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Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement was intended.
Violence and subtext reflect the guidelines established by the television series. This is the seventh of eight stories starting with Turning Point.
by R. Az
Xena stretched her limbs. They moved with a fluid strength. Most of the pain she had felt from the damage to her body in the cave-in had passed and the freezing cold and exhaustion from her experience as an undead was gone. She took out her sword from its scabbard on her back and swung it through the practice strokes that she knew so well. As her confidence grew she added a few leg kicks and punches to the imaginary foe. Her friend, Gabrielle watched from their small campsite. Gabrielle smiled. For weeks she had nursed Xena back to health after she had realized that Xena's dead brother Lyceus, under the influence of Ares, had stole Xena's soul. Lyceus had finally agreed to give it back and she and Hades were able to return Xena's soul to her undead body. Gabrielle frowned, she was going to have to tell Xena the whole story soon and she knew that the Warrior's reaction was going to be unpredictable.
Gabrielle and Xena were opposites. Xena was a tall, dark warrior, with striking features. Her father was Ares the god of war. Although, Xena liked to ignore her heritage, she was a demigod with the temper and powers to back the claim. Gabrielle was small and blond. She had grown in knowledge and ability through her travels with Xena, but she still looked young and innocent. She carried no weapons other than a staff and where Xena loved war, Gabrielle was a Bard.
"You demigods heal remarkably quickly," observed Gabrielle with a smile as Xena returned to the fire and sat down. Xena looked up and grinned.
"My god-blood had better have a least one positive side because it sure has caused me a lot of grief," laughed Xena who was not usually so relaxed about talking about her lineage. A good morning to tell her, thought Gabrielle.
Xena got up again and picked up a leather bucket. "I'm going to get some water," she explained, "Then you can make some breakfast." Gabrielle tried to smile but the thought of food made her stomach turn over. She had already been sick once this morning before Xena had woke.
Xena walked off into the bush to find the forest brook that babbled near by. The woods was in its spring greenery and the oaks, hard maples and pine were fresh and fragrant. Xena knelt down by the clear stream and sunk the leather bucket in to fill. They had left the sea side town were Xena had recovered three weeks ago and had been traveling ever since. On the surface everything was fine but underneath there was a tension in Gabrielle, a look of awareness that had never been there before. Gabrielle had been sold off to slave traders and Xena, buried in a cave in had been unable to help her. She had called to her dead brother Lyceus in the Underworld and given up her soul to him so that he could live and save Gabrielle's life. This he had done and then returned to the Underworld but Xena had been told little about what had happened. Gabrielle, the Bard, always had a good story to tell but this time very little had been told. Something had happened to Gabrielle. She wasn't telling Xena the whole story because she knew it was going to upset her.
Xena scooped the water bucket out and headed back to camp. Gabrielle seemed in a good mood this morning maybe this would be a good day to approach the subject. She needed to know what had happened and to give support to her friend if she could. Back at the camp Xena found the fire reset and burning brightly but Gabrielle was nowhere in sight. Then Xena heard someone throwing up behind some bushes. Gabrielle was sick again. She had been sick a few mornings on the trial. Suddenly, the truth swept over Xena like a wall of hot flame. Beads of sweat formed on her upper lip and a nerve pounded at her temple. Gabrielle was having morning sickness because she was expecting a child!
Anger roared through her god-blood. Gabrielle, the slave dealers must have raped her! That's why she couldn't talk about it. Xena's hands closed into fists, she was going to find the bastard that did this to her special friend and tear his flesh off! Xena put the bucket down and stalked over behind the bushes to find a shaky Gabrielle white and drained. Xena grabbed her arm and pulled her into her face. "Who did it to you!?" she growled through clenched teeth, "Tell me!" she ordered giving Gabrielle a shake.
Gabrielle looked like she was going to be sick again or pass out. Xena pulled her back to the campsite and sat her down on their sleeping blankets. Then she knelt down and looked at Gabrielle in anger that was barely under control. "I thought we had no secrets. I thought we had learned not to deceive each other! I thought we were learning to trust each other again. Why didn't you tell me!? I'm going to kill the bastard!" Xena snarled and grabbed at Gabrielle's top. "Tell me his name!"
"Lyceus," whispered Gabrielle barely audibly. Xena froze in shock and slowly her fingers loosened on Gabrielle's front and she let go of her. The Warrior's face was white with rage and Gabrielle could see the nerve pounding at Xena's temple.
"Lyceus," Xena whispered in shock. Anger built and she grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders and shook her again. "My brother, Lyceus raped you!?"
Tears streamed down Gabrielle's face. "No," she whispered," We slept together on the fishing boat before he finally confessed that your body and your soul were still alive but separated. I..I..I thought he was all I had left of you," Gabrielle tried to explain.
Xena stood slowly and went rigid in rage, "You slept with my dead brother?" she asked in cold anger. Gabrielle nodded and the Warrior Princess turned and stalked off. She leaped up onto Argo's bare back and grabbing the tethering rope she urged her horse off at a thunderous pace.
"Xena!" cried Gabrielle but her friend was already gone. There was nothing to do but wait until Xena could get herself under control and return. Xena rode her horse to her limit then she slipped from her heaving sides and searched around but could find nothing. She closed her eyes and raised her arms focusing all her inner power to sense the passage to the Underworld. When it opened, she stepped through boldly to the World of the Dead. At the river Styx, she paid the boatman his coins and was pushed down the river to the god Hades' somber world. Using her god-like powers, it did not take her long to find her brother Lyceus. Walking towards him, she drew her sword.
"You can't hurt me here Xena, I am already dead," stated Lyceus sadly. Xena grabbed him and sneered at her brother in contempt. "I got her back for you. She would have faced a worse fate than me had I not tried," he tried to reason gently.
"I trusted you, with the one thing that meant more to me than life itself!" snapped Xena lifting Lyceus off the ground, her face distorted with rage.
"What did you think was going to happen, Xena?" choked Lyceus, " I died a young man at your side never having tasted the fruits of love. And then I am given life back and with it your undying love for this woman. Ares fills my head with his lies and my heart with hatred. Maybe your love only expresses itself as loyalty and devotion but a man needs more. Xena, I didn't force her. She was willing enough!" Xena smashed him as hard as she could with the back of her hand and he gasped.
"I might not be able to kill you Lyceus but I sure as Hades can make you wish you could die again!" growled Xena releasing her brother and sheathing her sword she reached for her whip. It cracked out at Lyceus's feet and he leapt back with a cry.
"Xena, have mercy, Gabrielle loved me and I loved her. If you hurt me, you will hurt her," Lyceus explained holding up his hands to protect himself from his sister's wrath.
Xena stopped with her whip already drawn back for the blow and slowly lowered her arm, "She loves you?" she asked in a quiet, pained voice. A nerve throbbed at her temple.
"Why else would she give herself to me. You know her," argued Lyceus lowering his hands.
Xena rolled up her whip and turned away trying to control her pounding emotions. She couldn't hurt someone Gabrielle loved. Wasn't she already responsible for the death of her husband, her child and now she'd taken away her lover. Xena lowered her head and spoke softly to Lyceus who stood behind her. "You go Lyceus. She needs you. I'll stay here in your place."
Xena turned and moved forward to take her brother in her arms when she felt her arm grabbed in an iron vice. She turned to see the god Hades looking down on her. "Xena, Warrior Princess, you do try my patience," he said with a sigh.
"This is not a matter for you, Hades. I will settle this with my brother," snarled Xena to her uncle, the god of the dead.
"You grow in power and in nerve demigod but you still do not rule my kingdom, niece. Go, you have my word that if you try again to return Lyceus to the living, I will have both your souls in Tartarus! Go now and do not feel that you can tempt death too often." commanded Hades and with a wave of his hand, Xena found herself back in the world of the living. Near by Argo grazed quietly. Overcome with frustration and emotional pain, Xena slumped to the ground and buried her face in her hands.
Gabrielle sat close to the fire. It was a dark and still night and the pale sliver of the moon shed little light or warmth. When Xena left, Gabrielle was upset but she thought her friend would return having left all her belongings behind. But now she wasn't sure. She felt sick and in the firelight she appeared pale and drawn. Something stirred in the bushes behind her and Gabrielle froze. Slowly, she reached out and put her hand on her fighting stick. Then she leapt to her feet and spun to see what was sneaking up behind her. There, at the edge of the clearing, was a very large boar. Its teeth were barred and salvia dripped from it's mouth. A deep growl rumbled from its throat.
Gabrielle whimpered in fear. She had fought warriors before but never a wild animal. It was different this time too because she was not just fighting for her own life but that of her child. Gabrielle fought to control her panic and raised her staff ready for an attack. She could go through the loss of another child. The great beast spread its wings and leapt at her. As it did, Xena's chakram cut into its throat. The savage animal fell at Gabrielle's feet. Gabrielle screamed and turned and found herself in the arms of Xena. "Xena! Xena! I was so scared! My baby!" she cried.
Xena held her close and comforted her, "I shouldn't have left you. It's O.K. now Gabrielle. I'm here to take care of you and find a safe place for you and your baby. Hush now," she cooed and gradually Gabrielle's sobs lessened as she leaned against the demigod of war who she called her partner and family.
Xena had been very caring and supportive the night before and in the morning, she continued to see to everything while a weak Gabrielle suffered through her morning sickness. But, she did so with an objectivity that had never been there in their friendship before. Gabrielle hated it. Yet there was little she could do to make matters better. Xena could accept and deal with Gabrielle's relationship with her brother and her pregnancy on an intellectual level but on an emotional level she was being torn apart.
Xena waited at the fire until Gabrielle was fit to travel. "Sit for a bit, Gabrielle. We need to talk." Gabrielle smiled, hoping that Xena and her could talk through the pain and be as they were again but instead Xena stared at the dead fire and talk in a strained voice. "We can't stay on the road like this. It is far too dangerous for you and the baby. I've given it a lot of thought and I think the best thing to do is take you back to your people. Your village is in a good, safe area now and has prospered as a result. We will tell your family that you were married and widowed and that you were left with child. It is fact even if it is not truth. You and your child can live safely there and may be some day you will find a man that you can love and who will love you and your baby."
A cold hand grabbed Gabrielle's heart, "Xena, I don't want to go back to my people. My fate was decided the day I left to follow you. I can't go back to being the wife of a small farmer in a village! And what about you!? You need me. Zeus said..."
"Forget what Zeus said!" snapped Xena leaping to her feet and walking away. She stopped and turned and tried once again to keep her temper. "My life is dangerous. It would be more dangerous with a young mother and her baby. You would be a liability, Gabrielle. Our journey together is over. Get your things, you'll ride Argo while I walk," stated Xena turning and going to bring her war mount over. Gabrielle knew that there was no point in arguing with Xena in her present state of mind. She allowed Xena to hold her stirrup and help her up safely and then held on as the Warrior lead her down the road to the village she thought she had left forever.
They traveled for several days. On the surface there was mutual harmony but at a deeper level the trust was gone, again. Gabrielle felt guilty. She had betrayed Xena's love and loyalty by having an affair with her brother while her friend lay dying and yet she could not see her baby as anything but a positive experience. Several times, Gabrielle tried to get Xena to talk about her own pregnancy but each time she did, Xena would clam up and turn moody. There were deep scars in Xena's life that no one saw anymore. At one time, Xena would have found the words to tell Gabrielle about the experience no matter how hurtful it had been. But not now. Where once Gabrielle had been a part, now she was on the outside looking in. Despite Xena's care and attention, Gabrielle felt alone and cold.
Once she had woke in the night and saw Xena sitting by the fire, her head buried in her hands. "Xena," she had whispered and Xena had looked up with tired and pained eyes. "Xena, I..." Gabrielle had started but couldn't think of anything to make it better.
Xena had smile and come over to pull the blanket tighter around Gabrielle, "It's O.K. Gabrielle," she had told her, "You don't have to say it. I know how you feel. Now go to sleep we'll have a long day tomorrow and with luck we'll make your village by nightfall." Then the Warrior had gone. Disappearing as she often did into the night. Where did she go?
Xena moved swiftly and silently through the woods until she came out at a cliff's edge. Below her, well in the distance, Xena could just make out the fires of Gabrielle's childhood village. Coldness seeped further into her heart. Gabrielle was such a needed element in her life and yet she had no right to hold Gabrielle now that she had a chance at having a real family. She scanned the valley floor and the hillsides. Still no sign of the elusive shadow of a bird that had always been near them. Zeus had called it the Windsong and told them that they had been joined for eternity. Xena the power of the wind and Gabrielle the compassion of the song of love. Xena fingered the medallion she still wore around her neck. Zeus had made them each one. Gabrielle's Amazon feather enclosed in Xena's chakram. Even the might Zeus had failed to predict this future, Xena thought bitterly.
The next day, they set out on the last leg of their journey together. Xena lead Argo, on who's strong back Gabrielle rode, down into the soft wood trees of the hillsides. Song birds chirped as they busily fed their demanding young. And a falls near by tumbled to the valley below. Xena, saw a movement to her right and spun to see a bandit pull Gabrielle from the back of the horse. Gabrielle struggled against him as Xena elbowed in the face the one who had jumped her as she had turned. A third was coming to the aid of his friend, as Xena delivered a crushing blow to the man's mouth sending what was left of his teeth flying. As he dropped from her back, she pulled her sword and met the blade of his companion. Behind her she could hear Gabrielle struggling and fear for Gabrielle's baby grabbed her heart. She slashed the sword away of her attacker and ran her blade through his exposed chest with an ugly force.
Then letting go of the hilt, she turned to take on Gabrielle's attacker with her bare hands. The coarse bandit was running his hands over Gabrielle's body as he tried to kiss her. Gabrielle was doing her best to fend him off while protecting her womb. Xena grabbed the ugly oaf from behind and pulled him off. Then she started hitting him and hitting him. Her god-blood raged and she couldn't stop. Finally, Gabrielle held her hands and talked softly to her until Xena could regain control. Gradually, the red drifted from her eyes and her breathing regulated from the hoarse panting of her unleashed violence. "Xena, listen to me, stop. Let him go. He didn't hurt me. Xena, it's all right now." The badly beaten man moaned and seeing his chance crawled and staggered away. Xena turned to look at Gabrielle in fear. Gabrielle smiled, "I'm not hurt, Xena and neither is my baby."
Xena nodded and pulled away going to pull her sword out of the man she had killed and to clean the blade on the grass. Gabrielle watched her friend with concern. "Xena, you need me. I brought you off Mount Olympus, stealing you from the gods and therefore, I am responsible for helping you to deal with your god-blood and your human side. I can't stay in the village."
Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle with anger. "I am human and I don't need a mother! If this incident taught you anything, it should be that the open road is no place for a mother and her child. The soon we get you back to your village the better!" snarled Xena. "If you are up to it, we'll move on, there is no point in sitting here watching his foul corpse rot," sneered Xena nodding towards the man she had slaughtered. Gabrielle swallowed her revulsion. Xena was deliberately being offensive she knew, but the dark side of her friend always upset her when she saw it.
"I'm ready," she said quietly and walked over to Argo to be helped up into the saddle by Xena. As Xena settled her on the steed's broad back, Gabrielle looked down at her. "Throughout our journey together, you were always saving me. Thank you for this one last time." Xena smiled and looked away quickly picking up Argo's dangling reins. "Xena, the Windsong has gone have you noticed," asked a worried Gabrielle.
"Yes," was all Xena said in an abrupt voice and pulled Argo forward along the sloping path to the valley below. By early evening they had reached the village. As they walked along, villagers came out and looked at them in surprise, some called greetings but they looked at Gabrielle and Xena with worried eyes. What had brought these two legends back to this little village? Was there trouble? Children ran ahead and warned others of their arrival. At Gabrielle's home, Xena reached up and helped Gabrielle down to the welcome arms of her family. The story they told was accepted with sorrow at Gabrielle's widowhood and delight at her first born. Xena kept to the background. She knew the family felt she had been a negative influence on Gabrielle's life and although she had saved their village, they still were not comfortable with the former warlord. As night came on, the villagers sat with the family around the village square, no house being big enough for them all and everyone wishing to be part of this homecoming. A large bonfire burned brightly.
They had heard tales of Gabrielle's rescue of Xena from the Palace of Zeus. And they gazed in awe at the medallions that the god-king himself had given them. Gabrielle explained as best she could and they sat in wonder to realize that their loving, innocent Gabrielle had grown into a beautiful and legendary woman, who Zeus himself had called the Warrior Bard of Olympus! One small child wandered over to Xena and looked at her as she sat hunched against a tree root lost in the flickering shadows. "Are you a god?" he asked in awe, "I've never seen a god before!" Xena looked over at Gabrielle and Gabrielle looked apprehensive. She was afraid her friend would not be able to control her emotions.
Xena dug deep inside herself for control and smiled at the little boy, "No, I'm not a god but I am a demigod. My father is Ares and my grandfather the god-king Zeus," explained Xena to the child and to her family as they all listened on. "For a while I lived with the Immortals on Mount Olympus. But my friend, Gabrielle knew I wasn't happy and she came and rescued me. Now I live as a mortal. You should be very proud to be related to Gabrielle. She is a true hero," Xena finished looking over at her friend who stood amongst her family and friends. Gabrielle smiled her thanks and love and Xena managed a grim smile in return.
"Can you do anything?" asked the child pulling at Xena's hand. "Gods are supposed to be able to do things." The family went still and quiet and Xena looked at Gabrielle for help. Gabrielle smiled broadly and shrugged. Xena sighed and stood up. It was important that Gabrielle fit in here and that meant that Xena was going to have to co-operate.
She looked down at the child and smiled, "This is just for you because you asked. I'm only going to do it once and never again, O.K.?" she bargained. The boy smiled seriously and Xena raised her hand to the skies and from it small bolts of power shot like arrows into the heavens in beautiful pastel colors of brilliant light. The villagers gasped in awe and some fell to the ground realizing that they had amongst them a true demigod. "There," said Xena," That's about all I can do. I'm really mortal just like Gabrielle." said Xena.
"Can Gabrielle do that too!?" exclaimed the young boy looking up at Xena in hero worship.
"No," sighed Xena, "She has better powers. She is the Warrior Bard of Olympus. You listen to her and learn. I did." stated Xena humbly and then having had enough of the attention she turned to Gabrielle. "I'm going to check on Argo."
Gabrielle understood and nodded, "Thank you Xena, "she said sincerely with a smile. Xena nodded in embarrassment and disappeared into the night.
Very early the next morning Xena saddled Argo quietly. The morning was misty and the sleeping village lost in the clouds. She wanted to be away. To run as far and fast as she could from the pain she felt at losing Gabrielle. Gabrielle came up behind Xena and covered Xena's hand with her own as it rested on Argo's saddle. "You were going to leave without saying good-bye," she stated quietly.
Xena looked down at her soulmate, "Do we need words?" she asked turning to face Gabrielle.
Gabrielle shook her head and fell into Xena's arms and Xena held her close, "Visit often," she begged. Xena nodded and kissed Gabrielle's head. Then she pulled away and swung up on her mount and galloped off. For a long time Gabrielle stood in the morning light and watched the mist burn off. Then she turned and entered the hut of her new life.
Xena sat at the back of the tavern slowly shredding a hunk of bread to pieces. A half full goblet of wine sat on the table forgotten. She was a striking woman, long in leg and well shaped. Her hair was dark in contrast to her sea-blue eyes and her bone structure classic and strong. It was midday and the tavern was full of men and women of lesser character but no one bothered her. She was dressed in the black leather of a warrior and carried her armor and weapons with the casual confidence of the seasoned soldier she was. Word had got around pretty quickly that this was Xena, Warrior Princess and daughter of the god Ares. Some even said she was a demigod and that Zeus himself had made his granddaughter immortal.
One traveler had told the story that he had seen Xena leading her army when she was a warlord, before she had turned to good and that she never bled when wounded. Another had scoffed at the story when it was repeated to him and had swore that he knew for a fact that the real Xena had been killed by an arrow through her back and that this one must be an imposture. To the towns folk of the small hamlet this strange warrior who walked the hills each day and rested in their tavern was the source of much speculation and gossip.
Xena took no notice and stayed on. Occasionally, strangers would come and talk to her earnestly, then sometimes she would disappear for weeks at a time but eventually she always returned and took up her seat again at the back of the tavern. The innkeeper was of two minds about it. On the one hand the curious had greatly increased his business but on the other hand Xena took up an entire table for none would dare join her. Even when she was away few felt comfortable in sitting at the table that the Warrior Princess had claimed. She never smiled and she rarely talked. She would wander for miles aimlessly when she was about and then return to the tavern as she was now in moody contemplation. As the weeks went by she grew more and more grim. She ate less and she had lost weight. She had arrive in the winter months when Persiphone was with her husband Hades in the Underworld and had stayed through the spring and summer. Now in the early fall, she seemed to radiate tension. The innkeeper was becoming concerned as business was dropping off, his customers finding Xena's black brooding too uncomfortable to bear.
As the innkeeper ideally wiped his counter fretting about the famous personage that had taken up refuge in his tavern, a man of striking good looks, wearing the clothes of a traveler came in. He looked first at Xena and grimaced and then went to the counter and ordered an ale which he downed in two gulps. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve and tossing a coin to the innkeeper, he squared his shoulders and approached the Warrior Princess.
Autolycus slipped in beside Xena on the bench and when she looked up and saw who it was, Xena wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. Autolycus looked surprised and then compassionate and he held her close and patted her shoulder like a big brother. After awhile he looked down at her, "Xena? I saw Gabrielle last month," he whispered into her hair and felt her stiffen. The warrior pulled away and turned back to her drink pushing the crumbled bread angrily out of her way. She said nothing. "She was very round and she said her child would be born in the early fall." Xena bit her lip and looked away. "She asked about you. She misses you and she wishes you well," he finished. Xena nodded sadly put said nothing. "Xena, its none of my business but..."
"No, it's not," snapped the warrior turning to look at him sharply.
Autolycus sighed, "You know I am not a superstitious man. The King of Thieves can't afford to be, but lately I've been really getting spooked," explained Autolycus. "And I'm almost positive that it has to do with you two." Xena raised her eyes in impatience and turned away again.
"You might not have noticed but I travel alone now. Gabrielle lives in her village," murmured Xena.
Autolycus nodded soberly and continued, "There is this bird. Well, not really a bird but it's shadow." Xena turned to look at him suddenly interested.
"What!" she asked sharply leaning forward and looking at Autolycus closely.
Autolycus seemed uncomfortable and looking around to see if anyone was listening he leaned closer and whispered to Xena. "There is this bird's shadow, I see it flicker between the trees or drifting across a cliff face in the evening. I've seen it regularly since I ran into Gabrielle. I told her if I saw you, I'd pass on her best wishes and that bird's shadow has been with me ever since. I thought if I came here and told you, then the thing would leave me alone," explained the King of Thieves.
"It's the spirit of the Windsong," explained Xena, "It must have stayed with Gabrielle. I wondered...well it doesn't matter. All you need to know is that it is a spirit without a home," concluded Xena picking up her wine and downing the content.
"Well, I don't want it making it's home with me!" remarked Autolycus looking around again and then turning back to Xena in earnest. "Listen Xena this is going to seem really far fetched to you but well, whenever I see this bird's shadow I get this dream, see. And it involves Gabrielle."
Xena slowly turned and looked at him. "A vision?" she asked. "Gabrielle used to get visions all the time. I wonder if they come from the Windsong? Tell me the dream?"
"Its Gabrielle, she is calling your name and I think she is going to have her baby only there is fire all around her. Its from a volcano and she can't escape and... Xena!" Autolycus called in frustration but the Warrior was already gone.
Xena wasted no time, she picked up her few belongings that she kept in a back room of the stable and saddling Argo she was gone, tearing across the countryside at a breakneck pace. Three days later, she could see the smoke puffing from the mighty volcano that sat behind Gabrielle's village. Two days later in the early hours of the morning, she felt the ground shake and woke to see smoke and brimstone hurled from the mountain. Lava flowed luminescent red down the sides. Xena untethered Argo and let her go to wander back to the safety of the stable. Then grabbing up her saddle bag she ran towards the village were she had left Gabrielle months before when she had learned that her friend was pregnant.
Xena ran at a steady pace never breaking her stride all morning, even this far out the clouds of smoke streamed passed. By late afternoon, Xena was pushing through the refugees calling Gabrielle's name. Around them the smoke was thick and the burning ash that was drifting to the ground set trees and grass on fire. The air was sharp and cutting with sulfur gas. "Xena!" cried an old man that she recognized as an uncle of Gabrielle's, "You must help Gabrielle," he begged running over to her and grabbing her arm.
"Where is she?!" asked Xena in a panic holding the man by the shoulders and shaking him.
"She stayed behind to help the old and weak escape. I stayed with her to help but this river of lava came down the mountainside and separated us. She is back in the village trapped between two flows of lava. She yelled at me to go on and lead the survivors out, that she would be all right but Xena, I don't think she can possibly survive!"
"It's O.K., I'll save her. Tell her family not to worry that she is with me and that I will take her somewhere safe to have her baby," yelled Xena and dashed off with renewed energy. She came soon to the hillside above the valley of the village. On the other side, the great volcano spewed out fiery lava that rolled down the mountainside and filled the valley below with a red river of destruction. It was like a scene from Tartarus. Sulfur clouds swirled around and burning ash and hot rock dropped like rain. In a little pocket of open land, Xena could see part of the village still standing but on fire. Several bodies lay on the ground. One of them was Gabrielle's. Xena's heart skipped a beat and a cold chill waved through her body.
Xena looked around and saw above her a jutting rock. She lashed out with her whip and wrapped the end around it firmly then swinging with all her might she swung out over the valley and let go. Down she fell into the village below. She landed with a hard thud and cried in pain. Yet she got up quickly and staggered over to the nearest body. Dead. So was the next. With fear she ran to the last, Gabrielle. Leaning over her friend she put her ear to Gabrielle's back. There was a heartbeat! Xena jumped to the other side of Gabrielle and saw her extended stomach. She leaned forward and took Gabrielle's face in her hands. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" she called softly in fear.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and whispered through parched lips. "Xena, I knew you'd come if I called. Help, please. I need you." Xena held her friend close for a minute and then looked around. There was only one means of escape and it was not going to be easy.
"Gabrielle, I need you to trust me. Close your eyes and hold on really tight and no matter what happens don't move or let go." Gabrielle nodded that she understood. Xena picked up her exhausted friend and ran at the sea of lava. She jumped up on a rock and with a battle cry somersaulted to a rock near the center of the lava stream. Landing on the edge, she fought to regain her balance tilting dangerously towards the lava before she righted herself. Then in one stride, she leapt again and just made the hillside one step from the liquid fire. "You're safe now, Gabrielle," whispered Xena and started to climb with Gabrielle in her arms to higher ground.
"Xena," Gabrielle moaned as she was carried up the hillside, "I'm having my baby." For a second Xena froze. Then she tightened her jaw and continued her climb. A nerve pulsed at her temple but she said nothing.
Exhausted, Xena finally worked her way around the hill and up to the far side. Here the air was cleaner as the wind blew down the valley and the hill shielded the two from the worst of the mountain's fury. Xena found a cave that Gabrielle had showed her years ago and carefully lowered Gabrielle to the ground. Sweat was on Gabrielle's upper lip and she gasped in pain. She reached out and grabbed Xena. "Please Xena, I need you," she whispered.
Xena, looked sick with worry, "I'm here Gabrielle. I wont let anything happen to you. I'll make you as comfortable as I can and then go and get you some help," she reassured her old friend. But Gabrielle held on tighter.
"No, no time. Xena, you are going to have to help me with the baby." Xena stiffened in anger.
"You need someone who has more experience than me," she argued coldly, " I won’t be long," she said peeling Gabrielle's finger's off her arm.
"Xena, please don't do this! I need you!," cried Gabrielle looking at her friend in despair. Xena got up and walked to the entrance of the cave looking out over the countryside. To the right, the world was scorched and steaming and to the left the fall crops still waved luxuriously in the fields. "Xena, I know you're anger about what happened but you need to understand..."
"Understand what!" wheeled Xena in anger," That you and my brother had an affair while I lay dying! That my dead brother conceived a child by the woman that I... well, it shouldn't have happened. You shouldn't have fallen in love with him! He was dead. He was my brother!" Xena stammered unable to express what she was really feeling. She swallowed hard and tried again. "I need you, Gabrielle, but you have a right to a life, you are not my prisoner. You can't travel with me and be a mother. I know that, but I'm really having a hard time with it, O.K.? I'll get someone to help you."
"Xena, come here," requested Gabrielle. Xena sighed and walked over and knelt down beside her. Gabrielle took her hand and placed it on her belly. Xena could feel her baby moving inside and smiled despite herself. "Xena, I knew your brother Lyceus for only a very short time. He told me that you were dead and that you had bargained with your uncle, Hades to allow him to live and save me. I never loved Lyceus. You two were so much a like. I thought you were dead and I could feel your soul within him. Xena, what I felt for Lyceus and what he felt for me expressed itself in lovemaking but the emotions behind it were the bond between you and I. Don't you realize that Xena? Nothing would have happened between the two of us if there hadn't been the strong friendship and love that we share for one and another. Gabrielle reached up and touched Xena's cheek searching her eyes for understanding. " This child was conceived because your soul within Lyceus reached out to me and I responded. You might be my child's aunt by blood but your love is it's mother. Please Xena, I need you here with me when our child is born." Xena looked down at Gabrielle and slowly raised her hand to cover Gabrielle's where it lay at the side of her face. The two friends looked at each other and the emotional wall that had been between them crumbled.
"I'm just going to find some water and get my bag," Xena stated and Gabrielle smiled and closed her eyes in exhaustion. Gabrielle's child was born late in the night. Xena helped Gabrielle along and cut the cord to allow the new life to be free. Cleaning and wrapping the baby carefully, Xena passed the little girl to the exhausted Gabrielle. She moved to sit beside Gabrielle and put her arm around her tired friend to support her. "She's a beautiful baby, Gabrielle. Look how small her little fingers are!" laughed Xena stroking the baby's hand gently with a strong warrior's finger.
Gabrielle looked down at her baby in wonder and snuggled into Xena's arm. "I'm calling her Xena, after her aunt. I want her to grow up to have your strength and goodness," Gabrielle stated firmly. Xena looked down in surprise at her friend and Gabrielle looked up and smiled at her, "Thanks, for being here," she said.
Xena gave her a squeeze, "Hey, that's what friend's are for."
Two days later, Gabrielle struggled to the cave entrance where Xena stood. Xena looked up and Gabrielle answered her silent question. "The baby's asleep on the blankets. Gabrielle turned to look over the devastation a frown forming on her face.
Xena knew what she was thinking. "It's O.K., you and Little Xena will be safe. You can't stay here anymore, so I'm taking you to live with the Centaurs. They raised my son Solan and I know that they will welcome you and Little Xena." explained Xena and before Gabrielle could protest she went on, "You know many of the Centaur from the last time we were there. Gabrielle, it will be a good place for you to start a new life and a safe place for Little Xena to grow up."
Gabrielle reached up and placed her fingers on Xena's chin, gently turning her face to look at her. Deep sea-blue eyes mixed with green as Gabrielle spoke. " This child is ours. And she will be very special to us. She can't replace what we have lost but she is a joyous symbol of the rebirth of who we are. We are going to take her to the Amazons so they can raise her to be a Warrior Princess like you and an Amazon Queen, like me. Our Amazon sisters will care for our child when ever we have to be away following our destiny. Where you go Xena, so do I."
For a long time Xena looked deep into the determined eyes of her Bard then she nodded and smiled wrapping her long arm around Gabrielle as they stood looking over the countryside. Below, across the valley, the shadow of a bird slowly floated across the land.
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