Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance Pictures.

Part 18 of the Guardian Series

 When Hearts Collide      

It was time for the first anniversary of the reign of Queen Nali, and Exl and her family had once again traveled to Finlandia and were on their way to Exl’s home village for the big celebrations.

Before arriving at the village, Exl wanted to make a detour and said it would mean a lot to her. They walked to a wonderful meadow, filled with beautiful, colorful flowers nearly as far as the eye could see. While Gabrielle and Xena wondered at the amazing view, Exl stopped to pick a bouquet of flowers. After she had finished the bouquet, she told the others that they could get going. But they still weren’t heading towards the village, because Exl had another stop to make.

            The family arrived at a graveyard and before Gabrielle or Xena could ask anything, Exl had stopped at a beautiful headstone. She kneeled down on one knee, placed the bouquet in front of the headstone and with a light and careful touch, brushed its surface with her fingertips. Xena and Gabrielle understood at once that this had to be the grave of someone meaningful to Exl, so they also wanted to pay their respects with a moment of silence. Exl stood up and said with a faint sigh:

“I really wanted to come here, because last year, we didn’t make it on time and I didn’t want to miss it again.” Her friends looked at her with a pondering expression, but also a compassionate one.

“Today is Teme’s birthday and tomorrow is Caetim’s. We always said that that was just one of the many details which made them so special and why they really were meant for each other.”

Gabrielle took a glance at Xena and the tall warrior looked back at her wife, before looking back at their Guardian, who continued:

“Last year we arrived just a couple days later and I didn’t get a chance to visit my dear old friends. Now that we had the time, I had to make sure I’d bring them some flowers. Blue cornflowers, Teme’s favorite flowers and blue wood violets were always Caetim’s favorite.”

“What about those small blue ones, there’s only one of them in the bouquet?” Xena asked, having noticed the flowers Exl had picked.

“It’s the forget-me-not. That’s my favorite”, Exl said, glancing at her bouquet.

“All three symbolize love, loyalty and protection. They were supposed to be Caetim’s wedding bouquet as well…” Xena and Gabrielle could both sense so much sadness in Exl, but they knew that in the afterlife, Caetim and Teme were together forever.

Gabrielle took a step closer to the headstone and tried to read the writing on it, but because she couldn’t understand Exl’s native language, she asked:

“Exl, what does it say, on the headstone? I can’t understand it.”

Exl turned to look at her family, because she didn’t even have to look at the writing to know the meaning of what was engraved on the stone.

“It says: “What love has brought together, may never be separated or torn apart, even by death.””

After leaving Caetim and Teme’s grave, the women only got a bit further when Gabrielle inquired:

“Exl, what about your grandfather? While we’re here, wouldn’t you want to visit him as well?”

Exl stopped for just a moment, before shaking her head and saying:

“He’s not buried here.” And then she just continued walking. Xena and Gabrielle had no idea what Exl had meant, but had learned to understand that just like everyone, Exl needed time and space before she was ready to tell about something difficult or what troubled her. Gabrielle turned around once more to look back at the young couple’s grave, when she saw a young figure with long silvery blond hair at the same grave and they appeared to leave a bouquet of their own. Gabrielle was about to say something when she realized Xena took hold of her hand and gave it a gentle tug.

“Come on, you guys, Nali must be waiting for our arrival”, Exl turned to say with a completely changed mood and her Couple was relieved to see her in a better mood.


The first thing they did after arriving was to see Nali, who indeed had been nervously waiting for their arrival. Exl reassured her cousin that they wouldn’t miss her celebration for anything in the world, and she personally really wanted to be there by Nali’s side for this.

Nali had a long list of things that needed to be done before the big day, but first she wanted Exl and her family to rest after their long journey.

After a good night’s rest, they were ready to get on with helping with the preparations. There were supplies which needed to be picked up, people to see and lots more.

On their way across the village, Gabrielle had a feeling that someone was watching them, but when she looked around them, she couldn’t see anyone who would’ve been looking at them.

When she turned around once more only moments later, she saw a young woman who took a very quick look at them before turning around and entering a shop.

The trio had always been efficient and great at getting things done together, so they had time to visit the local inn for a cold drink. As they were approaching the inn called The Vagabond and the Falcon, Gabrielle saw the same young woman as before, and this time she was clearly looking in their direction.

”Exl, who’s that girl who keeps staring at us? The one with long, silvery blond hair and amber colored eyes”, she asked their Loyal and when Exl herself noticed who Gabrielle was talking about, she froze for a moment. She hoped that no-one would’ve noticed the young woman who was looking at them with a cold gaze. But she couldn’t lie to her family, they deserved to know the whole truth.

“She’s the girl whose heart I broke”, Exl stated bluntly and both Gabrielle and Xena were extremely taken aback by Exl’s bold statement.

Soon they were sitting around a table at the inn and Exl was shedding some light on the identity of the mysterious young woman they had seen.

“Her name is Alera. She lives with her uncle Hegon who’s the best carpenter in the village and her aunt Ceára who works here at the inn. Her mother died in childbirth and her father is said to have disappeared one day without a trace. Her aunt and uncle’s house is the next house from my grandfather’s house where I used to live growing up.

We became friends at a very young age, we must’ve been 4 or 5 years old back then, but I can still remember that day. I was all by myself on my grandfather’s porch when she suddenly walked up to me and just smiled. I smiled back and after that day we were practically inseparable. Alera, Caetim, Teme, my cousins and I were always very close and we had so much fun growing up, even though sometimes we were caught doing a little mischief”, Exl told with a smile.

“She’s actually the girl who I defended when I punched that other kid and you both know what happened after that”, Exl continued, remembering how that event completely changed her life.

“You decided that you wanted to become a warrior, and you and your cousin Swyther started training with your grandfather as your mentor”, Xena remembered the story Exl had told.

“Exactly. And when others were afraid of how I changed, Alera never turned away from me. She always had my back and I always had hers. When I was training, Alera used to help her aunt here at the inn and sometimes even her uncle with his carpentry. Sometimes she would bring me something nice to eat after a long day of training or she’d save me something special if I stopped by at the inn.

While I grew up to be the warrior I am today, Alera grew up to be an amazingly beautiful young woman and it wasn’t surprising that basically all of the young men in the village tried to woo her. But what was surprising was that she turned down every suitor and none of them knew why. I thought it was because maybe she wanted to leave the village one day and find love somewhere else, but we never talked about it so I forgot about the matter”, Exl recalled.

“We had great times together and things couldn’t have been better. But everything changed when my grandfather died. The day he passed away, it felt like I lost a piece of myself. Alera tried to comfort and take care of me but I pushed her away because I hurt so much. She only tried to help me through the grief, but I was blinded by my sorrow.

Eventually I did apologize to her and she forgave me, saying that she most likely would have done the same if she had lost her aunt and uncle. I thought things would turn for the better, but I was mistaken once again”, Exl said unhappily.

“Why, what happened?” Gabrielle enquired.

Exl put her hand in the pouch on her side and took something out of it. It was her old Guardian pendant. Xena and Gabrielle knew exactly what Exl meant without her even having to say it aloud.

“After Caetim and Teme were gone, their families were furious at me. Even though my cousins said they would have my back, I knew I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t face the people who had lost their loved ones and who blamed me for everything. I blamed myself for what had happened even though I know now that I couldn’t have changed the way things went. I had to leave my village, my cousins, my friends or what was left of them.

So I figured that if I left during the night, I could leave in peace and that by the time anyone would notice that I was gone, I’d be far away. I had said my goodbyes to my cousins and was finishing my packing when something happened that I never would have expected. I was just about to leave when Alera was suddenly standing in front of me on the porch”, Exl narrated glumly.

The memory of that moment returned vividly into Exl’s mind, it was something she could never forget. She took her weapons, her bag and gear, and as she opened the front door to close it behind her for who knew how long, Alera was standing on the top most step and looking at Exl with an amazed look in her eyes.

“Alera, what are you doing here?” Exl asked, seeing her friend at her house at this time of the night.

“I could ask you the same thing. Exl, what are you doing with all your things in the middle of the night?” Alera enquired in return.

“I was hoping I could avoid questions like that”, Exl said, turning her gaze away for just a moment.

“What?” Alera didn’t understand what Exl meant with such an odd answer.

“Alera, I’m… leaving”, Exl managed to say even though the words nearly disappeared somewhere on the way.

“And you were going to leave without any explanations or even saying goodbye?” Alera was perplexed, how could Exl leave just like that.

“I didn’t want to, but I decided it was for the best”, Exl tried to explain briefly.

“But… why?” Alera couldn’t understand.

“Don’t say that you haven’t seen the disappointed looks in peoples’ eyes and heard what they’ve said about me”, was Exl’s defensive response.

“You mean what people are saying about what happened to Teme and Caetim? I don’t care what people say or think, Exl, it wasn’t your fault!” Alera raised her voice and walked right up to Exl.

“When I held Caetim in my arms just before she died I promised her that I’d look after Teme! And then we find his body in the bottom of the gorge! I couldn’t keep my promise, what kind of a Guardian would I have been?” Exl said with defeat and momentarily looking away from Alera.

“Exl, you and I both know you couldn’t have saved Caetim, she was too sick. And Teme was always so stubborn, no-one would’ve been able to change his mind except Caetim”, Alera tried reasoning with her crestfallen friend. Exl knew that Alera was right about this, like she was right about so many things, but the burden on her heart felt too heavy to let go.

“I… I have to go”, she said, and walked past Alera, but stopped before reaching the steps because Alera called out to her:

“Exl, you can’t leave”. Alera took a few steps closer to her determined warrior friend, who turned around to reply:

“Why? There’s nothing for me here. My grandfather is gone and so are the friends whose Guardian I was supposed to become. Their families despise me and never want to see me again. Why shouldn’t I leave?” Exl was waiting for an answer from her friend who was known for having an answer for any problem. But it wasn’t just an answer she got.

Alera put her hand on Exl’s shoulder and with one delicate motion she leaned in to kiss Exl. Not on the cheek, but a long, yearning kiss straight on the lips. Blood started racing in Exl’s ears and for a moment it was like she was completely stunned. When Alera pulled away from the kiss and Exl looked into her eyes without realizing what had happened, Alera whispered quietly:

“Because I love you.”

That’s when so many things suddenly made sense to Exl. Why Alera had always stood by her side no matter what everyone else had said. Why Alera had always smiled and looked at her with such a warm and loving gaze, a way she had never looked at anyone else. Why Alera had always turned down every suitor and never been even the slightest bit interested in any guy. It was all because Alera loved HER, she had always loved her. But Exl was a fool for not seeing it.

“You…” was all Exl managed to whisper in her state of complete amazement.

“Exl, I’ve wanted to tell you this for such a long time, but I never had the courage to say it. I’m sorry that I had to tell you at a time like this, but I can’t let you leave without you hearing how much you mean to me”, Alera explained urgently.

“Alera…” Exl didn’t know what to say, her mind was so confused she didn’t know whether this was real or not. She was silent for a long time and finally Alera said:

“Exl, please say something. Please.”

“I’m… I’m sorry”, was the only thing the warrior could say before lowering her gaze and turning away from her friend. Exl walked down the steps and continued walking without turning back to see how the tears began to flow down Alera’s cheeks as she was left standing alone on the porch of the empty house.

Exl told all of this to Xena and Gabrille, who listened carefully to every single word.

“Oh Exl”, Gabrielle said, gently lowering her hand on Exl’s clenched fist.

“You’ve always said that you never have many friends, but Alera sounds to have meant a lot to you. But you’ve never mentioned her before, why?” Gabrielle asked, puzzled.

“I never told you about her, because I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again and because I was fairly sure that Alera would never want to see me or speak to me again”, Exl admitted.

“But the truth is that I have never forgotten about her. Or what happened on the night I left.”

Not long after this, the trio noticed Alera appearing from the back of the inn, she had clearly come to work her shift. Exl hid her face in shame, she hadn’t realized that Alera could be working at the inn or that she would be there right at that moment. Gabrielle and Xena noticed this and looked at each other unsure of what to say. But then Gabrielle did ask:

“Exl, how can you be sure that she doesn’t want to speak to you?”

“I just do. I can feel it”, Exl said without lifting her gaze or her head.

“But you’ll never know if you won’t give it a shot”, Xena said very plain and simple. That comment made Exl look up and right at Alera who was busy working and interacting with patrons. Xena was right, she would never know if she didn’t even try, what did she have to lose?

Exl stood up, took a deep breath and started walking towards the young woman. Gabrielle was hopeful, she thought Exl was brave for taking the plunge and seeing where it would get her. Alera didn’t at first notice the approaching figure, but stopped in her tracks when she lifted her gaze and saw a familiar face just a few feet from her.

“Alera…” Exl said gently and felt the nervousness making her heart pound in her ears. Alera didn’t say or do anything, she just stared at Exl, before taking a step closer to her and giving Exl a hard slap on the left side of her face. The patrons around them seemed bewildered for a moment, and at their table, Gabrielle gasped at the sight. Alera seemed very upset and could only say one thing:

“Why did you come back?”, and immediately walked away.

Exl sighed with her eyes closed and turned back, while carefully feeling her painful cheek. When she got back to her family, Gabrielle got up to check Exl’s face, but Exl stopped her by reaching out her hand.

“I knew it, she hates me. Why did I think this could’ve gone any other way?” Exl said with a slight coarseness in her voice because she tried to keep herself from crying. Then, without saying anything else, she took several quick strides towards the door.

Gabrielle tried to go after her friend, but was stopped by Xena who had grabbed her forearm.

“Xena, what are you… Exl needs us”, she asked hastily. Xena held her grip and calmly explained to her bard:

“No, Gabrielle, Exl needs a moment for herself. She’ll let us know if and when she needs us, trust me.” Gabrielle turned to look at Xena and saw the warrior was right. Whatever Exl was going through, she had to do this on her own, no matter how much Gabrielle hated to see the pain and hurt in her young friend.


Exl did everything she could to control her emotions, because in some cases, very strong emotions brought out the part of her who just wanted to smash things to pieces, and this time she definitely didn’t want to start rampaging in the middle of the village.

Then she noticed that her feet had taken her to a familiar place, Hegon’s workshop. Hearing the familiar sounds of chopping coming for the back, Exl went to see the carpenter. Hegon was chopping wood and after finishing the last block of wood, he straightened his back and wiped his forehead.

“You still need to watch that back of yours, you’re not getting any younger”, Exl greeted Hegon, who was very surprised to see who had said something which he had heard so many times before.

“Am I seeing things? Exl, is that you? It sure has been a while”, Hegon said with a big smile and offering his hand to the young warrior. Exl grasped it and replied:

“It really has. It’s so nice to see you uncle Hegon.”

“Still with that old “uncle Hegon” thing? I told you long ago, you don’t have to call me uncle. We’re long-time neighbors, not related”, Hegon continued while starting to gather the wood he had chopped.

“I know that, but you always were like an uncle to me and since you are an uncle, it just felt so natural to call you that.”

Exl offered to help, but Hegon said that he’d manage, he was about to clean up and call it a day anyway.

“It would be nice to sit down and have a chat, I’d like to hear about your travels. And Ceára would love to see you as well. Wouldn’t you come to dinner with us one evening?” Hegon said not noticing Exl’s uneasiness. Exl averted her gaze and rubbed the back of her neck nervously, but managed to answer:

“That would be lovely, auntie Ceára could always cook up something really delicious. By the way, how is Alera?”

“She’s doing great, but I have to say, she wasn’t herself after you left. But I can understand why. You left so suddenly and because you two were always so close, she really must have missed you. But I’m sure that she’d be delighted to see you now”, Hegon stated, and Exl felt immediately that Hegon had no idea of what had happened or that he was just oblivious to his niece’s feelings.

“I’ll let you know about that dinner. I have a lot to do with Nali’s celebration, but I’ll do my best”, Exl said, trying to sound convincing. Hegon nodded and Exl left Hegon to finish his last few chores before closing shop.

When Exl returned to the Prince’s cabin, Xena and Gabrielle were there with Nali and she could see in how they looked at her that they had been worried about her, but Exl averted the subject entirely and her Couple didn’t want to pressure her, they would wait until she was ready to talk about the clearly sore subject.


The next day, Exl was busy helping Nali with important details and preparations for the anniversary celebration. Xena and Gabrielle also wanted to help, but just a couple hours later they were encouraged to take some time to tour the village, since there was much they hadn’t seen on their previous visits.

Soon they were walking around the village, checking out shops and vendors at the marketplace. That’s when Gabrielle noticed someone in the crowd.

“Look Xena, it’s Alera.” Xena turned to look and said:

“I can see that.”

“I’m going to go and talk to her”, Gabrielle said and once again Xena was prepared, she quickly grabbed Gabrielle’s shoulder and asked:


“Because I want to help Exl”, Gabrielle said, looking like she had a plan.

“And how does talking to Alera help her?” Xena continued trying to figure out what her wife had planned. Gabrielle patted Xena’s forearm and responded with a smile:

“If I could just hear Alera’s side of things, maybe we could figure out some way to help them reconcile.” Xena sighed and let go of Gabrielle, even though she wasn’t sure if this plan of hers would work.

Gabrielle walked over to the young silvery blonde and said:

“Hi Alera. We haven’t met before, let me introduce myself. My name is Gabrielle, I’m…”

“I know, you’re Exl’s friend, the other half of her Couple”, Alera said, sounding somewhat displeased. Gabrielle was a bit surprised about this, but rumors travel fast in small villages.

“You’re right. Could we talk for just a moment, I’d like to ask you something”, she continued hopefully.

“About what?” Alera asked in return, turning away to continue with her shopping.

“About you and Exl. I heard that…” Gabrielle didn’t have the chance to finish her sentence when Alera said very bluntly:

“I have nothing to say to you, or especially her. Now, if you’ll excuse me”, before paying for her things and rushing away from Gabrielle.

Xena walked up to her spouse and when Gabrielle noticed her warrior by her side, she stated:

“Well that didn’t go as planned.”

“I can see that. But because I know you, you won’t give up”, Xena remarked. Gabrielle turned to look at Xena and nodded.

“Right you are my dear Xena. Especially since this is our Guardian we’re talking about. She’s done so much for me, for us, I have to try and help her.” Xena pulled Gabrielle into a side hug and said:

“Whatever you say, love. I just hope you’re right about this.”


It was much later when Exl had finished with everything on her task list and decided to take a little walk around the village, thinking maybe she would find her Couple somewhere.

She couldn’t help but notice a woman who was trying to gather things upon things into her arms and particularly after recognizing who the woman was, Exl rushed to the other woman’s aid.

“Hi auntie, can I give you a hand?” The woman turned to see who had spoken and said with great amazement:

“Exl?” Exl smiled widely at Alera’s aunt Ceára, her surprise had been successful.

“Exl, it is you. How nice to see you, come here”, Ceára said, opening her arms to give Exl a great big hug. After letting go of the warrior, Ceára looked at Exl from head to toe asking:

“How have you been? Hegon said that you went by his workshop, that was very nice of you.”

“I wanted to see how he was doing, and you too of course. So, can I help you with these?” Exl said, picking up a bunch of Ceára’s things.

“That would be lovely dear, I’m just taking these home. And I wouldn’t mind the company, since it is starting to get a bit darker”, Ceára replied, taking the last few items.

As they walked the familiar road towards the house where Exl had spent so much time during her childhood, Exl told about some of the things she had experienced during her travels, like how she helped some villagers against an army of looting soldiers. She was also able to subtly ask if Ceára knew whether Alera was home or not, to which Ceára recalled that Alera should be working the evening shift at the inn.

After getting all of Ceára’s things onto the table on their porch, Exl asked if she’d help carry them inside, but Ceára said that Exl had already helped enough. Ceára said she’d get them something to drink after getting all of the things inside and told Exl to just take it easy. She returned fairly quickly and said with a smile:

“Good news Exl dear. I had my days mixed up, Alera is home after all. I told her you were here.” Exl felt her heart skip a beat, she was completely surprised by what Ceára had just told her.

“I was thinking that now that you are here, this would be a chance for the two of you to catch up with everything. You need to tell Alera all about your travels and experiences. You just wait here, Alera will join you any moment now and I’ll bring something nice for you to drink”, Ceára noted and didn’t give Exl the chance to object or take her leave. As Ceára opened the door once again, Alera walked out on the porch.

“Alera dear, you and Exl just relax. I’ll be right back with some refreshments”, Ceára said and Alera gave her aunt a smiling nod. When Ceára was out of sight, Alera turned to look at Exl with a fiery gaze, but she said nothing. Exl didn’t have a clue of what she should say or do, but to her luck Ceára came back with a tray which she put down on the porch table.

“Here you are. Now I bet you two have a lot to discuss, so I’ll just let you get to it”, Ceára said, to which Alera replied with another warm smile:

“Thank you auntie.”

When the front door closed behind Ceára, the awkward silence continued. It felt like time had stood still as the two old childhood friends looked at each other, both waiting for the other to say something. Finally, Exl cleared her throat and tried to end the silence with:

“Hi. I… umm…”

“Why are you here?” Alera said coldly.

“I was just helping auntie Ceára with her things, I didn’t…” Exl tried to explain, but Alera clearly wasn’t in the mood to hear what she had to say.

“Now that you’ve finished helping, get out of here. That’s something you’re so good at, going away”, she said contemptuously. Exl opened her mouth to continue, but Alera stopped her by raising her voice even more and beginning a verbal assault against the warrior.

“There are just so many things I hate about you and what you’ve done. Let me list them for you:

1. You pushed me away when I tried to comfort you after your grandfather passed away and tried to take care of you when you got sick that night.

2. You really think that Caetim and Teme’s deaths were your fault, even though you couldn’t have possibly prevented them from happening.

            Then we get to that infamous night, you know the one:

3. You deliberately snuck out at night to leave forever, to just disappear.

4. You did so without telling me or even saying goodbye, as if I was no-one to you, as if our friendship didn’t mean enough for you.

5. You didn’t say anything after I told you about my feelings towards you, not a single word.

6. You just left, without looking back.

7. You broke my heart.

            And last but not least:

8. You’ve come back, to remind me of all the things I just listed.”

There was so much anger and sorrow in Alera’s every word, and at the end, she was practically in tears. As a reflex of seeing someone dear to her sad or in distress, Exl attempted to go to Alera in order to comfort her, but Alera wasn’t going to let Exl anywhere near her. She pushed Exl away with both hands and shouted:

“No, I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. There’s nothing I want more than for you to get out of here and stay out of my life.” Exl was shocked to hear her old friend speak those words, but didn’t want to argue and cause any more bad blood between them. Exl walked away, but turned back to look behind her, only to see Alera trying to keep herself from crying. Exl wanted to apologize for everything, but knew that it wouldn't do any good, since Alera made it clear that she never wanted to see Exl again.

            As Exl was walking away, a very familiar thought crossed her mind. The thought of just leaving everything and everyone behind once again, and this time, never coming back. Luckily the rational side in her made her realize that she couldn’t walk out now. She was there to support her cousin and celebrate her, but more importantly, she had a duty to fulfill, a promise she had made. She couldn’t walk out on her friends, her family, her Couple, because she knew they’d travel to the ends of the Earth to find her. No, she couldn’t run from her problems or her emotions this time, she had to face them head on. If only she knew how.

Exl returned to the village and found Xena and Gabrielle near the marketplace, and decided to tell them what had happened after meeting Ceára. She told them how she didn’t know what to do, but Gabrielle and Xena consoled her by saying that they would figure out something, together.


After breakfast the following morning, Nali and Exl went to see the village tailor and seamstress for the last details for their new ceremonial attire. Nali had insisted that both of them have something new and exquisite for the celebration, and she didn’t give Exl a chance to say no. After finishing with the fitting, they met up with Xena and Gabrielle to have lunch with them before the cousins had to rush to their next appointment with the jeweler.

Since they had finished with all their preparations and had time to spare, Xena and Gabrielle went back to The Vagabond and the Falcon, because Gabrielle insisted on it. Xena had tried to change her wife’s mind about her plan, but Gabrielle wasn’t about to give up so easily. Alera was at work and serving patrons all around the inn. When she noticed the two new patrons, she rolled her eyes and walked over to them unenthusiastically.

“And what could I get you today?” she asked politely.

“A moment of your time and a little talk”, Gabrielle said confidently. Alera shook her head:

“I’m afraid I can’t, as you can see, I’m working. Plus, you’re not really someone I’d like to talk to.”

“Please Alera, we want to hear your side of the story. Exl has told hers, but we want to hear it from your point of view,” Gabrielle pleaded. Alera didn’t understand why these strangers wanted to talk with her so badly and especially about… a certain warrior.

“Why can’t you leave me be? Why do you want to hear MY side of things?”

“Because we’ve both learned from experience that every story has two sides. And to better understand what really happened, it’s only fair that we hear your side as well”, Xena interjected.      Alera left them for a moment, went to say something to the innkeeper and returned to the table. She sat down in an empty chair, crossed her arms and said:

“So what have you heard, what do you want to know?”

Gabrielle and Xena told a short version of what Exl had told about the time when she and Alera were kids and how defending Alera was a crucial part of why Exl became the warrior she is today. Everything they told seemed to remind Alera of old times, some of which she had momentarily forgotten, but which now came back to her clear as day.

Alera began to tell more stories about her childhood with Exl, her cousins, Teme and Caetim, and Gabrielle and Xena learned many new things about their dear companion. As Alera went on, the children in her stories had grown up and finally she told about the time after Exl had received her weapons.

“Exl was so excited, she ran all the way back here because she couldn’t wait to tell me all about their trip to the cave. She was so proud, and so was her grandfather”, Alera told, before her mood changed to a very serious and sorrowful one.

“But then, one day, her grandfather was gone. That was such a terrible day”, she explained, shaking her head.

“That’s something Exl has never really told us much about”, Gabrielle said, and to which Xena continued:

“She talks so proudly and fondly about her grandfather, but has only very briefly mentioned about his passing. It really haunts her.”

“I don’t know all the details about it all, but I can remember what I experienced that day”, Alera noted and began.

“I had been helping here at the inn and it was fairly late when I got back home. I remember how the rain was pouring, I don’t think I had ever seen that much rain. I was just going to help my aunt with dinner when I noticed smoke coming from the direction of Exl’s house. I ran to the porch where my uncle was also looking at the same sight. I was frightened and said that we had to do something, that Exl’s house might be on fire, but uncle Hegon said that the smoke wasn’t coming from a house fire. He told me it was coming from a bonfire of honor, which at first I didn’t understand. Then he said it was a very old way of honoring great warriors who had passed away. I remember how my heart sank when I realized what he meant. He looked at me and said:

“A great man has passed away and his family is honoring his memory.” I just saw the smoke and my uncle’s words kept ringing in my ears.

Despite the pouring rain, I ran to Exl’s house as fast as my feet would take me. When I got there, I saw the large funeral pyre in front of the house and Exl who was sitting on the steps in the rain. I ran to her and kneeled down in front of her asking what had happened. Her eyes were empty, pale and full of tears and when she turned to look at me, I could feel how my own heart started to ache.

“He’s gone”, she said. “He’s gone.” That was all she could and had to say.

I don’t know how long she had been sitting in the rain or how long she would’ve sat there if I hadn’t dragged her inside. She was soaking wet and shivering but didn’t want to get out of her wet clothes or let me help her. Then she broke down crying and I hugged her trying to tell her that everything was going to be okay. Exl told me to go home several times but I said I wouldn’t leave her. After staying up all night she finally gave in and fell asleep, and I never left her side. She got a cold from sitting in the rain and after some persuading I took her to her cousins so that she wouldn’t have to be alone. I went to see her nearly every day until she got better but even though her body was back to health, her heart was broken from the loss of her grandfather. You don’t know how important Eavan was to her, he was everything for her. Parent, mentor, protector, role model, all she had.”

Alera’s story was so lively, both Gabrielle and Xena could feel Exl’s pain.

“That’s why she said her grandfather wasn’t buried at the graveyard. She built the pyre and gave him a real warrior’s funeral”, Xena remarked, knowing first hand about losing someone close and honoring them with a funeral pyre.

“I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for her, poor Exl”, Gabrielle said compassionately.


Not having parents growing up was something Exl and I always had in common, it was sometimes very hard for both of us to see other children with their families. However we were so lucky to have the loving people who raised us: Exl had her grandfather and I had my aunt and uncle. That’s why I know in the bottom of my heart how devastating it was for Exl to lose the only loving, caring and protective parent she had ever really known”, Alera reminisced, and Xena and Gabrielle felt sad for thinking of what it must’ve been like for Exl, but were relieved and glad that she wasn’t alone anymore. They had each other, they were their own little family.

“Actually, Exl and I had many things in common, and those that we didn’t, never mattered to us. We shared everything with each other: happy times, sad times, problems, worries, you name it. We always had each other to turn to, no matter what”, Alera said, realizing that she had never before said this out loud, even though the thought had crossed her mind many times.

“That’s just one of the reasons why Exl always meant so much to me. No wonder it took me quite a long time to realize that she was much more than just a friend to me. But I didn’t know how to tell her. I tried giving subtle hints, but she didn’t see or understand them. I swear, sometimes she could just be so dense, so I took my time. After we suddenly lost Caetim and Teme, I knew it would be the worst possible time to say anything about it, so once again, I waited”, Alera remembered.

“But eventually you did tell her”, Gabrielle knew this, she couldn’t forget what Exl had told them. Alera nodded and seemed to change moods between being upset, angry, hopeful and remorseful.

“It was the night when Exl left, wasn’t it?” Xena asked.

“I’ll never forget that night”, Alera said with a harsh, cold tone.

“I had seen Nali and Swyther earlier that day and something was just so odd about their demeanor, but I didn’t know what. So, because it kept bothering me, I decided that even though it was getting very late, I’d go and see Exl, maybe she knew what was up.

Just as I arrived at her house, I saw her coming outside with all that gear and I knew that something was definitely up. She told me she was leaving and I was stunned, because I hadn’t seen it coming and she hadn’t told me or even hinted at it. I just wanted to know why, why did she feel like she had to leave and why did she hide it from me. I tried to make her understand that she blamed herself for no reason, but no matter what I tried to say, Exl just responded with how there was nothing for her here anymore.

That’s when I knew that I had to tell her and really show her how I felt about her in a way I thought she would understand. After that kiss, it felt like everything around us just stopped. All Exl did was look at me, not saying a word. Deep down in my heart I had hope for an answer, but it was all for nothing. She just turned away from me and… walked away without looking back”, Alera remembered ruefully.

“That was the moment when my heart was shattered. I was devastated, I couldn’t understand what had happened and why. But I did know that I wanted to forget the existence of that person who I used to call my dearest friend and who had walked out of my life. I just… wanted to go on with my life. For a moment I actually thought it could be possible, but then… Exl returned last year. And for what? To put her life on the line in a battle to the death. Why couldn’t she just stay away?” Alera said riled up.

“Alera, I understand that you’re angry at Exl and I respect your feelings, but you need to hear about what she has gone through after leaving the place she called home and the people who she called friends and family.”

Gabrielle pulled out some of her scrolls and told Alera stories about their family’s adventures. Alera heard about how Exl had saved Gabrielle and so many other lives, how she’d been hurt physically and mentally and how every single day she did her best to help others.

“The Exl I have learned to know always thinks about everyone else before even considering the idea of thinking about herself”, Xena explained to Alera about Exl’s true nature.

“Whatever happened back then, I’m sure Exl never really meant to hurt you, but did so unknowingly. She had lost so much in such a short time, I know I would be just as sad, hurt, and confused”, Gabrielle emphasized.

Alera crossed her hands then pressed her forehead against her hands. Xena and Gabrielle sat quietly, glancing at each other, then back at Alera.

Finally Alera lifted her head and let out a small sigh.

“Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’m ready to hear what Exl has to say”, Alera claimed earnestly.

                                                End of part 1


Continued in Part 2

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