(with Barry Marsall)
CNís Note: This story idea was Barryís (whom now runs the Ultimate Fan Fiction Directory). After having the pleasure of meeting face to face with him on a business trip he took to Michigan, he asked if Iíd like to join him in this bardic venture. Itís been posted on the ex-guards mailing list during its creation and weíve saved the ending until we could publish it on this page. We hope you enjoy reading this tale as much as we enjoyed writing it. Remember these characters aren't ours, we're just playing with them.
The shop wasn't cluttered, or dirty, but it was over-crowded with merchandise neatly organized on shelves and tables -- it was like being in a wonderland where I could find anything I needed. I also noticed the quality of the items for sale was superior, which was a welcome change. My original intent was to buy a rope before Xena returned from putting Argo in the stable, but I knew I was going to have a hard time not being distracted by everything on display.
"Can I help you find something?"
The voice came from a middle-aged man. He had tufts of dark hair
on the sides of his head, and his smile was almost lost in his bushy
beard. A gnarled wooden cane in his right hand supported his weight
since the lower half of his right leg was missing.
I returned his smile. "I need a rope."
"Well, you've come to the right place. I have the finest
ropes in Acadia."
Probably the only ropes in Acadia, I thought in amusement.
Even with the cane, he moved with surprising speed and agility to
a table stacked with precisely coiled ropes. "Normally, I sell
them for fifteen dinars, but to you, it's ten dinars apiece."
I had to keep my eyebrows from going up. I would definitely need
to haggle with him. "You sound like a friend I know. His name
is Salmoneus." Sadness crept into my smile as I thought about
Sal -- I hadn't seen him in a long time and chances were, I never
"Salmoneus? Never heard of him..." The shopkeeper was
interrupted by four rough-looking men who entered the building. His
pleasant demeanor disappeared like rain into a thirsty sand dune.
"Hon," he whispered to me, "for your safety, I think
you should leave by the back door."
My smile was replaced by a frown and I shook my head. The
situation wasn't looking good, as I saw the four men spread out into
the shop, rummaging through the merchandise, scattering things right
"Ho, Meldus!" The leader of the thugs called out to the
shopkeeper in a guttural growl. "Luks like bidness be gud. So
much da bedder fer us."
"Today is your lucky day," I said to the rogue.
"That is, if all of you walk out now and never come back."
I grinned inwardly after saying that -- it sounded like something
that Xena would say. I guess her influence on me came out at times
like this. Besides, if talking tough to them caused them to go away
without violence, then I would be happy. I had a feeling I was going
to be disappointed, though.
The four of them stopped moving, standing silently with their
mouths hanging open. Apparently, a woman had never spoken to them in
such a fashion.
The leader's eyes narrowed, as he swaggered over to me. "Oh,
we be luky a right. We be gonna cleckt 'taxes' from Meldus, an we
git cha ina bargin. Wadcha say lads? Is 'er nuffa dis luv muffin ta
go 'round fer alla us?"
My sais were in my hands almost before I knew what was happening.
Trying to extort money was one thing, but the hint of rape in his
words caused me to see everything with an angry red tinge of rage.
There was a time when I would have tried to talk my way out of the
situation, but my patience was short these days. I had seen an
endless supply of ruffians over the years and like all of them,
these men needed a behavior lesson. I was going to be their teacher.
"Sorry fellas, but youíre just not my type."
The butt of the sai in my right fist broke his nose, causing him
to howl in pain while staggering backward. The man closest to the
door hurled a throwing knife at me. I blocked the lethal missile,
causing it to scrape off my sai in a shower of sparks. The other two
men on my left unsheathed their swords, surging forward in the
cramped space of the shop to strike at me. They had to face me one
at a time because there was no space to maneuver. I caught the sword
of the first man in a fork of my sai, and with a flip of my wrist,
disarmed him. A kick to his privates sent him tumbling into the man
behind him. They both fell struggling to the floor.
I heard the scuff of a boot behind me and knew the leader had
recovered enough to attack me from behind. Without turning, I
crouched low, scrambling under a table, then whirled to face him. I
had moved just in time -- his sword thudded into the floor where I
had been. I kicked the table toward him, causing it to crash into
his side. He released the blade, falling to his knees. Another kick
to his chin made him sprawl unconscious.
The other two thugs on the floor disentangled themselves, readied
their weapons, then charged toward me. The shopkeeper moved at that
moment, tripping one of the men with his walking stick. When the man
went down, Meldus cracked him over the head with the cane, knocking
him senseless. I dodged a slash from the other rogue, then struck
him in the belly when he was off balance from the swing.
As he doubled over, I leaned down, grabbing him by the collar and
hoisted his ear up to my lips. "Show your faces again in this
shop and youíre all dead men. Understand?" He gave a quick,
frightened nod and I popped him square in the jaw for good measure,
knocking him unconscious.
The man who had thrown the knife at me, was a coward -- he fled
through the front door. I wasn't about to let him get away. I
sheathed my sais, then tossed a bag of dinars to the shopkeeper.
"For the damage," I said in haste.
I ran outside, caught sight of him running past the corner of a
building and I sprinted after him. Rage drove my legs, causing the
distance between us to diminish, but he made it outside the village,
disappearing into the wooded hills beyond. I increased my pace so I
wouldn't lose track of him. I didn't need to worry; when I entered
the woods, I could hear him cursing while crashing through the
undergrowth. I followed the sound.
I stood at the top of a rise and saw him climb awkwardly over a
fallen log at the base of a hill. He stopped for a moment, looking
up to see me watching him. His eyes went wide before he turned to
vanish into the bushes. I frowned at that, but it could only mean
one thing; he had entered a cave. There were several caves in these
hills and I hoped they didn't connect. I plunged after him so he
I located the underground entrance, then went inside with sais in
my hands. A small amount of daylight pierced the gloom in the front
part of the cave, which made me thankful I wasn't blinded by
darkness. Still, he was not in sight. I immediately noticed a
peculiar burning odor and I realized what it was -- black powder. I
was familiar with that smell from the time Xena and I faced Khan's
army. How in Tartarus did that get in here?
I turned to flee, but the explosion eclipsed everything. The roof
of the cave collapsed, sending boulders falling around me in a
choking cloud of dust. The feeble daylight disappeared, making it
impossible for me to see to dodge the plummeting rocks. I remembered
a cave wall was close to my right, so I lunged in that direction to
get away from the cascading stones from above. I was struck on the
left arm, my right leg, and finally my shoulder. I slid down the
rough wall, barely clinging to consciousness.
I heard the muffled sound of someone screaming my name through
the mountain of rubble around me. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
The voice belonged to Xena. I thought I was dreaming, but the pain I
was feeling reminded me I was awake. She must have followed me out
of the village.
I struggled to call out. "Xena," I managed to say
weakly. I knew she would never hear me, and that was the last thing
I remembered before going unconscious.
When I finally woke up, there was complete silence -- it was like
being in a womb. The throbbing from the bruises, cuts and scrapes I
had received, was with me from the moment I regained consciousness.
The pain wasnít overwhelming, and that assured me I wasnít hurt
severely. I focused my attention on my injuries, discovering my legs
were pinned by rocks. I was relieved to find I could still move my
legs a little, which meant they werenít broken, just immobilized
by the stones. The dull ache in my head started to overpower me and
my breathing was becoming ragged. I had very little time to escape;
the air was running out.
Escape? Who was I trying to fool? There was no way to get out of
this mess; I was going to die here. After all the things I had been
through with Xena, I didn't want my life to end like this. Tears
came to my eyes when it was clear I would never see her again. I
decided to spend my last moments thinking about her.
A green glow surrounded me as I came closer to passing to the
other side. Funny, I don't remember seeing anything like that before
I died on the Roman cross. Then, I discovered where the strange
light was coming from. Just above me on the wall was a vein of
mineral glowing with the faint, unearthly emerald color. Something
about it was familiar -- something that I had heard in a story.
That's it! Iolaus had told me about it a long time ago. The mineral
had been used to make the Kronos Stone...
If I could get a piece of it, I might be able to go back in time
to keep myself from entering the cave. I frantically looked around
in the dim green light to find both of my sais on the ground next to
me. I stretched toward them, but I couldn't touch them. Ignoring the
pain, I struggled as hard as I could. Finally, I was able to grab
them. I struck one of the sais against the mineral, silently willing
a piece to break loose. A chunk broke free, falling beyond my reach.
I tried again and managed to get a small piece of the rock. I
clutched it along with my sais, but nothing happened. I didn't know
how to use a Kronos Stone, yet I did the only thing I could; I
concentrated my entire will to use it to get out of the cave.
Suddenly, I felt as if an unseen force turned me inside out. I
became nauseated and had the sensation of falling through a black,
yawning chasm. When the horrendous feelings passed, I wasn't in the
cave, or even outside of the cavern; I was flat on my back staring
at the ceiling of a huge, vacant chamber with an empty throne. The
fragment of stone had malfunctioned, but at least I was free.
I sat up slowly, wincing from the pain, grateful I was still
intact and could move. I sheathed the sais, then tested my legs to
see if I could stand. Satisfied that my limbs were stable, I made it
to my feet. I put the Kronos stone down my leather top between my
breasts for safekeeping -- I couldnít afford to lose it.
Before I could fully examine my surroundings, I heard voices
echoing from outside the stillness of the massive room. I searched
for somewhere to hide as the voices came closer. Behind the huge
throne was a colorful drape of different purple and blue hues. I
steadied my breathing, ignoring my pain, as I limped behind the
curtain when a large door opened and two sets of footsteps entered.
"But my Ladyship-," a male voice pleaded.
"But what?" a woman hissed. It was only two words, but
I knew that voice even though the material in front of me concealed
my eyes. It was Xena!
"With all due respect my Lady, any action taken in the
western region will be seen as a threat to Rome." He sounded
frightened by his own words, yet still determined to state his mind.
"Lagetus," Xena sighed. "I pay you to make me look
good, not to draw up battle plans. Do you think I want this
conflict? No. I donít. Do you think I want this land once I win?
No. I donít. That has been the downfall of many a great leader.
You can only control so much so far, and Iím very content with my
Ďholdingsí. However, if rebels in that region want to challenge
my authority, I canít be responsible for the outcome. If itís a
fight Rome is looking for in the end, itís a fight sheíll
"But my Lady-."
"Lagetus, enough! I suggest you leave now before you try my
patience any further," Xena stated firmly.
I didnít hear the man make another sound except for the
shuffling of his feet toward the door in haste. Seconds later, the
door closed with the finality of the conversation and I heard Xena
release a frustrated sigh. I peered out from the edge of the curtain
to get a view of her, unprepared for what I might see. My first
reaction was surprise. Apparently, the stone had sent me into the
Xena looked older, much older. In fact, she resembled Cyrene, her
mother, in a certain way as she sat at a large desk, quill and
parchment in hand. I was on the verge of making myself known when I
heard another door open on the far right. I ducked back quickly with
the new image of Xena burned in my memory Ė salt and pepper hair,
worry lines around her beautiful eyes and lips. She was still
awe-inspiring after what appeared to be twenty years later. She was
beautiful all right, and by the recent conversation, very powerful.
My curiosity got the better of me when I heard the light
footsteps of a woman. I peeked out again to see a young lady move
toward her. She was nearly twenty years younger than Xena. The
greeting the woman gave Ė running her hand up Xenaís arm to rub
her shoulders Ė left no doubt about the nature of their
Twenty years had passed for Xena, but only twenty minutes had
passed for me. I tried to tell myself this, yet I felt my blood
beginning to boil as I watched the unknown woman stroking MY
"Youíre late," the woman chastised playfully.
"Yes, Tani. The affairs of state had to take precedence over
the...affairs of state." Xena grinned as she eased back and
pulled the woman down onto her lap.
Tani picked up the parchment that Xena had been writing on as
Xena wrapped her arms around the womanís waist, snuggling into
blonde hair that cascaded over her shoulder. Tani cleared her throat
as if to read it out loud and Xena snatched it away, putting it back
on the table.
"Oh come now, my Lady," the woman grinned coyly.
"Let me read your latest adventure."
"Itís a journal, not a scroll," Xena replied. "Iím
I noticed the sadness in Xenaís voice as she said the word Ďbardí
and I felt my heart pull apart and fuse together repeatedly. I hated
to see Xena sorrowful, but I was also relieved that I wasnít
simply forgotten in her memory. To say I was unhappy, was an
understatement. I always said if something were to happen to me, Iíd
want Xena to move on, but living to see that Ďmoving oní was
something I was unprepared for. I swallowed my tears that threatened
to spill forth. I tried to take as deep and quiet a breath as
possible to calm my nerves at the sight before me.
"You could hire a bard," I heard the woman suggest.
I knew what that kind of Ďperhapsí meant. It was the one that
said, ĎI donít see it happening but Iíll humor you by giving
an answerí. I wondered silently if that young woman could read the
warrior as well as I could.
"Why donít you go to bed? Iíll be there shortly."
"Promise?" Tani asked before giving Xena a slow,
burning kiss on the lips.
"Promise," Xena echoed, returning the kiss with a
similar one of her own. "I have something I have to attend to
Without further words, the woman worked her way out of Xenaís
embrace and back to the door where she had entered. Once Tani exited
the room, I watched Xena rise.
Quickly I ducked behind the curtain to my hiding place. I felt
the air sucked from my lungs as I heard Xenaís footsteps Ė
heading not toward her loverís door, but to my space behind the
Oh no! Sheís found me!
I prayed she wouldnít draw her sword and stab me blindly
through the curtain. I leaned down and pulled my sais in an attempt
to thwart any attack that might come.
"Show yourself!" I heard her voice boom. The volume and
authority of it made me jump slightly, but I was relieved that she
was giving me the chance to expose myself without injury.
Without wasting another moment, I sheathed my sais and slowly
moved the curtain back until we stood face to face.
"Itís me Xena."
It was all I could say at the moment. Words were hard to form,
even for this bard. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but I
knew she would have questions of her own that needed to be addressed
first. I watched in silence as her sword fell through trembling
fingers to rattle against the floor.
"Gabrielle?! How did you. . .? Why didnít you . . .?"
Her utter surprise left her unable to complete a sentence and I
had to smile. Xena wasnít often flabbergasted and I found her
reaction endearing on a certain level. When her questions didnít
come, she made a simple statement. "Youíre dead."
"No Xena, Iím not," I insisted. Her eyes narrowed and
she regained her sword with a kick of her boot. I watched almost
hypnotized as it returned to her hand with ease. I could see her
mind working and I knew it wasnít good.
"Impostor!" she hissed.
Uh oh. Not good at all.
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" I said in a hush,
pleading for my life, hoping not to be overheard. "I can prove
She gave a shake of her sword as a means of telling me to
"Youíre an early riser," I told her. "You like
mead more than wine. You only snore when youíre on your back.
"Lucky guess. Anyone could tell you those things," she
"We have a daughter, Eve. She was the Champion Of Rome until
we broke free from Aresí ice tomb," I said quickly,
struggling to reason with her.
"Once again, this proves nothingÖany bard could tell you
those adventures. Iím not impressed." She raised her sword to
strike and I knew I had to get specific if I was going to live. I
stopped using my mind, searching for facts. I had to let my heart
"You said even in death youíd never leave me!"
She hesitated just a moment Ė enough for me to continue.
"In heaven, you told me our love was an end unto
Acceptance began to take hold in her eyes.
"The first night we made love, was after we defeated Baccus.
You told me youíd love me forever and youíd wished I was the
first. It was the first time you called me Brie -- you only call me
that when we make love... None of these things was written in a
single scroll, and you would know, because you read them in the
amazon village when you considered taking Eve and walking away from
me. Waiting so long to read my scrolls was one of the regrets you
voiced in a Roman cell as we awaited our execution. No one knows
these things Xena. Just you and I. Well...at least I never told
Xenaís stony demeanor slipped and she began to weep openly. She
fell to her knees, laying the sword at my feet. I leaned down and
pulled her into my arms. I felt safe and warm, although she was
shaking tremendously. In light of her tears, she was still the
strongest woman I ever knew. Even though this wasnít the time or
place where I expected to be, I could live out the rest of my days
here. I had found Xena, and thatís all that really mattered.
Xena rose to her feet taking me with her. Her thumbs had wiped
away tears on my face I hadnít even realized were there. She gave
me that lopsided grin I always loved. The gray in her hair didnít
matter. The crowís feet didnít matter. She was still MY Xena.
She lowered her head to move in for a kiss, which I was more than
willing to accept. We were on the verge of locking lips behind the
throne, when we heard a door open.
She and I immediately froze and locked eyes Ė neither of us
sure of what to say upon hearing the female voice calling for her
"I thought you were dead," Xena explained to me in a
low, guilty voice.
The grin I gave her was the hardest one I ever had to give in my
life. "I understand," I mustered sympathetically. "Go
Xena looked truly torn. She gazed deep into my eyes; then toward
the direction where her lover stood, unable to see the two of us.
"I wonít leave until I can explain how I got here," I
promised her. "So go."
"You wonít leave. Period." Xena said forcefully, but
low enough for her lover not to hear.
"Gonna hunt me down if I do?" I teased with a wink.
"Yes." Xenaís voice was curt.
Her abrupt seriousness caught me by surprise, but I didnít let
it show. The passage of twenty years had done nothing for her sense
of humor. I think she had been hanging around her soldiers too
"Tani, wait in the bed chamber," Xena called out to her
lover. The statement was a command, not a suggestion.
"Look Xena, I said I wouldnít go anywhere. You know me. Iím
a woman of my word," I told her soundly.
She gave me a grin. "Sorry, itís been a long day for
me," she said, then leaned close to kiss me with the abandon of
years lost from her. "Iíll be right back. I swear it."
Her fingertips caressed my cheek before she walked to the bed
"Go to bed," I heard her order Tani. "I have an
unexpected visitor I need to attend to." I couldnít hear Taniís
response, but I knew it wasnít favorable, because my warriorís
voice boomed through both rooms. "Yes my domain does come
first! And I expect you to be asleep upon my return!" With
that, the door of the sleeping quarters was slammed shut.
Xena tried to give a smile as she returned, but I could sense her
"Xena," I began in a quiet voice, "I donít want
to cause you any problems. Maybe my coming here was a mistake."
"Never," Xena replied with a genuine grin on her face
this time. "Come now, weíll get you to some sleeping quarters
where we can speak privately."
My heart was undecided. I didnít want to cause Xena grief. I
didnít want to be the reason for any marital woes for her. But I
did promise to explain what had happened. I figured I owed her that
much, so I followed her lead from the grand hall.
As we walked through the double doors down the corridor,
impressed was far from how I felt. In awe was more like it, but even
that paled in comparison to what I experienced. Xena didnít have a
castle -- she had a palace. One that rivaled palaces we saw in Rome.
The artifacts that lined the hallway came from all corners of the
world Ė a collection of throwing stars from Chin, a suit of armor
from Britannia, and many other oddities that I had no idea of their
origins. I was compelled to stop and examine them, but I kept pace
with Xena as we walked along.
"Dara," Xena called out to an older woman Ė perhaps
in her 60ís Ė who was dusting some of the displays. "Are
the quarters in the East wing vacant tonight? I have an old friend
here that stopped by unexpectedly."
"Yes my lady," the woman answered respectfully with a
"Good," Xena smiled. "Make sure you have someone
send up some food from the kitchen Ė figs, cherries, some stuffed
grape leaves and nutbread. Wine too Ė not the stuff we give to Ďguestsí
either." Xena stressed. "But the GOOD wine. Think you can
"Yes my lady," the woman replied again.
"Oh and make sure you send someone from housekeeping with
some of those sheets from Chin Ė the green silk ones." Xena
paused for a moment. "See that a sleep shift in blue arrives as
"Yes my lady."
I started to wonder if this woman could ever say anything except,
"Yes my lady."
"Thank you Dara," Xena said sincerely.
"Youíre welcome my lady."
What do you know? She actually said something else, I chuckled
silently to myself. Xena and I continued our journey and my eyes
scanned the different passages, trying to see as much as possible.
After what seemed like a candlemark of walking, I was on the verge
of asking Xena if we were there yet, but, before I could open my
mouth, Xena stopped in front of a door. A soldier who was standing
at his post nearby, dashed over and unlocked the room for her. He
opened the door and gave a quick look around to make sure the room
was empty, then he handed her the key.
"My lady," he said with a nod. He turned and grinned at
me, giving me a nod as well. He appeared to be a little smitten, but
I graciously returned his grin and nod with one of my own.
Suddenly, Xena grabbed the young man by the throat, making him
gag. "Ogle this woman again," she threatened. "And Iíll
see to it that you have no--equipment--to be of use for her or any
other woman. Got it?"
"YeÖyeÖyes my lady."
Xena released his throat and pushed him back. "You may go
with your life -- this time."
I was stunned. So stunned that I didnít even notice the young
man had left until Xena turned back to me, asking if I was all
right. It took me a moment to come back to her question since I was
replaying in my mind what had happened.
"Yeah, Iím fine, Iím just..."
"What?" Xena asked, concerned.
"...shocked. I mean that young man. He didnít do anything
but smile at me, Xena. Men happen to do that from time to
time," I said, hoping some levity might help the situation.
"Not in my domain, they donít," Xena grinned.
"Look," she conceded when she realized it still upset me,
"I know it seems harsh, but I have to make sure they understand
that youíre off limits."
"Well thank goodness he didnít goose me," I chuckled.
"He might have left with a few less teeth."
"No," Xena replied in all seriousness. "He would
have left without his hand, or perhaps some other part of his
anatomy. One of my generals thought it would be cute to pinch Tani
Ė all in the spirit of fun, he cried in his defense later. Heís
mucking my stables now with one hand."
I wasnít sure how to respond. I wanted to tell Xena that it
wasnít right, but I didnít know how she would react -- I could
see that living like a Conqueror for the past twenty years had given
her a hair-trigger temper. I was relieved when we were interrupted
by a soft knock at the door.
"Enter," Xena called out.
Three women came inside, carrying the items Xena had requested.
They went to work preparing the meal and the bed. Moments later they
were off, scurrying away as if they were afraid to overstay their
As Xena popped the cork on the wine and handed me a glass, she
began to speak. "Now you promised to tell me your story
Gabrielle," she said in a sober tone.
"Iíll tell you mine, if you tell me yours first," I
countered, playfully, hoping it wouldnít be considered an act of
defiance. I didnít want the impression of her fingertips around my
neck as well...
"Okay my bard," she chuckled, pouring the alcohol into
our crystal goblets. "OhhÖit feels so good to say that again
Ė Ďmy bardí." She walked over to the bed and took a seat.
"Anyway, where would you like me to start?"
"The cave," I said immediately. "What happened
after the cave collapsed?"
I watched Xena down her glass of wine and pour herself another.
"I tried to get to you," Xena said softly. "When I
realized what happened, I ran back to town to get help. A few people
came, and a shopkeeper who said you were a brave young woman."
Xena grinned bittersweetly.
"I told them to get to work moving the stone while I
searched for another entrance. I went over the whole area, but I
found none. When I got back, everyone but the shopkeeper was gone,
and when I asked where everyone was, he said they gave up. It was a
lost hope. If you werenít dead already, youíd run out of air
before we could move the stone. He apologized and made his
I watched as Xena sighed, taking a huge swig of her wine before
"I clawed at that cave entrance for over a day. My hands
were bloody. Some of my fingernails had been ripped from my skin,
but I didnít stop until I fell over from exhaustion. When I woke
up, I realized what a waste my life had become. I had spent my days
defending people, towns...towns like the very one we were in and for
what? For them to turn their back on me when I needed them most? We
gave our life for them and this was how they repayed us?"
I noticed her eyes were beginning to get moist, but she held back
her tears. She paused for a second to drink more wine, staring off
in the distance, as if she was seeing all of those painful memories
from her past.
"I remembered something that Ares told me," she
continued. "He said I was always fighting for a better world,
and that I was going to conquer and rule it. But, I realized I didnít
want Ďthe worldí. Thatís why Rome is beginning to fall -- they
own so much, they canít defend it. I had a simple goal. I didnít
want a complicated life. I just wanted to live. I wanted to make up
the rules, and I wanted a place where people could be free from
She turned to look at me, her eyes almost pleading for me to
understand. This was not easy for her, and I smiled, placing my hand
"I realize some of my rules are strict -- no divorce,
remarriage only through death, losing limbs for crimes of theft,
high taxes to help cover the programs in my domain. It may sound
harsh, but people court each other longer, crime is very low and
children by age 8 can read better than most adults in other lands. I
think Iíve done a very good job. The people seem happy. Morale is
good. And I have an army to defend our way of life -- all volunteer
soldiers, by the way. My army is not ordered to serve.
"I may not have the world that Ares hoped for, but I have a
place in this world. And, if another rockslide ever happens,"
Xena said and grinned, "I have the POWER to see you are freed
I couldnít keep myself from grinning, as well. Sheís in
there. My Xena is still in there. Sheís harsher than before, but
deep down she was the same. I realize I must have drained my cup
while I listened to her story and she poured me another.
"So Gabrielle," she said lying back on the bed.
"Thatís my tale. Now tell me yours -- fair is fair," she
Even though I felt she was MY Xena, I had some apprehension at
first when telling my story. I wasnít sure why. Perhaps it was my
Ďgift of prophecyí that I had confessed to Xena as I lay dying
from a Persian arrow a long time ago. My hesitation came from a
gnawing feeling inside my gut that said perhaps I was wrong about
Xena -- perhaps she would be Ďharshí forever and I wouldnít be
able to soften her heart. In that instant, I realized she had
someone elseís heart -- Tani. And how would that all fit?
"Youíre not gonna chicken out on me are you
Gabrielle?" Xena teased when I didnít respond.
"Well," I replied, as I pulled out the stone I had
tucked between my breasts. "This is what saved my life. Itís
"Kronos stone," Xena finished.
"Yes. I found it in the cave."
"You leapt forward in time," Xena deduced. "Which
is why you look so young."
I nodded. "I remembered Iolausí tale about traveling
through time. I thought I could just use it to get out of the cave,
but for some reason I managed to Ďlandí here. And I do mean
land," I said with a chuckle. "I ended up in the middle of
your throne room with no idea where, or when, I was."
Realization washed over Xenaís face as she looked into my eyes.
"For me itís been twenty years but for you...itís only been
a few candlemarks."
"Yes," I answered.
"And you saw me with Tani didnít you?"
"Yes, I did."
Xena released a shaking sigh. "Oh Gabrielle. Iím sorry, I
I put my fingers over Xenaís lips. "Itís okay. I didnít
come here to complicate your life," I said trying my best to
convince her. "I just wanted to get out of that cave Ė to get
back to you."
"Youíre here now. Iím here. Thatís all that
matters," Xena said quickly.
"But Tani --."
"Is not your concern," Xena answered. "She is my
wife, true. But you were my bondmate first."
"Iíve been gone for twenty years Xena. Donít you have a
rule that nulls a marriage after that kind of a departure?" I
argued. It was common knowledge that if a husband or wife was gone
for five years, then they were considered dead with no Ďlegalí
ties. Xena couldnít meet my eyes after I posed that question.
"This is different," Xena muttered.
"Why?" I grinned, trying to be optimistic. I hoped she
would see that she had a good life, a woman who loved her,
regardless of my presence. "Because youíre the ruler? Do as I
say, not as I do?"
"Damn it Gabrielle!" Xena shouted, clearly frustrated.
I felt her frustration but there was no point in yelling about it. I
watched as she darted from the bed and began to pace.
"Donít damn me," I answered softly. Perhaps my quiet
words could calm the tension. "I feel damned already. Iím in
love with a married woman. And you should know that I would never
take another womanís wife Ė no matter how much I love her."
Xena stopped in front of me, her blue eyes piercing. "Do you
"More than life," I answered honestly. I did.
Xenaís rage seemed to calm and she knelt beside the bed.
"Will you stay? At least a few more days?" she pleaded,
her voice heavy with a sob.
I looked into those azure eyes that captivated me from the first
day I saw them. I was never able to refuse them.
"I will...for a while longer."
That seemed to appease her and she gave me a nod as she rose to
her feet. "Thatís all I can ask for right now."
"Good," I grinned for show. "Because thatís all
I can give at the moment."
Xena walked to the dresser and let the sleeping shift fall
through her fingers until she held it only by the straps. "I
wanted to make love to you tonight," she confessed as she
strolled back toward me, holding out the garment. "But I know
how strong your convictions are about adultery," she added.
"I do however, have one request if I may be so bold."
Xena might be twenty years older, but that come hither voice was
still thick and smoky and oh-so-difficult to resist.
"What?" I asked. Anything Ė Iíll give you anything,
my mind screamed. But just when my arousal arrived, I realized I
couldnít give Xena everything -- not with Tani in her life.
"May I dress you for bed?"
She didnít wait for a verbal response -- she read it in my
eyes. She laid the shift on the bed and moved behind me, delicately
untying the laces of my halter top until my breasts were free.
"Cold?" she teased as she looked over at my erect
"Quite warm actually," I answered, swallowing hard to
keep my desires at bay. All she had to do was bring those strong
hands around me and caress my aching breasts. I would be hers then.
But much to my relief, and disappointment, she took me by the hands
and pulled me from the bed. She unfastened my belt and my skirt
joined my top on the floor. I kicked my boots off and I knew she was
appraising my nude form. I reached for the shift but she Ďtiskedí
"Iíll do that," she replied, huskily. She was so
aroused I could smell her desire. Of course, she didnít dress me
immediately. She took a few more moments to admire me Ė naked and
exposed to her, the way she had earlier that morning in my world.
I watched as she slowly gathered the material in her hands inch
by inch in some kind of loverís game. My reserve began to crumble
stone by stone with each motion her hands made. When she stepped
behind me I lifted my arms, giving her better access. I suddenly
held my breath when I didnít feel the material fall like I
expected. She was holding it above me, admiring my backside.
When she did finally release it, the silk was a cold contrast to
my warm skin and I felt myself suck in more air from the feeling.
Her hands then ran over the length of the garment where it stopped
mid-thigh and I could feel a cry of passion stuck in my throat that
I didnít dare let escape. I didnít want her to see my arrival,
but I realized that my desire was always transparent to Xena. This
time was no different and I heard her chuckle.
"I could take you right now," she said, confident in my
desire, her breath tickling my ear. "Youíd love it, you
"I would," I confessed. However, I realized this was
not the same woman I woke up to this morning. This was a different
woman. With different commitments. "But then, Iíd hate myself
in the morning...because Iíd be alone and youíd be waking up in
Xenaís lips were beginning a descent to my neck and she stopped
abruptly. The reality of her life clashed with any fantasy she had
in the past twenty years. I felt her pull away.
"Sadly thatís true," she agreed despondently, as she
moved away. I watched her walk toward the door. "Titus!"
she called out.
The young man from earlier darted back in, but this time, he
avoided any eye contact with me. "Yes my lady?"
"You remember Gabrielle, donít you Titus?"
The man looked a bit shaken, unsure of how to answer for fear of
losing his life. "Yes my lady," he replied.
"Good," Xena grinned. "Iím going to formally
introduce you. Titus, this is Gabrielle, my dear friend. Gabrielle,
this is Titus, your new guard. You are permitted to go anywhere in
the palace -- even my bed chambers if you so desire," Xena
grinned devilishly to me. I did my best to hide my blush. "Only
rule is, you take Titus with you. And Titus, you will guard
Gabrielle and no one else. If harm befalls her in any way, then harm
will befall you. If Gabrielle dies, then you too, will die. Do you
"Yes my lady," he nodded firmly with a salute.
"Good man," Xena complimented. "Now go keep post
outside. Gabrielle might need her beauty sleep."
"Yes my lady."
As quick as he had entered, Titus left, and I watched Xena stroll
casually back to me. "I meant what I said. You can go
anywhere...even my bed."
"I know," I replied. "I think itís safer if I
just call it a night...here," I added, looking around the
"Well then," Xena said taking my hand and giving a
light kiss to my knuckles. "Until tomorrow...my lady."
The term wasnít lost on me. Xenaís servants addressed her in
such a fashion. She was their ruler. Applying the term to me meant
that after all these years, I still Ďruledí her and I felt my
"Good night, Xena," I smiled.
"Good night, Gabrielle."
Without a backward glance, Xena was gone and I climbed into the
bed. I had been through so much in the last candlemark, I felt
overwhelmingly tired because of it. As I climbed into the big bed
and covered up, I realized I could very well get used to this Ďpamperedí
life. But, could I be the mistress of the most powerful woman in the
world? I have to admit, a naughty chill ran down my spine at the
thought of it, burying its way into my sex.
Gabrielle, Mistress Of The Conqueror has a nice ring to it, I
chuckled in light of everything. I wasnít sure what I was going to
do, but somehow, some way, Xena and I could work together and get
things sorted out. We always did before. We could still do it now. I
secured the stone under my pillow. I would think about it tomorrow.
I awoke startled, as a sudden weight landed on the bed; I almost
lashed out instinctively in self-defense, but stopped myself when I
saw Xena. Her eyes were inches from mine and they were glazed from
the effect of liquor. The smell of ouzo on her breath was
"Grabbbielle...wake up." Xena chuckled. "Did I say
Grabielle? I meant Gab-ri-elle."
"Xena, are you all right?"
She suppressed a belch, while nodding. "You been on ma mine
all-night-long, ssso I bin all fine."
I wanted to say that drinking had been on her mind all night
long, but I kept that thought to myself. I had never seen her this
drunk, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable -- drunken
conquerors with short tempers were not on my list of pleasant things
to endure. "You should get some sleep."
"Sleep with you? Dammmmn. What-a-good-idea."
She wiggled her eyebrows, then tried to hug me, but collapsed
giggling on my chest, instead. I gently pushed her off -- I didnít
want her to think I was spurning her attention.
"Sssorry Ďbout that," she said while sitting up,
swaying slightly. She clumsily placed her right hand on my breasts.
"I donít wanna crush these."
I sat up in the bed, holding both of her hands. "Xena, I
think you should get some rest. We can talk later."
"Gabrielle." Her voice was suddenly soft and serious.
There was a look of sadness on her face. "Do you love me?"
"Of course. You know that I do."
"Then tell me...tell me what we can do to make this
work..." Her voice became small, trailing off. Moisture made
the sky-blue of her eyes bright and her hands gripped mine, not
wanting to let go.
I swallowed around the lump of sorrow in my throat. Why did
things have to work out this way? She had been through so much in
her life -- I didnít want to see depression added to that list.
"I donít know yet," I said quietly. "I need time to
think about the situation weíre in. We both do."
She nodded. "Youíre right. Have I ever tole you youíre
alwase right Ďbout stuff like this? ĎCause I wanna tell you. I
wanna tell you everythiní and anythiní I feel Ďbout you. I kud
never tell you alla those years. I juss donít wanna loose
you..." Her tears started flowing freely now.
I tenderly put a finger on her lips. "Itís all
right." My own voice was quivering with emotion. "It will
be all right."
I hugged her and we rocked slowly side to side. We stayed that
way for long moments, then I realized she had fallen asleep. I
gently eased her back onto the pillow, smoothing her tousled mane of
hair from her closed eyes. I carefully got out of the bed, so I
wouldnít disturb her.
As I dressed in my leathers and tucked the stone in my boot, I
thought about the situation we were in. Could I persuade her to null
her marriage to Tani? It was a selfish idea, with lots of
complications as far as Xenaís rule in her domain, but, she was
ultimately in charge and could do anything she wanted. And, was it
selfish after all? I was with Xena first. The dilemma hurt inside
me, yet I didnít want to transfer that hurt to Xena, or even to
Tani. I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath to clear my thoughts.
Perhaps a quiet walk through the palace could help me think better.
Before I left the room, I made sure the heavy silk curtains on
the windows were drawn against the morning light and I blew out the
guttering candles so Xena could sleep comfortably. When I opened the
door, Titus jumped to his feet, looking bleary-eyed -- the poor man
had been guarding the room all night with no sleep. I wondered how
this guard arrangement would work, especially if he was supposed to
be near me all the time. How was he going to get any rest, or bathe?
I almost chuckled at that last thought. I certainly didnít want
him around if he was going to smell like a pig pen.
"Good morning Titus."
He nodded, looking nervous at my presence. "Good morning
His discomfort was beginning to bother me, as well. I could see I
would have to put him at ease. "Titus, first, just call me
"As you wish, La...uh, Gabrielle."
"Second, I want you to relax around me. I know Xena can be
harsh sometimes, but I wonít let her do anything to you."
He nodded, looking a little relieved.
"And third, I want you to get something to eat, take a bath,
then get some rest."
The nervous look was back in his eyes. The things I had requested
would conflict with his orders from Xena -- he couldnít guard me
if he was off taking care of himself. He was about to object, when I
"Donít worry, Xena is asleep in my room and probably will
be for some time."
"Iím not sure..."
"Titus, I can take care of myself. I have been, ever since
the Amazons made me their Queen."
His eyes went wide. "Youíre that Gabrielle?"
I chuckled. "Yes, Iím that Gabrielle."
Now, he really looked uncomfortable. I could imagine how he felt
about following the orders of two Queens -- especially if those
orders were contradictory. I wasnít trying to do it on purpose, I
just wanted to see his needs were met.
After a moment of silence, he said, "Iím sorry Gabrielle.
I canít leave you to do those things."
I sighed. I could see I would have to take a different approach.
"All right. Iíll talk to Xena when she wakes up and get her
to assign another guard to me as well. That way you can look after
me in shifts."
His nervousness was replaced by a grateful expression.
I was looking forward to some time to be alone with my thoughts,
but since he was going to accompany me, I would have to think of
something else. I wasnít used to having someone follow me
everywhere. "Iím going to the throne room and I want to be
alone. When we get there, you can wait outside."
"As you wish."
"Titus, remember -- relax."
"Yes, Gabrielle." He grinned.
"Much better. Shall we?"
I started walking, taking in the wonders of the palace. The
quarters I had stayed in last night were just off a corridor that
intersected with the huge, main hallway. Sunshine cascaded into the
passage from windows high up in the walls, illuminating everything
with the soft, golden light of morning. I marveled at the columns
made from pristine white marble that supported the distant ceiling.
There were statues of graceful women and well-muscled men, crafted
from the same marble, that stood on pedestals beside the columns.
The line of figures extended so far, they seemed to shrink to the
size of my hand, but I knew it was an illusion.
I glanced to my right, noticing another statue placed by itself
in an immense room adjoining the corridor, and my curiosity caused
me to go in that direction. When I got a better look at the
sculpture, I stopped moving -- I stared in surprise at a perfect
marble likeness of me. The inscription on the pedestal read ĎGabrielle
- Queen of the Amazons - Requiescat In Pace.í
I felt sorrow as I looked at the statue; the same sadness that
Xena must have felt every time she looked at it, knowing in her
heart that I was gone. It was the same thing I would feel, if Xena
would pass to the other side without me. I abandoned that line of
unpleasant thinking, but I still felt bad about our current
I started walking again, with Titus trailing silently behind me.
I was so deep in thought, I didnít notice any other features of
the palace on my way to the throne room. How was I going to handle
this? My options were limited. Xena seemed determined to follow the
laws she had established regarding marraige. If I was going to be
with her, I had to think of a way to get her to change those rules
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a distant wail. I
stopped, looking at Titus. "What was that?"
"I believe that was someone in the dungeon." He was
apologetic. "Itís under the floor of the palace here."
"A dungeon? Why does Xena need such a place?"
"For criminals. There isnít much crime, but when people
break the laws, thatís where they go."
I was uncomfortable. I knew of the necessity for jails, but a
dungeon conjured up images of torment in my mind. "How many
people are down there?"
He shrugged. "Iím not sure. I donít think many -- maybe
a hundred people, or so."
"One hundred?!" I said, shocked.
He was taken aback by my dismay. "Those are the only
prisoners, which isnít bad considering the size of Queen Xenaís
Yeah, the only prisoners who are alive, I thought. I wondered
what their crimes were. Xena used to have a good sense of justice,
but after she lived like a Conqueror for twenty years, I wasnít so
sure. I continued my journey to the throne room, quickening my pace
to leave the disturbing sound.
When we arrived, Titus opened one of the massive double doors for
me, then I went inside. He nodded to me and shut the door, leaving
me alone. My mind was whirling with confused thoughts. Things were
happening that I wasnít accustomed to, so I had no answers. The
feeling of being caught in out-of-control circumstances was not
something I liked.
I noticed Xenaís journal on her desk, and I decided to look at
some of it, hoping I could get an idea of how to deal with our
future. I sat in the sumptuous chair behind the writing desk, then
started to read the most recent entry, which must have been written
I canít believe it! After all these years, Gabrielle is back
in my life. I thought she was gone forever. I had given up hope so
long ago and now I have the gift of being with her again. Only this
time, Iíll do everything right. Iím not going to lose her, no
matter what the cost.
And Tani? What am I going to do about her? This is enough to
make my head ache and I hate headaches. I have an idea, but I think
there are people who may not like what happens. They will see in the
end though, that this is the right way...
I closed my eyes, feeling a little relieved. She had come up with
an idea -- she always did. I knew I could count on her. I just wish
she would have written it in the journal, so I would know what she
intended to do.
I opened my eyes with the intention of continuing to read
previous entries, when I saw Tani standing before me. I hadnít
heard her come in. She must have been in Xenaís bed chamber
adjoining the throne room.
"So, youíre the famous Gabrielle."
"How did you know that?"
"I read the journal, just like you."
"I have the feeling Xena wouldnít like that."
She frowned. "Really? I happen to be her wife -- I donít
think she would mind. But, what I want to know, is, what gives you
the right to read her private thoughts?"
I knew more about Xenaís private thoughts than this woman would
ever know, and I even grinned, because I could tell Tani knew
that. "I was together with Xena, before you were born."
"But you were gone..."
"Not by choice," I interrupted.
"...and presumed dead," she finished.
"Everyone Ďpresumedí wrong. Iím here now."
"Why are you doing this?" Her voice quivered slightly.
Tears began to form in her gray eyes. "Why are you trying to
destroy our happiness?"
She was attempting to make me feel guilty for something that wasnít
my fault. "Do you think I wanted all of this to happen? No, I
didnít. But now, the question is, what can we do about it?"
She placed her hands on the table, leaning forward to look into
my eyes. "We? There is no Ďweí. Just Xena and I. . . You
must leave and never come back. That, is the solution."
"Thatís not the answer, and you know it. Xena knows Iím
alive -- sheíll just come looking for me."
She finally burst into tears, then ran into the bedroom, slamming
I stood, sighing. I hate headaches, too. I decided to go back to
my quarters to speak with Xena when she woke. I hardly even noticed
Titusí presence as I silently walked back to my room. He opened
the door when we arrived. Xena was not there. And moreover, the room
looked as if an earthquake had destroyed it. Concerned that someone
meant me harm, Titus carefully entered, suggesting that I wait by
the door. He checked every Ďhiding place,í not finding a single
In a palace this closely guarded, no one could have entered. One
person did this damage and I knew who that one person was . . . and
just what they were after. I stood for a few moments, thinking about
how I could find Xena. I turned to Titus -- he could sense my
questioning state before I said a word.
"My lady . . .I mean Gabrielle? What is it?"
"Where can I find Xena?"
"Iím not sure maíam," he answered politely.
"Most of her time is spent in the throne room or her . . . bed
chambers," he added with a bashful smile.
I grinned in spite of myself. Yeah, same ole Xena. My grin
slipped away, however, when I thought about the reasons I had to
speak to her. "Look, I need her right now," I told him.
"This wonít wait."
He looked uncertain. "She will be most displeased to see the
room in this condition," he said, knowing that this Ďmessí
could cost him his life.
"Youíre afraid sheíll harm you upon seeing this?"
"Yes," he answered. "I know she will."
Titus certainly is quite young, I thought. "I wouldnít
worry about this," I said, trying to calm his anxiousness.
"I can handle Xena. Besides Iím willing to lay odds that sheís
the one that did this."
"But why, my lady?" he asked, truly baffled.
I shook my head. I was irritated that Xena had wrecked the room,
and concerned about her motivation -- I knew in my heart of hearts
she did it, and why. "Power," I told the young man.
"Power and control."
"Power over what?"
Power over the stone and . . . "Me," I replied. She
tore the room apart looking for that damn stone. I just wondered why
she didnít ask for it when I first showed it to her. It seems my
apprehension at revealing how I had gotten here was well founded.
Maybe after her night of drinking, she had lost a little more of her
soul. I HAD to speak with her. "And since itís me that she
wants," I added, "itís me sheíll get. Can you find
He gave a quick nod. "Guard!" he yelled to a fellow
down the hall. "Find Queen Xena and inform her that Lady
Gabrielle needs her immediately in her chambers. Search the palace
I began to put things back in order. Titus came over to help, but
I ordered him to wait outside so he could inform me when Xena
arrived. Reluctantly he agreed, leaving the room. Before he left, he
offered to call for help to clean up the mess, but I politely
refused, going to work.
Long minutes passed. I had just begun to make the bed, when I
heard a friendly voice behind me say, "Iíve got maids to do
I didnít stop my task. I was still too mad. "Thatís
okay," I answered coldly, not looking up from tucking in the
bedsheet. "Iím not that special that I canít clean up after
myself . . . or should I say, after you."
Sure, it might cost me my life to speak in such a tone to the ĎConqueror,í
but Iíd had it up to here with her Ďspoiled bratí ways and
lack of trust.
"Titus," I heard her say, "leave us." Next I
heard the door close as I threw the bedspread over the mattress,
smoothing it out. I continued to work silently.
"You know," Xena chuckled, despite the fact I was
angry. "Iíve even missed your Ďsilent treatmentsí too. .
. Come on Gabrielle. Donít hold this against me."
Finally I looked up to see her take a seat on the bed I just
made. Her long salt and pepper hair cascaded over her shoulders.
Although I was still angry, I couldnít help noticing how powerful,
commanding, and sexy she still looked after all these years. Sex
appeal however, was not going to work on me. Not this time. Not
"Why did you do this? Donít you trust me?" I asked
her. I really needed to understand.
"Easy. You have the stone -- it brought you here and I want
it... Come on, Gabrielle. Just give it to me and we can be done with
"Why? So you can go back to take Rome? So you can take out a
few of your enemies? So you can get more riches than you can
"No. So I can keep you," she answered honestly. "I
already have everything I could want. I could give YOU anything you
want Ė silks from Chin, weaponry from Gaul . . . even those little
lamb dumplings you love from Britannia," Xena added with a
smile. "Whatever you desire is yours, Gabrielle."
What ever I desire, huh? "Well what if I wanted you - the
Xena I knew yesterday morning? Not the one in your reality, oh
Conquering Queen, but the one I used to know."
"That Xenaís had twenty years without you. Sheís
"Obviously, since I had to put this place back
together." I threw my hands up, motioning around the room.
"MY Xena would trust me. My Xena would tell me what she wanted,
or what she planned."
"Iím not YOUR Xena anymore, Gabrielle. Thatís
true," she confessed. "After all the battles without you,
after all the years as ruler of this land, Iím not the same. In
truth, Iíd say Iím better. All I want is the chance to prove it
to you, which is why I want that stone. I donít want you taking
off for another twenty years," she added playfully.
Unfortunately, I wasnít in the mood to play.
"Iím not giving it to you," I answered firmly.
"I promised I would stay so we could find a solution. I
promised I wouldnít leave before then, and I mean it. I need you
to trust me at my word Xena." I felt myself tearing up,
realizing that this was a situation we might not find a solution to,
and Iíd be forced to live without her again. "I just donít
know how this will work for us."
"Shhhh," she said, as she crawled over, gathering me in
her arms. "Donít cry sweetheart. Donít cry."
Her soft pleas had the opposite effect, making me cry even
harder, making me want her the way she used to be, even more than
before. I didnít want to walk away any more than she wanted me to
walk away. Xena and I were destined for each other -- we were
soulmates, but the Ďrealityí of it didnít matter, be it herís
or mine. We were meant for each other, that was the one thing that
was a constant.
I pulled back to wipe my eyes, getting myself together. "Iím
"Donít be sorry," she said. "Be happy." She
stood up, her hands cradling my face. "I have a solution to our
problem . . . well at least the ĎTanií problem that is."
Here it was! The answer! The solution! My ears perked up and my
eyes watched her with intensity. Just what did the Warrior Princess
have in mind?
"She committed treason this morning, and treason is
punishable by death in my domain," she grinned smugly.
Surely, she was joking. I chuckled and shook my head. "Youíre
something else Xena. Seriously, whatís the plan?"
"That is the plan."
Thatís the plan?! My grin fell so fast, it seemed like my jaw
shattered on the chamber floor. I couldnít form a single sentence
to pass my lips upon hearing this news. Finally, two words came to
me. "You canít."
"Of course I can. And I will. I told her not to leave the
bed chamber until I returned, but she did. She told me she spoke to
you in the throne room. She disobeyed my order, therefore committing
This was crazy. This was insane. I had to reason with her.
"Canít you just...banish her...or something?" I pleaded.
"Sheís young. You have more than enough power and wealth to
see she leads a good life somewhere else in your realm."
"That would be the same as a pardon. I have to uphold the
law. The law states that the penalty for treason is death."
I was going to be sick. I could feel my face grow warm and my
eyesight blurry. This was ridiculous. "What if it were me,
Xena? What if I disobeyed you? Would you put me to death?"
"By the heavens, no! Donít even think that!" Xena
said, seemingly appalled by the notion.
"Sure, you say that now," I prodded her. "But whatís
"Youíre Gabrielle." Xena smiled confidently,
stringing out the syllables of my name the way I always loved. At
least until today. Today, the sound just brought bile to my throat.
"Sheís your wife," I told her.
"Perhaps, but youíre my soulmate, and that means so much
more," Xena countered.
Thatís true, I considered. But just as quickly, I realized that
no matter how true that statement was, it wasnít a reason for that
girl to die. But, I also knew if I didnít convince Xena I was Ďokayí
with the idea, there would be no escape from this situation. I
couldnít run. And if I did, I surely couldnít hide for long.
Tani would be dead, and despite what Xena said, I would probably
meet the same fate if I left. I had to think. I had to buy some time
to form a plan to see that Tani stayed safe and that I didnít end
up losing MY head in the process. I turned away from Xena and
started to pace.
"You are my soulmate," I said, trying to be optimistic,
not meeting her eyes. "And, in truth, I was your bondmate
first," I added for effect.
"Exactly!" Xena was excited that I seemed to agree.
"So, you think this execution is the only way out?" I
asked as I turned to her. "After that, weíll be together
again -- like before?"
"Absolutely," Xena grinned, as she walked over to
capture my face in her hands.
I looked away, giving a firm nod. "Then so be it," I
said. The words almost choked me. "If thatís what you feel is
best, then thatís what weíll do. I donít want to live without
you Xena. So...do what you have to do."
I pulled away gently, going to look out the window. I knew if I
played it too enthusiastically, Xena would never fall for it. But
this way, with a hint of regret in my voice, maybe -- just maybe --
I can pull it off. I felt her come behind me and wrap her large arms
around me. She planted the most delicate of kisses on my neck.
"She wonít suffer," Xena whispered in my ear.
"It will happen so fast she wonít feel a thing, I promise
I felt the bile return, but I tried to swallow it. I HAVE to pull
this off. I couldnít reply, so I just wrapped my arms around hers
to give a show of support.
"However it has to be," I told her, trying to keep the
grimness out of my voice. "As long as I have you in the end. I
know itís selfish Xena, but, I canít help myself. I have to have
Oh yeah. Iím good. Xena turned me around and kissed me soundly
on the lips. I struggled to hide my reluctance at physical contact
with her. I had to play along, though. My fingers worked their way
into her hair, making her moan in pleasure as our tongues begin to
dance. After a few moments, I felt her lift me up to the window
ledge, taking a spot between my legs and we continued to kiss. Her
hands began to work their way higher up my skirt and I realized I
had to stop her now, or there will be no turning back.
"Xena," I said pulling back from her embrace. "Not
yet. Not now. Go do what needs to be done. Iíll be here when you
return, waiting for you."
Our breathing was ragged from our arousal and she rested her head
on my shoulder, to get a sense of control that I had managed to
steal with my kisses.
"Oh how I love you," she whispered to me.
"I love you, too," I lied.
Truth is, I didnít love this woman. I love the Warrior
Princess, not the Conquering Queen. I knew I could never love THIS
woman. But, much to my relief, she didnít sense anything amiss.
She smiled at my words, and without another comment, she turned,
strolling purposely from the room. She had a mission to accomplish.
She had a wife to kill.
After the door closed and I knew she was out of hearing range, I
ran to the chamber pot to vomit.
* * * * *
At least two candlemarks had passed since Xena left me in my
bedchamber. I couldnít stand to wait any longer and my attempts to
use the stone to jump back to buy some time backfired. Why had it
worked in the cave and wouldnít work now? I had only used it once,
so I wasnít experienced at making it function. Besides, it was a
fragment -- perhaps it would never operate right.
I realized I would have to do something. I couldnít rely on the
stone. I still had no idea what I was going to do, but confining
myself to my room while Xena went off to kill her wife didnít seem
I decided a visit to the throne room might be in order. When I
left the room, Titus was there as usual, looking more bleary-eyed. I
was sure the young man had been up for at least twenty-four hours
now. Damn it. I forgot to tell Xena about getting another guard.
"Have you seen Xena?"
Something had changed; he seemed colder toward me. "Perhaps
the throne room," he answered. "Sheís announcing the
sentencing of her consort. The execution will take place in half a
"I didnít intend for this to happen," I told him
"With all do respect Lady Gabrielle, your intentions mean
very little at this point. Tani has been a wonderful consort to the
Queen. Sheís a favorite among many."
"And now, because of me, sheís going to die," I
He nodded his head slowly, meeting me eye to eye. "Quite
"Well, Iím not going to let that happen. Take me to Tani."
I ordered him, as I began to walk down the hallway.
"Iím afraid thatís impossible."
"Nothing is impossible. Some things are just more difficult
than others. Is she in her chambers?"
"I donít know where she is. But, chances are, sheís in
"Take me there," I commanded firmly.
"But Lady Gabrielle-."
"I SAID take me there."
Without further argument, we walked wordlessly to the cells below
When I entered the dank dungeon, I was dismayed by the number of
people crammed into the cells. Titus had said about a hundred people
lived here. In truth, it looked more like two hundred, perhaps
three. And living wouldnít be a word I would use Ė existing was
more like it. The smell was gut wrenching Ė a combination of
feces, vomit and mildew. My stomach turned, just as it had earlier.
When I walked past the cells, prisoners began to clamor by the
gates, holding out their hands, begging for mercy. When I got to the
last cell, I noticed that it was empty except for one woman Ė Tani.
At least Xena was decent enough to separate her from the other
prisoners Ė they would have probably torn her limb from limb for
her association with the Queen.
She was huddled in a corner on a wooden bench, her arms wrapped
around her long legs.
"Tani," I call out tentatively.
She looked up, a sarcastic grin on her face. "Did you come
to gloat?" she asked despondently.
"No," I answered. "Iíve come to help you."
"And what can you do? Beg her for my life? Bat your
eyelashes and have her do your bidding? Or perhaps youíd have to
do something more favorable to the Queen, like dropping to your
knees to worship at her Ďalterí? Iím sure youíve done that
already though, havenít you?"
"For what itís worth," Gabrielle answered. "I
havenít Ďworshipped at Xenaís alterí as you put it, since my
return. And I donít want to see you harmed."
Tani stood up, walking toward me with a dignified grace.
"Well, what are my options? You said it yourself Ė Xena will
hunt you down if you leave. And if I leave, you can guarantee that
sheíd leave my carcass in the middle of town to serve as an
example once she found me. And trust me...she would find me."
"Would you be willing to walk away if I got Xena to pardon
your life? Would you go?"
Tani didnít answer immediately. She considered the question.
"Iíve spent five years of my life with Xena. She passed
through my town on the way back to the capital. I was still a
teenager then. I was betrothed. But the Conqueror saw me. She wanted
me. And by order of her law, she took me. It sounds quite harsh, but
in reality, I wanted to be taken." She looked at me with
piercing gray eyes.
"My life hasnít been easy with her," she continued.
"She can be violent. She can be moody. Sheís even raised her
hand against me now and then. But after years of trying, I finally
broke through. I finally made her realize it was ok to love again. I
would never have her love in the way that she loved you, but she
gave me all that she could, and I was grateful for that. Because
even a difficult life with Xena, was better than a boring life in a
farming town. You probably donít understand that."
"I understand more than you realize," I told her.
"But you still didnít answer my question. Would you leave if
I could persuade her to spare your life?"
"This morning I would have said no. Iíd stay and fight for
what I have. But now, with the hour upon me -- yes -- I would leave.
Because I love her," Tani chuckled in misery. "Can you
believe that? The woman is ready to kill me, but I still love her.
And I know I could never make her as happy as you could. So there
you have it Gabrielle. I have no pride. I have no shame. If you can
save my life, Iím willing to do what it takes."
I could never picture Xena with anyone else but me. However, as I
looked at Tani now and listened to her words, I realized that Xena
made the right choice. Tani was a good woman. I could see why she
was a favorite among the palace staff. Despite the fact she was a
romantic rival, I had to admit. I admired her, too. This woman had
strength, conviction and ambition. This woman didnít deserve to
die. And I knew that I wasnít about to let that happen.
"She wonít kill you," I promised. "You have my
She looked like she was about to reply, but we heard the main
cell door clank open. I turned to see four guards approaching her
"Looks like my timeís up." She gave a bittersweet
"It canít be time already," I said to the guards, as
they unlocked her cell. "Thereís still a few minutes left and
I must speak with the Queen."
"Who are you?" asked a guard. "And what are you
doing down here?"
I have to admit, his cocky attitude began to make me angry.
"Sheís Lady Gabrielle," Titus replied firmly before I
could speak. "A guest of Queen Xena with a clearance to be
anywhere she likes."
The other guardís eyes widened. For such a large palace, word
had quickly spread. "My apologies," he said with a
gracious nod. "But, Queen Xena is with the executioner awaiting
I stroked the young womanís arm, "It will be okay." I
tried to reassure her, but I wasnít so sure if I could appeal to
Xenaís Ďgood natureí to do the right thing. "Weíll go
out together," I told Tani.
She gave me a nod, but I could see she felt it was hopeless.
Silently, we all walked from the dungeon and through the palace
until we were outside in a court yard. There was a group of
onlookers Ė some who appeared to be on Xenaís council and others
who were mere spectators crowded the Ďgrandstandsí overlooking
the executioners block.
Xena looked stunned as she watched me walking out with Tani and
the guards. I wondered for a moment if I would be next for
disobeying the Queen by not staying in my quarters. I swallowed any
fear I had, moving to meet Xena as Tani was escorted to the chopping
block. As I approached, Xenaís feet finally set themselves in
"What are you doing here?" She asked, coming over to
me. "You shouldnít be here."
"Please donít do this," I implored. "Tani is a
bright, idealistic young lady and she doesnít deserve this fate.
Please consider what I said earlier. Give her the chance to live in
your domain far away and free from harm. Please?"
Xena opened her mouth, but closed it before saying a word. She
looked uncertain, as if she still wanted to say something, but the
executioner called out, "Shall we begin my Queen?"
Xena stared at me, then at the spectators around us. She gave a
nod to the guards to secure Taniís hands and feet with rope,
making escape impossible.
"Xena donít do this. You donít have to go through with
"Yes, Gabrielle, I do. You donít understand."
"Donít understand what?!" I was growing angry now.
"The fact that you would rather kill this woman than lose face
with these people by calling it off?" My hand waved toward the
onlookers in the courtyard.
She couldnít meet my eyes. "Yes," she muttered,
staring at her feet.
"On your word," the executioner called out to his
Come on Gabrielle. Think! Think! Do something! Anything!
When Xena looked up to the executioner, I made my move. I dashed
through the guards lining the block and without hesitation, I threw
my body on top of Taniís, holding onto her tightly.
"What are you doing?" Tani exclaimed in a shortened
breath, the weight of my body making it hard for her to breathe.
"If youíre going to kill her, then youíll have to kill
me too, Xena!" I yelled to our lover.
"Donít do this Gabrielle," Xena warned. "Iím
gonna count to three, and thatís it. Move, so justice can be
"Save yourself," Tani whispered to me.
"She wonít kill me," I whispered back. "I know
"You used to know her. You donít know her any
"One!" Xena shouted to us.
"You canít change the course of events," Tani said,
resolved to her fate.
"No. This isnít justice. Xena will see that."
"This is justice to Xena. Youíve betrayed her now, too.
Youíve shamed her in front of her troops. So go!" Tani
continued to urge me.
Xena paused for a moment to look into my eyes. I saw so much in
them - pain, regret, sorrow - but the strongest of all of these was
death. I realized she meant what she said. I also knew it was too
late to move.
"Three," she said softly, with a wave of her hand,
turning her back to us.
I could see the executionerís ax began to rear back to fall on
top of us. If only I had Lao Maís purity, I could influence Xena
like she did years ago and that may have changed things.
As the ax began to make the descent, I closed my eyes, holding
tight against Tani, waiting for the inevitable. Suddenly, I felt the
stone in my boot warm against my skin, then once again, my body felt
as if it was sucked through a black tunnel where I had no control.
Moments later, I was still face down expecting a blow from the
ax, but instead, I was on a bed covered by silken sheets with the
smell of rose petals in the air. I opened my eyes to see beautiful
sights around me. Vibrantly colored rugs covered the floor of a
bedchamber, contrasting with tapestries on the walls showing scenes
of cranes and ibises beside waterfalls. The song of a nightingale
poured from a golden cage near the circular stone shape of a bath
filled with steamy, hot water.
I got up from the bed, carefully stepping around the room, taking
it all in. Where was I? What year was it? With these questions in my
mind, I looked out a window to see mountains far away and just
beneath them, tiny from the distance, was a great wall stretching to
both ends of the horizon. I realized I was in Chin.
I closed my eyes to calm my whirling brain. What had happened to
Tani? In my heart, I knew the answer, which made me deeply sad. But,
I found comfort in the fact I had a Kronos Stone; I would find a way
to change that situation. And, why did the stone send me here?
Moments before, when I was on the chopping block with Tani, I was
thinking about how Lao Ma had helped Xena and apparently, the stone
had transported me to Chin. Was I in the past, and was Lao Ma
My thoughts were interrupted as I heard footsteps approach. I
quickly turned to see a woman from Chin gliding toward me. I didnít
think Iíd ever see a woman who could rival Xenaís beauty, but I
had to admit this woman was positively gorgeous. I stared at her for
long moments, with my tongue stuck. I finally found my voice, and it
was husky and low. "Are you Lao Ma?"
"Yes," she answered, searching my face.
I was in the presence of a woman who had been such an influential
part of Xenaís life. She was exactly as Xena had described her.
Her raven-black hair was soft like spun silk and her eyes were like
dark magnets that imprisoned my gaze. She was dressed in a kimono
that had an intricate pattern of hummingbirds among flowers. Beneath
her garment, I could tell she had a lithe body that was capable of
the most delicate movement, or the swiftest action.
"Would you care for some tea...?" She left the question
unfinished, inviting me to tell my name. Her voice was like a
tinkling wind chime in a light breeze. She was incredibly gracious
to offer tea to a stranger found in her home. I was beginning to
become aroused by her, and that was disturbing to me, because I
never thought I would have feelings for another woman like the ones
I have for Xena.
"No thank you," I answered. "My name is
She nodded silently, waiting patiently for me to explain why I
was in her chambers. There was no fear in her mien -- I sensed a
calm assurance that came from the knowledge she could defend herself
against any threat. From what Xena had told me, this woman was more
than capable of protecting herself. I saw from her relaxed bearing
that she knew I meant her no harm, even though she noticed the sais
in my boot sheaths.
I wondered at this point in time, if she had decided to assist
Xena yet. An idea came to me; what if I was the catalyst that
persuaded her to provide guidance to the Warrior Princess? The
thought was like a lightning bolt in my mind. I had a chance to
participate in turning Xena away from her dark side. "I need
your help," I said with uncertainty.
She nodded slightly. "I would be happy to, if I can."
Her willingness took me by surprise. "But, you donít know
She smiled. "Although I have just met you, itís easy for
me to see you have a kind and compassionate spirit. I also know that
you would defend to the death that which you hold dear. Please, join
me and we can discuss your request -- I was about to partake of my
My eyes went wide for a moment. If my ears had not failed me, she
wanted me to take a bath with her. Now, I was really becoming
aroused and I felt my nipples getting hard. I hoped she didnít
notice, but there was about as much chance of that as the sun not
setting tonight. I hesitated, because I didnít want to do anything
improper, since Xena was my soulmate.
She could see the indecision in my eyes. "Donít worry, my
intentions are only to see that you are refreshed after your long
"All right," I said grudgingly accepting her offer.
Right now, a hot bath was just what I needed to relax.
Lao Ma gracefully removed her kimono, then stepped into the
steaming water. I followed her lead by removing my leathers and
boots, placing them on the bed. I entered the bath, the warm water
lapping luxuriously against my skin. She gazed into my eyes,
courteously avoiding looking at my body so that I wouldnít be
embarrassed. She waited quietly for me to elaborate on my earlier
"Itís urgent that I talk to you about helping someone I
know," I began.
"You must love this person very much."
Her statement astonished me. She had the gift of seeing into the
depths of my soul like it was a scroll with tree-high letters.
"I do. Her name is Xena."
Even though Lao Ma appeared to be very adept at hiding her
emotions, I detected a subtle change in her bearing; every fiber of
her being was suddenly focused on me with keen interest. I had
surprised her. "Iíve heard much about Xena," she said
"I know Xena has done some terrible things, but if she is
given a chance, she will do tremendous good."
"Perhaps." Lao Ma had recovered her aplomb and started
to gently apply soap to her body. "I am curious -- when I went
to Boriasí encampment, I didnít see you there with Xena. I find
it intriguing that you are here in Chin without my knowledge."
Inwardly, I regretted my wording when I told her that Xena will
do good. It was a mistake that could possibly lead to disaster if
anyone discovered I had traveled here from the future. Lao Ma
obviously suspected something mysterious about my presence at this
time and place. I struggled with the decision to tell her the truth,
and I decided it was the right thing to do.
"Xena and I are together in the future," I explained
slowly, gathering my thoughts. "I was trapped in a cave where I
discovered a Kronos Stone that allows me to travel through time.
When I escaped from the cavern, the stone mistakenly sent me far
into the future, where I saw Xena had conquered much of the known
Lao Ma nodded, listening intently to my story.
"Xena was on the path of good," I continued, "but
grief from my disappearance in the cave caused her to return to the
ways of a conqueror." Tears started to form in my eyes. "I
donít want to see her that way. Will you help me give her a chance
to fight her dark side?"
Lao Ma smiled. "I can see that youíre very much in love
with Xena. When I met her at Boriasí encampment, I observed she
has considerable potential." She paused to look into my eyes.
"I must think about your request."
She appeared to be reluctant. Perhaps I had to think of something
to be more persuasive...
Lao Ma must have noticed the expression of disappointment on my
face. "Gabrielle," she said softly. "Itís not that
I donít want to help Xena, itís a matter of timing. She must be
ready to accept guidance."
"I believe she is."
"Perhaps. But, if she isnít, then anything that I do may
cause more damage, than good."
"Doesnít every journey begin with one step, though?"
I felt a sense of urgency, and my feelings were evident in the tone
of my voice.
The musical sound of Lao Maís brief chuckle eased my anxiety a
little. "You are indeed wise. However, the journeys that each
of us are on, must be our choice if we are to be successful. We
cannot force our plans on someone else."
I knew in my heart that she was right.
Before either of us could continue our conversation, a lady
courtesan entered the room wearing a light green brocaded kimono.
Her dark eyes stared at me in surprise, not anticipating my
presence, and certainly not expecting me to be in the bath with Lao
Ma. When she regained her composure, she bowed, then spoke in the
Chin language to Lao Ma.
Again, I noticed Lao Ma tense almost imperceptibly -- something
concerned her. She replied to the courtesan, and even though I
couldnít understand what she said, I could tell from her voice
that she was issuing orders.
The courtesan excused herself, bowed, then exited the bedchamber.
"Something is wrong?" I asked, as the feeling of
anxiety grew in me again.
"Xena has kidnapped Ming-Tien."
I swallowed hard. "Not long after she met me, Xena told me
of her time in Chin. She said that Borias betrayed her and she was
captured by Ming-Tsu. He plans to release her, then hunt her down to
"Yes," Lao Ma said. "Ming-Tsu has already seized
her -- Li Li has just now relayed a report from my sentries that he
is traveling close to the border of my land with Xena in a
My heart was thudding in my chest. Events were moving faster than
I had anticipated.
"Perhaps itís time to help her after all," Lao Ma
continued. "I will hide Xena from Ming-Tsu. After that, I
cannot promise anything. We shall see what happens."
I smiled in relief. "Thank you." My voice was thick
Lao Ma rose to her feet, the water dripping from her supple body.
"I must prepare for these events."
"Iím coming with you. I can watch from a safe distance in
She looked at me. "If Xena sees you, it may change the
"Xena wonít see me. Iím an Amazon Queen, trained in the
ways of hiding in the forest."
Lao Ma smiled. "As you wish. Stay near the main road and
from there, you should be able to see everything unfold."
She dressed herself in a scarlet kimono with gold brocade and
shoulder epaulettes. A black fur cap completed her clothes. I donned
my leathers and boots to be ready to leave with her. After she
finished, she quickly strode from the bedchamber with me following
When we were outside, her retainers stared at me in surprise, but
they didnít say anything. I touched Lao Ma on the arm before she
entered the luxurious canopy covered conveyance that she used when
"Good luck," I said.
She smiled. "And to you, as well."
I turned to run into the forest bordering her home. I intended to
follow Lao Maís entourage, since I didnít know the territory. I
made good time -- the terrain wasnít rough, but the undergrowth
and trees were sufficient to offer me cover from any prying eyes. I
had no trouble keeping Lao Maís retinue in sight as they slowly
moved along the main road.
In the distance, I could see Ming-Tsu and his followers coming
toward Lao Maís retainers. It wasnít long before the two groups
met eachother on the road.
I moved closer to get a better view, then, I stifled a worried
breath when I saw Xena imprisoned in the cramped cage. Her hair was
wild and her nomad leathers were covered with dirt. There was a
haunted look in her eyes, giving her the appearance of a trapped
animal, but she gazed at her captors with contempt. I wasnít
accustomed to seeing her this way, and it made me sad. I took
comfort in the fact that she was about to escape from this
If everything went right, that is. I decided that I would make
sure events went well, even if I had to interfere a little.
Lao Ma emerged from her canopy covered transport to meet with
Ming-Tsu. I strained to hear what they said, but I couldnít tell
what they were saying. By the time I edged closer, I could only
catch brief snatches of their conversation as they finished talking.
"A beaten, half-dead cripple doesnít...sporting..."
Lao Ma said.
"No...entertaining," replied Ming-Tsu.
"Enjoy...entertainment." Lao Ma glanced at Xena before
turning to leave.
Lao Maís entourage went back along the road toward her home
until they disappeared from sight. I stayed to see Ming-Tsuís
guards open the cage, then they pulled Xena out. She struggled
against them, striking a guard, breaking his nose. They threw her to
the ground and Ming-Tsu pointed to the forest. Xena glared at him,
then got painfully to her feet, limping into the woods.
After she was gone, the guards brought out a pack of four
snarling hounds. I drew a sharp breath, my eyes narrowing. In her
weakened state, Xena would be no match for the dogs. She was going
to get some help from me, though. Those animals would never reach
her -- not if I had anything to do with it.
I turned to run through the forest, hearing the hounds baying
behind me. I didnít have much time to get in position to delay the
dogs since they moved quickly. I hastily climbed a tree to get out
of sight, then I drew the sais from my boot sheaths.
I wasnít waiting very long before the hounds came into view. I
didnít really want to hurt them, but if it was a choice between
doing that to save Xena, or letting them pass by to harm her, I
chose the former. I had to stop them long enough to give Xena a good
Just as the lead dog was near the tree I was in, I threw one of
my sais. The blunt end of the hilt thudded against the dogís head,
causing him to yelp and stagger around senselessly for a few
moments. The other hounds hesitated as well, unsure of what was
happening. After a few minutes of milling around, they caught Xenaís
scent again, then ran through the woods after her.
I climbed out of the tree, picked up my sai, and followed them as
quick as I could. I prayed that Lao Ma had reached Xena by this
time, to get her safely out of harmís way. As I ran, I saw that
Xenaís tracks entered a small stream; she was attempting to throw
the hounds off the scent. The dogs were smart though -- they found
her trail and were off again.
The hounds were gaining on her, so in desperation, I gave a brief
whistle before coming to a halt. The lead dog continued on, but
three of the four dogs turned to see who the intruder was, and they
charged toward me, snarling. I stood grimly with my sais in my
hands, waiting for them, making sure they wanted to come to me and
not follow Xenaís trail. I had no desire to get attacked by the
hounds, nor did I want to get trapped in a tree for Ming-Tsuís men
to find me, so I ran in a different direction to draw them away from
I scrambled through the forest as fast as I could, until I could
feel my breath getting short. The dogs came after me for quite a
distance, but soon, they stopped chasing me in favor of following
the original scent. I stood panting for a few seconds to catch my
breath, then I ran after them again. Hopefully, I stopped them long
enough for Xena to escape.
Behind me, I could hear the sounds of Ming-Tsuís riders
approaching on horseback. My chances disappeared of delaying the
hounds more; I had to hide from the people who were advancing on my
position. I readied my sais and concealed myself among thick bushes
that had enough foliage to hide me. Moments later, the riders passed
quickly, not detecting my presence.
I was too far from the action, and being on foot, I could never
reach Xena in time to see that she wasnít hurt. I had to count on
Lao Ma to succeed. My only choice now, was to sneak back to her home
to find out what happened. I sheathed my sais, then ran in the
direction of Lao Maís house.
When I arrived, Ming-Tsuís troops were searching the buildings
and the grounds around them. I couldnít get too close, or they
would discover me. After Ming-Tsuís people had left, I noticed the
sun was setting, so I decided to wait until after dark to contact
Lao Ma. I didnít really want her retainers to see me either, since
my appearance would raise questions about where I came from. Even
though some of them had already noticed me earlier, I felt it was
wise to stay out of sight.
When the night finally settled, I moved silently through the
complex of buildings, avoiding Lao Maís sentries. I approached the
terrace outside the double doors leading to Lao Maís bedroom and
before I could even get close, the doors swung open to reveal her.
My eyebrows went up in surprise; apparently she had been expecting
"How did you know I was here?" I whispered.
"I heard you," she replied softly.
My mouth almost fell open. I had made no sound that I knew of --
she must have unusually keen senses like Xena. "But..."
"I heard your breathing," Lao Ma chuckled, noticing the
look of disbelief on my face. "I was able to hide Xena from
Ming-Tsu -- she is sleeping inside. Come with me, Gabrielle. I will
show you to your room where you can eat and get some rest. Tomorrow
is going to be a long day."
"Today was," I said.
She understood my feelings and nodded while closing the doors.
I followed her through the compound until we reached a building
adjoining the main house. She opened a door, allowing me to walk
inside. Flickering light from candles illuminated the chamber,
giving it a warm, cheerful feeling. The room wasnít as large as
Lao Maís bedroom, but it was decorated in a similar fashion with
exotic tapestries and rugs. On a table with short legs rested a
large bowl of fruit, a platter of cheese, a loaf of round crusty
bread, and a tea pot decorated with a painting of flowers.
She poured a little tea into a small, delicate cup, handing it to
me. "Get some rest, Gabrielle. Tomorrow, I will begin to work
with Xena, to see if she is ready to accept the journey away from
her dark side."
I hoped with all my heart that Xena was willing. But, what if she
wasnít prepared to change? I set aside my doubts -- if anyone
could convince her, that person would be Lao Ma.
"I want to thank you for all that youíve done," I
Lao Ma smiled. "No thanks are necessary." She placed a
hand on my shoulder. "Xena is indeed fortunate to have you for
a soulmate. Goodnight, Gabrielle."
"Goodnight," I replied.
Lao Ma turned, then exited the room, softly shutting the door
behind her. I stared at the door for several moments after she left,
thinking about all that had happened. Yes, tomorrow was going to be
a long day.
I woke to the sounds of birds singing outside the window. Rays of
golden sunlight filtered into my room, causing everything to glow
with a brilliant yellow light. I slipped out of the comfortable bed
feeling rested for the first time in two days. After I donned my
leathers, I went to the window to look outside.
Beyond the opening, I saw a garden that had a pond thick with
lotus plants and water lilies. A trickle of water spilled from a
spring into the pond with a soothing sound, relaxing me. On a
pedestal stood a dwarf juniper bonsai tree that was two feet tall;
judging from its size, the tree must have been hundreds of years
old. Flagstones set in neatly trimmed grass led to a sheltered
overhang near the window of my room. The garden was like a paradise
-- different than any other place I had visited.
I was about to go to the bowl of fruit in my room to eat
breakfast to quiet my rumbling stomach, when I heard the sound of
footsteps. I stood to the side of the window so I wouldnít be
seen, but I was curious, so I stayed close enough to find out who
Lao Ma and Xena entered the garden, walking toward the shelter. I
eased back a little to make sure I was hidden, yet I wanted to
observe their meeting. I peeked out of the window briefly and I was
glad to see both of them were located where they wouldnít notice
me easily. Xena wore a kimono with her hair piled up in the Chin
fashion, held in place by a long, thin hair pick.
A clay bottle had been placed on a small table in the shelter.
Neither of them said anything, then I saw Xena raise her leg to
smash the jug. I wondered if she was releasing some of her
"Would you use an ax to kill a mosquito?" asked Lao Ma
in a slightly amused voice. It amused me too, and I held back a
chuckle, grinning widely. Lao Ma moved close, gently taking the pick
from Xenaís hair. She glided several paces away, gracefully
turned, then threw it with surprising force, causing it to lodge
into the wood of the table. The economy of her movements
demonstrated how little effort was needed to be deadly.
"Thatís good," Xena remarked.
"It can be a very useful weapon if thrown at the right body
part," Lao Ma explained.
"You can kill someone with a hair broach?"
"If necessary. I donít like to kill, however."
Xena grinned. "Everyone has their preferences. I happen to
like a good kill."
I winced at that comment. I realized at this point in time she
was at the height of her warlord ways, but I was still disturbed by
her rough mannerisms. The Xena I knew in the future was different --
she had learned to care for others and it was a sharp contrast.
"Youíre so full of anger and hate," Lao Ma said.
"Youíve got to be full of something."
Lao Ma was silent for a moment. "Put up another
Xena limped over to a stone ledge, picked up a jug, then placed
it on the table. As I watched, I realized that Xena was a cripple --
not just physically after her bout with Caesar, but emotionally,
too. It shadowed her entire being. Silence descended on the garden
as I looked at them from my hiding place -- even the tinkling of the
water seemed muted. Lao Ma stared at the bottle, then it suddenly
burst into thousands of fragments.
My eyebrows shot up. I had never seen anything like that before.
I looked at Lao Ma in amazement. She had managed to break the vessel
with the power of her mind and I made a mental note to never make
her angry at me.
I wasnít the only one who was surprised. Xena looked astonished
and said, "Teach me to do that."
Xena placed another bottle on the table amid the growing mound of
clay pieces of pottery. She stared at it and I could almost feel the
force of her concentration from where I stood. I waited to see if
she could break the container as well, but nothing happened.
Lao Ma laughed softly. "Iím sorry, Xena, but youíre
trying to break the bottle with your will."
"What else is there?" Xena sounded irritated.
Lao Ma patiently explained, "The entire world is driven by a
will, blind and ruthless. In order to transcend the limitations of
that world, you need to stop willing. Stop desiring. Stop
"How do I do that?"
"Heaven endures and the Earth lasts a long time because they
do not live for themselves. Therefore, she who would live a long
time, should live for others. Serve others."
This was the very wisdom that my Xena in the future lived by. I
was sad to see she didnít comprehend that at this moment, but I
was still glad she would eventually understand.
"I could serve you, if thatís what you mean."
I felt a twinge in my gut at her words and the conviction of how
she said them. Although Xena had never met me at this point, since I
was still a young girl playing with ragdolls in Poteidaia, I
nevertheless felt an overwhelming possession toward her. She was
mine and mine alone. I swallowed hard, and continued to watch, too
captivated to look away.
"Of course you can," Lao Ma said. "Itís easy to
serve someone you love. It will make them love you more -- itís a
good business investment. Itís not what Iím talking about."
Xenaís expression darkened. "You mean I should serve
someone who hates me?"
"More than that. You should serve someone who you hate. Ming
"Ming Tsu." The statement was flat, full of controlled
anger. I could see the emotions warring in Xenaís face and my
heart went out to her. This lesson wasnít easy for her.
"Yes," Lao Ma continued. "The man who had you
hunted like an animal. He comes here tomorrow with his son."
"Serve Ming? Iíd rather die," came Xenaís
"Youíve been a dead woman for a long time now, Xena. Iím
offering you the chance to live." Lao Ma looked at her for
several moments, then turned to leave.
I stood peeking out the window, watching Xena. Her fists were
clenched in frustration, yet I could see something in her
expression, even at this distance. She was going to try. I could
tell. After all my years of being with her, knowing her, and reading
her emotions, I was sure of it. Suddenly Xena kicked the table,
causing the bottle to shatter on the floor. She stormed out of the
garden, but I couldnít help grinning -- she was finally starting
on the path to good.
That evening, after everyone had gone to sleep, I went out to the
garden to practice with my sais. The moon was half way through its
cycle, casting its gray light on everything, adding to the light
from the lanterns hanging in the shelter. I went to the spot where
Lao Ma had spoken with Xena earlier in the day. The pieces of
pottery were cleaned up and the table had been removed -- there was
plenty of space to practice.
I removed my sais from their sheaths, then closed my eyes, taking
a deep breath to meditate a few moments before starting. When my
mind was clear, I opened my eyes. I lunged forward, and back,
sweeping my sais through defensive moves. I whirled the weapons to
strike hilt first, then with the points facing out. When half a
candlemark had passed, I was finished, and I inhaled the night air
to catch my breath.
After I ended my session with the sais, I turned to find Lao Ma
watching me. She had obviously been there long enough to see part of
my routine. I felt myself blush slightly, embarrassed at the
encounter. I believed I had a lot of training to do before mastering
the sais, and her presence made me a little self-conscious.
"I see youíve chosen the tools of a farmer," She
said, referring to the sais. "It suits your temperament."
"Farmerís tools?" I asked, curious. The word farmer
conjured up pictures of my father -- someone who was so far removed
from my beliefs and ideals -- which made me grin at the irony of Lao
"Yes, sais were made by them for protection against
marauders. In my country, farmers are not allowed to carry swords.
So, to defend themselves, they created sais, which are actually
I nodded. "Thatís interesting. I didnít know that."
"Would you like me to show you how a Chin farmer would use
I raised my eyebrows in surprise at her gracious offer.
Butterflies of excitement caused my stomach to quiver. Here was an
opportunity I never thought I would have -- a chance to learn a
lesson from Lao Ma. "I would be honored," I said.
She glided toward me, holding out her hands. I gave her the sais
hilt first and she said, "Take that sword and strike at me with
it." She indicated a long, slightly curved Chin sword on top of
a table resting in a wooden stand.
"Iím not very good with a sword," I said with
She chuckled softly. "You are modest, Gabrielle. I can see
in your eyes that you have a fair amount of knowledge regarding a
I grinned at the compliment, her soft words bolstering my
confidence. I just hoped I wouldnít embarrass myself. "All
right," I said, retrieving the blade from the rack, then I went
to face her.
"Now, strike at me."
Remembering a move Xena taught me, I raised the weapon, bringing
it down suddenly, trying to surprise her. In a swift, almost
effortless motion, she brought her right hand up to catch the sword
in a fork of the sai. She flipped her wrist slightly, causing the
blade to fall with a soft thump on one of the carpets in the
shelter. She disarmed me so fast I barely saw what had occurred. I
stared at my empty hands, then at her and I laughed.
So much for my attempt to surprise her. Silly me. "Could you
do it slower so I can see how you did it?" I asked.
"Of course." She joined me in laughter.
I picked up the sword, going through the same motion slowly,
watching closely as Lao Ma executed her defensive move. The
technique was simple, but effective. I wasnít fooled by the ease
with which she used the sais; I knew that her skill came from long
candlemarks of practice.
"Your turn," she said, offering me the sais.
I took them and she picked up the sword from the floor. She used
the blade to lunge forward in a thrust, instead of the previous
attack. I was almost caught unawares, instinctively backing up a
step while sweeping both sais up to imprison the blade inches from
my face. My eyes went wide. I was under no illusion that this lesson
was going to be easy, but it was turning out to be even harder than
"Excellent," she said, praising me. "The thrust is
one of the most difficult moves to block. However, you must be ready
After saying that, she pulled the sword straight back with
blurring speed, then swung it at my lower body, stopping the edge to
barely touch my right leg. The muscle of my leg involuntarily
twitched as I thought about what could have happened if this was an
actual fight. It was sobering and her lesson commanded my undivided
"When you blocked the sword, it could not move forward, up
or down, but I could easily withdraw it. To stop me, you should have
lowered the right sai to capture the blade."
"Try it again," I requested. I was hesitant, because
her skill was far better than mine, but if I was going to learn, I
had to go through with this.
She thrusted the blade, which I blocked like before, then she
swung at me from the left side. I guessed that she might try to
trick me again, so I was ready. I brought my left sai down and was
surprised at the results -- the blade was pinned to the floor.
Lao Ma nodded. "See how I am slightly off balance now? A
simple kick at this point would either remove the sword from my
hand, or you could aim your foot at a part of my body."
I grinned, heady with my success. I didnít want to get too bold
though, because I knew she could easily make my skills look pitiful.
"I would be grateful if you would show me more."
She smiled, nodding. "Even though your knowledge of sais is
extensive, there is much for you to learn."
Over the next candlemark, she moved with incredible speed and
grace, teaching me things I never thought possible. It was true what
Xena had told me long ago; Lao Ma was a formidable opponent. I was
just glad she wasnít my enemy.
"For this next move, hold the sais like this," she
instructed, moving close behind me, leaning forward slightly. Her
breasts beneath her kimono touched my back for a moment, causing me
to totally lose my concentration. I caught my breath and held it to
keep from suddenly being aroused. The sensation of contact with her
was like a lightning bolt tingling through my body.
She noticed my reaction, stepping back courteously. "Iím
sorry -- I didnít intend to make you uncomfortable."
She was the most considerate person I had ever met. Her qualities
of compassion, tenderness and wisdom inspired me, but I couldnít
explain my feelings of attraction for her, especially since I was in
love with Xena. "Itís...all right," I assured her.
"I understand," she interrupted softly, to save me from
an awkward explanation. "Perhaps we should end the lesson this
I nodded slightly. "I was wondering..."
"Can I speak with you?" I had a lot on my mind and
needed someone to talk to. I hadnít been able to discuss anything
with Xena since the morning of the accident in the cave; I missed my
conversations with her. Maybe I could find some of the answers I was
searching for by expressing a few of my concerns with Lao Ma.
"Certainly," she answered.
I was grateful she was willing to speak with me. "Iíve
been thinking about how to handle this situation to get everything
back to normal," I said, placing the sais in their boot
sheaths, then I looked into Lao Maís eyes. "Everything
started with me being trapped in the cave. I considered using the
stone to travel through time to block the opening so I wouldnít be
able to enter it in the first place. Do you think thatís a good
She looked thoughtful. "That sounds like a clever
"Thereís more Kronos Stone where this came from, too. If I
can make the cavern inaccessible, the mineral wonít fall into the
wrong hands. The only thing is, how can I seal the cave?"
"Black powder," Lao Ma said softly.
I blinked. Of course! The answer was so simple. And, I was here
in Chin where I could get all of the explosive mixture I needed...
"Could you show me how to use the black powder?" I
asked, excited with the idea.
"Yes. Tomorrow, I can teach you everything you need to
"Thank you," I said warmly. I was beginning to feel a
lot better about the situation, but I still had doubts about the
outcome of my plan. "The stone I have, worries me,
"Why?" Lao Ma asked curiously.
"Well, so far, itís only worked when Iíve been in near
death situations, and even then, it seems to malfunction. I canít
control where I go."
"Then, thatís the reason for your difficulty."
"I donít understand."
"Donít try to Ďcontrolí it," she explained.
"Instead, become a partner with the stone -- let it carry you
like a ship on the water."
"Iím not sure of what to do..."
She smiled. "I can show you a way to begin, but, you must
succeed on your own."
The butterflies of excitement were back. "I will," I
said with eagerness. I took the stone from my right boot, offering
the piece of mineral to her.
She left the stone where it was, using her hand to close mine.
"Focus your mind. Steady your breathing. Let the power flow
through you until you become the stone. When you feel this, you can
go anywhere you wish."
My vision darkened just like before. I didnít feel the nausea,
but disorientation enveloped me and I could feel myself go tense.
"Donít fight it," Lao Ma whispered.
I relaxed, trying to experience the energy around me. After long
moments of concentrating, nothing happened. I continued my efforts,
but I felt distracted by my lack of progress. "Itís not
working," I said in dismay. "If the stone doesnít
function, how can I return things to normal in the future?"
"I believe this problem will be easier to solve than you
"I hope so," I said earnestly, but my feelings of doubt
still troubled me.
Lao Ma smiled reassuringly. "Have you considered that
everything will turn out exactly as it should be? Perhaps these
events were meant to happen."
"You mean I was destined to travel in time to help
"Destiny is a mysterious thing. Each of us will have an
appointment with it -- there is no escape." She placed a
comforting hand on my shoulder, still smiling to encourage me.
"Fulfill your destiny, Gabrielle."
I looked briefly at the stone in my hand, closed my eyes, and
felt the force of it moving through me. The disorientation appeared
again, but was so brief, I almost didnít notice it. When I opened
my eyes, I was standing behind Lao Ma. She turned to look at me.
I had to keep myself from shouting. "I succeeded!"
She chuckled, nodding. "I knew you could. Remember to
practice, and all will be well."
"Thank you," I said, hugging her. She didnít seem
surprised at my show of emotion; she embraced me with the tenderness
of a sister.
"Iím very fortunate to have met you, Gabrielle," she
said, slowly disengaging from the hug. "Have pleasant dreams
"You too," I said. I wondered though, if I would get
any sleep because I was so excited. For the first time since I
became entangled in this time travel situation, I felt I had an
excellent chance to make everything right.
Lao Ma glided away, her silk kimono rustling slightly in the
stillness. I watched her leave, then I tucked the stone in my boot
before going to my room to get some sleep. As I closed my eyes
something that Xena told Lao Ma came back to me. She told Lao Ma
that she could serve her. I realized as sleep began to calm me that
I too, could probably serve Lao Ma if my heart hadnít already
chosen itís destiny.
The next morning, shortly after sunrise, I heard a soft knock on
my door. I was already awake and dressed, sitting beside the window
looking out at the garden. I knew the time for me to leave was
coming soon, so I was savoring every moment of my stay, committing
every detail to memory. I walked over to the door, opening it. Lao
Ma stood there smiling at me.
"Did you rest well?"
"Yes," I answered. "The sound of that water in the
garden put me right to sleep. How was your night?"
"Very peaceful. Would you like to walk with me?"
I grinned. "Always."
She led the way through a courtyard lined with creeping cedar
beside the walkways. "Xena is occupied at the moment, preparing
for the arrival of Ming Tsu today," she said softly.
"While she is busy, I can show you how to use the black
"Ming Tsu is coming here?" I remembered she had
mentioned it to Xena yesterday when they were talking in the garden,
but I still couldnít keep the concern out of my voice.
She nodded. "I invited him to have a meal with me and Xena
will pose as a slave to serve him -- itís part of my plan to help
her overcome her hatred."
I hoped Lao Ma knew what she was doing. Xena could be
unpredictable, even during the best of times. She noticed the look
of worry on my face, reassuring me that everything would be all
right. "I have faith in Xena. She has chosen to confront this
part of herself and once she makes a decision, she can be very
"Thatís very true," I said. I was glad Lao Ma could
see the goodness in Xenaís soul, just like she could look into
mine as if it were an open scroll.
She stopped in front of a small building that stood apart from
the others. When we went inside, I saw there was a good reason for
this; the building contained a large keg of black powder. If an
accident occurred, the damage would be minimized to the other
"Using black powder is really very simple, but it can be
dangerous. You must place enough of the powder at a weak point of
the cave roof to cause it to collapse during the explosion."
I listened carefully to her instructions -- I had no desire to
get injured or killed when I used it.
"To get the powder to ignite," she continued, "you
will have to make a trail of the powder leading to the keg. The
dangerous part, is the length of that trail. It must be made long
enough to retreat safely after you set fire to it."
I nodded. There was one question on my mind, though. "How
can I carry the powder through time to the cave? The stone wonít
bring anything with me that Iím touching." I didnít mention
to her that I was holding onto Tani just before I arrived in Chin --
thatís how I knew the stone wouldnít work that way.
She looked steadily into my eyes. "I donít have an answer
for you, Gabrielle. Perhaps, the solution is within the stone."
That was an interesting thought. It did seem like it transported
me through the currents of time to just the right places. Maybe the
piece of mineral acted upon the destiny of whoever used it... Lao Ma
was right though; I would have to think about how the stone worked.
"Will you accompany me for a short time while I practice
She nodded. "Of course."
We found a quiet spot beside a tree in a field, then she and I
sat. I held the stone in my hand, wondering if it only worked to
fulfill my destiny. If that was true and the stone sent me away,
would I ever see Lao Ma again? The thought made me sad -- I wanted
to spend more time here. The same feeling I had earlier this morning
returned though; I knew in my heart that I would be leaving soon.
"Something is troubling you," she said quietly.
"I have a feeling the stone is going to send me away and I
wonít be able to see you again."
"Itís possible." She placed a gentle hand on my arm.
"If you do have to leave now, I will be in your memories
Gabrielle and you will be in mine."
"Iíll miss you."
"I understand." She looked at me with affection.
"I would be unhappy also, but we must meet our destinies."
I reached out to hug her. We embraced for long moments, then I
sat back with tears starting to form in my eyes. I didnít even
have to concentrate much before the stone warmed in my hand to start
the process of sending me through time. Just before I went into the
whirling vortex, the last thing I saw was Lao Ma looking at me with
a tender smile -- a sight I will remember forever.
I came to an abrupt stop, sitting cross-legged in the middle of a
burning village. People were scattered everywhere and I jumped to my
feet to avoid being crushed. The town looked very familiar to me and
I searched for a face I might recognize, but came up empty. After a
few moments of dodging soldiers who were sacking the place, I
realized this was the town I was in just days ago -- the town beside
the cave. But Ďwhení was a different matter. My eyes kept
searching and I finally saw a man scurrying around in a mauve dress.
I did a double take, realizing who the man wasÖSalmoneus!!
In my excitement, I almost ran over and called out to him, but I
stopped myself. Instead, I crept closer, staying in the shadows. The
army was killing everyone Ė men, women and children with no
discretion. I couldnít battle all of them and if I did, it might
very well change Xenaís fate for the worse. Despite all the
despair around me, I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. A
sudden calm seemed to come over the village Ė crying voices had
silenced and the only sounds were the scurrying of soldiers
regrouping and the crackling of homes on fire. As I looked around at
the devastation, another figure caught my eye.
It was Xena.
I watched her argue with a hideously ugly man, obviously her
second-in-command. She was shouting about killing the women and
children and attacking without orders from her. It was Xenaís
army, but this battle was not her decision. I watched as she
abruptly stopped her conversation, dashing into the ruins of a home.
When she turned, she was holding something. My eyes strained to get
a better view. She was holding . . . a baby!
With her hand pointing at a soldier to threaten him and the baby
in the other, Xena was quite a sight. For the briefest of moments,
it took my thoughts back to when Eve was just an infant. The look on
Xenaís face now however, was very purposeful -- not motherly as I
had come to know, but she was still protecting the child. I was glad
that Xena had kept the goodness in her heart that Lao Ma showed her.
The men backed down and Xena turned to leave.
I wanted to follow her, but I was delayed as a band of soldiers
came near to loot one of the homes. Moving silently, I ducked into a
home that was still standing and found a cloak hanging on a wall
peg. I donned the garment to help conceal myself from the soldiers,
and I knew it would be useful to hide my identity if Xena or
Salmoneus caught a glimpse of me. I slipped out of the back entrance
of the home to discover that both Xena and Salmoneus were no longer
I took to the woods in the direction I had seen Xena depart.
After a few moments of searching, I found her tracks and they were
heading toward one of the caves outside the village. I just hoped
she didnít pick the cavern that held the Kronos Stone mineral. I
followed the footprints to an underground entrance, relieved that it
was a different cave. From outside, I could hear voices echo. I wasnít
able to make out what was being said, so I crept stealthily inside
to hear the conversation.
Xena, Salmoneus and a woman I didnít know were in the cave.
When I heard the voices of Xena and Salmoneus draw closer to where I
was hidden, I slipped deeper into the shadows until I was completely
out of sight. I heard Salmoneus chattering away to Xena, who
obviously was getting annoyed with the funny, round man. He was
making a comment about her maternal instincts (or lack thereof) and
I nearly chuckled. If you could only see her now, I thought as I
listened to Salmoneus rattling on.
Xena said something about dealing with Darphus, and I heard her
footsteps approaching. I stayed crouched among the rocks perfectly
still. I relaxed after she walked past; she was too focused on her
second-in-command to worry about anything else.
In that moment, I realized what my purpose was in all this mess.
I understood what the fates had planned for me. I had traveled
through time to make Xena the woman she was Ďtodayí by planting
the seeds of faith in all of the Ďmentorsí she had known. I wasnít
sure any of those people would have ever helped Xena if not for me.
That was my purpose -- my destiny.
Lao Ma was the woman who helped Xena reach through her darkness.
Salmoneus was the man to lend Hercules a hand in seeing the
potential for good Xena possessed. As for me, Gabrielle, the farm
girl from Poteidaia, I had kept her on the side of the light until
she was strong enough to find a light of her own.
I had to find a way to get Salmoneus alone to persuade him to
help Xena. I knew it was a big chance Ė at some point in the
future, he might remember me from his past. But, with the way I
looked now, even my few friends from Poteidaia hadnít recognized
me after a recent trip home. It was a chance I had to take. I went
outside, waiting to follow him at the first opportunity. He crept
out, quickly going through the woods to the village well. I came up
behind him to whisper in his ear.
"Sheís something else, isnít she?" I said,
approaching him carefully.
He jumped at the sound of my voice. I had forgotten what a
fidgety man he could be.
"Who?" he asked. "Xena?"
I simply gave a slight nod.
"Yes she is," he answered, still obviously nervous.
"She could have killed you today you know," I told him.
He paused a moment to look at me, but I moved my head down
slightly, adjusting the hood on the cloak as casually as possible. I
tried to play it cool, as if it were part of my persona to be Ďmysteriousí.
"Yes." He was still looking at me, trying to identify
me as he asked, "Who are you?"
"A friend," I assured him. "I mean you no harm. Iím
just curious about Ďthe Warrior Princessí. . . Iíve been
watching her since her army came into town and you have to admit,
sheís not your normal Ďevilí warlord. In fact, she saved a
baby today, going against her own men. Thatís something pretty
exceptional, wouldnít you say?"
Salmoneus reflected a moment on that fact. "Thatís
true," he said scratching his beard.
"Just think if someone that powerful could fight for truth
and justice? Dare I say...a female Hercules? Iím assuming of
course, that youíve heard of Hercules?" I was playing him. I
knew damn well he was acquainted with Hercules, and I tried to
contain my grin at the knowledge of the web I was weaving.
"Are you kidding? Weíre like that," he answered,
holding up two fingers close together.
Exaggerating like always it seems, I thought silently. Grant it,
he did know Herc. They got along fairly well but, I knew if any man
was that Ďtightí with Ďthe big guy,í it was Iolaus and not
the king of cons.
"You know with the right influence," I plotted,
"perhaps even some guidance from Hercules himself, she could go
a long way. And you know if you become a part of such a change, Iím
sure sheíd be a powerful ally in your corner should you ever need
some Ďmuscleí unexpectedly."
I knew I had to play it up to Salmoneus. He was a good guy all in
all, but his first thought was always Ďwhatís in if for me?í
Xena and I had bailed him out of trouble a few times. Throwing that
fact out there could be the very push in the right direction he
He grinned. "You know, thatís true. Of course thatís if
she doesnít kill me first," he laughed nervously.
"Well, stacked next to Darphus, she looks like the goddess
of love and light," I offered for his consideration.
"You have a point," he said, nodding. "But sheís
got a temper on her."
"Yes she does," I admitted, "but just be yourself.
She seems to enjoy your company so far."
He looked thoughtful, but I could tell he was warming to the
"And if you do see the son of Zeus, perhaps you could tell
him what youíve seen here," I coached. "Heís a
reasonable man I hear. Iím sure he could see the potential in her
like you do -- itís just something to think about," I added
with a wink, looking up for just a few seconds.
Salmoneus grinned at me before looking over my shoulder and
giving a hard swallow of fear. It was Xena and she was heading our
way. He looked back to me again and then to Xena. Oh yes, the
foundation had been set. Now all I had to do, was make a quick
departure and let history run its course. Of course, I still had
that pesky cave to blow up without any access to black powder.
"Well my friend," I told Salmoneus casually, "be
I didnít wait for a reply. I just walked quickly into the woods
so Xena wouldnít stop me. I doubled back, heading toward town to
get a look at Xenaís troops. It was quiet as I walked through the
streets. I decided to do a little snooping. The stone didnít feel
the need to take me away yet, so something had to be Ďresolved.í
There was still something I needed to do...or find...
As I walked through the streets, I noticed some of the Xenaís
soldiers loading three kegs on a cart -- black powder kegs. Sweet
mother of Zeus!!!! I needed that stuff and I knew this was my only
chance. No one else in Greece would have the black powder and I
certainly couldnít bring some back from Chin because the stone
wouldnít transport anything I touched. This had to be the reason I
was still in this time and the place.
I knew I couldnít jump in with sais flashing. That would cause
too much attention. Doing so might alter Xenaís fate as well, so I
figured I could camp out until the soldiers were Ďindisposedí
with liquor for the night. Xena told me a few stories about what
happened after her raids Ė wine, women and song ruled most nights.
I knew their guard would be down tonight.
If I could swap out the powder of the keg and replace it with
sand, it could buy me enough time to see that everything fell into
place. I could hide the powder in the nearby cave that almost became
my tomb and jump back early enough in my Ďpresent dayí to use it
to seal the cave.
I had my battleplan -- now all I had to do was put it in motion.
Nightfall finally came, taxing my patience to the limit. I wanted
to sneak in as soon as possible to get the black powder, but the
soldiers were still carousing. Even though they started their Ďcelebrationí
early, they were still consuming large quantities of drink. I had to
wait until they were all in a drunken stupor before I went in -- I
didnít want my plan to be spoiled by having one of them discover
When the last one fell asleep, I breathed a sigh of relief. I
moved silently forward from my hiding place in the forest
surrounding their camp outside of town. The wagon had been moved
closer to the horses for ease of hitching up the animals. When I
approached, several of the horses moved about restlessly, detecting
the presence of a stranger...me. I whispered a few reassuring words
and the horses stood quietly watching me. I decided to move slowly,
so I wouldnít spook the animals.
My next problem was the size of the barrels. They were too heavy
to move, so I was left with no choice but to find another container
for the black powder. Besides, I didnít need a whole barrel to
seal the cave.
I looked quickly around, finding an empty keg of drink, which
would suit my purpose better. I climbed silently onto the wagon,
then used one of my sais to carefully open the lid of a barrel. I
wanted to be able to seal the container after I was done.
I worked as fast as I could in the darkness, but time was moving
on. I discarded the notion of replacing the powder I took with sand.
I didnít really need to if I could get the barrel closed properly
when I finished.
When the small keg was full, I corked it, then placed it quietly
on the bed of the wagon. I sealed the barrel and climbed to the
ground. As I was about to grab the little keg, I heard a slurring
voice behind me.
"Heyyy there honey! Wacha doin in thet waggin? We kin hav
lots more fun..."
I interrupted him by slamming the butt of one of my sais in his
gut. After he doubled over gasping, I knocked him unconscious. He
tumbled to the ground with a thud that seemed to me like thunder
after one of Zeusí lightning bolts. With my heart thumping hard, I
caught my breath, looking around to see if anyone else was alerted.
Apparently, no one was aroused from their snoring bliss.
I breathed a shaky sigh of relief, grabbed the keg, then ran
silently out of the camp. Gods! That was close...
I made it to the cave with the Kronos Stone mineral, and I
stopped to fashion a torch from a rag and a stick so I could see in
the utter blackness within. Careful to keep the torch away from the
keg, I went deep inside, hiding the keg among some rocks. Now, all I
had to do was use the stone to go forward in time to this same cave
to seal it before my Ďpresentí self entered it.
I couldnít help but grin -- I had solved the problem! I took
the stone from my boot, feeling the roughness of the mineral in my
hand. I was excited that everything would return to normal soon.
Concentrating on the stone, I found myself once again slipping
into the dark, whirling void of time travel. When I stopped, the
world turned bright around me and I had to shield my eyes from the
sudden daylight. I was still standing in front of the cave, but
things had changed slightly. The landscape was a little
different...trees, plants and rocks had altered with the passage of
time, but I wasnít concerned.
I looked around to make sure the forest was deserted, then I went
inside. Sure enough, the keg was hidden where I left it. I took it
with me, went outside and climbed to the top of the cave. After
making a trail of powder, I placed the keg right above the entrance,
hiding the container with branches and rocks. I went to the far end
of the trail of black powder, removing my flint and steel from the
pouch on my belt.
I could hardly wait to see Xena return to normal and I quickly
struck the flint and steel together. A spark ignited the trail of
powder, then I ran for cover among some rocks on the ridge opposite
From my vantage point, I waited for the black powder to explode.
I didnít have much experience with that stuff -- I must have made
the trail of powder longer than it should have been. It was too late
though, I couldnít go down there to shorten it, or I would be
caught in the blast.
As I was watching, I heard the sudden sounds of someone crashing
through the undergrowth. Oh no! It was him...the thug I had
originally chased into the cave. And, not far behind him was ME --
my past self. I jumped to my feet, but before I could do anything,
both of them ran into the cave. I started down the hill to warn
myself to get out of the cavern, but the explosion shook the ground,
causing me to fall.
I stood as the dust cleared. I didnít curse often, but I couldnít
help it then. That damn stone had sent me back just before the
events that started this cycle in the first place. It was I who had
trapped myself in the cave!
My brain whirled with the confusion of this time travel problem.
Well, I could only do one thing...I had to use the stone to go back
a little farther in time to seal the cave before my past self
entered it. That way, time should return to normal. At least, I
hoped it would. I had no idea if it would work, but I had to try
something...anything. I thought about my predicament, and shook my
head in exasperation, bending to retrieve the stone from my boot.
Before I could get the Kronos Stone from its hiding place, a
strong hand clamped over my mouth, and I was pushed to the ground. I
looked up to see salt and pepper hair framing the face of Queen
"Do you think Iím stupid, Gabrielle?" she hissed.
"I went to the cave and my men excavated it; the mineral was
still buried there. I knew you would come here, so I used a piece of
the stone to meet you. Now...I can bring you home."
My mind whirled to think of something before it was too late. I
remembered Warrior Princess Xena -- MY Xena --followed my trail out
of the village the morning I chased the thug to the cave. That meant
she was on the way, now. If I could alert her to my presence when
she arrived and she saw I was all right, maybe she wouldnít turn
to the ways of a conqueror. Hopefully, time would reset itself,
causing Queen Xena to disappear. It was my last option -- it HAD to
work, or I was in big trouble to say the least.
With Queen Xenaís weight on top of me, I could barely move. So,
I bit the inside of her hand over my mouth, to get her to release
me. She grimaced, but held tight.
"Be still Gabrielle, while I use my stone. Everything will
be ok once we go back."
I shook my head vigorously.
Queen Xena was about to knock me out, when both of us heard the
sound of my name called in the distance.
"Gabrielle? Where are you?"
The voice belonged to my Xena.
Queen Xenaís eyes narrowed, as she realized the implications of
her past self seeing me. "Youíre not leaving me again!"
she whispered fiercely.
She had obviously gone insane... I had to act quickly. Before she
could stop me, I raised my right leg to reach for the sai, yanked it
from the sheath, then tossed it down the hill among the rocks. The
weapon made a satisfying Ďclankí on the stones, hopefully loud
enough to bring my Xena to investigate.
A look of hurt filled Queen Xenaís eyes for a moment. That
expression of pain ripped through my soul, causing me to feel
heart-wrenching sorrow for her. Her world was crashing down around
her -- she was just trying to keep someone who meant everything to
her, but I couldnít live with the monster that she had become. The
look of hurt passed from Queen Xenaís face almost as fast as it
appeared. Her eyes became cold, her hand rising to strike me
I twisted with desperate, inhuman strength, breaking free of her
grasp, and I started tumbling down the hill. She instantly came to
her feet, following me to the bottom of the ridge. I struggled to
stand, shouting to my Warrior Princess, "XENA! Iím over
"Gabrielle -- donít do this," Queen Xena pleaded,
reaching out a trembling hand toward me. She moved a step closer.
"I must," I said sadly, backing away from her.
Queen Xenaís other hand reached out, tears spilling from her
eyes. "Donít go." Her voice was soft.
I felt her anguish, which made my own tears threaten to flow. I
could hear my Xena getting closer. Queen Xena heard the sounds, too
-- she knew the end was near.
"I...love you," she whispered.
Her declaration caused me to sob and my tears finally fell.
When my Warrior Princess burst into view, she saw me and I felt
an odd rush of disorientation, similar to when the stone sent me
through time. Queen Xena started to flicker out of existence as she
looked at her own hands and arms, which were disappearing and
reappearing. All at once though, she was gone and didnít return.
I ran to MY Xena, hugging her as tightly as I could. Time had
returned to normal; I felt it in my heart and soul. I shuddered a
sigh of relief, crying freely.
"Gabrielle, what happened? Are you all right?"
"Yes," I whispered. "Iím wonderful," I
smiled with the tears still in my eyes. I had my Xena.
"Who was that person you were fighting? I couldnít see --
you were blocking my view."
"It doesnít matter," I said softly. "Itís over
Xena smoothed my hair back. "Iím sorry I wasnít here
sooner," she apologized. "I didnít know you were in
"Everything is ok," I said, regaining a little of my
composure. "Some thugs were menacing a shopkeeper. I got rid of
"Are you sure youíre feeling all right?" She tilted
my chin up, looking at me with worried eyes, silently inspecting me
for any injury.
I smiled, nodding weakly.
Xena grinned. "Well, Iím glad youíre ok. Maybe you can
relax at the celebration."
"Yes. When I left the stable to look for you, a man begged
me to aid his wife, who was giving birth. Thatís the reason I was
delayed -- I was helping to deliver a baby. The couple is going to
have a feast to honor Tani, their new little girl."
My eyes opened wide. "I donít feel like going to any
festivities right now," I answered quickly.
Since everything was back to normal, I had no reason to believe
we would ever be involved with Tani. It was an odd sensation and I
began to form another one of my many theories that I love to work on
from time to time.
Perhaps everyone we ever met, for whatever reason, is destined to
come in contact with us. I think about my fate had I not followed
Xena. I would have been just a young farm girl Xena saved from
slavers and not the soulmate she had come to know. Xena would never
know those future events as the evil queen, because they never Ďhappenedí.
Tani was just a baby she helped bring into this world and not the
consort of a conqueror. And, this was one story I decided to keep to
"Letís move on," I continued. "I just want to be
alone with you under the stars tonight."
Xena looked puzzled for a moment at my brief, wide-eyed
expression after she mentioned the babyís name. She shrugged, then
grinned and put her arm around me. "Sure. I always love to see
the stars with you," she said as we walked through the forest.
I returned the embrace, resting my head on her upper arm as we
walked away. The feel of her bracer against my cheek was exquisite.
It felt wonderful to be home. I had MY Xena and thatís all I
really care about. It was also nice to see the close of the longest
day of my life. As we walked, an idea occurred to me.
"Can you tell me a story tonight?"
That earned me a chuckle.
"I know. I know. Youíre not the bard," I grinned.
"But Iíd like to hear again about how you met Salmoneus,"
She gave me one of those ĎWhere did that come from?í looks
and I too begin to chuckle. "Okaaaay," she agreed, still
unsure of my intentions.
"It would be nice to hear you tell a story tonight, is all.
Besides you tell it so well...especially the part about how pretty
he looked in that dress," I added. "I could use a funny
Xena grinned down at me and my heart melted. Gods above, how I
love this woman!
"Anything you wish, Gabrielle," Xena replied.
I snuggled close, giving a sigh of contentment. My Xena didnít
have a palace. She couldnít drape me in Chin silks. She couldnít
put a roof over my head made with the finest oak and marble known to
man. But I did know that MY Xena would always strive to give me all
she COULD give.
"I love you Xena," I whispered to her.
"I love you too, Gabrielle. I always will."
We walk on joined at the hip . . . and at the souls.