It was a bright summer's day when Xena and Gabrielle were making their way to Amazonia . They had received word from Ephiny that they had to get to the village as soon as possible. But neither of them knew what was or could be going on. Xena was holding Argo by the reins and whistling as they went on, it was a very peaceful day.
"I think it's nice to go and see the Amazons, it's been a while since we last saw them", Gabrielle said smiling.
"Yeah, and while you take care of your queenly duties, I have a chance to practise with Pony and help them hunting and in training the younger ones", Xena said looking at Gabrielle with her usual smirk what she always had when she spoke about Pony and the "fun" she would have while being stuck in the Amazon village.
"I think it's a good thing that you can keep yourself active while we're there, I know you don't really like stay in one place for a long time. Especially in Amazonia ", Gabrielle said with a caring smile.
"Well one reason I don't like it in Amazonia is because, I can't spend that much time with you… But I'm glad that I know that Ephiny is taking care of you, helping you and protecting you while you "play" Amazon Queen", Xena said with a look that could just melt Gabrielle down to the core.
"It's a good thing that I have Pony to look after you and keep you from trouble, even though sometimes I have a feeling that you two are getting into trouble together… It would destroy me if something would happen to you…”, Gabrielle looked into Xena's deep pools of blue and Xena could feel that if it were possible, she would just sink into Gabrielle's emerald eyes. Gabrielle continued with a concerned look on her face:
"But Xena, what about while we're travelling all over Greece (and the known World), who is there to look after one if something would happen to the other? I can't imagine going on if we would happen to get separated and something would happen to you."
Xena could see tears in Gabrielle's eyes and when one fell on her cheeks, Xena immediately had her lips on Gabrielle's cheek to kiss the tear away.
”Gabrielle, my sweet, if something would ever happen to you, I would be devastated. My life would be nothing without you. That's why there is something you need to know. Gabrielle…"
Xena was interrupted when she saw a small group of bandits, about 5 or 6 of them, jump from the forest coming straight at the heroines. Before a single bandit could react, Xena had her sword drawn and was signalling Gabrielle to get behind her.
"So boys, you want to play a bit, do you?", Xena shouted just as the bandits where reaching her and Gabrielle. Taking on three bandits on at once was no problem for Xena, but for Gabrielle it was a bit more complicated. She was able to give two bandits a few good whacks with her staff. But just as she thought that all was well, one of the bandits gave her a push and she tumbled right into the net the two others she had fought were holding. It was an instant later when she realized what had happened, she tried calling for Xena, but just as she was doing this she was hit with a club to the back of her head and she passed out. The three bandits gave a whistle and started running into the woods. Xena noticed the whistle and took a quick look to see where Gabrielle was but she couldn't see her anywhere.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!", she shouted while impaling the last of the bandits with her sword. Then she put the pinch on a bandit that was still lightly breathing.
”My friend, where are they taking her? Answer me, or face a slow and very painful death!", she was frustrated and very worried about Gabrielle, and was about give the bandit the final, killing strike when he just smirked and said:
"They're on there way to the slave ships, to take beautiful girls as slaves, you'll never reach her in time…" Having said that Xena released the pinch on the bandit and gave him a blow on the head making him unconscious.
The three bandits were running in woods as fast as they just could, knowing the very angry, very very lethal Warrior Princess was hot on their trail.
"Can you see her anywhere?", one of them asked the others.
"No, I think we lost her…", another said while looking nervously around to see that Xena was nowhere close.
”You idiot, do you really think we could have escaped from Xena, Destroyer of Nations, a fierce warrior? No, we are still far from the harbour and too close to Xena. I knew attacking her and her friend was a very bad idea. But if we succeed we'll be rewarded handsomely", the bandit that was carrying Gabrielle on his shoulder said.
They continued their way to the harbour and the slave ships, walking one behind the other, looking around to see if it was safe from Xena. Suddenly the last one in the line gave a small yelp and fell to the ground silently; his fellow bandits didn't notice him missing. He was hit in the back with a battle axe, and while taking his last breathe he could sense a mysterious figure walking beside him a pulling the weapon from his back. That was the last thing he would ever feel.
About a quarter candle mark later his companions noticed that they had lost
their bandit brother.
”Xena must have got him, I can feel it", the other said shaking in fear.
”No, if it were Xena, we wouldn't be here right now, something else must have happened to him. Let's get going, the longer we stop and wait, we will more likely end up facing the Warrior Princess", the other, more bolder said and lifted Gabrielle on to his other shoulder. His fearful companion nodded, gave a small laugh and started walking after his "boss"
"Yeah, I guess you're right, as long as we continue, we'll be… ARGH!"
He fell instantly to the ground, dead as a stone. The last remaining bandit dropped
Gabrielle, and drew his knife saying:
”Ok, who ever you are, come out and fight. Warrior Princess, if it is you, I suggest you give yourself up, or your friend will be soon heading on to meet Hades…" He was looking at the still unconscious Gabrielle with his knife closing in on her throat. Then he looked at his dead companion and saw the knife sticking out of the back of his neck. He heard a sound behind him, like someone had jumped down from the trees. He gave this mysterious character a glance and said with amaze: " You?!?"
The character, much smaller than he was looked back at the bandit and whispered:
" You lose", then with a quick move from the small battle axe the bandit's throat was slit open and the last bandit was no more. The figure wiped the bloody blade on the bandit's shirt and turned to look at Gabrielle who was waking up.
She had quite a headache and at first she couldn't see very well. With a small fear in her heart, she said: " Who? Where? Am I…?"
Then she snapped out of her feeling and could see the mysterious figure standing by her side and saw the figure looking deep into her eyes.
The figure was a young female, with short light brown, slightly blond hair, a single earring in her right ear. She was wearing a dark, blackish brown short-sleeve shirt,
with very dark green pants ending at her knees and black leather boots and black kneepads. On her wrists she had leather wrist guards, a bit similar to Xena's, but not as wide. She was holding a battle axe in one hand, the other was hanging on her left side in a scabbard and in one of her boots Gabrielle could see a knife, there was a place for another knife in the other boot, but the other must have been just in use.
Gabrielle realized immediately that the figure was a warrior, a fairly young one, but still she had a feeling inside that the this figure was more than you could see from the outside.
Her appearance was very boyish, nearly no traces of womanhood showed on this young woman. Only after looking again into the young woman's eyes Gabrielle felt suddenly warm inside. Her eyes! The other halves were blue, the same icy blue that Xena's eyes were! But the other halves were the exact same shade of emerald green that her eyes were.
"Could this be possible?", she thought to herself, then had the courage to say: "Who are you? Did you take out these bandits?" First the warrior just stared at her, then gave a very kind, warm smile and said:
"Shh…It's okay. You are safe now, yes I did take these worthless pieces of scum."
"Thank you. You're a warrior, but you're so young", Gabrielle said gratefully.
"Yeah, I get that often. My mentor taught me that courage and love
come from the heart. It doesn't consider what age you are", the young warrior said
"Let me look at your head, you got a nasty blow on it, how does it feel?"
Gabrielle was amazed of the warrior's behaviour, a warrior and a healer, what next?
"It hurts a bit, but I think I'll be fine, thanks."
"You should lay there for a bit, if you get up too soon and too fast, you might be very dizzy and confused. Don't worry I'll be here in case something happens."
"You remind me so much about someone I know. What is your name? I'd like to know the name of the one who saved me."
Gabrielle felt that she could trust this strange warrior, and her eyes…
Looking into them and hearing her words, it was like Xena would have been there
"My name is Exl", said the young one while treating Gabrielle's head wound.
"Exl, huh, not a very usual name. Are you around here?", Gabrielle asked.
"No, definitely not. I'm from the far north", Exl answered smirking at Gabrielle's question.
"How far north? From the land of the Germens or the land of the Valkyries?", Gabrielle responded quickly with her knowledge of geography.
"No, no. more far north. I don't know what you call our country around here, but we ourselves call it Finlandia." Gabrielle was feeling ignorant.
"I've never heard of place like that. The land most far north I know is the land of the Valkyries."
"Yeah, I hear that often too. My country is very beautiful, in the winters we have very much snow and in the summers it is similar to here in Greece ."
"Wow that sounds very beautiful. Why are you here and not back home?", Gabrielle asked in her usual way, when learning to know new people.
"I wanted to meet new people, to see the world, and to learn new skills. And I ran from something", Exl said looking around her.
“How can speak our language? I believe Greek isn't your native language?”, Gabrielle asked realizing that Exl could in fact speak Greek.
“I learned different languages when I was very young, it is usual that children in our nation are taught to master quite many languages in addition to our own.”
Gabrielle thought these people must be advanced, in Greece mainly scholars and bards learned many languages.
Not far from Gabrielle and her mysterious saviour, Xena noticed the first dead bandit
and quickly inspected his body.
"A battle axe, but not from around here… If who did this has hurt one hair on Gabrielle, I will…", Xena said to herself then she heard the sound of two people talking. "Gabrielle…", she said in relief, she now knew her partner was still alive. Xena leaped up and climbed into the trees and started approaching the voices in hiding just in case that the other bandits were still holding Gabrielle captive. Then she saw the bodies of the other two bandits and after that she saw Gabrielle laying on the ground, with a small figure crouching over her. Xena stayed still, ready to attack and save her friend.
"But enough about me, will you tell me your name?", Exl finally asked Gabrielle, after seeing that the bard's wounds were treated.
"My name is Gabrielle, I am a bard, and an Amazon Queen. Faithful companion of… ", Gabrielle said with pride, but was interrupted by Exl's quick reflexes. She drew her knife from her boot and said with a deep sound of honour:
"Queen? Your highness, as a humble warrior, let me present my knife to you to serve you as a sign of respect to your throne and my life to fight in your name." Exl showed Gabrielle her knife and bowed her head in front of the very amazed Queen of the Amazons.
"Exl no, you are not an Amazon, I can't let you give your life in protecting and serving me. Please raise your head and look at me", Gabrielle said admiring Exl's respect for royalty. She already had one warrior giving her life for hers, there is no way
Gabrielle would endanger this young woman's future. She lifted the warrior's head and
just looked into the beautiful eyes that made her feel very safe.
"I want you to know that I am forever grateful for saving my life from these bandits, I want to be your friend."
"If that is your wish, I will grant it…", Exl smiled and noticed this Queen was a very unusual one.
"Wait a minute, you are GABRIELLE! The Battling Bard, Amazon Queen and travel companion of the great… "
She couldn't finish her sentence, when she heard the war cry of the infamous Warrior Princess. Xena had been startled by Exl's amazement of Gabrielle's identity and the pulling out of Exl's knife at Gabrielle, that she decided now was the time to kick ass and ask questions later.
"Xena!", Gabrielle shouted noticing her companion " dropping by" and placing herself between Gabrielle and Exl.
"Xena…", Exl said with great amazement and looked at the tall, dark and dangerous woman in front of her. Suddenly she could feel that breathing was hard, because Xena had grabbed her by the shirt and lifting her in the air nearly strangling her. Exl was
very scared for a while looking at Xena who was furiously looking at her with so much anger.
"Xena! Stop it!", Gabrielle shouted quite shocked at Xena for
doing something like this.
"Gabrielle, are you okay? If you aren't, this little one will wish, that she would have never been born…", Xena said looking to see if Gabrielle was badly injured, thinking what she would do to Exl, had she harmed her bard in anyway.
"NO! Xena, please! She helped me! I am fine. She's just a kid, let her go! NOW!" Gabrielle feared that Xena would do something very stupid not knowing what really had happened. Xena took her eyes of Exl and looked at Gabrielle, seeing she was almost in tears. Not that she was hurt, but that she was scared that Xena would harm this young one.
Then looking back at Exl, she noticed her eyes. The same blue-green eyes Gabrielle
had looked into and seen a good, kind person. Xena snapped out of her mode of rage and finally understood, this was just a kid. Why would she have hurt Gabrielle and then
stayed by her side? She put Exl quickly down, letting her breathe freely and then ran
to Gabrielle, grabbing her into her strong arms and rocking her saying:
"Oh Gabrielle, I was so worried about you, I'm sorry I scared you. I really don't know what got into me."
"Xena, I am really quite alright. I got some help. From her, Exl saved me." Gabrielle stopped crying and put her forehead against Xena's, and when they looked into each other's eyes they both knew everything was truly okay. Xena gave Gabrielle a kiss of the forehead and rose up. She walked up to Exl, who was still startled at Xena's previous
actions, then Xena gave Exl her hand and a little smile. Right away, Exl knew that
a smile from the fierce warrior had to be a good sign. She grasped Xena's arm and was pulled to her feet to see that the woman in front of her cared very much for the bard.
"Thank you. For saving Gabrielle. You're a warrior, huh? You're quite young for a warrior", Xena said looking at the smaller warrior from head to toe.
"I get that often. It was my honour and duty", Exl said smiling back at Xena.
"You're not from around here, I can tell from your behaviour and especially from your weapons." Xena looked at Exl's axes and gave her hand out to take a closer look at the interesting weapons. Exl gave Xena one of her axes to examine.
"Xena, she's from a place called Finlandia, way up north. Farter north than the land of the Valkyries", Gabrielle said to her partner rising from the ground to stand beside the tall warrior.
"I see, nice piece of weaponry. You took out those bandits skilfully. I can see that you are well trained. Around here the only young women who get a good combat training are the Amazons and their weaponry is nothing like this." Xena spoke as if she as a total expert in the matter of women warriors.
"Yes, I've noticed that girls like me are not looked good at. I faced this same group of bandits before, trying to take me as a servant, but noticing I could fight they changed their minds and wanted me as their personal punching bag and practice target. But I convinced them otherwise. I had a good fight with them, I nearly got pinned, but I handled the situation in the end", Exl said looking the bodies of the once ruthless bandits.
"When I saw they had taken Gabrielle as prisoner, I knew I couldn't let them get away with it. I followed you and decided that taking them out one by one, I'd increase my odds of winning. Then I had to take care of Gabrielle's head wound and to make sure she wasn't badly injured."
"So you're a healer too, what else?" Xena said looking at Gabrielle noting that she had noticed the same as Gabrielle before.
Xena walked over to one of bandits and took Exl's knife from the corpse and threw it to the tree close to Exl to see how good a weapon it was. Exl barely noticed her knife flying past her, one moment it was in Xena's hand and the next, in the tree right behind her. Exl walked to Xena, took her other knife from her boot and threw it right next to the knife Xena had thrown, although not as fast as Xena. Xena nodded approvingly and said: “Well done. You're good.“ Exl walked to the tree and said while reaching out for her knives that were just out of hand's reach:
"Yeah, I have learned all kinds of things. You could say that I have many… AAAHH!!" Reaching for her knives she felt a sharp, burning bolt of pain in her left shoulder blade and shoulder that made her sink onto her knees screaming in pain.
"Exl!" Gabrielle shouted and ran to her friend who was lying on the ground. Xena was by Exl's side as fast as Gabrielle.
"What is it? Where does it hurt?", Xena asked trying to calm the young warrior in her moments of extreme pain.
"It's… it's my left shoulder blade… It hurts so much…", Exl tried to calm herself but the pain was so intense she couldn't think straight.
"I… I told you I had a good fight, but I was… taken by surprise and the big guy got me in the… shoulder with his club…" Exl had calmed down a bit but if Gabrielle wouldn't have held her head she probably would have hurt herself badly squirming from the pain. "When did this happen?", Gabrielle asked knowing that Xena would have asked that question eventually.
"Two days ago, at first it didn't feel that bad, but at nights the pain has been so bad I haven't been able to sleep", Exl said with tears of pain gathering in her eyes. Xena looked deep into Exl's eyes to see she was in very much pain and in a calming voice she said:
"Exl, listen. I'm going to use pressure points to take away the feeling and pain for a moment, so I can examine the injury. But only for a moment. Are you ready?" Xena told Gabrielle to hold Exl still while she would examine her.
Then she pressed the pressure points on Exl's neck and shoulder. The pain was gone, Exl felt relieved and sighed. Gabrielle and Xena turned Exl carefully to her side and Xena used her knife to rip the shirt slightly open to take a look at the injury. It was a very dark purple and blue bruise the size of at least a chakram. It had a small cuts all over it, but the thing that was most noticeable was the slash that had to have come from a direct hit from a club. It was still slightly bleeding and when Xena pressed at the base of wound she could feel the bones been fractured.
"Okay. It's done. I'm going to put the feeling back, it will be very painful but that's the only way. Ready?" Xena gave Gabrielle the "hold on very tight" face and pressed the pressure points to give the feeling back. Exl knew the pain would be intense, she tried not to scream from the pain, but the moment the feeling came back she screamed like being set on fire. She felt like she was going to pass out, but tried to keep her ground as well as she could. Xena stood up and took a few steps from the injured warrior. Gabrielle followed her friend‘s actions.
"Well Xena? Is it bad?" Gabrielle asked taking Xena's hand and then looked at the painful young warrior.
"It's not good, the shoulder blade is fractured, and the back is very badly bruised. Reaching out for the knives must have been the final strike, the fracture couldn't take it anymore. I'm surprised she has been able to stand the pain for so long. She needs to see a healer, and fast."
"Xena, you are a great healer, can't you do anything to help her?"
Gabrielle asked very concerned about the young warrior's situation.
"Of course I can and I will, but it won't help for long. The ointments and herbs we have aren't going to be enough to help her. I can only ease the pain momentarily. Don't worry she'll be fine." Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then at Exl and back at each other. Gabrielle smiled at Xena and went to see how Exl was feeling. They had been travelling together for long and met all kinds of people, but never had Xena met anyone (besides herself) that Gabrielle so worried about. It was as if Xena herself had got
hurt and Gabrielle was worried about her well-being. There was something about this warrior that Xena just couldn't figure out. It was as if there was some sort of connection between her and Exl and Gabrielle and Exl. Xena kneeled beside Exl who was seated against a tree with Gabrielle sitting by her side.
"Exl, we need to get you to a healer, your wound is quite bad, I'll do what I can to help, but you still need to see a healer as soon as possible.” Exl turned to Xena, looking very exhausted and said with a tired and heavy-hearted voice:
"Thank you Xena, do you know where I could find the nearest healer, I have to get going…" Exl tried to get up, but as soon as she tried to stand up, she felt another sharp pain in her shoulder and had to sit down.
"You can't leave in that condition, and especially NOT alone. Gabrielle and I will come with you." Xena put her hand on Exl's forearm and gave a smile at her partner who suddenly turned her look from Exl to Xena.
"We will?”. Gabrielle said perplexed. Seeing Xena's friendly smile she knew her partner was telling the truth. She continued:
“I mean of course we will."
"That settles it, tomorrow we will go to the Amazon village and let Nalasha care for you", Xena said to Exl looking at Gabrielle.
"Xena, are you sure that this is a good idea?". Gabrielle was still a bit startled at Xena's words. Xena smiled and nodded. Gabrielle loved that smile and that woman behind the smile. Exl felt that this was a very extraordinary duo.
So the threesome set up camp and Xena went to hunt for some rabbits, and after catching a few she decided to go on a small walk to see if any bandits or others had followed them, and to go and find Argo where she had left her. Gabrielle put the rabbits over the fire to start slowly cooking. The only Exl had been able to do was get her belongings from her last campsite nearby, but carrying them was hard so Gabrielle gave her a hand. Then Gabrielle rolled out the bedrolls and had to keep Exl from doing anything else and keeping her at rest. She thought to herself:
"Great, now I have TWO stubborn, strong, courageous warriors to look after and take care of, how did I get so lucky…"
"Gabrielle please let me help. I'm feeling much better." Exl tried to get up and help the bard, but was immediately pushed back down to her resting place by Gabrielle.
"No, my young friend, Xena's orders were not to let you do anything, she'll have my hide if she finds you up and about. You really need to take it easy and rest."
"Gabrielle, why are you and Xena helping me like this? I am a complete stranger to you both and still you're going to take me to see a healer." Exl was baffled by the actions of the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen.
"Well, I could ask you the same question. Why did you save my life, you didn't even know me when you saved me? You could have just left me, but you didn't. You basically risked your life to save mine." Gabrielle smiled and took hold of Exl‘s forearm.
"Because my mentor always taught me to be unselfish, to help and serve others before thinking of myself and my own well-being."
"Your mentor sounds like a very wise and caring person", Gabrielle said after hearing about this mentor for the second time.
"Yes he was. He was my grandfather, he was my hero, my inspiration to be best I can be. I respected him and loved him very much, more than my own life. I would have done anything for him. Before he passed away some while ago, he told me that the day I was born, the wise man of our village had foreseen that my destiny had something to do with joining two great and noble people, and help them achieve great things. I've been told I even have something in me that is somehow connected to these two people, but what it is, I don't know. I have never understood the true meaning of this all. One reason
I left my home and my village was to find out what the prophecy is really about. My grandfather always told me that somehow I'd know what my destiny is. When I was attacked by the bandits and then after beating them, I knew they wouldn't stop. I had to make sure they wouldn't harm anyone else. Somehow it felt like it might be part of my destiny. When I saw you captured, something inside me snapped and I knew I had to help."
Exl spoke with great words of wisdom and care. Gabrielle was thinking that Exl had even a bit of a poetic side in her. She looked deep into the multicolor eyes of the young warrior, and it gave her courage to say what she about to say.
"Exl, to tell you the truth, I have been travelling with Xena for a while and I have been captured by bandits, fought gods and creatures and done things beyond many people's imagination. But before our encounter with those bandits, Xena and I had a conversation that made me really worried. When you saved my life and when you offered me your knife to serve me, it made me feel weird inside, it made me feel safe. Like when Xena saved me back when she did, I felt the same as now. I… I…" Exl interrupted the baffled bard:
"You love her, very very much. I noticed it the moment Xena was holding my life in her hands, literally. I saw the anger and rage in her, but somewhere deep down, I knew she felt like that because she was very worried about you. She cares about you and loves you so much. When you told her you were okay, her eyes filled with relief, happiness and with great love. And the way you look at each other… It can only be described by love." Exl took Gabrielle's hand put gave it a small rub.
"Is it so obvious? Are my true feelings toward Xena so visible, even Exl could see it?", Gabrielle thought to herself.
"I noticed how you both look into my eyes the same way, so I knew there had to be something special about them. Then I noticed the colors of your eyes. Then I figured it out." Exl looked into Gabrielle's eyes and saw how looking into Exl's eyes made Gabrielle feel so safe and calm.
"You and Xena must be the two people I am supposed to help join and then we're supposed to achieve something great… No, it can't be… You two already met a long time ago, you don't need me to help you joined, you've been together for ages. Unless…" Exl's face got brighter and Gabrielle could feel it inside her. She spoke with a surprised voice:
"Unless, Xena and I are supposed to be joined together as one, to be… MARRIED!?!"
"Yes, that is the same conclusion I came to. I have the same colors of your eyes in mine, which could be connection between me and you two the prophecy speaks of. But if you don't want to be married with Xena…", Exl looked at Gabrielle who looked like she had been hit again in the head.
"Of course I DO! I've thought about it before, but not this seriously…", Gabrielle answered quickly, startling Exl a bit with her quick answer.
"But I can't marry Xena…"
"Why can't you? You love her, that's all that truly matters." Exl couldn't understand why this bard couldn't marry the woman of her life.
"Exl, my life has been in danger for numerous times before, but when I was captured by those bandits, I could have seriously lost my life. Then you came and saved me.
I am forever thankful for you for saving me. I owe you my life." Gabrielle felt sad inside, knowing she had to repay Exl somehow. She couldn't marry Xena and give Xena her life, heart and soul when she owed her life to someone else.
"No Gabrielle. You can not owe me your life, because I know that there is someone who already has possession of your life, your heart and your soul. They all belong to Xena, you know they do." Exl held Gabrielle's hand and then placed it to Gabrielle's chest and left it there.
"Can you feel it? When you even think of Xena, your heart just goes wild. You two are made for each other." Gabrielle felt a tear falling on her cheek, but Exl wiped it away the instant it touched her cheek. Exl stared into the fire.
"Gabrielle, there is one way you can pay your so-called debt to me for saving your life. I'm not sure if I'm going to make it, so please promise me…" Gabrielle interrupted:
"You are going to make it, just like Xena said. You're going to be okay." Exl continued:
"I have a feeling in my heart that says otherwise. Just please listen, if I don't make it, promise me you'll take care of Xena, and love her until the very end. You do love her, don't you Gabrielle??" Gabrielle saw that Exl really meant what she said.
" I… I promise. Yes I do, I love her so much. I've never felt like this before."
"The way I've seen things, Xena loves you just as much you love her, maybe even more. It makes me happy to see you two together. You are meant to be with each other", Exl looked at Gabrielle knowing that her words are entirely true. Gabrielle shook her head and looked into the fire.
"Now after talking to you, I finally realize Xena is the one I love most in the entire world." She had to sit down and think.
"I love Xena so much, I never want to leave her", she thought and then looked at Exl to see she was looking at a pendant she was holding. Exl must have been wearing the pendant all along but it hadn't been visible for others to see.
Exl could sense Gabrielle was looking at her, she turned to Gabrielle, gave a little smile, then her face went very serious and she started telling about her past.
"This reminds me of my friends, Teme and Caetim. They had always been madly in love with each other. Before I left home they were supposed to be married, joined together. I was to be their Guardian…" Exl turned her eyes to look at her pendant.
"Guardian? What do you mean?", Gabrielle asked also looking at the pendant. Exl looked at the pendant and quickly turned to look at Gabrielle.
"Oh, sorry, I forget that you don't know about our customs and traditions. Back home when a couple is married, joined as one, they are appointed a Guardian. When we were still kids, Caetim asked me to become her Guardian the day she would get married. It's an honour be a Guardian to someone you really care for. A person who is a loyal friend, someone who respects, honours, loves and cherishes the couple and their love to one another, is to become their Guardian. He or she will be the Guardian of their love, the Guardian of their hopes and dreams, the Guardian of their lives. If they had problems, their Guardian would be there for them. If they got into an argument, their Guardian would help solve their differences. If they'd get sick, it is the Guardian's duty to help care for them. And if things turn bad, if one or the other would be seriously injured or would die, the Guardian is to protect and care for the one left, until the day the couple would be rejoined in the Elysian Fields, as you call it, or until the Guardian him- or herself would die. Then the Guardian's duties toward the couple were over. And the Guardian would wear a pendant like this, with markings on both sides representing the people who he or she was guarding. I know it sounds quite awkward…" Exl turned her head from Gabrielle's and held on tightly to the pendant.
"No, that sounds very beautiful. So what happened to your friends?", Gabrielle released Exl's grip of the pendant to take her hand.
"Well, a few days before their wedding day, Caetim caught a very high fever. The village healer said there was nothing to do to save her. Everyone was devastated, especially Teme. He wanted to get married before Caetim departed this life, but Caetim refused to get married, because she didn't want to be wed with great haste and then leave Teme. A day before the wedding day, Caetim called me to come see her. She gave me this pendant I was supposed to receive at the wedding ceremony. She asked me to take care of Teme, I gave her my word, and then she passed away in my arms. When Teme found out, he just looked at me and left without saying a word. I went looking for
him right away with some friends. We found him the next day." Gabrielle was interested about this story and wanted to hear the rest.
"Was he okay? What happened?" Exl shook her head and tears were beginning to form in her eyes.
"No, he wasn't okay. We found him in Lonely Man's Gorge. He had thrown himself of the cliff. The reason it's called Lonely Man's Gorge is because for decades, possibly even centuries, people that have been widowed or left alone for other reasons have thrown themselves of that cliff to be finally rejoined with their loved ones." Then a few tears fell onto Exl‘s cheeks.
"I failed them both, I would have been an awful Guardian. I gave Caetim my word to take care of Teme, and the next day he had taken his own life…" Exl got frustrated and just ripped the pendant of her neck, leaving nearly bleeding marks on her neck, throwing the pendant on the ground.
"No Exl, you did exactly like you said a true Guardian would do. After Caetim died, you did your best in taking care of Teme, looking for him when he went missing, and when he passed away, to be rejoined with Caetim your duty as their unofficial Guardian was over. I think you did just the right thing." Gabrielle took the pendant of the ground and gave it back to Exl.
"I guess you're right, thank you for making me realize this. I‘ve blamed myself all this time." Exl grabbed Gabrielle to give her a big hug. Gabrielle tried to be careful while hugging Exl, not to touch her hurt shoulder.
"Thank YOU, for making me realize how much I love Xena."
"I hope you two would be joined together someday, and that I would be able to see it. I would be deeply honoured to be at your ceremony", Exl winked at Gabrielle and gave the bard a small tuck on the shoulder.
"Exl, if you're not there, you'll truly see the power of a very angry Amazon Queen." The two started laughing not noticing Xena emerging from woods with Argo.
"The coast is clear, we're safe here for tonight. What's so funny you two?", Xena asked while grabbing the herb pouch from Argo's saddle bags.
"Xena…", Gabrielle stopped laughing the moment she noticed her companion and just ran to give her a hug.
"Whoa Gabrielle, I wasn't gone for that long. Has something happened, are you okay, is Exl okay?", Xena got startled by her friend's sudden act of affection. Exl gave Xena a nod signalling everything was just fine.
"Xena, can I talk to you? I have something important to talk to you about, in private." Gabrielle took Xena's hand and gave it a light squeeze. Xena looked at the lovely bard and said:
"Of course Gabrielle, I'll just give Exl this medicine. You go on ahead, I'll be right behind you." Xena put her other hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, looked at the bard and then after Gabrielle had disappeared into the woods she walked to Exl.
"Hey, how are you feeling?", Exl moved a bit to sit up more straight and smiled.
"Actually I feel quite well, I think the swelling has gone down quite a bit and moving doesn't hurt that much."
"Well you're still not allowed to move much until tomorrow, until we get to the Amazon village. I want you to get there in one piece. So does Gabrielle and so do you, I believe." Xena looked at Exl's wound and saw it had truly got a bit better than it was in the first place.
"Xena, thank you for helping me. I can't believe you're actually doing this", Exl looked at Xena, and when Xena turned to look at Exl, their eyes met instantly.
"I'm the one who should be thanking you, you saved Gabrielle's life. I am forever grateful that you saved her, how can I ever repay you for putting Gabrielle's life before your own. That takes a lot of courage, or a lot of stupidity", Xena said smirking a bit.
"Or a lot of love, if you had done the same thing", Exl said.
"I already talked about this with Gabrielle, I told her there is a way to "pay her debt".”
“What is it?” Xena asked a little distressed what Exl might have come up with.
“She has to take care of you and love you forever. She accepted it. I know how much you love Gabrielle, don't try to deny it." Looking into the eyes her love had been looking before, Xena felt like sinking into the blue-green eyes.
" Your eyes, they have the same green Gabrielle has and the blue I have in my eyes. Those green eyes were one of the reasons why I fell in love with Gabrielle. She always sees the best in people, in you and in me. She accepts me the way I am. Around her I can just be myself. When I thought I would never see those emerald eyes again, I was so afraid. I'm sorry I hurt you before, my fear and hate just took over me and I thought you might harm her…" Xena bowed her head in shame, but Exl lifted Xena's chin and said: "Everything is okay, please, take care of Gabrielle. She loves you very much, she told me so."
"She does??" Xena couldn't believe her ears.
"Yes, and she didn't have to tell me, I could see it from her." Xena smiled, holding Exl ' s hand she said:
“I really think what Gabrielle said about your friends was true. You did your best." Xena looked at Exl's pendant that was in Exl's other hand.
"You… you heard it?", Exl asked very surprised.
"Yes, sorry I eavesdropped on you, I heard you talking and just had to know what you were talking about." Xena blushed slightly.
“How much did you hear? "
"Just the story about your two friends, that ' s all. I don't have the habit of listening to other people's private conversations."
"You also think I did my best? And you don't think our tradition is stupid or peculiar?" "Yes, I have also lost dear friends, so I know what it is to lose someone you really care about. I think your tradition shows a great deal of honour and love. We should have a tradition like that around here. While I was taking my walk and then listening to your story, I realized that Gabrielle is the reason I live. If I would lose her, I don't think I could ever survive…"
Before Xena could say anything more, Exl brushed her hand on Xena's cheek and smiled. Looking at the very touched Warrior Princess she said:
"Xena, go to her. Show her how much you love her." Xena snapped out of her thoughts and remembered the medicine she was supposed to give Exl.
"I nearly forgot, take this. It has different kinds of herbs for different things. Some help the swelling go down, some to help the bruise to start healing and most of all to help you fall asleep and give you a good night's sleep."
"Xena, go. Good night." Exl took the medicine from Xena and gave the Warrior Princess the "you would better go before I make you go" -look. Xena could see that the young warrior wanted her to get to her bard as fast as possible.
Exl gave Xena a salute where she held her enclosed right fist to her heart and bowed her head for Xena. Xena had never seen a salute like that before, but she felt that it was a signal of honour and friendship.
Gabrielle had time to think about what she would say to Xena when she would finally have the warrior for herself. She felt nervous, her thoughts just racing around in her head. But she knew that her words will come from her heart and they would be full of love. A smooth voice said behind the bard:
"Hey you. Dinar for your thoughts." Hearing the warrior's soft voice made Gabrielle's heart jump up her throat. Not saying a word, Gabrielle just jumped to wrap her arms around Xena's neck. She looked into the ice blue eyes she always could melt into and gave the warrior a long kiss.
"I like that thought…", Xena replied after getting loose of the bard's warm kiss.
"We have to talk", Gabrielle took her arms from Xena's neck and took Xena's hands in hers.
"Yes, we do", Xena said.
"Do you want go first?" she asked the bard.
"Well, you go first, if I remember correctly, you had something to say in the morning." Xena had an idea:
"I know, let's both say what we have to say at the same time." Gabrielle smiled:
"Fine with me." Xena smiled back at the bard.
"Good, on three. One, two, three."
"I love you, will you marry me?" They both asked the same question, and realizing what the other had said they just looked at each other not saying a word. Anything could have happened around them and they wouldn't have noticed it.
"Gabrielle…" They both said with great amazement.
"Yes, I love you so much", Xena finally had the courage to say.
"Yes, I love you too", Gabrielle said with her green eyes filling with tears. Xena just grabbed her bard into her arms and held her thinking she was the luckiest woman on earth. Then she took Gabrielle's face in her hands and gave the small bard a kiss on both cheeks, on her forehead and finally a long kiss on the lips. Then she wiped the tears from Gabrielle's eyes and cheeks. She never wanted to leave this beautiful woman ever again. This was truly the woman of her life. Gabrielle said:
“Oh Xena, I'm so happy. But still the thing we talked about this morning keeps haunting in my mind. What it something happens to either of us…?”
Xena brushed Gabrielle's cheeks with the back of her palm.
"Well, I guess we need a Guardian…" Gabrielle shook her head and asked:
"You… you heard the story of Exl's friends? She was very upset when she told me about them. I feel sorry for her, she really thought she had failed them. But it wasn't her fault." "Yes I heard it. No it wasn't her fault. I think the idea of a Guardian is great. The Guardian is there to look after the one if something would happen to the other. So even when we travel around, there is someone to look after us both. What do you think, my love?" Xena held Gabrielle by her side and stroked the blond hair of her beloved bard.
"I think having a Guardian would be a wonderful idea. So my dear warrior, do you have someone special in mind to be our Guardian?" Gabrielle began to kiss Xena's neck and run her fingers through the warrior's raven hair.
"Well, I guess you do…", Xena answered while running her hands up and
down the bard's back. Gabrielle continued kissing her companion, moving up to the face of the tall warrior.
"Well, I know a certain young warrior, whose destiny is to join two great and noble people and then help them achieve great things.
AND that this warrior has some connection to the people that this warrior is to help join. Let's say… the same beautiful blue and green eyes a certain Warrior Princess and a certain Amazon Queen have…" Then Gabrielle just stopped kissing Xena and began to look into those beautiful eyes she could never get tired of. Xena looked deep into the emerald eyes that had so much love in them, knowing exactly who Gabrielle was talking about.
" That's Exl's destiny? To help us join and then… achieve great things with us?", Xena asked. Gabrielle nodded.
"Yes, that's what she told me. It's been prophesied, it has to be true. If I hadn't talked with her, I would have never had the courage to ask you to marry me… And her eyes, Xena, you've seen them…"
"Yes I have. She also gave me some courage and talked sense into me, so I could ask you to marry me." Xena could only smile.
"Do you think she'll agree? After what happened to Teme and Caetim?", Gabrielle asked and turned to look towards the campsite.
"I'm sure she will. I have my ways of persuading her if she refuses…" Xena gave a mischievous grin.
"Xena, you're not going to harm her. Promise me." For a moment Gabrielle thought Xena might use her many skills in forcing Exl to become their Guardian.
"Have you noticed that she has many of our features? She's a warrior and a healer, but she also has a poetic, bardic side. She is as stubborn as you, and as caring about others as me." Gabrielle winked, knowing Xena knew what she meant.
"Yeah, I've noticed. And if we're lucky, she'll have your appetite and my gift of sleep", Xena tried to be her amusing self.
"Hahah, Warrior Princess… very funny." Gabrielle gave Xena a bit of a push.
"But what about her injury? If she doesn't make it? We really have to get to Amazonia and fast." Gabrielle really was concerned about their young friend.
"The medicine I gave her will help her for tonight. We're not far from Amazonia; we'll be there in no time tomorrow. She just needs to rest now", Xena reassured her beloved bard not to worry too much.
"Let's get back. We also need a good night's rest." When they returned to the camp, they found Exl sound asleep; thanks to medicine she had taken. They looked at the young warrior and smiled. It was like watching a child sleep, a child of their own. They knew that the moment this young one came in their lives was the best thing that had ever happened to them after they had met. They gave each other a kiss and then lied onto their bedrolls wrapped in each other's arms as they had done before, but now it was more about love than anything else.
End of part 1
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