Xena, Gabrielle and the Amazons do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance.
A week had passed from Xena's and Gabrielle's wedding. They were getting used to life as a married couple, and having a Guardian watching over them. Even though the tradition of a married couple having a Guardian wasn't known in Greece, this couple never regretted that they had been blessed with and consecrated one.
Although their Guardian was young, sometimes a bit over-eager but brave, loving and skillful warrior, Xena and Gabrielle were confident that Exl was the right person for the job. After traveling together for quite some time, it was the inspiration and help they got from Exl that gave the two lovers the courage to finally vow their love towards each other. Exl was almost like a daughter to the two, having the half blue, half green eyes and very similar features that of her Couple. She was a warrior and a pretty good healer, with a softer, sentimental and bardic side. She was almost like a combination of Xena and Gabrielle.
All three were settling down well in the Amazon village. Gabrielle and Xena lived in the Queen's hut, because Gabrielle was the regnant Queen of the Amazons and Xena was her spouse. Exl was given her own hut next to Gabrielle's and Xena's that was now known as the Guardian's hut or as the Loyal's hut.
Gabrielle ruled the Amazon nation, signing peace treaties and doing everything that was the Queen's responsibility, while Xena and Exl (according to Gabrielle) were having all the fun. They were hunting, training with the warriors and helping Eponin train the young warriors-to-be and they were also teaching each other. Xena taught Exl how to use a sword, how to do flips and kicks, and new healing techniques, while Exl taught Xena how to use battle axes, other fighting skills she had learned back home and more about the life and honor of a warrior in her homeland.
Although Gabrielle didn't enjoy missing out on all the fun her wife and her Loyal had, she loved watching the two fool around, doing their "warrior" things and looking after each other and looking after Gabrielle. When having some free time, Gabrielle wanted to spend it with the two important women in her life. Time with Xena was intimate and they spent a lot of time in their hut or somewhere private. At other times, Gabrielle was teaching Exl more about Greek and Amazon life, Greek writing and reading and wanted Exl to teach her about her homeland, Finlandia, their customs and traditions and of course more about Exl herself. It was fascinating to hear about this very foreign land, which sounded like a land which was told about in fairy tales. Sometimes Gabrielle could see from Exl that she wasn't very happy talking about her village, her family and her homeland, as if she was a bit homesick.
One day, when Xena and Exl where practicing sword fighting, Eponin came to them with something urgent.
"Xena, Exl, it's Gabrielle… She wants you to get to the common hut as fast as you can."
That was all Eponin needed to say, when the two warriors had already disappeared from sight, heading to the common hut like being chased by wild dogs. Both of them were worried that something had happened to Gabrielle, but they were soon reassured when Gabrielle was sitting in her Queen's council throne and seemed to be fine.
"It's a good thing news travels fast in this village", Gabrielle said seeing the two warriors dashing into the hut only a short while after she had sent Eponin to get them.
"Gabrielle, is everything alright? What is it?", Xena asked concerned approaching her wife.
"Yes darling, everything is okay. It's just that this came for you Exl." Gabrielle presented Exl with a scroll she was given by Ephiny, who was standing next to her. Exl approached the Queen wondering what this scroll could hold. She took it from Gabrielle and when she saw the wax seal, she looked like she had seen a ghost.
The seal contained a heart wrapped in some thorny vine and a flame above the heart.
Exl swallowed and opened the scroll to read it. The writing was something Gabrielle or Xena had never seen before, another language. After reading the letter, Exl just fell on her knees, dropping the letter and her head sank down. Gabrielle rose from her throne and before she could do more, Xena was by Exl's side helping her up.
"What is it Exl? Is it bad news?", Gabrielle asked worried. Exl, looking very unhappy, was now standing with Xena by her side.
"It's nothing but bad news...", she said and looked at Xena then at Gabrielle.
"Will you tell us what is going on? What did the letter say?", Xena asked with her hand on Exl shoulder, showing her support.
"The letter is from home, from my cousin Nali. She wrote to me to inform my cousin, her brother Swyther has died. He was a prince, the ruler of our village and our nation. He didn't have any children or other siblings besides Nali who could take his place after his death. In our nation, only men can be the ruler of our nation and head of the village. On his deathbed Swyther had told Nali that there was only two people he knew could rule in his place, me and Zabor." Exl looked upset saying this name. "Who is this Zabor?", Gabrielle asked. Exl continued:
"Zabor is Swyther's and Nali step-brother, from their father's side. He is an evil man, he has always had a black heart. Nali also writes that as his last deed and request Swyther had said that he wants me to become his heir."
"But I thought you said only men can rule in your nation?", Gabrielle said with great amazement, she was a ruler AND a woman.
"A woman can only become ruler if she wins the regnant ruler in battle, if she is the only child of the ruler or if the ruler names her as his heir. But Zabor thinks he can become ruler, because he is Swyther's "brother", even though he is nothing close to a brother. Swyther and Nali have always been close to me, like they were my own brother and sister."
"Does the letter say anything else?", Xena asked wanting to know what was going on in her friend's mind and heart.
"Nali also writes that because I am the official heir, I must go home and rule our nation. But as tradition, I must be there before a certain time expires. If it expires Zabor will be able to challenge me into the battle of Huntar."
"And what is the battle of Huntar?", Xena asked a bit more concerned.
"The battle of Huntar is a battle where the heir and the challenger of the throne battle each other to determine who shall become ruler. It is not just an ordinary battle", Exl explained, seeing her friends were interested in learning more about these unusual traditions.
"What's the catch?", asked Gabrielle knowing there had to be some catch involved.
"The battle is till death. When the battle begins, it will only end when the other is killed or if one surrenders. If one surrenders, the other is declared winner and has to kill the one who surrendered. The only way of getting out of the battle is by winning or dying." Gabrielle and Xena were horrified. They couldn't believe that their Guardian had to get home soon or face a battle that might lead to her death.
"Exl, you can't…", Gabrielle said with sadness in her voice.
"Gabrielle, I have to. If I don't go home and take my place as ruler, Zabor will make himself ruler. He'll even make himself a king! But I can't go home, not after…", Exl turned her head from Gabrielle and looked at the ground. Xena looked at her friend puzzled, why wouldn't she go home and take her place as rightful ruler?
"After what? Something you did?", Xena asked. Exl took her old pendant from her pocket and looked at it. Both Xena and Gabrielle knew what this pendant was, it was given to Exl by her friend whose Guardian she was supposed to become, before the unexpected and awful events. Exl said in a remorseful voice:
"After what happened to Caetim and Teme, their parents said they never wanted to see me in our village again. They blamed me for everything. Swyther and Nali supported me, but I was blaming myself so much I decided it would be best if I left. I told Nali and Swyther if anything happened and I could help, they just had to send word to me and I'd come and help. Since he became ruler, Swyther always said that he'd make me heir to his throne. But I said I'd only become his heir, if the situation really required it. I guess he remembered my words and now… I won't be able to get there in time, when I get there I have to face Zabor." Xena looked at Gabrielle with a thoughtful face, then she got an idea. She said:
"Exl, we are not going to let you go home and face Zabor. You are going to go home and become ruler of your nation. Gabrielle dear, what would you say if I said that we will go on a trip? The three of us, to Finlandia." Gabrielle smiled and said:
"Xena, that's a great idea. Exl, go and pack your things, we are going to Finlandia!" Exl was astonished, this is the second time Xena and Gabrielle would make a long trip, just to help her.
"You mean… you're coming with me?"
"Of course we are. You're our Guardian. If you go somewhere, we'll be there with you", Xena said giving Exl a wink. Exl hugged Xena, then went to hug Gabrielle.
"Thank you my dear friends. Now I will be able to show you my home and my people." The weight had fallen from Exl's heart when her Couple had said they'd come with her. Otherwise she would have had to leave her duty as their Guardian.
The next morning, the trio left Amazonia and by evening they were on a ship on their way to Finlandia. The journey took many days and the closer they came to this foreign land, Gabrielle and Xena were more and more fascinated and excited to get to Exl's village. But the same couldn't be said about their Guardian. She came more and more worried, how would her people react to her return? Would she be thrown out of her village the moment she arrived? And what would they say about her becoming a Guardian to people who had never heard about this tradition before? The Couple could see the uneasiness and concern of their young companion. Finally they arrived in Finlandia, but Exl's village was still a day's travel away. They took a room in a small inn near the harbor and turned in for the night.
Gabrielle wanted to wish Exl a good night, but found her room empty. As Gabrielle was heading downstairs to ask the innkeeper whether he had seen Exl, she saw Exl walk out the front door.
"Exl, wait!", Gabrielle called for her friend. Exl stopped and turned to Gabrielle and said:
"Gabrielle, why aren't you with Xena, why aren't you sleeping?"
"I was going to ask you the same. Why are you out here?" Gabrielle walked to her Guardian and looked into her eyes. The eyes usually filled with excitement and cheer, now seemed glum, worried and tired.
"I couldn't sleep, I haven't been able to sleep for a while. I'm so worried about a number of things", Exl answered.
"Would you like to talk about them, I'd be happy to listen and help if I can?", Gabrielle tried to comfort Exl, she had always been a good listener.
"I shouldn't be worrying you with my troubles", Exl said trying to get Gabrielle go back to the inn.
"Exl, Xena and I vowed to be there for you, no matter what. If something is troubling you, you can and MUST always tell us about it. Together we can make it through any obstacles." Gabrielle hugged Exl, so Exl would know that she wasn't alone.
"Thanks Gabrielle. It's just that I've always had to take care of myself. There has never really been anyone for me before, the only people important in my life have been my grandfather, Nali, Swyther, Caetim and Teme. And from them Nali is the only one left."
"You have Xena and me, we have each other and we have you", Gabrielle said releasing herself from the embrace.
"Come on, we'll talk tomorrow. Now we have to get some sleep." The women returned to the inn and their rooms. Exl fell asleep quickly, while Gabrielle crawled into bed, to embrace her sleeping wife. Xena quietly whispered in her sleep:
"I love you Gabrielle…" and Gabrielle answered her sleeping warrior:
"I love you too…" and then fell asleep.
After a good night's sleep, Exl went to see a horse dealer who was a friend of hers and was able to attain two horses for them. They set off, Exl riding by herself and Xena riding with Gabrielle. Stopping to take a rest, Gabrielle went to fill their water skins in a stream near by.
Xena and Exl had a warrior to warrior talk.
"Exl, I've been thinking about something. It came to me after the wedding. If you would happen to end up fighting Zabor… And if something would happen to you, what are…" Xena couldn't finish her question when Exl interrupted her knowing what was on Xena's mind.
"You were thinking what you should do if I, your Guardian, would happen to die. Because the tradition is not usual for you, you have a choice. You can continue your life without a Guardian or ask someone else to become your new Guardian. It's up to you." Xena looked at Exl, thinking she didn't want to lose this dear warrior.
"Exl, I think there is no-one in this world who could become our Guardian if something would happen to you. But I won't let anything happen to you, I promise." Exl shook her head:
"Xena, that might be a promise you won't be able to keep." Xena smirked.
"Well, at least I'll try to do my best." She offered Exl her forearm and Exl grabbed it.
For a while, the two warriors just sat there and held each other's forearms, until Exl heard Gabrielle returning and went to help her carry the water skins. Xena knew she couldn't tell Gabrielle about their conversation just yet, it would worry Gabrielle too much. But when the time was right, she'd have the discussion with her wife.
"So, when are we going to leave?", Gabrielle asked.
"It might be best if we stayed here for the night, and get something to eat. Tomorrow morning we'll continue, our village isn't that far", Exl said looking at Gabrielle, then at Xena.
"Sounds like a reasonable plan, I'll go and hunt something for us to eat", Xena said and stood up.
"I'll come with you", Exl said and was going to join Xena, but Xena said:
"No, you stay here with Gabrielle. If something turns up, you'll be able to handle it together." Having said this, Xena vanished out of sight. Gabrielle knew this was Xena's way of saying:
"You to stay here and talk."
Exl was making fire and Gabrielle was searched for the cookware so they could cook their food after Xena returned.
"So, you want to talk now?", she asked Exl, who had succeeded in making a fire. Exl nodded and sat next to the bard.
"So, tell me what's been bothering you lately? I have a feeling it has something to do with Zabor…" Exl sighed.
"Yes, Zabor is one of things I'm worried about. He is a skillful fighter, a very bloodthirsty warrior. I don't know if I can stand a chance against him." Gabrielle said:
"You have your own advantages. You're agile, you move around quickly and you use your axes very well. And you've trained with Xena and the Amazons, you must have learned some new techniques you can use." Exl got some more confidence.
"Another thing I'm worried about, is what will happen to my people if I lose. Zabor could to anything if he is made king…" Gabrielle thought quickly.
"Well, we won't let that happen."
Exl gave a small smile, and then continued:
"I don't know how my people will react to my return. They might just beat the life out of me, or worse. If they hurt you and Xena…"
"If Xena and I speak on your behalf, tell about the good things you've done for us and for others, you'll be fine." Gabrielle was confident she could convince Exl's people that Exl was a good person.
"Yeah, I hope so. I wouldn't want you to see me get beaten by the people I used to call friends", Exl said.
"If something would happen to you, Xena and I would be crushed. If it is up to me, I'll stand between you and your people, if needed", Gabrielle said brushing Exl's cheek with her hand.
Exl took Gabrielle's hand and gave it a kiss. She smirked and said:
"Thank you my Queen." Gabrielle laughed:
"Will you please stop calling me your Queen. I am your friend, you're my Guardian, my Loyal." Exl winked and said:
"Sure, anything you want."
It didn't take look for Xena to return. She had caught a few rabbits and some fish.
The food tasted great, even though it was cooked in the same way as times and times before, the meat and the fish tasted much better than in Greece. Exl said it was thanks to Finlandia's nature. After they had finished eating, they rolled out their bedrolls, Xena and Gabrielle one side and Exl on the other side of the fire.
Gazing into the beautiful night sky, all three wondered what the next day would bring them.
Having slept late in the morning, the threesome got on their horses and with Exl leading, they were soon to arrive at Exl's village. They rode into the village and took the horses to the stables and went to find Nali. Noticing the three strangers, the people started whispering to each other in amazement. Gabrielle and Xena couldn't understand their language, it had to be their native language.
Just before reaching Nali's cabin, the Prince's cabin, an older man stopped them. Exl knew this man, he was Teme's father, Rofar. He said to her:
"What are you doing here? I told you what would happen if I saw you here ever again." He seemed very angry at Exl, ready to take the first swing. Xena and Gabrielle had never before heard Exl speak her own language, but now they did. She said:
"Rofar, I came here because Nali asked me to. I wouldn't have come otherwise. Let us pass." The man called Rofar laughed.
"So you decided to return because princess Nali asked you to? Why would she ask you to come back? After all you did? I lost my son and future daughter-in-law because of you."
"You know that Caetim's death wasn't my fault, she was very sick. I tried to find Teme when he went missing. The day you lost your son, I lost a very dear friend." Gabrielle and Xena sensed that this quarrel might not end peacefully.
"Exl…", Gabrielle said trying to approach her friend, but was stopped by men, friends of Rofar no doubt. Xena quickly placed herself between Gabrielle and the men, ready to fight if needed.
"No, Rofar, if you touch them, I swear you'll regret it!" , Exl shouted noticing her friends being surrounded. The men just laughed and Rofar said mocking:
"Did you hear that, what do you think you'll do if we hurt your friends?" He couldn't say anything else, when Exl launched at him. But her attack failed, before she could make her move, Rofar slapped her on the cheek making her falling on the ground nearly unconscious.
"No!!", shouted Gabrielle and rushed to her friend. Rofar was going for his sword, when Xena was suddenly in front of him saying with rage:
"If you touch my wife or my friend, you'll be wishing you had never been born!" Exl had regained knowledge of her surroundings and saw Xena and Rofar.
Exl looked at Xena and shouted:
"Xena, no!" Xena was about to take a swing at Rofar, but Exl stopped her.
"Xena, you can't fight for me. I have to face Rofar, I'm responsible for the death of his son, Teme." "No, you're not. His death was his own doing! You tried to help him!", Xena said being frustrated. A woman's voice said from the door of the cabin:
"Rofar! Leave Exl and her friends alone! You are not to harm them!"
The woman was one with medium long dark brown hair. She was wearing an outfit that could be imagined to have been worn by a ruler. Rofar and his men left. The woman approached Exl and kneeled beside her. She hugged Exl and said:
"Exl, it's good that you're home. Are you alright? Did Rofar hurt you?"
Exl looked at Xena and Gabrielle and spoke so that her friends could understand her:
"Yes I'm okay. Just a slap on the cheek. I guess I kind of earned it. Nali, it's wonderful to see you." So this was Exl's cousin, Nali.
"Good, I'll see that he won't hurt you again. Who are your friends?" Exl stood up and walked to Xena and Gabrielle, took their hands and walked them to Nali. Then she smiled and said:
"Nali, these are my very dear friends. Xena and Gabrielle. Xena is a Warrior Princess and Gabrielle is an Amazon Queen. Xena, Gabrielle, this is my cousin, Nali. She is now the princess of our nation and village." Xena and Gabrielle bowed for Nali and Nali bowed her head for the friends of Exl's.
"It is our pleasure to meet you", Gabrielle said.
"It is my pleasure to welcome you to our humble village", Nali replied. Then she turned to her warrior cousin.
"But I am not ruler for long, thanks to you", she said to Exl.
"Now that you're here, we can discuss about the matter of you becoming ruler." Exl took Nali's hand and shook her head.
"Nali, I can't become ruler." Gabrielle and Xena couldn't believe their ears. After this long journey, Exl wasn't going to take her place as ruler?!?
"Why? But you came all this way?", Nali asked her cousin, very puzzled.
"I know this sounds weird but I've made my decision. I am going to face Zabor and if I win, I'll make you Queen", Exl said looking into her cousin's chestnut eyes.
"What?!?", Xena, Gabrielle and Nali shouted simultaneously.
"Yes, that's my plan", Exl said with a determined voice.
"You can't do it Exl", Xena said thinking her friend must have gone insane, the slap on her cheek must have hurt her head.
"Yes I can and I will. I am the heir to Swyther's throne and because I'm late, I have to fight for it." Exl turned to her Couple and looked into their eyes.
"Exl, if you win, why won't you become ruler?", Nali demanded to know the reason for her cousin's actions.
"Because I have a duty far more important than being a ruler. I have made a vow to Xena and Gabrielle, that I'd be by their side until the end. I am their Guardian."
Exl said this after placing herself between her friends, and they stood there side by side, holding each others hand. Xena and Gabrielle now understood Exl's plan and their hearts filled with relief knowing their Guardian wouldn't leave them, at least not willingly. Nali just looked at the three not saying a word. Gabrielle said:
"Nali, it's true. Xena and I are married and Exl has become our Guardian." Nali looked astonished. "You… you told these strangers about our tradition and they… oh Exl…"
First it looked like Nali was angry at Exl, but she then she walked to Exl and gave her a hug. Then she bowed her head for Gabrielle and Xena.
"I'm am very happy that people foreign to our customs have taken part in this beautiful ancient tradition. I am very proud of Exl and very happy for you two. God be praised." Xena and Gabrielle didn't quite understand what Nali meant. Exl tried to explain:
"Around here the tradition of the Guardian is becoming more and more foreign to our people as well. Not many young people want to take part in this tradition and it is slowly dying out. It is a great honor if people that don't know about this tradition learn about it and want to take part in it. Nowadays if you are a Guardian you are highly respected. With a few exceptions," Exl said, meaning the last part was about herself.
Her friends now understood this, but something still troubled Xena.
"What was that part about praising God?" Nali said:
"We here in Finlandia only have one God." Gabrielle got frightened, the last time she and Xena were told about a one God, it had been the evil and destructive Dahak. Xena asked Exl:
"Does your God have a name? Is it Dahak??" Nali and Exl gasped.
"No! We would never worship a god like Dahak!", Nali said a bit offended by Xena's comment. Gabrielle looked at Nali and Exl and asked:
"You've heard of Dahak too?" Exl nodded:
"Yes, unfortunately we have. There are some groups in our land who worship the god of destruction. We despise him and his worshipers. Our God is known to us as God, the Father and Creator. His is good."
Xena trusted her friend and took hold of Gabrielle's hand.
"Come my friends, we must get you something to eat." Nali said and lead the three travelers to the food cabin.
After a magnificent dinner, they went to the Prince's cabin to discuss Exl's plan.
"I still think it is a bad idea. I can't let you face Zabor", Nali said to Exl.
"Nali, you know that as heir, I must fight for my place as ruler. Swyther knew what he wanted and he wanted me to be his heir. I will fight Zabor, and that's final." Xena turned to Nali.
"Is this truly the only way? Isn't there anything we can do?" Nali shook her head.
Gabrielle took hold of Xena's forearm fearing the worst.
"If Exl goes to battle with Zabor and surrenders, she will die." Exl said:
"If I don't fight and kill Zabor, I'll lose and be killed myself. I know the rules sound crazy, but I must do my duty." Xena rose from her chair and walked to Exl. She put one hand on her heart and one on Exl's shoulder.
"Exl, if you go to battle, I will stand by you till the very end. I won't let anything happen to you." Gabrielle also rose and walked to Exl. She also put her other hand on Exl's shoulder and the other on her heart.
"Exl, WE'LL stand by your side till the end. We love you and want you to be safe." Exl rose and hugged her Couple.
"Thank you my friends. But when in battle, I must fight alone. But until then, I won't let anything happen to you or to myself." Exl walked to the small altar and put her hands on the sword on the altar. It was Swyther's sword, he had got it when he was still quite young. He got it the same day Exl got her axes. Both were given their weapons by their grandfather, Exl's mentor. Now it was Exl's sword because she was Swyther's heir. Exl took the sword and walked to Xena, Gabrielle and Nali and showed them the sword.
"Tomorrow I will face Zabor. I will fight with Swyther's sword, and if I lose, I want you to have it Xena." Xena looked at Exl not believing her ears.
"I… I can't Exl. It's your sword. I couldn't take it…" Exl said:
"As heir to the throne this truly is my sword. But I also get to decide what will happen to it after I am gone from this Earth. I want you to have it." When Exl looked into Xena's eyes, it was like the two warriors had a silent conversation just by looking into each other's eyes. Then Xena nodded and said:
"I accept. But I will only take it if you don't make it tomorrow. But you'll win, I trust you." Exl was happy Xena accepted her offer.
Then Exl walked to Gabrielle and took her hand and said:
"Gabrielle, if I don't make it tomorrow, I want you to have this." She took something from her pocket and put it in Gabrielle's palm and closed it. Gabrielle looked into Exl's eyes and then turned to look at what Exl had given her. She opened her palm and looked at the beautiful pendant that she was holding. It was Exl's old Guardian pendant, the one Caetim had given her. Gabrielle just looked at the pendant and then turned to look into Exl's eyes, feeling that her own eyes wear filling with tears. "Exl… I… I can't. This is the pendant you got from Caetim and Teme. This is very important to you." Exl smiled just a little bit and said:
"Gabrielle, it is important to me, that's why I want you to have it. You know the tradition about becoming someone's Guardian. If I die tomorrow, I want you to tell people about this tradition and show them this pendant. And besides, there is something more important to me than this pendant." Gabrielle turned to Xena and Nali in amazement. They looked at Gabrielle, then at Exl. Everyone turned to Exl when she reached for something under her shirt. She pulled out a pendant that she was wearing around her neck. It was her Guardian pendant, signifying that she was Gabrielle's and Xena's Guardian. Xena walked to Gabrielle and wrapped her in her arms. Both their hearts filled with happiness and comfort. Exl's pendant was very important to her, so were the two women. The three took turns looking into each others eyes, not saying anything. Finally Exl put the pendant back under her shirt.
"Now I must get some rest, I have a throne to defend tomorrow", Exl said. Nali showed a cabin the three could spend the night in. It was a big cabin, with several rooms. Exl went in one and Gabrielle into another with Xena. None of them could fall asleep thinking what might happen the next day. But eventually fatigue caught up with them and they slept soundly the rest of the night.
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