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DISCLAIMERS- This story was written as part of a three story arc and theorizes that Callisto’s sister did not die in the fire at Cirra. It takes place shortly after "Return of Callisto". Parts 2 & 3 are still simmering but I need some feedback to continue. There is no sex but a bit of violence. This is the Xenaverse after all. This story was written about 2 years ago and I hope it aged well.
Please send comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and OTEREWQB@hotmail.
My thanks to the Creators and actors in the Xenaverse for such wonderful Characters and for letting me borrow them for a bit. I returned them none the worse for wear.
Thanks also to the positive feedback I received on "Progeny". Keep it coming!
GHOST OF THE PAST
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They were up and moving by dawn. The night had been quiet except for the disappearance of one of the guards. Worry was not paramount considering it was Otes, the weasley friend of Benedictus. After discussion with the other soldiers the conclusion was desertion.
The soldiers moved quickly and with skilled precision packing up the camp. Wounded, small children and the elderly rode in the three wagons they had salvaged at the previous village. The able bodied walked and the soldiers rode their horses evenly dispersed throughout the Caravan. Gabrielle, except for a nice bump on her head, was fully recovered and walked with the wounded wagon. That freed Xena so she could concentrate on what she did best, defense. She, Leonis and Xanthus alternated taking point and moving up and down the caravan.
"Glad to see you're feeling better." Bethany greeted as she walked up beside Gabrielle, her horse trailing behind her.
"Much better." She replied as she got her first clear look at her fellow Amazon. She looked like a typical Amazon except for the chain mail and cloth sleeve covering her left arm and the black leather glove on her left hand. "Thank you for yesterday." Gabrielle continued as they began moving at a more steady pace.
"No thanks necessary," Bethany shrugged her shoulders slightly embarrassed, "We're sisters. We look out for one another. I would have done the same even if we weren't. I am curious why an Amazon is traveling with Xena."
Gabrielle chuckled, "I wasn't when we met. I was only a farm girl."
Bethany nodded, "Adopted by the Nation, another thing we have in common."
"You weren't born an Amazon? " Gabrielle questioned in surprise.
"No. They took me in when I was about ten, after my village had been attacked and my family killed. They're the only family I've had since then. How did you meet them?"
Gabrielle quickly launched into her tale of joining the Amazon Nation. Of meeting Terreis and receiving her right of caste and her training with Ephiny. The death of Melosa and rise of Velasca then her downfall and Godhood. Ephiny wearing the mask of Queen until she could return to assume the role. Her story telling skills were at full and after almost an hour she finished the tale.
Bethany had soaked in every detail in silence, a look of profound sadness covering her features. She bowed her head slightly and paid her respects, "My Queen. Forgive me. I've been away from home too long."
Gabrielle blushed and patted Bethany's arm. "No need for all that. Like I said, Ephiny is Queen now. I'm just Gabrielle."
"Queen." She added, her voice still tinged with respect, "However I will respect your request."
Suddenly Gabrielle realized that she had spouted out facts including the deaths of people that Bethany was probably hearing for the first time, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to just blurt all of that out."
"I've been away from the Nation too long. These are things a good and true Amazon would know. Melosa took me in, saved my life. Terreis trained me, and Ephiny was a good friend, stubborn as a mule but a friend. What about Solari?"
Gabrielle smiled gladly able to deliver some good news, "She's fine and Ephiny's right hand."
Bethanys smile returned, "As it should be."
"Why don't you go back for a visit? They'd understand why you've been gone for so long after once they find out the reason. I do and I think that what you're doing to help these people proves more than ever that you are a true Amazon."
Bethany stared at her, her eyes threatening to tear and relief covering her face as if a great sin had been lifted from her shoulders, "Terreis chose well. You may not have been born an Amazon but you are all the things that make them great. I appreciate your understanding."
"So after we reach Havenous and get everyone settled, you're going back for a visit?"
"No." Bethany answered. "I've planned to return several times and something always comes up. I can't leave Havenous and the surrounding villages unprotected. Besides when I left I was a very angry young woman and I'm not sure I'd be welcome there anymore."
Gabrielle thought for a moment, "Okay problem one solution. I'm sure that your second in command could handle things for a few weeks and your soldiers look capable to me." Bethany remained silent so she continued, "Second solution. Xena and I were going to get some rest and relaxation after we got done in Barbus. She's going to Amphipolis and I can come with you to the Nation. That would give us a real chance to talk and me to visit my friends. Besides I have a feeling your life story is as interesting as Xenas."
"Captain?" A voice called from the front of the caravan.
Bethany waved an acknowledgment and pulled at her horses' reins. He moved up beside her and she climbed into the saddle, "I'll think about that and one day I may tell you my life story."
Gabrielle watched her ride away, hopeful and curious.
The sun had risen to its highest point and the heat wave continued. The caravan moved at a strong steady pace but as the heat engulfed them the time for a rest stop was approaching. Leonis had suggested a Persimmon grove about a mile ahead. It was a large shaded area with a lake to offer cool water to cut the dust of the road. After a moment of discussion they quickly agreed to rest there for a couple of hours until some of the heat died down.
Gabrielle was in the wagon with the wounded changing bandages and offering any needed treatment. Xena rode up beside the wagon, quiet and on edge.
Bethany casually urged the horse to trot up along side her, "You feel it too?"
Xena only nodded affirmatively.
Gabrielle finished her bandaging and leaned over the edge of the wagon, "What's going on?"
Bethany acted non-chalant but her voice was tight and agitated, "Don't look around or stare but we're being watched."
"For about the last two hours." Xena added.
"Any idea who it is? What are we going to do?" Gabrielle questioned, looking down at one of the injured.
"Slavers are never this persistent. The ones we met in Emola weren't your typical slavers either." Xena replied and cast a look toward the back of the caravan.
"Unless these are the Raiders." Bethany concluded and reached down to scratch her horses shoulder, "They could be working with the slavers. We'll be stopping shortly for the afternoon rest, that's where they'll try again."
"What's the plan?" Gabrielle piped in.
"Circle?" Bethany offered.
"Meet in the middle." Xena added.
Gabrielle sat back and watched the two of them using Warrior verbal shorthand. She had never met anyone so much like Xena and yet so different. Watching them together was like watching two halves of a whole.
"Idea?" Xena continued.
"Scout ahead." Bethany smiled.
Xena nodded, "Hunt for food?"
"Ten minutes." They agreed.
"Let me guess," Gabrielle interrupted, "I stay here and keep the wounded safe."
"Yes." They said firmly and in unison.
Bethany rode up to the front of the caravan, exchanged a few words with Leonis and then galloped into the distance.
"I'll see you at the clearing." Xena said as she prepared to ride off in the opposite direction.
"Be careful." Gabrielle said as she watched her friend ride away.
The caravan had reached the grove and still there had been no sign of Xena, Bethany or the Raiders. The wounded were left in the wagons but everyone else quickly took advantage of the shade and lake. Some stretched their legs strolling around the lake bank while others laid down under the shade trees napping.
Leonis and the other soldiers spread out and encircled the resting group, none of them resting or socializing as usual.
Some of the older children and adults moved into the cool water splashing and taking advantage of the refreshing change. Hernam casually made his way to the lake and took his position nearby.
Gabrielle passed water around to the wounded and after everyone was taken care of, she sat beside the wagon and took a long cool drink. She leaned against the wagon wheel and closed her eyes, a mild headache beginning. A clash of swords brought her to her feet and she found herself face to face with a large grim-covered man.
He was over six feet tall, as thick as an oak tree and looked as if he had never heard of water and soap. He held a large broad sword and grinned revealing five semi rotted teeth. "I may buy you for myself."
Gabrielle gripped her staff firmly and smiled sweetly, "Not for sale." She replied as she brought the staff up between his legs.
His smile faded, eyes widened and dropped to his knees. The only response he could make was a high-pitched groan. She mustered all her strength and brought the staff down on his shoulder. With a slight twirl, the end of the staff was delivered across his chin as her final comment on the conversation. He crashed to the ground, no longer a threat to the caravan.
She whirled around and saw the soldiers fighting off another attack by the slavers. This time
the odds were a little better but they were still outnumbered. She heard children screaming near the lake and caught sight of Hernam fighting off the slavers heading for the children. Like a flash she was running to help him when she heard the familiar and welcome war cry in the grove behind her.
Just as she reached Hernam she saw a figure rising from the lake, sword drawn and face etched in anger. Bethany leaped out of the water, did a flip in mid air and landed between the slavers and a small group of children.
Hernam could tell by the fearful reaction on the slavers he was fighting that help had arrived. He began fighting with a new intensity, taking down one of the attackers with one swing of his sword.
Bethany swung her sword in a wide but controlled arc. The blow so fierce the two slavers in her way were cut almost in half as they hit the ground. Gabrielle watched in awe as the young woman brought down men twice her size with the skill and precision she had only seen Xena use. When she heard yells back toward camp she turned and ran back to see if she could help Xena and the others.
A man ran to intercept her and she stopped in mid stride bringing the staff into a ready position. He apparently didn't feel she was much of a threat as he reached to grab her arm and was stopped by the staff connecting with his wrist. A loud crunching sound filled the air as the bones in his wrist turned to powder. He cried out, grabbing his limp arm. She lowered the staff sweeping his legs out from under him and ended with the staff connecting with the crown of his head. She continued to camp not bothering to look back at his inanimate form.
Xena was in full stride by the time she reached the grove to help. Three of the thugs were circling her, daring her to do her worst. Most learned that it was not wise to dare Xena and as she began spinning around arms extended, fist clenched with every blow that landed on their noses and chins, they too learned that lesson. Once they were weaving off balance, she jumped into the air, kicked out her legs and brought two of the men to the ground. The third saw his comrades face down in the dust and Xena smiling at him. He left tracks as he turned and ran for the woods.
Gabrielle ran up to join her and together they watched the few still standing slavers make a bee line for the safety of the woods, scurrying like mice.
"Where did you come from?" She asked trying to catch her breath.
"The trees." Xena answered as if was an ordinary happening.
Their conversation was cut short when they heard screams again coming from the lake. Both were off and running, reaching the lake in only a few seconds and found a standoff.
Bethany and Hernam had dispatched all but one of the slavers. He was now holding two small children in front of him as a shield, his sword held steady at their throats. "Get back or I'll take their heads off." He growled at the four of them.
The other soldiers stood their ground protecting the camp but watching with concern and ready to act if needed.
"Hernam." Bethany called calmly, waters still dripping down her face, "Get the other children back to camp."
The children were cowering by the nearby rocks and he quickly moved over to them. His voice was soft and gentle as he spoke to them and quickly hustled them to safety.
Once they were safely away Xena began inching closer, Chakram in hand. Gabrielle moved in on the other side, staff at the ready.
"Don't move any closer." He threatened as he realized that they were trying to flank him. To emphasize his point he pulled the children even closer so that the blade of the sword was against the soft flesh of the little boys throats.
The children were crying and shaking with fear and this seemed to antagonize him even more, "Be quiet and quit your squirming."
Bethany motioned for Xena and Gabrielle to hold their ground and slowly kneeled on the ground. She moved her head slightly until she got the children attention and then held their gaze, "It's all right Festus and Johnus. Just do as the man says and keep still. He won't hurt you."
Xena saw the children relax instantly, their eyes slightly glazed and she wondered again about her own experience with Bethany hypnotic stare.
The struggling of the children ceased and the thug felt more confident, "I want a fast horse. When I get down the road and feel safe I'll drop the kids off."
Bethany said nothing as she rose to her feet standing straight and shoulders back. She met his eyes and held them. Nothing happened for a few seconds but then his grip on the children loosened and the sword dropped to his side.
Gabrielle watched unsure of what was happening and then caught sight of Bethany's hand motioning her forward. "Go to Gabrielle children, now." Her voice little more than a whisper and she never lost eye contact with the thug.
The children quickly obeyed sliding from his grip and running to Gabrielle, who scooped them up in her arms and moved quickly out of range.
Once they were clear the spell was broken. The slaver, realizing he no longer had his human shield charged at her like a bull. Bethany seemed sluggish as she tried to stand but fell back to her knees.
Xena released the Chakram and it caught the advancing man across the throat. He grabbed his throat and stumbled to the ground. After a minute or so he was no longer a threat to anyone. The Chakram returned to her hand and she quickly rehooked it to her belt. She rushed to Bethany who was trying to rise with little success. Firmly she grabbed Bethanys arms and pulled her to her feet helping her stay steady once there. "You all right?"
Bethany took a deep shaky breath, "I'm fine. The children?"
"Don't worry, they're safe. Right now I'm more worried about you. Let's get you back to camp."
Bethany nodded and accepted her assistance.
Despite her protests Bethany found herself in a wagon and was asleep by the time they were under way again. Luckily this time there had been no serious injuries or deaths among the soldiers, but their concern for their leader was etched in their faces and posture.
Giles took point with Beldon a few yards behind. Delia protected the rear and Fabius, Hernam and Basty were scattered along the caravan. Xanthus had ridden ahead to scout out a place to make camp for the night. Leonis rode beside the wagon that carried Bethany, a protector as she slept.
Mara and her son took over treating the wounded while Xena and Gabrielle walked together near the back of the caravan, Argo following closely.
"But I thought the two of you were circling behind those guys to get them before we got to the grove."
"That was the plan." Xena explained, "But once I got into the woods behind them they were scattered and moving so fast that I decided the safest thing to do was get to the clearing. Then ambush them when they ambushed you. I guess Bethany had the same idea."
Gabrielle slowed her pace, raising her eyebrows, "You mean you two didn't plan that?"
"No. I never even knew she was there. I thought she was still tracking the slavers and would follow them into camp or come when she heard the fight."
Gabrielle remained silent for the next few minutes then asked the question that had been on both of their minds, "What happened back there? What did she do to that guy to make him release those kids?"
Xena began telling her about the previous nights confrontation with Benedictus and watching Bethany with little Neysa. Gabrielle listened, the mystery only growing, "What happened when she looked into your eyes?"
"It's hard to explain." The Warrior answered and took a deep breath, "It only lasted for a few seconds but it was a calm, peaceful feeling. Then it was gone."
"Can we trust her? I mean, are we in danger?"
Xena took her time before she answered, reflecting on all the incidents, "I don't think we're in any danger from her. In fact I think she feels like she has to protect us like she does the villagers. When we make camp though I am going to talk to her and get a few answers."
While Gabrielle filled Xena in on the details of her conversation with Bethany, Leonis watched his sleeping Captain with worry. She moaned slightly and tossed, obviously in the throws of a nightmare. He thought about reaching out to touch her shoulder when she suddenly fell silent, her face becoming peaceful.
The nightmare of her burning village and mothers screams ended abruptly. She instead found herself in a vast meadow. A cooling breeze caressing her face and the ground soft like a cushion beneath her knees. Trees surrounded the meadow and wild flowers blazed the landscape with color. A deer came jumping out of the wood and leaped across the meadow, stopping just short of her. There was a blinding flash and the deer was replaced by a young woman.
The woman was short with an athletic frame. Brown hair cascaded over her shoulders and she was dressed elegantly but simply in a soft brown one piece toga, a bow and quiver of arrows across her back.
Bethany, awestruck, stared for only a second and then lowered her head, "Huntress." She replied her voice full of respect. She had often spoken to the Huntress but had never been honored by a vision of her.
Artemis glided over, her sandaled feet not even leaving an impression on the grass and kneeled in front of her. She clasped Bethany's chin in her hands and urged her head up, "You don't need to bow to me my daughter. I sensed your turmoil and came to you hoping to help."
Bethany hesitantly brought her eyes up and met the Goddess’s. The huntress was surrounded by a warm welcoming glow and her eyes so brown they were almost black, were gentle like a deer. "I don't understand what happened with that slaver." Her voice tinged with fear.
Artemis smiled, "Don't be afraid child. Your powers are growing and today you discovered that. Normally they wouldn't leave you this drained but you have been so consumed with worry the last few weeks that it simply used up everything you had, even your reserves."
Bethany took a deep cleansing breath, relaxing slightly, "I guess I have been worried."
Diana leaned back reclining on her arms, "The question is, was the worry realized? Was it as bad as you expected?"
Bethany considered her meeting with Xena before speaking, "No. For so many years I was consumed with hate, fear and anger. I thought I would want to tear her heart out when we finally met but all of that was missing. There was only calm and peace."
"You've grown. Both of you have walked a similar path and now I think you have some understanding of what it is that causes those rages. Did you use your gift to read her?"
Bethany nodded affirmatively.
"What did you see within her?"
"A warrior atoning for her sins by helping the innocent and those who need protection."
"Like looking in a mirror wasn't it?"
"It was a bit unnerving."
"Do you still consider her an enemy?" Artemis questioned innocently.
Bethany shook her head, "No. Surprisingly enough I can call her friend now," Then a look of uncertainty crossed her face, "A friend that will have a lot of questions."
The Goddess’s face grew serious and dark, "There are forces working against you my daughter. Forces that I have no control over, so you must guard yourself well and never forget who you are and what you represent." Then she took Bethanys hands in her own, "I am proud of you and what you did today, don't ever forget that."
"This trouble that's coming, I'll be facing it on my own, won't I?"
Artemis frowned and said nothing.
"This is the test you warned me about isn't it. To deal with my past and future."
"Perceptive. Your skills have grown and so have you, beyond my expectations."
She arose, pulling Bethany up with her, "You're strong and you have faithful allies. That is a gift not from me or the other Gods but from within you." There was a flash and she had become a brilliant ball of light.
"Thank you Huntress." Bethany replied as the light began moving away, "I won't disappoint you."
Her ghostly voice buzzed in Bethany's ears, "You never have and won't as long as you don't give up on yourself." Then the light disappeared and Bethany found herself surrounded by darkness.
She awoke with a start. Disoriented until she remembered where she was and saw the friendly face of Leonis hovering above her. "How do you feel? Are you all right?" He asked with concern.
Bethany grabbed the side of the wagon and pulled herself into a sitting position, "I'm fine just embarrassed. How long have I been asleep?"
"A few hours but you needed the rest. This has been a rough trip and you've pushed yourself harder than usual."
"No harder than any of you." She argued.
He cocked his eyebrows and stared at her. "All right." She conceded, "Could I at least have a progress report?"
His friendly features returned, "We didn't sustain any losses in this last attack but the slavers did. They'd be fools to try again."
Bethany looked around spotting familiar landmarks, "Are we near Titans Point?"
"Yes. We'll be camping there in a few hours and if all goes well will be in Havenous by noon tomorrow."
"We've made good time despite all the trouble." A hint of despair in her tone.
She stood up in the wagon and accepted Leonis strong shoulder as a brace as she leaped to the ground. "Do me a favor?" she asked while she untied her horse's reins from the back of the wagon.
She climbed into the saddle and glanced along the caravan until she spotted Xena and Gabrielle, "I'll need to speak with them privately once we get camp set up and everything calms down. Can you cover for me for a while?"
He followed her gaze and nodded. "You're covered." He promised, "You want me to let them know?"
"Please. I"m going to ride point for a while." She started to ride off but Leonis reached for her arm.
"You sure you're okay?"
She put her hand on his and squeezed reassuringly, "Yes, my friend. I just need some time alone, to think."
He returned the hand squeeze and released her so she could ride away. Once she reached the front of the caravan, he turned his horse in the opposite direction and went to deliver the message.
By sundown, camp had been set up, villagers fed, wounded treated and people were settling in for the night.
Titans Point was a stone out cropping at the very top of Mount Helios. A treacherous rock formation that only the Gods could ascend and did whenever they wanted to escape the worries of the mortals. It offered complete protection on one side and it was at the base they made their camp. A small spring supplied plenty of fresh water and a thick lush grassy meadow offered soft bedding for the night.
Because of the stone arc of the Mountain, only three soldiers were needed to guard the outer perimeter. That allowed more rest time for the other troopers and less ground to cover in case of trouble.
When Bethany was certain everything was settled in camp for the evening she went in search of Xena and Gabrielle, finding them lounging beside the spring, relaxing and talking quietly.
She approached cautiously unsure of their welcome. Her fears were quickly laid to rest when Gabrielle smiled, "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thanks."
Xena sat quietly sharpening her sword, content to let Gabrielle get the conversation rolling.
"We were really worried about you for a while."
"Just over did it back there." Her gaze moved to Xena, "My thanks to you Xena. You saved my life."
Xena put the sword in its sheath and set it on the rock beside her, "No thanks necessary."
"But an explanation is." She finished with a sigh and sat down on the grassy hill in front of them.
Xena had never been one to mince words, "Last night during the argument with Benedictus, what did you do to me or was I imagining things?"
"The eyes are mirrors to the soul," She began nervously twisting a blade of grass, "My gift allows me to look into that mirror and see a persons true feelings. Their true essence."
Gabrielle scooted closer fascinated. Xena however seemed uncomfortable, "I heard you defending me before that."
"I had heard stories of your good deeds and I was willing to keep an open mind, but for my charges' safety I had to know the truth. I apologize for intruding."
"So you saw the Xena I know," Gabrielle chimed in, "You know that the stories are true and that the old Xena no longer exists."
"Yes," she admitted, "I'm proud to call both of you friend."
"So what happened at the grove?" Xena asked bluntly.
"Something that has never happened before. Usually when I look into peoples eyes and concentrate, I see the essence. This time I saw more. I was able to control his thoughts and make him release the children."
A light went on in Gabrielle's head, "You're a Guardian."
Bethany dropped her head, obviously uncomfortable, "Yes."
"Wow." Was all Gabrielle could manage.
Xena sensed the apprehension in Bethany and knew it came from having someone pry into her business. It was doubtful that even her own soldiers knew her secret and she wanted it that way. She nudged Gabrielle, "There's no need to say any more."
"But there is," She answered, "I'm proud of my gift but ashamed of why I was chosen."
She took a few moments to compose herself. Only Leonis knew of her pledge and mission and she felt it was time to confide in others particularly Xena. "I serve Artemis the Huntress. I have pledged my life to help the innocent, the children and keep them from harm. It's my way of atoning for my sins."
Her attention captured, Xena sat up straighter.
"Sins?" Gabrielle repeated.
"I told you I was a very angry young woman when I left the nation." She stopped considering her words carefully, "I told you how I came to be with the Amazons." When Gabrielle nodded, she continued. "What I didn't tell you was how badly I was hurt in the attack on my village. Slavers loaded all the survivors into wagons and headed for market. When they realized how severe my injuries were, they threw me out of the wagon into the woods."
Gabrielle was aghast, "They left a ten-year-old girl to die in the woods, alone?"
"Slavers are not known for their compassion." Xena supplied coolly.
"I don't remember much after that except what Melosa and the others told me. Terries and some of the older girls found me and brought me to the tribe. They were sure I wouldn't make it, even the healer, but Melosa said she saw a spark in my eyes that told her differently.'
'Survive I did and was adopted by the nation. They cared for me, taught me and gave me a new family. A family I love as if they were my own blood. But there was also a hatred growing inside me. A hatred born when my village was attacked and my family killed. The older I got the more it consumed me. Melosa saw it and recognized it. She tried to help but the fire continued to grow and I was certain that no one could understand how I felt." She stopped and cupped some water in her hand from the spring.
Xena watched her drink, knowing exactly the kind of rage she described. She too had felt the consuming hatred when her home had been attacked and her brother Lyceus had been killed. It was an emotion so strong that even now just thinking about it made her feel uneasy.
Gabrielle too had experienced some of that feeling when Perticus had been murdered. Yet she had not given into it, possibly because her foundation had been more stable. Growing up she had led an almost idyllic life. A life of close family ties and love that was constant, making her a more giving and understanding person. The kind of person that brought out the best in others.
Xena focused her attention back on Bethany as she continued.
"I .... felt overwhelmed, controlled by my anger. At times it even scared me and I longed to release it. That feeling became so strong that I became fearful for my sisters in the nation. I had a long talk with Melosa and she tried to reason with me, ease my fears but nothing she said helped. I left the nation when I was seventeen, eager to find an army and seek revenge on the attackers, for my family."
"Did you ever find them?" Gabrielle asked hanging on every word.
Bethany sighed and laughed sadly, "No, but I did find others to release my fury on."
A look of confusion appeared on Gabrielle's face but Xena met her eyes knowing what she meant
"We walked the same path." She said directly to Xena, "Now you see why I was willing to believe your change more easily than others might."
Gabrielle recoiled slightly, understanding now "You mean you were a raider? Attacking villages like yours was?"
Her silence was her answer. She bowed her head, the memories and shame still fresh and uncomfortable.
"Gabrielle," Xena began, "Everyone has a dark side. Sometimes circumstances cause that darkness to become dominant in a person. Even you succumbed to that for a short time after Perticus death."
"I know." She agreed grudgingly, "It just seems so surprising that going through something like that as a child could turn you into the very thing you seek to destroy."
Bethany looked up at Gabrielle with watery eyes, "Sometimes the dead are the lucky ones. We just want to be with them, no matter what the cost."
Xena was shaken by the response. In all her years she had never heard someone speak the thought that had crossed her own mind. Callisto was the only one who had ever come close to echoing that idea during the finale of their ladder battle. After she met Hercules she saw another way and left her past life and those thoughts behind. But to hear it now so bluntly and aloud, to know that there was someone else who felt the same, shook her to the very core.
"You changed." Gabrielle started again, "Both of you did. You beat the darkness and left it behind."
"Yes, but darkness has a price." Bethany sighed, "It stays with you forever, never letting you forget or forgive your sins."
"Artemis forgave you. She even chose you as a protector of the innocent." Gabrielle smiled trying to lighten the mood.
"And Xena found you." Bethany grinned.
Gabrielle blushed and giggled but Xena knew that Bethany was right. She had appeared when Xena was at a crossroads. Despite how resistant she had been to the young woman, Gabrielle had stayed with her, becoming a friend, confidant, teacher and even savior on occasion. "You're right." Xena admitted.
"How did you become a Guardian or is that a secret?" Was Gabrielle's next question.
Bethany continued her tale with a lighter tone to her voice and manner, "I rode with an army for a few years. I did a lot of terrible things and one day during a raid I realized that my rage was turning into something else. An excuse to keep from dealing with what had happened to my family and me. As those soldiers terrorized that innocent village, I saw a child standing amid the chaos. She just stood there watching her home be destroyed and neighbors killed. Suddenly it came to me that I had been that child years ago, but now I was an adult and I could fight back. So I did."
Gabrielle's eyes widened with amazement, "You turned on you own army?"
Bethany nodded affirmatively. Refusing to go no further in discussing what had happened that day only that the little girl was still alive and the village still standing in one piece.
The camp was getting quieter now as the sun went down and darkness covered the land. The sounds of children playing mixed with the tree frogs and was carried on the air like a symphony.
"A few nights after that I was alone in a spot not much different from this. I was numb except for the confusion that racked my brain. I couldn't understand why or what was happening to me. I just wanted to be a little girl again and this time not survive the attack on my village. I heard a voice so soft and warm that I thought I was losing my mind. Then I saw a bright light descend from the sky and I thought the Gods had come to answer my prayer until the voice spoke again." Bethany stopped and remained quiet for several minutes.
The suspense was more than Gabrielle could stand, "So what happened? What did she say?"
Bethany smiled reflectively, "She enveloped me in the light and the old Bethany died and a new one was reborn with a purpose, a mission. I pledged that no child or innocent would ever suffer from my actions or lack of as long as there's breath in my body. She has been with me as a teacher, mentor and confessor ever since."
"And she gave you the power to see a person's essence." Gabrielle pushed on.
"That didn't come till after my training and I had proved myself worthy."
The conversation ended when the heard a man clearing his throat and Leonis appeared from the darkness, "Excuse the intrusion but the children are asking for you Captain. They won't settle down."
"Story time." Bethany remembered and rolled her eyes. "I promised I'd tell them the legend of Havenous the night before we arrived."
"The history of how it began?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. Do you know it?"
"She told me last night." Xena supplied, "It's fascinating."
Bethany looked at Gabrielle, "Would you like to tell them the story? I've got guard duty shortly and I could never do it justice in just a few minutes."
The aspiring bard quickly stood up, "I'd love to, that is if you don't mind."
"You'd be doing me a big favor and I have a feeling you could do much more for the story than I could." Bethany responded also rising to her feet.
Gabrielle looked at Xena who nodded and nudged her toward the main camp.
Before she took a step Bethany apprehensively touched her arm, "Thank you Gabrielle for everything. Both of you. For listening and not passing judgement."
Gabrielle reassuringly patted her arm, "We're sisters, right? Always."
Bethany bowed her head and repeated, "Always."
With that Gabrielle headed for camp, mumbling to herself the details of Havenous. Leonis followed a few steps behind her, ever watchful.
"That took a lot of courage." Xena spoke up a few minutes later, "Not only confiding your story to us but your surviving the trials that the Gods threw at you. I think the huntress chose very wisely."
Bethany extended her hand to help Xena to her feet. Xena accepted the offered hand and rose up. She stretched, feeling stiff from sitting for so long.
"She is wise." Bethany stated as they began the walk back to camp. "She convinced me that there was someone out there who could understand how I felt. Why I did what I did, because they too had experienced it and that when the time was right we would meet."
Xena cocked her head sideways, "When was this?"
"About four years ago."
Xena’s step slowed, "That can't be. That's before I met Hercules so it couldn't be me." She didn't like that her life was being observed that closely by the Gods. She knew that Aries had kept a close eye on her. He had gloated over that during their many encounters but now she was curious who else might be watching and why.
"Spooky, isn't it?" Bethany smiled echoing Xenas thoughts, "I like to think that they only watch us when they need us for something."
They were walking side by side by as they reached the edge of camp. Gabrielle was surrounded by children and some adults who were enthralled as she moved around, her arms making sweeping gestures from time to time for emphasis.
"Does it help?" Xena questioned after thinking about Bethany's statement.
"Nope." She snickered, her tone becoming lighter, "I've got to relieve Delia on duty. I'll see you in the morning."
Gabrielle smiled at them as they approached, never missing a beat from her storytelling. Xena leaned close to Bethany, "No, you'll see me in four hours when I relieve you. You asked me to help and that includes guard duty."
Bethany offered no argument, "All right. I think your Patron chose wisely as well." She waved to Gabrielle and ventured into the darkness surrounding the camp, leaving Xena wandering about her own life change.
The caravan was underway just after sunrise. Although the heat was still present, a promising batch of clouds was moving across the blue sky.
Their mood seemed almost festive as they neared the outskirts of the city. Xena, Gabrielle and Bethany walked together bringing up the rear of the caravan talking about various things. They had already discussed the decision that Xena would not be going any further than the outskirts of Havenous. Gabrielle had protested, wanting to see the mythical city and to finally get some decent supplies at their market but Bethany had understood Xenas reasoning.
Havenous had been in existence for almost twenty years. Its inhabitants all survivors of village attacks, some of those possibly by Xenas army. Their reactions would be the same as Benedictus and could cause an outbreak of violence. Bethany reluctantly agreed but Gabrielle persisted.
Finally Xena relented. She would ride on to meet with an old friend at Barbus and Gabrielle would accompany the caravan into Havenous for supplies. They would meet the day after tomorrow at high noon a safe distance outside the city.
"How far?" Xena asked after they had been moving for a few hours.
Bethany scanned the local landmarks, "Almost two hours out."
"I guess I better get going. It'll be late this evening before I reach Bradus." She tugged Argos reins and the horse moved up beside her.
"You sure you don't need my help?" Gabrielle was feeling a little guilty after putting up such a fuss over visiting Havenous. When Xena had admitted the real reason she couldn’t go into the city with her, the young woman had blushed and said no more.
"I'm sure. Alturn said it was just a small band of warlord wannabes. I think I can handle this one. You enjoy your visit and get plenty of supplies." Xena replied as she began checking Argos saddle and her saddle bags.
"Xena?" Bethany called. When Xena turned and met her eyes, the young warrior found her emotions were a jumble, "I can never repay you for your help. Meeting you has . . . meant more than you'll know."
Xena sensed her uncertainty. Snatching a quick look at Gabrielle, she saw that she was aware of it also. She placed her hand on Bethany's shoulder, "All of us have sins to atone for and we do what we can. I'm glad I was there and could be of help. To meet a Guardian has been a privilege, to call her friend is an honor."
Xena extended her other hand and Bethany firmly grasped her wrist, a warrior and friends handshake. They held it for a second longer and then parted.
"I'll see you day after tomorrow." Gabrielle replied stepping up to Xena and giving her a brief hug, "You be careful."
Xena pulled away and gave her a wink, "Always." Then she climbed into the saddle, " You too."
"She's under my protection." Bethany assured her.
With those word Xena knew that she could leave Gabrielle without any worry. She pulled the reins to the left and galloped north east, throwing up her hand as the villagers and soldiers wished her a safe journey.
Gabrielle and Bethany watched her until she disappeared into the distant tree line then they began discussing Havenous.
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