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It is late afternoon, Xena and Gabrielle walk along a road. There is silence between them, Gabrielle’s unending stream of banter having gone dry, her posture telegraphing a mood of dejection.
Gabrielle: “Xena, how about we make camp here.”
Xena: “ We still have plenty of daylight left, let’s go on a little farther.”
Gabrielle, muttering low: “Sure, Xena. Whatever you say, Xena.”
Xena: “What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.”
Gabrielle: “Nothing, Xena. I said nothing.”
Xena sighs. Gabrielle has been this way for weeks. No matter what she says or does she constantly feels that she upsets Gabrielle.
Xena, uncertainly: “On second thought, we might as well camp here.”
Xena: “How about that spot over by those rocks? That overhang is a natural shelter.”
Xena begins to unload their bedrolls, cooking utensils and food from Argo’s packs. Gabrielle sits on a rock a little distance away.
Xena: “We’re going to need some firewood.”
Gabrielle snaps back: “I know we need firewood, it’s not the first time I’ve made camp! I’ll get wood. I’ll make the campfire!”
Gabrielle storms off.
Xena’s face looks more pained than if Gabrielle had hit her with her staff. She feels herself shaking from the surge of emotions striking her mind like lightning. “I’m losing her,” she thought.
Gabrielle returns with an arm load of wood, she haphazardly tosses the wood in a heap. Xena begins to arrange the wood in a pyramid pattern.
Gabrielle, growling: “I said I’d make the campfire.”
Xena, stands up, throwing the piece of wood she has in her hand back on to the pile: “All right Gabrielle, I’ve had enough. We need to talk. What is wrong with you? You have been churlish for weeks. Everything I say to you seems to aggravate you. Please talk to me. Tell me what’s going on with you.”
Gabrielle, plaintively: “Xena, I can’t take it anymore. Everything has to be your way. We come to a fork in the road and you choose where we go. You choose where we camp, you choose when we camp. I feel like I’ve lost myself to you. I feel that you don’t respect me as an equal.”
Xena, shaken: “Gabrielle, I’m sorry, I had no idea. I know I just assume command by my nature, but if you want to have a say in anything just hit me in the head with your staff to get my attention. I’ll listen to anything you want to do and we can make decisions together.”
Gabrielle, sadly: “I wish it were that easy. But sometimes you are just too overwhelming. Everything I do you’re always there to show me a better way. I feel so incompetent, so useless.”
Xena, softly: “Incompetent? Useless? I can’t think of anyone more competent than you. Well, maybe Hercules, but he is a demigod after all. I’ll try to be more aware of your opinions and not criticize. We can work this out.”
Xena hugs Gabrielle but feels her almost imperceptibly pulling away.
Xena: “It’s getting late, let’s have some dinner and get to sleep. In the morning we’ll discuss where WE want to go from here.”
Xena prepares a simple stew and they eat is silence. Each grappling with the strained situation between them.
Xena awakens and looks to Gabrielle’s spot by the fire. Gabrielle is not there, nor is her bedroll. Xena jumps up, alarmed because Gabrielle has never risen before her.
Gabrielle: “Good morning, Xena.”
Xena spins around, relieved to see Gabrielle perched on a rock.
Xena: “You’re up early.”
Gabrielle: “Actually, I never got to sleep. I’ve been thinking all night and I’ve made a decision about something.”
Xena, feeling a knot in her stomach: “What decision is that?”
Gabrielle: “I’m going home to Potadia for a while.”
Gabrielle: “I need to distance myself from you to find myself again. I have to feel that I am in control of my life.”
Xena, stricken: “So this is it then, our paths part here? You’re just going to walk away?”
Gabrielle: “Xena, don’t think that this is easy for me to do. I can’t imagine my life without you, but maybe that’s another reason for me to go. Will you meet me in two weeks? Maybe by then I’ll have sorted through this.”
Xena: “Just tell me where. I’ll be there.”
Gabrielle: “Remember the clearing where we first met when my village was overrun by Draco’s army?”
Xena: “I remember.”
Gabrielle: “Meet me there at mid-day a fortnight from today.”
Xena: “I’ll be there.”
Gabrielle gets up, picks up her travel bag, bedroll and staff: “I’ll see you then.”
Xena puts her arms around Gabrielle and hugs her, giving her a soft lingering kiss on the cheek: “I love you, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle gives a quick hug and kiss back: “I love you too.”
Gabrielle walks to the road and soon rounds a corner out of sight. Xena watches till she is gone, a stream of tears lining her face.
Gabrielle walks along a road, deep in thought: “I wonder how Xena’s doing. It’s been two days since we parted and I can’t seem to think any clearer.”
Cresting a hill Gabrielle sees a man being accosted by three young thugs. They have jammed branches through the spokes of the wheels of his small wagon, effectively bringing it to a halt. The man stands beside his property in defense but the three thugs circle around him looking for an opening to attack. One of the thugs shoots his crossbow, the arrow lodges in the thigh of the struggling man.
In an instant Gabrielle responds to the situation. Dropping her belongings, she runs down the hill, her staff at the ready. The thug closest to her hears her coming, he turns his sword towards her, snarling: “Go away little girl, this doesn’t concern you.”
Gabrielle, stops ten paces from the thug: “I think it concerns me a lot. I’ll give you and your friends to the count of ten to get out of here. If you choose to stay you’ll regret it.”
Thug, laughing: “I’ll take care of this annoying little blond, you two get our merchant friend there.”
The thug lunges at Gabrielle who deftly deflects his sword with her staff. In an instant the thug lies unconscious before her. Approaching the wagon with her staff ready for action, the other two thugs realize they might be better off somewhere else just then and run into the woods.
Man: “That was amazing! Thank you so much for your help! You must be a goddess or an Amazon, I’ve never seen a woman fight like that.”
Gabrielle, blushing from the praise: “Well, actually, I am an Amazon princess.”
Man, bowing: “Your highness, I am humbled in your presence.”
Gabrielle, embarrassed: “No, no, no. There’s no need for formalities like that. Let me introduce myself. I’m Gabrielle, a bard from Potadia.
Man: “I am Simeon. A merchant.”
Gabrielle: “Well Simeon, you appear to have an arrow sticking out of your leg. Don’t you think we should take care of that?”
Simeon: “There is a village two miles up this road, I’m sure there will be a healer there.”
Gabrielle: “There’s no sense enduring the pain. I can help.”
Gabrielle retrieves her packs from the hillside. From her travel pack she removes a small pouch containing several smaller pouches of herbs and powders. She puts a pinch of powder in a cup and adds water from her hip flask.
Gabrielle: “Drink this, it will dull the pain.”
Gabrielle pulls a small but sharp knife from her pack.
Gabrielle: “I need to make a small incision to extract the arrowhead. It will hurt at first but that will pass quickly.”
Gabrielle makes a slice in the trousers to get to the wound. With a quick, firm stroke she excises the arrow and immediately applies a poultice to the wound. She wraps a bandage around the leg to hold the poultice in place.
Gabrielle: “Don’t put too much stress on that leg for a couple of days. I don’t want to have to put stitches in.”
Simeon cringes but then says: “Actually that didn’t hurt much at all. You fought so fiercely yet you know the healing arts, are you a warrior or a healer?”
Gabrielle: “I told you, I’m a bard.”
Simeon: “I’ve never heard of an Amazon bard before. I know the Amazons are trained to fight, but are all Amazons schooled so well in medicines?”
Gabrielle: “Well, I’m not really an Amazon by birth, it’s more of an honorary thing. What I learned about fighting and healing was taught to me by a friend.”
With the mention of her friend Gabrielle feels a stab of emptiness in her heart. She thinks to herself: “Oh Xena, what am I going to do with you.”
Xena awakens on the third morning since parting with Gabrielle. She sits looking forlornly into the smoldering remnants of her campfire. With little enthusiasm she kicks dirt over the remains to put the last of the fire out.
Packing up Argo, she listlessly takes to the road, not caring which direction she follows.
Soon Xena overtakes a frail old man, bent by years, struggling to carry three sacks of grain.
Xena: “Let me help you with those.”
As she reaches to help him he pulls away warily but taking a sharp look at her face he relaxes and says: “Ah, there you are. I was wondering when you would come.”
Xena, confused: “You were expecting me?”
Old man: “For three days now I have seen the signs in my dreams: the dove pursuing the hawk. It’s been quite clear. You have come. My name is Lennier. My home lies over this hill. Come along, we have much to do.”
Xena, perplexed: “I’m Xena.”
Lennier, pausing: “Ah yes, I should have known.”
Xena looks unbelievingly at the old man but does as he bids. Easily shouldering two sacks and placing the third across Argo’s saddle she follows him.
They walk silently to the old man’s house.
The house is small but comfortable. There are many carved figures displayed about. Xena puts the sacks of grain on a table.
Xena, admiring one of the displays: “You have some beautiful pieces here. Is this your work?”
Lennier: “I was a carpenter when I was young but age has taken its toll on me. I no longer have the strength to handle large blocks of wood and heavy tools. I took up carving and earn a modest income from it.”
Xena turns to face Lennier when he suddenly attacks her with a staff. Reacting quickly Xena drops to the ground and rolls under the table, escaping the path of the staff. Emerging on the other side, Xena bounces to her feet and draws her sword.
Xena, excitedly: “Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?”
Lennier responds by rolling across the top of the table. Landing four feet from Xena he swings the staff up, throwing her sword across the room. Sweeping the end of the staff around he knocks her legs out from under her and pins her to the floor with the staff at her throat.
Xena, dismayed: “What is this about?”
Lennier: “You do not respect the staff.”
Xena: “What are you talking about?”
Lennier: “You do not respect the staff, it does not kill.”
Xena: “A staff can kill, but there are better weapons for that purpose.”
Lennier: “It is not about a stick of wood of which I speak.”
Xena, looks confused but in a moment realization comes to her: “Gabrielle.”
Lennier pulls the staff away from Xena’s throat. He reaches a hand down to help her up. Shaken, she stands and brushes herself off.
Lennier: “There is an empty place within you, Xena, a void usually filled by the staff. Put your weapons aside Xena and trust in the staff.”
Lennier extends the staff to her, she hesitates a moment but hands him her sword and chakrum. Taking the staff, running her hand along it to feel the grain, Xena is filled with the feeling of warmth she most associates with Gabrielle.
Lennier: “You will stay with me a short time, Xena. I have something to teach you. But first we must make you a little less conspicuous for this area. You may use my son’s bedroom while he is away. You will find a change of clothes waiting for you on the bed.”
Gabrielle walks to the campfire where Simeon sits, his wounded leg elevated on a rock. She carries several fish she has just caught.
Simeon: “Fish! How splendid! What kind of bait did you use?”
Gabrielle: “No bait. You just have to reach under the rocks and you can catch them bare handed if you’re fast enough.”
Simeon: “Let me guess, Xena taught you.”
Gabrielle, gloomily: “Yes, Xena taught me.”
Simeon: “We’ve been traveling together for two days now and every time Xena’s name is mentioned you look sad.”
Gabrielle: “I guess it’s because I don’t feel her equal. She can do everything: fight, hunt, heal. She has many skills while I have none.”
Simeon, tenderly: “But Gabrielle, I’ve seen you fight and hunt and heal. You have learned so much.”
Gabrielle, despondently: “Yes, but what do I have to offer in return? What have I taught Xena?”
Simeon, smiling broadly: “You don’t know? It’s so easy to see. To a woman whose soul was languishing from self loathing, you taught redemption. To a woman who felt that violence was necessary in life, you taught peace.To a woman who was driven by vengeance you taught forgiveness. To a woman who had built an impenetrable wall around her emotions you tore down that wall with love. Believe me, you’ve given her much more than she’s given you.”
Gabrielle fell to her knees beside Simeon, she buried her head against him and sobbed. Simeon stroked Gabrielle’s hair soothingly.
Gabrielle, sobbing: “I miss her so much.”
Simeon, lightly: “I doubt that you miss her half as much as she misses you. Those strong silent types are really made of mush on the inside you know.”
Gabrielle, laughing through her tears: “Xena mush on the inside? Yeah, right.”
Lennier and Xena sit quietly on mats on the floor. Xena is wearing a white robe of mid-thigh length, cinched at the waist. The staff lays across her lap, her fingers rest lightly on it.
Lennier: “Xena, you are trained in the art of pressure points are you not?”
Xena: “Yes, I learned several of them from a Chinese martial arts master.”
Lennier: “I believe I know one that you may not have seen.”
With unbelievable speed Lennier jabs Xena in the neck, paralyzing her instantly. Another jab, this time to her left temple and Xena is bombarded by visions. In a whirl of visions she sees Gabrielle hanging by a rope over a bed of razor sharp spikes in Callisto’s lair; a drugged and unconscious Gabrielle lying on the dirt floor of a cave; Gabrielle tied to a stake ringed by flames and finally Gabrielle lying lifeless on a table in a Thesselonian healing temple. Xena could feel the explosion of grief and despair rip through her heart, she could hear herself shouting “Don’t you leave me! Don’t you leave me! Come on Gabrielle! Wake Up! Wake Up!”
Lennier released her from the hold of the pressure points. Xena fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, clutching the staff.
Lennier: “You have been shown the essence of what you fear, Xena. For yourself, you have no fear but for your friend, it has no bounds. It stands between you two and always will until you find it within yourself to let it go.”
Xena, gasping for breath: “I’ll always worry about Gabrielle. If anything were to happen to her because of me I don’t think I could live with it.”
Lennier: “Then perhaps it is best that your paths remain separate.”
Xena, vehemently: “No!”
Lennier: “Then accept that Gabrielle chooses to accept the risks and free yourself of this unnecessary burden of responsibility. Give Gabrielle the respect she has earned.”
Simeon pulls his wagon to a stop at a fork in the road.
Simeon: “Well Gabrielle, Potadia is only a short way up that road. Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you there?”
Gabrielle: “No thanks, I would like the time to be alone to think before I get to town and have to face my family. Simeon, I have much to thank you for. You’ve given me a perspective on my situation that I could never have seen myself.”
Simeon: “And I owe you a great debt for saving me from those robbers. Please let me give you a gift to remember me by. Look through the goods in my wagon and if you find something that pleases you, it is yours.”
Gabrielle: “No, I couldn’t.”
Simeon, grinning: “Please princess, it would please me to give you a token of my esteem.”
Gabrielle, flashing a radiant smile: “All right, let me see.”
Gabrielle rummages around in several trunks. There are bolts of dazzling fabrics, bottles of exotic spices and perfumes, and a chest of beautifully carved objects. Her eyes light up, pulling one of the delicate carvings out she exclaims: “Oh this is wonderful, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such fine workmanship. I’ll take this.”
Simeon, somewhat alarmed: “I’m sorry Gabrielle but I can’t give that to you.”
Gabrielle: “Oh, I’m sorry, it must have great value.”
Simeon: “No, that’s not it at all. That is a caliph. It is a mystical symbol from a lost civilization called Atlantis. It is said that when one gives a caliph as a gift along with it you are giving a piece of your soul. So you see, you must be very careful who you give it to. I can sell you one for a token fee but I can not give it to you.”
Gabrielle: “I don’t know that I’d want to give one, what if it got lost? You’d have lost a piece of your soul.”
Simeon, amusedly: “No Gabrielle, that’s not how it works. According to the legend when the caliph is given a piece of the soul migrates to the recipient. The object is merely a temporary vessel.”
Gabrielle: “Well, I’ll see if maybe you have something a little lighter in here.”
Xena and Lennier walk along a narrow chasm. Each carries a pail, Xena carries the staff. They are headed for the well to haul back a supply of water.
Xena: “Lennier, I will work hard to come to terms with my fear and if Gabrielle chooses to give me another chance you’d better believe I’m going to make it work.”
Lennier: “And what will you do if she chooses a separate path, Xena?”
Xena sighs with dread: “Then I’ll let her go.”
Lennier: “And go back to your old ways? The path of solitude?”
Xena: “No, I can never go back to that. I’ve learned far too much from Gabrielle to be satisfied living like that again.”
Lennier, smiling: “Ah Xena, there is hope for you yet.”
Immediately ahead a boulder blocks their path.
Xena: “Is there another way to the well?”
Lennier: “It’s an awfully long way around.”
Xena: “Then I guess we’ll just have to roll it out of the way.
Setting her pail and staff down, Xena pushes with all her might but can not get the boulder to budge. She grunts with the effort but still it does not move.
Xena: “It’s too big, there’s no way I can move it.”
Lennier, shaking his head: “Oh Xena, you struggle so hard with your burden. Why not rely on your staff for help? You do not have to do everything alone.”
Lennier takes the staff. Placing a small rock next to the boulder, he uses it as a fulcrum and using the staff as a lever he easily dislodges the boulder, rolling it past the narrow channel and opening up the passage.
Lennier: “You must look on your staff as an asset, Xena. It will be a great help to you if you let it.”
Gabrielle walked slowly towards her village. It had been a week since she and Xena parted. She had passed several pleasant days in the company of Simeon. He had been a terrific listener and extremely comforting but she yearned for Xena. But here she was at Potadia. She knew her family would be thrilled with her arrival and was herself eager to find out the gossip around town.
Entering the village she felt a wave of nostalgia. It had been about six months since her last visit. Not much changes in a backwards village like Potadia. After all, it wasn’t like it was Athens.
Making her way through the marketplace she was greeted by several acquaintances each giving her a look of surprise and the inevitable “Are you home for good?” question. To be perfectly honest she didn’t yet know the answer to that question.
Turning off the main thoroughfare she walked along a narrow walk. Forty feet from her home she stopped, leaning on her staff. She stared at the modest house in which she had spent all of her life but for the last two years. Gabrielle was flooded with the warm memories of her childhood. “Home,” she whispered.
Her reverie was shattered by someone yelling her name. Running at her at full gallop was her sister, Lilla.
Lilla, excitedly: “Gabrielle! Gabrielle!”
Lilla joyously threw her arms around Gabrielle and hugged her so hard that Gabrielle let out a yelp of pain.
Gabrielle, grinning broadly: “Hello, Lilla! Happy to see me? How are you? Are mama and papa home?”
Lilla: “Mama and papa are home. They are going to be so happy to see you. We were just talking about you the other day, wondering when you would be home for a visit. Papa was even trying to figure out how we could contact you to see that you were ok and ask when you would be home.”
Gabrielle felt a stab of guilt. She knew her parents worried about her, knowing that she was often in dangerous situations in her travels with Xena. Her long periods away were difficult for them, wondering if she was all right, injured or even dead. She shielded them from the knowledge of some of the close calls she had, and she certainly never told them about the time she died. She treated them like most people treat their parents, what they don’t know doesn’t get you a lecture.
Lilla: “How long are you here for? Where’s Xena?”
Gabrielle was surprised because she really didn’t know how to answer either of those questions. Shrugging her shoulders she evaded answering by saying: “I can’t wait to see mama and papa!”
Lilla: “Oh, yes! I can’t wait to see the expression on their faces!”
The two women quickly covered the short distance to the house. Lilla threw open the door and yelled: “Mama. Papa. Look who’s here!”
Gabrielle’s mother shrieked a joyful greeting, tears of joy springing to her eyes: “My baby!”
Gabrielle dropped her parcels and joined her mother in an emotional embrace.
Gabrielle’s father entered the room: “What’s all the commotion...”.
Stopping in his tracks, his face beamed a greeting: “Gabrielle!”
Gabrielle rushed to her fathers arms. Wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a kiss. He easily picked her up and swung her around. “I’m so happy to see you! We were starting to worry.”
Gabrielle, cringing: “I know papa, Lilla already told me you were worried.”
Papa: “Well, we were.”
Mama: “How long will you be staying? Is Xena with you?”
Gabrielle: “I’ll be staying at least a week mama. And no, Xena is not with me.”
Mama: “Well, you know Xena would be welcome here. I get the impression she thinks we resent her for taking you away from us but that’s not true. We would welcome the chance to get to know her better; though she does seem like a difficult person to get to know.”
Gabrielle tensed at her mothers words. She knew her mother felt very uncomfortable around Xena and Xena knew it too. That was why on her other visits when Xena had accompanied her home Xena had stopped in for a polite greeting with her parents and then made an excuse about not being able to stay.
Lilla, on the other hand, was disappointed that Xena was not there. She suffered from a bad case of hero worship. Of course this too was uncomfortable for Xena to be around.
Lilla, enthusiastically: “You’re staying a whole week! This is wonderful! There’s a traveling band of entertainers playing in the square this week. I hear they have thespians, minstrels, magicians and even a bard in the troupe. I believe the bards name is Homer. Maybe you heard of him, he’s becoming quite popular around here. We must go!”
Gabrielle, bemusedly: “Homer! No kidding. I know him. I’d really like to see him perform. He really is very good.”
Mama, gaily: “Well you’re not going today because tonight I’m going to cook a feast to celebrate and I want to hear all about your adventures. Come, Lilla. We must hurry to market to buy some supplies. Gabrielle, you clean that travel grime off, get into some clean clothes and rest. We’ll be back in no time.”
Lilla and mama head off to market leaving Gabrielle with her father.
Gabrielle, brightly: “Papa how is everything? Tell me, how is business?”
Papa, settling into a rocking chair: “Come little one, all is well, sit with me like you used to and we’ll talk.”
Gabrielle pulls a heap of furs to the floor and makes herself comfortable sitting at her fathers feet.
Papa: “Now let’s hear it. What’s wrong? Is there a problem between you and Xena?”
Gabrielle is surprised by her father’s question.
Gabrielle, evasively: “What makes you think something is wrong? Can’t I just have wanted to come home for a visit?”
Papa: “Gabrielle, you know you can easily pull the wool over your mothers eyes but you’ll have to do a lot better than that with me. Your face shows that you have been troubled for some time. You look tired and worse than that I see a sadness in your eyes. Now tell me, where’s Xena?”
Gabrielle sighed. She had wanted to rest before facing the emotional turmoil that she felt about her best friend.
Papa, compassionately, stroking her hair: “You’re not ready to talk about it, are you?”
Gabrielle: “No, I’m not ready but now is as good a time as any. I don’t know where Xena is. We parted a week ago. We agreed to go our separate paths for two weeks, then see if we should continue traveling together after that. I was feeling like I had lost control of my life. Somehow I had relinquished it to Xena. She makes all the decisions about our travels. I thought this would be a partnership, but she doesn’t heed my suggestions.”
Papa: “I’m sure she doesn’t intentionally disregard your suggestions. You have to remember, Xena is extremely independent, self-reliant and emotionally remote. I find it incredible that she ever accepted a traveling companion at all. She is a lone wolf if ever there was one.”
Gabrielle, sadly: “Papa, that is an accurate description of the outside of Xena but inside she is, well, mush.” A smile escapes the corner of Gabrielle’s mouth at this image Simeon had given her. “She is a formidable woman. Skilled in so many ways. Brave beyond anything you could imagine. But within she carries her pain and guilt for her misguided years. No court could punish her harsher than she punishes herself. But at the very core of her soul I have seen the love she has to share, she doesn’t show it often, but it is worth the wait. Someday, if she can forgive herself and let go of her guilt, the world could see this side of her too.”
Papa: “It sounds like Xena must continue her quest. But that does not mean that you must continue with her. Maybe it’s time for you to choose a different path. Are you ready to let her go?”
Gabrielle, sadly: “I don’t know papa, I just don’t know.”
Lilla and mama burst through the door with their wicker baskets teaming with supplies.
Mama: “Look, Gabrielle, pheasant! Your favorite!”
Papa gives Gabrielle’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze: “Everything will work out ok.”
Gabrielle goes to help her mother and Lilla prepare the meal.
Xena sits at a workbench carving a small object. Occasionally she picks up Lennier’s original and compares it to her emerging imitation. Lennier expertly chisels away on the piece he is creating. He is trying once again to capture the beauty of the goddess Athena, an effort he has tried a dozen times, always giving up because he feels his workmanship is inadequate.
Xena sits back and with a sigh of resignation: “Lennier, this is it. It is finished. It is the best that I can do. I may have many skills but I don’t think carving is one of them.”
Lennier puts his work aside and picks up Xena’s piece for closer examination.
Lennier: “Actually, Xena, for this being the first time you’ve carved this is quite good. With more experience with the gouges, scrapers and sanding blocks I think you could turn out truly esthetic work. Even this piece, though a little rough, is quite compelling. My piece is highly polished and delicate, but this piece actually is a better representation of you, it is cruder but in some way much more passionate.”
Xena, smiling broadly: “Thank you, Lennier. I think that’s the first complimentary thing you’ve said to me.”
Lennier: “I’m sure I must have complimented you before.”
Xena: “No, I don’t think you have. You’re always telling me I should try harder. Everything I do you’re always there to show me a better way.”
Lennier, grinning: “Kind of the same way you treat Gabrielle. Isn’t it?”
Xena looks like Zeus just smacked her a good one with a thunderbolt. Lennier stands there chuckling at the expression on her face.
Xena, stammering: “Lennier, how do you do that? So many times now you’ve demonstrated uncanny knowledge of my relationship with Gabrielle. You’ve shown me in the bluntest way how I fail her and believe me I am grateful for this because if I understand it better I can try to change. I only hope Gabrielle will give me the chance to try. But how do you know these things? How did you know I was coming here in the first place?”
Lennier: “Xena, I have a gift from the gods. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I do have a gift of prescience which I have always had. It took me a long time to learn how to use this gift. I was lucky to have found a teacher who had the same gift. He taught me how to use it to help others as he at one time had been taught by another. You see, we are all at times the teacher and at other times the student. While you are here you are my student but also in being with you I have learned some things from you too. Your Gabrielle seems obviously to be the student to your teaching of survival skills, healing and other practical knowledge. But what is not so obvious to you is where Gabrielle is your teacher too. She teaches you to search your heart and your soul, to love and let yourself be loved. Appreciate her for her gifts as a teacher, Xena.”
Xena, hugging Lennier: “Lennier, my teacher, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never take Gabrielle’s lessons for granted again.”
Lennier: “Now don’t turn to mush on me here. How about we give ourselves a little treat and go to the tavern tonight for supper and a drink? You’ll be leaving tomorrow, your carving is finished and so are your lessons. I have taught you all that I can.”
Gabrielle and Lilla milled through the crowd in the village square. There were all kinds of performers displaying their talents. Jugglers, balancing acts, and on one stage a musician strumming his lyre as a woman with a magnificent voice sang a song about a battle between the gods.
Lilla: “Oh Gabrielle, isn’t this so exciting? I’m having so much fun. I wonder if we’ll see Lucas or any of his friends.”
Gabrielle clenched her jaw. She had been home for three days now and Lilla was getting on her nerves. Apparently all Lilla was interested in was Lucas and his friends. She fancied several of them as suitors and fawned all over them, and when they weren’t around to be fawned over she talked incessantly about them. Gabrielle found herself hoping that Lilla grows out of this stage quickly.
Lilla, enthusiastically: “Look Gabrielle! The sign on that tent over there. A seer! Let’s have our futures told. Come on, I’ve still got a couple of dinars. Please, please, please, let’s do it.”
Gabrielle, reluctantly: “Ok, if you want. But remember there are a lot of charlatans out there so don’t take it too seriously.”
Gabrielle and Lilla enter the tent. There is a strong aroma of jasmine incense wafting in the air. The seer sits on a fur on the ground. She is an old woman with hair as white as snow dressed in a robe as white as her hair. Seeing the blankness in her eyes, Gabrielle concludes that the woman is blind.
Seer: “My the gods grant you peace and prosperity. I am Lorae, how can I help you.”
Lilla, gaily: “My sister and I would like to know our futures.”
Lorae: “Who ever wishes to be first come sit before me.”
Lilla quickly plops down on the fur facing the seer.
Lorae, extending her hands: “Give me your hands child.”
Lilla reaches her hands out and grasps the old woman's hands.
Lorae gently sways for a moment, her sightless eyes looking somehow inside herself.
Lorae, in a low voice: “I see a flightiness were love is concerned. There will be many who interest you but none will last for long. But there will be one special one whom you do not yet know who will be your hearts content. There will be many children and a long life lived in a simple village.”
Lorae released the hold on Lilla’s hand. Relaxing back, she breathed deeply and pulled herself away from her vision.
Lilla, beaming: “Gabrielle, did you hear that. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Come on now, it’s your turn.”
Gabrielle, unimpressed: “Lilla, she didn’t really tell you anything unusual that she couldn’t have figured out from your age and the fact that you live in this small town. I don’t think she has the gift and I won’t waste the money.”
Gabrielle reaches down to grab Lilla’s hand to pull her out of the tent but Lorae’s hand reaches out and grabs Gabrielle’s hand. Gabrielle feels a surge of energy shoot up from her finger tips, coursing through her body. Her knees weaken and she sinks to the ground before the seer.
Lorae, passionately: “You are native to this town but you are not like the others. There is much more to life for you, you would wither here so you must leave to thrive. I see that you are at a crossroad and must choose a path. There are several possibilities. One path appears safe and smooth, it will offer you little tribulation but with opportunities to fulfill your creative needs. Another path would take you on a journey which would be much more difficult, it would be a solitary journey quenching your thirst for experiencing the world, you would have few regrets if you choose this path.”
Lorae stops, she frowns and shakes her head.
Gabrielle whispers: “What is it?”
Lorae: “There is yet a third path paved with jagged stones that make for a very difficult journey, but I see that you do not tread this path alone. I see a woman leading you.... no.... she is beside you. That is odd, the vision keeps shifting, first she leads you, then she follows you, then you are side by side. It will not stop shifting. I guess this is not yet determined by the fates.”
Gabrielle: “Is there more?”
Lorae: “There will be danger and hardship in large portions, many highs and many lows. I do not know why, but there seems to be influences changing the course of this path right now. Whether you would be content to follow this road can not be seen.”
Lorae releases Gabrielle’s hand and sits back, breathing deeply. Gabrielle, a stunned look on her face, does likewise.
Lilla, perturbed: “Some fortune that is. You can do this or you can do that or you can do something else. I thought the whole point was to know what’s going to happen. You’re right Gabrielle, this is nothing but a pile of dung. Let’s go.”
Lilla rises and pulls Gabrielle to her feet, pushes her towards the exit.
Lorae: “I do not envy you the choice you are about to make, it is a difficult one. Never have I seen such self determination allowed by the fates. For most mortals their destinies are predetermined and little real choice is made. The fates allow me to see their plans, that is how I can predict the future. But you are special, your future has not yet been writ. Good luck, Gabrielle.”
Lilla succeeds in pulling Gabrielle outside. She wants to get away from the old woman and restore their festive mood. Spying Lucas and his friends in the crowd she pulls Gabrielle along with her to greet them.
Lucas: “Lilla, I’ve been looking all over for you. Why don’t you and Gabrielle join us, we’re going to go watch the magicians show.”
Lilla, pouting: “We don’t have enough money left for both of us. We just wasted two dinars on the worst seer.”
Gabrielle: “Lilla, why don’t you go along to the show, I’d like to see if I can find my friend Homer. I’d really like to catch up with him.”
Lilla, not needing much coaxing: “Well, I hate to leave you alone, Gabrielle, but I would like to see the magicians.”
Gabrielle: “Then it’s settled, I’ll see you at home.”
Xena and Lennier walk through the village towards the tavern.
Lennier: “Xena, you will probably find people curious about you. We don’t often have strangers coming through our village. If anyone strikes up a conversation it would be best to not give them your name. Your name is too well known around here and I’d rather not be intruded on by any curiosity seekers. Can you think of another name you could give if you are asked?”
Xena, pausing a moment in thought: “Well, if you think that’s best. How about Lycia?”
Lennier: “That’s good. Lycia it is.”
Xena and Lennier enter the tavern. There are about forty people in the tavern, maybe half of the total it could comfortably hold. On one side of the room is the typical bar with the ever wary tavern keeper keeping watch over his domain. On the opposite side of the room is a slightly raised stage.
Lennier, pointing towards the stage: “Let’s sit over there. I think there will be entertainment tonight so we might as well get a good seat.”
Lennier and Xena order themselves a pitcher of mead and the venison stew. As they sit and enjoy the food, drink, and each others company an occasional villager stops to great Lennier and his companion who Lennier introduces as “Lycia”. Several pitchers of mead later Xena and Lennier are feeling cheery as the tavern keeper takes the stage and introduces the evening’s entertainment.
Tavern keeper: “My patrons, for your pleasure tonight we are lucky to have a traveling bard direct from Athens with some tales I’m sure you’ve not heard yet. Please enjoy the performance of Tygis.”
There is a smattering of applause as Tygis moves to center stage.
Tygis: “For my story tonight I have a piece which I recently learned at the Athens Academy of the Performing Bards. Though some might find it incredulous, it is a true story. I hope that you enjoy the adventure as much as I and that my performance can do it justice.”
Xena sits back with a pleasant, relaxed grin on her face. From her travels with Gabrielle she had developed an appreciation for the creative talents and performance abilities of those who would be bards.
Tygis begins his story and to Xena’s surprise the story he tells is of the freeing of Prometheus from the chains of Hera by a hero named Hercules, a heroine named Xena and their friends Gabrielle and Iaolus. Tygis is an artful storyteller and once Xena is over her shock and embarrassment over being a subject in the story she finds that she really enjoys the young bards delivery.
Lennier, smiling slyly: “Pretty good entertainment, isn’t it Lycia?”
Xena, blushing slightly: “He is a wonderful performer. I wish Gabrielle were here to see this. He’s almost as good a storyteller as she is.”
Tygis expertly weaves his way through the tale. Xena is surprised at how accurate the account is. Usually these stories are passed along by word of mouth and after several retellings they are fraught with exaggerations and blatant inaccuracies. As Tygis nears the end of the tale there are a couple of drunken men getting loud and boisterous, heckling the earnest bard.
Drunk #1, loudly: “I thought you said this was a true tale. How then do you explain Xena, the warrior princess and destroyer in league with Hercules?”
Tygis continues his tale, tying to ignore the commotion from the drunken fools and not let his story be disrupted.
Drunk #2: “Now we’re supposed to believe that this Xena jumped on the back of this huge bird and flew through the sky AND managed to throw this sword to Hercules to free Prometheus?”
The drunks continue to harass the poor bard who begins to falter in his recitation of the story.
Xena loses her patience with the drunks and strides briskly over to them. She grabs both of the drunken men by their shoulders and growls: “I’d be much obliged if you fellows would find someplace else to be right now.”
Sensing that this was not a woman to be trifled with the two slink off.
Things settle down again and Tygis finishes the tale. There is a warm round of applause for the bard as he steps from the stage.
Tygis makes his way straight to Xena’s table.
Tygis: “I want to thank you for interceding for me with those louts. I rarely perform in taverns because there always seems to be some drunken fool who intrudes on the performance.”
Xena: “I was really enjoying the story and the skill with which you told it. Those drunks could not appreciate that they were ruining an artistic presentation. I should have run them off sooner.”
Tygis: “Well, thanks for your help and your kind words.”
Xena: “Would you like to join us?”
Tygis: “Yes, I would. But I can only stay a short time until I have to take the stage for my next story.”
Xena: “My name is ...Lycia, this is my teacher, Lennier.”
Tygis, bowing: “I am honored to meet you both.”
Xena: “I was wondering, you mentioned that you learned this tale at the Academy. How did the Academy come by it?”
Tygis: “The tale archives at the Academy have the original scroll from the author. Actually, they have a couple of dozen original scrolls from her. Her name is Gabrielle and I just love all her works. I’ve memorized seven of them in their entirety and the next time I’m in Athens I hope to learn many more. She seems to lead quite the life of adventure.”
Xena, smiling: “That she does.”
Tygis: “It’s funny though, she’s becoming quite the controversial figure at the Academy. The archive keepers have never met this Gabrielle. All her stories have been brought in by other bards who have met her along the way. She trusts them to submit her stories to the archives. The problem is that as the number of her works grows the keepers are beginning to doubt that one person can have had so many fantastic experiences.”
Xena, bemusedly: “So what’s the controversy.”
Tygis: “There is speculation that her works are fraught with exaggeration, or worse, that they are purely fictional. The archive keepers have asked all the bards who visit the Academy that if we should meet up with this Gabrielle she should be told to come to the Academy to authenticate her work and resolve this issue. Otherwise, her works may be moved to the fictitious scrolls collection.”
Xena bristled at the aspersion cast on Gabrielle’s integrity but she held her irritation in check. She would personally make sure that the archive keepers were set straight.
Tygis: “Well, I must be going, I have to talk to the tavern keeper about which story I should present next. Can you stay to hear it?”
Xena: “I must take to the road early tomorrow so I regret that I can’t stay for your next story. Good-bye, Tygis. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Tygis: “Good-bye Lycia and may the gods grant you safe passage on your journey.”
Tygis heads off to find the tavern keeper.
Xena, disturbed: “Lennier, I had no idea what Gabrielle was doing with the scrolls she wrote. She’s never even allowed me to read any of them. It seems a little strange she never told me about the archive at the Academy.”
Lennier: “Perhaps she thought you might forbid her to submit her stories. Also, it would be extremely difficult for her to show you her work. If you didn’t like it she would be crushed.”
Xena felt a pang of sorrow that Gabrielle did not feel comfortable sharing with her something as important as this was to Gabrielle. Again she felt deeply disappointed in herself for not knowing her best friend better.
Lennier: “Let’s go. Tomorrow you must start the journey to Potadia to see which way your life will turn.”
Xena felt a surge of dread jolt through her body. She had been telling herself that everything would work out ok. That whether Gabrielle chose to continue traveling with her or not what she wanted most was for Gabrielle to be happy once again. But what if Gabrielle decides to leave her? Xena tried to push that thought from her mind, it wasn’t going to happen, it just couldn’t happen. She had faith in her friend, but she had a knot in the pit of her stomach nonetheless.
Gabrielle wandered through the village square searching for Homer. She was glad to have sent Lilla off so she could talk to Homer alone. Although she loved her sister dearly she was unable to talk to her about her current situation with Xena. Lilla knew nothing about life on the road or anything else for that matter except living with her parents in the quiet village.
Walking around, Gabrielle considered the three alternatives the seer enumerated. The seers words were true, she would wither if she stayed in Potadia. But traveling about on her own? While not at first an especially appealing idea the seer did say she wouldn’t regret that choice. Or something to do with her creative urges, I suppose she meant doing more writing and performing. Finally, the Xena option. Apparently her future with Xena would be as tumultuous as her past. Never a dull day with Xena. But her references to the shifting influences presented a feeling of hope that maybe they could work things out. With a rush of conflicting feelings Gabrielle thinks: “Oh Xena, what am I going to do with you?”
Gabrielle walked towards the village’s amphitheater. Nearing the tiers of seats carved in a semi-circle in the hillside Gabrielle could hear the strong, dramatic voice she knew to be Homer’s. She took a seat near the bottom row and sat back to watch the performance.
Homer was telling a popular adventure legend which the whole world knew by heart. It was one of those stories that could never be heard enough, especially when told as well as Homer was reciting it.
Gabrielle listened to the cadence and inflections Homer used and noted how they heightened the tension in the dramatic passages and then expertly released the tension during the comedic relief. His skills as a bard had matured tremendously since they met competing for admission to the Academy of the Performing Bards.
Homer finished his tale and humbly bowed to his audience. The arena filled with thunderous applause as the crowd rose to pay him tribute. His grin looked about as big as it could get without his face actually exploding but when he spied Gabrielle in the audience it managed to spread just a little wider. Homer took a few more bows and then practically ran off the stage in his haste to get to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle made her way to the performers entrance and nearly was run over by Homer who was scurrying to get to her. The lanky bard picked Gabrielle off her feet and swung her around. Gabrielle laughed in delight and gave him a big hug and kiss.
Homer: “This is so wonderful! I knew Potadia was your home village but I never expected to find you here! Have you settled down here? Do you still travel? Where’s Xena?”
Gabrielle: “I’m just back for a visit, but that’s a long story that we can talk about later. I heard you were with this troupe and of course I had to find you. That performance was just wonderful!”
Homer, blushing: “Thanks, Gabrielle, coming from a talented bard like you that is an honor. Are you hungry? I know where we can get the best lamb stew in the whole territory, my treat.”
Gabrielle: “I’m famished. Let’s go.”
The two lock arms and pleasantly stroll through the crowd. Homer filling Gabrielle in on his life as a performing bard with the traveling performance troupe.
Finding a quiet table in a small restaurant they both order the lamb stew .
Homer, a beaming smile unwaveringly aimed at Gabrielle: “So Gabrielle, enough about me. I’ve seen a growing collection of your scrolls at the Academy...by the way, you’d better get to the Academy sometime soon, the archive keepers need to talk to you. You and Xena seem to keep quite busy, I can see why you might need to come back to Potadia to rest up once in a while.”
Gabrielle, frowning: “Well, that’s not really why I’m here. I’ve reached some kind of crossroads with Xena, I’m confused and I don’t know which way to turn.”
Gabrielle relates her feelings of not being treated as an equal partner and Xena’s habit of correcting everything she does. By the end of her story she has worked herself into an emotional state on the verge of tears.
Homer, compassionately: “I think you are doing the right thing, distancing yourself like this to try to make an objective decision. But if you don’t continue with Xena what would you do?”
Gabrielle: “That ‘s a good question. I just had the strangest reading from a seer.”
Homer: “I bet you it was old Lorae. Her gift of the sight is phenomenal.”
Gabrielle: “Yes, it was Lorae.”
Gabrielle relates what Lorae told her.
Homer: “Hmmm. Now that is interesting. Of course I can see it appears to have caused you still more confusion about what you should do.”
Gabrielle, dryly: “Now there’s an understatement.”
Having finished their meal the two rise to go.
Homer: “I have to get back to the amphitheater for the next performance. Will you come?”
Gabrielle: “Wouldn’t miss it.”
Homer puts his arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder and the two leave the restaurant.
Back at the amphitheater Homer drags Gabrielle through the performers entrance and sits her not two feet from the stage. The stage master seeing Homer waiting in the wings introduces him as the next performer. Homer confidently strides across the stage to the center and faces the audience.
Homer: “I have a delightful treat for you tonight. I would like to present a special guest bard at this time, someone who’s work will one day rival the masters, Potadia’s own Gabrielle!”
Gabrielle sits in stunned amazement. She is too shocked to move. Homer crosses the stage and pulls her by the hand.
Gabrielle, excitedly: “Homer! I’ve never performed to a crowd this big! And this is my home village, everybody here knows me! Are you crazy?”
Homer, impishly: “Come on Gabrielle, performing to hundreds is the same as performing to a dozen. Try it, it’s a real rush. Trust me.”
Homer escorts Gabrielle to center stage, bowing and kissing her hand he turns to the audience and says: “Masters and mistresses I present Gabrielle!”
There is a warm round of applause as the mortified Gabrielle struggles to regain her composure. As the applause fades she pulls herself together and haltingly begins: “I would like to tell the tale of a king whose love of wealth went too far. His name was Midas and the gods chose to teach him a lesson about the greed of mortals...”
It was a tale most would have heard, but in her state of panic and stage fright Gabrielle chose to go with a classic tale no one could resist responding to. As she settled into the rhythm of the familiar story she relaxed and her natural instincts for performing took over.
Homer stood in the wings and marveled at the artistry of her performance. Artistry like that could not be learned, it was a gift from the gods.
Finishing the story Gabrielle was overwhelmed by the waves of applause crashing over her. Finally, after several appreciative bows to her audience, she managed to exit the stage.
Briskly walking to the proud Homer she punched him hard in the shoulder.
Gabrielle, yelling: “Don’t you ever put me on the spot like that again!”
Homer looked stunned by the physical and verbal assault.
Gabrielle hugged her startled friend and said: “But thank you, it really was exhilarating!”
Homer, smiling again: “I knew you’d love the thrill of performing. I’ve got an idea I think you should listen to. How would you like to join our troupe?”
Gabrielle: “Join your troupe?”
Homer, hopefully: “The troupe master has been looking for another bard to join us. There are just too many performances each week for me to handle. With a second bard in the troupe we could split the performances and each have plenty of time to also do some writing.”
Gabrielle: “I don’t know...”
Homer, excitedly: “It would be such fun. We could travel together, maybe even collaborate on writing and performance projects. Traveling with a troupe this size is really quite safe, no one bothers us on the road. And we travel in a caravan of sheltered wagons, it’s really quite comfortable.”
Gabrielle sees what her friend is proposing and it finally becomes clear to her: “Lorae’s vision...”
Homer: “Yes, I knew the moment you told me what she saw. Think about it Gabrielle. It would be wonderful. I saw how much you thrilled to the audience. You could have that every day.”
Gabrielle: “It is tempting...”
Lennier leans on the staff he had lent to Xena. She again wears her sword and chakrum though she still wears the white toga Lennier had given her. Xena tightened the cinch on Argo’s saddle as Lennier looked on. She was somehow dreading being alone, something which had never bothered her before. It made her realize how much she had come to depend on Gabrielle’s companionship. Being with Lennier had staved off having to face the loneliness, but now she had three more days till she was to meet Gabrielle and she was dreading the loneliness of the trip and dreading even more the possibility that she would be leaving Potadia alone.
Xena: “You know I could stay another day, it’s only a two day ride to Potadia.”
Lennier, smiling sadly, saddened to see her leave but even more saddened knowing her troubled heart: “No, Xena, as much as I would enjoy yet another day of your companionship I have seen the signs that it is time for you to go.”
Xena: “You and your signs, Lennier. Is there any sign that might tell you what Gabrielle is going to do?”
Lennier: “I wish there were my dear, as I am curious to know myself. But the gods show me what they want, not what I wish.”
Xena: “Then I guess this is goodbye.”
Xena gave the old man a strong hug which he returned with equal fervor.
Lennier, mysteriously: “Heavens no, Xena. This is not goodbye. It is till we meet again.”
Xena, smiling: “Well, I’m glad to hear that. Thank you for everything, Lennier. You have taught me so much in this week. I only hope I can convince Gabrielle that I have changed.”
Lennier: “Time will tell, Xena, only time will tell.”
Xena mounted Argo and with a salute to Lennier she directed the mare out to the road.
Over the two days ride Xena debated with herself how she would react if Gabrielle had decided not to travel with her. Her first thought was that she would beg for another chance and try to convince Gabrielle that she would change. She would tell Gabrielle all that Lennier had enlightened her to and she would get on her knees if necessary to beg Gabrielle’s forgiveness for her having taken her friend for granted and not having treated her as an equal.
Then another voice in her head would pipe up and argue that she should just accept Gabrielle’s decision if that’s what it was because considering the way Xena had been treating her Gabrielle was certainly justified if she did not want to travel with her any longer.
Finally, a third voice would chime in saying that this kind of worrying was not necessary because Gabrielle would certainly decide to continue traveling with her.
Round and round in her head Xena would repeat these three arguments, round and round they went like a dog chasing it’s tail.
As Xena neared Potadia she was thinking back to the day almost two years before when she had first met Gabrielle. She remembered how she was on the verge of giving up, she was an emotional and spiritual wreck. She had decided to bury the trappings of Xena: Warrior Princess and intended to hermit herself away from humankind. But then Draco’s men herded a throng of villagers into the clearing near where she stood. There was one woman who stepped forward and offered herself if the others were let go, that brave and unselfish woman had been Gabrielle.
“Woman,” Xena thought chuckling, actually she had not been much more than a girl. So young, naive and innocent. So uneducated in the hard facts of life. After two years of traveling with Xena that description sure didn’t fit Gabrielle now. But still, there remained some basic qualities about Gabrielle that would never change. Her forgiving nature, honesty, generosity, courage and loyalty were unshakeable. If only she could be more like Gabrielle.
Xena pulled Argo off the road and headed into the woods. It had been two years but she remembered exactly where that clearing was. Emerging from the woods into the clearing Xena felt a surge of emotions swirling around her heart. She had arrived a day early. There was nothing left to do but wait.
Reining Argo to a halt, Xena surveyed the field before her only to be quite annoyed that someone had set up camp in the exact spot she had wanted for camp. She sat back and looked for an alternative site.
Gabrielle almost fell on her face from tripping over an exposed tree root. She was carrying an armload of firewood and cursed under her breath as she regained her balance. She reached the edge of the woods at the clearing were she had made camp. Peering across the clearing she could see a figure on horseback, it was Xena. She felt her heart skip a beat, then another. She was not prepared to see her, Xena was not due there for another day.
A flood of emotions weakened her knees but she managed to remain standing. Xena was dressed in a white toga, her hair blowing gently in the breeze. Sitting atop her hay colored mare she looked like a goddess. “By the gods, you are beautiful,” escaped as a whisper from her lips.
Perhaps it was Gabrielle’s whisper carried on the breeze that caught Argo’s attention but as the mare turned her head and flicked her ears in that direction Xena picked up on the horse’s interest and followed her gaze. There, just inside the tree line, stood Gabrielle in the exact spot Xena had stood when first she had set eyes on Gabrielle.
Xena sat there frozen in time and space, paralyzed by the moment and the knowledge that imminently her world might be spinning out of control. Finally, she forced herself to action. She gave Argo a nudge to head towards Gabrielle. She was so glad that she was astride the horse because the way her knees were shaking there was no way she could have walked the distance. Argo started off at a walk at Xena’s command and immediately moved to a trot, then a canter, then an all out gallop without Xena’s commanding her to do so. Apparently she had missed Gabrielle too.
Gabrielle’s head spun as she watched Xena and Argo streak across the field. She finally managed to move her feet the few steps to where her camp was set up. Throwing the supply of wood to the ground, she stood and awaited their arrival.
Xena reigned Argo in and the horse slowed and then stopped not five feet from the camp. Xena slid off the horse, landing softly beside Gabrielle. For a split second they stood looking at each other, each unsure where to go from here. Simultaneously they each reached for the other and shared a long, emotional embrace. Finally letting go of each other they both were grinning from ear to ear.
Gabrielle, with a tear of joy trickling down her face: “I’ve missed you, Xena.”
Xena wiped the tear from her friends face and humorously said: “Then why didn’t you write?”
Gabrielle cracked up at the gentle chiding from her friend. It felt so good to be with her. It felt like she had come home.
Gabrielle had not made her decision about her future yet. She had made camp that morning hoping to have the day alone to contemplate her alternatives. But now it was so clear without having to mull over everything. Her heart sang out loud and clear, her future was with Xena.
Xena had sworn to herself that she would not pressure Gabrielle for an immediate answer though she was ready to crawl out of her skin for all the anxiety and anticipation she was experiencing. She planned to wait and let Gabrielle broach the subject when she was ready. But all her intentions crumbled to dust in the moment. She had to speak.
Xena: “I’ve missed you, Gabrielle. Without you there is an immeasurable void in my life. I don’t want to pressure you but I have something to say.”
Gabrielle: “Xena, I think ...”
Xena: “No Gabrielle, please just listen to what I have to say and then whatever you’ve decided I will accept.”
Gabrielle: “No Xena, there’s something I have to tell you...”
Xena, pleading: “Please Gabrielle, I need to say these things to you.”
Gabrielle realized that this was not Xena again not paying attention to her. This was something that Xena desperately needed to do. She sat down on a nearby log and said compassionately: “Ok Xena, what’s on your mind.”
Xena composed herself before going on: “First, I must apologize for all the times I’ve taken you for granted. I never showed you any appreciation for the things you’ve brought into my life. You’ve taken me from a dispirited wreck and helped me find my very soul. Second, I have failed to ever commend you for the skills you have developed. I just assume you know how good you are. But now I know you need to hear this from time to time and I want to say you are good, Gabrielle, you are very good.”
Gabrielle had never heard Xena speak so passionately, she was left speechless and breathless from her friend’s discourse.
Xena continued, driving herself emotionally to the brink of tears: “Third, I have failed you as a friend. All the times you have been there for me, fighting at my side, lifting my spirits up when I wrestled with my inner demons. Any time I need you, you are there. But I’ve heard of the scrolls you have sent to the Academy and I know how important your writing is to you. I must not have been a very good friend if you can not share this with me.”
Xena paused for a moment to regain her composure, she knelt down on one knee before Gabrielle who reached out to wipe a tear from her friends face.
Xena hung her head and went on: “Gabrielle, you know that I love you but also know this, above all else I do respect you and I am begging your forgiveness. You were right. I treated you pretty badly. But I have changed and if you are willing to give me another chance I will prove it.”
Gabrielle lifted Xena’s face up to look at her, she could not help but feel for the anguish she saw written there. Stroking Xena’s hair, she smiled and said: “Oh Xena, what am I going to do with you?”
Xena stands and steels herself for the worst part.
Xena: “Actually, that’s just what I want to ask you. Have you decided what you want to do?”
Gabrielle stood before Xena and put her hands tenderly on Xena’s shoulders. Looking directly into those sorrowful blue eyes she softly whispered: “I tried to tell you before, I know we have had some problems but I think we can work them out. Actually, after what you just said, I know we can work them out. And there is no place I want more to be than by your side.”
Xena and Gabrielle embraced and when they parted they each were smiling brighter than the sun.
Gabrielle: “Come on now, we’ve got to get camp set up.”
Xena: “Whatever you say.”
Happily, the two women went about their usual routine of setting up camp. When all the work was done they settled down to exchange the events they had experienced the last two weeks.
Contentedly sitting by the campfire, Xena produced a small leather pouch which she extended to Gabrielle: “This is for you, I made it myself.”
Gabrielle sat up with a start, taking the proffered gift: “Oh, I almost forgot, I have something for you too.” She reaches into her travel bag and retrieves a small object wrapped in fur. She extends it to Xena who takes it.
Xena unwraps the twine from around the fur and exposes a beautifully carved object. She holds it in her hand with an expression of utter delight on her face.
Gabrielle, as she opens the pouch Xena gave her: “It’s called a caliph, it is a mystical symbol from a lost civilization called Atlantis...”
Gabrielle is left speechless as she pulls the contents of the leather pouch out. There in the palm of her hand is a slightly cruder but still beautiful representation of the same figure Xena holds.
Lennier is deep in concentration on the figure he is carving. He is nearly finished with the statue of Athena. He is sure that this time it will be good enough. He hears the door open and looks up to see his son. Smiling broadly, he says: “Simeon! You’re home! How was your trip?”
Simeon limps into the room and hugs his father: “It was quite profitable, father. And I met the most unusual woman.”
Lennier, mystically: “Yes, son, I know. So did I.”
Xena awakens knowing that it is late in the morning. It is the first good nights sleep she’s had in two weeks. She turns to look at Gabrielle’s place by the campfire and sits up with a start. Gabrielle is not there.
Gabrielle, brightly: “Good morning, Xena. Sleeping in a little late, aren’t we? ”
Xena spins around to see Gabrielle perched on a log, working on a scroll.
Xena, sheepishly: “What are you up to?”
Gabrielle: “I’m just working on this story. I had an inspiration and just had to get right to it when I woke up this morning. It’s finished now. Would you like to read it?”
Xena, eagerly: “I’d love to read it.”
Gabrielle: “Xena, could we go to Athens some time soon? I have some things to take care of at the Academy.”
Xena, smiling broadly: “Why don’t we make that our next destination, I’d like to see what else you’ve written about me.”