Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices. NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.


This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is the Final Book of my story Hope Full, and you will definitely enjoy this more if you read Books 1-4 before this one. Don't say I didn't warn you. ;-)

SPOILERS: There are some light spoilers for Xena Season 4, Family Affair, Crusader and various others. Nothing big. Please feel free to send comments, burnt or otherwise to Belobris@aol.com


By WLMcCord(Bill the Semi Bard) Copyright 2/5/1999 (Revised 10-30-2000)

Final Book: This March To A Different Drum

Chapter One: Remembrance of Fear

Xena watched in apprehension as the hammer swung up through the snow laden air. Then it came down upon the cruel nail held point first against her palm. The clank of metal against metal mingled with the sound and feel of an oyster being crunched between her teeth as the nail was driven through her hand and into the heavy wood of the cross. In her time the Warrior Princess had known pain, lots of it, but this was even worse than she had ever imagined pain could be. She screamed at the utter agony of it.

Then she was hurled suddenly up into the cold air as the cross was raised with her nailed to it. More pain; it was unbelievable to her just how many ways she could hurt. Mercifully soon however, the sensations dulled to numbness as her hands went dead. She felt the life draining out of her, and knew she was dying.

There was movement below her, and the figure of a small woman came out of the blowing snow; a petite blond with short-cropped hair. She was clad in a green top, brown skirt and boots, was leaning on a staff, and smiled a beautiful smile.

"Gabrielle," the warrior whispered. "Oh, Gabrielle, you've come to help me."

"Yes, Xena," smiled the bard as she took a small double handled breast dagger from her green bodice. "I'm going to release you..." She began carefully tying the dagger to the end of the staff.

"Gabrielle," Xena whispered with love, "you've always been my joy ... and my way."

"I know Xena," said the bard as she finished tying the dagger to the staff, "and I always will."

She brandished the makeshift spear towards the figure on the cross, and poised herself.

"I love you, Xena," she smiled, "now go free!" As Gabrielle spoke the last word she plunged the spear into the warrior's chest, piercing her heart! Xena's head snapped back in shock as a gurgling shriek was wrenched from her throat. She shivered all over as she died ... and awoke lurching into a sitting position on the hard floor.

She was panting with shock and her heart pounded as she felt her chest for the wound; there was none and she looked around her in confusion. For a moment the raven-haired warrior did not know where she was; then she recognized the room, the hearth with the banked fire, the bedding blankets on the floor, Argo standing asleep in the corner. Outside she heard the light sifting sounds of the still falling snow. The hut; they were still in the hut near the burned village of Tarkonus.

"By the gods," she groaned softly, "that was a bad one." She held her pounding head with bandaged hands as her frantic heartbeat began to slow. She tried to clear her throat; her mouth felt dry as sand. With a ragged sigh, she looked at the figure beside her on the floor.

There, covered warmly under a woven blanket, Gabrielle slept soundly on her back. A second blanket covered the floor beneath her to make a cozy nest. The bard's arms were folded under the covering and a light snore came from her open mouth. Xena looked tenderly at the small woman, and lightly touched the short cropped blond hair with the back of her hand.

"You always could sleep through an earthquake and three screaming harpies," she whispered to her friend with a wry smile, "I'll give you that."

Then her look turned pensive. Yesterday, you were Hope, not Gabrielle, she thought. Yesterday and for months now you were not my dear young friend, but my enemy trying to harm me and destroy me in every way possible and I ... never ... had ... a ... suspicion. She closed her eyes as she shook her head in both wonder and aggravation. I was as blind as an owl in sunlight to who and what you really were, Hope. All that time since Poteidaia when I thought you died. Me, the great and powerful Warrior Princess, she who brags about having many skills. I never saw my worst enemy standing there beside me in disguise every day.

Xena looked up at the ceiling where a few random snow flakes were floating down from the thatched roof. One landed on the back of her hand and she studied the tiny star of ice for the brief moment before the heat of her skin melted it into a minute drop of water. She touched it with her tongue and grimaced, tasting the rank remainder of fear sweat and yesterdays pain on her skin.

Yesterday, she thought. Yesterday I was dead ... as good as anyway. Yesterday you finally succeeded in your vengeance on us, Hope; on both your mother and me. Succeeded and then relented. You gave me ... gave us both, a second chance. You left Gabrielle's body after freeing me from the cross I was dying on and now here we are in this hut, lucky to be alive. Why did you do it? WHY? I can't understand you. At the moment of your victory you left Gabrielle and we survived. What caused you to change your mind? Did you become good at last? Will we ever know?

Xena shivered suddenly, and became aware that her own blanket had fallen from her during the nightmare. Under it the warrior wore only a rough burlap shift, but she was covered with dampness from the dream. Despite the fire in the hearth, the air in the hut was chilly. She pulled the tattered blanket back close around her, wincing at the twinges in her bandaged palms.

I'm so thirsty; where's the bucket? Ah, by the fire, a whole ten feet away. Don't want to wake Gabrielle, she's been through so much; let her sleep. It's only ten feet. You can do it ... get up...

She lurched and almost fell over, catching herself on her knees and hands. The jolts of pain were blinding and she felt dizzy. Startled, she stayed there swaying for a moment, catching her breath and waiting for the pain to dull. At last she settled back on her knees and hugged her throbbing hands to her torso, blinking back tears of pain.

To stand or not to stand; come on, Xena, yer not a baby ... by the gods! I don't think I CAN get up; am I THAT weak? Yes, I think I am. Thirsty. Get Gabrielle ... NO! It's only ten feet! You will do this for yourself, damn you! DO IT! Come on, tough-girl, you got up from the Gauntlet! You got up with broken legs after M'Lila died, and after Najara kicked your ass!

She struggled again, and waves of blackness shot with red washed over her. When it ended she was still on her knees, panting, tears of impotent rage running down her cheeks.

Okay, okay ... so maybe ... I ... can't. All right, Xena, if you can't walk, there are other ways! Come on you many skilled bitch, you are going to GET THAT WATER!

Grimly then, a snarl fixed on her face, she scuffed on her knees over to the bucket of melted snow near the fire. Once there she sat back on her knees, leaning on the bucket with her forearms and panting.

I did it! I DID it! Three cheers for me! Maybe tomorrow I can take up take up jogging ... or not. To Tartarus with it. Let's get that water!

With the brass dipper she broke the thin sheen of ice and dipped some out, sipping the tooth numbing liquid greedily. Then she held some water in her mouth in an attempt to work out the dryness. Her hands throbbed a bit more at the activity, and she hissed with the pain.

Oh, shut up, she thought, angry with herself as she kneed her way back over to the bedding. You are so lucky to even be alive right now. Its just pain, and you've had much worse. Back next to Gabrielle, she plucked at the bandages with clumsy fingers, trying not to think of what they hid. Holes in the palms of her hands. Holes from the cruel iron spikes that had held her to the cross. The cross that Caesar had meant to be her death. Both their deaths, she reminded herself. If not for Hope being in Gabrielle, both of us would have been dead now, frozen corpses spiked onto the ugly wood, killed for the whims of a petty, power mad man.

"Damn you, Caesar," she whispered grimly. "Why does nothing ever seem to happen to you? I could drop you down the center hole of the busiest outhouse in Rome and you'd come up smelling like ... like..."

"Like the smarmy evil bastard that he is?" Gabrielle spoke softly.

Xena looked down to see her friend lying there still covered by the blanket, but the large green eyes were open and looking at her.

"Gabrielle," she spoke tenderly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. Please, go back to sleep."

The young woman shook her head and rolled onto her elbow. "Don't worry about it. I heard it when you broke the ice in the bucket. Xena, if you were thirsty you should have waked me; you're still too weak to be exerting yourself."

"I'm all right..." Xena said, and then spoiled it by coughing raggedly. Damn, she was getting a cold.

"No, you're not all right, but I know you'll pretend you are even if it kills you." Gabrielle frowned fiercely at her friend. Xena tried to frown back, but the expression turned quickly into a sheepish smile.

"Guess you're right," she said, "I'm certainly not one hundred percent at the moment." She looked at her bandaged palms and grinned sourly. "Probably off by at least five percent per hand."

Gabrielle smiled then too, and the women looked at each other with an understanding they had gleaned over the years of their travel together.

"All right," the warrior drawled, "if ya really wanna spoil me, how about getting up and making me some of those little sugary dough things with the red filling that I love so much?"

"Don't push it," the bard smiled, "but next time I’ll get the water, deal?"

"It's a deal ... mother."

The bard grinned for a moment, then her expression changed to something unreadable. "Xena," she spoke slowly, "what are we going to do about this?"

Chapter Two: Thoughts and Questions

Xena considered her friend's words. "'What are we going to do?' Well, as soon as the snow lifts, we're getting out of here and heading back south I guess ... the food left here won't last forever..."

"No," Gabrielle said sharply. "What I mean is, what are we going to do about Caesar?"

Suddenly feeling colder, Xena shrugged the blanket closer around her. Her palms ached suddenly and she spoke with care. "What do you mean, '...do about Caesar?'" Her voice was neutral.

The bard looked up at her with a glint in her eyes. "After what he did to us? To you? To the rebel leaders? To the people and the village of Tarkonus? To thousands of others throughout the known world? You can ask that?"

Xena said nothing. She just looked at her small friend with no expression.

"By the gods, Xena!" Gabrielle snarled, sitting up and pulling her knees under her with a rush. The blanket fell from her shoulders, revealing the burlap shift that she wore. It was almost identical to Xena's, for both of them had been clothed thus by the Romans when they were to be crucified.

"The killings, the maimings, the crucifixions; whole villages taken as slaves. Wholesale murder of innocents and people who speak against him? How many times can he be allowed to do these things to people? How many times can he be allowed to get away with it?" Her voice broke, and she took a deep breath before continuing more quietly. "How many thousands of lives is Caesar allowed to ruin or take, before he no longer has a right to ... continue?"

Xena looked troubled; stared at her bandaged hands.

Gabrielle spoke in a small pleading voice. "He has to be stopped, Xena. He HAS to be ... he needs to be ki..." she swallowed, and went on shakily. "To be ... be s-stopped, and I don't see anyone else able to do it."

The warrior opened her mouth, closed it, then pursed her lips. "Gabrielle," she said carefully, "is ... is this really you speaking ... or is it..." she lapsed into silence.

"You mean, am I ... my daughter, Hope?" The small bard looked at her sadly for a moment before speaking, "I guess I deserved that, talking about..." she blinked and a tear slid down her cheek, "...about k-killing ... Caesar. I mean, how can you ever really be sure that it's m-me again? That I really am your friend Gabrielle, who reveres life. Who reveres it so much that I-I even went to the length of betraying you in Chin to try and stop you from killing an evil man. Now I'm talking about ... killing another evil man? But it IS me, Xena, it IS," she whispered brokenly.

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry..." Xena said. "I am sure it's you really, but..."

Gabrielle's eyes glistened and she reached out. The big warrior silently took the small woman's hands as the bard stared deep into her blue eyes.

"Oh, Xena. I understand your worry. But this is me, Gabrielle. I'm not the innocent little girl you found in Poteidaia, what is it now, four or five years ago, but it is me, and my daughter Hope is truly, truly gone into ... where-ever she went when she left and went out of my body and mind. But you have to understand this too..." she looked earnestly at the warrior. "While I may have ... affected Hope with my ... ideas of goodness, she affected me too, don't you see?" The petite woman gazed into space for a moment without speaking.

"What do you mean, 'she affected you...'" Xena asked, troubled. "How did she affect you?"

"All those months Hope was in me ... running everything. Her nasty thoughts and petty impulses to do harm and to hurt people coursing through me," the bard said softly. "I think ... I think I know evil a little better now; I was so naive before, Xena, so ... young." She shook her head. "But I learned this much from Hope. I learned that evil can't be allowed to run unchecked forever, or it will destroy anything and everything in its path. Unless destroyed itself, evil will try to destroy the whole world."

The warrior frowned. "Yes, but..."

"By the gods, Xena," the bard cried with passion. "Who says that Caesar gets to do whatever he wants unchecked in the world? Where is THAT written? He may be a man, but in evil, he's no better than ... than Dahak!"

Xena's expression was bland. "So let me get this straight; you want me ... us, to ... murder Caesar because he's evil?"

"Murder? No, NO! But, stop him? Yes! He has to be stopped," Gabrielle said in a voice that trembled with conviction. "Not for hate, not for anger, not for revenge! For life, Xena, for LIFE! For all the innocent lives that wild beast in human form has not yet touched; for all the lives he has yet to ruin! And if that means killing him..." her voice faltered to a stop.

"But Gabri-elle..." A sudden spasm passed over the warrior, and her teeth chattered. The bard was instantly concerned.

"Oh, Xena, you're shivering. I'm so foolish, talking about this now when we haven't been down off those crosses for more than a day. Come here." The petite bard spoke like a mother to a child and opened the blanket in invitation. "Lie down here next to me, you're still weak. Come on, we'll share body heat."

Obediently, the shaking warrior lay down spoon fashion, with her back to the bard. Gabrielle arranged the blankets snugly around and under them. Xena sighed and shivered again as the smaller woman's body heat came against her back and legs.

"By the gods, Xena," Gabrielle exclaimed with concern, "you're damp ... freezing. You've been sweating. Are you sick?" She began rubbing the warrior's back and shoulders with her strong fingers, generating heat from friction.

"Mmmmm. That feels good ... and no, I don't think I'm sick ... I just had ... a nightmare..."

"And no wonder, considering the last few days," said the bard, hugging the bigger woman back against her. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No ... it was just a ... bad dream," Xena sighed. "You feel so good and warm..." She tried to turn her head to see her friend. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry about doubting you..."

"Shhh." The bard pushed her face against Xena's raven hair. "Sleep now..." she murmured with tears in her voice. "We'll talk about this later. For now, you need to rest and heal; I sometimes forget that even you have your limits. I've gotcha, you're safe and I'm gonna keep watch. No more bad dreams. I love you, Xena."

"I love you, too ... Gabrielle..." Xena whispered sleepily, "I'm so glad you're back..." She dozed off, held safe and warm in her best friend's loving arms.

Continued in Chapter 3

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices. NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.


This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is the Final Book of my story Hope Full, and you will definitely enjoy this more if you read Books 1-4 before this one. Don't say I didn't warn you. ;-)

SPOILERS: There are some light spoilers for Xena Season 4, Family Affair, Crusader and various others. Nothing big. Please feel free to send comments, burnt or otherwise. Belobris@aol.com


By WLMcCord(Bill the Semi Bard) Copyright 2/5/1999 (Revised 11-1-2000)

Final Book: This March To A Different Drum

Chapter Three: The Hut of Plenty

The next morning, Xena awoke feeling like one big bruise, not only from the crucifixion, but from the beating she had taken when she had been captured and pummeled to unconciousness in the net. Finally, with Xena's insistance and Gabrielle's help, the warrior made it to her feet and even walked across the hut with the bard supporting her. However, she was sniffling as she did, for as she had predicted, the warrior had gotten a cold. The day after that she was on her feet on her own, swaying but determined as Gabrielle clucked over her like a worried but proud mother watching her childs first steps. A long slow week went by and her movements improved every day, so that by the end of the week, with the exception of her hands, she was able to move about with something resembling her normal feline dexterity.

It had stopped snowing after three days, but the temperature stayed below freezing and the snow on the ground was deep. Xena sniffled and sneezed miserably with her cold through that whole week. Gabrielle on the other hand, showed no signs of her exposure to the elements although she had been as naked as Xena. The only thing that the two friends could figure out was that while Hope had been inside of her mother, she had somehow used her power to withstand the cold. Whatever the cause, the two women and the big palomino mare gratefully shared the warmth and safety of the peasant hut and rejoiced in just being alive. In this week of rest and healing, nothing more was said about Caesar; the subject seemed closed.

They fell into a routine. Early each morning, Gabrielle carefully unwrapped Xena's bandages and cleaned the cruel wounds in the warrior's palms, looking carefully for signs of infection. The bard then applied more wound salve to the areas and rebandaged them. Then she got in fresh snow for water, more firewood, prepared breakfast and then fed and cleaned out after Argo. Xena wanted to help, but her friend bade her rest and the big warrior did not push the point. She had found that she tired easily when she moved around too much and knew she must let her body rest and heal.

Although the morning bandaging sessions always left her weak and sweating, Xena indured these ministrations stoically with no complaints. She, more than most, knew just how lucky she was that no permanent damage had been done when the nails had been pounded through her hands. Remarkably, all the tendons seemed to be intact. She could soon move the fingers of her right hand almost normally, if painfully. The left hand was coming along slower, but seemed to be healing as well and for these things the big woman was thankful. She was also grateful that Gabrielle's hands had not suffered the same fate as hers. That the small bard had only been tied onto her own cross instead of being nailed up as Xena had been. Of course that had been due to Hope using her mind power to keep the soldiers dropping the tools so that they finally gave up, but the warrior was still glad.

The hut itself was proving to be a treasure trove for the three friends, the dark warrior, the blond bard and the big mare. Although the hurrying Romans had looted a bit when they seized the owners of the small farm, there was still a store of food that they had not found in a small root cellar under the floor. Here were goat cheeses stored in a tub of salty water that did not freeze. There from the floor rafters hung herbs and vegetables such as onions and leeks. Many baskets of animal fodder, olives and figs were also hung to protect from rats and mice. Also as was the winter custom, some sticks standing in the corner of the cellar floor marked where apples and pears were buried in the dirt. This served to preserve them to be dug up still crunchy and moist after being kept air tight for months. There would be plenty of food for all for a long time. Thankfully, the two women blessed the missing occupants of the hut for their bounty, but their true sorrow was that they could not personally thank the unfortunates who had been taken as slaves to Rome.

There was also a supply of winter firewood piled behind the hut, and each day Gabrielle dutifully got in enough to cook with and keep them warm. Neither of the women ventured too far from the shelter however, for the warrior and bard had been stripped of all their clothing and belongings when captured. Xena had seen her sword, chakram and armor being put into Caesar's traveling chest. There too had gone Gabrielle's clothing, bag of scrolls and writing implements. Afterwards, they had been dressed in the rough burlap shifts for their crucifixions. They had been left not even their footgear and now, even hardened as their well traveled feet were, the snow was cold to their bare soles.

As for their defense in case of attack, their only weapons were Gabrielle's staff, Xena's whip and a kitchen knife from the hut. This was not too likely with the snow and the cold to keep brigands and other unsavory types pinned in their lairs, but it was a consideration. At that, they were lucky to have even these weapons. The whip had been left on Argo's saddle and recovered when they found the big horse near the hut. The bard’s Amazon staff had been tossed into a corner of the warehouse where they had been captured, and forgotten by the Romans. Sometime while Xena was unconscious on her cross, Hope had gone and retrieved it from the smoldering building. As to why Hope had bothered to get it, Gabrielle was still not certain.

After the snow had stopped in the middle of the week, a hungry black and white female goat wandered wearily into the yard of the hut. Gabrielle saw it when she was fetching wood and quietly called Xena to bring some fodder. The two women coaxed the hungry animal with offerings and it came willingly enough. The goat seemed tame, so it must have fled when the soldiers took the other livestock. After feeding, its udders were soon full, so they were able to have rich fresh milk as well as herb tea and water to drink.

One of the black spots on the goat's pelt surrounded one eye, making it look as if it wore a patch and Gabrielle named it "Lady Pirate". They penned it in the corner with Argo. The warhorse and the goat were unsure of each other at first, and there was some hostility between them in the small space. However, after a talk from Xena and the bribe of an apple or two, the big palomino let Lady Pirate share her corner with equanimity.

To keep busy during this time, the bard and the warrior fashioned rude foot coverings from some rabbit pelts the farmer had cured and stored. They were ungainly and had to be tied on with rope, but they would protect against the snow and wet. Further, to cover the skimpy shifts that they wore, they made some heavier wrap-around clothing from a bolt of wool discovered in the rafters of the hut. More time passed and two more slow weeks went by, now making three altogether since the nightmarish events in Tarkonus.

Continued in Chapter 4

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices. NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.


This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is the Final Book of my story Hope Full, and you will definitely enjoy this more if you read Books 1-4 before this one. Don't say I didn't warn you. ;-)

SPOILERS: There are some light spoilers for Xena Season 4, Family Affair, Crusader and various others. Nothing big. Please feel free to send comments, burnt or otherwise. Belobris@aol.com


By WLMcCord(Bill the Semi Bard) Copyright 2/5/1999 (Revised 11-1-2000)

Final Book: This March To A Different Drum

Chapter Four: Boots and Scrolls and a Plan

One night towards the end of the third week, Xena awoke. She judged that it must be somewhere well after midnight. She lay still in the dim light from the banked fire and listened, trying to determine what had disturbed her sleep. She looked to where Argo and Lady Pirate slept in their corner, but neither animal seemed awake. Relieved that nothing seemed amiss, the warrior stretched and became aware that Gabrielle was sitting up with the amazon staff on her lap. The bard was re-tying the white fur that circled the shaft a couple of inches from the upper end of the weapon.

The warrior turned towards her friend. "Hey," she yawned. "You okay?"

"I guess." The bard kept fooling with the fur. "Do you need anything?"

"I'm good. What's wrong; can't you sleep?"

Gabrielle rubbed a hand through her still short hair and sighed. "Xena, I sleep all the time. That's all there is to do here, well, aside from tending your wounds, cooking, wood gathering and mucking out after Argo and Lady Pirate. Those things take only about four hours, then there's nothing left to do. By the god's, I miss my scrolls; I havn't written anything in ages. I have so many thoughts I want to put to parchment, but there is nothing to do it with."

The warrior bantered back. "What do you mean, you were writing all the time just before we came to Tarkonus, filling scrolls. I should think you'd be glad of a break..." she suddenly bit off her words, furious with herself as the bard looked at her with a wooden expression. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry ... I forgot for a moment that..."

"That it was Hope and not me doing all that scribing; right," the bard said bitterly and chewed her lip.

Xena crawled over, pulling the blanket with her and moved to sit on the floor at the bard's side. Her fingers were still wooden as she draped the covering clumsily over the two of them. "Wanna talk about it? Hope, I mean."

Gabrielle looked at her friend for a moment, then put her arm around the bigger woman under the blanket and laid her head on the warrior's muscled shoulder. "Not much to tell," she said softly. "I was in here, you know," she touched herself on the chest, "but I was unable to do anything but think for months. Oh, I could see and hear what was going on all right, but I could only 'talk' to Hope ... and she didn't always answer."

The bard was silent for a moment, and Xena waited. "It was like being ... well, paralyzed, I guess. I could see and hear and think, but I wasn't able to feel or move any part of my body. It was ... disturbing."

"Sounds awful," the warrior woman offered, not knowing what else to say.

"It was," the small blond said. "I've always been healthy, a very physical person. Oh, not like you maybe, but I could always walk, run, jump, dance, swing a staff; do stuff for myself, you know?"

Xena nodded. "You sure could," she said warmly. "You could go anywhere Argo and I did. Plenty of others couldn't have followed us."

"Thanks. Well, anyway, inside there ... I mean, inside here, I wondered what all Hope found to write about. She would always ... sort of ... shut me off when she wrote, so I couldn't see," Gabrielle spoke ruefully. "I even asked her what she was writing sometimes, but she'd say it was private. She was pretty snippy about it too, darn her."

"Like mother, like daughter. You always were too," Xena said with a grin. "Plenty of times you wouldn't tell me what you were writing. I used to wonder if you were tearing my actions and me apart for future generations to laugh at. Were you?"

"Hey," said the bard with a chuckle. "If I had anything to say to you, I told you right up front, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but it occurs to me that you didn't really answer my question just now," snorted the warrior.

"Oh, you noticed that, did ya?" The bard spoke with feigned unconcern. "Hey!" She grunted, for Xena had dug her hard in the ribs, then hissed herself as her hand twinged from the effort. "Be careful, will ya? You don't want to start that hand bleeding again. Let me see it."

"I think it’s all right," the warrior sighed, as she let the bard examine the bandage for fresh blood; there was none.

"Yeah, well, take it easy, will you? Your fingers may be healing but my ribs may not survive," Gabrielle said with a mock groan. "Anyway, I'd sure love to see what Hope thought was worth putting down, to kind of ... compare notes; see what my daughter was thinking all those months. Maybe even see when and why she decided to let us go ... to get to know her, I guess."

"I can understand that," Xena said. "I might even be interested myself."

Gabrielle spoke seriously. "Anyway, aside from all that, I had all that time to think, see? Now here I can move for myself and I want to write all those thoughts down, and I've got nothing to do it with. Dammit, I want my scrolls," she said vehemently, then shook her head. "Gods; does this sound stupid or what?"

"No..." said Xena slowly, "but it does sound like you are looking for an excuse to go to after Caesar to get them back."

The small woman spoke wryly. "Not very subtile, was I?"

"Sure you were," Xena grinned. "Like a runaway chariot full of screaming Bacchae looking for blood."

The bard looked crestfallen. "I'm sorry Xena, I..."

"Besides," said the warrior with a glint in her eye, "along with everything else he did to us and took from us, that bastard stole my boots ... they were all broken in nice and comfortable, and I want 'em back."

Gabrielle stared at her, open mouthed. "You mean..."

"I mean, as soon as it warms up a bit and the snow melts some, I think we need to pay a certain Roman with the initals J.C. a little visit and get our property back!" The Warrior Princess smiled grimly at her friend. "What do you think about it?"

Gabrielle drew her lips into a thin line and narrowed her green eyes for a moment, then nodded abruptly. "Yes," she said softly, "let's just do that."

Chapter Five: All Roads Lead to Rome

The great city throbbed like a giant heart. Within its mighty walls, columns

and streets, there arose massive temples, beautiful bathhouses, magnificent

theaters and great palaces. Tremendous viaducts carried water into the city

for the needs of the teaming populace, and the roads carried in food and

goods. To house this populace were thousands of small dwellings, rich walled

villas and crowded tenements, some as many as four stories high. Also within

this city were busy markets, crowded taverns and prosperous shops all

fighting for space next to public baths, storehouses and factories. The main

streets into the city, such as the Apian Way were works of art filled with

painted marble statues and columns and arches along which mighty and colorful

Legions led by heroic generals marched to the far flung reaches of the empire

past crowds of the cheering multitude. The alleys and back streets were

another matter, with open sewers and piles of trash and less prosperous

looking citizens making their way along the edges of the city.

And the people; they came from all walks of life. There were merchants and

soldiers, seamen and shopkeepers, scribes and lawyers, senators and whores.

All rubbed shoulders in the throngs along the Apian Way and the myriad other

streets and alleys crowded with taverners, farmers, garbage men, thieves and

priests. The cries of merchants hawking their wares mixed with the roar of

the crowds at the coliseum. The clop and clatter of hooves and the rumble of

produce carts or garbage wagons went on at all hours making sleep almost

impossible in some neighborhoods. The shouts of playing children and noisy

drunks blended in with the brays of donkeys and Asses, the bark of dogs, the

squeal of pigs and the calls of whores and housewives doing their business.

The city was also the nosiest, dirtiest and without a doubt the most foul

smelling place in all the world. Along with open sewers and piles of garbage,

the reek of tannery, slaughterhouse and fresh dung from the many cart and

wagon horses filled the nose. During the day herds of hogs and dogs and cats

roamed the streets, rooting in and spreading the garbage piles, and

defecating at will. Worse, at night hordes of rats the size of small dogs

came up from the underground to run the open sewers and haunt the piles of

rotting offal that lay everywhere in the back alleys. These were so bold as

to face off with a single man, hissing and squeaking defiance unless he had a

ready weapon and many a man lived by hunting the 'long-tailed street-rabbits'

to sell to the cheaper eating houses.

All these things and more comprised Rome, the greatest city of the known

world, where it was said with very little exaggeration, that all roads led.

Now, two more visitors to this great metropolis came through one of the many

secondary city gates that carried produce in by day and garbage out by night.

Wearing stained traveling robes, they carried wooden staves, one of which

seemed to have a few inches of white fur affixed near the top of it.

Otherwise, there was nothing to distinguish the two from any of the other

thousands of pilgrims and travelers herding through the mighty gates. They

passed the bored gate guards in the armor of Imperial Rome, and plunged into

the morass of city sights, sounds and smells. A closer look would confirm

that the two were both women, one tall and dark, the other shorter and with

reddish blond hair that had been cropped close but was now growing out. As

they walked, the blustery March wind whistled through the mighty city, and

thankfully blew most of the stench out of the area; but not all of it.

Xena wrinkled her nose and sneezed. "Gods," she exclaimed, pinching her

nostrils vigorously. "I always forget about the smells and the noise till I

get back here. What a pest hole; its a wonder they don't have a plague a


"Try breathing through your mouth," Gabrielle choked. "Then again..." she

made a face like she had swallowed a mouthful of dead bat, "maybe that's not

such a good idea either."

"I'm just glad it's still the tail-end of winter," Xena rubbed her watering

eyes. "You know it gets really rank here around midsummer. No matter how fast

they haul off the garbage, there always seems to be more than they can

handle. It gets so bad that even what you eat and drink tastes rotten."

"Such a wonderful place to live," moaned the petite bard. "Why does Caesar

want it so much? It's like a garbage heap crawling with maggots!"

Xena snorted. "I suppose he figures being top maggot on the pile is better

than being on the bottom of it."

"Top or bottom, a maggot is still a maggot," Gabrielle said tartly. "Anyway,

I'm glad we left Argo and Lady Pirate at that stable in the last village. At

least they won't have to suffer through this too. We ARE going to get away

from here before summer, right?"

"That's the plan," the warrior said. "We're not staying here any longer than

we have to. Besides, here we need to keep a low profile. Even with the money

you earned us by story telling at that last place, we have only about enough

to keep us for a week or two and still buy the stuff for our plan."

"A week or two," Gabrielle muttered as she dodged out of the way of a man

pushing a cart full of none too fresh fish. "By that time we'll be lucky if

we have noses left." She coughed as they passed an open sewer pulsing with

putrescent muck. "Speaking of the plan, it hasn't changed any, has it?"

"Nope," grunted the tall woman, elbowing a staggering drunk to the side of

the road with a practiced left arm. Her hand throbbed painfully in response,

but she ignored it. "Next couple of days we'll find out the layout of

Caesar's Palace, a couple of nights from then, we'll break in and get our

stuff back. Then we're outa here; take a week, tops."

"And you ... I mean we, um, have no other plans regarding assassinating uh,

that is, regarding Caesar?"

"Gabrielle," Xena said with a warning in her voice. "For the last time, we

are not going to go there. I won't walk that path again ... or this one."

She skip-dodged around a waist high pile of garbage where a full grown hog

and a scruffy street mongrel were bickering over the tasty treats.

"All right, all right," the bard sounded worried as she skirted the pile on

the other side and caught up panting a bit. She lowered her voice. "How do

we know that he still has our things? They could be anywhere by now."

"Nope. We saw our stuff packed into his personal traveling chest; he's got it

all right. It's like a battle trophy for him and he's too egotistical not to

keep it." Xena looked around the busy street for a moment. "Yeah, okay. I

know where we are. Come on, there's a cheap inn nearby." Hand in hand the two

friends pushed into the bustling crowd and were carried away like flotsam on

a fast flowing river.


Chapter Six: Greasy Olives and Mystery Meat

It was night time several days later. Deep in the heart of Rome, on a back street near Caesar’s Palace was an area of taverns and brothels. One of the least appetizing of the taverns was called The Soldier's Rest. At the moment it was quiet enough, with only a few blowsy looking woman sitting listlessly eating or drinking and gossiping quietly. In a corner of the tavern, sat two trampy looking harlots. They were heavily made up with rouge and powder, as was the fashion for ladies of the night.

One woman was large with shocking blue eyes. Her long black hair was held up on top of her head with a metal comb. She wore a yellow toga, which exposed her right shoulder and most of a breast; open sandals adorned her feet. The other woman was small, with a blue turban, and a tight fitting red bodice that accentuated her front. This was tucked into a pair of silky blue trousers with pointed blue shoes.

In front of them was a small amphora of wine, a plate of flat bread, a couple skewers of some kind of meat and two none too clean ceramic cups. A tavern wench came up and plopped down a bowl of shriveled looking black olives; a couple of them rolled onto the table top and stuck there without moving.

"That'll be two and six for the lot," she said, scratching at her drab hair with a dirty fingernail.

The larger of the two women looked at the olives with disdain. "Is that the best you can do? Those look like goat droppings in melted lard."

"Hey," said the waitress. "It's the end of winter; ain't no crops in and won't be for months yet. Yer lucky we had any. You want I should take 'em back?"

The blue-eyed woman turned up her lip, but paid. "When do the boys get here? I want some action," she said with a nasal whine.

"The night shift of palace guards'll be in soon," said the waitress with a leer. "You'll get all the action you can stand soon enough, dearie." As the tavern girl left, the smaller woman poked at the olives with a cautious finger and pulled it back hastily. "Xena, I think something's moving under there."

"Probably. Just try not to eat it," the warrior shrugged as she popped one into her mouth and explored with her tongue. "Huh. Like I said, 'melted lard.'" She tore off a piece of the flat bread and chewed it vigorously to remove the olive's greasy taste.

"I don't think I want any of those," said the bard, taking a sip from her cup. "The wine isn't too bad; at least it hasn't gone to vinegar yet," she swallowed and made a face, "...well, not quite."

The Warrior Princess attacked a skewer of the mystery meat. "Hey," she said with her mouth full, "this isn't bad..."

Gabrielle tried some cautiously, looked surprised and took more. "You're right," she said through a mouthful. "It's not bad at all; interesting flavor. I don't believe I've ever tasted anything quite like it..."

"Yep, it's pretty good ... for gutter-eagle," said Xena innocently. Seeing her friend’s initial look of puzzlement suddenly turn to comprehension and then to disgust was her reward. The big warrior grinned for a moment as she chewed, then suddenly swore and felt her right cheek.

"What's wrong," asked the bard. "Is it trying to fly out?" .

"No," sighed the warrior, poking an exploratory finger into her mouth. "Just jammed something in the missing space where I had that chewing tooth knocked out. Damn that Najara, anyway."

Gabrielle grunted. "Serves you right for not telling me sooner what I was eating. Pigeons are like rats with wings!"

"Well, look at it this way," said the Warrior Princess, nursing her jaw. "At least it shouldn't be too difficult to make the food and wine last. It means we can sit here awhile to pick up the palace news, or maybe a guard or two who knows something." She rolled an olive around on the table to see the greasy trail it left.

At that moment there was a clamor of noise as a number of men in the uniforms of Caesar's Personal Guards burst through the door calling for wine and food. Some crowded pushing and shoving around the bar, while others made for various tables. Some of the women approached the men, and were soon either being treated for drinks or escorted outside for other purposes.

"Shall we, uh, try our luck?" Gabrielle murmured.

"Don't be in such a hurry to get your feet wet," Xena muttered with a leer. "We'll pick up more information if we let them come to us. The ones who are headed out the door aren't interested in talking."

"Uh, oh," said the small woman quietly. "Here comes your chance to pick up something all right; let's just hope it's curable ... ouch!" She jumped and then glared at her companion who had kicked her under the table.

Now the warrior put a silly simper on her face and spoke in a flirty voice to the two brash looking young Centurions who were approaching with wide grins. "Hello there, boys, ya like ta buy a couple'a ladies a drink er sumpin’?"


Chapter Seven: Outside Caesar’s Palace

Much later that same night, two dark figures darted across the tree-lined courtyard to the shrubbery by the wall of Caesar's Palace. Xena pushed back the hood of her black robe and looked up to the flagpoles sticking out of the wall some twenty feet above.

"Ahh. Just like young Flavis said. There's the second story porch too. Now if your boy's info was right, and Caesar is out for the night politicking at that senator's house party, we're all set. Especially since our two sleeping beauties won't wake up in the alley where we left them until morning." She shucked off the robe and handed it to the bard.

"Xena, are you sure you're up to this?" Gabrielle whispered, looking about worriedly as she wrapped the robe around her waist in a carry-tie. "We were going to wait a couple more days before trying."

"Can't afford to," Xena whispered back, settling the coil of rope around her shoulders. "Caesar may not be gone another night. This is a perfect opportunity to give us time to search."

Gabrielle sighed. "Well, then you'd better get going; that's a long way up. That third team of guards should be passing by this area in less than five minutes."

"It'll be easy as nutbread," muttered the Warrior Princess. "Gimme some room..." She backed up about ten feet, then ran full tilt at the slightly sloping wall. Just before she reached it she leaped forward and ran right up the palace side for about half the distance to the flagpole she had chosen. Just as she could run no further and would start slipping back down, she easily flung herself the remaining distance and caught the pole with her hands.

Here however, her plans went awry. As she grasped the pole, expecting to flip herself to a sitting position atop it, the palm of her left hand shot her a stab of pain so intense that she almost screamed. As it was she could not refrain from gasping with the shock of it. The fingers of that hand went wooden numb and she dangled by her right hand alone. Below, Gabrielle's mouth hung open in helpless fear as she watched her friend struggle.

Grimly Xena held on with her whole weight on her right hand, then managed to bend her left wrist over the pole so she would not have to use the numbed left hand. Hanging there for a moment, she quickly changed her plans and flipped both legs up over the pole so that she could hang head downward by her knees.

The rope was starting to fall off of her shoulders, when she crooked her arm and caught the coil around her elbow. Still hanging upside down, cursing silently, the warrior massaged her left hand for a moment trying to work the dull woodeness out of it. Then, with a convulsive effort, she managed to swing herself onto the top side of the pole and into a sitting position where she stayed for a moment, shaking with reaction.

Below, Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief, and looked around for signs of the guards. At about one hundred yards distance down the side of the palace, she saw a winking light. The three man guard party with a lantern! They were proceeding slowly, poking the bushes with spears and shining the lantern as they did. "Xena," she hissed in a panic. "The guards!"

Above, the tall woman had already seen the moving light, and cursed anew. She managed to get to her feet on the flagpole and stood against the wall. There ten feet above was the open porch that was her destination. Bouncing on the pole for momentum, the warrior flung herself upwards but this time instead of trying to grasp the top, flipped her body completely over the railing and onto the porch. She landed in a crouch with less noise than a cat and looked hurriedly about for enemies. As expected, there were none.

"About time something goes right," she thought with anger, "the rest of this plan is rapidly going to Tartarus in an oil soaked reed basket."

Coming to the railing edge, she looked down and saw the guard party was still about fifty yards away. Damn! Too close to risk pulling the bard up without the soldiers seeing, and they were making too good a job checking the bushes; she would surely be found. What to do? She was sure that they could silence the three guards, but then the next shift would be by in less than ten minutes and the two women needed much more time than that for their search of the palace. The guards had to be left undisturbed in their rounds.

The warrior's mind flashed quickly through the options, and they were limited. A diversion was all she had, but what could she use? She looked about frantically. Wait! The roof over the porch was right above her. She stepped up and stood on the pourch railing on the edge of nothing, reaching carefully up to feel around with her right hand. Curved tiles made of reddish ceramic clay covered most Roman roofs; Caesar's Palace was no exception. She felt about and wiggled the ones at the edge. One gave slightly, and she tugged at it with a strength born of panic. There was a small grinding noise, and some clay dust showered down as it came loose in her hand. Just as she was congratulating herself, some of the sifting dust got in one eye and she blinked furiously at the tiny stabbing pains and almost lost her balance. Somehow she managed to hold onto the tile, maintain her footing on the narrow railing, and rub the worst of the dust away with the edge of her left hand.

Breathing hard and cradling the tile to her chest, Xena thankfully regained the porch and looked through watering eyes to check the guards’ progress. They were no more than twenty-five yards away. She glanced down. Gabrielle was lying flat along the side of the wall in the bushes, making herself as small as possible. But the bushes were thin here; the bard would almost certainly be discovered. If the Warrior Princess was going to do something, it was now or never.

Chapter Eight: Revelations and Door Locks

The roof tile Xena held was about a foot long and weighed something over two pounds. Not exactly a chakram, she thought, but it'll have to do. She aimed down the building behind the approaching guards, and gathered her strength. Then she slung the tile underhand as hard as she could, up and along the side of the palace. Luck or an adrenialin strength was with her and it went fifty yards beyond them to crash into the bushes with a shattering noise. The guards turned about with exclamations and ran towards the spot.

Quickly, even as they started running, Xena dropped the end of the rope to her friend. The bard stood up and tied it around herself. Meanwhile, above, Xena was taking no chances. She had wrapped the rope around her left arm several times and grasped it firmly with her good hand. This was one burden she did not want to lose. As soon as she saw the blond bard was secure, the warrior threw the rope over her shoulder and began walking away into the palace with it. The small woman was hauled swiftly walking up the wall and moments later pulled herself over the railing to safety.

Gabrielle was winded, both from the climb and fright. "What in Gaia's name happened to you?" She was used to her big friend's unfailing competence. Xena pressed her fingers against the bard's lips and signaled for silence.

Listening, they could hear the guards on down the wall. From the discussion, they had found the broken roof tile and had come to the conclusion that a loose one had chosen this time to fall from the building.

"We'll turn in a report come the morning," said one gazing up the wall to the main palace roof fifty feet above. "Ain't nobody could get up there at night and anyway, what good would it do 'em if they did?"

They resumed their rounds and passed on by before the two friends on the porch got up.

Xena began hurriedly coiling the rope, doing it mostly with her right hand. The bard watched for a moment in the dim light. "Xena? You almost didn't make it onto the pole, and now you arent even using that hand! What's wrong with it?" Her tone was urgent.

"Cramped up on me when I tried to use it to hold on," the warrior spoke matter-of-factly. "Wouldn't bear my weight. Come on." She slung the rope over her shoulder and started off, but instantly the bard was in front of her.

"Wait a minute," the blond said in a harsh whisper, "we have to talk about this. If you can't..."

"Not now we don't have to talk about it." Xena said curtly, shrugging on the dark robe Gabrielle had brought up with her. "We're here now, and we don't have all night. So let's go."

The bard just stood and looked at her with no expression. The big warrior sighed. "All right, Gabrielle. Yes, I've been having trouble with it, ever since the crucifixion. I was hoping it would get better, but I'm not sure that it ever will. The sooner I start learning to cope with it, the better, okay?"

Her small friend still said nothing but her gaze spoke volumes. Xena hung her head. "Gabrielle. I'm sorry. I should have told you, I know that. I-I was afraid that you wouldn't want to go through with this if I told you that I wasn't one hundred percent. Please, I-I'm sorry."

"Oh, Xena," the bard whispered. "You don't need to apologize. I'm just worried for you ... next time tell me when something is wrong. You've been there for me time after time even when you thought I was dead. Let me be there for you too." She laid her small hand on the warrior's shoulder and squeezed.

"Gabrielle," said Xena with a catch in her voice. "You are always there for me, don't you think I know that?"

The small woman smiled. "Here now! Don't you go all mushy on me. It doesn't suit you."

"Yes, mom," Xena gently touched her friends cheek with her good hand for a moment, then became all business again. "Come on, let’s go."

A few minutes later, the two women were padding swiftly down the hallways of the ornate palace. A few oil torches were guttering low along the marble walls, and reflected dimly on the polished floors.

Xena stopped at a corner and looked carefully around it. "Yep. Caesar's private apartments are at the end of this hall. That's where he sleeps."

"Hmmm. And how you know that, I shudder to guess," quipped the bard.

"Hey! I was there to pretend to assassinate him that time we rescued Vercinix, remember? When I got captured, they took me through here. Okay, Miss Prureant Interest?"

"Uh, huh. Sure. You got the excuse down, anyway."

"Ah, shuddup," the warrior growled. She led the way down the hallway to the apartments, failing to notice the bard grinning behind her.

They arrived at the ornate door of the room. The two made their way up to it and stopped. Xena pulled a small pouch from under her robes and sorted through a mixture of bent wires and twists of thin metal.

"Are you sure you can do this?" Gabrielle looked back down the hall.

"An Autolycus, King of Thieves, I'm not," said the warrior, "but I've worked my way around a lock or two in my time, and remember I've been practicing for this." She inserted one of the metal wires into the lock and began twisting it around diligently.

Ten minutes of cursing and bent wires later, Xena threw the now empty pouch on the floor with an oath.

"Oh, yes. Practicing worked. Now what?" The bard was nervous.

"Well, there's always plan 'B'," snarled the Warrior Princess as she went into a spin kick and planted her foot solidly against the lock mechanism. With a thud the wood splintered around the lock and the door flew open.

"Good thing Caesar is out tonight," said the bard, shaking her head as she closed the door behind them. "Plan 'B' coulda been kinda messy. I thought you didn't want to leave any evidence that someone was here?"

"Yeah, well, plans change. Sometimes ya gotta improvise. Let's go; you know what his traveling chest looks like, so let's find it." They entered the apartment through a short hallway about six feet deep that opened into the main room.

"Wow, look at all this stuff," whispered the bard, staring around the marble room in awe. All around the walls were hung battle flags and standards from armies defeated by Caesar. Barbarian weapons, armor and shields hung with maps of successful campaigns waged by Caesar against Rome's enemies over the years. Rich rugs from Africa, wall hangings from Gaul and statues of strange gods from Egypt adorned the walls and floors.

"Come on Gabrielle, focus," said the warrior. "Ignore this junk and help me find that chest."

"Oh, right. Sorry."

Searching through the various rooms of the apartment took some time, but finally they met with success. Xena called Gabrielle over to a wardrobe. "Here it is, in here." She hauled it out. The two friends opened the heavy traveling trunk and ... the raven-haired warrior cursed a long string of vile teamster oaths, ending with: "Dammit! It's empty! I was so sure he'd still have everything..."

"He probably does," said the bard slowly, "but he didn't leave it in the trunk. Maybe he had to travel somewhere else after he returned from dealing with us and just ... emptied our things out."

"But where?" The Warrior Princess was frustrated. "Okay, lets go through this place again; this time looking for our stuff. It has to be here somewhere." The two friends fell to again, even pulling down some hangings and maps and looking under rugs. After another fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, they had to admit that their belongings were nowhere in sight.

"Well, now what?" The petite woman was tired. "This isn't getting us anywhere."

"I can't understand it," Xena growled, pacing about like a nervous panther. "I know him, Gabrielle. Our belongings were like ... spoils of war to him. He's a general first and a politician second. The way he looks at it, he's battled us for years and finally won with an ambush. He wouldn't throw the spoils away once he had won; he'd want them where he could look at them anytime he wanted."

"My scrolls and your old boots were spoils of war; that's a wonderfully picturesque analogy, Xena," said the bard, "but it doesn't get our belongings back if they're not here."

"They weren't just old, they were comfortable," the warrior snapped. Then she stopped pacing and turned to her friend with excitement in her eyes.

"What is it," asked the bard. "Think you've found something?"

"Gabrielle, it's not what I've FOUND, it's what I HAVEN’T found," grinned the big warrior.

"Yeah, our stuff."

"No," the blue-eyed woman snorted. "Listen, many of the battle flags and maps and trophies of Caesar's most important victories are not here! That must mean he has all the stuff he considers really important in a special place. Probably our things are there too."

"Okay, I'll bite," said the small bard. "Where? In a museum someplace?"

"Shhh," the warrior suddenly hissed. "What's that?" From outside of the room, came muffled noises of a number of footsteps approaching. The two friends looked at each other in consternation.

"Oh, Zeus in the sky," Gabrielle groaned. "He's come back early!"


Chapter Nine: The Trove of Horror

Julius Caesar, would-be ruler of Rome was tired and cranky. He had gone to the house party of that old fool senator Gracus with the sole reason of pressing home his point of view for the voting tomorrow; when he would declare himself Emperor and ruler of Rome. To make himself a god. However, most of his opposition had not been there after all. Only a few of his own yes-men were present; they and a few hard-liners from the opposition. His own toadies he didn't need to convince, and the hard-liners would oppose him, even if he agreed with them. So he mentally threw in the towel, bid old Gracus and his surly wife an early (late) good evening and left in a stew.

Upon reaching the door of his apartments, he saw the splintered wood around the lock and knew immediately that something was amiss. Suddenly there was a jangling crash from somewhere inside. He signaled his two personal Centurion guards forward, and drew his dress sword. The guards charged into the apartment ahead of him, shooting glances everywhere. Caesar entered on their heels. He had been a combat soldier most of his life, and feared no personal encounter.

Now he was enraged at what he saw. The main room was a mess of pulled down maps, battle flags and rumpled rugs. His attention was instantly drawn to the large window behind his desk. A rope was tied to the heavy piece of furniture, and led across the floor and out the window. Whoever had been there had gotten away!

Julius Caesar ran to the window and looked out over the thirty-foot drop. There were shouts from guards on the palace grounds and bobbing torches as they hurried towards the spot under the window at the foot of the rope. There the ruler could just see a number of his golden goblets and plates scattered from a sack that had burst open. The guard parties converged on the spot and began milling around beating the bushes.

"You just missed them, you fools," Caesar shouted above the din. "Can't you see they're not here anymore? Call out another contingent of the guard if you have to, but search the grounds and find whoever did this!" The soldiers shouted assent and began spreading out.

He came back from the window fuming and rounded on his personal escort. "You two assess the damage! Now! I've got to check on something!"

They nodded and began poking around the knocked over furnishings. As they did so, Caesar walked out of their sight around a corner into an alcove. Then he came up to the side wall that was decorated with mosaic flowers, and pushed on a beautiful rendition of the Imperial Rose. The flower moved into the wall with a tiny click, and a section of the wall moved inwards and swung open like a door.

Lighting a lamp from a nearby table, the ruler entered the opening. A minute or so later, he came out looking satisfied, and stepped upon a certain floor tile next to the wall. The opening closed silently and the mosaic rose came flush with the wall again. With a smile he blew out the lamp and left the alcove.

Now the would-be emperor went over to his bed, and cursed as he saw that someone had thrown his wash jug and dish into the middle of it, and that the containers had been full of water. He cursed again and approached the guards. "That's enough," he said coldly. "I'll not sleep in a wet bed; I need rest for my speech when I declare myself Emperor in the Senate at ten tomorrow. I'll stay in one of the guest rooms tonight. Come, escort me there, then go wake the housekeepers and get them to work here. I want this cleaned up by morning."

"At your command, Lord Caesar," said the senior of the two. Without another look, Caesar strode imperiously out of the apartments, followed by the two guards who closed the door.

Moments after they had left, over by the wall across from the alcove with the hidden door, there was a movement. From behind a large hanging tapestry a small blond woman with short hair peeked out. "Xena," she whispered.

"Right here," said the warrior with a low chuckle as she emerged from the next tapestry over. " Did’ja see what he did to open it?"

"Not clearly," said the bard, "but he pushed against part of the wall; one of those flowers I think."

"Yeah. Come on."

The two made their way over to the alcove. The tall woman chuckled again. "Gabrielle, that was a good idea you had, throwing the water in his bed. I'm sure that's what made him decide not to stay. It coulda been dicey if he had."

"Thank you," the small woman blushed. "But tying the rope and tossing it and that stuff out the window to make it look like we had already gone was a diversion worthy of Autolycus himself."

"Like I've always said, we make a good team," smiled the Warrior Princess. "Now, let's see about opening this, because the cleaning crew may get here anytime." She began feeling around the wall, pushing mosaic flowers. Moments later she found the Imperial Rose and the door was swinging open. Taking the lamp from the small table, she lit it and the two friends entered the secret area behind the wall.

It was a large room with no other doors or windows, and it was full of many things; maps, tapestries, battle flags, hanging weapons and shields, a number of richly decorated statues and other trophies of Caesar's victories.

Gabrielle looked around at the hanging pieces of colored cloth and illustrated parchments and snorted. "Why is this stuff any different from what he has on the walls outside? I swear, I'll never understand the military mind..."

Then Xena's sudden indrawn breath drew her attention, and she followed the warrior's gaze to the side wall. There stood a life-sized wooden cross, suitable for crucifixions. On one arm of it hung Xena's leathers, armor, boots, sword and chakram. On the other, hung Gabrielle's bag of scrolls, yellow bodice, orange skirt and chola and sandals.

The two friends looked at each other with equal amounts of horror and disgust. "That sick bastard..." breathed the warrior. "He's made ... an exhibit to remind himself of what he did to us..."

"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle shivered. "How can anyone be so ... cruel?"

The Warrior Princess looked grimly at her trembling friend. "More like twisted, I'd say. I was going to just take our stuff and leave, but now I think that we owe Julius-bloody-Caesar a short visit to show him the error of his ways."

The bard swallowed. "Y-You mean now?"

"No. We've got to leave here now, but did you hear what he said? He’s gonna declare himself Emperor at the senate tomorrow. Gods, he has an ego the size of the Aegean Sea! Poor Romans; I almost pity them."

Gabrielle shook her head. "I don’t, but what about the rest of the world if HE rules Rome as Emperor?"

Xena narrowed her eyes to mere slits through which shown a blazing blue light. "We’ll see about that," she growled as she approached the cross. "Come on."


Chapter Ten: The Women Who Would Not Die

Next day was a brisk fifteenth of March as Caesar strode across the square from his Palace. He was dressed in a full white toga, and golden laural wreath of state. Draped over his shoulders was a purple stola with golden edging, and he carried his gold and white baton of honor proudly. Although his private apartments at the Caesar’s Palace had been rifled the night before, he thought nothing of it. Another man might have been stewing about such an occurrence, but the would-be emperor was not worried in the least.

Being a very public figure with lots of enemies, he expected nothing less on a regular basis. In fact he revelled in the excitement of possible danger. After seeing the night before that nothing of any value to him had been taken from his quarters, he had put the robbery out of his mind. Today he was going to the senate to announce that he was declaring himself a god, for that was what being Emperor meant to Rome. Only one of divinity could rule there, and Caesar was ready to declare himself. When he did, he wanted to make very sure that all of his supporters and enemies, especially Pompey the Magnus, his bitter rival for the rule of Rome, felt his eye upon them when that announcement was made. It was the old political game and he knew that he played it very well indeed.

Behind him at the respectful distance of five paces, his two large Centurion guards stalked. Armed with short swords and wearing burnished helmets, breastplates, metal gauntlets, greaves and grim no-nonsense expressions, they were enough to make any casual passerby step aside after a glance.

As he walked, he was rehersing his speech in his mind. As well as being a good general and stratagist, he was a fine speaker and always liked his speeches to be honed to a razors edge of wit and hard logic. As was usual on his way to the senate, he cut through the short alleyway between two buildings on the square. With his guards he thought nothing of getting out of sight of the populace for a moment or two; besides, he was a skilled fighter in the prime of life himself who never minded a little combat if it was needed.

So it was with a certain shock that he heard a loud double clang accompanied by two animal grunts from behind him. He spun around with his baton of honor held as a weapon but froze at the sight before him. His two guards were standing with their faces pressed together almost as if they were kissing. The blood running from their noses and mouths belied that comparison however, and he could see their eyes rolling back in their heads as they began to fall away from each other.

"What in Zeuspater's Name..." he started angrily, calling the Romanised name of the father of gods. Then he stopped as if an arrow had pierced his chest. Two muscular arms shoved the falling men apart; they landed with sodden thuds on the ground. The owner of the arms was someone Caesar had thought never to lay eyes on again. The ghost of a tall raven-haired woman with ice-blue eyes stood with legs spread wide and a grim smile on her face. She wore dark brown leather armor trimed with brass. Behind her right shoulder stood the hilt of a black pommeled sword trimmed with gold, and at her side hung the deadly looking razor sharp circle of a chakram.

"Hello, Julius," she drawled, putting her large hands on her trim leather clad hips. "Long time no see."

It was amazing. With absolutely no conscious thought whatsoever, Julius Caesar, would-be god-Emperor of the greatest and most powerful city in the known world, spun about from this apparition to run for his life. He found his way blocked by yet another specter; a trim young woman with short blond hair, holding an Amazon fighting staff ready for use. She wore a yellow bodice and short orange skirt and a bag of scrolls was slung over her shoulder. He hesitated but she made no move; emboldened, he took a step forward.

"Step back or fall back," said the small woman through her teeth, hefting the staff.

Caesar couldn't believe it. How dare this insignificant little harlot talk to the god-Emperor of Rome that way? He felt his head seem to swell to three times its normal size as the adrenalin raced through his system and rage replaced fear. He screamed wordlessly and charged forward to rend her with his bare hands. She stepped aside with ease and slammed the staff into his mid-section, which folded the would-be god over in an agony of breathlessness. She followed through with a smash to the side of his jaw that flipped him completely over in mid-air to land on his back on the cold flagstones.

Gabrielle stood over him, pale and panting with fury. "That's for what you did to Xena, and for your little trophy exhibit, you ... you..." she stopped and blew out a trembling breath; for once words had failed the bard of Poteidaia.

As the ruler lay stunned with his vision fluctuating in and out, he heard the tall dark warrior laugh as she come up. "Hey, you GO, Gabrielle! You're beautiful when you're mad." She hauled him to his feet with no appreciable effort, and held him upright as he swayed gasping.

"X-Xena," he stuttered. "You ... you're dead. Crucified! B-Both of you are. I ordered it and Brutus saw it! You can't be here ... wearing those clothes, that armor ... You can't be!"

The warrior woman looked coldly at him. "It's a long story, Julie, and I don't feel like telling it to the likes of a bastard like you. Suffice it to say, that no thanks to you, we're still alive and well." She shoved him staggering back against the building and he shrank against it, glad of the support.

The two women stepped back about ten feet and whispered to each other for a moment while he collected his thoughts. He was a dead man; he knew it. In their place, he would have shown no mercy, as in fact he had not. He expected nothing more from his two worst enemies. He straightened himself up and spoke through the swelling bruise on his jaw.

"So, Xena. You've come back to kill me. The oracles told me to beware of March, but I thought it was just superstition. Seems I was wrong."

Both women looked at him silently and the warrior raised an eyebrow. Emboldened he went on. "So go ahead and kill me, but before you do, just remember to thank me."

"And why should I do that?" The warrior woman was cool.

"Why? Because I MADE you, Xena. Without me, you never would have reached even the paltry heights that you did," he sneered. "For you see, unlike you, I have followed my destiny to rule from the very start. A thousand years from now, I will be remembered as the greatest ruler of the greatest empire on earth."

The two women looked at each other, and then back at him. They said nothing.

He drew himself up. "You, on the other hand, tried to be a good little girl. No one will even remember your name the day after you die." He laughed raggedly. "I have secured my destiny and I can die with honor and glory. So kill me now, Xena, and my glorious death will make me immortal through the ages!"

In a blur of motion almost too fast to see, the tall warrior's hand whipped the gleaming chakram from her side and hurled it at his head in one smooth motion. Caesar screamed as the spinning razor of steel hurtled at him and he knew death. There was a buzzsaw whine in his right ear and a spang of metal on stone and almost before he could comprehend, the deadly weapon was back in her hand. In shock, Caesar saw something fall past his eye to land with a tinny sound on the flagstones beneath him.

He realized that his golden laural wreath had been severed from his head and that he had not been touched at all in the process. He sagged down the wall to his knees, shaking all over at the nearness of death. He felt sick to his stomach. This wasn't glory! Before he could retch, he was hauled to his feet once again and slammed against the wall by this demon woman who wouldn't die, no matter how many times he tried to kill her. Some part of his mind noted the crucifixion scars on her hands with wonder and fear. Then he felt the razor edge of the chakram under his chin and read his death on her clenched face.

"Puh-please," he whispered. "Please don't k-kill me ... I don't want to die."

Saying nothing, the dark haired woman held him against the wall and looked him deep in the eyes. In that ice blue gaze, the would-be emperor wilted. The steel edge under his chin scraped lightly and he felt a trickle of blood down his neck where the keen edge cut. His gut churned and he felt sweat pop out all over him.

"Just one little move of my hand, and you'll grin from ear to ear ... with your throat," Xena whispered, trembling like a racehorse ready to run.

"Please. Don't. Please," he whimpered in agony.

"Xena..." the small blond spoke quietly from beside them.

The Warrior Princess turned her head to the bard; after a moment the killing snarl relaxed and she nodded shakily. Then she looked back at the shivering man for a long moment before she removed the chakram from under his chin and spoke in withering tones. "You're not worth killing. Now get out."

Caesar staggered into a run as she shoved him away, and made for the alley entrance. He was alive! He had beaten the odds again. He couldn't be killed, not by the likes of her. Not by anyone. He stopped at the alley mouth and looked back. The two women were standing arm-in-arm watching him.

Out of immediate danger, his rage flowered again. How dare they treat him so? "I'll see you dead, Xena," he shouted. "When my legions invade Greece, there won't be anywhere you can hide! I'll see both you and that irritating little blond up on crosses yet and this time, no matter how long it takes, I'll watch while you die! Mark my words!"

He ran out of the alley feeling stronger with every step. Ahead was a group of men; all senators he recognized. They were obviously on the way to the senate for the meeting. He ran towards them shouting for assistance.

Back in the alley, the two friends embraced each other. "Xena, that felt great; even better than killing him." Gabrielle chuckled.

"Yeah, not too shabby," the warrior grinned. "And he's alive to remember it. He'll suffer all right, but I think we'd better get out of Rome fast. He didn't sound any too happy when he left."

"That's for sure," the bard smiled, "Let's get our ... what's that?" They looked towards the alley entrance as the sounds of many men shouting came from the direction in which Caesar had gone.

The Warrior Princess listened for a moment. "Doesn't sound like troops and it's not coming this way," she said in a puzzled tone. "Besides, Caesar couldn't have gotten the guards that fast. Let's see what it is."

Chapter Eleven: Ides of March

The two women rushed to the entrance of the alley and cautiously peered out. There were no soldiers in evidence, but a group of men in white togas seemed to be fighting about fifty yards away near a broad flight of steps. Knives flashed in the thin March sunlight, and as one of the men was hurled away from the fight, Xena recognized Caesar in the middle.

His white toga was ripped and stained with many spots of blood. He wielded a knife and slashed around him, fending off attacks by a dozen dagger armed and shouting men. He barely avoided several knife thrusts and it was plain he could not last. Even as they watched the would-be emperor staggered from a cut across his cheek. The warrior and the bard glanced at each other, then as one they plunged forward towards the uneven fight.

"Alalalalaaa!" Xena voiced her battle cry as she went into a series of flips towards the fight. Her left hand throbbed with pain every time it took her weight on the ground, but she kept doggedly going. She terminated the flips in a flying leap with a split kick into the middle of the fight. The kick took two men at once in the chest and hurled them sideways to the ground. As she landed she straight-armed one gray-haired man who tried to stab her and sent him spinning away. Then she spun and kicked a fat, balding man in the stomach and he landed on his behind with a porky grunt. At that point Gabrielle waded in with her staff and sent several more of them crashing to the ground.

At the sight of the two warrior women rampaging among them, the fight seemed to go out of them and all of the men began running or limping away. Caesar was down on one knee, holding a bleedling wound and shouting hoarsely with rage.

"What in Zeus' Name was that all about," asked Gabrielle as she sent one of the men on his way with a thump in the back.

"Those were all Roman senators, from the looks of them." Xena kicked a knife aside as she approached Caesar. "You're a right popular man. Seems like some of your government friends just tried to assassinate you."

At that moment, another man with a craggy face and silver armor ran up and the women recognized Brutus, Caesar's second-in-command. Brutus staggered and turned pale as he recognized the pair in turn, but ran to his fallen friend anyway.

"Caesar," he gasped, helping the bloodied man to his feet, "Are you hurt badly?"

"No! I'm fine," ground out his raging friend, "but I know some members of the senate who soon won't be."

"But," stammered Brutus, "all that blood, so many wounds..."

Caesar shook his bloodied toga causing red drops to fly and laughed harshly. "Just scratches and cuts. Those old fools don't know how to kill. They failed this attempt, and I know all of them to a man. Get the guards, we'll soon round them up and find out who's behind this plot, then we'll crucify every one of them and their families. Try to kill their god-emperor-to-be, will they?"

He turned to the warrior and the bard, wiping the blood from the shallow gash on his cheek. "So, Xena. You saved me; you and your irritating little friend. Why?"

Xena grunted, "I guess we got carried away. Everybody makes mistakes, right Gabrielle?"

"That's for sure," the bard grinned.

Caesar sneered. "I see now that it was your destiny all along to help me at this time, and so I'll be magnanimous. I'll give you twenty-four hours to leave Rome before I turn the soldiers loose to hunt you down. Now begone, the next time we meet, I'll have you crucified for good." He waved his hand in dismissal.

The Warrior Princess' eyes glinted like steel, but she said nothing. Gabrielle merely leaned on her staff, shaking her head in wonder.

Caesar grinned tightly, and turned away from them to see Brutus still standing there. His second-in-command had picked up and was examining one of the daggers that had fallen to the ground during the fight. He seemed somewhat dazed and Caesar's famous temper exploded. In rage the would-be-emperor of Rome shouted. "You useless lickspittle, we have to find out who planned this! Don't just stand there with your head up your bunghole! Get the guards!" He slapped the man, who recoiled; then the craggy face went hard with resolve.

"I already know who planned it," Brutus shouted, punching the dagger at Caesar. "It was ME! Die, tyrant!"

"Look out," Xena shouted as she grabbed for her chakram, but it was too late.

The dagger flashed up high under Caesar's ribcage, and the thudding impact lifted him onto the tips of his toes in astonishment. At that instant Brutus was knocked back by the flying chakram, which sliced his arm open to the bone. He howled as blood sprayed from the wound and sprinted away screaming for the guards. Xena caught the rebounding chakram and made as if to throw it again, but was stopped by the bard's hand on her arm. She turned to her small friend in surprise.

"Gabrielle? Why?"

The wide green eyes were clear; full of compassion and regret, her words soft. "Yes; why?"

For a moment blue and green gazes locked, then Xena's eyes swam with tears and she nodded once, hanging the chakram on her belt. Gabrielle smiled sadly.

As they turned to Caesar, the would-be ruler stood swaying, looking wide-eyed at the dagger hilt protruding from under his sternum. He touched the hilt in disbelief. "Not ... you too, Brutus..." he breathed and sagged to his knees. From there he would have fallen on his face if the two women had not caught him.

Xena and Gabrielle eased the wounded man to the ground and laid him on his back. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were closed. The smaller woman started to reach for the knife hilt.

"Gabrielle, don't," the warrior said thickly. "It's no use ... if you pull it out he'll just go that much more quickly." The bard swallowed and nodded.

"Caesar, can you hear me," Xena asked.

"Yes ... mother." His usually powerful voice was faint. "I fell off ... the horse. I'm ... hurt."

"You're dying, Julius," the raven-haired warrior said with directness. "You have perhaps a minute to live."

"But ... mother," Caesar whispered as a trickle of blood ran from his mouth. "What of ... my destiny?"

The warrior spoke quietly. "Death is your destiny, Caesar, and it always has been. The same as it is every person's. We all live, we all die, and we all go to dust. It's your time." She looked at Gabrielle with gentle eyes; the small bard nodded again and bit her lip.

"I'm ... Caesar, I will be, Emperor ... of Rome ... a god..." the fallen man coughed.

Xena’s face was hard. "Who you are doesn't matter. It's only how you've lived that's important, not the fact that you did. It's who you touched and loved and helped, and I'm sorry for you, because you did none of those things. You earned this death a bit at a time with every day of your miserable life, and now you are at the end."

"Death? But, mother ... I can't ... die?" Then his body seemed to relax onto the ground as his last breath trickled away and he did not move again.

The two women looked down at the cooling body of Caesar, fallen ruler of the greatest city on earth, then back at each other. Finally Xena stood and offered her left hand to her friend. "Come on, Gabrielle; it's time we got out of this pest hole."

The bard nodded silently and took the hand. As the Warrior Princess pulled her friend to her feet, she winced. Gabrielle held onto the hand and turned it over to study the pinkish scar tissue in the palm and on the back where the cruel spike had gone through. Gently she touched the puckered flesh with a soft fingertip.

"Xena, is this hand ever going to be normal again?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle," the warrior said honestly, "but whatever happens, I'll take it one day at a time. What else can I do?"

The bard's eyes filled, but she said no more as she held the hand to her cheek for a moment. Then she nodded.

"Let's go," she said, and the two friends turned and walked arm-in-arm away from the empty Forum.


Chapter Twelve: Hope’s Love and Fairwell

The small village fifteen miles outside of Rome boasted only one Inn; a small comfortable place for travelers to rest overnight before making the last days journey to the great city.

Xena came into their room. "I paid the stable man; Argo and Lady Pirate are fine. You know, I think that goat was happy to see me? I scouted around town and I think we're home free, no one is looking for us." She closed the door and tripped the latch with her good hand.

"All the land is in such an uproar over Caesar's death, that we could ride out of here on elephant-back, nude and blowing bagpipes and no one would notice." Xena turned around with a grin, and stopped. Gabrielle was sitting on the bed, scrolls littering the floor and covers around her. Next to her was a small bedstand with several candles for light. On her lap she held an open scroll, her shoulders were hunched and her cheeks were wet.

The warrior came slowly forward towards the bard, brushing the scrolls on the floor aside with her feet. She knelt before her small friend and looked up at her with concern. "Gabrielle," she said softly. "What is it?"

"Oh, Xena..." the bard faltered. "I-I've just been reading through some of the things that Hope wrote, you know, w-when she was in me?"

"Yes, go on," the tall woman said intently.

"I never thought ... that it could be so..." Gabrielle shook her head. "Anyway, I was just reading this one. She wrote it that night that we, I mean you two, were camping out in the woods just before we ... you, went into Tarkonus."

Xena thought for a moment. "Yeah. I remember that. Y-She was scribbling and scribbling after dinner. I finally told her to knock it off and get some rest for that night. So why are you crying?"

"I guess I didn't know that I was." Gabrielle smiled and wiped at her wet cheeks. Then she pushed the scrolls on the bed aside. "Here, sit down. Let me read this one to you; it will only take a minute."

"All right." Xena got up from the floor and sat down beside her, making the bed creak. The bard cleared her throat and straightened the scroll out.

"Where is it ... ah, here it is, she writes... ‘As I have observed now for sometime watching Xena and mom, love and evil are both in the nature of all living things. One or the other will always rule your life, whichever one you choose. If your heart is open, like mom and Xena's, love can come in and color all your deeds and actions...’"

Gabrielle continued with a nervous quaver, "’however, when the heart is closed to all feeling, all love, then that allows evil to grow and fester within. No one knows this better than I, whose heart has been closed for so long. At any given time we have this choice; to turn aside and follow the goodness of love and put a stake through the evil within, or to close ourselves off and let that evil rule us. I believe it takes but one act of love to change, but forever after, day by day, choice by choice, we must continue to choose love, for the hate-beast lurks ever within us, ready to spring forth and rend our lives if we let it...’"

The bard coughed self-consciously, and looked sideways at Xena. The big warrior was sitting with her eyes closed in an attitude of listening. "Go on..." she said without opening them.

The small woman ran a hand through her blond hair and continued. "'Xena knows this and s-so does mom ... and finally, so do I...'" Gabrielle choked back a sob, but continued gamely. "'All this time I've been pretending love and goodness to fool Xena so that I could keep tormenting her. But underneath, even as I was pretending to be her friend, it felt, well, good. I'll even bet I could do it for real ... I mean really be good...'"

Garbielle cleared her throat and continued, "'...but then there's Xena. Oh, how I want to hate her. She wanted to kill me the day I was born, and kept me from having mom's love.'" The bard glanced at Xena again, saw the single tear that trickled from the warrior's closed eyes and continued in a rush. "'For so long I hated her, at least I did hate her until she ... became my friend. Well, not mine really, because she thought I was mom, her Gabrielle, but still, I felt all her friendship and love and I felt warm and good when I did.'"

The bard blinked rapidly. "'So there it is. I know that if I can open my heart and make that one first step for love, and then another, and another and yet another, I will be good too. But evil is so seductive, so ... easy. Will I ever have the strength to turn from my father's ways to mother's; from evil to good? All I have to do is to do it and I have two perfect examples of love right here; Xena in front of me, and mom inside. They both love and do good. But still I hold back; it's like I'm waiting for some ultimate moment to change once and for all. What that moment will be, I don't know, but I sense that it is coming. The question now remains, in that ultimate moment, can I open my heart ... and love?'"

Gabrielle stopped. "That's all," she said, "that was the last thing Hope wrote..." She wiped at her brimming eyes and the two friends sat quiet for a moment.

At last Xena stirred; she slid her arm around the smaller woman and spoke softly. "She was right you know, Gabrielle, and she found her ultimate moment of good when I was on the cross. Hope chose to save me and free you, and gave her life to do so when she went out of you." The warrior looked at the scars on her hands pensively. "Yes, she was right; all it takes is just one act of love, then another and so on. You and Hercules helped me to learn that. Nobody has to be evil; it's a choice. And those of us who rode roughshod over life, usually end up being trampled under into the dust ourselves."

"That sounds like it came from the heart," said the bard, snuggling against her.

"It did," said Xena grimly. "I was just like Caesar in the old days, just what I, in my hatred of him, had let him make me. I was just as dedicated to myself and my ... destiny, as he was, and I loved nothing and nobody else."

She shook her head, "...And the evil always worked for me, just like I wanted until the day my men decided to follow that bastard Darfus. Then they took me down in a heartbeat and made me run the Gauntlet ... you've heard that story."

"Yes, but go on," the bard took Xena's stiff hand in both of hers, surrounding it with her warm palms. The warrior closed her fingers over Gabrielle's but winced with the effort.

"They meant the Gauntlet to kill me, but I was lucky; I lived through it and Hercules and Iolas helped me defeat them and kill Darfus. Afterwards I could have easily gone back to my old ways, but thanks to Hercules believing in me, I had a chance to change. I said to myself, ‘Okay I'll try this goody stuff’, and thought I could do it. But after living awhile with the memories of what I had been, seeing the devestation and misery I had caused so many people, I was ready to ... quit everything. To do what, I don't even know anymore..."

Xena's voice caught. "I was at the end of my rope when I met you, Gabrielle. Then on that day in Poteidaia, I made that one more choice for good. I stopped Draco's men from taking you and the others as slaves. That was my first step on our long road and I thank the god's that you and I met on that day, because ever since then it has been YOU who taught me the meaning of life."

Gabrielle brought Xena's left hand to her lips and kissed the scarred palm. "And ever since that day, you taught me how to live FOR life," she whispered. "You let that silly innocent kid travel with you and learn and grow … and helped me become who I am today." The candles on the table flickered from her breath as she spoke. "For all that and more, I love you, Xena."

Closing suddenly tear-filled eyes, the Warrior Princess hugged the small bard to her and rested her chin on top of the blond head. "And dear gods, how I love you, Gabrielle."


Much later that same night, the bard and the warrior were asleep in the comfort of one another’s arms as Hope lifted herself out of the place in Gabrielle’s mind where she had remained hidden ever since releasing her mother in Tarkonus.

"Hi mom," she whispered tenderly into her mother’s dream.

"Hope," the bard of Poteidaia muttered in her sleep. "How can you be … talking to me?

Aren’t you … dead?"

"Yes, mom." Hope smiled to herself as she lied. "I’m not really here; you are dreaming me. So don’t be afraid. I can’t hurt you or Xena any more."

"Not afraid," whispered the sleeping bard, like a little girl. "Just sorry … we could never manage to be … a family…"

Hope felt herself fill with love. "Oh, mama. I’m sorry, so sorry," she said softly, "for all the pain I’ve caused you and so many others in this world, but it’s over now; all of it. Because if I’ve learned anything from all this time I’ve spent with you and Xena, the two people I thought that I hated most in the world, it’s that revenge gets stale. Only love truly endures."

Gabrielle sighed without awakening and a tear came from beneath her closed eyelids. "I’m so glad…" she murmured. "I … loved you … my baby … my Hope…" She snuggled closer to the sleeping warrior who mumbled and moved a protective arm around her.

"Goodbye mother…" Hope whispered, and then floated up and out of the warmness that was her mother. As she did so, she felt as if she were being born for the first time.

With one last look down at the sleeping forms of her mother and the warrior who had been her worst enemy, the essence that had been Hope, daughter of Dahak and of Gabrielle, the bard of Poteidaia, floated smiling up through the ceiling and into the winds of the March night.

As she did so, above her, Hope could see a shimmering circle of expanding light and could feel almost a thrumming vibration like music coming from it. As she watched in wonder, she felt herself being drawn towards it. Faster and faster upwards she went as the music and light covered everything and she could see nothing but the brightness everywhere.

"Oh, mama," Hope cried. "I’m scared. I don't know where I’m going or how I will end up, but if I am myself there, I promise you this. I will always do my best to love and to be good, and to DO good. For you, mother … for you. I love you…"

Closer she came to the scintillating light and music, and yet closer, and then she that had been the daughter of Dahak felt as if her entire being was split into millions of tiny pieces in an ecstasy of light and goodness and rebirth as her last shouted words echoed in the sky around her.


And then there was silence.


Tears running down her face, Gabrielle came awake with a shout. "Hope!"

Instantly awake, Xena vaulted out of the bed in her sleeping shift and fell into a fighting crouch. Seeing no enemies, she relaxed and turned to her friend, shaking the sleep numbness out of her left hand. "Gabrielle; what is it?" Then in a softer voice, she asked, "Why are you crying?"

"I-I guess I was dreaming…" the shaken bard said, wiping her eyes.

Xena lit the candle on the side table and sat down putting her arm around Gabrielle. "Wanna talk about it?"

"I was … was dreaming th-that Hope was still inside me…" the bard gulped, running a hand through her short golden hair. "That she s-spoke to me…"

The Warrior Princess studied her friend in the flickering candlelight. "It WAS just a dream, right?"

Even in the yellow light, the petite woman looked pale. "I … I … don’t know…"

Xena raised an eyebrow, then took the bard’s hands in her scarred ones. "So, what did Hope say when she spoke to you?"

Gabrielle considered. "She … said that she was sorry for everything she had done, th-that she had learned from us that revenge was useless, that only love endured…"

The warrior blinked. "Well, she was right about that, even though it doesn’t sound like her … did she say anything else?"

"She said…" Gabrielle swallowed suddenly and her eyes were wet. "She said, ‘Goodbye.’" She shivered. "It was so real … it was just like it always was before when she was inside me…"

The Warrior Princess patted her shoulder. "Hey, Gabrielle. It was just a dream…"

The bard leaped to her feet. "No, Xena, no! I don’t think it WAS a dream! I think she was still there inside me, like in India when she hid from Tataka." Her eyes were haunted and she trembled, darting glances all around the room. "Oh, gods, Xena. Suppose she’s hiding in me now and comes back again? Takes me over again? I can’t stop her; that’s been proven. What can we do? How will you know?"

Xena stood up and took the smaller woman by the arms and looked calmly into the fear-filled green eyes. "Wait, Gabrielle. Don’t panic; let’s think about this for a minute."

"But Xena, you’ll never be able to trust me again…"

"Shhh," the warrior said affectionately. "Use that Yoga that Hope had you learning in India to calm down and listen to me."

With a shudder, Gabrielle sat down crosslegged on the floor. After a moment, Xena squatted next to her and massaged her still tingling left hand. While the warrior watched, the bard closed her eyes, straightened her shoulders and forced herself to take deep slow breaths. "Ommmm-mani-padmi-hummmm," she softly chanted the ancient mantra for calmness. After a minute or so, she opened her eyes and the green orbs were clear and tranquil once more. "Okay, I’ve got hold of it now."

"Good; that’s better," Xena nodded. "Now, let’s suppose that Hope had NOT left when you thought she did. Have you seen even one sign of her since after the crucifixion?"

Gabrielle thought about it. "No … nothing. I would have known."

The warrior looked seriously at her friend. "And she could have taken you back over any time she wanted, couldn’t she?"

"Yes; it’s true…"

The blue eyes were sober. "She couldn’t make you forget when she had forced you down and taken over, right?"

"No, I always knew when she had; it was very obvious to me.")*OcvM ϡ[$FI)9=+ړ [=r"I\O`\Fo)5fpxYF&z"a6l RQ0WE\5N]sll y%r}ԝfbѼb^sYr98CG;$flڛ=qol 97`,:T7Xoa*Jġ%A v>bHZo(z)/7]{­`Zyk 9slWd?4K93E&Qr&@gpC&WU.cVǜK)[V GeR.BPc-p+` cRWy;<)A%(M@`ap:ڇy:rcʸݐwҷհy(Ů*T Ǟ7k͇ⷽ[N7B|ӏRlӟq}|B%YJ5"}4a%b~ Z(/3 1独Xj|ݒYAkIIЏ.FB.+6kt$5rdCqKjA[`pf&V Ot:6V*6g|;ƪt}uE7Cob, or even stay to watch … now it turns out that she did..."

Blinking the tears away, the petite blond wiped at her cheeks. "So … what does it all mean?"

"Gabrielle, I think she truly IS gone this time." With a fluid motion, Xena stood up and the blond came with her. "I think your daughter knew she wasn’t coming back and just wanted to say goodbye to her mother … to YOU ... one last time."

"Then you think she … she just NOW left me and … d-died?" The bard looked stricken.

"That’s how I see it."

A fresh tear trickled down Gabrielle’s cheek. "Oh, gods, Xena … why now? Why did she do it?"

"Well, we’ll never know for certain, but … I’d say that at last she felt she was ready to move on; that she was at peace…" Xena smiled. "I think she just wanted you to know."

The bard wept silently and the warrior held her, gently wiping the tears from her friend’s cheeks. At last the small woman’s tears ceased and she looked up.

Xena smiled affectionately and offered her a kerchief. "Better now?"

Gabrielle returned the smile, and nodded, wiping her eyes and nose. "Think I need some air," she said.

"Yeah." Xena stretched with bone popping noises. "It is a bit stuffy in here."

The bard went to the little window and opened it. A fresh breeze and the noise of pre-dawn birds came in. "Look, it’s beginning to get light on the horizon; it's almost morning." She held out her hand, and the big warrior yawned as she came over.

"Yep. That’s what happens when you keep us awake all night talking," she said wryly, but took any sting out of the words by ruffling her friend’s lengthening golden hair and putting an arm around her.

Gabrielle laid her head on the warrior’s shoulder and held Xena's injured left hand stroking it gently. She indicated the window. "Oh, Xena, it’s a new day, a new beginning … for all of us. For you, for me, for Rome…" her voice broke slightly, "even for Hope."

The Warrior Princess gazed outside and her answer was so soft as to be almost inaudible, but the bard heard every word. "Gabrielle, you ARE my hope … you have been ever since we met, and you always will be. I love you."

The small blond’s eyes’ shone as she hugged her big friend fiercely. "I love you, too, Xena," the bard whispered. "Oh, we’ve both been so lucky."

"Amen to that, Gabrielle," Xena said, softly kissing her on top of the head. "Amen to that."

As arm-in-arm the two friends watched the sun rise over the rooftops, outside the cozy room the March winds whirled about the land, blowing away the loose dust and grime of the long winter; preparing the world for a brave and hopeful spring once again.

The End

Return to Main Page