee and glanced up over her shoulder, searching for something...

And fiercely she kicked out, catching Ares in the throat with her booted foot. "Damn you!" she growled, feeling the pounding of another headache coming on. She burst up and over him, landing on his other side.

He grinned. There was a cattiness to the smirk and she watched him walk away.

Tiredly she panted in the clearing on her hands and knees. The vision reared up again in her head and she remembered the fight with the Persians...

There was a flash as she remembered the Persian spy trying to convince her to tell him her plan to stop the Persians. She shook her head. No, I will not remember that! Fiercely she shoved aside the memory of a half-smiling, reticent, lying warrior.


In the darkness of the room where she rested, Gabrielle stirred from sleep. A small flash of light itched at the edge of her consciousness. She frowned. Someone else must have been shoved into the 'forgotten zone.' She sighed. I have to do something about this. And soon.

She sat up and stepped out into the larger room. Cyrene sat at a table weaving together some fronds into place mats. She looked at the young woman who leaned tiredly against the door frame. "Come here, Gabrielle. I'll show you how to weave mats."

Gabrielle shook her head and sat down, taking a few of the fronds. "I'm not very good at this."

Cyrene shrugged. "I could teach Xena, I can teach you. Come on. She loved it once she learned. I found her making everything out of fronds after a while. Her first saddle blanket." The older woman chuckled. "That was so uncomfortable for her horse. But it was a skill she'd acquired. Xena was nothing if not totally absorbed in mastering everything."

Gabrielle looked at the mat she was making. "Do you know if we have the first mat Xena made?"

Cyrene met Gabrielle's eyes. Her mouth quirked. "Maybe." The older woman stood and led Gabrielle to another alcove. "Let's go take a look." She studied Gabrielle. "We're counting on a lot here. She would have had to have kept it in her memory."

"Well, we'll have to see. I'd toss out a more recent memory but I'd rather start small, sneak it past her defenses."

"It won't hurt her, will it?"

Gabrielle and Cyrene knelt on the floor near a pile of things in Xena's room. "I hope not. But by not feeling anything, she's hurting a lot more people."

Cyrene nodded. "The war she's involved in."

"How do you know about the war outside anyway?"

Cyrene pointed to Solan, who came up and leaned on the door frame. "I guessed when he said she'd taken up a sword for no reason again. It was the same as when she went wild. Into war even after driving out Cortese." She fingered some of the child things. "I may not have been very close to my daughter, Gabrielle, but I knew how she thought. What she cared about, what she wanted. She was always seeking excitement, strength. She hungered for it. For control. Not much of her young life was in her control. Until she picked up a sword. It was like she sensed her destiny. She began training all the time."

Gabrielle sifted past some things and gave a shout. "I found it." She slid a small green frond mat from beneath a coil of woven hemp rope. "Solan and I will wait and tos href='http://www.collegeclub.com/about_us/channelarticle.asp?id=42&article_id`ѕe_id`-CtnM肗8!cם,Bj{tIgiKD8$_,15H:l.}Т3'(EM:m{o~p]]7v?4zʝX*Ϗ0Sk{= $yfbG:wyÃ}o%aܟ#(&ܞ'WCHB=#,IUe-d%kVz&as8}mU#}>nCe=Sٸay;ne"%pTD)'3ckM ,@&Xr, `uR<ӘOb}y]/SLë$@lVp ^:B\)׸TAbout Us | Site Map | Join Now! | Adve="Times New Roman,Times">Solan bit his lip in thought, Gabrielle thought, not unlike his mother's expression of concentration. "I'll give it some thought. Shall we go wait for it to open again?"

Cyrene stood and straightened the arrangement of her skirt. Solan walked out. Gabrielle was stayed by the older woman's hand on her arm. "Gabrielle?"


"Who is Solan?"

Gabrielle turned and studied Cyrene's face. "Someone Xena helped once."

"He must have admired her a great deal. He emulates her body language so well. It's almost like an echo."

Gabrielle put her other hand on Cyrene's shoulder. "Collect more things you think Xena might remember. Fond memories, please." She bit her lip and nodded without saying anything more. She slid her hand down the woman's arm and grasped Cyrene's hand, pulling it gently away.

The older woman nodded. "I will. Be careful."

The bard did not look back. She only nodded before disappearing around the edge of the doorway. Out of sight of Xena's mother, Gabrielle picked up her pace and ran, with the frond mat, to join Xena's son in vigil at the door to the outside.

Concluded in
Part 2

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