"Empress, Warrior, Woman"
By T. Novan and Murphy
Disclaimers: The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess and all others associated with the television series of the same name are owned by MCA/ Universal Pictures. This is a work of fan fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. This is set to the Episode, "When Fates Collide." Tiny bit from "Many Happy Returns."
Murphy note: Thanks to Kamouraskan, Teach, and Temora for their beta. Thank you TN for bringing one of my dreams true. Poems by Sappho
**Called the "Tenth Muse" by the ancients, Greece's greatest female lyric poet Sappho (ca. 610-580 B.C.E.) spent the majority of her life on the famed island of Lesbos. Passionate and breathtaking, Sappho's poems survive only in fragments following religious conspiracies to silence her. Sappho penned immortal verse on the intense power of the female libido; on the themes of romance, love, yearning, heartbreak, and personal relationships with women.** ~Paul Roche~
From the first vision Alti showed me, I knew what my destiny was.
She was dead at my feet when my husband and Brutus entered the room. 'My husband,' the very sound of that made the bile slowly crawl up my throat. Brutus ordered a few royal guards to drag that she-bitch out of my bed chamber while Caesar pulled me into a tight embrace. To comfort his wife. Touching him sent jolts through my body and I remembered the cross.
I hated them both.
While I contemplated snapping his neck, I saw my playwright, my bard, come back onto her balcony, saw her discomfort at seeing this monster hold me. She quickly dropped her gaze and returned to her room. I pulled away from the hateful embrace and gave him my wifely smile. He tried to be intimate once more and of course I had a headache. In fact I would have a permanent one. Once he slept, I began to make plans to either get Gabrielle and myself back to our time or make a life here.
Either way, she and I will be together.
To keep Gabrielle safe, I have her go home to her vineyard by the sea, telling her I would be summoning her in a moon's time. Meanwhile in Rome, Caesar prepared for his great attack on LaoMa and all of Chin. I did my duty by training our warriors, helping with the battle plans, all while making sure he didn't suspect a thing. I also sent private word to LaoMa of everything we had calculated.
I couldn't let the battle be too easy on my dear husband.
In a moon's time, Caesar and his legions were on their way east. I stayed behind. Someone had to keep an eye on Rome, and who better to trust than the loving wife? The time had come for Gabrielle's return and I was like an over-anxious child waiting for her toys on Solstice day. I was not really sure of all of my true past. All I knew was that this one felt very wrong to me, and the only right thing was Gabrielle. How was I going explain this so that a certain young playwright didn't call for a healer to fix my mad mind?
I was on the training grounds with some of our first season soldiers, when a messenger told me that Gabrielle had arrived and was being escorted to the palace. I gave a command of the training to my second and called for my horse. I could not return to her side quickly enough; I only hoped that she felt the same way. My heart would surely break if the only reason she had returned to Rome was because I had called for her and she didnt wish to anger the Empress.
It was not her return to Rome I desired. It was her return to me.
Once through the gate, I continued to ride my horse hard into the courtyard, vaulting from his back and landing on the steps of the portico just as the guards pulled open the doors. My boots echoed on the marble as I strode to the royal quarters.
I had ordered her placed in the royal wing. No matter what, I wanted her near me until I found a way to convince her that we belonged together.
And now that I stood in front of her door, my hands were heavy and my stomach was in knots. I made a loose fist and raised it to knock on the door then let it drop to my side, realizing that I hadnt figured out what I would say to her. I was utterly unprepared to see her again.
Then I took the time to really look at myself and realized I most certainly was not prepared to see her. Not before I had bathed and changed out of my armor into something far more appropriate. As I turned on my heel to head to my own bedchamber my eyes slid shut when I heard her door open.
"My Empress." Her voice was soft and immediately soothing to my soul. Those two words had never sounded sweeter than they did at that moment.
Before turning around I took a deep breath and commanded my heart to stop beating wildly in my chest. My heart didnt obey my command and I could barely hear over the roaring of my pulse in my ears. It sounded like the breaking of the waves against the shore by her vineyard, Im sure.
Slowly I turned.
She raised her head and our eyes met. A tender, gentle smile found its way to her lips and I knew.
She had returned to Rome for me.
She offered me her hand. "Xena."
Taking her hand, I felt the air forced from my lungs from this, the simplest of touches. There had never been a touch that felt so right.
My mind was a blank. I could feel my mouth working, but there were no words.
She laughed gently, blushing slightly. "I dreamt of you every night."
"And I, you." Tears formed in my eyes and she reached up, taking them from my eyes before they could fall.
Of course, she would be concerned about the bastard. He made it very clear he didnt want her in Rome. "Gone. Hell be away for some time to come." Actually, I hoped he never made it back.
If Gabrielle and I were to be condemned to live this life, it would be easier if I didnt have to kill the Emperor myself.
"So that leaves us " She let the question linger in the air waiting for me to answer.
"To get to know each other better. Id love to hear more of your vineyard."
"And Id love to tell you more of it. Actually, I brought a few bottles of wine with me. If my Empress will do me the honour of drinking wine from my humble home."
I couldnt help but smile. How did she know what my dreams had been during this last month while I waited her return? How could she know that I dreamt of laying by a fire with her at my side, sipping sweet wine and looking into the depths of eyes so green they must have given colour to the finest silks of Chin.
"There is nothing I would like better, Gabrielle. If you will allow me to take my leave of you, Ill go bathe and put on something appropriate. Will you please do me the honour of joining me in my private chambers for the evening meal?"
"I would be delighted. Ill bring the wine." Her smile made my entire body tingle with anticipation and a low burn ignited under my skin.
I had never felt more alive.
I had never felt more complete.
Evening brought us together. An Imperial Guard escorted her to my chambers and when I opened the door, my heart was completely stolen from my chest. The woman was more than beautiful, but I am a warrior, not a writer. I cannot find the words to describe the lady who was before my eyes.
All I knew was that my heart was full. My soul was soaring and my body was on fire.
"My Empress." She nodded her head slowly, lowering her eyes, even as a coy smile played on her lips.
She knew what she did to me. She knew that a simple smile from her lips or a mere glance in my direction was enough to rob me of speech and coherent thought. And while no one else has ever bewitched me as this woman did, I was, even with all my power, powerless to stop her.
With her first look at me that night from the stage, my heart was hers for the taking and she knew it.
"My playwright," I teased, stepping back and ushered her into my apartment.
Looking up, she smiled and licked her lips as she simply glided past me. I turned and watched her move into the room. Dropping her shoulder wrap to her lower back, she revealed to my eyes flesh of a creamy white; soft and unflawed. Her hair, fixed into a loose knot at the top of her head, allowed a few wisps of blonde to trail down a neck that I would have loved to taste with my lips and tongue. I was willing to bet my playwright was pleasing to all the senses.
She turned her head to the side, looking at me over her shoulder as she presented a bottle of wine. "I promised to bring this."
I stepped forward as she turned to face me. Taking the bottle, I pretended to consider it. "It is sweet?"
Licking her lips once again, she reached out, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. "It is very sweet."
I took a deep breath, and tethering some of my flailing dignity, moved to the dinner table that had been set for us. The best Imperial cooks from all over the realm had been brought to Rome to prepare this meal. I would have nothing but the best for her. Of course, my personal cook had prepared the main course that was traditional to our homeland of Greece.
"Then it will serve as the perfect conclusion for our meal." I gestured to the table, inviting her to join me.
She placed her wrap on the sofa then crossed the room. "But hopefully, not the conclusion of our evening. It would make a wonderful beginning for that."
I nodded my head as we took our seats. "I agree. I dont see our evening ending early. Unless there is some reason you need to "
"Oh no." She shook her head, then rested her chin on the back of her hand, looking at me with such devastating honesty, I felt as if my skin could just burst into flame on the spot. "I am yours for as long as you will have me."
I cleared my throat, trying hard not to choke. She couldnt possibly imagine the ways Id like to have her. "Tell me " I stammered, trying hard to ignore the dull ache in my stomach and other points just a touch lower, "Tell me of your writing."
"I had obtained moderate success in Thrace when Sappho made a tour through the region. She attended a reading that I did and offered me a place studying with her." She smiled at me and I knew right away that she did indeed know how Id like to have her. Sapphos tastes were legendary and my playwright would certainly fit the bill from what I understood.
"And this is Sappho of Lesbos?" I sipped from my sweetwater, trying to make small talk and think of a way to get the information I wanted without seeming obvious.
"Oh, the very same." She mimicked my action of sipping from the heavy cup, but she smiled from behind hers and said, "She taught me many things." I smiled and watched the woman I love talk of her muse's hero.
"Tell me, my playwright, which is your favourite verse of Sappho's?" Her face lit up and she crinkled her nose. Gods, how I love that.
"No one is my favourite, they are all so lovely, but one I can pull off the top of my head is, 'I say'."
It may have been Sappho's poem, but Gabrielle captured me with her very voice, calling to me like a Sirens song.
You would want few to be carried away.
You yourself know but someone forgot.
Some might say I will love as long as there is breath in me.
I say I've been a firm friend.
Things grievous, bitter, but know
I will love.
She said this with such beauty and poise. I applauded her and the smile on her face grew wider. We both sipped our wine, looking at one another in silence. I finally broke this silence by quoting my favourite, making sure I kept eye contact.
You lay in wait behind a laurel tree, and everything was pleasant.
You are a woman wanderer like me.
I barely heard you, my darling; You came in your trim garments,
Beauty of your garments.
Gabrielle looked at me so strangely, as though she just saw a ghost fall out of my ear. "It's the Laurel..." Before I could finish, she did it for me.
"Tree, yes I know it." She rose and walked to me, her breathing uneven. I still sat, while she stood in front of me, between my legs, stroking my face. "Xena?" She asked, more like a question than my name.
"Yes, Gabrielle." I could barely whisper.
"All my life I've felt this great emptiness." There were tears threatening to spill from those beautiful eyes, and I found mine mirroring hers. "When I'm with you, that feeling is gone and replaced with such love." My breath caught with the last statement. "Here I am writing about love though I never felt it." She lowered her head; then I heard then her say, "Until now."
I pulled her down to me and tasted her sweet lips in this world, for the first time.
As we deepened our kiss I get more visions of my other life. One vision I saw was in Thessaly where I almost lost my bard. 'Bard?' I pulled away to look at her. I could see her lips moving, but heard nothing. I had an overwhelming sense of fear and I pulled her in tight to me and held on for dear life.
"Xena?" She was rocking me back and forth to comfort me, but I could tell she was confused by my actions. Pulling away slightly, she wiped away my tears with a concerned look.
"I'm all right Gabrielle, its nothing bad, its all good." I gave her my best smile, which she returned.
"I'm glad, for a minute I thought you were changing your mind about having me here." We both chuckled.
"No, not at all." We held one another's gaze. I felt the karmic pull and we kissed once more, this time with no visions, just passion. It took every fiber of my being to pull away, but I wanted to take my time, to give her the love and romance she deserved.
"How would you like to take a walk and see the garden?" Her eyes become a deeper green and I knew I was slowly losing the battle.
"Umm, sure. I could use the exercise."
I gave her my best smile and held out my hand. "My Playwright."
She took my hand. "My Empress."
We walked out the door towards the garden. All the flowers were in bloom and the moon was full and bright. I brought with us a blanket so we could lay and watch the stars.
I laid out the blanket on the grassy slope. While she sat, I went and picked a yellow daisy and handed it to her. That seemed to melt her heart, and she patted the space beside her for me sit.
I lay back and invited her to my shoulder. We held hands and talked about the stars in the sky.
"Look at that one over there, Xena." I looked to where she was pointing. "Doesn't that look like a bear?" I looked harder at it. 'Where on earth does she get a bear?' I thought to myself.
"Looks like a ladle to me." I heard her snicker then another vision hit me. We were lying exactly like this, having this same discussion. Then she clobbered me with a staff.
"Are you all right?" There were those concerned green eyes again.
"Yeah, I'm just remembering a funny time in my life," I reassured her, to change the subject.
"How about more wine?" I reached for the skin and poured out some in a small glass and handed it to her.
"Where on earth do you get a ladle, Xena?" She looked at me like I was out of my mind. "You don't see the body there or the ears up here?"
I was fully laughing now.
"Nope, sorry, it's a ladle." We were both laughing.
"Well, we'll have to agree to disagree then." A famous playwright and a diplomat, what more could I ask for?
"Sounds good." We lay down again and she told me these wondrous tales about a Warrior Princess and sidekick. What an imagination Gabrielle has, she just may have given Sappho a run for her dinars. After about the twentieth tale she was yawning.
"It's time for bed, my love." Instead, she snuggled in deeper to me and sighed.
"Do I have to get up?" I found that very cute. I stood and picked her up in my arms, she was so wide-eyed it was funny.
"Xena, put me down, right this instant!" She huffed.
I smiled and complied. "Thought you wanted to be carried."
She gave me this 'I'm amazed look.'
Then stood on her tiptoes and gave me a peck. "I don't want you to hurt your back is all. I need you to be healthy," she purred and again I was losing this "lets go slow" battle. We walked unhurriedly back, hand in hand, to her chamber. She gave me a kiss that I felt all the way to my boots. I pulled away quickly and startled her.
"Gabrielle, I want to go slowly, to make sure that everything is special."
She cupped my face and spoke. "Anything with you is special, and I want this." Those eyes were filled with love and lust.
I was a goner.
"I want you," she said, while pulling me into her hard, and gave me another kiss that shook me to my core.
"I want you too, Gabrielle, so much." I held her tight. "But I've got a few things to take care of. I'll be back in a candle mark." I gave her another kiss and walked off. I just wanted to take her in my arms and lay her in bed, but I had some pressing matters to deal with. I had to keep my head clear. By then, Caesar should have been in heavy battle with Brutus and finding things were not as easy as he thought. Soon he would be putting together my betrayal, and I could just hope that it would be too late. I walked back to my chamber and waited for my advisor. I sat with my back to the window, studying some plans and state affairs.
"So how goes the battle, my friend?" M'lila removed her hood from her face and smiled. We clasped hands like old friends do. I'd known her for five years now and she was my most trusted confidant. I asked her to become my advisor and she agreed. She took on Greek as her language; her native tongue being too difficult for many to understand, so this was the simplest. M'lila had always been very protective of me and disliked Caesar from day one when we all met on my ship.
"Word just came. Caesar has taken huge losses and has had to pull back." I just nodded. "May I speak frankly, Xena?" I knew what she was going to say.
"You always do, my friend." I waved my hand and turned to look out the window.
"Is this all really worth it, is she worth it?" She knew what the Emperor of Rome was capable of doing.
"Yes," was all I could say. I turned and looked at her. "He tampered with the Fates loom and made this cursed world." I bet she could see the fire in my eyes. "He took everything that means anything to me away. I want it back." I slammed my hand down on my desk.
"Then why dont you just go to the temple of the Fates and put things back in order?" She had equal fire in her eyes. "This can be suicide for you AND this playwright." With this last part her voice cracked. "Caesar might be an arrogant ass, but he's a smart one and he'll catch on soon." I closed my eyes and lowered my head. I knew she was right. 'Why wasn't I just going to the Fates and ending the charade?'
"The feeling I got from that other life." I took a breath to calm my nerves. "I hated myself, I did many hurtful things." It was my turn for my voice to crack. "In this life I changed and was making a difference with the people." M'lila just shook her head. "I just want to live my life in peace with the woman I love and still make a difference." That was a huge admission on my part.
"Xena, I'm saying this because I care deeply for you. Go back to your own time." I could only nod again. She walked past me towards the window, looking at me one more time. "I'll keep you posted if theres any more word of the battle." Then she vanished into the night.
How could I tell her that one of my guilts was her death in my arms? She feared for my life, and I was not too eager to be crucified again. I couldn't take Gabrielle and run; they would hunt us down like dogs. What kind of life would that be? I feared going back to my other life... what could I do?
'Gods, give me strength please!' I prayed.
My candle mark was up and I needed to go meet the love of my life. 'Get a grip, Xena.' I walked out of my chamber and back to my playwright. I knocked softly and heard her say, "Come in."
What I wasn't ready for was to see the room lit with candles and on the bed, wearing only a sheet, was Gabrielle.
My hand went to my chest and tried to soothe my pounding heart. I knew I had a silly little grin on my face by the way Gabrielle was laughing at me from the bed. It was a soft, sweet laugh. It wasn't loud or mocking, it was exactly like my playwright.
"You find me amusing?" I tried not to stare, moving slowly to the bed.
"Only the look on your face. You looked as if youve never seen a woman in a sheet before."
I reached over and barely tugged at the edge of the sheet with my fingertips. "Never such a beautiful woman. Surely it must be a crime to hide your body behind a common cloth."
She simply peeled it back and let me have the first glimpse of the beauty that had been hidden under the material. The air was forced from my body as my mind spun and my mouth tried to find the words so desperately lacking to describe her.
I shook my head. My eyes were simply in awe of this beauty.
She rose to her knees in the center of the bed and looked at me. "Do I not please you, my Empress?"
"Oh Gabrielle yes. You please me very much. You have no idea."
"Then am I to understand, that the reason you remain clothed and standing at my bedside is because youve been struck dumb?" She moved forward just a bit, reaching for the clasps of my tunic.
"That would be as good a reason as any." I could only smile as she slowly unfastened my clothes, pushing them from my body and creating a pool of soft fabric at my feet. Slowly but surely, my beautiful playwright pulled me to the bed and into her arms.
Our bodies came together.
Our minds came together
And our souls met as they were supposed to. Merged together in a perfect harmony that was the love we share, now and forever. It did not matter what lifeline or what time we were in, Gabrielle and I would always find each other.
Even as my playwright and I made love for the first time in this life, I felt the familiarity of it in my mind and in the way my body responded to her. She knew how to touch me to bring pleasure to every element of my being. From my eyes, which delighted in looking at her to my body, which surrendered to her without hesitation.
"I love you, Xena," She whispered in my ear even as her hands travelled over my heated skin.
"I love you too, Gabrielle."
We made love well into the night, settling down to sleep just before dawn. I was holding her close to me and I knew that I had to get us out of there. I had to get us back to our own time. I wouldnt see her hurt, and I couldnt afford to lose her.
Every touch from my love gave me back more of my memories. From the first time I laid my eyes on her. 'You've got to take me with you.' All the way to, 'Gabrielle, will you marry me?'... I remember how my heart felt when she said the word yes. I was the Warrior Princess she dreamed about, but she was more then just a sidekick. I was so heavy in thought I didn't feel her stir until I felt a caress on my face. I looked down and even in this dreadful world Gabrielle could show me the way to love.
"Dinar for your thoughts?" She rose slightly from my shoulder to kiss my cheek. I took a minute to study her face and tried to collect my thoughts.
"I've got a story to tell you and I want you to listen to all of it before you comment. Please?" She rose up on her elbow and looked at me puzzled, with a tiny smirk on her lips. I leaned over to kiss that sweet smirk.
"So ... are we now role reversing?" Gabrielle could always be a smart ass when she wanted to be. I gave her a heartfelt laugh.
"Yes, my love." A kiss. "You can be the Empress and I will be the Playwright." Another kiss.
"So lay on my shoulder and let me weave my tale, Empress." One more kiss, then a chuckle and she snuggled in my arms.
"I sing the song of the Warrior Bard of Poteidaia." I feel her stiffen slightly in my arms. "The woman, bard, best friend, lover, and wife of Xena the Warrior Princess." She started to rise up again and I halted her.
"Let me finish the tale, then we can talk, please." She looked me deep in the eyes right to my soul. She nodded and then laid back down. I started from the first day we met and got to the part where she was struck with the poisoned arrow, and my lone fight against the Persian army. I said the phrase, 'Even in death Gabrielle ...' and she finished it for me.
"You'll never leave me." She swallowed a few times. "How do you know of my dreams?" She had a look of fear and wonder at the same time.
"Tell me, what did this 'Warrior Princess' look like in your dreams?" My bard ... my bard?? It sounded so strange, but so familiar. In the other world she was fighting by my side for the Greater Good. Not much time for her writings these days, the world kept growing colder and all so dark. That child's face she had when we first met had a slight hardening to it later on. In this world she knew no such pain. She was following her dream. How could I take that away? The guilt of my former self was making a stand. I suddenly felt a hand moving my chin.
"Are you listening to me?" I saw that her eyes were welling up with tears. I was causing her pain in this world, the same way I did in the other. I could barely whisper out my apology to her.
"My warrior was tall, dark hair with striking blue eyes." A tear slipped and she started to shake.
"Please tell me what's going on... Xena." I pulled her towards me and hugged her. I broke our embrace with a sigh while slipping out of bed. I handed her a robe and put on mine. I sat across from her and explained.
"You remember that night on the balcony?" She nodded. "Alti, my former Shamaness attacked me." I took a breath and ran a hand through my hair. "She has powers and showed me visions of another time, another world." I shook my head. "One of those visions showed that Caesar, my dear husband, tampered with the Fates Loom making this Gods forsaken world." I couldn't even look at her as I finished that sentence. I proceeded to tell her all of it, including how dear Caesar crucified me and broke my legs sending me on my path of destruction.
"None of this is real?" She stared at me with disbelief.
"We're real. Its the world that was not meant to be." Then I felt my stomach tighten and I knew. M'lila appeared out of nowhere scaring Gabrielle half to death. "He's coming?"
She shook her head. "I've gotten word he shall be back by tomorrow. He knows, Xena." My dear friend clearly feared for my life.
"I want you to escort Gabrielle back to Greece and keep her safe." I received two angry glares. I looked at my friend and she could see my despair. "Please M'lila, if anything should happen to her, my life would hold no meaning. She is the air that I breathe." I got a nod.
"Thank you, my friend." I put my hand on her shoulder and she covered it with her own, then vanished.
"Don't I have a say in all this? I'm not going to leave you here to that man." Ahh, there they were, the fiery green eyes of my bard.
"In the other world, my destiny was linked to Caesar ... and that cross ... and I hated them both. But now I realize that ... everything happens precisely as it should ... precisely." I cupped her face with my hand and kissed her lips. "Some things are worth dying for. Isn't that what your play was about? Being prepared to sacrifice all for love?" We were both crying.
"For Love," she whispered. "There must be something that I can do." My battling bard.
"No, Gabrielle. What you can do is get out of here alive. I have to go through this alone." I knew she didn't understand, but how could I explain it?
"The first time I walked this path it was for hatred and it nearly destroyed my soul." Who am I trying to fool? My soul was destroyed until...Gabrielle came into my life. "This time I will walk down this path with nothing more than love in my heart." I pulled her tight to me and wept. "You see, he's already lost." We held each other so tightly that light would not be able to find its way through.
"I can't just let you die," she whispered, her sobbing choking off her voice. I kissed her again then started to pack her things. "Please get dressed, there's not much time." She stood, strong and defiant of me.
"Xena... I can't do this." I continued to pack her things. "My life meant nothing here until you, and now you want me to go back into that emptiness?" That hit me right in the heart.
"You are not a warrior in this time, you need to be safe while I fight him." I lied. I knew her and we didn't have the time to argue about this. "I can't worry about the fight and your safety at the same time. Now please, get dressed." I think it was the sound of distress in my voice, because she painfully complied.
We hurried our way out of the palace. M'lila was waiting with the horses ready. I quickly settled her things on the horse and turned to her. "I wanted so much more time with you, my Playwright."
She smiled and caressed my face.
"Deal with Caesar and come for me, my love." I smiled back and thought. 'Even in death Gabrielle... I will never leave you.' I cupped her face and kissed her, showing all the love I had for her in my heart. We pulled away breathless, then I helped her on the horse. I clasped M'lila's arm.
"Keep you both safe my friend, and thank you." Her hold on my arm grew tighter, but there were no words. I could see she was fighting her emotions. I touched her leg.
"Now go." My voice cracked. M'lila started to ride slowly off, but Gabrielle stayed in place. Her cries grew strong and she gasped for air.
"I can't," she cried out.
"Go now, Gabrielle. Get out." I said with a touch of harshness. She always was too stubborn for her own good.
"No. You're going to die."
"Please, my wife, for love. Remember?" I cried to her.
"For love." She hung her head and nodded.
"I'll love you forever," I said and she mouthed the words back. Her sobbing had taken her voice this time. Before there were any more arguments, or I lost my nerve, I swatted her horses backside, sending him into a trot. She turned and looked one last time. "For love, Gabrielle." I said for only myself to hear.
Now it was time for me to prepare for my destiny.
My first orders were to make sure that my people were safe, in the villages as well as in these palace walls. I quickly wrote out a scroll in detail for Brutus, everything from the loom to our true world, the true fate of our dear Emperor.
I called for the one soldier whom I could trust; Joxer. A small chuckle started within me as I finished that sentence. Then I grew somber at the memory of his loss. I watched as he approached me. He looked harder, more rugged looking. The scar on his face added to that impression.
"Empress." He bowed his head.
"I would like you to do me a favour, my friend." I handed him the scroll and detailed instructions. He knew that if anything happened to me, he was to find Brutus and hand him this scroll.
"Guard that with your life Joxer, it has great importance." He looked at the scroll and then to me.
"I owe you a great deal, my Empress." I gave him a puzzled look.
"How so?" I questioned.
"My daughter was very ill and you sent your healer to cure her." My memory failed me. I just nodded at him.
"I'm pleased." I was glad I'd done something right. I sighed and started to go past him when I heard him say.
"I'll protect this, Empress, it's the least I can do."
I watched as he walked out of the door. No matter what has been said about Joxer in either world, when it came down to it, he had been a good friend and a very good man.
I worked well through the afternoon, long into evening. I sent what personal dinars I had to my mother with a note to give a portion of it to Gabrielle. My mother and I never really healed after my brother was killed. As time passed we were on talking terms, but that was about it. Then I realized I never got the chance to ask Gabrielle what happened to her family. I wondered if I would ever get the chance again.
I sent most of Caesar's riches to the Senate. They would be able to bring some honour back to Rome. I left a detailed note as to why I was doing this. The rest of the dear Emperor's wealth was sent by different runners to each village under Rome's rule. I left clear instruction to all the Magistrates that the dinars were to be used for any homeless, sickly, or downtrodden people. Failure to comply would mean a quick death. That should start a fire under their robes.
Then I penned a scroll to the love of my life. I stained the paper with the tears, so many emotions were going through me. One memory I had right before I awoke in this damned world was the correspondence I had with my dear friend Sappho. I sent word that I would be bring my love to see her performance on her birthday. I knew Gabrielle just loved Sappho's works. I asked my dear friend, since words seem to fail me, to pen a poem of my love for my wife. I remember reading what the great muse sent. She had me nailed perfectly.
So for you my love.
I've never been able to express myself with beauty as you do. So after talking with a friend, I had a helping hand. This was meant for your birthday in our time; I hope I can remember the damn thing. Here goes nothing.
There's a moment when I look at you,
And no speech is left in me.
My tongue breaks, then fire races under my skin and I tremble.
And I grow pale as I'm dying of such love,
Or so it seems to me.
Sappho may have formed the words to page, but she took each of those words from my heart. You gave my life such meaning and joy, you are my soul. I want you to live and keep writing those plays. You have a true born gift my love, use it. My mother will send you some dinars so you can live the rest of your life in peace. M'lila will be there to be a friend and protect you if needed. She knows your importance to me. As for me, I will still be with you and will be waiting for when your time comes many moons from now. I love you and always will.
I pressed my lips to the page to seal it with a kiss then I noticed that it was daylight outside. The sun was shining brightly through the balcony window. I reread the note one last time. I needed to get it into Joxer's hands so he could deliver it to her.
I heard the click of the crossbow, but it was too late.
I crumpled forward as the arrow made a sickening thud in my back. I could taste the blood in my mouth and the air being forced out of my lungs. I didn't go completely down, so another arrow was released into my leg. That hurt more than the first, for it was right into my bone. I screamed and fell forward, flat on my face, and could not move.
"Well, Xena. Seems you were a busy little bee in my absence." He spat, while circling me. Then he bent down to retrieve the bloody scroll from my hand. I held onto it until he forced the arrow back further into me. I released, shrieking in pain.
"So you know, huh?" He gave me that arrogant chuckle, and ripped my scroll up.
"I know that youre a lying sack of dung." That earned me another chuckle.
"Guards!" he yelled. One guard bent down and broke the arrows in my back and leg, leaving the wood inside me to fester. Then they pulled me up and I could get a good view of the Emperor.
"Your death will not be in vain, Xena, because you'll always hold a special place in Rome's heart, amongst Caesar's conquered." I spit at his feet. He laughed and leaned towards me. "You weren't too bad in bed, either." That made me queasy. "Now take her away. Xena will be crucified for her betrayal of Rome." He smiled and waved his hand for the guards to drag me away.
I said nothing as I was dragged to the dungeon, stripped of my clothing to be replaced with the death rags. Then in the distance I could hear the hammering. My cross was being built. Ironic. How times had I gone on with my daily life hearing that hammering thinking, 'You can't have a crucifixion without crosses.' Painful irony that is.
The hammering stopped; Caesar was wasting no time. I thought back to when I was younger. When Caesar gave me the honour of my first crucifixion, all I felt was the monster of hate. During my second crucifixion I was full of sadness that I could not stop the vision. That Gabrielle was dying beside me. This time... All I could see was the face of my wife and all the good moments we shared. Her love was flowing through me, keeping me safe and I felt no fear knowing that fact.
"It's time, Empress." Joxer said with a crack in his voice. Two guards moved in to drag me up and out into the Arena. As I was ready to go past Joxer I heard him whisper, "I kept my promise, Empress."
I smiled and nodded. Being dragged once more, I kept the thought of Gabrielle in my mind. We got to the top of the stairs and the late afternoon sun hit my eyes like a dagger. My eyes were held shut while they laid me on the cross, and I heard him snicker.
"For her betrayal of Rome, the Empress shall be put to death, as the law demands." He informed the small crowd of mostly soldiers.
"Have any last words, Xena?" I cracked my eyes open and turned my head towards him.
"Ever hear of the saying, "What goes around, comes around?" I sneered. He grinned and waved his hand, then walked away. Smug bastard. I felt the piece of wood in my palm and then the nail pierced my skin. I couldn't stop my screams; it hurt so much. They finished my hands and went for my ankles. This hurt the worst. Then they lift and set you in the earth.
I felt the weight on my body as I hung from my wounds. I knew I wouldn't last long, not with those arrow wounds. I concentrated on my breathing and let my love carry me away. There was no anger, no sense of revenge, just love. My head was too heavy to hold up, I felt myself slipping. I raised my head towards to sky on last time. "I love you, Gabrielle." So peaceful. I let my head fall.
"Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo." I heard a scream. Gods, it couldn't be her. I was too weak to lift my head. Gods please, let that not be her. I heard hoofs beating fast on the ground towards me. Another scream of 'Noooooooooooo.' Then I heard the clashing of swords. My eyes were too heavy to stay open.
"Xena?" It is a fearful voice, a familiar voice. I barely opened my eyes and saw her.
"Gabrielle, you shouldn't have come." My chin trembled then I was aware of ladders on the sides of me. M'lila and Joxer no doubt. My body was so numb I couldn't feel them pull the nails from my flesh. Joxer moved in front as M'lila pulled the other hand free and I collapsed in his arms. Gabrielle was working my ankles free. Her face was stained with tears and her hands were shaking so bad it was almost a blur. They freed me and laid me down with my head in her lap.
"You shouldn't have come," I repeated. I didn't want her to see me like this. I wanted her safe.
"You're the other half of my soul, Xena." She was struggling to speak. "I couldn't let you die, you can't die, please don't leave me, I love you." Her sobbing voice was so far away...
I was being pulled away.
There is no answer.
"No, Xena! You promised!" I watched as the little one held her mate tight and gives a gut-wrenching scream. After all these years of knowing her, Xena was gone. I've been close to the warrior since the first day we met on her boat where I was a stowaway.
"M'lila?" I looked into the beautiful tearful eyes.
She rocks her love and kisses her head. "After I finish up here I want to take her home to Amphipolis." She sobs and buries her head in the warriors neck.
"She would like that." My own tears slipping now. Joxer bends over and lifts the Empress up. We move her inside and lay her in a safe place. I feel the little one's pain while she kisses Xena's head and whispers to her love. Then she stands and faces me.
"You ready?" I am, more then she could know. I've never liked Caesar and begged Xena for years to leave him. I nod my head and she turns to look at Joxer.
"Keep her safe for me, Joxer." He bows. She gives Xena one more peck on the head and then walks off.
"Gabrielle, wait." I catch up to her and grab her arm to halt her.
"Youre not going to talk me out of this, M'lila." She was so tense I could just feel the anger flowing through her.
"No, I'm not going to stop you, but I promised my friend that I would keep you safe." She closed her eyes and the tears fell again.
"I failed her, I should have stayed to protect her." She dropped her head and just let her emotions go. Theres nothing worse in the world than the feeling of guilt.
"You're wrong, Gabrielle." I lifted her face. "You saved her soul by loving her, something she's never had in this life." She throws her arms around me and I let her cry.
"Lets finish this," she says in my arms. All I could do is nod. We quickly made our way towards Caesar's chamber. There he is, sitting at his desk full of glory. He glances up and just smirks.
"Well, if it isn't Xena's little Playwright. Sorry, but youre too late." He stands putting his hand behind his back and walks to us. "I'll deal with you later, M'lila," he sneers. "So, tell me Playwright. Didn't find the Empress talented in bed?" he taunts. I start to charge but I am held back by Gabrielle.
"You want to know the truth about something, Emperor?" The little one slowly walks up to him and hes very amused by this. "I'm not who you think I am." His smile grows wider at her closeness.
"By all means, please tell us who you are." He sits on the edge of his table, seeming very unimpressed.
"Well, what I've been called recently was The Battling Bard Of Poteidaia." I watch as this gentle Playwright does a perfect roundhouse kick to the Emperor's stunned face. Then she pounces on him with all her rage while I handle the few guards who come in to check on all the commotion. She has him on the ground ready to land another punch to his face when I hear a bunch of heavy footsteps heading our way.
It is Brutus and his men.
Gabrielle continues to hold the Emperor by his throat and I go into a defensive stance. Caesar is happy to see someone come to his aid. He pushes the little one off and rolls quickly out of her way.
"Brutus. Take this blonde harpy and this traitor to the dungeon." The bloodied, wounded-pride Emperor whimpers out. I keep my eyes on the soldiers and move by Gabrielle's side.
"The only traitor here is you, Caesar." He takes out a scroll and flings it at the Emperor. Caesar begins to read, mouthing the words and looks up with horror.
"You can't honestly believe the words of this mad woman over mine!" Caesar bellows with all his arrogance. Brutus backhands him.
"That mad woman you are referring to, was my Empress and the true leader of Rome."
I'm not sure who is more shocked by all of this, Caesar, Gabrielle, or I. Brutus continues, looking right into Caesar's eyes. "Caesar, you have been found guilty by the Roman Senate for crimes against Rome, humanity, and the Empress, and the sentence is death by crucifixion which will be carried out immediately." The Emperor is silent. Brutus just shakes his head in disgust.
"Guards, take him." The little one and I watch as the Emperor is led away to justice. Brutus then turns to us.
"I'm sorry for your loss, she was a good woman." His eyes well up.
"She was everything to me." Gabrielle said, trying hard not to cry. "I want you to nail him to that cross he had her on. Then break that bastard's legs." She says this in such a tone that it stuns both Brutus and I. She has no tears, her eyes just clouded with pain.
"It will be done." He bows his respect to the little one, and goes to carry out the orders. She stands there silent. I feel bad, for I had no words that could comfort.
"M'lila?" she whispers. "I want you to stay here and make sure he's dead."
I am puzzled by this. "Where will you be, Gabrielle?"
She looks at me. "The Fates." Then turns and walks off quickly. I will let her go settle what demons she has with the Fates. I will gain much pleasure seeing that bastard get his.
Never in my life did I think I would be without my love.
It took Xena and I so long to find one another. Just to have that man destroy it. My only thought now is to make things right, even if I have to turn the Fates Temple upside down. I run quickly outside to my horse. It is cold, and raining, very fitting for a day like today. As I start to trot away I hear a piercing cry from the fallen Emperor, and that brings a smirk to my lips.
"That's for Xena." I say into the wind. Riding hard with only one goal in mind: I will get my Warrior back and nothing will stop me.
After a good candlemarks hard ride, I can see the Temple. It looks abandoned. I am cold, tired, wet and just numbed by it all. I arrive, dismount, and dash inside. What I see shakes my very existence.
"It's horrible," I whisper, staring at the jumbled up loom.
The oldest of the Fates says, "When Caesar left us chained...."
I turn to see all three of them chained behind me and my heart falls.
"... we could not mind the loom," The youngest Fate adds.
"Creating a world full of chaos and confusion," The middle Fate says with a look of pure horror.
"We're stuck in this world because of you?" I spat angrily, grab the torch to the side of them, and make my way the loom. I'm stuck here in the cursed world? I can't believe it! Caesar won by taking Xena away from me and there's nothing I can do about it? Another person messing with our lives and this has to stop. To Tartarus with it all; without her I have nothing. I turn with the torch towards that blasted loom that sentenced me to this darkness, for now it was my turn to get the last laugh. "I love you, Xena." I whisper with my destiny in hand. My turn to laugh indeed.
"No! Burning the loom...," The oldest started.
"Will destroy everything!" The youngest finishes in dismay.
"So be it!" The idea of living in this world without Xena means a death for me anyway. With all my strength I toss the torch into the loom and watch it burn. This will be the end of Caesar's nightmare.
I feel this flash of fire going through my body taking my breath away. It's so bright and it burns, bringing me to me knees. Then I feel my body being pulled quickly somewhere,
I can't see.....
It all stops.
The fire is gone and I am in what looks to be the forest. I quickly look myself over.
My Amazon outfit? With my sais's strapped to my boots? I start to walk, wondering where Xena is. What was going on? I begin to panic, then from behind me I hear the pounding of hoofs. I turn and see the prettiest sight for my sore eyes.
Xena halts Argo II and just looks at me.
"Hey." She has this utter look of surprise.
"Hi." I could barely get it out.
"You brought the world back to us." She's got her warrior's mask on slightly, but I can see the tears ready to fall.
"I'm glad. I like this one better." All I want to do is hold her.
"Even though you're not a famous playwright?" she asks shyly. As though she was afraid to hear my answer. I need to lighten her up.
"Fame. Who needs it?" She seems almost relived and gives me a hand up on Argo.
I knew what Xena was asking.
"I destroyed the loom."
She just nods, and before she slips into her dark, blaming herself mode, I changed the subject.
"Did you really like my play?" I know what she is going to say.
"It was all right. Maybe it could have had a few more fight scenes."
That's my Warrior. I smiled and we ride off.
"Everyone's a critic." We both laughed. I lay my head on her back and hold her tighter. It's so nice to be home.