The Gift of the Moirai 

by M.S. Wilson


 If anyone has any comments or questions about this story (or my previous effort, the Sins of the Past Adaptation that went up last week on October 28), feel free to drop me a line at

            Xena watched with a tolerant smile as Gabrielle waved before turning and losing herself in the crowded market. She knew the girl would be flitting from stall to stall like a hummingbird, looking at everything and wishing she had enough dinars to buy up the whole market. Xena also knew Gabrielle was seeking out a Solstice gift for her. Normally, that would’ve made Xena uncomfortable, but she wasn’t really bothered by the thought. In fact, she was almost looking forward to seeing what Gabrielle would get her, knowing it would only be chosen after careful deliberation ... and that it would come straight from the bard’s heart.

            As she wandered through the bustling market, Xena reflected on how her relationship with Gabrielle had changed. Before Gabrielle had left to attend the Athens Academy, Xena had told her she was like family. The sentiments had surprised her, but what surprised her even more was that they turned out to be true. Gabrielle had only spent a few weeks at the Academy, but Xena had missed her terribly. Every night around the campfire, she’d found herself longing to hear Gabrielle’s voice, asking questions, telling a story, or coming up with some fanciful bit of philosophy. As the days went by, Xena realized there was a hole in her life where Gabrielle belonged. At first, she’d tried to deny it, but as the  days had dragged by and she’d gotten more and more lonely, she’d finally had to admit to herself that Gabrielle was like family ... or maybe even more than family, since the sharp emptiness whenever she thought about the bard was somehow more painful than the dull ache that accompanied her thoughts of her own family and home she’d lost so long ago.

            When Gabrielle had come back, casually strolling up to her on the road, Xena had been so happy she’d thought her heart might burst. Good thing those scumbags had shown up to let her work off some of that giddy energy. She’d been in such a good mood, she’d let Gabrielle talk her into going back to Athens to spend Solstice there. Xena didn’t normally bother with Solstice; that was something she’d left behind when she became a warlord. Her soldiers hadn’t much cared about celebrating the event, though some of them liked having the day off. Some years she’d even scheduled attacks on Solstice, reasoning that everyone would be distracted that day. But she knew it was important to Gabrielle, so she wanted to get something special for her, to make up for the fact she was so far from her home and family. In a way, Xena felt Gabrielle’s loss as much as her own; this was the first year the bard wouldn’t be home for Solstice, so Xena wanted to bring her a little happiness by finding the perfect gift.

            But what to get her? Xena had wracked her brain trying to come up something. She’d considered things like new quills or parchment, but those were things Gabrielle could buy herself. Weapons were out (although she was already showing some proficiency with the staff), and although Gabrielle liked baubles and other pretty things, they were hardly practical for the rough-and-tumble life they led. No, it had to be something special, something Gabrielle wouldn’t think to buy for herself. As she strolled through the market, Xena cast an eye around for anything that might work. At the same time, her practical side asserted itself and she stopped at the herbalist’s stall to restock her supply, then wandered over to get some new cheek-pieces for Argo’s bridle. As she was paying, her hand brushed the dagger at her side and she remembered she’d been thinking about getting a new sheath for it. The old one was completely worn through on one side, something she’d found out the hard way when she’d drawn the dagger and accidentally cut her hand.

            While heading toward a weapons dealer, she glanced over and saw a jeweller’s stall. Idly, she walked over to see if something there might make a good gift for Gabrielle and her eye was drawn to a fine silver chain sparkling in the late afternoon sun. She examined the chain, which was finely wrought but not too flashy. When Gabrielle was at the Academy, she’d won first place in the story competition, but had chosen to leave to continue her nomadic life with Xena. They’d gifted her with a small medallion, to mark her as the winner of the competition. Gabrielle kept it in her travel bag, but Xena thought the medallion would fit perfectly on this delicate silver chain, allowing Gabrielle to wear it around her neck all the time. But when she asked the price, it was much more than she could afford to spend. She tried giving the jeweller her best death stare, but he wouldn’t budge. As she walked away, she mused on all the loot she’d taken in her warlord days: strings of pearls, necklaces of gold, and mounds of gems piled up like apples at harvest time. She sighed, thinking how she would’ve just taken the silver chain back then. Sometimes the old ways were just easier.

            She went to the weapon dealer’s stall and picked over the sheaths he had on display. She drew the dagger, careful not to cut herself again, and held up various sheaths to gauge the possible fit. The dealer’s eyes widened when he caught sight of the dagger. “That is a magnificent weapon. Is it custom-made?”

            Xena glanced at him as she sorted through the sheaths. “Yeah, I had it made years ago to ... celebrate a victory.” She’d gotten the dagger after her first raid on Stagira. She’d told herself at the time that the Stagirans deserved it; they’d always been enemies of Amphipolis and conquering them was just her way of insuring they wouldn’t be a threat to her home, like Cortese had been. Looking back, she knew she’d already begun to relish the taste of conquest, the screams of her enemies, and the heady feeling of wielding power over other people’s lives.

            “Ah yes,” the merchant went on, oblivious to the sudden tension in Xena’s jaw. “One of a kind. Would you be willing to sell it? I’d make it worth your while.”

            Xena’s first instinct was to refuse, but when he named a price, she hesitated. If she could talk him into going a little higher, she’d have enough to buy the chain for Gabrielle. And it’s not like the dagger had any sentimental attachment; it only served to remind her of a part of her life she’d rather forget, a part that now filled her with shame instead of pride. Why not get rid of it and move on, leaving some of those bad memories behind where they belonged?

            She quoted the higher price to the merchant, thinking he might just refuse flat out. He didn’t accept, but he didn’t turn her down either, which she took as a good sign. “It’s in very good condition,” she said, running the blade along one of the stall posts, shaving off a thin sliver of wood. “Tempered steel, reinforced hilt ... I’ll even throw in the sheath.”

            The merchant eyed the dagger for a long moment and finally broke into a smile. “Sold!” Xena handed over the dagger and collected the money, hurrying back to the jeweller’s stall. She picked out the silver chain and asked the jeweller to remove some of the links and add a couple of pieces to the ends where the medallion could be attached. Xena thought she could handle that part herself; it wouldn’t be much different than re-attaching a broken piece of chainmail. The jeweller swore to have it ready the next day and Xena gave him half the money up front, promising to pay the rest on completion.

            Satisfied with her purchase,Xena put a serious look on her face to hide her happy mood and went to look for Gabrielle. She found her at a stall that sold spice cakes and Gabrielle handed her one as she approached. Gabrielle wasn’t quite so good at concealing her feelings and Xena could tell by the look on her face that her shopping expedition had been fruitful too. Xena couldn’t help wondering what Gabrielle had gotten her, but she pushed aside her curiosity, knowing she’d find out tomorrow. The two friends spent the rest of the day wandering around the market, which wasn’t as crowded as Xena had expected at Solstice. Gabrielle noticed too and remarked wistfully that most people were probably home celebrating with their families.


            The next day, Xena asked Gabrielle what she wanted to do and immediately regretted it. The bard had a long list of sights she wanted to take in, but when she remembered Gabrielle’s nostalgic look the day before when mentioning family, she determined to give Gabrielle a Solstice she wouldn’t forget. So they walked all around the city and visited numerous sites: the zoo, where they marvelled at the strange animals on display (some of which Xena had already seen in her wide travels); the Acropolis, where they enjoyed the view over the sprawling city; and the Areopagus, where Xena couldn’t help reflecting on her days as a warlord, devoting herself to Ares. Gabrielle even managed to talk her into attending a play at an Odeon; luckily it was a comedy, so Xena wasn’t too bored, and Gabrielle was utterly fascinated throughout.

            As they headed back to their inn, Xena tried to think of a reason to detour through the market, but it turned out she didn’t need to ... Gabrielle suggested they swing by, saying she had to pick something up. By the impish look on the bard’s face, Xena knew it was her Solstice present and told Gabrielle to go ahead, promising to meet her by the main gate in a while. As soon as Gabrielle disappeared into the crowd, Xena hurried to the jeweller’s stall, casting a look around to make sure the bard wasn’t within sight. She received the silver chain, modified just as she’d asked, and paid the remainder of the money she owed, tucking the chain into her belt pouch. She stopped at a baker’s stall to get some apple tarts and met Gabrielle at the gate.

            After a nice Solstice dinner at the inn (and an impromptu recital by Gabrielle of how Xena and Hercules had freed Prometheus), they retired to their room. They sat on the twin beds facing each other, their knees almost touching since the room was so cramped. Xena pulled out the apple tarts she’d bought at the market and Gabrielle produced some honey and sesame treats from her bag.

            “Wow, Xena,” Gabrielle said, biting into an apple tart with glee, “I love these. My mother used to make them for Solstice all the time.”

            “I know,” Xena said with a smile as she popped one of the sweet honey confections in her mouth. “And my mother made these every Solstice.”

            “I know,” Gabrielle said with a grin. “Last time we were in Amphipolis, I asked her what your favourite treat was when you were a kid and she told me.”

            Xena stopped chewing and looked at Gabrielle with surprise. “Why would you do that?”

            Gabrielle shrugged and looked down as a flush crept over her fair skin. “I thought I could make some for you, but there never seems to be time when we’re on the road. I just thought ... it might help you have some good memories.”

            Xena had to look down to avoid blushing herself. “It does. Thanks, Gabrielle.”

            They finished the desserts, trading back and forth and commenting on the relative merits of both. After a brief silence, Gabrielle’s face broke out into a smile. “All right, now we’re both stuffed like harvest geese, it’s time for me to give you your present.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a small, neatly-wrapped package, handing it to Xena with a shy look.

            “Hmmm,” Xena said, holding the package up to the candlelight, then shaking it beside her ear. “What could it be? A new sword? A saddle for Argo?”

            Gabrielle gave her a look of frustration. “Just open it.”

            Xena unwrapped the package and couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a sheath for a dagger, finely-tooled with a chakram design, the crest of Amphipolis, and her initial carved into the supple leather. She stared at the beautifully-crafted sheath, then looked at Gabrielle, struck speechless for one of the few times in her life.

            “It’s for that big dagger of yours. I noticed the old sheath is falling apart so badly that you cut yourself on it, so I thought you could use a new one. It’s specially reinforced and waxed so it’s weatherproof, and it should fit perfectly because I traced the dagger onto one of my parchments and gave it to the leather-worker.” She looked at Xena expectantly. “Well, what do you think?”

            Xena finally found her voice. “Uh, it’s great Gabrielle. It’s absolutely perfect. Thank you.”

            Gabrielle smiled and leaned forward. “Well, aren’t you going to try it?” At Xena’s blank look she went on. “The dagger. See if it fits the sheath.”

            Xena hesitated. How could she tell Gabrielle she didn’t have the dagger anymore after the bard had put so much thought into the gift? For a moment, she wondered if she could get the dagger back, but remembered what the dealer had paid her for it and knew she didn’t have enough money. She’d have to tell Gabrielle the truth, but didn’t want to do it right now. “Uh, I think I left the dagger out in the stable, clipped to my saddle. I’ll get it later. First, I want you to open your present.” Maybe Gabrielle would be so happy about her own gift she’d forget about the dagger.

            “Close your eyes and hold out your hand,” Xena said. When the bard complied, Xena dipped her hand into her belt pouch, pulling out the silver chain and placing it gently into her palm. Gabrielle opened her eyes and stared at the chain, looking up at Xena in wonder. “It’s for the medallion you won at the Academy. I thought you could put it on the chain so you could wear it all the time.”

            A strange look came over Gabrielle’s face and she swallowed, looking at the chain sparkling in her hand. She finally looked up and met Xena’s eyes. “Thank you. That’s ... it’s more than I ever ... I love it, Xena, thank you.”

            Hoping to keep Gabrielle’s mind off the non-existent dagger, Xena gestured toward the bard’s travel bag. “Get out your medallion, I’ll attach it to the chain for you right now.”

            Gabrielle’s eyes darted to the bag and back to Xena. “Oh no, that can wait. Why don’t I go get your dagger from the stable and we’ll see it it fits that sheath.” She rose and headed toward the door.

            Xena reached out to snag her skirt. “No, Gabrielle, you don’t need to go all the way down there, we can do that tomorrow. Give me your medallion so I can—”

            Gabrielle looked like a rabbit caught in torchlight. “Oh, I don’t mind. The medallion can wait. I really want to see it the dagger fits.” She pulled free and moved toward the door.

            Gabrielle’s hand was on the door handle when Xena spoke. “Gabrielle, wait.” The bard stopped, giving Xena an inquisitive look. “Gabrielle, the dagger’s not in the stable. I ... I don’t have that dagger anymore.”

            Gabrielle’s brow wrinkled in thought. “But, you just had it the other day ... I remember seeing it ...”

            Xena nodded. “Yeah, but I don’t have it now. I ... sold it ... to buy you that silver chain.”

            Gabrielle’s mouth opened in surprise and she slowly walked over, sitting down beside Xena on her bed. “You sold your dagger? To buy me this chain?” Xena nodded, holding her breath and hoping Gabrielle wouldn’t be too upset. The bard stared at her open-mouthed for a moment, then burst into laughter. Well, that certainly wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting. Xena watched Gabrielle rolling around on the bed, helplessly howling with laughter and became concerned. Maybe those treats they’d eaten had been laced with something. Finally, Gabrielle sat up, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes and put her hand on Xena’s shoulder. “Xena, the work on that sheath was specially done, and it was a rush job so it was pretty expensive. I didn’t have enough money so ... I traded my Academy medallion to pay for it.”

            It took Xena a moment to process what Gabrielle had said. “So, you’re saying ... you traded your medallion to buy me a sheath for my dagger ... which I sold to buy you a chain for your medallion?” Gabrielle nodded, biting her lip, and Xena understood why she’d been laughing. The warrior shook her head and chortled, which set Gabrielle off again. The irony of the situation made Xena laugh too and they leaned against each other as fits of giggles swept over them like a wave.

            Finally, they stopped, trying not to look at each other for fear of dissolving into laughter all over again. Xena shook her head. “Well, we’re quite a pair aren’t we? Maybe we shouldn’t have been so secretive about the gifts.”

            Gabrielle shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I think it’s the feeling behind the gift that really matters, not the gift itself. Your gift was perfect and I’m going to hold onto it. One day I’ll find something that’ll fit that chain perfectly.”

            “And I’m sure I’ll find another dagger to fit this sheath,” Xena said with a smile. Gabrielle leaned forward to hug her and Xena returned it, silently agreeing that the feeling behind their gifts was what she’d remember for the rest of her life.       

            The next morning, Xena rousted Gabrielle out of bed bright and early, treated her to a hearty breakfast at the inn, and led her out to the stable to get Argo ready.

            As Xena was saddling the mare, Gabrielle gave her a look of curiosity. “Xena, didn’t you have that dagger for years? How could you just sell it?”

            Xena shrugged. “It wasn’t all that hard, really. That dagger was a reminder of the person I used to be, someone I’d prefer to forget. I’d rather think about the person I am now ... the person I’ve become since I met you.” Gabrielle reached out and clasped Xena’s hand squeezing it gently. “Besides, it’s not like I can’t replace it. Every scumbag and bandit we come up against has a dagger. I’ll just wait till I find one I like and keep it.”

            Gabrielle laughed and patted Xena’s hand. “Yeah, you could start a whole collection. Have a different dagger for every day of the week. Or for different functions ... you know, one dagger for day-to-day wear, another for parties, a really fancy one for meeting royalty ...”

            Xena couldn’t help laughing. “Oh yeah, that’d be something. I’d never be able to keep them all straight. How embarrassing would it be to show up to meet King Lias wearing a common, everyday dagger? Diana would never let me forget it.” Gabrielle dissolved into a fit of giggling. When she settled down, Xena squeezed her hand. “The dagger never really meant all that much to me ...not like your medallion did to you.”

            Gabrielle leaned back against the stall door and her face took on a look of contemplation. “You know, it wasn’t hard to trade it it all. I mean, it was nice, and I’m glad they gave it to me, but when I was at the Academy I realized it wasn’t what I’d thought it would be. It was too ... academic.” Xena raised an eyebrow in quiet amusement. “Yeah, I know, of course it’s academic, it’s the Academy. But what I mean is, they just sit around and talk about adventures instead of actually experiencing them.  I’ve learned more in a few months travelling with you than I’d learn in years at the Academy.”

            Xena looked at her. “The Academy is probably a lot safer. And more comfortable.”

            Gabrielle snorted. “Well, they stuck me in the servants’ quarters, so it wasn’t all that comfortable. As for safer ...” She regarded the warrior with a serious look. “Yeah, sometimes things can get a bit scary when we’re out having adventures, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

            “Neither would I,” Xena assured her as she led Argo out of the stable. Gabrielle arranged her travel bag over her shoulder as Xena settled the saddlebags over Argo’s back. She pulled the intricately-tooled leather sheath from her belt and examined it. It was custom-made, so she knew the odds of finding another dagger to fit it weren’t good. But she also knew she’d never get rid of it and her face lit up with a smile as she tucked it into one of the saddlebags. After all, sometimes the most unlikely pieces could end up being a perfect fit.


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