See disclaimers in Part I.
A note to the readers:
Please accept my apologies for taking so long. Thanks for hanging in there and for inquiring about the story.
Theodorus returns and unties Solan. He places him on a horse, gives him some directions and then gives the animal a slap on the rear. Hours pass before Solan finally makes it to the edge of the forest where the Amazon village resides. The tears have finally stopped but he is still overcome with grief. Over and over one scene replays in his mind. Bird calls sound around him. He remembers the lessons his father had given him and clasps his hands over his head. Masked warriors fly down from the trees and surround him. They recognize him and take him back to the village.
Eponin is giving some instructions to a small group of women as they prepare to join the search for their queen and Solan. She wants to be ready to leave when Ephiny and Xena finish questioning Solari. The scout had returned and had immediately headed to the Regents hut. The weapons master hears the shouts announcing the arrival of a visitor. She looks out and spots one of the perimeter guards and Solan. She immediate takes him to Ephiny.
"Solan! Are you all right?" Kneeling down Ephiny grasps his shoulders and searches his face for any hint of injury. Her heart drops when she sees the tears and the hurt in his eyes. His body begins to shake and Ephiny embraces him.
"Its my fault," Solan cries into her shoulder. "Its all my fault."
"Solan," Ephiny gently soothes. "Shhh. Its all right. Whats your fault?"
"Queen Gabrielle," he whimpers.
"What about the Queen?" Ephiny softly asks. She glances at Eponin. The Amazon shakes her head.
Solan releases his hold. Be strong for me. Gabrielles last words echo in his mind. He wipes the tears from his face and recounts his ordeal and the killing of the Amazon queen. The women are stunned.
"Im sorry," Solan sobs. "Its all my fault. It should have been me."
Ephiny envelops him in a hug. "No. Its not your fault. None of this is your fault."
Xenas heart breaks at her sons pain. She wants to comfort him but knows any unexplained attention from her would bring questions. She doesnt want to reveal that she is his mother. It would only bring more pain and make him a target. It would be a constant reminder of her ugly past. Xena closes her eyes and hears Solans anguished voice and his description of what happened. Her sharp mind screams at her for attention. Blue eyes seek an audience to her inner thoughts. "Something is not right," she utters. "Solan may I ask you some questions?"
He doesnt recognize the tall woman and looks to Ephiny for some guidance. After the Amazon gives him a reassuring nod Solan quietly tells her okay.
Xena consciously softens her features. "Callisto told you that she was planning to ransom Queen Gabrielle to the Amazons." Solan nods his head. "Was she going to ransom you to your father?"
Solan gives her a puzzled expression and quietly replies. "I thought she was."
"And when that man let you go, he told you to tell the Amazons that they can find Queen Gabrielles body at the rivers pass."
"Yes," Solan whispers. The tears fill his eyes again.
In her gentlest voice she asks, "Did Queen Gabrielle scream out?"
A slight tremor passes through the boy. "No. I told you she was unconscious."
"Did you see any blood?"
He gives her a pained expression. "It all happened so quickly and they were far away. But I saw ... I saw what she did to Queen Gabrielle."
Xena bends down and looks into her sons face. "I believe you. But I dont think Callisto killed Queen Gabrielle. She only pretended to."
"But you werent there." Solans eyes show his disbelief.
"Yes I wasnt but a couple of things dont add up. Why didnt she ransom you? Why didnt she just leave Queen Gabrielles body after she killed her?"
No one answers. "Do you have any idea why Callisto would do this?" Solari asks.
"No. Maybe this is all part of some sick plan for revenge." Xena tries to reassure Solan. "Shes alive. I can feel it."
Solan wants so much to believe this stranger. "What if youre wrong," he whispers.
"If we dont find Gabrielle we may never know," Eponin states.
Ephiny who has been very quiet finally speaks. "I believe she is alive. Just like Xena, my heart tells me shes alive." Pause. "If Xena doesnt have anymore questions, Id like you to go with Solari to see the healer. I want to make sure youre okay. And Im sure your father would like to see you."
Xena gives Solan a smile and places a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you for your help and for answering my questions."
Solan nods and then exits with Solari.
Hes almost a young man, Xena thinks. She takes a moment to reflect on the son she gave up and then returns to the problem at hand. "Callisto is sending us on a wild goose chase. The pass is many days travel away."
"So while we are making our way there, shes heading in another direction," Eponin guesses.
"Do you have any idea where they may be going?" Ephiny asks.
Xena nods. "Lets first catch up to Velaska and her group."
A short time later, they find Velaska and the rest of the Amazons. After some discussion, all finally agree to split up into two groups. Ephiny, Solari, Eponin and Xena will search for Callisto. Velaska will take the rest of the Amazons and head to the pass. Ephiny gives some final instructions to Velaska. The two groups part ways, determined to find their Queen and friend. Night falls and Ephiny reluctantly decides to set up camp for the evening. After quietly eating their dinner, the ladies gather around the fire, each deep in their own thoughts. Finally Xena breaks the silence.
"Tell me what Gabrielle was like in the beginning."
Ephiny and Solari share a smile.
"Ephiny. Tell Xena about the feather incident." Solari softly suggests.
Without breaking her gaze from the fire, the weapons master puts in her choice. "The Hunters celebration."
Solari looks over to her friend, her eyes smiling at the memory. "The Hunters celebration," she repeats. "Go on Ephiny."
Ephiny slowly shakes her head and softly replies, "No. You tell her."
"Come on, you know all of the details better than me."
Eponin nods her head in agreement. "And if Gabrielle finds out, shell be less likely to kill you for." All three Amazons look at one another, grins forming on their lips.
Xenas curiosity peaks. "Will someone just tell me the story."
Ephiny finally agrees. "Okay. Okay. Well tell you the story," she states as she gestures back and forth between herself and Solari. Trying her best Gabrielle impersonation she begins. "I sing the song of Gabrielle, an Amazon princess with the purest of hearts We could all tell that Gabrielle was a little naïve. She came from Potedeia and the only world she had known was a simple life of villagers. I dont think she had seen much beyond that. Anyway after Terris gave her the right of caste she was suddenly thrusted into this new world, a world she had heard about coaxed out of passing merchants who had heard from others who had encountered the mythical women warriors. Well Queen Melosa insisted Gabrielle immediately start her training as an Amazon princess and in her education in learning the Amazon ways and customs."
"The hunting season took away many of our women from their teaching duties. At different times a few of us," Ephiny points to themselves, "were called upon us to help with the training. She was placed in the younger childrens class. At the time, it was Solaris class."
Solari picks up where Ephiny left off. "Can you image, Gabrielle surrounded by girls barely 9 summers old. I think at the time she was just 7 or 8 summers older than the others." All the Amazons smile at the image. "Its like putting Poni in the cooks tent. She sticks out like-"
"Hey!" Eponin protests.
Solari shrugs her shoulders and gives her a hey Im only telling the truth expression.
"So she looked a little out of place. Please continue Solari, " Xena requests.
"She might have looked physically out of place, but you know, she fit right in. The children were immediately taken with her. Her openness drew them to her. But I think it was because she always made the time and effort to listen to them. Gabrielle never looks down on anyone, takes people seriously because she believes she can learn from anyone, even little girls."
"And thats what makes a good leader," Ephiny observes. "Soon they were her followers."
Solari pauses in thought before continuing. "At the end of each season, the tribe celebrates the blessing of the hunt. This involves going into the lake, stripping and diving naked into the waters."
"Amazons are very proud of their women hood and arent a bit shy about showing off their assets," Ephiny adds. "Well Gabrielle was a little modest about hers."
"A little?" Eponin snorts.
Ephiny gives Eponin a look but continues. "Even though she wasnt involved in the hunt, Queen Melosa insisted Gabrielle participate in this tradition as part of her training."
"You should have seen the look on her face when she heard about it!" Eponin laughs. "Ive never seen anyone blush so quickly."
Ephiny continues. "Gabrielle approached me in my quarters."
"Ephiny, can I ask you something about the Hunters Celebration?"
Ephiny hears the uneasiness in Gabrielles voice. She nods at her young friends request.
"Do I really have to participate?"
"Gabrielle. Are you having trouble with this?"
"No, I mean well sort of."
"Why?" Gabrielle pauses before answering. "Im a little embarrassed about the whole thing," she mumbles.
Ephiny gestures for Gabrielle to sit down. "Were all women here. We all have the same parts and we all know what everything looks like."
"Back home, I normally dont go walking around naked in front of everyone. And I dont see it as a normal occurrence here."
"Its not. But we are taught at a young age not to be ashamed of our bodies."
"So you and I could be sitting here without our clothes on and it wouldnt bother you?"
"No," Ephiny casually answers her. She stands and begins to unlace her top. "Do you want to try it out and see?" she teases.
"No!!" Gabrielle immediately blurts out.
A smile momentarily flashes across Ephinys face. "Look Gabrielle. Its not a big deal. We all go to the lake, take off our clothes and take a swim."
Shifting in her chair Gabrielle asks, "All of it?"
"Yes all of it. Anyway everyones busy stripping and rushing to be the first one in. So when they finish their swim they can observe all of the other women," Ephiny seriously tells her. She watches Gabrielle turn a deeper shade of red then laughs. "Im just teasing you."
"Why and how in the world did this tradition get started."
"The dip in the waters symbolizes a cleansing from taking a life. Well not all the warriors bring something to the village and egos are hurt. So all are given a chance to prove themselves by racing to the lake. A second opportunity is in the race to swim across it."
Gabrielle has a thoughtful expression as she takes in what Ephiny tells her. "I see. The best hunters arent necessary the fastest runners or the strongest swimmers. So why do we have to take off our clothes?"
"I dont know," Ephiny shrugs her shoulders. "Its probably one of those old traditions like howling at the moon or its some deep symbolization of rebirth. Not everybody can take pride in being the hunter, the fastest runner or the strongest swimmer but we can all be proud of our bodies. Its tradition. Just consider as part of your initiation into the tribe."
"No clothes huh? Well I guess I shouldnt go breaking traditions."
"After I explained this to Gabrielle, she seemed all right with it," Ephiny tells Xena.
"So she participated?" Xena asks.
With a grin Eponin replies, "Yes she did."
Ephiny continues. "The celebration is an all day affair. It is a time to give thanks and to relax. The delicious smells of food saturate the air. Early in the morning, all participates leave the village and enter the forest where the race will begin. The rest of the tribe gather at the lake and wait for the appearance of the hunters."
"The three of us took in upon ourselves to make sure Gabrielle was there," Eponin tells Xena.
"She didnt appear apprehensive, like everything was okay," Ephiny adds. "Finally we hear the signal for the race to begin." Eponin makes a bird call to add to the story. Ephiny smiles and continues. "The three of us immediately take off, our pride driving us forward. When I got to the lake I noticed Gabrielle wasnt there but I didnt think anything of it and continued the race. A hail of cheers erupts as the first warriors come out of the lake. There are many cheers. Cheers for those arriving, for those swimming to the finish."
"But there was no Gabrielle and we were starting to get worried," Solari states.
A concerned express appears on Ephinys face. "A figure appears from the trees camouflaged in leaves and mud. Many of the warriors draw their weapons to defend our people. But this figure carried no weapons."
"Only a bundle of clothes," Eponin jumps in.
"It was Gabrielle, naked but covered from head to toe. She had stopped off somewhere, taken off her clothes and carefully covered herself with mud and leaves. I was so stunned I didnt see her dive into the lake," Ephiny confesses. "When she got to the other side, the strategically placed mud had washed off."
All three Amazons laugh at the memory.
"Poor thing," Solari states. "You should have seen the look on her face when she realized that her well thought out plan had a hole in it and that the women before her were dressed."
"We forgot to mention that you were suppose to carry your clothes with you to the other side of the lake " Eponin explains.
"And Gabrielle had dropped her clothes to the ground before diving in. Talk about blushing, even her ears were red." Ephiny shakes her head. "Queen Melosa called out to her in a stern voice, Princess. Were waiting.
What could she do? She couldnt swim back to retrieve her clothes and she couldnt stay in the lake.
Solari continues the story. "While all of this was going on the children, whispering among themselves quickly band together and formed a wall near the edge of the lake. Gabrielle gets out and then the girls surround her giving her cover from some of her nakedness and embarrassment. Someone hands Gabrielle a blanket, which she gratefully accepts. In the meantime, Queen Melosa has made her way to Gabrielle. The look on her face is one of a mother about to scold a child. But before she can say anything some of the children streak by. They had taken off their clothes and had covered their bodies with mud."
"What a sight!" Eponin laughs out aloud.
Ephiny smiles in agreement. "Queen Melosa must have thought it amusing because she started to laugh. Later Melosa told me that even though Gabrielle didnt follow the tradition like she expected she realized, through the actions of the children, what a natural leader Gabrielle is. Any thoughts to admonish the Princess was replaced with admiration. To this day, participants have a choice either to strip or not to strip before diving into the waters."
"And whenever someone says "Gabrielle Red" she is referring to a bright red color," Solari tells Xena.
Its a new day. Callisto is on horseback vainly reviewing the results of her plans. Her original idea was to kidnap Solan. She had convinced Draco to gather some of his men near the Centaur border to create a distraction.
"Whats it in for me?" Draco asks.
"Oh maybe I can add some Amazons for your slave market. Theyre neighbors. The Amazons will probably send a group of warriors to assist them. They have a treaty you know."
Draco had agreed. But later she learns that Solan and Kalepius were at the Amazon village. Fortunately this had worked out better. She had Draco increase the number of his men to draw some of the Amazons away. With the village less protected she sent half her men to attack. When Theodorus snatched up the boy the other half jumped in to ensure their get away. Getting Gabrielle was a bonus. She dropped her original plans to kill Xenas son opting instead to kill the Amazon. The harlots would lose their queen and hopefully unleash their hurt on the former Conqueror. Maybe even blame her for their queens death. And her former commander would lose the one person who believed in her. She smiles at the thought of bringing more pain and grief into Xenas life. But once again her plans had changed. She sent word to Draco that she was now on her way to meet him.
Gabrielle wearily watches her captor. She awoke to find herself slung uncomfortably over a horses saddle. After protesting, Callisto had mercifully stopped and allowed her to sit upright with her hands secured behind her back. Too tired and hurt, Gabrielle tries to conserve her energy. Conversation between them is non-existent as they continue riding. This leaves Gabrielle to think about their destination and of when her life would be taken. Perhaps Callisto had something other than death in store for her. She hopes the thin blonde had kept her word and that Solan had not been harmed.
Callisto stops the horses. After dismounting, she pulls the Amazon off and shoulders a saddlebag. As a precaution she pulls out a dagger and gestures at Gabrielle with it. They walk through the trees and up a side of a hill, Gabrielle begins to ask questions. They arrive at a cave surrounded by trees and bushes. The remains of a pile of charred wood reveal a recent stay.
"Did you keep your promise?" Gabrielle asks.
"The one about Solan."
"Oh that one." Callisto keeps silent to torment the small blonde.
"Callisto, please. You promised not to hurt him."
"Promises can be broken."
Gabrielle feels the anger building within her. How can I be so stupid, she admonishes herself.
Callisto begins to laugh. "Just kidding," she teases. "I kept my promise."
Gabrielle looks deeply into Callistos face trying to determine if she is telling the truth.
Callisto pulls out a waterskin from her bag and uncorks it. She offers it to her prisoner. "Its not poison." When Gabrielle doesnt make a move to accept, Callisto sighs. "You can be so difficult." In a blink of an eye, Callisto swings out and punches Gabrielle in the stomach. Several blows leave the Amazon gasping on the ground in pain. Rolling Gabrielle onto her back Callisto forces the Amazons mouth open. She grabs the waterskin and empties its contents.
Gabrielle sputters but swallows most of the liquid. Coughing to try to clear her lungs. Gabrielle begins to feel dizzy.
The last thing Gabrielle sees before the blackness claims her is Callistos evil smile.
"Wheres the blonde."
"Im right here." Callisto seductively replies.
Not amused Draco asks again. "Where is Gabrielle"
"Oh some where safe. Wheres my money?" The warlord does not answer her. "No money no queen." Callisto turns and begins to walk away.
"Dont take another step." Several of Dracos men pull out their swords. Others point crossbows at her.
"Lets not get our leathers tied up in a knot. You need me if you want to see her." A devilish smile appears on Callisto face.
Draco signals to one of his men. He throws a bag at her feet. "Theres half. Youll get the rest when I have Gabrielle."
Picking it up she tosses it up and down to weigh the contents and to hear the jiggling of the coins. "Follow me."
Ephiny leans over a kneeling Solari trying to decipher what the scout sees. "How many?" the regent asks. Eponin stands nearby on alert.
"Maybe twenty or so," Solari answers. She turns to Xena seeking her agreement.
Xena nods as she fingers the dirt. After dusting her hands off, she straightens up and scans the area. "A group of riders came through this area." Scanning some more, an old memory surfaces and Xena frowns at it.
"Whats wrong?" Ephiny asks.
"An old friend of mine usually makes his camp just beyond the ridge. If he and his men are there, I think Ill drop by and make some inquiries."
"Your friend have a name," Eponin questions.
Xena takes a moment before answering. "Draco. When Gabrielle and I were on our way to Amphipolis, we crossed paths. He was interested in Gabrielle." Before Ephiny could say anything, Xena puts her hand out stopping her. "He didnt try anything. He knew better not to."
"I dont like this," Ephiny states firmly. "Weve followed Callisto to this point, we find tracks that probably belongs to this Draco, and now you tell us he has a thing for our Queen?" The Amazon rubs her forehead and then rakes her hand through her hair.
"Ephiny, stop that imagination of yours, okay?" Solari tries to calm her friend. "Well find Gabrielle."
"Ephiny, I promise you. We will find her," Xena reassures her. "Come on. We have some ground to cover before we reach the camp."
As the women mount their horses Eponin asks, "Whats the plan?"
Xena fluidly swings onto Argo. "Like I said. Ill drop by for a friendly visit. Maybe have some fun for old times sake."
"So I guess while youre reminiscing, well make ourselves home and take a look around," Eponin offers.
"You read my mind. Lets go."
Draco enters his tent with an unconscious Gabrielle. Laying her gently down on some furs he proceeds to untie the bindings around the blondes ankles and wrists. He brushes the soft hair from her face and gazes at the innocent features. He had never been taken with anyone before. Not even with Xena. And Xena is drop dead gorgeous. Her power and darkness excited him. But this one was different. The first time he encountered them on the road to Amphipolis, he felt an instant attraction to the little blonde. He left his men and followed them. From the shadows he watched. And when he heard the story about the father and daughter, his heart was forever pierced by her words.
I wonder what I feels like to hold her? He smiles at the thought and begins to remove his leather vest. He slips silently under the furs and pulls Gabrielle into an embrace. Soon Draco drifts off content to let Morpheus take him to a world dreaming of Gabrielle at his side.
Gabrielle wakes up and opens her eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. A little groggy, she notices that she is no longer bound. She immediately becomes startled when she realizes that she is enveloped in someones embrace. She twists around and finds Draco instead.
"Gabrielle," he greets her.
Gabrielle pries herself out his embrace and moves off the furs. A look of confusion covers her face as she looks around. "Where am I?" she asks.
"In my tent," Draco replies.
She raises an eyebrow. "Wheres Callisto? And why am I with you?"
Draco laughs out loud and shakes his head. "So many questions. We can continue this conversation over some food. Im sure you are hungry." Obviously feeling no threat from Gabrielle, Draco walks over to a food-laden table. Picking up a loaf he tears a piece off and offers it to her.
"Why am I here and why were we ." She gestures to the furs.
"I rescued you from Callisto. You were shivering so I was trying to warm you up," Draco lies.
"Why would you help me?"
Draco smiles. Shes suspicious. He takes a bite out of the bread and chews slowly. "Youre a friend of Xenas." Still the blondes face shows no signs of trust. He places the bread down and approaches her. He stops a few steps away. "If I didnt help and if she found out, she would make me regret it and besides I find you very attractive."
Uncomfortable and unable to determine his intentions, Gabrielle tries to head off any advances. "Draco. Im flattered I appreciate you freeing me from Callisto " She takes a step back away. "But I need to get back-"
"I was hoping you would stay," Draco tells her.
"Yes, with me."
"Im not such a bad guy." He takes a step toward her.
"I hardly know you."
"Stay and get to know me." He takes another step. "Most women find me attractive. Xena did at one time."
"You are quite persistent."
"Yes I am."
"If I am to stay, I need to let my Amazon sisters know I am all right."
"Ill send someone."
"Thank you for your offer but I need to speak with them face to face."
A man appears. Draco motions him in. He whispers into his commanders ear. "I need to take care of some business. Please make yourself comfortable."
"I wouldnt mind looking around."
"Please stay here," he requests. "Youll be safe here."
As Gabrielle watches Draco leave the tent, a thick necked solider steps into view and stations himself at the front of the entrance. The Amazon gives him a smile and casually looks around him to the outside. She sees many men milling about. She reasons her chances of getting out Dracos camp is probably little to none but she is determined to try.
Draco enters one of his battle tents. Callisto is seated comfortably with a half-eaten apple in her hand. "I want my other half."
Draco calls one of his men and whispers his instructions. Shortly the soldier returns with a leather bag. Draco shows her the bag and then tosses it out the tent. "There. Now get out of here."
Callisto doesnt budge. "So what do you plan to do with her?" she sneers. "Sell her? Keep her as your little play thing?" Irritated by her words, Draco immediately goes to pour himself a goblet of wine. Callisto interprets his agitation and silence and lets out a laugh.
Draco sneers at the woman and takes a swallow from the goblet. He stands and leans against the table. "I dont like that you abused her."
A smirk forms on Callistos lips. "We were reliving some old times."
"If you ever touch her again, Ill kill you."
"You and Xena both." Callisto gives him a smile. "Shell try to escape."
"Ive thought of that. Ill do what I have to do to convince her to stay."
"Well I suppose breaking a persons will is one of the requirements of being in your business."
"Ive given you what you wanted. Isnt it time for you to leave."
Callisto frowns at his abruptness. "I have to meet my men anyway. But " She moves toward him and takes his goblet. She swirls the contents. "Gabrielles a nice girl, probably the kind that your mother would love. But if you want something more satisfying, more dangerous, come and find me." She swallows the rest of the contents and then hands the goblet back to Draco. She gives him a lecherous look and then leaves.
The warlord is silent. Gabrielle is the only one I want.
Gabrielle tries to talk with the soldier guarding her but it is a one way conversation. She finally gives up. She walks over to the table and examines the food on it. There she spies the knife besides the bread and cheese. At that moment, Draco enters the tent. He dismisses the man to give them some privacy.
"Gabrielle," he calls out. He gestures for her to take a seat. "Now back to what we were discussing. I can send one of my men with a message to your Amazons." He smiles as he produces parchment, an ink well and a quill.
"I still would like to give my sisters the message in person." She takes the items from him and places them on the table. Gabrielle doesnt see the hardness in Dracos eyes as she turns back to him. "Why dont you come with me?"
Draco gives her a long stare. He calmly states, "I have things to take of and dont think I can afford to leave them unattended at this time."
"Ill go and you can join me when youre done."
Shaking his head, Draco walks up to Gabrielle. "It isnt that simple." He reaches out to stroke her face. Gabrielle doesnt flinch as the strong fingers caress her check. The green eyes study the handsome face and see the danger lurking in his dark brown eyes. The hand drops to rest her shoulder. Draco slips behind her.
He purrs into her ear. "I can give you so much." Gabrielle attempts to respond but he hushes her. "No no. Let me finish." He speaks into her other ear. "You dont know how much I want you. How you make me feel. And when I held you in my arms " He feels her tense. "Dont you want to stay with me?" He turns her around and looks into the green eyes searching for any sign of deception. His hands are griping the Amazons shoulders tightly.
Gabrielles mind is racing as she tries to compose herself to answer him. "Truthfully, I dont think that is possible."
Draco relaxes his grip. He is satisfied with her honest answer.
"You werent going to send any message, were you?" Gabrielle quietly accuses him.
Draco looks at her with an open face. He shakes his head. "No." Pause. "In my business, a defiant slave or two isnt an uncommon thing. Usually they are made an example of as a warning to the rest. Other times I like to break them of their will. Is that what I have to do? Break you?"
Gabrielle studies his face for a moment before answering. "You can only break the unwilling." She sees the startled look on Dracos face. Gotcha. Gabrielle jerks her knee to his groin. As he doubles over, she clasps her hands and slams it down on his back. Quickly grabbing the chair, she clobbers him with it and knocks him unconscious. She grabs the knife from the table, moves to the back of the tent and makes a slit with it. Cautiously peeking out, she sees no one nearby and slips through. She ducks behinds one of other tents and slices into the material. Slipping in she finds she is in one of the supply tents. She locates a cloak and a spear. After slipping the knife into her boot, she puts on the cloak. Picking up the spear she tests its weight. It will do. She moves to the tents opening and pushes the flap a bit to look out. Some horses are tied to a tree a short distance away. Thinking this was her best chance she exits the way she came in and makes her way toward the animals. Almost there. Suddenly two soldiers appear by the horses.
Shouts from the watch guards put the camp in alert. A lone rider appears North of the camp. A group of men move to block the riders entrance. Xena smiles at the appearance of the soldiers and continues to ride toward them.
As she approaches, one of the soldiers recognizes the former conqueror.
"Stop," he calls out. "What business brings you here?"
Xena scrutinizes the average looking man. Palandro she remembers. She raises an eyebrow and casually replies. "Who said anything about business Palandro." She continues to stare.
The soldier squirms under her glare and clears his throat. "Please dismount and wait here. Ill tell Draco you are here."
"Thanks but I know the way." Xena gracefully slips off Argo.
The men watch as she hands the reins over to one of them, whispers something and pats him on the cheek. Palandro hurries to catch up. He doesnt want his commander to be surprised and more importantly to face his wrath afterwards. He tries to make some small talk. "Its been a while Xena. You are looking well as always." She turns to look at him and gives him a not so friendly smile. Soon they are in front of Dracos tent. Without waiting for Palandro to announce her presence, she pushes the flap aside and slips in.
Xena sees an unsteady Draco on the ground trying to sit up. She looks around and takes in the appearance of the quarters. A broken chair. Uneaten food on the table. Disturbed furs that make up what likely is a sleeping area. Pieces of rope nearby.
"Commander!" Palandro calls out. He goes to help his leader up. "What happened?"
Draco pushes Palandros hands away and barks out, "Tell the men to be on alert and search the camp. My-" He stops when he sees Xena. "Xena," he greets her.
"Draco. Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No of course not." Draco glares at his man and jerks his head. "I told you to alert the men. I can take care of things here." He stands and rubs the back of his head.
"Maybe I can be of some assistance," Xena offers.
"That is so very kind of you, but my men can handle things."
"I insist." As Draco calls for her to stop, she exits the tent.
Eyeing the two soldiers, Gabrielle goes over her options. Suddenly she hears footsteps behind her and whips around to defend herself. She immediately brings the spear up ready to defend herself.
"Ephiny!" Gabrielle moves to give her friend a hug.
"Its good to see you too," the Amazon responds. She takes a careful look at her queen. "Are you all right?" She sees Gabrielles bruises and cuts.
Gabrielle nods. "For the most part I am. Who else is here with you?"
"Poni, Solari and Xena. Xena is keeping Draco occupied to give us a chance to look around." Ephiny points to the area just behind the horses and the soldiers. "Were all suppose to meet up behind those trees in a candlemark."
"Okay. Lets go."
They advance to the meeting place. Unfortunately someone spots them and calls out. "Hey! You there!" He and his fellow soldier approach them, their hands on the hilt of their swords.
Gabrielle inwardly sighs. She spins around to face them. "I was just taking a walk with my friend here."
The taller of the two men suspiciously eyes Ephiny. "I dont recall anything about a visitor. I insist we take you both back to the commanders tent."
"Sure. I wouldnt want either of you to get into trouble," Gabrielle replies in a friendly voice.
Shorty smiles in return. "Ladies, after you."
Seeing no other option, Ephiny and Gabrielle nod to one another and began to walk back. "Watch out for that hole there," Ephiny point out. Gabrielle barely misses it but stumbles to the ground. "Shes so clumsy sometimes," Ephiny explains to the other soldier.
The taller one shakes his head and holds out a hand to help her up. Gabrielle smiles and expresses her thanks as she grabs it. Before anyone can blink, Gabrielle has yanked the man over her shoulder. While Shorty watches in surprise, Ephiny clobbers him on the back of the head. Unknown to them more guards appears.
"Just great!" Ephiny mutters as she unsheathes her sword in preparation for the attack. Gabrielle breaks the point off of the spear to use as a staff. Moments later, they are attacked. As Ephiny swipes one of the men with her sword, she keeps her queen in her sight. She is worried Gabrielle is at a disadvantage because of her weakened condition. She reaches deeper to try to defeat those around her
The spear that Gabrielle is using breaks when a heavy mace is brought down against it. Three soldiers have surrounded her and lunge forward to capture her. She tries her best to dodge the weapons aimed her way by ducking and springing back. One swings his swords and successfully slices into her leg and she stumbles. With that opening the man with the mace swings it across her side. The other wanting to get a hit in brings the end of the club to the back of her head. She drops to the ground unconscious.
"You idiot!" the soldier pushes the one with the club away.
Eponin and Solair appear and see their Regent fighting against the men. Eponin searches for Gabrielle and sees her queen falling to the ground. The two warriors quickly join in. They are able to stand their ground keeping the men at bay. But already outnumbered three to one, they know the fight will soon be over. But then a voice calls. Ephiny relaxes when Xena appears with Draco.
"Tell your men to back off," Xena hisses into his ear. "Now!"
"Pull back," Draco commands. In a whisper he warns, "Dont do anything stupid Xena. My men will rush you if-"
"If what," the warrior snarls back. "If I decide to take your head off with my chakram."
"You should be thanking me Xena. I was the one that saved Gabrielle from Callisto."
"Callisto." She shakes her head. "For all I know you were in with that lunatic."
"Do you think I would hurt a friend of yours? Ill find out which one of my men did this to do this Gabrielle. And I promise, hell be severely punished. Let me take her to my healer-"
"No," Ephiny interrupts.
Before Draco can reply, a whistle pierces the air and Argo appears. Xena gives her faithful horse a command to kneel. Eponin and Solari lift up Gabrielle and place her onto the golden horse. Eponin settles in behind. Slowly the horse stands. Eponin gives a tug and Argo trots away.
"Go on." Xena tells Ephiny and Solari. "Im going to get some answers to a few questions I have. Then Draco and I are going to clear up any misunderstandings."
Ephiny takes a hard look at the warlord before leaving with Solari.
Eponin waits patiently for her friends to appear. She presses a cloth against the deep cuts as the blood continues to ooze out. With her other hand Eponin smoothes the hair away from the blondes eyes. She grimaces at the bruising around Gabrielles throat. Keen ears detect the sounds of people approaching. She quickly stands and draws her sword. A familiar birdcall sounds and she relaxes but still does not sheathe her weapon. Its Ephiny and Solari.
"How is she?" Ephiny asks as she dismounts and moves over to Gabrielle.
"Still unconscious. Shes got a huge lump, deep gashes along her left side. The bleeding has slowed."
Ephiny lefts up the cloth and peers at the wound.
"Wheres Xena?" Eponin asks Solari.
"Right here." Xena appears with Argo in tow. After handing the reins over to Solari, she kneels down next to the Gabrielle. She does a quick once over to search for any serious injuries. Using her fingers she gently probes the back of the blondes head. The Amazons wait to hear what Xena will say. "Head injuries are had to judge. Well get a better idea how she is when she wakes up."
Ephiny nods. "Can she be moved?"
Xena nods. "We arent far from Potedeia . We should take her there."
Solari and Eponin both look over to their regent. Ephiny asks, "Did Gabrielle tell you about her relationship with her family."
"Yes. Despite her fathers feelings I dont think we should risk it a longer journey back to the Amazon village."
Ephiny doesnt hesitate in her response. "All right. Well tackle that obstacle when we get there. Solari. Eponin, see if you can get the material to make a litter."
The women get to work and soon have Gabrielle secured in a makeshift litter. Moments later they start the journey toward Gabrielles childhood home. Xena rides ahead with Ephiny besides her. Eponin horse follows pulling the litter and Solari brings up the rear. In silence they ride until they reach the outer edge of the village. All the women dismount.
"Do you know where Gabrielles parents live?" Xena asks.
Ephiny nods her head. "Yes. I remember from the last time we were here." She frowns at the memory. She and Solari had spent that evening trying to console the Amazon princess telling her that she was a part of their family.
"You dont think they would turn their own daughter away now when shes hurt," Solari asks Ephiny.
"I hope not," Ephiny replies.
"We could always get the supplies we need and camp out," Eponin suggests.
Xena stares out at the open road leading to the village. "It wont come to that."
"Lets go," Ephiny directs. Eponin and Solari lift the litter up and follow Ephiny and Xena into the village. They pass several homes before reaching a small but sturdy looking house. Xena and Ephiny tie the horses to the fence.
A young lady with brown hair comes out of the house carrying a small basket. She sees the women and recognition registers on her face. She looks over her shoulder back to the house before approaching.
Ephiny greets her. "Lila."
"Ephiny. Wheres Gabr-." She spies her sister in the litter Eponin and Solari are holding. "What happened?!"
"Lila. Ill explain later, but we would like to get your sister inside," Ephiny responds.
With her eyes on Gabrielle, Lila nods her head. She looks up at the other women with the regent. She recognizes Solari and Eponin and knows they are Amazons. She stares uncertainly at the tall dark haired women.
Seeing Lilas hesitation Ephiny tells her, "Shes a friend."
Lila gives Xena a weak smile and turns back to Ephiny. "Mother is in the house." Pause. "Father is in the fields." With that brief explanation all the women follow Lila inside. "Mother," Lila calls out. "Gab Gabrielle is here."
Xenas eyes adjust to the dimmer light of the house and immediately focuses on Gabrielles mother. A surprise but happy face with hazel eyes greets them. Xena can see glimpses of Gabrielle in the older woman.
Ephiny is the first to say something. "Hecuba. My name is Ephiny."
"Yes I remember. Wheres Gabrielle?"
Lila steps up to her mother. "Gabrielle has been hurt."
"What happened?" There is panic in Hecubas voice.
"She received some injuries and a blow to the head," Xena explains. "If you could show us to a bed."
"Yes of course. Will she be all right?"
Not wanting to make light of the situation Xena honestly replies. "It could be serious but we wont know until she awakes up."
Hecuba shakes herself out of her daze and motions to a room. The front door opens and Herodotus enters. "Hecuba! Whos here?" He sees the Amazons and stops. "You," he angrily shouts at Ephiny. "What are you doing here!"
"Herodotus." Hecuba closes the door of the room she left her daughters and the other Amazons in. "Please Herodotus -"
He glares at the closed door. "Is she here?"
Hecuba timidly responds, "Yes but-"
"She is not welcomed here." He turns and points a finger at Ephiny. "And neither are you. I want all of you out."
Xena steps right into Herodotus face. They stand eye to eye. "Arent you are wondering why your daughter isnt out here to greet you." She pauses to let him think. "Shes in there with some serious injuries. Now lower your voice and listen to what your wife has to tell you."
"Who the Hades are you?"
"My name is Xena," she replies in a low even voice. Seeing the fear in his eyes, steps back away from him.
The creaking of the door fills the silent room. Lila had heard the angry voice of her father and had decided to avoid him. "Mother. We need some cloth, some salve and boiling water."
Hecuba hears her youngest daughters request and turns to her husband. "I have a daughter to take care of."
Herodotus watches his wife go about her task. He looks at Xena and Ephiny and gives them a glare. Without a word he leaves.
Gabrielle slowly stirs.
"Easy. Youve got a nasty bump."
The familiar voice sounds so far away. The blonde blinks and slowly opens her eyes.
"Shes awake," Lila calls out.
Immediately the little room fills up. Xena moves to the bed and begins examining Gabrielle. "How do you feel?" she asks.
Gabrielle takes a moment before replying. She looks at the raven-haired woman that is checking the back of her head. "Like I got stomped on the head by a Centaur or two." She closes her eyes and groans at all the aches and pains her body is experiencing.
"You gave us a good scare," Xena tells her. She presses against the knot on the blondes head. Gabrielle winces a little. "Nothings broken. Can you tell me your name?"
The blonde sees the serious face anxiously waiting for her reply. "Xena." The dark haired woman tilts her head and leans in. "Xena," Gabrielle weakly tells her again.
Xena straightens up a bit. "Your name is Xena?" she inquires softly. The room becomes very still.
"No." A smile forms on the blondes lips. "Your name is Xena. My name is Gabrielle."
Xena lets out a breath. "Funny. Very funny," Xena scolds her.
"Apparently that bump didnt take away your sense of humor," Ephiny adds. The regent is on the other side of the bed across from Xena.
Gabrielle views her surroundings. Slowly she realizes she is back in her old room. Back in Potedeia. She sees her mother moving to her side as Xena rises.
"Oh Gabrielle." Her mother tenderly reaches out and touches her on the check. "I was so afraid."
Gabrielle takes her mothers hand into her own. "Im all right." She searches the room for the familiar voice she first heard. "Lila."
Her sister steps into view and stands behind their mother. "Gabrielle." Her sisters joy robs her of any words.
Gabrielle reaches up to touch Lilas hand and smiles at her. Shes happy to see her family again. Its been too long, she thinks to herself. Father. The thought that she was here with her family brings her some hope. But it disappears when she does not see him. "What happened?" Gabrielle asks as she tries to sit up.
Ephiny immediately puts a hand on her friends shoulder. "Easy there."
"You got hit in the back of the head," Lila replies. "Your friends brought you here."
Turning to Ephiny, Gabrielle whispers, "You brought me here?"
Ephiny does not reply but nods and directs her eyes toward Xena. Eponin and Solari have been standing at the doorway. Like everyone else they immediately came when they heard Gabrielle had awaken. Solari whispers to Eponin, "Shes overwhelmed. She needs some time alone."
Eponin nods her head in agreement. "I would be too My Queen." All eyes turn to the weapons master. "If we may take our leave, Solari and I will tend to the horses."
Gabrielle nods her head.
Ephiny watches Solari and Eponin leave. She gives Gabrielle a squeeze on her shoulder. "Please get some rest." She rises from the bedside.
"Thank you Ephiny. Ill reintroduce everyone so we can all get reacquainted."
Ephiny gives Gabrielle a slight nod and turns to leave. Before she can exit the room, Gabrielle calls out to her. "Oh Ephiny." The Amazon Regent turns around. "And we can talk later about some of my missing property." The queens words are not said as a reprimand but as a playful warning of what is to come.
A guilty expression flashes across Ephinys face. "Of course." She gives her queen a smile before departing.
Gabrielle hears Xena call her name. After watching Ephinys disappearing back, the blonde gives Xena her full attention and turns to look at her.
"Other than the headache, how are you feeling? Any dizziness, nausea, " Besides the bruises and scraps, she had seen welts around the blondes neck and wrist. Concerned, she frowns at the thought of what else might have happened to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle is about to tell her shes all right but changes her mind when she sees Xenas stern look. "I ache all over. Im tired. Im hungry."
"Ill put soup together," Hecuba replies in response to her daughters needs. She gives her eldest daughter a kiss on the forehead and lingers. She whispers, "Its so good to see you again." After another kiss Hecuba leaves.
Gabrielle thinks about how much she has missed her mother. Her family. Her father. She knows she needs to confront the uneasiness in her gut. "Lila. Where is father?"
Lila drops her eyes. "I think he is outside."
"Does he know that I am here?" Lila nods. "Could you please see if he is all right," Gabrielle asks.
Lila gives her a sad smile. "Sure Gabby."
Xena reaches out to the small table near the head of the bed and offers Gabrielle a mug of hot tea. "This is for your headache and for some of those aches."
"Youre always seem to be taking care of me," Gabrielle comments. "Giving me herbal tea."
"You always seem to be getting into trouble." Finally alone with Gabrielle, Xena lets her emotions spill out. In a small voice she tells her of her fears. "I was afraid. Afraid when I thought you had died."
"Yes. Its a long story. Solan had seen Callisto kill you."
Gabrielle slowly takes this bit of information in. "Why were you afraid?" Gabrielle asks softly.
"Afraid of the pain of losing someone Ive learned to care about. Afraid what I would do. After Lyceus "
Gabrielle grabs Xenas hand. "Please promise me. Promise me that if anything happens to me you wont become a monster." The determined green eyes refuse to release their hold on Xena.
Finally the warrior answers her. "I promise." She reaches out and touches the Amazons arm briefly.
"Why did you bring me here?"
"To give you and your father a chance Just like you did for me and my mother." Xena sees the pained expression on the blondes face. "What happened between you and your father?"
"You heard most of my story at your mothers tavern."
"Yes. But you said the ending was different."
"Yes." She takes a moment to calm herself and to get her emotions under control. "The day I came home was one of the saddest of my life. I never dreamed he would say the things he said to me "
"Dont you dare call me that."
"For whatever I have done Im sorry."
"For whatever youve done?!? Do you really know what that is?!?"
I was speechless. I have never seen him so angry.
"Father if you would just listen-"
"I told you not to call me father. I have only one daughter and her name is Lila."
"After that he stormed off. Later that evening I sought him out on a hill by the lake. It is a favorite place of ours. I knew I would find him there. I wanted a last chance to talk to him before I left."
"I dont know what to say. Thats a first huh? You told me not to call you father but thats what you will always be to me. I wish that I could change everything I did to hurt you. But I dont have that luxury. Mother told me about your feelings on my decision to stay with the Amazons-"
"It hasnt changed. If you leave, dont come back"
"Please I dont expect you to understand it but I wish you could respect it and respect me."
"I cant give you something you dont deserve."
"Those words hurt me more than I ever thought possible. I didnt know how to respond so I tried to apologize once more "
"Im sorry if my actions have hurt you. Please cant we resolve this between us? Cant you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
Gabrielle stops, the pain of the memory evident on her face. Xena softly asks, "What did he say?"
"He said no, walked away and never looked back." The tears that had filled her eyes have spilled over and run down her cheeks. She brushes them away as they continue to fall. "Over the years Ive written home asking for his forgiveness, asking him if I could return. But all my pleas were never answered." Another pause. "He has never forgiven me." She gives Xena a sad smile. "I think that is why I can forgive people so easily. I know whats it like not to be."
Xenas heart breaks at those words. She is at a loss on what to say. She wraps her arms around Gabrielle and tries to will the hurt away. Gabrielle releases her tentative control and begins to sob into Xenas shoulder. "Im here for you." She kisses the top of the blonde head. "Im here for you always." She gently rocks the smaller woman and continues so for several minutes. Finally the sobs subside to a few sniffs.
"Thank you," she whispers to Xena.
"Rest now." Before releasing Gabrielle, she gives her another kiss on top of her head and then gets up to leave. "You know youve done all you can to make things right."
"Maybe." Gabrielle acknowledges softly. "But it still doesnt make it hurt any less."
After speaking with Lila, Xena seeks out Herodotus. She finds him in the barn tying some straws of hay together. She wants to lash out at him for causing the pain that she sees Gabrielle in. She approaches him, her anger carefully held in check. "How can you just turn your back on her?"
Herodotus stops his task and glares up at the tall woman. "How dare you accuse me when she was the one who walked away from her own flesh and blood!"
"That was years ago!" The blue eyes blaze back at his angry reply. "How many times have you ignored and dismissed her apologies?" She takes a deep breath. "We all make mistakes. She was young. She wanted to see what life had to offer her beyond this little village."
"This little village is good enough for me and my family."
"Yes it is and maybe it wouldve been good enough for Gabrielle. But did you ever ask her? I cant say that what she did was right. And I certainly dont know what she was like back then but I do know her now. That young woman in there is caring, selfless and so full of love. So full of life. But you dont know that. How can you when youve pushed her out of your life." When Herodotus does not respond to her words she grabs the bale that he has been working on and tosses it across the barn. "Open your eyes and your heart and see what she has become. She wants so much to come to you. Dont throw this chance away because she might not come back." His silence continues. "Not long ago she was my prisoner and I did many unspeakable things to her." He looks up at her. His eyes hold a hint of concern. "And she has forgiven me for them. I dont know what consumes your soul to keep her out of you life. But I wish you could give her a chance. If she can forgive a monster like me, how hard would it be for you to forgive her?"
Gabrielle lies quietly in her bed. After eating her fair share of food she was ordered by her mother to get some more sleep. Her mother had given her a hug and some encouraging words.
"Dont worry about this anymore. I dont care what your father said. You are always welcome here. And I will continue to try to change his mind."
She contemplates on her mothers promise. A knock draws her attention to the doorway of the bedroom. It is her father. Her mouth opens and her jaw drops a little at his unexpected appearance. No words pass between them. Finally he gestures to the foot of her bed. She nods and watches as he takes a seat.
"How are you feeling?" he quietly inquires. He watches her blink couple of times but still Gabrielle does not answer. He looks at the daughter that he had not seen in over 4 years. She has become a beautiful young lady, he thinks. "Your mother told me what happened she said you should recover in a few days."
Gabrielle nods. "Im feeling better," she tentatively replies. "Im glad you came by." She is hopeful as she waits to hear his response.
He nervously looks around the room and shifts uncomfortably. "I better go." He rises from the bed.
He looks away from her. "What else is there to say?"
"Is it so bad that we cant make things right between us?"
"I dont know if there is anymore us." He heads toward the door to run away from the pain in his heart.
"Do you know how I felt when Perdicus died?" Gabrielle blurts out. She is now sitting up on the bed.
Her father stops and turns around. "I wouldnt know. You didnt come home," he replies in a flat voice.
"I know." Gabrielles chin drops to her chest. "Im sorry." She looks up and sees that her father has not moved. She continues. "I was so happy. I was starting a new life with the man I loved." Her father silently nods. "We were to go to Athens. He got a job delivering goods for one of the merchants. I would go to the Academy and study. But then suddenly he was taken away from me. I thought the pain in my heart would never stop. And the Amazons came into my life. I became one of them-"
"I know. I read some of the letters you sent. I overheard conversations about you between your mother and Lila."
"Then you know one of their own had lost her life trying to help us. And when she gave me her rite of caste How could I not respect her last wish? Things happened so fast. A whole new world opened up to me. I got caught up in it all. And if the Amazons werent there that day "
Her father listens to Gabrielle without interrupting. But when she no longer continues he fills the silence. "I was the one that you always came to when things werent right. And when you didnt " He looked at her as if to ask why. "And then you came back with those women "
"I was so eager to show you what I had become. I wanted you to be proud. But then you told me to go to my room like a little girl who didnt know any better. Right in front of my friends, my Amazons."
"I dont know what got into me."
"I had hurt you. It was pain speaking," Gabrielle answers for him.
"It hurt that you no longer needed us me. I was embarrassed by my outburst embarrassed that you would see me like that."
"But I needed you. I needed your approval." Pause. "Im sorry for hurting you. Im sorry for the way things are between us."
He hears the regret in her voice. There has been too much pain for both of them. He closes his eyes and thinks about the years he willingly let slip by without his oldest child. "I cant believe how foolish Ive been," he mutters under his breath as he sadly shakes his head. He opens his eyes to see his daughters face. It is a different face than the one he last saw when he walked away from her. The adorable chubby cheeks have disappeared yet the same look of pain fills her eyes. "Ive lost too much time because of my pride and stubbornness. I dont want to lose any more," he tells her. He searches for the words that he hopes will free him from the anger and emptiness that has been with him all these years. "Youve asked more times than was needed and each time I could never find it in my heart to grant it. But your friend told me that it isnt so hard to do." A pause. "I forgive you." Another pause. "Please give this old man a chance. Forgive me. Please forgive your father." His voice breaks as he makes this request.
Father. That one word sings out to her. As single tear slips from her eye she whispers, "With all of my heart I do."
Her father quickly moves towards her, drops to one knee and embraces her. Once again her arms entwine themselves around his neck. Just like he did so long ago, he kisses the top of her head. Over and over he apologizes. Finally he murmurs, "Ive missed you little one. Welcome home."
Gabrielle is sitting up in bed surrounded by Ephiny, Solari and Eponin. Her sisters have filled her in on the last couple of days. Everything that has happened has brought her back to her family and back to a relationship with her father. But one thing still bothers her.
"I want to go before the council and propose we release Xena from her sentence, the probation part." She grazes at her sisters, looking for their reaction. "What do you think Ephiny?"
The Regent thinks carefully before answering. "You have my support." Solari and Eponin also voice their approval.
Gabrielle gives her a smile. "Do you think the others will agree?"
"I think Xenas actions the past days will support any argument you have," Ephiny tells her.
"And besides," Eponin adds. "With that little black cloud that follows you around, itll be nice to have someone like Xena on our side." Solari gives Eponin a slap in the arm.
"Thanks Poni. Ill be sure to include that in my arguments."
After some of the chuckling has subsided, Ephiny once again gives her support and reassurance. "Seriously Gabrielle. Youre a natural speaker. You wont have any problems convincing our elders."
"Thanks for your vote of confidence." Pause. "I cant thank you guys enough. Youve always been there for me. What have I done to deserve sisters like you?" Gabrielle doesnt expect an answer to her rhetorical question but she receives one.
"You give more than you realize," Ephiny answers. "Come on. Lets go find Xena so our Queen can give her the good news."
Together Gabrielle and Xena settle down and enjoy the cool breeze and the setting of the sun. They are at the hill by the same lake where Gabrielle and her father would go after a hard days work. It is a peaceful and quiet place.
"Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?" the Amazon asks.
"Yes." Xena pauses before telling her. "The wondrous smile on your face." Xena is rewarded with a bigger smile. "You have such a wonderful view of this world. Despite all the ugliness, you can still see the beauty." Xena shakes her head in awe. "I wish I could do the same."
"Its not so hard. Just look around us. Its an amazing place." Gabrielle gives Xena another one of those brilliant smiles. "When a storm is about to come, you can feel the drop in temperature and the winds begin to blow. The rain comes to requench the land and its people. Afterwards a magnificent arc of colors paint the sky .Sometimes I just close my eyes and listen." She does as she states.
"What are you listening to?" Xena softly asks.
"Life." Gabrielle takes a deep breath as she concentrates on the world around her.
Xena watches the animated expressions appear on the young face.
"The rustling of the branches in the forest. The clash of metal and metal as my sisters are drilling. The laughter of the children as they play. The rhythm of the whetting stone whenever you sharpen your sword." Gabrielle opens her eyes. "The tossing and turning of your uneasy sleep when you are in the mist of a nightmare. And when it finally passes I hear the cries of a long sought after peace. But the next night, the nightmares comes again." Gabrielle reaches out and gently touches Xenas arm. "I wish you could find peace."
"Peace is not mine to have."
"Theres so much to make right." Xena stares out at the lake searching for the words to explain. "See how calm the surface of the water is. That was me once. And then " Xena picks up a stone and throws it into the lake. Both women watch the circles caused by the rock. "The water ripples and churns; thats what I became."
Gabrielle takes a moment to reflect on Xenas words. "But if we sit here long enough it will go back to being still again. It will go back to being calm."
"But the stones still under there. Its now part of the lake. It might look as it did before, but its forever changed."
"I understand your past will always be a part of you. But when will it end?"
"When will what end?"
"When will your journey of redemption end?"
"I dont know."
"Why do you think I want your condition lifted?" Xena doesnt have an answer for her. "Because you have proven yourself to be a friend of the Amazons. And even if you do everything right in this world and if every single person that you have wronged forgives you, you can never find that peace unless you forgive yourself. So let me ask you this. When will you forgive yourself?"
Xena smiles at her friend. "You have such a beautiful heart and a loving spirit Gabrielle." She reaches out and moves the soft blonde hair away from the Amazons forehead and touches the area where Gabrielle had received a wound some time ago. Even though Callisto was the one responsible, Xena still feels that she was also to blame. A small hand encircles the warriors wrist. The arm is lowered and now the small hand clasps Xenas much larger one.
"Xena. Have you forgiven yourself for the things that youve done to me?" Green eyes regard the darker womans face.
She is not able to return Gabrielles gaze. "I have your forgiveness. Thats all I need."
"Gabrielle. I have encountered many people in my life. Some of the lowest most pathetic sons of " She shakes her head. "But when I look back and see what I did to the most innocent and beautiful soul I have ever met I cringe. I hate myself for it. It is a reminder and keeps me on this journey of redemption." Pause. "If you asked me that question a few days ago I would have said no."
"But now," Xena turns so she can face her friend, "I might consider it."
Satisfied with the answer, Gabrielle gives Xena a smile. She moves to give the taller woman a hug.
"What was that for?"
"For taking care of me once again and for bringing me home. Thank you," she whispers.
Xena smiles back. "Youre welcome."
They settle down in a comfortable silence and watch the sun set together.
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