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Disclaimer: Yep, they are both owned by MCA/Universal/Renaissance, but their souls, I believe, live here in the realm of fan fiction.
This story is number three in the series called, Tales From The Bard. "Precious Gems" was the first, followed by "Poseidon's Pride", although any of these short stories can be read out of order.
Two Hearts, One Soul
"Xena." Gabrielle whispered the name as if it was a balm to her wounded spirit. But it only brought a vision of that beloved face now cold and lifeless to her mind's eye.
Dark brown, satin smooth wood warmed under Gabrielle's touch as she sat on the ground and caressed the coffin that held her friend. Intricately carved designs, made by Nicklioís own hands, ran the length of the sarcophagus and a bronze shield rested at the head of the coffin. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. A last,fitting home for the warrior who had once conquered nations and had left it all behind, only to end up surrendering to a bard's heart.
"Why did you leave me?" She rested her forehead upon the casket and let the tears fall unhindered. "You never give...gave up on anything before. How could you just..." her voice cracked with the strain of her emotions.
Tear-washed, bright green eyes closed as she tried to shut out the pain and the sorrow. It didn't help. "You didn't even say good-bye," she murmured, but the words were lost in a crash of thunder.
Gabrielle turned her head sideways, laying her cheek against the cold surface. She opened her eyes and blinked, letting the tears slide off her cheeks to be absorbed into the wood. It was something of herself that she could leave behind with Xena. Tears from her shattered heart.
Slowly, as if she had barely any strength left to spare, the blonde woman stretched out her arms along the coffin's length. Her fingers caressed each whorl and intricate detail until she could reach no further. She had done this every night since leaving Nicklioís cabin. Gabrielle couldnít bear to take off the lid and look at Xenaís lifeless body, but she could touch this outer shell.
"You didn't even say good-bye," she repeated.
Thunder continued to rumble through the cave that sheíd stumbled upon earlier that evening. Argo had stubbornly refused to move another step, leaving Gabrielle with no choice but to find them shelter from the rapidly approaching storm. The bard had looked up in surprise when the mare had stopped. She hadnít even realized that the sun had long since set, her mind was so focused on reaching Amphipolis safely. Of the two of them, Gabrielle thought Argo was doing the better job of making certain they reached their destination in one piece. True, the mare counted on the short woman to protect her and their precious cargo from the bounty hunters that kept coming after Xenaís head. But she seemed to be more worried about Gabrielle than the sled that she pulled, making sure they stopped at several intervals to rest and eat. Of course, the blonde woman knew that Argo needed these rest periods just as she did, but the mareís behavior seemed to go beyond that.
Gabrielle felt the mare's soft nose nuzzle her shoulder and her warm breath blow gently against her skin. Taking pleasure from the horseís presence, Gabrielle looked Argo in her shining brown eyes. She swore she could almost feel the concern the mare had for her.
"Still worried about me, hmm, girl?" Gabrielle murmured.
The golden mare blinked and snorted at her softly, then leaned down further and brushed her nose against the same wood she was touching.
"See, Xena. We both miss you...so very much." Her voice cracked again as she turned her attention back to the sarcophagus.
She sighed deeply, chastising herself. "I've been talking to you nonstop for days as if you werenít..." Gabrielle found that she couldnít bring herself to say the words. "I still can't help but think you're listening, just like I knew you always were." Her lips barely rose in a wry smile. "If it's one thing I've learned about you, it's that youíre always listening me, even when it seems as if you arenít."
Gabrielle blindly reached up a hand and patted Argo on the neck, her eyes still trying to see past the carved wood. "Are you listening now? I...I..." She fell silent as she thought of the impossibility of her words. She knew that Xena couldn't hear her, she was long dead, but it felt good to talk, as if the warrior were truly there absorbing her words. It wasn't hurting anyone, she argued. Not even Argo seemed to be annoyed with her constant talking.
"I donít have very many stories that I havenít shared with you already, but I do have one that Iíve been working on for a long time. I hope you don't mind if I tell it, even though it isn't finished yet. I just donít think I can go back to sleep...my dreams... If I donít do something, Iíll drive myself insane. I canít stop thinking about what hap..." She backed away from that train of thought.
Gabrielle ran her thumb along the edge of the lid absently. "I've told you the shorter version lots of times, but this one...well, Iíve been having a hard time finding a good ending for it, so I havenít shared it. I hope you wonít mind..." the bard paused frowning at her own words.
"I donít know why Iím doing this. Itís not as if you can hear me." Gabrielle sighed heavily. "Perhaps, I just need to hear myself talking. When I first persuaded you into letting me tag along, Iím sure I nearly drove you insane with my chatter. I know now I just couldnít help myself. You were so quiet...always brooding. I felt I had to fill the silence. You've gotten much better about that..." she paused as she realized what she'd inadvertently said. "I mean..." She shook her head, the fire kissed blonde locks sliding silkily back and forth over her shoulders. "Anyway, the story...
"Once, a long, long time ago all people had four legs and arms. Each had two heads and was either male, female, or both. Mankind was so full of pride that they believed they could rule the heavens far better than the gods. Zeus was so enraged at the rebellion that he threw down thunderbolts and split everyone in two. Now everyone had only two legs, two arms, and one head. The sexes were likewise split and all the females and males stayed the same, but the ones that were both, were separated into one of each.
"Of all the gods on Mt. Olympus, there was one goddess who decided to interfere with Zeus' plan. Aphrodite, having seen the sorrow and depression that plagued mankind after they were separated, linked their halved souls to each other. Thus, she made them yearn for something beyond themselves." Gabrielle sighed at the thought. It seemed like a lifetime ago when sheíd been living in Poteidaia, craving adventure and a life beyond the boundaries of her village.
"The King of the Gods was furious when he saw what his daughter had done and he decided to punish mankind further by placing each half far away from other and removing all memory of them. We became truly one soul split into two halves. Fractured and incomplete, longing for the lives we no longer remembered.
"Many people died when this happened, for they didn't understand why they felt damaged. Some died quietly in their beds, having wasted away. Others refused to live on and destroyed themselves in more violent ways. Most went on with life. Some found love in a different form and had children. Others lived alone, content with surviving any way they could. No one was completely happy though, for each felt they were missing some essential element in their life, but they couldn't comprehend what it was. Dreams can only survive so long when uncertainty and despair eats away at a soul.
"One man that chose to live on, but alone, was Lyrin, a great hunter and warrior. Once, he had been the leader of the rebellion against the gods and had been the first to be parted in two. Now, in order to survive, he found himself quickly adapting to his new life, having forgotten his previous one.
"He enjoyed this new life for it was all he remembered. War was in his heart and the fiery lust of the hunt ran hot through his veins. But occasionally, in the darkest part of the night, a deep, lonely ache would rise up within him, causing him to cry out loudly into the shadows with longing. This feeling of great loss and painful anguish grew stronger over time. Finally, he knew he had no choice but to ask the gods for help, for if he didn't he saw no alternative but to waste away, like the others, and die.
"First, he called upon Ares, the God of War and Lord of Battles. The dark god, knowing Lyrinís problem, refused to answer his warrior's plea. Ares wanted his soldiers to understand the love of bloodshed and no other." At least sheís beyond his grasp now, Gabrielle thought to herself. She knew she had understood very little about the complex relationship between Xena and Ares, but the bard did know what strength of character and spirit it had taken for Xena to refuse all of his offers after she had left him.
"When Ares refused him, Lyrin, being also a skilled hunter, called upon Artemis and asked the goddess what was wrong with him. Why was it that life had no meaning? Why did he cry for something he couldn't see or feel, in the middle of the night? What was it that tormented his heart and caused him to suffer? He understood pain, he was a warrior after all, but this was a bloodless wound and its origin baffled him. But the Goddess of the Hunt didnít hear Lyrinís cries for guidance, for she was running through her sacred forest intent on capturing her latest prey.
"Aphrodite, feeling Lyrinís suffering, appeared to him in all her majestic glory. She told him that across the mountains, in a village by a small lake, he would find all the answers he was looking for. Lyrin thanked the goddess heartily and started out on his journey immediately. Zeus was so angered by Aphroditeís continuing interference that he placed obstructions in Lyrin's path, determined that the mortal would never reach his destination.
"As Lyrin began his trek across the mountains, he was attacked by bloodthirsty wolves and half-frozen in the worst of blizzards. He lost his way many times, but with the fierce determination Lyrin kept on, refusing to turn back and denying Death dominion over him.
"Days, weeks, months passed. Time seemed no have no meaning to Lyrin anymore, for he had only one goal and didnít care how long it took him to cross the mountains.
"Tired, hungry, and weak he stumbled across a small cabin hidden away deep within a valley. Using the last of his strength he made it to the wooden door, then collapsed and sank into dark dreams." Gabrielle fell silent for a moment, flustered with her own tale. She had forgotten that this part of the story was coming up. It seemed to mirror her own recent nightmarish journey to Nicklioís cabin. She shivered, uncomfortable with dwelling on it, and continued.
"When he awoke, Lyrin found himself lying on a bed, covered in rich fur blankets and warm for the first time since heíd entered the mountain range. He even felt strong again, healed from all of his physical aches and pains. He sat up in his bed and scanned his surroundings. Then he saw her. Beautiful beyond words, a woman sat next to the fire, gazing at him with naked curiosity in her glittering eyes.
"She never gave her name, but over the next few days Lyrin came to know the woman well. The two people shared their dreams and their hopes. They hunted together, and even though she wasnít the best of hunters, he appreciated her presence at his side. As time passed in the little cabin nestled in between the shadows of two peaks, Lyrin felt the ache within him grow again. He knew that this was not the end of his pilgrimage. One day she made it known to him that she wished nothing more than to have him live here with her. With him at her side, the lonely days were gone.
"But Lyrin shook his head and said that it was time for him to leave. When he suggested she come with him, she said that this was her home and she would never leave it. She'd pleaded with him, begging him to stay, but Lyrin adamantly refused and made to leave the cabin. He turned to look at her one last time and apologized, hoping that she would understand.
"As he watched, the comely woman began to glow, revealing herself to be none other than Aphrodite herself. The goddess smiled at Lyrin, pleased that he had passed the test Zeus had laid out for him. She had had no choice but to obey her fatherís command to tempt Lyrin, but she was content to have the mortal reject her. She warned him against Zeus, saying that the King of the Gods wasn't done tormenting him yet and to beware his wrath. But Lyrin was angry at what Zeus had done to him and confused as to why he was being made to suffer and said he had no fear of Zeus.
"Aphrodite shook her head sadly and blessed him in his journey, knowing Lyrin would need all the help he could get. Then the goddess disappeared in a golden shower of light, leaving the confused Lyrin alone to consider her words.
"Day after day passed without Lyrin coming upon a single person as he continued his journey. The mountains were long behind him now, replaced by low lying hills and the cold rivers that meandered between them. His journey seemed to be never ending and he despaired of ever seeing its conclusion.
"Then one day, as he crossed yet another hill, he saw it...a village at the edge of a placid lake. Even though he knew heíd never been there before, its serenity called to him. Quickly, he scrambled down the bluff towards the small town, passing houses with children running and playing among the flocks of sheep.
"His eyes took in every detail, savoring the emotions of happiness he saw on the pleasant faces. Surely this was the place Aphrodite had told him to come. Then Lyrin froze in complete shock when his gaze met another's. A feeling unknown to him raced from his head through his body to explode in his heart.
"It was recognition." Gabrielle paused as a flash of memory came to her. A slow meandering river on a hot summer's day. Her sister Lila, other villagers, and herself laughing and enjoying the peaceful afternoon. Then there had been the slavers and a tall, dark woman who might have passed as any other village woman. But when Gabrielle had first looked into those bright, crystal blue eyes, she'd known that this was no simple village maid, but someone much, much more. And she knew...that their two destinies were bound together. Until now.
"She was a beauty whose appearance reminded him faintly of himself. He found himself unable to look away and the two stood motionless, separated only by a short length of road. As Lyrin looked into eyes that were very much like his own, he knew without a doubt that heíd found what heíd been searching for. When a brilliant smile came to the womanís lips, Lyrin finally understood what it was that heíd been missing. After several silent moments, Lyrin hesitantly took a step towards her and opened his mouth to ask her name.
"Then, without warning, from the King of the Gods own hand, a bolt of lightning fell from out of the clear sky and struck the mysterious woman. The immense thunderbolt knocked her off her feet, sending her through the air to crash bonelessly at the dazed manís feet." The bardís eyes began to tear again, her mind plagued with the vision of Xena propped up against a tree, looking more like a childís doll then a warrior. Blood pouring out of her ears and nose, her eyes barely open and what life in them lost in a cloud of suffering. Gabrielle cleared her throat and made herself continue the tale, trying to rid herself, if for only a few more moments, of the pain and anguish those memories gave her.
"Lyrin fell to his knees in the soft soil, overwhelmed with grief. He knew, without even touching her, that the woman was dead. It was at that moment, in a last gesture of spite, that Zeus released the memories he had locked away in the mortal's mind.
"A deafening scream erupted from Lyrin's lips, as the images of his life...of his body and soul being whole, flashed in his mind. All the past heartache and struggle to comprehend what was happening to him faded away in the fiery agony that threatened to consume his spirit.
"He remembered her now...his other half. She had been more gorgeous and divine to him than even Aphrodite herself. He recalled his blissful existence with her as one being and the fear in her eyes as Zeus separated them. They had been torn away from each other...ripped in two as an example to obey the will of the gods. Separated by mountains, their minds wiped clean of their previous lives together.
"And now...now after traveling so far and steadfastly keeping to the path the Goddess of Love had set him on, he was once again lost. Alone, in a world of lonely people, just as heíd found that treasure that he had been searching for."
Gabrielle's voice fell away into silence, as she finished her tale. "Thatís it. The ending hasnít come to me yet...and somehow...I donít think it ever will."
The faint light of the approaching dawn coming in from the cave entrance caught her eye and she turned towards it. She could still smell lightning in the air, but it was only a remnant of the storm. The growing light seemed to be chasing the clouds away, promising the sky to be clear as the sun arose.
The weary bard looked away from the cave entrance with uninterest. She was long past caring whether it rained on her or not. Her gaze drifted over to Argo, pleased to see the mare still awake and looking at her. Soon, she decided, they would have to leave their shelter and continue on their journey.
She turned her attention back to the sarcophagus lying next to her. Carefully she leaned forward and, for an instant, brushed her lips on coffinís surface, then pushed herself up onto her feet. The fingers of one hand still lightly touching the wood, she sadly looked towards where Xenaís head lay under the bronze shield. "It's kind of like us, hmmm? I finally find you and then in a blink of an eye youíre gone from my life."
She paused for an instant as her face contorted in pain. "You didnít even say...good-bye. I...I lo..." Gabrielle abruptly turned away and began to gather her things. They would have to travel hard that day in order to make it through Amazon territory.
The two women sat in silence, content in each other's company. Xena continued her hypnotic sharpening of her sword as Gabrielle stared off into the low flames of the campfire. The Amazons had been kind enough to make their camp far enough away from the pair to afford them some much-needed privacy. As for Autolycus, well...the King of Thieves was either regaling the warrior women with tales of his prowess or was even now making his way to the nearest city to resume his trade.
The bard's mind drifted over the harrowing events of the last few days and considered how she would bring them together in a story that would do them justice. Then she realized she had always had the story, just not the ending. Until now.
"Hmm?" Ebony hair shining in the late afternoon light, the woman was the very picture of the hero to Gabrielle.
"Would you like to hear a story?" the bard offered, as she peeked out from underneath her blonde locks. "I've just thought of the perfect ending for one of them."
"Once, a long, long time ago all people had four legs, four arms, and two heads..." Gabrielle's voice trailed off as she glanced over at her companion. She saw the warrior had stopped honing her sword and was looking at her with amusement. "What's so funny?"
"I know this one." Full lips peeled back into a dazzling smile as her eyes twinkled with suppressed laughter.
"Really?" the bard replied, perplexed. "When? I know I haven't..."
"You have," Xena assured her. "It was during a thunderstorm and you weren't sleeping very well. It was the first time you ever told me another version to that story, but you didn't have an ending for it." The lips fell into a slight frown. "That bothered you a lot...amongst other things."
"You...you heard?" Gabrielle gasped in disbelief.
"Yeah. I think I have a good idea how you plan on ending it, too."
Reddish blonde eyebrows rose high on her forehead in stark surprise. Xena wasn't known for her bardic abilities. Singing, yes. Storytelling? Not in this lifetime or any other. "All right then, how am I going to end it?"
"The warrior goes down into the Underworld after her. It's what I would have done," she stated matter-of-factly.
The bard turned her face away in sudden dismay and whispered, "Actually no, he doesnít. She comes back to him." Why didnít I think to go after her? I would have gone through anything...
Gabrielle jumped as a low, warm voice murmured in her ear, disrupting her thoughts.
"Tell me the story again, Gabrielle. Please." Warm breath tickled the side of her face, as Xena leaned over and murmured in her ear.
Sparkling, moss green eyes meet warm, blue flames in the sudden silence.
Then it came to her. Perhaps the reason why she didnít think to go after Xena was that she knew, deep within her, that the warrior would find a way back. Her heart had known...it was just her head that hadn't considered the possibility. It had been the war between her heart and her mind that had led her to consenting to Ephiny's plea and taking up the Queen's Mask.
The Amazons had always been like a second home to her and she had felt their need for their Queen. But with her true home alive and well, she knew she wouldnít be staying with them, no matter how tempting the offer was. Gabrielle hoped Ephiny and the others would understand.
As the silence continued to grow between the two women, the bard imagined she could hear both of their hearts beating as one, drowning out all other sounds in the clearing. Then, blushing slightly, she tore her gaze away and entwined her arm with Xena's own bronzed limb. Resting her cheek again against the warrior's warm shoulder, her lips drew up in a happy smile and she began her tale.
"Once, a long, long time ago..."
I had a different myth planned for this story, but I had to scrap the idea. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized that the plot of this potential tale had already been made into a fourth season H:TLJ episode. And I so wanted to do a story about Atlantis!!! *Growl* Thankfully, I thought up a different idea to go along with the "backdrop" story.
The next tale should be, The Fruit of Bacchus. *VBEG* Now, what do you suppose this one will be about? Hmm?
Btw- if you haven't figured it out by now, Two Hearts, One Soul takes place at the very beginning, and end, of The Quest.
Lastly- I almost forgot to mention this. Having literally stumbled upon the original version of Gabrielle's tale (which she tells to Iolaus in "Prometheus") in Plato's Symposium, I've incorporated a bit more of Plato's version in regard to the sexes. The rest of this tale is entirely mine. Just a bit of gray matter that escaped one night and has since been seen running around loose in my apartment. I think it's what ate the rest of my raspberry yogurt too!
Have Katiepult. Will launch Joxerites into space for kicks.
"Bard? Where? *raspberry*"
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