Usual disclaimers. The characters of Gabrielle, Xena and Alti are the property of RenPic and MCA, use here is for my own entertainment No profit yaddayadda, warning of woman in love, soon to be a crime in most of the US.
My thanks to Steph for the challenge, thenorm, Claudia and the Bardic Circle for trying to help.
By KamouraskanTo my daughter,
I am writing to you while I have your letter in my hand, informing me, informing me??!! Your father!!! that you will not marry the man I have chosen for you. That you claim to have found true love in that boy from the fields despite our plans. A marriage that you, as my daughter, my property in law, require my assent. And why are you attempting to defy our tradition, law and religion?
Because, despite his money and position, you don't love Leonidas, you say. You love this peasant.
Let me tell you about love. Let me tell you what my life has taught me about love.
You know that I am Agapios, son of Zopyros. I am the offspring of a soldier and an Amazon Warrior. As a child, I never knew my mother. I was raised, strictly raised, by my father and my paternal grandmother.
I once asked my grandmother why I didn't have a mother like the other children in the village. She replied that it was Amazon tradition for male children to be raised by the fathers, and that my mother was very respectful of tradition.
As I respected tradition. That was what was law in our house. Tradition. Religion. They were always the explanation for hardships. And if I cried, I was traditionally told that 'tears are time wasted.'
By the time I had reached five years of age, my father had begun to drink heavily. He also began to beat me. Not everyday, or even every month, but enough that I feared him, which is what I assumed he wanted. Or at least that I do the chores I was capable of doing while leaving him alone. Which I also did. Just before his death, he was very drunk and he broke my arm. Somehow I do not remember the pain of the break, yet I always remember that as he twisted my arm further and further and screamed his anger into my cringing face, that there were tears streaming from his eyes. I think I was more shocked at that, than anything else. That he would waste his time and tears on me.
And then suddenly, he was dead. For reasons I did not understand, his family, my family, blamed me somehow. I was only five, but it was clear not one of their homes would be open to me.
I have been told that male children of Amazons were usually respected. They represented fresh blood for a customarily inbred village. As well as status for the father for having impregnated a warrior woman. I never knew that until many years later. To say the least, it was not my experience.
My grandmother packed up my few belongings and we travelled overland to the Amazon village of my mother. I have no idea how long the journey took; it would be three days at least for a healthy man, but far longer for a small child and aging woman. I vaguely remember the inns and even a few barns. A few coins jealously traded for a night's rest or a simple meal. I also recall being told that I should not expect to see my mother, but that the Amazon's would 'do right by me'. I did not ask for more; my father had taught me well the value of silence.
Eventually we arrived at the village, and I was brought before the assembly of the Amazons. A small child facing armed warriors across an open field. All wore the customary masks, but I still tried to look behind them to see the face or their eyes. Which of these women was my mother? Would she not speak out, say one kind word, shed one tear? But there was a stony silence as the judgment was made and I was passed along again, this time to strangers. To go live in a place called the Common, where cast-offs like myself were tossed.
The representative of the Common, stepped forward, and took my hand in hers. I recall turning my back on the warriors. Turning my back on the last of my blood family. I cannot recall feeling anything at all.
The representative, Lila, was quite old, even older than my Gran, who at fifty summers was the oldest woman I had ever known or could have imagined. She placed me in a wagon along with traded goods, old clothes and supplies, and bouncing in the back of that cart, I eventually arrived at the Common.
Rejected three times by my family, and dumped into a wagon with other unwanted goods. It could not have been clearer, even to a child of five, that I was not valuable or wanted.
It was not a good start. And time did not improve things, or at least improve my attitude.
There were three Commons colonies at this time. I lived in the main one, the large hill fort in the valley that led to the sea. From this height behind its wooden barricades, surrounded by an outer wall ditch, the inhabitants lived secure. Lila often said that she felt that there was a disadvantage in living in such a secure fortress; others might envy its security and be driven to conquer it. Lila was not often fearful though, rather she was as strict and cold as many elderly women are, and I grew older under her critical stare and demands.
Aside from Lila's firm hand, it was happy place for many, I suppose. Each citizen was trained in a variety of skills. Preferably those of the warrior arts, but because many were abandoned children, forced from their homes due to some crippled limb or for the crime of being useless, they also taught a variety of other practical skills.
I was too slight and uncoordinated to be a warrior, so instead I was taught languages. And in order to avoid blows, I had learned to be quick on my feet. My father taught me that one thing at least.
So what of love? Was I loved, you might ask? Would a child who had never seen or heard of fruit, wonder what it would taste like?
As nature and the Commune demanded, I learned and I grew. I was considered a lonely child, but that implied that I wished the company of others. The Common routine of classes and work was regularly broken when we were graced by a visit by Lila's sister, who had many names but whom we knew as The Founder. Her visits were looked forward to by most of the members, except possibly by Lila and myself. Lila because she clearly resented her younger sister's popularity and authority, and by me simply because I did not care one way or the other.
We were a working commune, but with a greater goal. We were a force to help in local emergencies, to defend small towns, or aid when disaster struck. Fires, flood, famine and war were our real initiators. We had skilled builders and we all learned how to quickly build floodwalls or dig ditches. We often took in whole towns until they could return to their homes. There was no charge for our services so we also had farmers for our food, artists, and storytellers for our own entertainment, as well as for the fresh income it brought the settlements.
So it continued until I was almost at my fifteenth year. I was summoned to the Founder's hut during one of her stays, which was unusual as she usually visited each in his or her own dwelling. I saw immediately why this circumstance had arisen. She lay covered, on her bed, the once bright eyes dulled. Though younger by decades than her sister, she seemed to have aged as many years. Her skin was pale, and her movements were small and lethargic.
Her eyes still examined me with the same regret though. "Every time we talk of the same things. Or at least I talk, and you shrug. Feels like old times." She smiled sadly. Then she took my hand and asked quietly, "You still feel alone? Still no one you can trust?"
"What are we going to do with you?"
I already knew the answer. I had some experience in this area.
She spoke of my skills. That I was accomplished in linguistics, and could read and write in many languages. I was quick and fleet, and could remember the smallest details while observing a conversation. That I could find work in any administration as a secretary or start as a messenger. That I was not a fighter, but had learned more than enough to defend myself.
I sat, waiting for the inevitable words.
"We are going to ask you to leave…"
There were more words that followed. That it was not permanent, just one year, to see the world and decide if I wanted to return. That their doors would always be open to me…" I heard no more, as I was out of the hut.
I did not know where I was going, but I knew I had to leave. Leave by my own choice. For once. At I stumbled away, there was a hand on my arm, stopping me, and I shrugged it off. But this one would not be thwarted and stood in my path. It was Chara. Each member of the commune was a pair, and she had been assigned to me. If I could have named anyone as a friend, I might have named her. She was my age, and I thought, when I gave my mind to such things, quite beautiful. She had been abandoned by her family because she had a cleft palate and could not speak at the customary age. Many years of hard work had made her speech clearer, but not easy for all to understand. I had not minded her occasional intrusions, as she did not press me, or I her. But in that moment, that changed.
"Agapios? How are you? Are you okay?" That she knew what had occurred in the hut did not register then, but I resented the concern in her eyes. I glared, and she let me pass without a word of goodbye. 'Tears are only time wasted', I thought as I walked on. Past the first gate, down the path through the defensive ditch, and through the last gate into the plain below. The doors that would always be open to me, I reflected cynically. I continued through the pastureland, cleared to make any enemies detectable, to the woods several miles away.
I was not thinking, simply moving forward through the trees, when I suddenly paused. I smelt cooking food. And there, right in front of me, resting on a large stump, still steaming! was a roasted haunch. My stomach, which had been quiet until this point, spoke loudly of a missed meal, but I stayed still as an animal before an obvious trap.
I found a stick on the ground and tossed it at the stump. The roast moved slightly but there was no other reaction. I crept towards it, carefully searching for snares. There was no scent of poison, only sweet roasted animal juices, but still I hesitated. It was warm and it must be a trap, I knew. I carefully reached out and tore off a small portion, and tossed it into a nearby bird's nest. And then sat down to wait for it to be eaten with my eyes riveted to the nestlings. It was then that the woods suddenly grew quiet.
"The meat is quite safe," said a gravelly voice behind me.
I whirled about, and the stump, which had been empty a moment before, was now occupied. In shock I stumbled away, but one hand, a claw almost, snatched at me and held me fast. From where she had come from, I did not know but she might as well have been a God to appear so silently.
She was wrapped in a hooded cloak of some kind, which covered all but a few strands of long white hair. There was a sagging in the opposite sleeve, indicating that there was not a whole limb inside. I stood frozen in shock, not struggling in her grasp, waiting for her to speak again.
"You have been well trained, but so suspicious… Is a free meal such a threat to the Common?" she rasped, her grip loosening, but not releasing me.
I kept silent, but my eyes strayed hungrily to the haunch in my hand. From within the hood, I saw a thin smile form, and she leaned down to bite into the meat, tearing at it with her teeth. As her face emerged, I saw several long scars on one side of the face, as though from a fire. She released me, and nodded at the meat, indicating I should eat. Which I did.
"What do you want for this?" I managed, edging away, even as I swallowed the food.
She shrugged. "Some conversation, discussion. I'd like to know about your home."
"It's not my home," I spoke without thought, and clenched my mouth to stop any more words from emerging.
"Not happy?" she asked. "No appreciation?"
I know it may seem mad, but any orphan has fantasies about his family, and I was no less a dreamer for all my anger. It occurred to me that this might be my mother and I asked, "Are you an Amazon?"
She wheezed a laugh, and that thin smile broadened. "I have been, at one time, I suppose. Why?"
I swallowed. "My mother was an Amazon."
"Then," she leaned forward, her strange eyes compelling me to speak. "Then, you would know… Gabrielle?"
"The founder?" I asked in a pretence of indifference. "I just left her."
The next question was asked nonchalantly, but there was intensity in those strange eyes that could not be restrained. A fever of interest that I remember seeing in my father's eyes. Hatred, I knew.
"And how was she?"
"Do you know her?" I parried.
"We've had a few… encounters. I'd like to check up on her, but without worrying her. Do you understand?"
Of course I didn't, but the meat was good, and my thoughts of revenge for my latest betrayal were catching hold of the rope I was apparently being offered.
"What would you like to know?"
The smile reappeared. "Just how she is, what she's up to. Nothing a friend wouldn't need to know."
I tried to appear as though I was thinking.
"I'd be willing to pay," she added in that harsh whisper, still in an offhand manner that belied the truth in her eyes.
The thought of getting revenge and receiving money for a new start, one that would not require the help of others, was intoxicating. I chewed on the ideas and the haunch until returning her smile. "What do you need to know?"
It was dark by the time I returned.
There was a small depression outside of the Founder's hut, and I often hid there when she was not in residence. I had never considered concealing myself there while she was in residence, but there were no guards or security that I could see, and I slid into the culvert. I fell asleep while listening to the ragged breathing inside and it wasn't until the next morning that I was awakened when Lila stormed in.
"Have they seen him?" The Founder's soft voice inquired.
"Yes, he crept in past the gates after sunset. He's fine. It's you that I'm worried about!"
I barely heard a soft murmur of denial, before Lila continued. "How can you just give up this way, and over THAT woman? She's been dead all these years and I hoped, prayed, that you were getting on with your life. That all this," and I could see in my mind Lila's arms flung out, "was more than a keep busy project. But all along you were just like Penelope, waiting for her lover. Except you can't weave."
Gabrielle only responded to her sister's anger by speaking clearly. "I wasn't marking time. I was being useful, contributing as best as I was able to. But you've never understood, how it takes so much, so much to do it alone. It feels as though I've been going too long across a desert with no food, and all my reserves are gone."
Lila was not appeased. "Admit it Gabriele. If Xena had ever shown up here, you'd have been skipping about like a child, showing off what you'd done for her."
There was a rustle of bedclothes as Gabrielle must have sat up. "NO! Yes, I'd be proud showing her around. But proud of myself, and proud of her, because of what she gave me. You know I could have stayed with the Amazons. But I wanted something that was my own accomplishment. Something that would demand every one of my talents and skills, everything I was and that Xena had given me,' and her voice faltered, 'and I won. Because it has taken everything." Her voice moderated again. "Lila. I was in a relationship, an incredible, life-changing relationship. One that made both of us stronger and better. It didn't steal my life, it enhanced it throughout. And now my candle is flickering without that. Please understand and let me go."
"This isn't about that. This is all because you've discovered some soothsayer, who's told you some crazy story about Xena that confirms your worst fears, and you're giving up. Giving up on all of us." Now her rage changed, and there was a gasping sound as though she were crying. "On me. Leaving me here. Please Gabrielle."
There was some murmuring, and perhaps some crying, but I had heard enough for my first payment.
So, as strange as it may sound to you, that was my first understanding of love. That it was killing our Founder. And my main concern was how much that news would be worth to the witch in the woods. But one other thing might have been driving me. Something my child's mind wanted to believe. The witch was only interested in Gabrielle and in some kind of vengeance against her personally. Again I thought of the possibility she was my mother. What would be more right, that she wanted revenge against the woman who had helped to steal her son?
I crept out of the culvert only to look uphill and see Chara waiting above me. We'd spent much of our time together quietly sitting in the culvert when it had been a 'bad' day, so I hoped she saw nothing strange about my movements. Frequently she had her sketchpad with her and we would sit in silence until she was finished, usually of a drawing of me. But this time there was an uncomfortable silence when I joined her that I had no intention of breaking. Until I realised that I needed to ask a question.
There was a memory nagging at me, some story the Founder had once told us. And as much as I might have hoped that the witch could be my mother, there was another possibility niggling away.
After a few moments, I had prepared my lie. "I was doing a transcription of Gabrielle's stories…"
Chara swept her blond hair from her eyes to shoot me a suspicious look, but replied, "oh?"
I ignored her expression and stared ahead. "Wasn't there one about an old witch? An Amazon shaman, I think it was, who had magical powers. A witch that hated her and the Warrior Princess?"
"That's it. Alti. I couldn't remember how the story ended."
Chara thought for a moment and replied, "They killed her and then scattered her bones so she wouldn't come back again."
"That's right," I said aloud, while thinking, 'I wonder where they put the left arm bones. I bet Alti would like to know too.'
Chara knew me too well though. "You're not really transcribing her stories are you?" She hesitated and looked at me with a slight trembling of her mouth. Then carefully enunciating every word, she said softly, "You've never lied to me before."
Angrily I retorted "You've never kept secrets from me before. You knew what the Founder was going to say to me before I did. And you said were my friend."
"I am your friend. But… I gave my word."
I sneered and stood up. "I don't need friends I can't trust."
She tried to reply, but her emotions had tangled up her speech, and only a stutter emerged. Angrily I cruelly seized on her imperfection. "And I don't need spastics for friends either."
It was as if I had struck her. Her face grew white and she spat out, "you're more… crippled. Than I… could ever be." Tears welling in her eyes, she ran away. I wanted to say something, in anger or apology, I'm not sure. Instead I yelled out to the world in general, "Screw you. Screw all of you!"
And then I went to find Alti.
As I stalked through the fields, all the rage, the quiet anger boiled over in me, and for once I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted them all to die. No, I wanted them all to be homeless, to know what it was like. And maybe, if I could tell a lie properly, Alti would give that to me.
But with Xena dead, Alti only wanted revenge against Gabrielle, and that wasn't enough. There had to be a way to convince her to fulfill both our needs. All the way back to the woods, I plotted and discarded stories. So that when I finally arrived at the campsite I was ready.
She was there, waiting on that same stump, her malevolence now clear to me. Like a weapon about to be unleashed.
I was in a hurry, afraid that I might forget my plan, so there was no preamble. The words spilled out and I must have appeared simply eager to earn my reward. I told the witch how successful the colony was, how secure, how Gabrielle never left it. That it was her greatest pride and accomplishment. That she never needed ever worry about her 'friend.' I found real enthusiasm in my heart and voice as I described the things we had done, the people we had helped, but even as I let it flow into my voice, I pressed the fact of it deep down under my hatred. I told her that it would take an army and the help of someone inside to take out the guards.
When I was finally done, Alti took it all rather strangely, I thought. She handed me the promised coins with a peculiar look, and when I swore to return the next day, there was only perfunctory enthusiasm. I waited for her request for help, but she seemed to be unaware I was there. After an awkward pause, I babbled that I would return the next day, and left her alone.
When I arrived at the gates of the fort, I was seized by two of the guards. I knew one of them from classes, but neither would say a word as they pulled me, struggling and whining, to the Founder's hut. I was pushed inside, nearly landing on the floor and then they shut the doors behind me. My eyes, used to the bright sunshine of the daylight outside, adjusted to the dark slowly. Standing beside Gabrielle's bed were her sister, and Chara.
"Thanks FRIEND," I muttered.
She blushed but did not turn away from my gaze.
I tried to throw a scorn filled glare towards Gabrielle, but she only rolled her eyes.
Physically, she seemed even weaker than the day before, but her eyes and voice were sharper. The last fire before death, I knew. "Don't try cocky with me, kid. I lived with cocky for too many years. Anyway, we're not here to give you grief. You're here to get the apology you deserve."
"I decided it's time. Time to tell you some things that may rock you sideways and backwards, but it has to be done. I just hope you're strong enough to see why you've been lied to."
Lila simpered fearfully. "But I promised his mother…"
Chara added resentfully. "And you made me give my word too."
Gabrielle eased herself up on the bed and said cheerfully, "well, I didn't promise anybody."
"But…" Lila broke in.
Gabrielle silenced her with a look. "If I have only one more day, I'm not gonna spend it watching this boy continue to grow up stunted, like a tree planted under a great rock."
She wrapped her gown about her and took a deep breath. I had no idea what was coming but she certainly had my attention.
"Now I'm going to tell you some things. You're a smart kid, but this is news that no kid, no one, should get. But you have to remember this is the most important fact."
She paused before speaking. I felt myself tense, as though suddenly I already knew what was to be said; I simply needed confirmation.
"Your mother loved you. Loves you.
"When you were a baby, she honestly believed you were with people that loved you. She received letters from your grandmother, and periodically she'd check up on you. And fortunately, or unfortunately, she was there when your father broke your arm.
"Now your mother wasn't a worshipper of Hestia. She was a warrior. And she did a terrible thing. And that's the secret everyone has been trying to protect you from all these years. It was the biggest mistake they could have made, but they thought it was for the best.
"You see, when your mother saw you being hurt, she killed the man who was hurting you."
No one in the hut dared to breathe. All eyes were on me, but I was hardly aware of them.
More bits of memories slipped behind my eyes. I know this news should have stunned me, but it felt familiar, somehow. Some part of me had always known. But it wasn't what I wanted to hear. What I needed to know was the answer to another question.
"If she loved me, why, why didn't she take me with her?"
Gabrielle was the only one not surprised by my question. "Because, and BOY do I know this type, she was an honourable warrior who was filled with guilt. She felt guilty because it was her fault you had been put in that situation, and because she thought it was her fault that your father was beating you."
Gabrielle's voice grew so soft I had to strain to hear it. "You see, you look just like your mother. Love and hate, they are sometimes so very close, and I guess your father had never gotten over your mother not staying with him. So he hit the person who was a reminder of the one he still loved."
More pieces of the puzzle fit together. I understood the looks of hatred, the tears...
"Hate and Love. And all you could recognise was the hate. And because your mother was an honourable warrior, she turned herself in for the punishment she felt she deserved. Even though, maybe even especially because… the worst punishment was not being able to be with you."
She shook her head, her eyes staring off somewhere we could not see. The look on her face was familiar though. Very familiar. "What is it with these guys? Why is their honour more important than the people that love them?" I wondered whom she was asking that question of, and no one attempted to answer her.
The Founder drew back to us. "Your mother was sentenced to ten years servitude, basically slavery."
I spoke my thoughts out loud. "So that explains why my family didn't want me. A murderer's child."
There was a flash of the old Gabrielle in her anger. "Get off that. Enough guilt has been spent, and the least of it belongs to a five year old. Mik out there, he's the same age you were. Would you blame him for what his parents were or are?"
"No." I admitted.
"Then give yourself the same break. Your family was wrong, but to be fair, they were probably in shock too. But by the gods, doesn't everybody have enough problems without making more guilt in this world? It may have affected your life up till now, but it doesn't have to affect you now you know the truth. This was about, and between your parents. No one else."
I was drowning in a sea of memories and emotion, but I needed to have all my questions answered. "But why did the Amazons hate me?"
"Again, you only got the bad side of love. They loved your mother, and here she was turning herself in to be a slave. How do you think they felt about that? An Amazon Warrior as a slave? All for a boy child." She shrugged. "Prejudice, you'll meet lots more of as you get older, but still," and she fixed me with those luminous eyes, "nothing.. to do… with you. Not your fault. Got that?"
Yes, M'am." I cleared my throat. "Why couldn't I stay with my gran?"
Gabrielle shook her head. " your Gran was an amazing woman. But… your gran was dying."
A thousand clues appeared in my mind, and I wondered at how obvious it was to me now. "She didn't want anyone to know," I said in wonder.
"Yup. But that brave old woman, refused to have you just picked up and delivered. She demanded, and this was of the Amazons remember, that she spend her last time on this earth with you, travelling and seeing a bit of the world with her favourite person." She gave me a lopsided grin. "So you must have been lovable at some point."
She spread her hands outward. "So that's about it. A beloved child, brought up in the cold. It shouldn't have happened, but your mother thought she was doing what was best for you. Chara tried to tell her, and us, but we didn't listen. We also owe her an apology." She looked at Chara, who blushed and bit her lip.
I started to feel my anger warm. "Why was Chara told at all? How many other people know?"
"No one," Gabrielle assured. "Chara was told because… Your Mom needed to see what you looked like as you grew up."
All those drawings.
Gabrielle reached over to touch Chara's hand. "She hasn't happy about keeping secrets from you." Gabrielle grinned at the embarrassed girl. "She was always the first to see me when I visited. Chewed my ear pretty bad sometimes. And she was right all along. She saw what was happening. Your mother thought she was trying to protect you from this terrible secret, and all along you were being protected from a basic human need. Knowing you were loved. As I keep saying, we all owe you an apology.
"Did you ever think of what it took for that old woman to travel across country, just so she could spend more time with you? Think of what your mother gave up in order that you not be hurt anymore. And now, it's almost ten years later, and her sentence is over, and the debt paid is off. But she wanted to be the one to explain, and she asked us to wait until she was free. Like I said, your life has been filled with love, twisted and misdirected and it was kept from you. You only saw the hate, it's not surprising you never saw the love. And for that, we are all to blame. If it means anything at all, I am so very sorry." She sighed. "Even your name, Agapios from Agape. Love."
She gave me a moment of silence to sort through all that I had heard before asking, "are you going to be okay? Not today, or soon, but can you work it through? Because there's a bold, brave Amazon who's going to be showing up here soon, scared to death of what you're going to say to her."
I didn't answer. I couldn't. She patted my hand and said, "Take a walk. No one's throwing you out of here, not now. You still have to spend your year away, but your Mom will be there if you want, and I think Chara is also up for her year soon."
Chara. Oh Gods. I looked at her and wanted to say something. But I just nodded at Gabrielle and left the hut. The brilliant sunshine dazed me and I was blind for a moment. But I knew Chara had come with me. Was beside me.
It was all too much. Too many conflicting emotions. Everyone I had known had lied to me. But my mother had loved me. I knew that. And Gran. What was more important to me? The secrets themselves, or the content? I needed time.
But then I remembered there might not be anytime left. Alti.
I turned to Chara. "I've done something really… I betrayed everyone here. Alti is hiding in the woods. She's been staying out of reach so Gabrielle wouldn't feel her with that weird connection they have."
Chara looked puzzled. "Alti used to beat The Founder up all the time without any warning. Alti doesn't have a connection with Gabrielle."
"You only saw the hate, it's not surprising you never saw the love…"
The run to the woods had never seemed to take so long. Even as I raced across the terrain, it was as if I was seeing the world through different eyes, reinterpreting everything my senses had told me.
I ran on, tripping and stumbling in my haste. Could I make this one thing right? Was I in time? I reached the spot I knew was the campsite, but everything was gone. There was nothing to indicate anyone had ever been there. No tracks, no clues leading in any direction. On a hunch, I began running in a line directly away from the fort, but there was still no trail to be found.
So I had to trust in the Fates, despite what they had handed me up till now. I called out with what little breath I had, "I lied!" I screamed to the woods, "I lied! Gabrielle is very ill. She needs… she needs love or she is going to die."
Other than frightening the birds into silence, there was no response. I tried again. "Gabrielle is dying! Please, don't let her die!"
Panting, I crouched with my hands on my knees and felt the tears come. Maybe everything was not my fault, but this would be.
But that scratchy voice spoke from in front of me. "What do you mean?"
I swallowed to moisten my dry throat and looked up at the disfigured face above me. Marked by whatever incredible battles she had fought to return to this earth. Twisted in the same jumble of frustration, fear, hate and I would guess, love, that I'd seen in Gabrielle's face when she'd spoken of warriors. And, was it only a wish? In my father's, as well.
Before I could say anything, she seemed to override her hesitation and turn away. I gasped out to the retreating back, "she needs you. You're the only one who can save her." The back froze, but it had the response I'd hoped for. Had expected, if Gabrielle's stories were at all true.
Together we walked between the gates and into the compound. I thought more about Gabrielle's stories, about the great Warrior Princess. How strange that I could almost hear her knees knocking as we had approached the village. Was this love, which made you so weak? I had to take her hand to urge her on as we approached the Founder's hut, but before we were even half way there, Xena froze. For coming out of the tent, frail and wan, was Gabrielle.
I felt the warrior pull back slightly, and Gabrielle also halted, controlling herself to wait. Willing her lover to come to her.
And she did. For the first time since I had first seen her, Xena stood tall and walked without any limp. Soldier straight, stiff and firm as she walked to Gabrielle as if to her own execution. They stood about a foot apart, not touching, until Gabrielle as if in a dream, reached up and pulled the hood down, revealing the scarred face. Xena flinched from the sunlight, and the exposure, but Gabrielle's hand reached up to lightly trace the wounds.
"Was this all that kept you from me?" She swallowed. "If it was the cost to bring you home, I would think each mark… honourable." Her voice cracked on the last word, but she managed to continue, despite the tears in her eyes. "Is this all?"
Xena shifted her shoulder to reveal the stump that was all that remained of her left arm and continued to stare into the depths of Gabrielle's eyes.
Gabrielle smiled and simply asked, "Can you still hold me? Because that's all that I care about."
And with a sob, the great Warrior Princess did exactly that. And their healing began.
For once, Lila had been right. Days later she and I watched as an apparently miraculously cured Gabrielle practically skipped about the compound showing off her creations. She'd been ordered by all, including Xena, to remain in bed, but she simply laughed and ignored them all. Xena's arm was wrapped protectively about her, and there was an edge of menace to all that approached too quickly. Protecting Gabrielle had brought back the wolf, it seemed.
But I was telling you of my life, what I had learned, and theirs is a story for the great bards.
My life began again. My mother arrived a few days later, and we cried. And we argued.
Seeing Love cannot cure all. My character was too well formed to change overnight. I was not even ready for true friendship. But your mother Chara was so very patient with me, and after many errors and arguments, and many, many years, she finally consented to be my wife.
And now we come to you at last. Your request. You ask me for permission to marry your childhood sweetheart instead of that pompous ass with money we chose for you. What do you think I have learned? What do you think I will say to you?
Thank God you have found love, is what I say. Thank all the Gods.
Your very loving
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