Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and a couple of others belong to whoever owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended.
Teaser: Were you surprised that Gabrielle simply walked away from her family and no one, especially her father Herodotus, apparently, made any attempt to bring her back? Well, he did! This short story takes place just a day or two after the events in Sins of the Past.
Herodotus peered through the branches of the bush, taking in the two sleeping bodies huddled underneath their blankets at either side of the glowing embers of the dying campfire. He peered at one of the small, woollen hillocks as he tried to make out the colour of the long hair poking out from beneath it.
After several heartbeats he shook his head slightly and cast his gaze to the other one. In the dim light he could just make out the angular features of the woman that had spirited his daughter away from her home. He gave a silent sigh and relaxed back onto his haunches, pondering how he was going to affect a rescue without getting himself killed in the process.
As his mind wrestled with his dilemma his thoughts drifted back to the last couple of day’s events that had led him to this point.
“Where’s your sister?” Herodotus demanded of Lila, his irritation that his eldest daughter had, once again failed to rise with cock’s crows.
Lila found the contents of her bowl of porridge to be particularly interesting as she gave a little shrug in response.
“Well?” When it was clear that Lila wasn’t going to reply verbally.
Hecuba stopped what she was doing and stared at her youngest, sensing something out of the ordinary.
“Lila?” she enquired quietly but concerned.
Lila glanced up and briefly met her mother’s eyes before investigating her porridge once again and taking a deep breath.
“She’s not here,” she whispered before shovelling a spoonful into her mouth, hoping that being unable to speak would excuse her from any further explanation.
The silence was absolute for several heartbeats.
“What does that mean?” Her father demanded.
Lila looked as if she wanted to crawl into her bowl of porridge.
Hecuba squatted down next to her and placed a gentle hand on her back.
“Lila,” she said in the same gentle voice, “where is Gabrielle?”
Lila turned her head and gazed, beseechingly into her mother’s eyes before her own filled and tears began to slip freely down her cheeks.
“I tried to stop her. I did.” Her sobs precluded any further speech.
Hecuba looked up at her husband and quickly raised her free hand to stop the outburst that was rapidly building. Then she drew Lila into her arms and held her tightly, shushing and murmuring quietly to her. Herodotus simply glared at them both, crossed his arms and silently simmered.
“Now, poppet, tell us what happened,” said Hecuba once Lila had stopped sobbing enough to catch her breath.
Lila took a deep breath and blew it out noisily.
“She left, last night after everyone had gone to bed.”
“LEFT?” blurted Herodotus. He went silent again at the glare from his wife.
“Where has she gone? With Perdicus?” Hecuba continued.
Lila snorted, then sniffed back the snot that threatened to drip from her nose.
“No, she ran off to go find that warrior-woman, Xena.”
Hecuba covered her mouth with her hand as her eyes widened.
“What has that woman done to my little girl?” Herodotus finally sounded more concerned than angry.
Lila looked up at her father, puzzled.
“What? Nothing as far as I know,” Lila replied. “Gabrielle just went to go find her.”
“What on earth for?” said Hecuba, her shock subsiding a little as she tried to understand what her headstrong eldest was thinking.
“Adventure?Excitement?” She shrugged again.
“With a warlord? Even Gabrielle isn’t that crazy,” Herodotus jumped in. “No, there must be more to it than that. That woman has influenced her somehow to get her to go with her. Probably threatened to kill us if she didn’t.” He went quiet, nodding to himself.
“Oh, Herodotus, you don’t think so, do you?” Hecuba’s fear caused her voice to shake.
Husband and wife looked at each with concerned faces for several heartbeats.
“I don’t think that’s what happened at all,” whispered Lila.
“Hush, girl,” said Herodotus, “you know nothing about the ways of these evil people, and this one in particular.” He paused as half-remembered rumours filtered back into his mind. “In fact, if I’m not mistaken, she even takes other women to her bed.”
Hecuba gasped and covered her mouth again.
“Husband, what can we do?” she mumbled from behind her hand.
Herodotus thought for moment and then straightened his back and squared his shoulders.
“I’m going to bring her back, that’s what we can do.”
Later that morning, with a small sack containing a few essentials, Herodotus had set out for Amphipolous determined that he would return with his daughter.
The town of Amphipolous was quite a bit bigger than Herodotus was used to in Potaedia, so as he entered he realised that he couldn’t simply wander around hoping to find them, or even find a clue as to where they might be. His only other option was to ask someone and hope he got lucky.
He naturally assumed that the gods were favouring him when the first person he asked knew of Xena and was able point in the direction that she and the pretty young woman with her had taken when they left the town late the previous day. He, of course, had no way of knowing that most of the town had watched Xena defeat Draco and then see Gabrielle almost demand that she be hauled up onto Argo’s broad back and leave together.
That had been yesterday. It was not long after noon on this day that he had first spotted the pair down in the valley below from the ridge, along which he was walking. He had then carefully trailed them from a distance waiting for darkness to be able to get closer without being spotted. Now, here he was; almost within arm’s reach of his daughter with the dawning realisation that he hadn’t really considered how he was going to rescue her from the murdering warlord without even a weapon to help him.
A quiet rustle somewhere behind Herodotus made him swivel his head around so quickly he almost gave himself whiplash before he realised that it was only a creature of the night hunting for its dinner. However, it gave him an idea.
Xenalay perfectly still, feigning sleep and wondering what the clumsy stalker was going to do next. She had first noticed him up on the ridge of the valley and had quietly amused herself wondering who it was and why he was following them. He was clearly not an expert at the tracking thing so she wasn’t at all worried, in fact she hadn’t even mentioned it to her new, self-declared friend. No sense in worrying her, or even worse, getting her over-excited until necessary. The god’s knew, she had got excited enough over the most ordinary things already on their day and a half together.
Xena heard the sound the small creature made and then a slightly noisier rustle, which she could tell was a human looking for something on the ground. This was followed by the faintest of whispers of air movement as something flew high in the air over the camp site. She smiled as the rock landed in the trees on the other side of the camp site from where the stalker was hidden.
She sat up and looked pointedly in the direction that the rock had landed, then slowly got to her feet and crept off into the trees towards it, leaving Gabrielle blissfully unaware of anything apart from her dreamscape.
“Gabrielle! Gabrielle, wake up!” Herodotus whispered urgently, shaking his daughter by the shoulder.
“Uh, wha?”Gabrielle cracked open her eye lids and peered up at the unwelcome disturbance. She blinked, twice then scrubbed her hands over her face, rubbed her eyes and blinked again.
“Father? What… what are you doing here?”
“Shh, come on, let’s get out of here. She’ll be back any moment.”
“She’ll be back right about now, actually,” Xena’s throaty purr sounded from the tree-line.
Herodotus stood and spun around. For several heartbeats he just stared at Xena before swallowing and raising his fists and taking up a boxing stance.
“Now look here, I don’t want to hurt you. I just want my daughter back. If you let us both walk out of here then no harm done, alright.”
Gabrielle may have said something if her jaw wasn’t hanging loosely as she watched her father trying to defend her against… well, Xena.
“Uh-hu,” Xena replied as she moved casually over to the camp fire, threw some fresh wood onto it and stirred it back into life. She then turned and stared at Herodotus for several, long heartbeats before looking down at Gabrielle, still frozen on her bedroll.
“I’ll be nearby. Call out if you need me,” she said and then disappeared back into the trees.
Herodotus looked a little nonplussed by Xena’s reaction so he didn’t move until Gabrielle found her voice.
“Father, what’s going on? Why are you here?”
He turned to face his daughter.
“Um, to, um, rescue you?”
“Rescue me? From what?” Gabrielle was truly confused.
Herodotus recovered some of his composure and determination.
“From the clutches of that… that… her! Look Gabrielle, it doesn’t matter what she threatened you with, everything will be okay. Let’s just get out of here and get back home.”
“What are you talking about? Who told you that? Was it Lila? When I get hold of her I’ll kick her butt!”
“No, it wasn’t Lila, but it’s obvious Xena must have done something like that to force you to leave with her.”
Gabrielle raked her fingers through her hair and blew out a sigh.
“You’ve got it all wrong, father, she didn’t make me do anything. In fact she tried to put me off from following her. This was my idea. I wanted to follow her, learn from her, be her friend.”
Anger replaced concern in Herodotus’ manner.
“Now you listen to me, young lady. Hanging around with someone like her is not what any daughter of mine is going to do. You’re coming home with me. Now!”
Gabrielle stood up and crossed her arms over her chest.
“No, father, I’m not. I hated my life in Potaedia. I am capable of much more than cooking and cleaning for a man and I’m not going to do it. Until I met Xena I didn’t know what else I could do, but now…”
“So you want to be a warrior, do you?” Herodotus snarled. “Go around killing people and taking anything you want from others.”
“Oh father, of course not. That’s not what I want and it’s not what Xena is all about now either.”
“Oh, you know this, how? Did she tell you?”
“Not in so many words, no. But she showed me what’s in her heart and it’s good.”
Herodotus blew out an exasperated breath.
“Gabrielle, you must know who she is; what she’s done. You’ve heard the stories.”
“I know what she’s done and who she was, but that’s not who she is anymore. Father, she’s changed. She wants to make up for the things that she’s done and I want to help her. When she saved Lila and me and the others from the slavers, that was just the start. What you don’t know is that she saved Amphipolous from the warlord Draco just yesterday.” Gabrielle ran out of steam and looked into her father’s eyes for any glimmer of acceptance.
Herodotus looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head.
“I’m not leaving you here, Gabrielle, you’re coming with me.” He reached out and grabbed his daughter’s arm, pulling her to him.
“No, father, I don’t want to go. I want to stay with Xena.” Gabrielle resisted but Herodotus was too strong and he started pulling her across the camp site; until he bumped into six feet of leather-clad warrior.
“I believe Gabrielle has made her wishes quite clear,” Xena growled into the man’s face as he turned to face his obstruction.
Herodotus took a step backwards and glared into Xena’s face.
“She is my daughter, she will do as I command.”
“She is also an intelligent young woman who is old enough and capable of making up her own mind about what she wants to do. I say again, she has made her wishes quite clear.”
“I don’t care. This is not right for her and she is coming home with me.”
“Father, please stop.” Gabrielle’s plea was so heartfelt that her father did stop and then turn to face her, his own expression softening as he looked with fresh eyes upon his adult daughter.
“Baby girl, I just want you to be safe and happy.” It had been a long time since he had used that term of endearment and he had to swallow the lump in his throat as he said it.
“Daddy, I am happy; here with Xena, travelling the country, exploring, meeting new people, hearing new stories, living! And I don’t think I could be any safer anywhere else or with anyone else.” She looked past her father and into Xena’s blue eyes.
Herodotus dropped his shoulders and released Gabrielle’s arm. His fingers gently grasped her chin and he waited until her eyes came back to him.
“Are you sure about this?” He looked deeply into his daughter’s eyes to judge her sincerity.
“I am.” Gabrielle smiled, broadly.
Herodotus turned to Xena, capturing and holding her attention.
“I’m not happy about this,” he said to her, “but I know I can’t make Gabrielle do anything she doesn’t want to do, so…”, he shrugged then straightened. “However, I hold you personally responsible for her safety. If anything happens to her…”
Xena’s eyebrow climbed into her hairline.
Gabrielle cleared her throat to break the tension.
“Now that we’ve got that settled, would anyone like some tea?”
The next morning, while Xena went fishing for breakfast, Gabrielle and her father talked some more and Herodotus checked again that his daughter really did want to stay with Xena.
After breakfast, father and daughter hugged warmly and said goodbye with a demand for promises that Gabrielle would return home, at least for a visit, before too long.
Then, with a brief nod to Xena, politely returned, Herodotus headed away from the camp and made his way back towards his home in Potaedia, already fretting over what he was going to say to his wife.
=== The End ===
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