"The End is the Beginning"



Chapter Two: "Healing"

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'Welcome to Lorrania' indeed. Think Camelot but without the Knights and Lords. Street vendors hawk their wares in brightly colored booths while children run and play amung the musicians and acrobats. The streets are wide and free of debris. And dispite the mass of people, the noise is at a minimum, no shouting, no shoving, and no fighting. Everyone has a pleasant and relaxed look about them. The only hint of security comes from the heavily armed soldiers patrolling atop the recessed walkway that surrounds the city.

Gabrielle takes it all in and notices something about the inhabitants. Roughly half of all she sees in the market has some type of deformity or handicap. Men,women, and children with a missing or deformed arm or leg, some with a patch where an eye used to be, even others with more dramatic ‘differences'. All are mingling peaceably without prejudice or ridicule.

To Gabrielle, it was like a dream. “Somebody pinch me.” So Xena does. “Ouch!” “What was that for?”

“You wanted someone to pinch you.”

“Very funny.” “You know that's a figure of speech.”

“Just trying to keep you on your toes.”

“Uh, huh.”

Deerdra is a little concerned about her guest. “Are you alright, Gabrielle?” “You keep talking to yourself.”

Gabrielle blushes. “I'm fine.” I'm just trying to take everything in.” She gives Xena a nudge to knock it off. “This place is amazing.” ” How many people live here and where did they all come from?”

Deerdra puffs up, proud to have impressed such a well known-and beautiful- woman. “There are around ten-thousand inhabitants, give or take.” “People come and go with the seasons or leave when things in their lives improve.” “All or most have been banished from their villages for one reason or another.” “You know, if you don't fit in or offend the wrong person then you're given the boot.” ” We have people from all walks of life.” “Currently we have six teachers and four physicians with us.”

Gabrielle marvels at how diverse and peaceful everyone is or appears to be. “How have you been able to keep this place such a secret and how do people find you?”

Deerdra puffs up again. “Word of mouth mainly.” “But in our trading, we do run across outsiders and we tell them of this magical place where they will be accepted for who they are.” It hasn't been a problem keeping Lorrania a secret, no one wants troublemakers here.” “That's the one thing that isn't tolerated.”

Xena scans the catwalk that surrounds the city. From her vantage point, she counts one guard posted every ten feet. There are ladders leading up to said catwalk placed at such an angle as to allow a guard to walk or run up or down and not have to climb hand over hand. “Why so much muscle if this place is hidden?”

Good question, Gabrielle wonders. “Just how many guards are there and why?”

Deerdra pauses. “Forty-thousand on a six hour shift rotation.” “And why?” Deerdra pulls out a gold coin and hands it to Gabrielle. “We mint our own money.” “Every citizen that chooses to stay receives twenty coins, it's up to them if and how they make more.” “There are no poor people in Lorrania, Gabrelle.”

Gabrielle examines the metal disc. “It looks like a regular denar.”

Deerdra chuckles. “It's supposed to-- we're in hiding remember?”

Xena and Gabrielle are skeptical. “And the army?”

“Because we have so much metal here, invariably some warlord's ‘army' tries to bust in and take it all.” “But don't worry, I keep my people safe.”

Xena still isn't sure. With each new explanation, she grows more and more suspicious. “I still don't trust her, she's hiding something, I can feel it.” “Maybe you shouldn't stay here.”

Gabrielle leans over an whispers to Xena. “I'm starting to feel a little light-headed.” “I should stay at least for tonight.”

"Fine, I'll nose around while you're getting some rest." "There's something about her that feels a little off and I'm not going to take any chances while you're so weak."

"Xena, don't go looking for trouble that isn't there."

Xena gives her a 'who, me' grin.

Gabrielle turns her attention back to Deerdra. "That's good to hear because I'm---

She's interrupted by a little girl of eleven that comes running up to Deerdra, her green eyes sparkling with excitement.

"You're back!" "Did you find it?"

"Yep, I found it and someone else." She glances over at Gabrielle.

"The pretty lady that needed help!" "Hi, I'm Mary."

"Hello, Mary, I'm Gabrielle." "How did you know that I needed help?"

"I saw you."

"You saw me?"

"Uh, huh, in a dream."

Gabrielle raises an eyebrow and looks sideways at Xena. "She must be some type of seer."

Deerdra leans in and whispers to Gabrielle. "I'll explain more to you later." She then straightens up and in a normal tone adds: "Right now, I think someone is anxious for this." Socair hands Deerdra the satchel and she gingerly removes a bright blue rose and hands it to Mary.

"You found it!" "It's beautiful, thank you!" She gives Deerdra a big hug.

"You're very welcome." "It was just where you said it would be."

Gabrielle, now a bit concerned, looks over at Xena as both women wonder what they've gotten themselves into now.

Deerdra knows Gabrielle has questions, but she isn't ready to give her the answers, yet. "Mary has quite the flower collection." "You need to stop in and see it before you go."

Xena scoffs. "Oh, now she's going to let you leave."

Gabrielle whispers. "Xena."

A tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in full military garb walks up behind Gabrielle. Mary beams at the sight. "Daddy, look what Deerdra brought me!"

He picks her up and examines the flower. "It's beautiful honey, but shouldn't you be getting to school?"

Mary's enthusiasm dampens a bit. "Yes sir." She kisses his cheek before he sets her down. "Thank you, Deerdra and nice to meet you Gabrielle." "Hope you feel better soon." She runs off, waving as she goes. Deerdra proceeds with the introductions.

"As you can guess, this is Mary's father, Alasdair." "This is Gabrielle, The Battling Bard of Potedaia."

Alasdair nods a greeting. "It's an honor to meet you." "I hope Mary wasn't bothering you." "She can be handful."

Gabrielle is a little distracted. Xena is walking around the soldier sizing him up. "Oh, she was no bother at all."

"Good, good." "Deerdra, Lor would like to speak to you."

Deerdra frowns. "Thank you." "My brother, Lor, is in charge of security." "Alasdair is his second in command."

Gabrielle is having a hard time focusing on what Deerdra is saying. Her fever (and exhaustion) are coming back with a vengance. Her head begins to swirl and her knees buckle. She grabs hold of Deerdra's shoulder to steady herself. Deerdra wraps an arm around her waist. "Whoa, there." "It looks like your fever has caught up to you." "Socair, please take Gabrielle to the guest room and have someone notify the physician that he has a patient...and no argument from you, Missy."

Gabrielle manages a weak "Not gonna give you one."

Socair gently swoops her into his arms. "Here we go, little one." And quicksteps it toward the main 'house.' (castle is more like it). Deerdra watches for a moment then disappears into the crowd of buyers and sellers. Xena watches him as well, contemplating whether to follow him or Deerdra. Deciding Gabrielle will be safe-and wondering who this 'Lor' is- she scans the crowd for Deerdra. She spots her walking up one of the catwalk ladders and then over to a rather tall, broad-shouldered man. He is dressed as one in charge, armor, epaulets, and sword with his long flowing red hair and matching beard solidifying the effect.

"That must be Lor."

Xena is still watching them as the two speak briefly then take turns looking out at the ocean through a spyglass. Curious, Xena pops in behind Deerdra to eavesdrop, however she only catches the tail end of their conversation.

"How many does that make?"

"Seven." "Two arrived this morning after you left on your little adventure."

Deerdra shoots him a 'F--- you' look. "Is the prison that big?" "What do the scouts say?"

Ignoring her questions, Lor turns and scans the ocean. Finally, after what feels like an eternity, he glances down at Deerdra and answers. "The scouts report nothing out of the ordinary and, yes, the prison is that big." He then turns his back on her and talks to a nearby guard, effectively ending their conversation.

Deerdra glares at the back of his head and just seethes. She clinches her teeth. "Just keep me informed." She stomps down the ladder and marches through the crowd. She doesn't speak to anyone and no one dares to speak to her.

Xena watches her from the catwalk. "Just one big happy family." She was going to do some more snooping until it dawns on her just where Deerdra is stomping off to. "Not in that mood you don't." "You need to cool off before you see Gabrielle."

Xena disappears from the catwalk and materializes inside the main house at the base of a set of stairs. She stands directly in Deerdra's path, arms crossed. In no time, Deerdra bursts in through the main doors scowling and muttering to herself. She breezes through Xena then stops.

"I don't remember there being a draft in here." She thinks for a moment then realizes that it wasn't a draft. "Ah." "Come on, Xena, let's go check on our patient--and welcome to Lorrania." "'Oh, and don't worry, I'm not going to bite her head off."

"Damn right you aren't." Xena follows her up the long, wide, stone staircase. Xena could just 'pop' into Gabrielle's room, but because of Deerdra's not too friendly exchange with Lor, she wants to keep an eye on her. After seemingly to climb forever, they arrive at a narrow hallway with three doors. There's one door at the end with the other two opposite each other. Socair is standing guard in front of the door on the left.

"Any problems?"

"Nope." "No problems at all." "The physician is in with her now."

"Good." "Remember, no one else is allowed in unless I say otherwise."

Socair puffs up and answers her in an overly dramatic voice. "Do not worry, M'lady." "I shall fight till the very end to protect yon fair maiden from those who wish to do her harm." He looks at her and gives her a toothy grin.

Deerdra is and isn't amused. "Just stay on your toes, smarty."

He considers standing on his toes, but wisely reconsiders. Instead he bows as he opens the door. "Yes, my liege."

Deerdra shakes her head. "He has one line in a play and fancies himself an actor."

The bedroom isn't your typical dark and gloomy castle room. It is large but the entire room-- walls, ceiling, and floor are pale grey. There is a solid tan door on the far right wall and another tan door directly across from the 'front' door. This one has a stained glass window and leads to a balcony. Gabrielle is asleep in the four poster bed dead to the world, swallowed by fluffy white down linens.

Xena smiles. "She looks like an angel on a cloud."

Deerdra echos the observation. "Wow, she looks like an angel sleeping on a cloud."

Xena starts to say something smart, but looses her train of thought. She has been having trouble concentrating these last few days, her mind gets all hazy and objects blur, and it is beginning to worry her. She doesn't know how much longer she can keep it from Gabrielle--or how to tell her. Deerdra's movement and voice bring her back into the moment.

Deerdra walks over to a slender man standing next to the bed. The two talk in hushed tones. "Thank you, Doctor." "I'll keep a close eye on her." The doctor nods then leaves. Gabrielle rolls over and instinctvely reaches for Xena. The urn is on a nightstand beside the bed.


Xena rushes over and holds her hand. "I'm right here, Gabrielle." "Go back to sleep." She caresses Gabby's cheek and her heart leaps. "You're burning up." Panicked, she looks over at Deerdra. "Don't just stand there, do something!"

Deerdra has been studying 'her' patient and doesn't like what she sees. She hurries over to the other side of the bed and feels Gabrielle's forehead... "You're burning up." "We may have waited to long." "I'll be right back." ...and rushes out of the room.

Xena uses her fingers to comb Gabrielle's hair out of her face. "Hang in there, Gabrielle." "Deerdra has something up her sleeve to help ."

Deerdra returns carrying a brown doctor's bag. "My mother was a master at finding just the right combination of roots and herbs to cure what ails you." She digs throuth the bag. "I should have some powder. . . Ah, here it is." She brings out a small ceramic jar. "And I'll need this as well." She pulls out a pestle and mortar then pours in a light blue powder from the jar rapping her knuckle on the bottom to make sure she has poured in every last remaining granule. "Looks like there's just enough for your wound." She adds a little warm water then stirs, making a blue paste.

Gabrielle mumbles and and draws Xena's attention away from Deerdra. Sensing this, Deerdra quickly cuts her palm and lets a few drops of blood fall into the mixture. She stirs this new mix together then removes Gabrielle's bandage. "All righty, this won't hurt a bit." She gently applies the paste to the wound then wraps it in a clean bandage. "There, that should do it." "You're lips look a little dry." She fills a cup with some cool water then goes over to the side of the bed where Xena has been standing and pulls up a chair. "Excuse me, Xena."

Xena moves to the foot of the bed and as she does, Deerdra uses a cloth to dab water on Gabrielle's lips. Unseen by Xena, Deerdra slips a small ball of amber colored jell into Gabrielle's mouth. She rewets the cloth and places it on Gabrielle's forehead. "There now, you're going to be just fine." She pauses to admire the beautiful woman laying before her and ever so softly caresess her cheek. "Just fine." Feeling Xena's eyes boring through her she knows she had better lighten things up or else Gabrielle would be leaving tomorrow, alone.

"I haven't lost a patient yet." She stands up holding the medicine bag and looks in the direction which she thinks Xena is standing. "I'm going to go and put this away and when I get back, I'd like to have a word with you, Xena."

"I'd like to have more than one with you." Xena is tempted to follow her, but she doesn't want to leave Gabrielle alone, especially since she has no idea what Deerdra had just put on Gabrielle's arm. She glances around the room but despite the roaring fire in the fireplace, the room is to dark to make out much. She turns her attention back to Sleeping Beauty. She feels her forehead then around the wound. "I don't know what was in that powder, but your temperature is already going down."

Deerdra breezes back into the room and immediately goes over and feels Gabrielle's forehead."Much better." She uses the cool cloth to re-moisten Gabrielle's lips then places it across her forehead. She turns and unsure where to look, just starts talking:

"Okay, Xena, no beating around the bush." She clears the lump out of her throat. "I'd like you to convince Gabrielle to let me go along with her when she leaves here for Amphipolis."

Xena crosses her arms. "And why would I do that?"

"Hear me out on this." "I know she is an excellent fighter, but the closer she gets to your family's crypt, the tougher and meaner the other fighters are going to get."

Xena still has her arms crossed. "Go on."

"She's going to need some help and as the two of you witnessed earlier, I can take care of myself."

Xena puts her hands on her hips, unconvinced. "Eliminating one coward tells me nothing of your fighting skills...so keep talking."

Deerdra does. "After all she's been through, she still has a good heart and Lord knows we could use more goodness and light in this world." "I know you have serious doubts, I would as well, but think about it." "If I was out to hurt her, I would have done it by now." "And I sure wouldn't have used up all of my healing powder on someone who I didn't want sticking around for a while." "Xena, if you do this, you have my solemn vow that no harm will come to her and that I will protect her with my life."

Xena crosses her arms again, giving Deerdra a hard look.Her words have merit but..."Actions speak louder than words, and the next few hours will speak volumes."

Deerdra waits for Xena to do...something. "I guess I won't know what you've decided until Gabrielle wakes up." "Speaking of which." She re-wets the cloth then places it back on the tuckered out bard's forehead. She then plops down it the chair next to the bed and settles in for the night. "She should be fine by morning, but until then I'm not going anywhere."

Xena glares at the unwanted company. "And neither am I."



chapter three

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