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© Copyright 1997 by F.S.
This story may not be sold and may be archived at public sites only with direct permission from the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.
See Childhood's End (Parts 1-2) for the complete disclaimer statement and other notes from the author.
She abruptly slapped Argo on the rump. "Get her out of here!" she cried to the horse. Argo took off, with Xena clutching desperately at her mane. Gabrielle readied her staff and faced the coming soldiers.
"Why did you do that ?" the first one asked. "We could've had some fun with her. Oh well, after we rob and have our way with you, there'll be plenty of time to catch up with your little friend."
"You'll have to get through me first," Gabrielle growled, and without any further warning, she attacked. The man only had time to mutter a small grunt of surprise before Gabrielle clipped him in the temple. His two compatriots just stood there with their mouths agape as their friend slid face first into the dirt, unconscious. Gabrielle, meanwhile, had used the time to quickly close the distance between them. Before they could draw their swords, she had bopped a second in the groin and walloped the third in the stomach. For good measure, she whacked them both out.
"Well, that wasn't so bad," she grinned. But the smile quickly faded when she saw she had more company. Four more soldiers had entered the path. Seeing the state of their companions, they drew their swords and rushed at Gabrielle. She quickly took a defensive position, making sure that a tree trunk shielded her back. As she prepared herself, Gabrielle hoped that she had given Xena enough time to get away.
"Have you guys ever heard of a fair fight?" Gabrielle commented as she ducked the first sword blow. She blocked the second with her staff and managed to knock down another one of her attackers. Hit, parry, block, strike ... her staff was a blur of motion as she fought valiantly against her attackers. However, it was only a matter of time before she would be worn down, and the soldiers used this to their advantage. They were only teasing her as they waited for the easy kill. Gabrielle prepared to make her peace with Hades as all four began to move in.
"Yippee-yiyi hey!" A small voice rang through the air, distracting the men. Seeing her chance, Gabrielle knocked the closest one to her down. A stone thrown from Argo's saddle took care of the second soldier, while Argo got into the act by kicking down the third. The fourth and last one was dispatched by Gabrielle with a sharp blow to the head.
"I thought I told you two to run away," she said, glaring at Xena as she tied the soldiers up securely with a rope from the saddlebags.
"Argo didn't want to go," Xena explained. "And I wanted to help, too."
"Argo didn't, huh?" Gabrielle shook her head in exasperation, but gave the two a smile. "Although I wish you guys would listen to what I say, I'm glad you came back." The bard knotted the last of the rope around the seven soldiers. "Thanks."
Xena grinned. "Did ya like my war cry? Warrior Princesses have war cries, don't they?"
"It was a nice touch." Straightening her rumpled dress, Gabrielle looked up at the little girl fondly. "You could do something about the pitch though."
Xena gazed at the men as they lay groaning in the dirt. "Are they dead?"
"No. But they'll have awful headaches when they get up." Gabrielle gathered up Argo's reins. "Speaking of which, let's move on. I don't want to run into any more of these idiots."
"Me either." Xena looked at the trail ahead of them. "Do you know where we're going?"
Gabrielle sighed. "I'm afraid I do. Seems like our little rabbit friend led us to the wrong side of the forest. We're in Falceus' territory." She shuddered.
"A very nasty warlord. Xena and I ... that is, your older sister, wanted to come here and make him behave. Now that she's gone and you're here, I'm not sure what I'm going to do."
"I can beat him." Xena waved a fist enthusiastically. "Really, just let me at him! I'll teach him not to be bad!"
Gabrielle smiled wryly. "You'll have to wait until you're a little older. Right now, we've got to get you out of here. This is no place for a little kid, especially a little kid like you."
"I'm not little!" Xena gave another fierce punch into the air while trying to puff herself up on Argo's saddle.
"Okay, okay, you're not. But I do think some time out is necessary." Gabrielle tried to recall the map she had seen Xena, the older version, draw in the campsite. "First things first, I want to get to the village of Cyanthus. It's near the border of Spirit's Glade, so technically, there shouldn't be that many guards posted there. Of course, that was the same thing you said about this trail, and look where that got us. I just hope I'm headed in the right direction."
"Why don't you ask the people behind us for directions?" Xena asked.
Turning around, Gabrielle saw no one. "Who do you mean?"
"They're behind the hill," Xena pointed at the one they had just crossed. "I think they got scared when the soldiers attacked us. They ran and hid."
Gabrielle looked back at the trail they had left and waited. "If anyone is there, you can come out now. We won't hurt you."
Slowly, a pair of women emerged timidly from their hiding places. The bard sighed. She really had to sharpen her senses, she thought gloomily. First the soldiers and now these two had slipped past her defenses. If the other Xena was here, the warrior would have been disappointed with Gabrielle's lack of awareness. However, this was not the time to indulge in self-recrimination, the bard thought tiredly as she faced the two strangers.
"We saw you and the child take on the soldiers," one of them, a small mousy-looking brunette, began slowly, then hesitated. "Falceus will not be pleased when he learns of this. I think you better run."
"Hush, she'll do nothing of the sort!" The other motioned her companion to silence and smiled at Gabrielle. "I'm Janya, and this is Shaya, my sister. We heard that you're headed for Cyanthus. We live there, and we'd be glad to show you the way."
"But Janya ... they just attacked Falceus' troops. They'll be wanted for treason!"
Janya snorted. "Falceus is a superstitious goat. It's about time someone stood up to him."
"You shouldn't say such things, Janya." Shaya looked around warily. "What if someone should hear?"
"There's no one around." Janya turned to Gabrielle, eyes shining admiration. "You two must either be deities or warriors in disguise. I have never seen anyone with such courage!"
Gabrielle blushed modestly. "Actually, I'm just a traveling bard, and this ... is my friend. We kinda came here by mistake."
"How did you get past the border guards?" Shaya asked, astonishment plain on her face "They never let anyone through, except those who have business with Falceus."
"We came through Spirit's Glade. There weren't any troops posted there ... at least, there shouldn't have been any ..."
"You came through Spirit's Glade?" Janya was incredulous. "Then either true courage must run deep in your blood, or you must be a fool. No one has ever made it through those woods and come back to tell the tale. Not even Falceus dares to cross its borders."
"A friend of mine used to say that courage is the same thing as a fool with too big of a heart," Gabrielle replied with a smile.
"Your friend sounds wise," Janya gestured to the path. "Listen to us! Chattering as if we didn't have anything better to do. Come, the sooner we get you off the main road, the better. Shaya was right; when the rear guard discovers you've tied up the border patrol, then they'll be looking for you."
Gabrielle followed as Janya led the way. The landscape around them was lush and green, with a beauty that seemed almost out of place with the idea of a murderous warlord. As they moved closer to the village, fields began to appear, tended by teams of women. Seeing her gaze, Janya sighed.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" she said softly. Gabrielle was unsure of how to reply. Xena, however, nodded eagerly.
"Yeah." She looked up at the village. "Do you have many kids there?"
"Yes, little one." Janya smiled at the innocent happiness in the child's face. "You can play with them once we get there."
Gabrielle looked again at the women tending the fields. Strangely enough, no matter where she looked, she could find no men. They had probably been conscripted into Falceus' army, she figured.
"It's not that bad of a life really," Shaya spoke up timidly. Her sister spun around in anger.
"What do you mean, it's not a bad life? It's a horrible one! We don't have any freedom, we have to serve ..." Seeing the troubled look that crossed Xena's face, the woman relented. "Don't worry your head about it, youngster. We'll be free soon. There's a rumor going around that Xena will come and liberate us all."
"Hey, that's my name." Xena perked up.
"Really," Janya said, amused. "And have you come to set us free?" she joked.
"I would, but you're probably talking about my big sister. She's a Warrior Princess, ya' know."
Janya looked at Gabrielle and winked. "Oh is she now?"
"Yes, and she'll bust up Falceus good. Gabby told me a lot of stories about her. She's the bestest person I ever knowed, besides Gabby, of course." Excited, Xena literally bounced in her saddle.
"Shush, you shouldn't talk about her in public." Shaya looked scandalized. "If someone should hear you, we all could get into trouble. It's just a rumor you know. Why would such a important person like Xena want to have anything to do with a handful of peasants like us?"
"My big sister wouldn't care. She does it for the greater good," Xena declared, quoting from one of Gabrielle's stories.
"That's enough, Xena," Gabrielle said mildly. She could tell that Shaya was really nervous, and they were beginning to draw curious stares from the townsfolk around them. Xena quieted, deciding to go along with her, for now.
"You can stable your horse at my mother's farm," Janya said softly as they slipped along the streets. "Due to the overwhelming 'taxes' on property and farmland, Shaya and I still live with her. There's room enough for you two, if you'd care to join us. It's not far from the town."
"Thank you very much," Gabrielle nodded gratefully. "We'd be honored to stay at your place, if it would not be an inconvenience."
"It won't be at all. Mother loves visitors, and it's been so long since we had a young one in our house ..." Janya's voice trailed off as her eyes grew distant. Gabrielle kept quiet, leaving the two women to their own thoughts. There was pain there, the bard realized, as well as grief. She had a sneaking suspicion that it had a lot to do with Falceus. Gabrielle clenched her hands in anger. This was why she and Xena had come, to prevent innocents like Shaya and Janya from being hurt. However, how was she going to do anything now that Xena was gone?
"We're here," Janya broke into Gabrielle's moody thoughts. The bard looked at the sisters' dwelling place. It was simple, yet pleasant. Made out of modest mud bricks, it had a small wooden fence running around it, and a flock of chickens cackled and pecked the dirt in the outside yard. To the back of the house, a small sloping barn could be seen, typical to a Greek farm. "I'll stable your horse. You go and meet Mother."
Gabrielle helped Xena down from the saddle as they both were greeted by an ancient-looking lady in a simple cloth gown.
"Come in, come in," she hustled them through the doorway. "It's been awhile since Shaya and Janya brought me visitors. I'm Kala, by the way." She smiled warmly at the little girl. "What might your name be?"
"Like the Warrior Princess?"
"Yeah. She's my big sister." Xena hopped onto a chair next to the kitchen table. "Do you have any food? I'm hungry. Gabby only has yucky biscuits," she said, with the easy candor that comes with childhood.
"Xena ..." Gabrielle blushed. "I'm so sorry ..."
"It's okay." Kala waved a kindly hand and smiled. "A powerful name like hers must come with a big appetite, too." She put out a platter of freshly baked bread. "Eat well, little warrior, so that one day you may grow to become a princess yourself. Meanwhile, let's see what we can do about finding you some more suitable clothing."
Belatedly, Gabrielle realized that Xena was still wearing the bard's oversized pants and shirt. She could feel her face flushing even more scarlet. Kala motioned her over.
"Let's see if we can't find some of Shaya's old baby clothes," she said, leading the bard out of the room. As soon as they were out of the earshot of Xena, the woman grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders and stared deep into the bard's eyes.
Startled by the unexpected action, Gabrielle pulled away. Kala moved around her, and the bard got the sense that she was being judged.
"What's wrong?" she finally found her voice.
"I was wondering what kind of woman would bring such a young child into a place like this," Kala said calmly. "Don't you know how dangerous Falceus' lands are?"
"Yes ..." Gabrielle gulped, but Kala was not finished.
"Also, why would someone name their child after one of the most hated warlords of all time?"
"Hey, wait a minute, Xena's different now ..."
"I know of the Warrior Princess' change of heart, and frankly, I admire her greatly for it. But Xena began her road to redemption scarcely more than two years ago. Yet the child is five years of age." Kala looked piercingly at Gabrielle. "Also, I know that you would never put the child in danger intentionally. I can see the great love for her that you hold in your heart; it is something similar to a mother's feelings toward her own child. However, she is not of your flesh and blood, although you would give your life for her. So tell me, who is this child, and why do you both come here?"
Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably as she realized that Kala would not be put off easily. The old woman was very sharp, the bard had to give her that.
"So," Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Do you want to hear an interesting story?"
Kala sat quietly throughout Gabrielle's narrative, listening attentively. When Gabrielle stopped, she stood up with a determined look in her eye.
"We need to do something about this," she declared sternly.
"You don't have to get involved." Gabrielle followed the woman as she walked into another room. "If you do, Falceus may punish you and your daughters greatly. In fact, just by being here, I put you in grave danger."
Kala turned around, and Gabrielle was startled by the fire she saw in the woman's eyes. "Of course I have to do something about it. Xena was right in one aspect ... the people here have lost their spirit. We stand back and let Falceus take what he wants, knowing that he uses our labor to conquer more and more lands and enslave the many innocent souls there."
The woman gestured fiercely to the window. "All that you see belongs to Falceus. It's his bread box and his larder. From our harvest he gains enough food to feed his army, and he gains his army from harvesting all of our youth. If you went into the village square, you won't find a single male between the ages of ten and thirty. That's because they have been all "volunteered" into Falceus' ranks and have been sent away to fight battles in faraway lands. We never see many of them again. Those that do return are either crippled or are too old or infirm to hold a sword. Falceus does not want to take the chance that we may rebel against him one day, so he never leaves enough men here to start anything significant. As for our girls ... the prettier ones are taken away to "service" Falceus and his top generals. The others are left to a life of hard toil in the fields. And so the years pass, and more of our children are torn away from us, either to become soldiers or slave girls. The fields we tend yield crops that are not our own, and the houses we live in and the clothes we wear are given to us through the "grace" of Falceus. Yet some say that we have a great life and a peaceful one under Falceus. Bah! What is peace without freedom? How high a price do we have to pay each time? I'll tell you what price ... the price of our children's blood and the blood of all the innocents that Falceus has murdered over the years."
Gabrielle looked away, unsure of what to say. "I'm sorry ..." she whispered.
Kala turned to her, surprise touching her eyes. "Why should you be? It's not your fault." She patted the girl gently. "You have a kind heart, young one, ... I see why the Warrior Princess keeps you so close. To tell you the truth, you have brought hope into my life."
"How's that? All I can possibly bring is trouble, especially if Falceus finds out you're sheltering me."
"At last I have the chance to do something, to make a difference," Kala said calmly. "It is worth all the danger in the world." She pulled out a light blue dress and a pair of child's slippers. "I think these will suit your little friend nicely."
"Thank you ... for everything," Gabrielle said, gratefully fingering the fabric.
"Think nothing of it. After all, it was you who came to help us, originally. First, we've got to find a way to restore your friend to her rightful age. I think I may know how." Kala hesitated as she neared the kitchen and heard Xena's laughter bubbling through the walls. "Does she have any knowledge of who she once was?"
"No," Gabrielle replied softly.
"I thought not. She seems too ... innocent to be a true warrior. Like you are."
"Hey, I'm not innocent!" Gabrielle grumbled. "I've beat up many monsters ..."
Kala smiled. "Yes, but not with malice in your heart. It's not a bad thing, Gabrielle. A pure soul is hard to find."
Gabrielle shrugged uncomfortably. "My soul isn't *that* pure," she muttered softly as she followed Kala back into the kitchen. Xena, seeing both of them enter the room, jumped out of her seat excitedly.
"Try the chicken, Gabby, it's sooo good!" she exclaimed while eyeing the garments that Kala had brought out. "Janya said that she'd teach me how to pitch hay later. Can I go, please, Gabby?"
"Sure," the bard nodded. "But first, let's get you dressed into some better clothes. You're really starting to wear out mine."
Xena wrinkled her nose. "But I don't like wearing dresses."
"You'll look really pretty," Kala told her. Xena snorted.
"Who cares? Why do girls hafta wear dresses? They make you trip and stop you from having fun. If I hafta wear a dress, I want one like Gabby's."
"Gabrielle's skirt is inappropriate for a little girl like you." Kala caught the rebellious Xena with a practiced hand and quickly dressed her, despite the intense struggling of her victim. Xena, sensing that the end was inevitable, finally gave up and let the woman tie the ribbons on.
"Can I go now?" Xena growled. Gabrielle hid a grin.
"One last thing." She took out a comb. "We need to do something about that hair of yours. It's turning into a bird's nest!"
Before Xena could bolt, the bard had caught her, and soon, she was braiding the beautiful ebony locks into some semblance of order. Xena sat through the whole ordeal patiently, although she couldn't help wiggling some and making horrible faces. As soon as Gabrielle was finished, the girl took off. Gabrielle watched her go with a heavy feeling in her heart. How carefree her friend seemed. If only the situation did not need the old Xena so much!
Kala caught the look in the bard's eye and sighed heavily. "The responsibilities of the world aren't easy to carry, are they?"
"You bet they aren't. I wonder how Xena ever managed it." Gabrielle looked to the woman. "So, what's this way to bring her back?"
Kala replied very reluctantly. "There is a shrine to Apollo about a day's ride from here. If anyone knows how to undo Pan's curse, it'll be him. Falceus is afraid to desecrate that spot, although he does post soldiers near the temple. It'll be hard getting through, but as a bard, you can easily pass as a worshiper."
Gabrielle nodded. Kala looked at her worriedly. "Are you sure you want to do this? Your friend seems happy enough as a child, and she is in no great danger."
"But your land is, and I know the older version of Xena would agree with what I'm trying to do." Gabrielle listened sadly to the sounds of her friend at play. "I have to find out."
"You know that even if we do get the older Xena back, it might not be enough to rally my people to revolt against Falceus. You could be wasting your time."
"I bet the fire hasn't died completely, especially if there are people like you keeping the flames of hope alive." Gabrielle picked up her staff. "Besides, Apollo might not give me an answer. She may be stuck like that forever. If that's the case, I want you to know that you guys really need to do something about Falceus, Xena or no Xena. The true power's in you."
Kala gave the bard a warm smile. "And in you, too. Come on, I have some more suitable clothes for you than that Amazon outfit. As Xena pointed out, your skirt is a little too short."
"Hey, it covers what it has to."
"That may be. But the soldiers around here are looking for an Amazon warrior. I have some more appropriate clothes for you. You're about the size of my son, Tylus. How would you like to be a traveling male bard on leave from the army?"
Gabrielle gulped, but could see no other way out of it. "I guess so."
Kala pulled out a pair of dark leather pants and a white cotton shirt. Her face grew wistful. "Is Tylus in Falceus' army?" the bard asked delicately. Kala nodded.
"All three of my sons were, as was my husband. Tylus is the only one that is still among the living."
"I'm sorry ..." Gabrielle murmured.
"Don't be. Because of their deaths, Falceus granted us a 'pardon' from labor. That is, Janya and Shaya don't have to be taken away as slave girls. At least their deaths meant something more than furthering Falceus' bloody rule." Kala's eyes were hard as she helped Gabrielle braid her hair and stuff it under a cap. "If you're asked why you aren't dressed in soldier's garb, tell them you're on a leave of absence. Falceus grants his soldiers three every year ... we have to reproduce somehow," she chuckled humorlessly. "Also, tell them you're in Sylian's division. That's far enough away that you won't be asked too many questions."
Gabrielle repeated the instructions in her head, then nodded. "I'll remember." She looked toward the door worriedly. Kala understood her feelings.
"Let Xena stay here. We'll take good care of her, Gabrielle. No one will harm her, not while I'm still around and breathing."
"Thank you." Gabrielle took a deep breath and gripped her staff firmly. "I'm ready. I just have to say goodbye to Xena, then I'm off."
Handing the bard a package of bread and chicken, Kala winked. "You make a cute young man, Gabrielle, if I do say so myself," she teased, but sobered immediately. "I wish you the best of luck, and I hope you find what you're looking for. May the gods be with you in your journey."
Still thoughtful, Gabrielle headed for the stables. Argo looked up at her curiously, then snorted. The horse apparently found that the bard's new look amusing.
"Ha-ha, laugh it up, you bucket of oats," Gabrielle grumbled. "But I need your help. Please ... I know we haven't gotten along in the past, but let bygones be bygones, okay? This is not the time to fool around."
Argo seemed to consider Gabrielle's proposal, then whinnied her agreement. Truce it would be, at least until the crisis was over. Stroking the mare's mane in appreciation, Gabrielle led her into the sunlight and looked around for Xena. She found the girl tossing stones at a post with a sling, hitting her target every time.
"You have a good eye," she complimented her.
"As good as the Warrior Princess ?"
"Better, even." Gabrielle smiled. "I thought you were going to help Janya toss some hay."
"It was boring, and Shaya said that I was spilling more hay than piling it." Xena frowned. "Janya gave me this sling to play with instead. She uses it to drive away the crows. Janya's a great shot, too. She said she has to be, or else the birdies will eat up all the crops. The coolest thing 'bout it is that they can even shoot in the dark! Janya said that's because all sorts of varmints come out at night! Did ya know that the village sometimes hold shooting contests with their slings? It's when Demeter's festival comes. Can we stay until then, huh? I wanna be in the festival. They let girls in, you know, cause they're the best archers, since they drive away the birdies. Ohhh ... I got a surprise!" Xena jumped up and down with excited energy. Before Gabrielle could put in a word, the child had scampered away. Gabrielle watched as she picked up something. Xena came running back after a minute.
"Lookit what I found!" she said gleefully.
Gabrielle peered into the small cupped hands and gave a startled squeal when she saw a pair of reptilian eyes looking unblinkingly at her.
"Isn't he neat? He changes colors, and he tickles when he moves! Why does he change color Gabby? Why?" Xena asked, waving the lizard around. The lizard, apparently disgusted with his situation, wriggled away. Xena chased after him for awhile as Gabrielle waited patiently for a chance to break in with her news. However, Xena did not want to stay still, and the bard found herself facing another barrage of questions.
"Also, I found these mushrooms! Look, they glow! Have you ever seen anything like that before? Why do they glow, Gabby? Why?"
"Umm ... I'm not sure ..." Gabrielle mumbled as she grinned inwardly. The look of curiosity in Xena's eyes and the wonder in her voice would be something the bard would treasure for all time. The world was still a fascinating place to the child, and Gabrielle found herself asking what if? What if Cortese had never ...? Oblivious to the bard's thoughts, Xena chattered on.
"And look at this shiny stone! I found it under a log. Isn't it cool? It might be gold!" Xena grinned as she examined her treasures. "You can have it though ..." she said cheerfully.
"Uhh ... thanks. Look, I have to talk to you about something ..." Gabrielle was cut off by another excited yell from the girl. By the gods, would the five-year-old EVER slow down? All this boundless energy was beginning to make the bard dizzy.
"Do you think I would be a good farmer one day? I can already protect the fields!" Xena waved around her sling in emphasis.
Gabrielle smiled. "Well, I guess you could be a farmer. Just be careful with the sling okay? You know, I had a friend who was very good with a sling ... he even defeated a Giant with it."
"Really?" Xena looked up in anticipation of a story. Gabrielle gave a short sigh of relief. Finally, the child had stopped long enough to listen!
"Yeah, remind me to tell you that tale one day. But not now."
"Why not now?" Xena demanded as she suddenly noticed the bard's strange apparel. "Hey, why are you dressed like a boy?"
"Listen, that's what I came to tell you. Me an' Argo have to go away for a day or two, and I'm dressed like this to fool the nasty soldiers on the road."
"I bet we could beat them up again," the little girl grinned mischievously.
"That's another thing. I want you to stay here with Kala, Janya, and Shaya. They'll take care of you while I'm away."
"But I want to go with you. You might need my help." Xena kicked a rock, her eyes stubbornly challenging the bard.
"The farm needs your protection, too. A Warrior Princess always has to defend the innocent, right?"
Xena nodded reluctantly. "But what about you?"
"I'll manage." Gabrielle patted Argo. "I have Argo here to take care of me, remember? So promise me, on the word of a warrior, that you'll stay here and do what Kala tells you to until I get back. Promise?"
The little girl thought for a moment, then held out her hand, pinkie outstretched. "Promise, promise, and if I lie, kill me dead until I die," she chanted solemnly, much to Gabrielle's amusement. They hooked pinkies and swung downwards, sealing the deal.
Gabrielle smiled and pulled out an object from the saddlebag. "Here, I've got a gift for you."
Xena gasped when she saw the wooden horse. "For me?" she squeaked. Gabrielle nodded.
"I made it myself," she said, wincing slightly as she remembered the splinters she had received last night while finishing the carving. Gabrielle had managed to sand the wood until it shone, and it reflected the sunlight cheerfully.
"But I don't play with dolls ... it's too sissy ..." Xena said as she wistfully eyed the horse.
"It's not a doll, it's a warhorse. I call her Lightning," Gabrielle grinned. "She'll be your friend. If you get lonely, she'll be there for you."
Xena's eyes shone with joy. "Thank you, Gabby," she said breathlessly.
"No problem." Gabrielle mounted Argo. "Just be good, okay?"
"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena replied dutifully as she trotted Lightning around in the dust. Gabrielle gave her one last look before spurring Argo into a fast trot. Minutes later, a whole new set of "war cries" were heard as the little Warrior Princess rode into some imaginary battle. As she left the happy scene behind her, Gabrielle hoped that she was doing the right thing.