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Just a Simple Warrior
by: Lord Nelson

Part 1 - 5

Gabrielle didn't like the look that her friend Xena had for the last week. The big woman with the sword normally walked with a perpetual swagger, as if she were the ruler of all she surveyed. Generally, Xena was the ruler of all she surveyed. Xena's air of command WAS Xena. The eyes and ears of all nearby, no matter their size or gender, usually turned toward her, whether or not she wanted them to. Nobody even looked at her today. Somehow something was different with her friend; she was still tall and proud, but the flash was gone from her eyes and the swagger was harder to see.

The bard knew what the problem was: Marcus. Xena was, perhaps, the most courageous human being the gods had ever created, but having the man she loved die twice in her arms had affected her. Whenever Gabrielle cracked a joke, she thought that Xena's laughter, always sparse at best, seemed forced---her conversation nearly nonexistent.

The two wandering friends had just left a small dive of a town on the coastal track. The last rays of the sun shimmered off the brilliant blue Aegean. It was becoming dark. It looked as if they would have to sleep under the stars once again. Gabrielle's storytelling hadn't gotten up the 2 dinars they needed to spend the night in the filthy stable the owner called an inn, but the one and a half her story did fetch had bought them a pretty decent meal of eggplant and ground lamb. After a mile or so, Xena walked ahead to look for a place to bed down. Xena was always careful to choose a campground that could be defended if a brigand or a robber happened to appear.

The short time alone led Gabrielle to think: "Xena has got to talk! She isn't a goddess! Nobody could hold in all of what she must have felt about Marcus---not EVEN a goddess!" She then started talking to herself: "I can't ask her anything, she'll just grunt and roll over. I can't tell her a new story; that so called village back there would give anyone Bard's block. I really don't think she'd sing if I ask her. She hasn't sung since Marcus died again. By the Gods! If only she would smile! Well, it does look like its going to be a beautiful evening. Maybe we can talk about the stars. Suddenly a loud piercing whistle startled her. "Whew!" Gabrielle thought: "Thank Artemis---Xena's found a spot!"

Xena had indeed found a spot, and it was unbelievably lovely. It was a small clearing on the top of a sharp rise overlooking the pathway and the sea. The moon was just beginning to rise and it looked huge and full as it creeped above the eastern horizon.

"Xena, this place is just wonderful!!" Gabrielle chirped looking around awestruck, "I have never been anywhere so beautiful!"

"It is beautiful, Gabrielle. Isn't it?" Xena said in that rich voice of hers.

Gabrielle had always thought that Xena's voice had the quality of shot silk---even when she was shrieking!

"Oh yes!" the Bard gushed. Gabrielle was very surprised! Xena normally looked at the ground with the eyes of a warrior. She searched for covered approaches, hiding places, uphill places where she would have a defensive advantage. Gabrielle couldn't remember her friend looking at anything aesthetically; let alone talking about it! Xena was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen, but she looked at things so practically---even her appearance!

"I've gathered some wood already, Gabrielle, why don't you strike a light." The moment Xena finished stacking the kindling, she walked over to a big oak tree facing the sea and sat, looking out to sea while bringing her knees up to her chest. Gabrielle looked at Xena quizzically as she tried to strike a light with her flint and piece of iron. The fire caught finally and after carefully blowing on the embers, Gabrielle was satisfied. With the fire gaily blazing, the talkative young woman trotted over to join her friend. She sat, drawing up a log to lean back upon so that she could see the sea, moon and stars equally well.

After a while, Xena turned and asked Gabrielle: "How long have we been traveling together?"

"About 8 months. Why?"

"And how many times have you asked me how I became a warrior?"

"Geez, Xena, it must have been at least a million!" Gabrielle burbled, "All you've ever said was that it was because your father and brothers had died in battle! Or you just grunted!" Suddenly concerned she may have hurt her friend, Gabrielle added: "Bu-but, that's OK Xena, my following you has NEVER been dull!"

Xena's eyes grew large in surprise while looking at her friend, and the strong affection she held for the little redheaded woman grew very evident. A low rumble started in the Warrior Princess' belly. The rumble burst out into a deep chuckle from Xena's throat. A wide smile exploded onto that amazing face. Some of the old fire returned to her piercing blue eyes. Shaking her head and looking back out to sea, Xena said: "Yeah, it certainly hasn't been dull!"

"Gabrielle, you have been a sister to me, and you have saved my life. You cannot imagine how much I owe to you. You're following me to my brother's tomb was one of the most important moments in my life." This might surprise you, but after Marcus's second death, frankly I don't know what I could have done without you."

Gabrielle was surprised. Deeply surprised. Xena had only confided in her very rarely. Xena had thanked her for her support when Ares nearly had her killed at the hand of deceived villagers, but the return of Marcus to the land of the living was the most important time. The Bard began to mist up and swallow hard.

Xena reached out and put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Easy my friend, you once said to me that it is good for the soft side of me to come out. I did that in front of you when Marcus came back. The time has come tell you why I became so hard. I know that I can trust you to listen so you can avoid the mistakes I have made in my life." "You know, in for a Dinar in for a Drachma?"

"Xena, I'm honored and relieved; of course I'll listen." Gabrielle said nodding vigorously, "I'm your friend!" If you're going to tell me to do something though---I'll take it under advisement!" Gabrielle huffed with a smile.

Xena smirked and put her hand on her friend's knee and shook it gently. "What would I do with my life without you to bail out!" Both looked at the huge rising moon and laughed. After a few moments Gabrielle rolled over onto her belly facing her big friend, propped her chin onto her hands and listened with rapt attention.

"You remember Amphipolis don't you?'

"Sure Xena!"

"Well that little town you know is but a small part of the small city that existed 15 years ago. All of it was burnt to the ground in a war between an army of brigands from the Carpathian mountains. What exists there now, including my mother's tavern, was built only recently. The fields are still the same, but the big house of the founder of the town, Epictitus the elder is gone, and so are its fortifications. Well, anyway, Amphipolis was an outpost of the city of Athens. It was built to have Athenians near to the Hellespont to pass word to Athens if either the Trojans, the Persians, or the Black Sea Amazons ever tried to head south towards Attica. Epictitus was a close friend of the King of Athens, Agamemnon, and was greatly trusted by that king, so he was given the chance and the finances to come to Thrace and set this outpost up."

"Epictitus the Elder was a very special man." Xena continued, "He was originally a Spartan, but unlike most Spartans he hated slavery. So when he moved to this area, he didn't bring slaves to work the land or build the installation, he brought valued artisans and farmers who had contracted with him to work his lands outside Athens. My grandfather, my father's father, Illicrates, for example, was the leader, or foreman of those farmers. Epictitus, being a Spartan, had a different view of what women should do for a city, and he also felt that aristocrats weren't much different than the people that worked for them. Aristocrats were merely richer. So, since he was as much a scholar as a warrior, he made sure that everybody that came with him to Thrace were taught the arts of war and given a basic education---women included. My family prided itself in the fact that we and our kinsman (all of us peasants related in some way) all could read. The women were trained as hard physically as the men."

Gabrielle was impressed. She had never heard Xena talk so long at one time before. Her knowledge of her hometown's history seemed extensive. "My family was lucky too Xena, My dad was the schoolteacher to our landowner, and if you think I can talk, you should have heard him!" Gabrielle added.

Xena put an expression on her face that just said: " I KNEW it!" and went on as Gabrielle chuckled.

"The relationship between my father's family and Epictitus's was very stable. His grandfather was the foreman of the farmers, his father was foreman, and he became foreman in his turn. The job was passed down from eldest son to eldest son from generation to generation. The younger Epictitus's were less radical than their grandfather though, and life settled down to be similar to what life was supposed to be in Athens, except that no slaves were ever allowed. The women of the city drifted back into more traditional roles with some exceptions. When her father died, Cyrene, my mother, took over the management of the inn for travelers that the lord owned. It was in that inn that my mother and father Illictratus finally met. In a way both were very lucky because both did not have large families and my parent's siblings had all moved far away. This left my parents with the opportunity to marry for love. You know what being in an marriage arrangement is like Gabrielle."

"Yeah, I do." said the Bard. "I still feel a little bad about my running out on my marriage arrangement sometimes---But not too bad. I wouldn't have missed chasing you for the world!"

Xena snorted, but her eyes glittered in appreciation."My mom and dad lived in that inn," Xena continued, "For years dad would get up and go out to the fields to work with the women picking up harvest or tilling, but every afternoon he would go to Epictitus' barns and stables to check up on the livestock and the horses. Mom would set up the inn and with the girls that worked with her, wait on customers. Dad loved the horses, and he gained a reputation for breeding good horses for riding and draft work. After I was born, and I grew a little, it was very hard to get me away from those horses. How I learned to treat them so cruelly later in my life, is something I don't like to remember." A somber look flashed across the Warrior Princess' face then it softened as she remembered more. Xena got up, walked over to the fire and threw on some more wood and returned. She had a distant look on her face.

"Dad was a sergeant in the small army that Amphipolis had. It certainly was no more than 1000 men. The younger Epictitus' still believed in the reason the city was established by his grandfather and he made sure that all the men served as soon as they turned 16. Dad had charge of about 30 of them and he worked them hard one day every week. We had good weapons. Epictitus had imported a smith from Illyria who could work with iron and he made steel knives, swords and spearpoints long before any other surrounding settlement. That's one of the reasons that Amphipolis stayed peaceful for so long. We had well trained troops and they had the best weapons in Thrace. No mob of disorganized brigands would ever think of taking the city."

"The boys under his charge treated the military training as a game, but I remember my Dad took it very seriously, but he enjoyed it very much. I remember him coming home sweatier than usual and hungrier than a bear. I remember his men naturally turned to him whenever they were together and they obeyed him without question. It was later that I found out why. Even though my Dad was short, he was very strong. None of his men could beat him in weapons drills or in boxing. even though he was 20 years older than them. I remember dad loved sparring and he was really good with a two handed sword. Two handed swords are very long and very heavy, but such was his strength he could handle it easily. I also remember him constantly roaring: "Don't watch the bastard's eyes; watch his hands!! I still have that habit myself!" Xena observed with pride.

"You recall that I had three brothers Two of them were older than me and one was younger. We were all born in the same 10 years. My two older brothers were twins, but they, didn't look alike at all. They were four years older than me. My younger brother was blonde haired, blue eyed and very handsome, even as an infant; some of my mother's friends said he had to be Apollo reborn, so that is what we called him, even though his name was the same as my Dad's. My older brothers, named inevitably Castor and Pollux, had black hair. Castor had brown eyes like my Dad's. Pollux's eyes were the same color as mine."

"Well, I guess we've finally come around to me Gabrielle, but the fire's getting low and we should get an early start." Gabrielle started to urge Xena to go on, but her big friend's face had closed, so she knew that she had finished talking for the night. After they had made sure Argo was secure, and they had prepared for bed, Xena lay down on her blanket with her head on her saddle and rolled over away from the fire.

Nevertheless Gabrielle exclaimed: "What a lovely evening! What you've told me is fascinating, Xena! I can't wait to hear more!"

Xena rolled over and looked at her friend, shrugged, and rolled back over and went into her habitual light doze.

Gabrielle was getting frustrated. Xena's tale about her life was wonderful, but the Warrior Princess had fallen back into her usual taciturnity. It was several days when they entered the next village down the coastal track. When they arrived, several punk kids accosted them and started making leering comments to Xena, who promptly jumped down off Argo and confronted them. Gabrielle grabbed her quarter staff off of the holster on Xena's saddle and stepped back. Actually, Gabrielle was becoming bored. Xena meets men like this repeatedly and the result is always the same---the annihilation of the enemy.

"We knew that you were coming here Xena!" Said the ugly first man in a very oily manner. "Women with bitter outsides are VERY sweet in the middle!" "We can get through the armor to make you feel wonderful!" leered the other one---he was fat and smelly.

Xena drew herself up to her full height and looked down at the two slimeballs with her eyes narrowed and her lips sightly pursed.

Gabrielle knew that look. It was Xena's War Face. "Well now, you think you can have your way with me, eh?"

"Yeah, no woman can have the reputation you have. We're going to teach you a lesson then have some fun with you---Then we're going to teach the same lesson to your tasty little friend back there. Aren't we Timictocles?" ugly said.

"Sure Autyclus, We'll teach them both what REAL rams are like!!" panted the fat one.

Gabrielle knew both of the fools were dead already.

Xena's electric blue eyes had opened wide, glittering like lightning. Her mouth formed into a broad, shining smile. "Oh, so both of you are sheep! Shame you didn't bring along a MAN to herd you!" Xena's voice was dripping with sarcasm.

Gabrielle thought everything afterward went into slow motion. The ugly one started to rush Xena and the fat one reached for a short sword on his belt. Before the ugly one's foot hit the ground on his first step, Xena shrieked. She jumped into the air and kicked both men in the throat, one foot apiece, simultaneously. Her broadsword rasped out of its scabbard on her back seemingly by itself. Before the fat one's head hit the ground Xena had lopped it off and the corpulent head tumbled down the embankment of the path, all the way to the sea below. Blood sprayed into the air in great streams as the fat body finished its fall. The ugly one landed hard on his back, his head bouncing off the ground. The ugly one's final thought was the realization that Xena's reputation was true; his final sight was the Warrior Princess straddling him, the point of that great sword headed straight for his throat.

With a great grunt, Xena pinned the ugly one to the pathway through the neck with her sword as if the man were a butterfly affixed to a card. The ugly man's life bounced and twitched out of him as blood formed a huge pool around his body. Xena released the sword's hilt and turned towards her friend, and Gabrielle saw the look on Xena's face that always frightened her most of all, a look of relaxed satisfaction, as if Xena had just finished making love. Then, Gabrielle saw the look that always made her want to reach out to her big friend in times like these. Xena's eyes had clouded and her face showed regret, sadness, and revulsion, but for only a moment, for Xena's face regained its usual expression of confidence. Xena stood there drenched in the blood of her stupid foes, and told her friend forcefully: "Crap like this started the minute I killed my first man. Don't ever kill anyone Gabrielle!!"

The Chief of the town, one Nicias, came out into the street when Xena led Argo, both bodies draped over the mare's back, toward his big house. The Warrior Princess was carrying the fat severed head in her hand by the hair.

"OOH! OOH! We've been trying to get rid of those two bastards for months!" Nicias exclaimed. "I see that you must have killed them for us!" the Chief yelped seeing that Xena was still dripping with blood. At the sight of the oozing, purple head in Xena's hand, Nicias turned white, but he continued. "They raped at least 5 townswomen and killed at least 3 old men! May the Gods grant you all the rewards on Olympus!!" He then asked: "Who might you be---Heroine"?

Gabrielle felt better. This development seemed to lift a weight off of her friend. She had killed in a good cause that was more than their own defense.

"My name is Xena, this is my associate Gabrielle. My friend and I were passing through and these two idiots stopped us and attempted to rape and kill us. They failed."

"Xena!? The Mighty Warrior Princess?! Nicias goggled, and fear flashed through his eyes, but he mastered the emotion. "The story had come to us that you had given up marauding and become a wandering force for good.

"The story is true! Wonderful! Wonderful! We must reward you! I have gold and many others can provide other riches!"

Xena looked at him squarely: "I am not a hired sword. I fight not for gods, nations, kings, or gain, but only when I think it is right...I don't take rewards, besides this was more of a personal matter."

"Well then, can I then offer your friend and yourself a place to stay, a good meal, care for your horse, and a bath"?

Gabrielle piped up: "Is there an inn where a bard can perform?"

"Yes, Yes, Its just over there!" The old man pointed at a low building up the street.

"Great! Xena, I'll go up there and see if I can book a gig!"

"OK Gabrielle, see you here later. Nicias," Xena continued to the chief, "I would be pleased to take your offer. We have come a ways and fought a battle. I am tired."

"Outstanding!" the old man said. "Here, tie your lovely horse here. I'll have my man take it to my stable and bed her down. I'll also send for the local priests to remove this, ahem! garbage. I also would like to talk to you about a proposition I have, but not now, after you have eaten and relaxed." Then, relieving Xena of her gross burden, the head, he hurried off.

After a while Gabrielle returned burbling with excitement. She bolted into Nicias house and after nearly tripping over a servant she determined that Xena was in the bath. Skittering around a corner she ran through a doorway closed by a beaded curtain. She stopped short when she entered. The room's walls were lined with rose colored marble, and the floor was made out of green soapstone, ridges cut in the floor for a good grip.

In the center was a huge tub was hollowed out of the floor with a stream of water running down a trough into the tub. It was one of the most elegant rooms Gabrielle had ever seen! The water flowing into the tub was steaming, obviously coming from an artesian hot spring. In the tub, up to her neck, was her friend, her hair unbraided and streaming out onto the soapstone floor.

To Gabrielle's gratification, Xena had a relaxed grin on her face.

"Xena! Xena! I did it! I told the innkeeper a story about you and he booked me a week! 2 dinars a day and any tips I can make!" The little Bard was vibrating with happiness. We're going to be rich!" Gabrielle jumped up and down and wrung her hands excitedly.

Xena leaned her head back and laughed loud and hard. Xena had been surrounded by riches before. She even owned it once, the plunder of a hundred little towns like the one they were now in. Gabrielle and Xena even had been in the cave that held the Great Sumerian Treasure, and they had left it behind! Ares had been right. Crusading for good didn't earn much. Now they were utterly destitute. Shaking her head, Xena directed Gabrielle to "Go on to the kitchen Gabrielle, I've already eaten, but Nicias has fresh oysters and wonderful roast pork out in the kitchen. You must be starving!"

"Really? Wow! You're right! I'm starving!" Gabrielle chittered, and her stomach immediately let out a loud rumble.

Both of the friends laughed once again. The little Bard turned and dashed out of the bathroom.

Xena shook her head and muttered: "She's going to have an ulcer some day if she doesn't calm down!" Then she chuckled some more.

Seemingly within seconds Gabrielle returned with a huge plate heaped with raw oysters, steamed clams, and a gigantic rock lobster. Xena, who was never surprised, gaped at the huge amount of food the little woman had on that plate! Xena said: "You know, I'm twice your size, do all the work, and I don't eat anywhere near what you do. You're gonna get fat!"

"Now Xena," Gabrielle tried to say as she slurped down an oyster with a twist of lemon, "Thinking is hard work, besides I walk 20-30 miles a day while you ride, so I work harder than you, and I'm including the two hours every morning of weapons practice, and your little hunting trips you take, so I deserve more food. Besides, I don't get to fishing villages very often. The seafood looked just yummy! Xena was SORELY tempted to splash the talkative Bard, but she contented herself by snitching an oyster, despite Gabrielle's terrifying glare. Xena tipped the shellfish down her throat and it slid sensuously into her already full belly.

"Gabrielle, all I need is a drink and my day is made!" Xena slid over to the trough and let the hot water run over her head and down her back. She stretched and rubbed out some of the kinks.

"Hey! No Problem! Reaching behind her Gabrielle pulled out a bottle of lemonade and a big flask of Ouzo.

Xena's eyes bugged out when she saw the Ouzo and while putting on a mock version of her war face, she snatched up the flask of the powerful liquor exclaiming "Give me that! I wouldn't want to see you get as corrupted as me!"

The Warrior Princess took a long draw on the flask and with an ostentatious "AAAHHHH!!! leaned back and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. She had a very silly look on her face. As the alcohol hit her belly, every bit of tension left her body and Xena sighed.

Gabrielle giggled. She was pleased that her friend looked happier than she had in weeks. After some time while Gabrielle gorged herself in surprising silence, a real feeling of contentment rested on them both. Gabrielle said, "That was really good work with those two criminals. I have never seen you move more quickly!"

"I wish I didn't have to kill them, but they did ask for it. I was pretty good though wasn't I?"

"Oh Xena, you are so incredible. I admire your skills so much! Hey, you've never asked me if you were any good before! Lady, you've got nothing to prove to me!' Looking up Gabrielle saw that Xena had a more serious, distant look on her face.

"I was remembering my Dad. I asked that question of him a lot. I really started my training when I was very little. I pestered my old man constantly until he gave in and started me on chillbones. He believed that a girl should do anything she wanted to. He was very tolerant and forgiving and I really loved him for it, especially since I was such a handful."

"Xena, you were a handful as a kid? NAAAAH!" Gabrielle exclaimed with a lovingly cagey look on her face. "Incidentally Gabrielle, it looks like we're going to be staying here for a bit."

Xena said, "Nicias offered me a job and I took it."

"A job?"

"I'm becoming a policewoman!"

"Policewoman?" Gabrielle was amazed, Xena had never taken a job since she met her. She also thought that she would never use her sword for pay.

"Yeah, since this is a fishing village, and not all that prosperous. ALL of the young and middle aged men stay at sea most of the day. If you noticed, most of the village's inhabitants are children, women, and elderly folks. Nicias said that they have been having an increasing problem with highwaymen robbing the women, especially those who work in the fields, and drunks harassing the old folks. It just so happens that the two I killed were the worst of the lot. So he asked me to clean up the mess for a while, and throw the criminals into the dungeon under this house to hold them for the clan chieftain to arrive in a month or so to take them down to Iolcus for punishment. I agreed to this, but for no pay. We agreed to keep the present arrangement. Room for us both, board and care for Argo. It would be for a month at most. I told him that if my enemies found out I was here they might come looking for me and I had better keep moving. The problem shouldn't take long to clear up and I'd train someone to take my place when I left. It would be a nice rest, and just enough action to keep me in training. I like protecting women, children and old men anyway. My spirit needs to be recharged too. You know the reason why."

"Marcus?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes, Marcus. I need to finish grieving for him. I miss him desperately and

I'm sad too much for my own good. I still need to finish my life's story for you don't I?"

"Oh Yes! Yes! Xena Please!" Xena splashed her friend and Gabrielle spluttered.

"Now calm down will ya?" and the Warrior Princess started in with her tale.

"My mother told me of a dream she once had when she was pregnant with me." Xena began. "One night when she was not far along, she was awakened. apparently, by a gust of wind coming through the door. It was pretty strong but it was warm, like a spring Mistral, but it was not long after the winter solstice. She said she tried to get up from Dad's bed and close the door but a deep woman's voice interrupted her. 'Do not move Cyrene!' The voice entoned in rich, sweet tones.

"'Who...' Mother started to say but her voice suddenly refused to come.

"'Do not ask who this is, or attempt to wake your husband! He will not experience what is happening now.' The room lit up in a soft, blue white light. Standing at the foot of the bed, but not on the floor, her eyes closed, was an immensely tall woman standing bolt upright and peering straight ahead. Her hair was golden, wavy, and cascaded down her shoulders all the way to her feet. She was wearing a long, diaphanous shift that left little to the imagination, but she was not the usual sort of woman. Her body was hard, muscular, and beyond all beauty in its perfection.

"'You will never know to whom you are listening, but I am here to tell you of your new daughter.'

"Mother could talk again: 'My daughter!?'

"The woman opened her eyes and they were shining---shining a hard, glittering blue---shining so brightly that no white could be seen. 'You will give birth to a daughter. She will grow into mortal womanhood awesomely tall, terribly strong, shiningly beautiful, and brilliant beyond compare! She will be capable of feats that stretch the mind of humankind.' The woman sang in a low, eerie, but reassuring tone.

"Mother lay there in totally a totally confused state, ecstatic and scared to death at once. Again she tried to speak but failed. The apparition continued to sing: 'She will first fulfill all your desires of a daughter, then disappoint, frighten, and fill you with the revulsion of war, but from the blood of all the evil in existence she will attain such magnificence that the Gods themselves will pine in admiration, And when her time on earth is done, she will leave behind something more extraordinary than all the other works of mortals! Love her and teach her well. I will be watching!'

"The woman then slowly turned her back and evaporated, the light following her. Another gust of wind took her place. Mother sat bolt upright in shock.

"It seems that I am the focus of some kind of prophecy." Xena shook her head and stretched again. "My mother repeated that story to me time and again and I never knew what to make of it, except that although I have been a hell of a disappointment to my mother in the past; she did at least forgive me."

"Xena, it sounds as if you have one of the Goddesses taking care of you." Gabrielle said. "It sounds really spooky to me!"

"Ahh!" huffed the Warrior Princess shifting in the tub and waving her hand dismissively. "I have no truck with them. I ignore them if possible. Other than that many of them have had it out for me, yet I'm still here. If I do have one protecting me, she certainly hasn't made my life any easier."

"So?" Gabrielle urged.

"Well. my birth created a bit of a sensation. My mother was considered some kind of child bearing prodigy. Castor and Pollux were the first pair of twins that survived in anyone's memory. As for me, Mother had a very easy birth despite the fact that I was very big, bigger than any baby girl that anyone had seen. Nothing was too much remarkable, happened early on except that I was able to pick up a blacksmith's anvil at the age of 3."

"WHAT?" Gabrielle was agog.

"I didn't live that one down from anyone until the war that destroyed the city broke out. People were always reminding me how strong I was."

Xena continued, "I was always getting into trouble too. I remember wandering into a bull's pen when I was seven and when it charged me, I just stood my ground and hit him on the nose. For some reason he fell over and died with a broken neck. Nobody could figure it out, and my Dad was really mad. It was one of Epictitus's prize bulls. He took away privileges from me for a month but the whole village ate wonderful beef for that month. You know Gabrielle, my Mom and Dad were very indulgent, they let me do whatever I wanted in general, but they were firm with me when my future life was at stake that's how I went to school. They just grounded me a lot because I wanted to go run around, play with the horses, or play soldiers."

"I know you Xena, that doesn't surprise me at all." Gabrielle said looking at her friend snidely.

Xena ignored her, warming to her tale. "About the same age, I was regularly getting into fights with my brothers. Most of the time the fights were just roughhousing---sometimes even wrestling. But sometimes they were for real. My older brothers teased me mercilessly, because I was growing very fast and I was very skinny. Anyway, I did have some girl friends..."

"Flora?" Gabrielle chimed in.

"Especially Flora. She liked to do crazy things too, but she always lacked confidence in herself. That's certainly not true now!"

"Well, Mother had me helping in the inn by age 8, and she had started teaching me how to do domestic tasks. I really liked to do precise things, like embroidery and sewing. And of course I made up rooms and anything else she could think of except waiting on customers. I really liked working in the fields as a kid as well as the work in the inn too. The work was very hard, but I have never had any trouble doing hard work."

"Tell me about it!" Gabrielle mocked, with a wide smile on her face. Xena splashed her again.

"I was pestering my dad about playing soldiers with him. He was very careful to explain that what they were doing was not a game and that people could get badly hurt or killed and that war was an ugly, squalid thing. War had to be avoided at all costs. But I was 10 years old and just didn't know any better. He really didn't want me anywhere near his army activities, but I did something that changed his mind for him."

"What did you do, Xena? Beat somebody up?

Xena glared. "Not quite, but it was really crazy. One day a Bard went trough town and performed at our inn. He told us the story of Icarus but I never got the point of the tale; I only thought it would be fun to try what Icarus did. So, I resolved to build a set of wings and fly."

"Oh Xena! You're not serious!!"

"I was, so I went out and watched some birds flying for a while. Then I borrowed...'

Gabrielle smirked.

"OK stole---a bolt or two of light linen and other sewing equipment. I then filched long yew switches from my father's part of the town armory that were used to make bows. I laced the switches together with wet rawhide twine to make a framework and I stretched and stitched the linen onto the frame making two wings. I hid them in a cattle byre way up in a high pasture that wasn't used much, and when I had the chance I would go up to the top of the hill and put the wings on my arms and try to run with them and flap. This did not work. I still couldn't fly and the wind kept blowing the wings around so much I had a really hard time controlling them. I also knew that birds had tails and I didn't, so I made up a tail, but couldn't figure out how to put it on. I watched some more birds, especially the eagle, and I had a thought. Why not tie the wings together at the front and the back so that they stayed together rigidly. Then why not lash the wing to a stout quarterstaff and attach the tail to another one quarterstaff at right angles to the first?

"So I did, and I hung two wicker half loops under the center of the wing so that I could insert my arms. I had to be able to run because I couldn't flap. I got the staffs and the rawhide and put it together and put the thing over my head and walked out of the byre. As soon as I got out into the pasture a gust of wind hit and it picked me up into the air!!!

"WHAAAT?" Blurted Gabrielle.

"Its true!" Xena swore putting her hand to her breast. "So I resolved to go jump off the top of the ravine of the Hebris River west of town. After putting the thing away, I ran down the hill and got all three of my brothers. None of them could believe it. So I led them to the byre and showed it to them. By then though, the wind had died and it had started to rain, so I had to wait. Castor began to give me a problem and yelled at me and called me stupid but I usually got what I want, so I told him I would do his chores for the next week if Dad didn't find out about "the flying thing", or if either one of them didn't like it I could always fight them! Now for reasons nobody knows I was nearly the height that I am now at that age, and three or four inches taller than the twins. They had recently began losing roughhousing matches to me so they both went along with the first part of the deal.

"Well, none of my brothers could keep a secret very well but a lot of the kids in the fort's school when they found out kept their mouths shut. No adults arrived to stop us when we picked 'the thing' up" The next day was lovely with a brisk breeze. The cliff over the Hebris is about 200 feet above the watercourse with smooth sand banks close to the water. Huge trees lined the cliff near the wall. Everyone was excited, especially little Illictrates who loved birds and watched them all the time. Well, about 20 of us kids arrived at the brink of the cliff and I looked at what I was in for. I don't remember when I was ever that scared before or since!"

"Scared? SCARED?!" Gabrielle stood up like a shot shouting in disbelief. Xena just ducked her head under the trough of hot water. "YOU GET SCARED!!!!?? Gabrielle yelled at the top of her voice.

"Yes Gabrielle, I get scared, I thought that you of all people would know that!"

"But you took on Titans! You fight 10 men and more at a time! You fought your way through a a a a company of the Greek Army to get into Troy! You jumped a 30 foot chasm to save my life! You have to be absolutely fearless!!!"

"Look Gabrielle, I am a hard, calculating person. I have a talent for calculating the odds of success in any situation and then choose my choice of action. Sometimes I have no time to calculate the odds, then I fall back on my rock solid faith in myself, my skills and the abilities which I have been given. Where there is doubt in my mind I get scared as hell, but I never allow my fear to immobilize me. I never take the counsel of my fears; I use them to my advantage."

"Is that what you did on the cliff?" Gabrielle, now much calmer, finally asked.

"In part, remember, I was only 10 and didn't know anything. I just wanted to fly. Well, I put 'the thing' on and stood back from the cliff. I was just getting ready to go when finally I heard my father's command roar! 'XENA!!'

"Too late. I was committed. I ran down the slight slope to the cliff and jumped as high as I could!"

Xena was very excited by the memory, her eyes were flashing and her smile was immense, she began to stand then thought the better of it. "The thing WORKED! for about 10 seconds. Suddenly, I was staring straight up at the sky and I stopped moving forward, then one wing suddenly dropped violently and I began spinning at a high rate of speed! Both of the quarterstaffs broke and somehow I was hanging on the wicker loop under the right wing. I was spinning like the seed of a maple tree when the wind blows it off a branch. I hung on with all my strength absolutely terrified. I was sure I was going to cross Styx soon. Suddenly I had a strange thought. It was not in my voice; the voice was soft, womanly and deep.

"It said: 'It is not yet your time, Xena!'

"The fall seemed to take forever, but it was probably only 50 feet or so to the top of the trees. I hit the first branches and the wing was stripped from my grip. I fell, breaking branches on the way down. I hit several large limbs and had the wind knocked out of me, but somehow I was able to catch a limb about 20 feet from the ground. I stopped falling, but I could not hold on and I fell the rest of the distance. I was knocked out for a second, but I came to, cut up but otherwise unharmed. Standing over me were my parents and the rest of my family all shouting my name at me.

"My father picked me up and hugged me within an inch of my life while saying how frightened he was for my life and telling me how much he loved me. This was echoed by everyone in my family."

Xena finally emerged from the bath and wrung out her hair. She had a happy, wistful look on her face. "Dad said," Xena continued, "'That was the bravest, most foolhardy, most stupid, thing I have ever seen in my life.'" And he slapped me across the face as hard as he could. This was the only time he ever hit me. 'If you ever do anything like that again, I'll kill you!' and then he hugged me again. He added: 'You are grounded for 6 months, and you are starting military training this weekend. You are going to be disciplined the best way I know how. Like a soldier.'

"Inwardly I jumped with glee. The fall was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me in my life! I wanted TO DO IT AGAIN! But I fought the desire; I wasn't going to ever again build another one of those flying things. People just were never meant to fly! However, got what I most wanted in my life---the chance to learn how to fight!"

Xena finally had put on the expensive silk robe that Nicias had provided, but Gabrielle just stood there next to the tub her arms crossed at her breast looking at Xena with an incredulous look on her face.

"Oh yeah Xena sure that was true!" And my name is Athena!" Gabrielle huffed. "I thought I was the Bard in this partnership!"

Xena had walked along side her friend. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide and she pushed Gabrielle, clothes and all, into the tub! The little red headed Bard surfaced spluttering and VERY mad!

"Xena!!" Gabrielle yelled sweeping her hair and water off of her eyes.

"Gabrielle, its all true. When we go back to Amphipolis, you can ask my Mother. She'll tell you the whole thing!" Xena said while she bent over and put her hooded-eyed face close to that of her friend. "Besides, you need a bath; you smell. There's another robe over there on that bench. I'm going to take a nap."

Chuckling quietly the Warrior Princess pulled herself up to her full height, huffed, turned on her heel, and walked out. Some of her old swagger was back! Gabrielle's eyes opened to a gigantic extent and she broke out roaring with laughter as she fell backwards into the tub and sank out of sight.

Xena hated committee meetings! It was inevitable though that a gathering of the townswomen and older folks would be called the day after Xena's and Gabrielle's arrival so that Nicias could let them know he had hired the Warrior Princess as a peace officer on a temporary basis. So, Xena gritted her teeth and decided to show up. Gabrielle, of course, relished the opportunity to schmooze. Gabrielle so relished this opportunity to schmooze that she talked continuously through breakfast, cleaning up, and their going to the washer woman to see if Xena's uniform was ready. It wasn't.

Xena was already mildly annoyed by Gabrielle's talkativeness, and the prospect of not having her own clothing to wear annoyed her even further. There the dress lay in a tub full of washing soda, soaking wet. Xena thought about wearing it wet, but the damn thing was tight enough as it was and the prospect having it shrink further didn't appeal to her at all. The outfit had to be stretched.

It also still stank like a butcher's apron. That helped a hell of a lot. So Xena asked the washer woman about borrowing something and the best that the three of them could do was a threadbare, linen sack dress that had belonged to the house's seamstress, who, by Gabrielle's burbling estimation of the garment's enormous size, had to weigh half a ton. When Xena put it on, the dress' armholes ended up at her wrists and the rest of the thing dragged on the ground. Even worse the dress was an bilious yellow and the ribbons were bright red.

Xena hated bright! Especially sick bright! Fortunately, there were some ties and ribbons lying around so at least it could be tied up and keep Xena from tripping. Gabrielle, positive to her toes, claimed that the whole ensemble was fetching. Xena just glared at the Bard, then grimaced when she caught a look at herself in a bronze mirror near the house's entryway.

Xena looked anything but impressive when she arrived at the inn where the meeting was being held, so, despite the fact that she was head and shoulders taller than everyone there she succeeded in slipping unobtrusively in the back. Xena normally would have just strode into any normal gathering with the intention to dominate, but in this case it was better, she thought, to let Nicias have every bit of the attention he deserved as town chief. After all the Warrior Princess was to be a servant of the town, rather than its conqueror.

Fortunately the meeting was pretty routine, and the crowd clearly had been informed that the two criminals had been killed. A debate broke out about the necessity of hiring a guardian but it was traditional for a Chief of a town to allow such debate despite the fact that Nicias had all the authority to do what he wanted. There was shock and disbelief that the person who killed the men was a woman. Her ability was doubted. But when Xena rose at her introduction an electric reaction occurred, despite her silly garb. Gabrielle never failed to marvel at her friend's galvanizing effect on a crowd, friend or foe. All in the room looked to her as if asking for orders.

Then an old, obviously battle scarred, man asked: "Aren't you the Thracian Bitch that nearly destroyed an army of Centaurs at Corinth?"

"Yes." Xena said simply.

The old man continued: "You have a reputation as a killer of women and children. Do you deny that?"

"Yes, I do deny that I killed women, children, and defenseless men." Xena replied. She then drew herself up to her full height and put on her war face. I do not deny that I was a ruthless warlord who destroyed towns for my own glory and personal interest. I forcibly conscripted young men into my army and then killed them if they tried to run away. I killed innocent men who were only trying to do what they could to defend themselves, and their villages. I looted all I the wealth I could find. Worst of all, I ordered the murder of Hercules and then tried to kill him myself to try to keep control of the army I commanded. Fortunately, those attempts failed. These are actions that I deeply regret and have put behind me. I have amended my life."

Gabrielle jumped up on the bench next to Xena, and despite a withering look from the Warrior Princess the Bard added: "My name is Gabrielle. For the last 8 months I have been travelling with Xena. I can personally attest to what Xena has said. I have seen her save many lives, return stolen property, and do what she could to avert war. She will not let you down.

All opposition, what there was of it during the meeting, evaporated although there was some grumbling about being a guardian not being a suitable job for a woman. Clearly, if Xena had something to hide, she wouldn't have been so forthright. The crowd was very impressed. There was some lingering doubt about whether or not a woman could be trained for the job, and a lot of pining over the fact that the men of the town were just too busy, but in the end Xena was accepted.

After the meeting concluded, Xena went over to the old man. He had been very badly injured. His left arm was missing at the elbow. His right leg was off just above the knee, and he had a very deep scar running all the way across his face. His left eye was missing; the socket glared out in the open.

Xena knelt down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder saying: "You have seen too much of war I think."

"Oh, yes...yes. I've done my bit to keep Ares happy. I wouldn't have missed it though. I met so many good men---good women too---tch! tch!" The old man clicked his cheek with a leer on his face. "I campaigned with Achilles and Bellerophon for nearly 25 years!" He continued: "I suspect the same the same goes for you, Miss."

Xena looked the old man in the eye with a cloud on her face. Her eyes looked through the old warrior and out into empty space. She squeezed his shoulder and said: "You're right. But I agree with you. I'd like to have avoided all that war, but I wouldn't have missed it either. How did you get wounded old man?"

"Laertes, my name is Laertes. Amazons! Menalippe took my arm off herself! Near a stinking hell hole called Kiev. The leg I lost to gangrene because of a deep sword cut. We had a great surgeon. Gods did it stink! Lost my eye so long ago I've forgotten how! The Amazons ran us out of the Ukraine good and proper too. That's why I didn't oppose you too much. I know how women can fight! Were you an Amazon once?" the old warrior asked.

"Nope, never was. Spent some time and got some training with them though---Penthesilea's band. I stopped a war in Thessaly between the Centaur King Tyldus and the Amazon Queen Melosa. I'm honorary queen of that band. Gabrielle is a full princess."

"How in Tartarus did you do that?" the old man goggled.

"I beat Melosa in single combat---and let her live and keep her crown."

"No Shit!?" The old man's memories began flooding back, and so had Xena's.

They had become two old veterans trying to out do each other with their war stories. That ended with a shout of "STOP THIEF!" from outside and the clatter of a galloping horse.

"Gods Death!" Xena swore, and the big brunnette tried to dash out of the inn, but that damn "dress" tripped her up and nearly caused her to fall. Swearing like a barbarian, the Warrior Princess hitched up her skirts, and tried to run, but she kept getting hooked on benches and finally the doorjamb. By the time she cleared the door she was madder than hell and howling like a harpy. The look on her face told all that somebody was going to pay and pay dearly.

Finally emerging out into the bright Aegean sunshine, Xena saw that a man on a big gray horse was riding like mad up the street straight towards the inn. There was a large basket full of what looked to be bread on the end of a sword the man held stiffly in front of him. The man had obviously hooked the basket handle with the blade as he passed the baker. The angered baker was now in the street running after the thief yelling and throwing stones.

Assessing the situation instantly, Xena sprinted up the street to the smith's shop next door, running, tripping, and swearing all the way. Xena saw that she had one chance, step off the plank sidewalk, hurdle onto the rain barrel and spring off the hitching rail, and hope for the best! She slid on the sidewalk but got her footing just in time to get her hurdle step onto the rainbarrel. She nearly hooked her boot heel in that silly skirt and nearly fell on her face when her foot hit the barrel, but the cloth cleared away in the nick of time. Xena got her last step and her last glimpse of her target. Pushing mightily off the barrel and screaming at the top of her voice, her right foot hit the springy crossbar of the hitching rail and she vaulted into the air!

Somehow, about 10 feet up, Xena executed a perfect front layout somersault, and just as her feet were pointed straight up in the air, she grabbed the skirt and pulled it up over her head. Uulating like a crazed Roc, the speed of the jump made her skirts billow out like a milkweed seed; her flight path was just close enough to the man on the horse to cover his head and shoulders in the skirt. Xena's momentum wrapped the billowing skirts around the brigand like a burial shroud and pulled the miscreant sword, breadbasket and all off the fleeing horse. Loaves of bread scattered like frightened ducks. The old yellow dress' ribbon belt finally gave up the struggle and ripped, allowing Xena to land lightly on her feet with nothing on but her homespun cotton sheath. The man had landed hard on the back of his neck but he emerged only stunned. As the Warrior Princess turned to face him, the man rose with the yellow rag draped over him as if he was wearing the ugly garment. Dirt from the street plastered the thief's face like badly applied makeup.

Xena looked the thief over from head to toe, smiled, looked him in his gazed eyes and said: "Absolutely Fabulous M'dear!"

Then the big brunette measured the thief for a right cross and swung, landing a crushing blow on the point of the poor man's jaw. Yet the man did not go down! The thief stood there, seemingly forever, eyes crossed and body reeling until Xena flicked her middle finger on his nose. The erstwhile robber fell spreadeagled, flat on his back---out cold.

Nicias, Laertes, Gabrielle, and the rest of the crowd from the inn had seen the whole thing. Most of them just cracked up laughing. Gabrielle was rolling around on the sidewalk, just hysterical with glee. The baker came up to Xena, who was laughing quietly herself, tapped her gently on the shoulder and whispered something in her ear. The baker was pretty brave, for Xena nearly clobbered him with a left backfist when he touched her. That word changed the Tracian's quiet chuckle into a deep, rich, belly laugh as the baker stooped to gather the bread from the street.

The old warrior hobbled up with Nicias assisting him. The rest of the group immediately behind.

Laertes piped up: "Woman, that was a bit of all right! You got STYYYLE!!" Behind the old man, a very young, stocky woman with big arms stood looking at the big brunette and said in an eager voice "You can teach me to do THAT?"

Nicias added: "This is Phoebe. She's just volunteered to succeed you!"

Xena looked back at the three of them and shrugged, eyes glittering with continued amusement.

Finally Gabrielle arrived and came up to Xena. The Bard whispered into her friend's ear: "What did that man say to make you laugh so hard?"

"I've seen bread rolls before, but I've never seen rolled bread before!" Gabrielle's eyes bugged out and the little Bard fell to the ground---again.

"Duck!" Gabrielle yelped as the chakram whined over her head. Gabrielle dove to the ground and in the process knocked old Laertes out of his canvas chair onto the grass of the town commons. The little Bard knew very well the "round killing thing" was extremely dangerous, especially in the hands of the untrained. Untrained was the key word for the person who threw it; the stocky peasant maid Phoebe. Xena had demonstrated the proper technique of the chakram to give Phoebe, and the three other women who had volunteered to be trained, Orestia, Nike, and Hebe, an idea of what the weapon could do if they should encounter a suspected criminal that had one.

Gabrielle looked up, spitting out the grass she had eaten, to look at her friend, expecting to see a terrifying look on her big friend's face, but she saw that Xena's expression was one of mildly amused tolerance.

"As I explained, the Chakram is as quiet as an arrow in flight but unlike an arrow, its path can be curved. Properly thrown it will return to its thrower. The disadvantage, as was well demonstrated Phoebe here, is that the weapon is difficult to control and requires much training. Not only is the weapon difficult to control, but it must be caught on the INSIDE edge of the ring. As I showed you earlier, the outside edges of opposite quadrants of the ring are sharpened to a razor's edge, and will take your fingers off if the weapon is not thrown so that does not float downward towards the receiver. The weapon is made out of a very special metal that is only made by smiths in the far east. I suppose it is steel, but I don't know.

"This metal holds an edge superbly and it can take great abuse. It can be thrown so that it deflects off of hard objects, such as rocks. Thrown accurately it can carom from point to point and end up back at the thrower. Believe it or not, it can even be thrown so that its effects are not deadly. The markings on the back roughly correlate to which part of the edge is forward at certain ranges. Grip the weapon at the proper mark for the proper range, and the weapon's cutting edge will not be forward when it arrives on target. Each marking has a gradation on it indicating rough ranges. I worked this out myself after considerable time and effort.

"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled at her friend. "Could you get the Chakram? It's embedded in...."

"I got it Xena!" The redhead hollered back as she sprinted towards the tree the in which the ring was stuck. After a few minutes Gabrielle ran up smiling and handed her friend the weapon.

The Warrior Princess took the weapon and threw it at a large rock where it ricocheted to a tree and back to her hand. "Notice, it did not embed itself in the tree; that was because I chose the proper mark on which to take my grip. Now...."

Gabrielle had returned to her new, old friend, who had struggled to regain his chair. The old man had a big grin on his face, to the extent the scar allowed.

"Xena hasn't been this relaxed in months! I had no idea that Xena liked to teach! I know she has many skills but I didn't know teaching was one of them." Gabrielle then huffed: "I have been asking her for months to show me how to use weapons!"

"She cares about you Gabrielle, more than I think you know." Laertes said. "Violence is a great poison. She doesn't want you badly affected. Those women out there have a job that they must do. Think carefully Gabrielle, have you noticed that Xena always has a slight look of sadness about her?" The old warrior went on.

"Yes I have." Gabrielle replied. "She seems to have something bothering her all the time, but she just shrugs when I ask her. Its frustrating!"

"Have you killed anyone?" Laertes continued.

"No, Thank the gods! I have brained my share though!" Gabrielle swelled with pride. "Xena told me once that once you kill, everything changes."

"She is very right. Every person you kill in combat sends a piece of you to Tartarus, even if they are killed for good reason. More of you goes to Hades if you kill for evil reasons. Xena doesn't want you to reserve a room in Tartarus. She wants you to be in paradise when you die. That is why she is reluctant to teach you. She also wants you to outlive her. Xena thinks she is on borrowed time."

"How do you know? You were a soldier under command of two of the best people Greece has ever produced! You must have done great good!" Gabrielle gaped.

"Exactly! It doesn't matter that I have killed for good, most of me is in Tartarus now."

"You don't look sad though."

"I'm not. There is some solace in having done the right thing, but each soul you take away from its body takes a bit of you with it. I am happy because I have given the control of my life to the Goddess Athena. She is the guardian of the souls of those who have been in war. Satisfy her, and no matter how much of yourself is sent to Tartarus by Ares in life, the Elesian fields will be yours. Xena hasn't surrendered herself to her."

"Xena thinks the gods are fickle and cannot be trusted. She will not work for them as a rule." Gabrielle related. "Only one has treated her fairly, and that is Hades himself. I don't know if she has met Athena."

"Athena will not go to her, unless Xena is in no position to ask, say if she is unconscious or in grave danger and Athena has other plans for her. Xena must begin to grow wise, then go to Athena and then ask her for help."

"Xena NEVER asks for help!" Gabrielle huffed. "That's why I keep bugging her to show me how to fight. She will only consult an expert if she has to do something that she normally doesn't do."

"Has she told you anything of her life?" The old man asked.

"She has. Only recently she has started to tell me things. She was a really wild kid. Very competitive. and very lucky. She also has great regret about when she was a warlord. It used to give her nightmares until a mystic helped her to save me from Morpheus. She said she met her bad side during the dream that the mystic put her into and beat her, then the nightmares stopped."

"Oh that's good! The healing has started" The old man said. He thought for a minute then asked: "I saw her take out that robber. That was quite a jump! Has she shown any special abilities?"

"Laertes, she can do INCREDIBLE THINGS! I have seen her jump 20' straight up! I have seen her do a back flip from the ground and land on a tree limb! She can stick a staff in the ground and kick attackers while holding herself parallel to the ground. She rides like a Centaur. I have seen her do things that only Hercules can do! I'm sure that Xena can pick up 400 pounds! And she is tough. I have seen her take a pounding that would kill someone else and still win the fight! That's not all, she is a genius! I have never heard of anyone so intelligent. She can think her way out of any situation and outthink any enemy that she cannot overpower. But she is such a physical person. She prefers the physical way out. She awes me sometimes!"

"She's not a demigoddess?" Laertes pondered.

"No, the Gods usually let the world know when a demigod is born." Gabrielle chirped. "But she told me that before she was born her mother had a dream in which a tall, beautiful woman told her that her daughter would amaze and disappoint her. She also told me of a strange woman's voice coming into her head when she nearly was killed trying to fly like Icarus when she was a kid."

"Was this woman VERY tall and muscular for a woman?" The old veteran asked. Did she have eyes the color blue that can only be seen in a lightning bolt?"

"Yes!" Gabrielle goggled! "You know of this apparition?"

"Xena has very striking blue eyes. Do they seem to shower all with sparks when she is in a fight?" The old man asked to Gabrielle's frustration.

"Yes, its terrifying!" Gabrielle nearly shouted.

"I am virtually certain that Athena has taken a special interest in your friend. Does she know, Gabrielle?"

"No. Ask Xena about the gods and she only grumps."

"What does she look like in a fight?"

"Look like? I don't understand."

"What expression does she usually have?

"She has two. She has a face that she uses to intimidate. Its as forbidding as a granite island. When the fight starts her eyes are flashing lightning and she smiles!! She is relaxed and in ecstasy when she is in a scrap, and the harder the fight is, the more happy she becomes. She laughs a lot! Its incredibly scary. When I hear her laugh, the person she is fighting is usually dead very shortly. When the fight is over, she has a face of contentment as if she had just made love. Its terrible! I believe she LOVES to fight!"

"Xena is being favored by both Ares and Athena. The two gods are in competition for her soul. The love of combat and killing is from Ares, the regret and pain from her past and from any recent kill is from Athena. Athena HATES war and killing but will use her superior ability in the defense of the helpless. Ares fights because he loves it. Xena is a hero the equal of Achilles, Hector and Theseus. Only these men have had the guardianship of a god. Xena is the first woman I have ever heard of who was favored so. Xena is trying to deal with forces within her that she cannot handle herself. She is fortunate she has Athena with her, for Athena can beat Ares anytime. The result must be that Xena is in great pain in her soul. You said she just lost a lover, No? Well, the forces contending in her are far more powerful than that grief. She must choose to which god to surrender or she will die before her time. She has started on the right road by becoming a protector of the innocent. She needs to do more."

"But she beat Ares when he tried to coerce her into becoming a warlord again. She did it by OUTTHINKING the god!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

"Do you honestly think that would deter the God of War? No, No, No! She is keeping him at arms length by her own strength. Astounding as her moral strength is, she cannot hold out forever. She needs to build the wisdom necessary for Athena to give up her usual modesty and drive Ares away for good! Xena must admit that she knows Athena is watching and wants her help"

"Gods! How do we do that?" Gabrielle said, suddenly very worried.

"You wouldn't believe it Gabrielle, she just needs to talk about all the things that have hurt her." That is terrifying! Can she do it Gabrielle?"

"Xena is the most courageous woman that ever lived. Ares didn't intimidate her why should this, Laertes?"

"Believe it or not Gabrielle, the hardest, and scariest thing that ANYONE can do is to learn how to know thyself." When Xena knocks off for tonight, let's get her dinner and see if we can get her started."

Then both ducked. The chakram whined overhead once more.

Continued - Part 6 - 9

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