Fruit of the Loom
By Phantom Bard
5/20/2001 (rev. 5/14/2003)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment only. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters and concepts from the TV series Xena Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo II are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No malice is intended towards these characters or concepts. I would like to thank their creators for sharing them with us.
Notes: This story is a "what if" tale, set directly following the 6th season episode, "When Fates Collide". Much as I loved that episode, I always felt the behavior of Xena and Gabrielle after the destruction of the Loom of the Fates didn't reflect the degree of trauma they had endured in Caesar's altered reality. I found myself trying to explain that by wondering what the repercussions of the destruction of the Loom of Fate would really mean, and how it dovetailed with other events in the Xenaverse. This story is the result of my conjectures. Note that at the time this story was originally written the series was still in progress. It has not been revised to account for the events of AFIN.
Alerts: The story contains violence, mental anguish, and a relationship based on the subtext present in the TV series. If any of these topics are disturbing, illegal, or undesirable, to the potential reader, then I would recommend reading something else.
For almost all of her life she had been happy in her ignorance, writing her plays and dreaming of love. Then she had come to Rome. Then she had met the Empress. She had caught a glimpse of a love that should have been, in a world that had never existed, and it felt more real to her heart than everything she had always known. And when the world around her fell apart, she gladly fed the fire. She would willingly trade all that was for another chance at what should have been.
There had been righteous anger for a past, present, and future that had been stolen. The creation of one man's fantasy had negated everything that she and her soulmate had lived and died for. In those final moments, she had not cared if she brought down an everlasting night to follow the Twilight. Caesar's reality would not stand. No world would be better than the perverted world he had created. The destruction of the twisted and horrifying reality she saw being spun on the Loom of the Fates would be restitution for the theft of the promised destiny she shared with Xena. A world with no determined fate and therefore no preordained destiny would be preferable.
Her soulmate had always said, "act, don't react," but this time she could only respond, either by action or inaction. Her choices were to be paralyzed by despair, or catalyzed by indignation and a love reclaimed despite everything that had changed. No, Caesar's reality would not stand. She threw the torch and the loom burned. And the world changed.
Gabrielle found herself walking through hanging mists on a forest road. It could have been anywhere within a hundred miles of Rome. It could have been many places in Greece or Gaul as well. What she could see of the forest was just plain nondescript. It felt timeless and still, hushed by the drifting fog; a placid dreamscape to follow the frantic hell she'd just survived. Scant moments before, everything inside her had been seething in turmoil. Caesar's world had been careening headlong towards its horrifying climax. Now, in spite of having just set the Loom of the Fates ablaze, she moved with only her normal warrior's alertness. Following so quickly on the heels of the nightmare just behind her, the forest seemed suspiciously calm, but she felt a growing undercurrent of anticipation.
From somewhere behind her, the sound of muffled hoof beats drawing closer broke the stillness. Gabrielle turned to look back down the road. There came Xena, riding up on Argo II and appearing out of the fog like a welcome wraith. Her gear and demeanor were unchanged from what they had been during all their time together. It could almost have been any normal day in the last several years. Xena seemed composed as she reigned her mount to a stop. She looked down from the warhorse, unaffected by having been nailed to a cross in the driving rain just moments before. In fact, she bore no signs of her crucifixion or her preceding battle at all. The Warrior Princess evinced only her normal level of wariness in the unfamiliar terrain. Somehow it seemed altogether too normal. For a moment they regarded each other in silence.
"Hey," Xena said. Her greeting was minimal, even for one who seldom wasted words.
"Hi," Gabrielle replied. For the Bard it was almost the equivalent of being struck dumb.
"You've brought the world back to us." Xena stated, as though she were commenting on the weather.
"I'm glad. I like this one better," Gabrielle replied calmly, as if assessing a pastry at a baker's stall. She accepted the warrior's hand and mounted behind her on the mare.
Their small talk about Gabrielle's fame, in the hell world Caesar had created, was their only commentary on the horrors they had narrowly escaped. It was just enough to acknowledge to each other that they both recalled what had happened. One would have expected to see at least an embrace. For all the turmoil they'd just survived, their outward calm seemed to reveal a mixture of shock and denial, or the evidence of a profound change in the world itself. They rode out of the fog-shrouded forest and into a grassy field, leaving the misty woods for more open land that drowsed under a dull sky.
Argo II carried them across the field, passing through the boundary of trees on its far side. Eventually they found another road, this one in the open, and they followed it for several miles. In the distance, a telltale column of smoke was rising. As if half asleep, Xena guided Argo II down the road towards a village she sensed would appear over the next rise. Soon they passed a decrepit outlying farmhouse. The road sloped up gently, not taxing the warhorse in the least, even though she bore two riders. They passed another farmhouse, barely more than a shack, but still they saw no one. No smoke rose from the chimney. No field hands worked the fields. Like the forest, it was possessed of an unnatural stillness. Even Argo II's hoof beats seemed muffled in the heavy air.
Finally they crested a rise in the road and before them a small valley unfolded. The expected village sat near its center. It was just a few buildings and shops, surrounded by homes that squatted ever closer together along the single road. The settlement was so completely unremarkable that it was actually disappointing, even to their travel jaded eyes. They finally saw a few people in the street; farmers mostly local people, and poor people at that. The wisp of smoke they'd seen came from the chimney of a building that was almost certainly the local tavern. The Warrior Princess steered Argo II towards it.
"Stop for a meal?" Xena asked Gabrielle, who had been silent for the entire ride.
No sign hung by the tavern door. The place didn't even have a name. It was as if no one could be bothered with the concept, and in fact, this seemed fitting. Xena appraised the structure with a grimace. She suspected that it would collapse in the next violent windstorm, if the termites didn't finish their work first. The nondescript wooden building seemed to have been grudgingly painted with watered milk. Even the boards had been finished with amateurish craft. It was a minimal tavern, probably composed of only a common room and a kitchen. The gods only knew what grew in the pots and pans.
Xena and Gabrielle dismounted. The warrior draped Argo II's reigns over the hitching rail in front of the building, noticing the oily film on the liquid in the watering trough. The mare sniffed at it, snorted, and looked away. The women walked to the door with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
When they entered, they saw that the room was almost empty. The few other occupants gave them a glance and then returned to their food and drink. Their disinterest in the strange travelers, especially the armed warrior, wasn't unnoticed when Xena did her customary scan of the room. With just a look passing between them, Gabrielle moved to claim a table while Xena walked to the bar to order their meal. Beneath her boots, the flooring held so much tracked in soil that it could have been plowed for crops. The low ceiling was filthy with grease and smoke and would probably burn better than most torches. A fieldstone hearth along the far wall looked as if it might collapse. In it, a miserly fire smoldered on a broken grate. The whole impression was so rustic that it struck the warrior as depressing and shabby, rather than homey. She glanced back and saw Gabrielle slouching at a corner table in the back with a good view of the doors. It was the one she'd have chosen herself. The bard was staring blankly at her hands.
The barkeep was a grizzled one-eyed man. He took her order, for two bowls of goat stew with bread and ale, having greeted her by name as if her presence was an everyday occurrence. He called the orders out to someone in the kitchen who grunted in response, and then returned to placing earthenware mugs under the bar. Xena noted the darkened stains they bore around their chipped rims.
She rejoined Gabrielle after walking across the room to their table. Again she noticed the unusual lack of interest from the other patrons.
"Does anything here seem strange to you?" Xena asked her companion, as she seated herself in the chair facing the front door. Gabrielle had taken the seat to one side, where she could watch the kitchen and the bar.
"Everything feels leaden, dull, almost as if inspiration has died. It's as if the world is under a spell of Lachrymose. I feel it, Xena, don't you?" It was the most she'd said since their return.
"Yeah," Xena agreed, "I don't like this."
Gabrielle just nodded.
"Gabrielle, something's happened." Xena said, her concern surfacing. "The Loom of Fate is destroyed and it's like everyone's lost." The Warrior Princess fell silent while she sat appraising the evidence of her observations, reasoning out the situation. Finally she continued. "Without a predetermined fate, probably for the first time, people have no direction they're just living, nothing more. They have no fate, and no dreams or hopes either."
"Can't have everything I guess."
"Gabrielle!" Xena stared at her, shocked at her complacency.
"You know, I don't even really feel hungry. Writing is out of the question. I just feel tired." Gabrielle sighed in resignation.
Soon the server walked towards them from the kitchen. He left their food on the table without a word and walked away. It was almost as if he had been sleep walking. Usually such people at least gave them a surreptitious once over, often with a comment or question, or at least a grunt of acknowledgment. Xena stared at his back as he walked off. She wasn't always comfortable with the town's peoples' attentions, but this gave her the creeps. She took a quick glance at the other patrons. They were feeding like cattle. There was no jesting, no sense of camaraderie, and almost no conversation.
Gabrielle stared at her food for a moment, then methodically began spooning the stew into her mouth. Her expression didn't change. Xena watched her, then started eating. The stew reminded her of wheat paste, the ale was reminiscent of dishwater. She expected the bread to be bland. Sure enough, it had all the flavor of egg whites. There was no enjoyment in the meal; it was sustenance, nothing more.
This is all wrong, the warrior thought, we escaped Caesar's madness. Gabrielle undid the twisted world he created when he chained the Fates and manipulated our destinies. How can this be happening? The Fates and their loom were a nuisance. I've fought all my life, making my own choices and going against what fate decreed, bending events to my will. I've fought men, gods, monsters, and my own darkness. I will not let this world beat me now, she vowed. Watching how listlessly Gabrielle ate was heartbreaking. She used to enjoy even the basic tavern fare after a hard day, Xena thought, as she looked across the table. I was dying in Caesar's world as surely as I was dying before I met her. I owe Gabrielle everything.
They finished the tasteless meal in silence.
Two nights later they were camped near a river in the woods, just off the road they had traveled since their reunion. The people they had met were apathetic, the towns they passed through quiet. Even the market they'd seen the day before was strangely subdued. There was none of the friendly banter among the rural folks for whom market day was one of the only secular social events. Buyers and sellers bargained minimally in hushed tones, as though their hearts weren't really in it. A merchant had offered them dried meat, eight strips for two dinars, a fair price Xena realized, and Gabrielle had handed him the coins without a word. Tonight as usual, Gabrielle had cooked while Xena had tended her horse. Their pan-fried fish had seemed as tasteless as the tavern's stew. Xena realized that Gabrielle hadn't bothered to use any seasonings. There were no herbs, not even any salt. The bard had finished her meal, washed the frying pan, and curled up in her blankets. She'd barely spoken a word.
Xena watched her sleep as she sharpened her sword. For the last two days a growing feeling of anger had been building inside her. The increasing rage was directed at the world in general, and their current situation in it. As a warrior, she could make plans, conduct a campaign, or capture an objective, but now there was no enemy to assault, no opposition to overcome. How could she change the world this time? Sharpening a sword suddenly seemed like a waste of effort. The sound of the stone on steel stopped as she lost herself in thought and memory.
Once years ago I prayed, Xena remembered clearly. I begged any God who would listen not to let the light go out in her. I begged that Gabrielle's spirit would be preserved untouched by darkness, and I begged for it with all my heart. I can't begin to count the times I've said that prayer since. But in spite of everything, she became a warrior. In spite of everything, she embraced the Way of Friendship, even when she knew it was the friendship of a warrior that she embraced. Since she became an archangel she's been more warrior than bard; but even when she had to kill it tormented her. Now it's like she's lost her passion. The spirit of hope seems to have deserted her, and her light is dimming with every day that goes by. It's like she's falling into her own Twilight.
I realized everything that had happened in our old life had happened precisely as it should, Xena recalled, and I accepted that at last. Even the bitterest parts. But I would die on the cross at Caesar's hand before I will accept that her light has been lost because she burned the Fates' loom to save me. Without a determined fate, people have nothing to drive them. They have nothing to struggle against and therefore no ambitions, no dreams. Now that there's no fate there seems to be no no destiny.
Then the enormity of that realization came home. We were destined to be together, Xena thought in a rising panic. How will we find each other in our future lives now? The one assurance Xena had come to depend on was in doubt; that their souls were meant to be together through eternity. She was the greatest warrior of her time, one of the greatest warriors who had ever lived, but she was human, and she could feel doubt. Silently, so as not to wake her beloved Gabrielle, she put her face in her hands and cried.
The next day they continued riding, heading back to Greece, back to the lands they knew best. Xena was morose and Gabrielle was silent, both lost in their thoughts. Argo II plodded along with the spirit of a draft horse. The day was overcast, the air oppressive.
Suddenly Xena's senses tingled. Her warrior's instincts were drawn to life by the presence of enemies ahead. She nudged Gabrielle behind her.
"Get ready, Gabrielle, I hear six by the road ahead and two more in the trees to our right," she whispered over her shoulder.
For the first time in days, Gabrielle seemed to shake off her lethargy. She dropped from the saddle and drew her sais. The bard took up a position standing at the edge of the road facing the woods. Thirty feet ahead, six men on foot appeared from the brambles alongside the road, their swords already drawn. They advanced silently without joking, gloating, or threatening. It was all business. They would rob these two women, kill them if they had to, or leave them if they didn't. There was no desire for sport driving them, only the possibility of a quick profit.
Xena drew her sword. She charged them on Argo II, knowing she could take the six of them down before they could close on Gabrielle. She was confident that the bard could handle the other two bandits. It took only seconds; in her first pass she felled two on her right with her sword, then she wheeled her mount and charged them again. She sliced one on her right with her blade, and caught one on her left with a kick to the head. Both went down. A quick glance showed her that Gabrielle had disarmed one bandit, catching his sword in the prongs of her sais and wrenching the blade from his hand. She hurled it into the belly of the second man, then spun and smashed the first in the face with a kick.
Xena leapt from the saddle, her senses tingling again. She took a quick glance around but she saw nothing amiss. The two remaining bandits she faced wouldn't last half-a-minute against her. She could tell by the way that they handled their weapons. They were nowhere near her class. Sure enough, the first charged at her with his sword held high. She gutted him, leaping forward to close the distance before he could strike. She spun around him, using his body as a shield when his accomplice slashed at her, then she kicked him off her blade. She ducked the second man's return slash, and before he could recover she had sliced him across the throat. As the blood spurted from his neck wound Xena heard the twang of a bowstring and the passage of the arrow. It had come from the woods to the right, almost forty yards away.
Instinctively she ducked, but she snapped her eyes towards the woods as she did. The archer was standing just beyond the tree line; the arrow was a blur crossing the field. Xena reached for her chakram, but she knew she'd be too late. Moments before the flying ring decapitated the archer, the arrow had found its mark, slamming home and pitching Gabrielle backwards off her feet.
Xena caught the returning chakram as she ran towards the fallen bard. Only twenty feet separated them but the distance seemed like miles. Gabrielle was trying to sit up, staring at the arrow in her chest, her blood pumping from the wound. Before she'd covered half the distance Xena knew it would be fatal. Nothing short of a God's intervention would save her soulmate. In three more strides Xena was by her side. She dropped her weapons and reached down to lift her beloved's head onto her lap.
"Oh, Gabrielle, no, gods, no." Xena cried out, looking into her eyes.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered, "I feel cold."
"I'm here, Gabrielle, I'll take care of you, you'll be ok," Xena said, denying the death she knew would come in moments, clutching her soulmate and rocking her back and forth.
"Xena, I can see it all now," Gabrielle said with the clarity of the dying, "listen to me."
"No, Xena, listen. Everything that has happened was meant to be, even this. We were meant to change the world, just not in the way we wanted to."
"What do you mean?" Xena screamed through her tears. "This world is another kind of hell! It's as bad as what Caesar created!"
"Xena, this is the world that's meant to be." Gabrielle whispered with effort as her life drained away. "A world where people will learn to make their own destiny, without the intervention of the Gods. Choice, Xena not fate. The change will take a long time, but someday it will be right."
"I cant believe that." Xena sobbed.
"I know it's hard. It will be so different. But I know that destroying the loom was what was meant to be. It's what follows the Twilight."
"Gabrielle, without destiny and fate I'm afraid. Afraid my soul will never find yours again. I couldn't live again without you. I'd be empty without your love."
"Xena, I love you. Our souls will find each other whether there's fate or not. You said our love transcends even the Greater Good." Her voice was even weaker now, barely to be heard, and when she coughed she brought up blood. "I'll find you, Xena. I'll find you again and again."
"I will always love you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered in her ear.
But she was gone.
In a clearing beside the road, sparks leapt into the night sky, launched from the crackling wood of Gabrielle's pyre. Xena tried to sing her funeral song, but her voice cracked every time she started, and finally she fell silent, tears streaming down her face. She'd never felt so alone. Big strong warrior, she thought derisively, killer of gods. I defeated the Goddesses Callisto and Valesca, brought down the emperors of Rome. My daughter brought the Twilight and the Message of Love. I saved Cleopatra's Egypt and K'ao Hsin's Chin, but I couldn't even save the love of my life again.
She crumpled to the ground and her primal cry of loss filled the clearing with the sound of her broken heart's anguish. Far across the fields it kindled the first spark of feeling in the hearts of a farmer and his family. The man rose from his bench and gathered his children in his embrace, and he gave thought to their future. There would be choices to make.
"I feel as though your simple story was true after all," the Warrior Princess whispered. "I feel like I have only half a soul left, and oh gods, it hurts."
It seemed like it would be so easy, to trade the gaping emptiness that the missing half had left her, for the complete emptiness she'd once lived in. Crushing the pain with bloodlust, hardening her soul against the loss by choosing not to love. She still knew how it felt, but now she knew the temptation was empty. It could never suffice again in this life. She was different. No, there was no easy way out without dishonoring the bond of their hearts, and besides, she had promised promised that she wouldn't become a monster. The memory of her soulmate would hold her to that oath. She would bear the pain and cherish her love for Gabrielle. She had made her choice.
Xena finally rolled onto her back to watch the sparks that escorted Gabrielle's spirit to the heavens. Through her tears they blurred and multiplied, becoming points of light, dancing and scintillating, almost like the ring of angels she had once watched. A part of her soul was free to follow them into the night sky. She closed her eyes on the vision, emotionally exhausted.
It was candlemarks later when Xena finally awoke. The ground was cold and damp with dew, and her back was stiff from lying half-curled on the dirt. The embers of Gabrielle's pyre glowed in the last of the darkness. The Warrior Princess sat up, twisting and stretching her spine, and rubbing the dried tears from her eyes. Her mind was trapped in the words of her last conversation with her beloved soulmate. She turned them over and over, searching for some hope to cling to.
We were meant to change the world, Gabrielle had said. One day there will be a world where people will make their own destiny, without the intervention of the gods. Destroying the loom was meant to be, and it is the counterpart of the Twilight. On some level Xena could see a twisted logic to it. Evil will always abound and many will choose its path. Few knew this better than the once Destroyer of Nations. But the Message of Love that my daughter, Eve, teaches will help define mankind's choices between the two.
The change will take a long time, Gabrielle had said. What a horrible world it will be, Xena thought, a world I would be sickened to live in. But she knew there was something that would draw her spirit into that world again and again, no matter how hellish it became. One goal to balance the pain. One hope to conquer her loss.
Our souls will find each other whether there's fate or not, Gabrielle had said. I'll find you, Xena. I'll find you again and again. Alone in the predawn stillness, it was her only hope.
"I will hold you to that promise, Gabrielle," Xena whispered to the silent darkness above, "and I will always love you."
Phantom Bard, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Originally posted 5/20/2001
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