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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
SPECIFIC STORY DISCLAIMER:
The story itself is about two women who are madly in love, and there will be some scenes depicting that love. There will, however, be NO explicit sex in this story! I figure you all would rather use your imagination for that stuff.
By the way, this is my first attempt at fan fiction, so please let me know what you think by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org Constructive criticism only! All other kinds will make me cry...
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THE DARKLING - PART THREE
By Lynne Knowlton
"Not bad." Xena stood back and watched as the bard finished construction of a crude travois.
"I've got many skills, too, you know." Gabrielle replied. "Besides, you didn't think I was going to let you literally drag her to Amphipolis, did you? And, you could have at least helped me put this thing together. "
Xena scowled and doubled checked the packs draped across Argo. "My way was better." She looked up at the sun and sighed. It was going to be a hot, dry day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and no wind to speak of. She was in a foul mood and she was absolutely certain it would only get worse. She glanced at Callisto, who was still lying on the ground, with her hands bound. Xena sighed again and walked to the sleeping woman. She reached down and roughly grabbed the bound wrists and pulled Callisto across her shoulder. She carried the sleeping woman to the travois and dropped her unceremoniously onto the blankets, which covered the rough wood.
"Lets go." The warrior took Argo's reigns and walked toward the dry. dusty road without so much as a backward glance at Gabrielle.
The bard looked hurt as she picked up her staff and turned to follow. She caught up to Xena and placed a hand on the warrior's arm. "Are you mad at me?" She asked.
"Then what's the matter?"
Xena jerked her head in Callisto's direction. "Her."
Gabrielle sighed and fell silent. More than anyone in the world, she understood Xena's anger. She had witnessed the death of her husband at Callisto's hands. She recalled the overwhelming blackness that covered her heart and how she wanted nothing more than to gut the woman who had caused such pain. She recalled how she tried to goad Xena into showing her how to handle a sword and how Xena had refused. She recalled that for a time, their roles had been reversed. The bard was the one who was consumed with vengeance, and the warrior was the one who tried to make her see that violence wasn't the answer. She refused to see just how deeply her need for revenge had affected the Warrior Princess...until that night in the glade. The rage wouldn't allow her to sleep so she decided to prowl the night. She had thought to use that time daydreaming about the exact moment Callisto would die at her hands. As she was thinking, she heard a low murmur just in front of her. She quietly pressed forward until she saw Xena, kneeling, and praying to the Gods. The bard's breath caught in her throat as she realized the source of the warrior's distress was her, Gabrielle's, own soul. At that moment, she realized just how much she had surrendered to the dark side she thought could never exist within her. Her eyes filled with tears as she listened to the warrior's heartbroken plea to the Gods to save not only Gabrielle, but by extension, herself. She made the decision then, that she would not kill Callisto. The Gods would judge her, and it was not her place to do so.
The bard wondered if Xena knew just how important she was; how much she was needed; how much she was...loved. She tried to tell Xena on so many occasions, but she never felt that the warrior truly believed it. Gabrielle had never felt such a fierce love for anything or anyone and couldn't imagine her life without the Warrior Princess. She decided long ago that she would spend the rest of her days convincing Xena that she was worthy of that love.
The bard wiped the sweat from her brow and wished for at least the slightest hint of a breeze. "Xena."
The warrior continued to walk, oblivious to the bard. She fumed silently at the situation forced upon her now. She knew that Gabrielle felt they were "doing the right thing" by caring for Callisto, and bringing her to Amphipolis to be tried. The logical part of her psyche, however, was having difficulty reconciling that with her growing need to just kill her and be done with it. It was times such as these when she was forced to wrestle with that dark part of her soul, which she kept such a tenuous control over. It was times such as these when she needed Gabrielle; needed her goodness and light. She knew it wasn't easy for the bard to put aside the anguish and she often wondered how much pain Gabrielle could absorb before she collapsed under it's weight. Not only did her friend look for what was good and right in all people, she looked for what was good and right in her. There was a time when Xena felt she was beyond redemption, but Gabrielle's love and patience was slowly helping her to see that perhaps she wasn't headed for Tartarus after all.
Although Xena's conscious mind refused to admit it, buried deep inside her was the knowledge that Gabrielle truly was the light, and love, of her life. Even still, she didn't want to entertain the possibility that her love for the bard went beyond their one-of-a-kind friendship. She couldnt allow herself to see it, because she was afraid. Everything she loved had either died or left her. She couldn't bear to open herself to that kind of hurt again, especially after Thessaly.
"Xena." Gabrielle called out in a louder voice. She caught up to the warrior and placed a hand on her forearm. Xena turned to look at her friend.
"What is it, Gabrielle?"
"It's midday and we need to stop. Callisto needs water." The bard replied and sighed, again wiping the sweat from her brow. "Gods. This heat is unbearable!"
Xena squinted her eyes against the bright sun and turned to lead Argo from the dusty road. "You're right. There's a small creek that runs along this path from the lake. There should be a little shade there as well." She gave her friend a wry half-smile. "Besides, I'm sure you must be starving by now."
Gabrielle grinned up at her tall friend. "Well, now that you mention it..."
Callisto fought her way back into the waking world. "Gods, my face hurts! I should just stay unconscious..." She tried to sit up, but found herself still tied down. "Son of a Bacchae!" she mumbled under her breath. She opened her swollen eyes and tried to figure out where she was.
The battered woman was able to lift her head a little to get a better view. She was lying on a rough travois next to a small creek. She looked straight up and was grateful that they had the decency to park her under a leafy elm. At least it kept most of the sun off of her pale skin. She was securely tied to the contraption and knowing Xena, she figured it would be a waste of time to try and free herself. Not that she could get very far in her state. She couldn't see Xena or the strawberry-blonde anywhere in sight.
"Oh, you're awake!" Gabrielle leaned over to make eye contact with Callisto. "Are you hungry? Here, I've got some water." She knelt down and began to untie the slim, blonde woman.
"What are you doing?" Xena growled from her vantagepoint near the fire.
Gabrielle turned her head to reply. "Xena, she's no threat in this condition. The least we could do is untie her so she can eat."
Xena stalked to the travois and glared down at Callisto. "You're lucky Gabrielle has such a kind heart, Callisto. If you even think about trying anything..."
Callisto snorted. "I've heard your threats before, Xena, so save your breath." She looked at the bard. "So. Gabrielle, is it? Maybe you can help me understand some things. We all know just how much Xena looooves to talk. "
Gabrielle shot a confused look at the warrior, who shrugged her shoulders. Xena turned on her heel and walked back toward the fire. She sat facing the two women and began to sharpen her sword, never taking her eyes off of Callisto.
The bard untied the bruised, woman and helped her to sit up. She slid around behind Callisto and gently supported the woman in a reclining position. She held the waterskin to the slim woman's lips and watched quietly as the water was drained in record time.
"Thanks." Callisto gasped, wiping the back of one hand across her mouth. "Gods. I had no idea I was so thirsty." She tried to turn her head to look at the bard, but her battered body wouldnt allow it. "Tell me, Gabrielle. Why do you stay with her?"
Gabrielle looked down at the woman and her heart ached for her. As compassionate as she felt about Callisto and her injuries, the bard had to remember that this was a cold-blooded murderer. "You answer some questions first." She countered.
"Fair enough." Callisto responded, laughing softly.
"What's so funny?"
"Ohhhh, I was just thinking about how fast things change. In the space of two days, I was free and leading an army of revolutionaries; then I was captured by Xena and thrown into a stinking dungeon; then I was getting my face beaten in, which by the way did not make my day; then I was throwing myself into some kind of...I don't know what. And now...now Xena once again captures me. The only thing missing is the dungeon and the face-beating thing."
As Callisto was relaying the events of her past two days, the look on Gabrielle's face changed from impassivity to horror to disbelief. "Oh yeah. She's gone...no doubt about it."
"Uh, that...that's certainly an interesting story." Gabrielle gently patted Callisto on one shoulder. "Here. Have some fish. "
Callisto took one whiff of the cooked trout and nearly vomited. "No...no. I think I'll pass, thanks." She closed her eyes and willed her stomach to stop churning.
Gabrielle looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry. I know fish is probably the last thing you want to eat right now. I'll make some broth when we break for camp tonight. " She extricated herself from behind the nauseated woman and gently laid her back onto the blankets. "Hold on. I'll at least get you some more fresh water." She picked up the empty skin and headed back toward the creek.
Xena reached for Gabrielle's hand as the bard passed her by. "What was that all about?" She asked.
The bard shrugged. "I have no idea. I think youre right. Her head injury must be making her delusional." She gave Xena's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm going to get her some more water." She paused for a moment. "Xena...?"
"Can we...? Do you mind...?" Gabrielle sighed in frustration. "I'd like to leave her untied." "There! It's out!" she said to herself as she watched Xena's reaction to her request. "Please Xena. She's in no condition to try anything, believe me. She's in enough pain as it is, and the thought of tying her up...well...it really bothers me."
Xena's eyebrow rose as she gave her friend the trademark half-smile. "I guess it can't hurt." She took Gabrielle's face in her hands and kissed the bard on her forehead. "You know the condition, though."
The bard grinned up at her friend and hugged her tight. "I know, I know!" In a rough imitation of Xena's most menacing voice, she cited, "If she so much as thinks about...!" She laughed as Xena suddenly squeezed her around the middle.
Xena leveled her best 'look' on the bard and raised an eyebrow. "Just remember what I said, Gabrielle."
The bard laughed again. "You know that look doesn't work on me anymore." She smiled and looked into Xena's sky-blue eyes, seeing unconditional love reflected back at her. Her heart skipped a beat and she cleared her throat as a flush began creeping up her neck. "Well, I guess I'd better see to our 'guest'."
Gabrielle released herself from Xena's hold and dipped the waterskin into the ice-cold creek. She took a little extra time to cup some water in her hands and splash her face. "Wow. I wonder what just happened there? Could she...? Do you think maybe..?" She sighed as she pushed the incredible thought from her head. "I'm crazy to even think it." The bard carried the skin over to Callisto, who appeared to be sleeping again.
She carefully placed the skin next to a limp hand when she was startled by a quiet voice. "Hey." Callisto opened one eye and looked at the young bard. "I thought we were going to answer some questions for each other?"
Gabrielle smiled and gently patted the injured woman's shoulder. "Maybe later. When we camp for the night. Right now you need your rest, OK?"
Callisto sighed and returned the smile. "Thanks. Gabrielle? Just one question?"
"Why are you being so kind to me?"
Callisto closed her eyes and fell back into sleep before the bard could answer. Gabrielle asked herself that same question. Why was she being so kind to the person who murdered her husband? Part of it, she knew, was just in her nature to care for people. The other, more bothersome part, was the niggling feeling that something was very, very different about Callisto. She realized that Callisto could be playing some elaborate mind-game. She knew better than anyone how the woman excelled at mental torture. Even so, there was something about the injured woman that just didn't fit.
They had resumed their trek toward Amphipolis and had been on the road for at least three hours. Xena found it odd that in those three hours, Gabrielle had hardly spoken a word. She was used to her friend commenting on every flower, tree, or cloud formation she ran across. She laughed to herself as she thought of how annoying all that chatter was when the bard first came into her life. Now that the bard was silent, she realized how much she missed the idle commentary. She also realized that there was something bothering Gabrielle and she suspected Callisto was at the heart of it.
"Alright Gabrielle, talk to me."
The bard took a deep breath. "It won't matter what I say, Xena. You wouldn't believe me anyway."
Xena stopped in the middle of the road and took her friend by the arm. She locked eyes with the bard and placed a gentle hand on one cheek. "Listen Gabrielle. I may not agree with you, but I'm always interested in your opinions."
Gabrielle turned her head and looked up at the warrior. "Really?" She shyly asked.
"Really." Xena responded with a gentle smile at her friend and resumed walking.
"Ok!" Gabrielle caught up to the warrior with a little skip, which earned her a smile and a raised eyebrow. "This is what I've been thinking. There's just too much about this whole thing to make me believe that Callisto is delusional. I thought that at first, but now I'm not so sure. Ok, first of all, I think we both have to agree that she is completely different from the Callisto we both know and...well...can't stand. I mean, she's actually nice. And it doesn't seem like that fake niceness she uses when she's in one of her manic moods. And another thing! She said that she lead an Army of 'revolutionaries'. And she said it in a way that made me believe that she was fighting for something besides dismembered bodies and burned-out villages. She...and I know this is going to sound completely insane...she just doesn't seem like 'our' Callisto."
Xena listened to her friend and the one thing she could agree on was the fact that Callisto did seem different somehow. That could still be a by-product of her head injury. She had seen those kinds of injuries cause a complete personality change. The rest sounded too far-fetched to be believable.
"Well?" Gabrielle asked, half holding her breath. "What are you thinking?"
When Xena didn't respond, she stopped and held one hand up, palm facing outward. "Nevermind. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'm as insane as Callisto. No...no...you don't have to say it!"
Xena chuckled and grabbed Gabrielle's outstretched hand. "I have to admit that your...impressions...are somewhat...shall we say...'out there'." She pulled the bard close and encircled her shoulders with one long arm. "I will agree, however, that Callisto does seem...different. And as for the rest, let's just say I'll reserve judgement on that."
Gabrielle laughed a little and gave her friend a little squeeze. "Well, I'm glad you listened anyway. " She brightened a little and her eyes widened. "Ok, now this is the plan."
Xena looked down at the enthused bard. "You have a plan?"
Gabrielle nodded with a smile. "What kind of partner would I be if you were the one who came up with all the plans?"
Xena raised an eyebrow. "I am the one who comes up with all the plans." She responded with a wry smile.
Gabrielle crinkled her eyebrows. "Ok. Maybe you do come up with all the plans. But...but those are battle kind of plans. You've never come up with a people kind of plan before...and that's where I come in!" She smiled brightly.
"Ok, I'm listening."
"Well..." The bard took a deep breath. "It's obvious that she hates your guts." She winced and smiled apologetically at the warrior. "Sorry. Anywise, she hates your guts, but for some reason, she likes me. I think I can use that to our advantage. You know...bond with her...pump her for information...that kind of thing. If she's really 'our' Callisto, we'll know, and we'll be able to let justice take its course. If she isn't 'our' Callisto...although I'm not quite sure how that could be...we might be able to do some good here."
Xena smiled. "Yeah. I like it. I stay away from her, she stays away from me, and you get to do what you like...which is...TALK!" Xena grinned at her somewhat annoyed friend.
"That's what bards do, you know. Talk. We wouldn't be bards if we..." Realization dawned on the bard and gave her friend a playful backslap on the gut. "Stop teasing me!"
The three women were situated around the fire; Xena on one side, Callisto and Gabrielle on the other. A pot of broth was simmering over the flames and the aroma was beginning to assail the nostrils of everyone present.
"I get it. They plan to torture me to death in one of two ways. Either they kill me with the horrible stench of that mess over the fire. Or, they kill me by having that bard talk me to oblivion." The injured woman grumbled as she tried to make herself more comfortable. "Gabrielle. I hate to tell you this, but if I hear one more story about how wonderful and good Xena is, I'm afraid I'll have to vomit in your lap."
"Ah, I know I can get a little carried away. Sorry." Gabrielle patted Callisto's arm walked to the pot of broth. "Let me just get you something to eat. I'm sure you'll feel better." The bard grabbed a wooden bowl and scooped some herb broth into it. She carefully carried it to the injured woman and handed it over. "Here. I think you're strong enough to feed yourself."
Callisto accepted the bowl, but immediately placed it on the ground next to her. "Thanks, but I'm not hungry." She tried to close her eyes, but the bard seemed determined to thwart her efforts.
"Nope. You're not getting away with it this time. You need to eat in order to heal. Besides, if you don't at least try, I'll have to tell you another story."
The injured woman groaned and reached for the bowl. "I guess the broth would be the lesser of two evils." After she had consumed at least half, she gave the bard an imploring look. "Ok. I tried. It's half gone. Good enough?"
Gabrielle smiled and took to bowl. "Good enough." She walked to Xena and handed her the half-empty bowl. "By the way, since I'll be working on my plan, you'll have to...um...clean up."
Xena's eyebrows rose to heights never before seen by the bard. "Uh...of course I'll pay you back...uh... somehow... someway..." Gabrielle laughed nervously and looked over her shoulder at the annoyed warrior. "I'm sure you'll think of something!"
Callisto stifled a laugh at the thought of the "Great Xena" cleaning up dirty dishes. She looked up at the approaching bard. "I have no idea what kind of hold you have over her. I've seen her gut people for less than that."
Gabrielle sank down in the dirt next to the blonde woman. "Well, that may have been the 'old' Xena, but it's not the Xena I know."
"So you keep saying." Callisto raised herself up on one elbow. "Do you think perhaps you can get this annoying bandage off my face? It's reaaaally beginning to get on my nerves."
Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at Xena who nodded her approval. As she began to unwrap the thick bandage, she marveled at how quickly the woman had healed in the space of a day. The purple bruise had begun to shrink and now only covered her eyes and the bridge of her nose, much like a mask. The rest of her skin was various shades of green and yellow. The bard also noted that the swelling had also gone down. She shook her head in amazement. The only person she had ever seen heal this fast was Xena.
Once the bandage had been removed, Gabrielle leaned forward, concentrating her gaze on the other woman. "So, Callisto. Tell me about this 'army of revolutionaries' you were talking about earlier."
The little, blond woman snorted. "Oh yeah. I'm just going to spill my guts to you, so you can turn around and spill your guts to Xena, who then tracks down my people and spills their guts...literally."
"Ooookay. Time for another approach." The bard realized that the simplest approach would be the best. "Well, how about telling me about your childhood. You know...brothers, sisters, where you grew up...that kind of thing." Gabrielle was well aware of what happened to Callisto when she was younger, but thought starting with something they were both familiar with would be the way to go.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. I'd really like to know more about you." Gabrielle truly believed that the blonde woman lying in front of her didn't know who the bard was. That would make it much easier for her to get to the bottom of what was really going on.
Callisto took a deep breath. "I can't believe she didn't tell you the minute you found me under that oak. But hey, I guess it won't hurt to humor you." The injured woman's face turned into an emotionless mask as she began to relate her story. "I grew up in a small village called Cirra with my mother and sister. It was an ordinary farming village, like any other. We were happy. We were healthy. We looked forward to long and happy lives, content with what the Gods had chosen to bless us with. All that ended the day that Xena and her army rode through."
Gabrielle had heard this story from Callisto before, but hearing it again still didn't make it any easier to absorb. She knew that Xena had done some horrible things in her past. She also knew that the consequences of those actions would follow the warrior for the rest of her days. This injured, angry woman in front of her was a perfect example of that. The bard glanced over her shoulder at her friend, who appeared to be completely absorbed in brushing Argo. She knew, however, that Xena was listening.
"Xena and her army tore through our village, slaughtering everything in their path. My sister and mother tried to take refuge in our hut, but they were burned alive for their trouble. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I was still alive, why I was one of the few survivors. It took years, but I finally came up with the answer. I was left because it was my responsibility to bring Xena to justice. It was my gods-given destiny to make sure that she suffered for what she had done; not only to me, but to everyone who had the misfortune to cross her path." Callisto's face twisted with rage as tears spilled from her brown eyes and ran down her pale cheeks. "And I swear on the ashes of my family that I won't rest until she's in Tartarus where she belongs!"
Gabrielle stood and backed away as Callisto, in her rage, stood and began to advance. "I don't care how many stupid stories you tell about her, Gabrielle! She's still the murdering bitch she always was, and I can't believe you don't see it. You must be completely insane!"
With a yell, Xena launched herself across the camp and held her sword to Callisto's throat. "I think it's time I tied you back up, dontcha think?"
The slim, blond woman collapsed into the dirt as her rage-fueled strength left her. She put her hands behind her back and Gabrielle tied them together with a thin leather strap. The bard helped her to the extra bedroll as Xena crossed back to the other side of the fire. Callisto looked up, tears still streaming down her face. "Well, how did you like my story, little bard?"
"I'm sorry." Gabrielle whispered. The bard stood and walked back to Xena and their bedrolls. She sat cross-legged, with her elbows on her knees, staring into the fire.
"It never gets any easier for you to hear that, does it?" Xena placed a hand on her friend's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
The bard turned to the warrior, with anguish in her eyes. "Xena, something's different about the way she told it this time."
Xena pulled Gabrielle into a tight embrace, wishing she could take away the pain. She gently stroked the silken strawberry-blond hair and kissed the top of the bard's head. "What do you mean, 'different'?" The warrior asked.
"This time, she wept..."
CONTINUED IN PART FOUR
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