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Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement was intended.
Violence and subtext are in keeping with the guidelines established by the television series. This story is the second in a series it is suggested that you read Turning Point first.
by R. Az
Gabrielle turned restlessly in her sleep. Once again the dream had returned and the feeling of overpowering dread that always came with it. In her dream, she couldn't move and a huge black cloud in the shape of a chariot would swoop down and carry Xena off. Not Xena her friend, but Xena a ruthless warlord. Her battle cry echoed across the sky as the chariot drawn by two black horse rose into the heavens. Next, Xena was coming at her, blade swinging and once again a sword went through Gabrielle's chest. She woke with a start and found herself in Xena's arms. "You O.K.?" asked her friend.
"Dream," Gabrielle mumbled getting up on her knees and fighting for control of her emotions. Her heart was pounding radically and sweat beaded on her lip. Xena silently moved away and built up the fire that had burnt down as they had slept.
"Same as all the others?" she asked hesitantly poking at the fire to avoid looking at Gabrielle. I can't blame Gabrielle, Xena thought. I tried to kill her. I guess although Gabrielle's warm heart can forgive me my failures, her subconscious must be afraid of me. A knot formed in Xena's stomach and a nerve near her temple throbbed.
"Yes," whispered Gabrielle getting up and coming to sit close to the warmth of the fire and her friend. She put her arm over Xena's shoulders and gave her a brief squeeze. Don't do this Xena, Gabrielle thought, Don't beat yourself up over my dreams.
"Don't say it!" cut in Gabrielle leaning her chin on her knee and staring moodily into the fire.
"You don't know what I was going to say," pointed out Xena in frustration turning to look with worried eyes at her friend.
"You were going to say that maybe we should go our separate ways so that I'll be safe from you," stated Gabrielle with a sigh. "O.k., so we almost destroyed our love and trust over Hope, but it's over. I..I know that witch Ornell used my insecurities to try and open up those wounds again and I almost got you killed but Xena," pleaded Gabrielle looking deep into Xena's wounded blue eyes, " I am not afraid of you. You would never hurt me.
What happened was because of a lot of other factors beyond our control. If I leave, I will be admitting that a part of me does not believe in your goodness, that's not going to happen. My dream is wrong, as dreams often can be."
Xena smiled and leaned over to put her cheek against Gabrielle's, "You mean the world to me," she said and got up to bring Gabrielle's blanket to the same side of the fire as hers. "Here, try and sleep and I'll be close if you need me," suggested Xena.
Gabrielle nodded and lay down once more. Behind her, she heard Xena settling down. Xena, the Warrior Princess. The most victorious warlord that Greece had ever seen until she was turned to good by Hercules. She still was a warrior, tall, strong and darkly beautiful, but now she fought to better the lives of those who could not defend themselves. It had been Xena who had saved her village and her from a life of slavery. Gabrielle smiled and kicked Xena.
"Hey! What was that for!?" asked a startled Xena sitting up angrily and looking at the back of her friend.
"That's for doubting yourself even for a minute," said Gabrielle turning to look at Xena. "Xena, this plain has very bad spirits. Something terrible is going to happen to us here. No matter what happens, don't doubt yourself because I'm never going to doubt you," finished Gabrielle rolling onto her back and reaching to touch Xena's hand. Xena smiled her thanks but her eyes were full of worry. She didn't understand Gabrielle's visions and felt uncomfortable when she talked of them. Gabrielle told her that the dream was untrue and yet her worried face and stressed eyes indicated that she believed them to be a prophesy. She lay down again and the two of them slept.
Gabrielle stood in the early morning light surveying the terrain. They were on a flat wasteland of rock and coarse grass. Off in the distance, to the west, a rocky plateau rose. Xena broke camp quietly and eyed her friend as she stood scanning the plain. Blond and petite, Gabrielle was the complete opposite to Xena. She carried no arms and wore the simple homespun of the Amazons while Xena wore leather and war amour. Gabrielle was a Bard, who wrote and told stories of beauty, humour and moral truth and Xena was the warrior. Yet they seemed to balance each other and provide something that was lacking in themselves for each other. "By late afternoon we'll be off this plain and then maybe things will feel better," offered Xena watching her friend.
Gabrielle turned and smiled, " Xena, if something happens to me today, you are not to let that change you," stated Gabrielle in a matter of fact manner. Gabrielle saw the look of horror cross her friend's face, "Remember your promise to me?"
Xena shouldered their knapsack and walked over to Gabrielle and looked down at her friend. She looked searchingly into Gabrielle's eyes trying to understand what was going on with her friend. Her pragmatic mind trying to give reason to Gabrielle's mood. She found no answers. "I won’t become a monster," she said sincerely and Gabrielle smiled as the two headed out across the plain. The morning went slowly. The sun beat down on them and the rocky terrain made walking difficult. They were glad when in the early afternoon clouds moved in and masked the sun. The land too changed, the scrubland giving way to grasslands.
Suddenly, Xena's arm shot out and grabbed Gabrielle's arm. There on the horizon was a large party of mounted warriors. Gabrielle saw them and then pointed to her right where yet more warriors were at ready. Xena slowly turned around, they were encircled. She saw the leader dismount and pull his sword and all around them the soldiers followed suit. "We haven't got a chance have we, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
"It doesn't look good," stated the warrior honestly, "I'll do my best to hack a way through and you make a run for those hills. I'll hold them back as long as I can. If you can make it to the hills, they wont be able to follow you on their horses."
Gabrielle gave her friend a meaningful look, "I stand with you," she said and Xena smiled.
Xena drew her sword and put her back to Gabrielle's, "Then let's make it hard for them and die like warriors," growled Xena.
The battle raged around them. Xena and Gabrielle kept their backs to one and another, working as a team against incredible odds. But as the battle continued they weakened, their defenses crumbling. Xena now had to watch her back as an exhausted Gabrielle struggled with the onslaught. "Xena!" Gabrielle called as three swordsmen hacked at her fighting staff pushing her back. Xena rammed her sword through the belly of her attacker and kicked his body off her blade and back onto those behind him then she reeled and slashed at the three that were overpowering Gabrielle. But in so doing, Xena left their backs unguarded and a warrior leapt forward and ran his sword through Gabrielle.
Xena heard the cry of surprise and turned to see Gabrielle looking down at a blade that stuck out of her chest. The warrior behind her pulled out his blade just as Xena grabbed her friend and swung over Gabrielle's shoulder taking the head off the man who had stabbed her friend. Xena dropped her sword and lowered Gabrielle to the ground. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" Xena called in a panic.
Gabrielle reached up and touched Xena's mouth with her fingertips. "Xena," she whispered as her hand fell away in death. Lightening flashed and thunder rolled in the distance.
The soldiers who had stopped their attack when Gabrielle had fallen and Xena had dropped her sword seemed to wake from a dream. "Kill Xena!" cried the leader moving forward. "If she won’t fight, beat her to death!" Xena held Gabrielle close protecting her dead body until the blows of the soldiers' boots knocked her unconscious. Neither Xena nor the soldiers who laughed as they kicked her saw the storm building and drawing nearer at a terrific force. Suddenly, a huge black cloud rolled apart and out of it charged a black chariot of war pulled by the two black horses, "Fear" and "Panic". Ares, the god of war tore across the battlefield screaming in blood-lust his sword swinging in deadly arches until not a single soldier was left alive. Lost in unconscious, lying beside her dead friend, Xena was unaware of the battle and carnage that raged around her.
Much later Xena stirred. She became aware of a lonely wind that howled across the silent plain. Her body was bruised and bloodied and she had to fight back the nausea and pain as she opened her eyes and blinked in the sun. She was lying with her left cheek in the dirt, only a few inches away, Gabrielle's eyes starred back at her unblinking in death.
Xena's heart lurched and with a whimper she crawled to her knees and gathered Gabrielle's body to her, rocking her silently in her arms. The wind howled across the still plain. Around Xena, in all directions, bodies lay dead. After a time, Xena lifted her friend into her arms and carried her across the windswept field of war. The moan of the wind and the stumbling step of Xena's boots were the only sound. At the plateau, Xena found a rock ledge and laid her friend out, crossing her hands on her chest. "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry!" cried Xena. " I failed you again! You were more than family to me. Closer than blood," she whispered as she lay her head on Gabrielle's body and cried.
"A warrior does not cry for the fallen. She died honourably. It was a good death," stated Ares who appeared beside Xena in a flash of light.
Xena looked up to see a handsome and muscular warrior. His dark hair was slicked back and he wore his leather and metal amour like a second skin. The amour was splattered with blood. She closed her eyes for a second in angry frusration, "Ares, god of war. I should have recognized your handy work. Why did you save me. I should have died with my friend," whispered Xena flatly.
"Your destiny is with me. You'll love it Xena. As a god, I can travel through time and place as easily as a bird of prey circles on the winds. I can battle the greats. Believe me, mayhem and destruction sing the sweetest songs. Once at the battle of Themopylae, I fought with the Athenians against the Persian Immortals. Now there was a battle full of honour and victory! Later, I fought along side the Spartans and defeated the Athenians. And the Spartans worshiped me as their patron god! I left Sparta filled with victory and war lust and happened upon a beautiful woman. I formed myself into an image of her husband and had her. I'd forgotten, until I happened to find you defending your miserable home village. I knew then you had to be the seed of that coupling" smirked Ares. "You Xena, are not born to peace but war. I've trained you, raised you. You are the princess of the god-king of war. And now I am here to take you as my wife. Leave this dead mortal and ride to glory at my side. Join with me and take up your birthright as the demigod of war!" demanded Ares.
"You're my father! You're disgusting!" angrily responded Xena with revulsion. " If you weren't immortal I'd kill you for what you have done to my mother and I! But nothing matters anymore," whispered Xena closing her eyes again as she lay across Gabrielle.
Ares smiled cruelly, "Even the life of this weak mortal?" asked Ares softly.
Xena's head snapped up and her eyes were alert as they met Ares', "You can save her?"
Ares smiled and swaggered closer reaching out, he lifted Xena's hair from her shoulder and let it run through his fingers. Xena closed her eyes in disgust. "No, but you can. Accept me as your blood and partner. Promise to come with me and I'll give her back her life," bargained Ares. Xena stood and pulled back from Ares, stark revulsion written on her face. "Come Xena, why do you hesitate? I am offering you your friend's life and you the opportunity you really want deep inside. You are not meant for good. You are meant to feel the blood-lust and hear the cries of the enemy dying. You know the joy deep inside when you give your battle cry and attack." laughed Ares. He turned and looked at Gabrielle's body, "Here's your last chance to do good before leaving this mortal world. Accept me and save your friend's life."
Xena turned and looked out over the plain fighting with the conflicting forces within her. She turned and looked at Gabrielle's white, still face then up at Ares' arrogant smirk. She swallowed hard, "You promise?"
"My word," stated Ares folding his arms and waiting for Xena's surrender.
Xena squared her shoulders and tried to steady her quivering chin. "Father, I promise to take my place at your side," she said in a stony voice. "Save her!" she cried earnestly.
Ares smiled in victory and walked forward placing his hand on the back of Xena's neck. He pulled her forward and kissed her with passion. A shudder of disgust shot through Xena and she turned her head away, "I'll keep my word. Save her," Xena muttered.
Ares moved forward and touched the wound of Gabrielle. Immediately, the wound healed and Gabrielle breathed. "Xena," said a weak, confused voice, "I was dead." Gabrielle raised her hand and felt were she had been stabbed. No scar remained.
Xena rushed over and sat beside her friend. "Gabrielle," she smiled in relief.
"It's time to go. Keep your promise daughter!" snapped Ares moving forward and standing beside Xena.
"Ares!" cried Gabrielle in shock looking up at the blood soaked warrior. "Daughter? Xena what's going on here?!" questioned a confused Gabrielle in alarm struggling weakly to sit up.
She watched her friend shudder. Xena's lips were white with strain and a nerve jumped at her temple. "Ares gave you back your life," explained Xena. "I..I..It appears I am his daughter," Xena confessed with difficulty.
"She has promised to accept her birthright and ride with me into eternal war!" cried Ares in delight.
Gabrielle looked back and forth between Xena and Ares in shock. Then realization hit her," It was a bargain, wasn't it Xena?! Your life for mine! No! Xena, no!" cried the distressed Gabrielle.
"Come daughter, now," barked Ares taking Xena's arm. Xena pulled her arm free and took Gabrielle in her arms.
"Remember me," she begged of Gabrielle, "Remember me as good."
Gabrielle placed her hands on each side of Xena's face and looked into her eyes deeply. "Xena, you are honourable and good. I'll get you back from Ares. I'll come for you. You belong with me not him"
"Come," commanded the impatient Ares heading towards his chariot. Xena got up and backed towards the chariot still looking at Gabrielle.
"I love you Xena," whispered Gabrielle, "I'll get you back."
"Remember," called Xena as she mounted Ares chariot and disappeared into the stormy clouds.
The rolling thunder clouds dissipated and Gabrielle was left alone on the craggy plateau by the plain. What to do? Where to seek help? Gabrielle tried to organize her thoughts. Xena would tell her to be strong and to think practically. The first step was to save herself. She got up and headed back the way they had come. When she got to the scene of the battle her stomach rose into her mouth. The violence was unbelievable. Parts of bodies stiffened and bloated in the sun and the grass was caked with dried blood. Scavenger birds were already feeding on the dead. Gabrielle tried to stay focused on her task. She found their supply bag that Xena had drooped to the ground before the battle. Not far away was the sword that had taken Gabrielle's life and beside it the decapitated warrior. Gabrielle turned away and tightened her jaw. She knew before she had won Xena back, she was going to see and face a lot more. This was the moment in time that she had to prove that she was capable of being an equal partner for Xena. But the stacks were so very high, her friend's soul and happiness. Is this how Xena felt when the lives of others depended on her?
Gabrielle walked on for days then weeks. At each town, she would ask about the whereabouts of the King of Thieves, Autolycus. Some were willing enough to talk but most were hesitant to betray Autolycus to a stranger. It was only when she would tell them that she was Gabrielle sent by Xena that some would talk. Xena's name amongst the common people now drew respect where once people would have been afraid. She wished Xena could be there to see their reaction. She missed Xena terribly. Each day she used the skills that Xena had taught her to survive and each day she grew in confidence and determination.
At last near Athens, after miles of searching, Gabrielle learned that Autolycus was near by. She found him in a market place lifting a pouch from a fat and portly senator. Gabrielle watched his quick movement and saw him open the purse and toss the coins to the peasant children that stood near by. The rich old senator waddled on his way unaware that his purse no longer dangled from his belt! Autolycus bowed deeply at the retreating back of the Senator and the children laughed.
Gabrielle moved forward with a smile and tapped Autolycus on the shoulder, " You must show me that trick," she remarked taking Autolycus firmly by the arm.
Autolycus jumped in surprise and then seeing who it was smiled broadly. "Gabrielle! Good to see you. What brings you and Xena to the big city?"
Gabrielle's serious face sobered Autolycus. "We have to talk," stated Gabrielle pulling Autolycus towards a small tavern. Inside, they found a table in a quiet corner and ordered goat cheese and bread, beer for Autolycus and cider for Gabrielle. When they had been served, Gabrielle leaned forward and said, "Xena needs your help."
Autolycus scowled, "Whenever, Xena needs my help, I end up risking my neck for no good reward," he grumbled. "Tell Xena the answer is no."
Gabrielle reached over and grabbed Autolycus arm, fire danced in her eyes. "No, wont do. Xena has been captured and is in grave danger and I need your help in getting her back."
Autolycus looked shocked, "Xena isn't with you?!" he asked in surprise starting at last to take Gabrielle seriously. Gabrielle shook her head and tears threatened to overflow. She blinked them back as Autolycus watched. "I know I am going to regret this to my dying day," Autolycus muttered, "Tell me what has happened and I'll do what I can to help Xena," he promised.
Gabrielle told all she knew about the battle and Xena's promise to Ares in order to get Gabrielle's life back. Autolycus sat and listened intensely his eyes getting bigger as Gabrielle revealed the story. "Ares is her father!?" he yelled in surprise and Gabrielle hushed him. The two looked around to see if anyone had heard his out burst but no one seemed close enough or interested in their business.
"I am not giving Xena up, Autolycus. There is more than just friendship involved here. I don't know how to express it..."
Autolycus looked uncomfortable and held up his hand. "I owe Xena this, do you have a plan?"
Gabrielle explained what she had worked out over the last weeks as she had searched. And Autolycus' mouth dropped open in disbelief. "Let me get this straight," he said leaning forward and looking at Gabrielle as if she was crazy. "You want me to help you scale the vertical walls of Mount Olympus and then break into the Palace of the Gods. Then you'll find Xena, who is now living with the Immortals and is most likely the Queen of the god Ares not to mention his daughter. Next you'll convince her that being a poor wandering mortal is more fun than living with the gods. Then I help the two of you to escape from Mount Olympus while all the gods hunt for us in rage," finished Autolycus with a good deal of sarcasm. Gabrielle nodded seriously. "Are you crazy!?" asked Autolycus leaning back in his seat and folding his arms in frustration. "I am not doing it! It's suicide! Even if I was good enough to break into the home of the gods themselves, do you think Ares is going to sit back and let you take his wife!? What if he comes after her?" Autolycus asked practically.
"Then I'll defeat him," said Gabrielle calmly. Autolycus looked at Gabrielle in surprise. What he saw was a woman of incredible determination and strength. He had never noticed how alike Gabrielle and Xena were. For a second, the two stared at each other weighing each other up then Autolycus nodded and Gabrielle smiled.
"We will need supplies," organized Autolycus getting up and throwing a few coins on the table, "Come on, while Xena is not around to protect your innocence, I'll teach you a few things about the theiving trade." Gabrielle hurried behind Autolycus to a store near a small quarry. " We can get ropes and cleats here that we will need for our climb. Nortus fancies himself quite the ladies man. You keep him busy and I'll lift the goods. Gabrielle looked like she was going to object and then she stopped and set her jaw. She reached down and tore her skirt so that it was seductively short and then reached up to loosen her top to reveal more of her bosom. Autolycus looked on with interest and surprise, "You sure are different when Xena's not around," he noted.
Gabrielle gave him a withering look, " Whatever it takes to get Xena back," she said and turned to head into the store with a very sexy walk. Autolycus followed her with his eyes in amazment, bending around the pole he hid behind so far in watching her that he almost went on his nose. He waited a few minutes and entered the store. Gabrielle and Nortus could be heard in the back. By the soft moans and giggles, Gabrielle was doing a pretty good job! Xena was going to kill him when she found out!
Autolycus quickly collected the rope, pins and cleats that they would be needing for their climb. Suddenly, there was a sharp crack from the back room and Gabrielle came out straightening her clothes. "You O.K.?" asked Autolycus looking at Gabrielle in worry.
Gabrielle tightened her hand on her fighting staff, "My staff was bigger than his," she noted as she helped Autolycus pick up the coiled length of ropes.
"You are very different when Xena's not around!" observed Autolycus with a raise of his eyebrows as he followed an intense Gabrielle out of the store.
For weeks they traveled north getting closer and closer to Mount Olympus. At its base Gabrielle looked up at the soaring heights that disappeared in the clouds. Her head whirled and her stomach turned over. Autolycus came up and stood beside her, "The first half of the climb will be steep but not impossible. The second half is sheer sided and then the going will get rough. Luckily, all we have to do after that is break into the palace of the gods!" he remarked with a shrug.
Gabrielle gave a short, grim smile, "Lets go," she said and shouldered a heavy load of ropes and started up the hillside. The climb was indeed difficult. As they got higher the sides became steeper and the trails fewer and narrower. The cold too became a factor as they climbed higher. They dared not light a fire that evening, even if they could have found something to burn, as it might attract the attention of the gods. Their camp was little more than a narrow shelf and towering above them was the sheer sides of the peak of Mount Olympus. They talked little. They were too exhausted from their climb and there was little to say. They both knew that they were on a fool's mission to save someone they both cared about very much. By this time tomorrow, they could be facing the ugly wrath of the gods. Gabrielle reached over and touched Autolycus' arm, "Thanks," she said sincerely.
Autolycus shrugged, "Xena would do it for me," he observed lightly. The two climbers bedded down close together for warmth and slept.
The next morning Autolycus showed Gabrielle how they would set the pins in the rock and attach the cleats to pull themselves up hand over hand. Gabrielle looked down and then up, "What if one of the pins gives?" she asked weakly trying to control her fears.
Autolycus just shrugged and hammered the first of the pins into the rock of the mountain of the gods. All day they climbed until their muscles screamed in pain and their hands were torn to bits from the ropes. Gabrielle was near exhaustion from climbing and fighting her fear of heights. Near evening, Autolycus finally reached down and hauled Gabrielle to the rocky summit. There before them stood the glistening palace of the twelve immortals on a foundation of clouds.
"I'm going to scout around and find a way in for you," said Autolycus, "You stay hidden," he warned. Gabrielle nodded and Autolycus disappeared into the clouds to do the second part of his job. Gabrielle found a good place to hide between some rocks and saw to her blistered and bleeding hands that shook violently from the release of tension. I'm here Xena. Just like I promised. I'm here and nothing is going to stop me from getting you back!
It was a long time before Autolycus returned. The sun was almost set on the second day of their arrival and Gabrielle was preparing to go look for him. "Gabrielle?" he whispered looking around.
"Over here," she responded with relief and Autolycus slipped between the rocks to join Gabrielle.
"Child's play," bragged Autolycus with a huge smile, " Anyone with incredible talent, nerves of steel and remarkable intelligence, not to mention dexterity could have done it!" Gabrielle looked at him with a stony face and Autolycus blushed. "O.K. I've been all this time finding a side door and when I did it was unlocked," confessed Autolycus.
Gabrielle smiled, "Take me to it," she requested but Autolycus shook his head.
"First you need to know that time stands still when you are in the palace. Second, I've made this map of the interior." Gabrielle looked at him in surprise and he gave her a smile and a wink. He took a flattened parchment from inside his shirt and unfolded it for Gabrielle to see. "As you know the Twelve Immortal Olympians are all related by blood or marriage to Zeus. They live with him in this palace so it is pretty crowded inside and you will have to be careful. Use the skills that Xena and I have taught you and slip like a thief in the night through the palace." Gabrielle nodded, looking from the map to Autolycus' serious face and back to the map. " The southern side of the palace over looks the great Greek cities of Athens, Sparta, Thebes and others. This area is where the god-king Zeus lives with his wife Hera. Don't go anywhere near here!" warned Autolycus. "To the north, over looking Macedonia are the Great Council Hall, banquet rooms, work areas and servant quarters. There are a lot of comings and goings from this area and it too should be avoided. Joining these two large square areas is a west and east wing that encloses a huge courtyard. These wings house the private chambers of the other ten gods including Ares." explained Autolycus as Gabrielle bit her lip in concentration. " The side door I found is here," he revealed pointing to the map again. " It will bring you into the back area of the Great Hall. Once there, work your way north to the open square and then move along the west wing of apartments. The god of war should have his rooms along this side, although I am not sure about this. That's about all I can tell you Gabrielle," sighed Autolycus folding up his map, "Accept be careful."
Gabrielle hugged him, "It's time for me to go. Thank you." Autolycus nodded and the two conspirators against the gods disappeared into the mist. At the door, Gabrielle said goodbye to Autolycus even though he had been willing to go on, "This is a job only I have Xena's trust to do," Gabrielle explained. "If I don't return within a day then leave without me." Autolycus nodded and Gabrielle slipped into the great palace of Zeus.
Time seemed to stand still inside the huge palace. Gods came and went pursuing their pleasures and jealousies. Yet nothing really changed as all things were woven by the Fates into a web of eternity. Gabrielle slipped quietly along the marble walls using the techniques that Xena had taught her in scouting and the few tricks of deception that Autolycus had explained at night around their campfire on the trek to Mount Olympus. She thought she would be afraid but inside she found that with each step she became stronger and more confident. Whatever the outcome, Gabrielle knew she was meant to be with Xena, that somehow this was her destiny.
Inside the Great Hall, she slipped silently from shadow to shadow, keeping behind the great marble pillars that supported the roof. The Hall was empty accept for the polished black throne of Zeus that rose like a mountain at one end of the hall. Inlaid in its surface were intricate patterns of gold and the seven steps leading to it were the coloured bands of the rainbow. On the right arm of the throne sat the famous golden eagle. It's eyes shone a brilliant red and in it's beak it carried tin thunderbolts, the symbol of Zeus' power over all. On the seat was the purple ram's skin that Zeus would wear when he chose to bring rain to an area of drought. Gabrielle's eyes were wide and round with awe. This was where legends started and as a Bard she wished to remember every detail of a world that mortals never saw. But her duty was to Xena and she moved on up the Great Council Hall until she reached the open courtyard. Now she had to be especially careful. Gods and servants moved about with casual ease.
Slowly and carefully, Gabrielle moved along the western wing searching carefully for the whereabouts of her friend. It was Ares himself slamming from a room in fury that finally indicated to Gabrielle were Xena could be found. She slipped into the room as softly as a draft on summer air and stopped. It was a plain room compared to the beauty that she had seen in her search, a soldier's room. Armour and weaponry hung on the walls and by the far wall was a large oak bed. Xena lay face down on this bed asleep. Her shoulders were bare above the sheets and her hair was loose and covered her face. Gabrielle rushed forward and crawled up on the big bed. "Xena! Xena! I'm here!" she whispered earnestly but Xena gave no response.
Concern filled Gabrielle's face and she softly reached out and turned her friend over. A gasp of horror escaped her lips before she could stifle the shock with her hand. Xena's pillow was wet with blood, she had been abused. A nasty gash over her eye weeped, her eyes were black and her lip was swollen and cut. Gabrielle swallowed her anger and slipped off the bed to get water and towels from a near by stand. She wet the towel and started to clean and dress Xena's wounds. As she worked on her friend, Xena gradually regained consciousness but in her eyes Gabrielle could see no recognition. Gabrielle talked softly to her friend as she worked. "It's alright, I'm here now. I'll tend to your wounds and then we'll have to leave."
Suddenly, Xena's arm shot out and grabbed Gabrielle by the throat flipping her over Xena and onto her back on the bed. Xena had a blade to her throat before she could even blink. "Spy!" Xena growled, her face distorted with rage only inches from Gabrielle startled features.
Gabrielle reached up and placed her hand over Xena's as it clutched the knife, "I remember you," she whispered softly, "You are honourable and good. You are so much more than friend and family to me. I remember your goodness, as I promised I would. For a second, Xena didn't react. Then Gabrielle felt Xena's hand slowly relax on the knife. Gabrielle took the blade from Xena's hand and slipped it back under the pillow.
"Gabrielle?" asked a bewildered Xena sitting up. Gabrielle nodded with a smile and got up on her knees to wrapped her arms around her friend.
Autolycus waited the day and then another. He was just to the point were he planned to follow after Gabrielle when he heard the slow laboured steps of people coming. He stepped back into the shadows of the rocks and then stepped forward to help as out of the mist appeared Gabrielle, staggering under the weight of Xena who leaned heavily on her. "By the gods! What happened to her?" asked Autolycus in shock seeing Xena for the first time.
"What do you think!?" snapped Gabrielle giving Autolycus a dirty look. Autolycus blushed and looked on awkwardly as Gabrielle lowered her friend to the ground. Xena was badly battered and had lost a lot of weight. Her eyes stared up at him with a dead expression. He hardly recognized her as the same person. Gabrielle was shaking with rage and exertion as she offered Xena water to drink. The water ran off Xena's closed lips and Gabrielle sobbed in frustration.
"Here let me," said Autolycus kneeling beside Xena and taking a cloth he wet it. He parted Xena's lips with the soft material and let the water from it drip down her throat. Then he looked at Gabrielle who looked all in. He put his arm around her and she buried her head against his shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably. Soon they had to move on before the night ended and Ares discovered his prize gone. Between them, they helped Xena along. Xena didn't talk. It seemed to take everything she had just to stumble along.
They edged along the narrow shelf and then leaned Xena against the walls while they prepared the ropes to lower her down off the sheer sides of the mountain. Suddenly, Xena leaned forward and tumbled over the edge. Gabrielle stifled a scream but the ever alert and quick Autolycus grabbed Xena's arm and held on. Below Xena swung over open space. "Take my arm!" Autolycus groaned, "Take my arm. I can't pull you up without more support," he puffed. But Xena shook her head.
"Let me go, Autolycus, its better this way. I don't want to be the daughter and partner of the god of war!" groaned Xena .
"No!" yelled Gabrielle and slipped over the side so that she hung from her fingertips from the cliff's edge, "If you let go, so will I," stated Gabrielle looking into the eyes of Xena and trying not to look down. For a moment the two of them hung there. Then for the first time, Gabrielle saw the old spark of fire in Xena's eyes. With a cry of effort, Xena reached up and grabbed Autolycus' arm and he pulled her back onto the ledge. Then he reached down and pulled Gabrielle up to sit beside Xena.
Xena's hand shot out and took Gabrielle be the throat, "Don't you ever, ever do anything like that again!" she snarled angrily.
Gabrielle batted Xena's hand away from her throat looking her friend in the face, "I won’t need to because now you know that Ares no longer has a hold of you! I do. You are mine," growled Gabrielle, her anger a release from her terrifying fear of heights. Xena looked at her in confusion and Autolycus looked embarrassed and starred out into the skies. Xena nodded her understanding and Gabrielle smiled and turned to Autolycus, "Lets get a rope on her and get off this mountain."
Together they were able to lower the exhausted Xena down between them. When they were down off the pinnacle they found a ledge to hide under to rest for they feared that Ares might already have the gods out looking for his daughter. Autolycus lightly slept by the entrance and Gabrielle curled up by her friend. Hours went by and when Gabrielle finally did wake she found Xena looking down at her. "Thanks," Xena said with a smile. Gabrielle sat up and grinned.
"Hey, that's what friends are for," she responded and took out some ointment to put on Xena's gashes. Xena lay still while Gabrielle attended her. "I missed you. The world needs you Xena. You've got to come back with me." she explained.
Xena touched Gabrielle's arm. Her eyes were filled with sorrow. "Don't you know I want to with all my heart! I just don't think I can really escape. He'll come after me," stated Xena sadly.
"Yes," agreed Gabrielle, "He will. Ares and I have to settle this. You can belong to only one of us and its going to be me," stated Gabrielle as she worked on cleaning Xena's cuts.
Xena shook her head. "Gabrielle you are not a warrior. Even if you were, no mortal could defeat the god of war, even I couldn't. Please, I'm not worth your dying for," begged Xena in fear.
"I don't know all the pieces of this journey that you and I have started on. But I do know that it is vital to the world that we go on. Sometimes Xena," explained Gabrielle sitting back against the wall and staring out at the sky, "I can almost hear the answer on the wind but it always alludes me." She looked back at Xena who looked at her friend in surprise, "You can't protect me forever, Xena. You have taught me well and now its time for me to take my place at your side. I will defeat Ares," she promised leaning forward to brush a piece of stray hair from Xena's eye, "And you will be with me again."
Autolycus stepped in, "It's almost time to head off again," he said. Gabrielle nodded and Xena sighed staggering to her feet once more with all the energy she could muster. For days they traveled as fugitives. Keeping to the shadows and travelling at night. Finally, Xena could go on no more. Autolycus found an abandoned shepherd's hut and Gabrielle made a bed for her friend who kept lapsing into an exhausted sleep. "I'll go on ahead and get Xena's horse, Argo and some supplies. To the west are caves that we can hide in until Xena is well," explained Autolycus.
Gabrielle nodded her agreement and the two stepped outside to say goodbye. "I can't thank you enough," stated Gabrielle.
Autolycus shrugged. "There is a power at work here that I feel but don't understand. Somehow I think my path will always be crossing yours," sighed the thief looking down at Gabrielle, "And I just know it's going to mean lots of trouble and no gold!" he smiled. Gabrielle gave him a hug and he started off. It's good you are going, thought Gabrielle, Ares and I have an appointment with the Fates.
Turning to reenter the hut, she found Xena awake and looking alert for the first time. Gabrielle smiled and filled a bowl with stew to feed her weak friend. "Autolycus has left to get Argo and more supplies," Gabrielle informed Xena. " He said to tell you that you owe him another favour," she stated with a smile coming over and sitting on the edge of Xena's bed and raising a spoonful of weak stew to Xena's lips. Xena swallowed the stew and then covered Gabrielle's hand with her own. For a second, the two friends looked into each other's eyes. Xena opened her mouth to speak when a flash revealed the form of the war-god Ares.
He stood fearless and dark with his hands on his hips, "You belong to me, Xena!" cried Ares, "Come!"
Xena seemed to fall under some sort of spell and slowly tried to get up, "Father," she mumbled staring at Ares with blank eyes.
But Gabrielle leapt to her feet and grabbed her staff, "No!" she yelled turning to push Xena back onto the bed, "No. You are my soul partner. You belong to me!" roared Gabrielle in fury and turned on Ares raising her weapon.
"No!" cried Xena in fear, "Please Gabrielle," begged Xena trying to get up.
But Gabrielle pushed her back again. "This battle has to be between Ares and I, otherwise you will never be free. Stay back, Xena," snarled Gabrielle. Ares laughed and swung his sword at Gabrielle but Gabrielle came at him with a blood curdling cry and ducked under his blade to bring her staff up sharply catching him on his beast bone. Ares staggered back and then renewed the attack trading blows with Gabrielle in a wild, vicious battle. Finally, Ares saw his chance and knocked the feet out from under Gabrielle. She went down hard dropping her staff and Ares smiled and raised his sword for the death blow. But as Ares sword reached Gabrielle's face in it's forceful swing, Xena lunged from her bed, sword in hand. Their blades met with a crash above Gabrielle's face.
White with effort and near collapse, Xena groaned, "Hurry Gabrielle, get out of the way. I can't hold him!" Gabrielle rolled and leapt to her feet in a single movement. She looked around madly for her staff as Ares wheeled on her once again. Just in time, she saw her weapon on the floor and rolled to get it as Ares swung. Once again, Ares sword failed to meet it's target and Ares roared in rage. Gabrielle swallowed and raised her staff ready to battle to the death when suddenly with a rumble of thunder, Gabrielle's staff bent into the shape of a lightening bolt and glowed with power.
Zeus!" whispered Gabrielle in wonder and then seizing the opportunity she had been given, she set her jaw and charged forward in attack with a blood thirsty cry. She smashed Ares sword from his hand with a forward stroke of power and then with the back stroke caught Ares under the chin with an incredible force that sent him flying. Gabrielle advanced on his prone form with her glowing staff ready and fire burning in her eyes. She raised her staff for a killing blow to Ares' throat.
"Say it! Say that Xena belongs to me!" she commanded panting with rage. "Say it or die!" she bellowed raising her staff of power higher over her head.
Ares swallowed bile and grudgingly snarled, "She is yours and may Hades have the two of you." Then he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Gabrielle spun and marched over to where a stunned Xena still lay on the floor. Kneeling down beside her friend she grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "You belong to me! Say it!" she snarled in anger.
Xena looked into her friend's eyes and then wrapped her arms around her, burying her face in Gabrielle's hair. "You are my home. I belong with you," she said and the two friends hugged each other close.
"So, you defeated my son," came a deep voice from behind them and they turned in surprise to see Zeus looking down at them from his mighty throne. Gabrielle rose to her feet and took up her staff once more. She reached down and helped Xena to stand. "And will you now strike me with my own thunderbolt?" asked Zeus looking at Gabrielle with an amazed expression.
"I have no fight with you, Zeus. Your help turned the tide in my battle with Ares. But I will fight any who feel that Xena belongs to Ares," proclaimed Gabrielle with determination.
Zeus smiled and leaned forward, placing his arms on his knees, "Ares is my least favourite child. Yet still my own. And he is also father of my granddaughter, Xena. I would not let Ares kill you. You had the courage and heart to win if the odds were made even. You won fairly."
"Then I'll return this to you," stated Gabrielle, handing the thunderbolt back to Zeus. Zeus took the weapon with a nod and turned it back into a wooden staff and set it aside. Then he turned to look at Xena.
"I think that we should hear from this one; Xena, demigod, daughter of Ares, granddaughter of Zeus, and Warrior Princess."
" Demigod!" exclaimed Gabrielle under her breath looking up at her friend in surprise, "We have to talk!"
"You have, Xena," continued Zeus after a sharp look at Gabrielle, "Awakened powers within you that you can never put to rest. You have always felt the lust of war in your blood but now you will have to control your god-blood. Your patience will be much shorter and your powers will grow much greater. You have lived with the gods Immortal. Do you really wish to stay amongst these weak mortals? Can you stay and control the forces of war within you?"
For a second, Xena stood silent. Gabrielle looked up at her in fear and confusion. Had she fought the battle of her life for nothing? Would Xena choose to live with the gods after all? "Xena's soul is kind and good. She might be the daughter of a war god, but her soul is human and kind," interjected Gabrielle taking Xena's hand.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle and smiled, then she turned to Zeus, "I belong here. My journey is with Gabrielle," she said firmly.
Zeus smiled knowingly and nodded his head, "Yes, it is so. You two were meant to be as one." With his finger he pointed to an Amazon feather that hung from Gabrielle's skirt. Immediately, it gave up a small ghostly image of itself that floated towards Zeus. Then Zeus pointed to Xena's chakram that lay by her bed and an image of it too floated towards the mighty Zeus. He caught both in his hands and then spread his hands towards the two women.
Around their necks appeared gold medallions on chains. Each was a feather within the circle of a chakram. "You are indeed soul partners and will be for eternity. Xena, demigod and granddaughter, Gabrielle, Warrior Bard of Olympus, go and do your deeds of good. This world of mortals will need the likes of you. For now, this is enough," concluded the god of the heavens and with a rush of wind and a thunderclap Zeus was gone.
Xena knees gave out and Gabrielle grabbed her and helped her over to lie on the bed. Xena looked up at Gabrielle. "You've grown," she observed. Gabrielle nodded. Xena smiled and raised one eyebrow, "Warrior Bard of Olympus?" she mocked, "We've got to talk!"
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