Authors Note (That means YOU, sitting at your computer, shold read this): Either folks arenít following this series anymore or you assume it will just continue. Feed the bard. If youíre still reading Iíd like to hear from you.<G> Youíve waited patientlyÖokay impatient for it so here it is . . . either the beginning of the end or a new beginning. Actually I havenít decided yet so youíll have to be my judge. This story began as an outlet of my own personal love life in turmoil. After six years, my relationship to a woman I loved dearly came to a mutual end. So letís hear it . . . does the warrior deserve a second chance? Is Xena better off cutting her losses and moving on? Should Gabrielle choose an aging amazon over the former Destroyer of Nations? Let me know. Majority will rule.<G>
See part one for disclaimers. Email the bard at email@example.com
Changes of Heart: Confrontations
"Thereís two more!! Where in HELL are they coming from?!"
Eve kicked one away with the heel of her boot while striking another one down with her sword.
"We canít keep this up much longer," she shouted.
To say that Xena was in full warrior mode was an understatement despite the fact her arm is in a sling from the recent topple on the mountain. She parried a sword from an attackerís hand and gutted him before he had the chance to re-arm himself or flee.
"Donít tell me your getting tired already kiddo," Xena teased. "Ahhrrrrahh," the warrior grunted as she took out two more men approaching behind her with a quick swipe left and then right.
The men of the village took up arms for the battle as well. Xena looked over to find one solider from the warlordís army out fighting a group of villagers. The odds were purely in his favor because of his skill.
"Him," Xena pointed to the thug.
Eve didnít need an explanation. She knew what her mother meant. She had to take the man down and do it quickly to spare as many villagers as possible. As Eve left, Xena found that four men had worked their way around her.
And Dite said this would be easy. I gotta remember to never trust the goddess of love again. Xena considered sarcastically as she watched them with smirks on their face as they closed in. Xena let out a powerful war cry that bought her enough time for a distraction as she somersaulted over the soldiers. Her back was empty after she landed and she could fight them head on.
And fight them head on she did. One by one they met Xenaís blade and fell. As the last one tumbled to the dirt, Xena looked over to check on Eve. She had managed to take out the target and a few of his cronies it appeared. For the moment she was getting some of the walking injured inside to safety.
Xena didnít see the attack coming but she felt it Ė a hard blow to the back. She groaned in pain as she fell to her knees. Next she felt her sword knocked from her hand a moment later as she tried to get her breath. She ducked and rolled toward her sword but she came up inches short. As the man raised his sword Xena knew this was it. Eve wasnít there to back her up. Her time had come.
And I never got to see her again, Xena realized as she still struggled, reaching as far as she could to get a grasp of her sword. Her first reaction as soon as she hit the dirt was her chakram but the sling prevented her from reaching it in time or with any accuracy. It had to be the sword and she stretched with all her might, coming up two inches short.
She closed her eyes when she watched his muscles bulge, knowing the strike would come. When a moment passed and she didnít feel the blade upon her she quickly looked up.
A dagger appeared in the manís chest.
Xena took a more intense look and realized . . .
Thatís not a dagger. Itís a sai!!!
Xenaís head shot back for a brief moment to see the bard standing behind her. The momentary shock wore off as the man began to fall toward her. Xena rolled to avoid him and in the process put more weight on her injured arm than she should have. She groaned loudly and clutched at her arm but not before picking up her sword.
Behind Gabrielle, Eponin and August battled a man with an ax. When it looked like he was about to get the best of August, Eponin took him down with two quick sword strokes.
The advancing army began to scatter and make their way back into the woods. The villagers began to cheer loudly in celebration of having defeated the army. Women and children started to come out of their hiding places. And all the while, Xena and Gabrielle locked eyes oblivious to the things around them.
Xena watched as the older woman and young lady came up to Gabrielle. Their arrival broke the eye contact as Gabrielle had a brief conversation and pointed to the local tavern across the street. The older womanís eyes met Xenaís and Xena could have sworn she saw a scowl on the womanís face as she departed with the young lady.
Gabrielle knew she had to go over. If not to offer her greetings, at least to retrieve her sai. Xenaís mouth suddenly went arid as the bard strolled over confidently. What do I say? What do I do? The bard was coming closer, watching her with every step. At least until she was near the fallen man.
"Gabrielle," Xena nodded. Oh yeah! That was real poetic warrior. Think of something before she just walks away!
"Xena," came the short reply, void of emotion.
She pulled the dagger from the manís chest and used his own shirt to clean the weapon off before putting it back in her boot. After all these months all she can say is my name? Of courseÖitís XenaÖWhat the Hell did I expect?
Gabrielle turned to catch up to Eponin and August in the tavern.
Gabrielle stopped her strides but took a deep breath before she turned around. Here it comes Gabrielle thought. She wasnít quite sure what Ďití was but she was certain it probably wouldnít end very favorable.
Xena still didnít know what to say as Gabriele turned around but it seemed a little gratitude might help.
"Thank you," Xena said once she had Gabrielleís attention. "You saved my life."
"Donít mention it," Gabrielle answered quickly. Just keep walking. Donít turn around again no matter what.
"Donít walk away. Not yet. Hear me out first," Xena pleaded.
Gabrielle paused. You stopped anyway didnít you? After you said you wouldnít huh? Damn it Gabrielle! Get a backbone!! Tell her that this is it. Tell her she canít play with your heart. Tell her itís over and move on.
Gabrielle had lots of answers to give but instead of voicing any of them she simply said, "What?"
"I want to talk to you," Xena said going on pure instinct. Act, donít react. Go with your gut. "Iíve realized quite a bit since youíve been gone and I want the chance to tell you."
Gabrielle chuckled in her growing misery. "Thatís just it Xena. Youíve been telling me things for years. Not talking to me but TELLING me. Iím tired of being preached to. When you decide you no longer want to lecture me, look me up."
Sadness was Xenaís first reaction but in the seconds that followed it became replaced with frustration and then anger. How dare she?! After all these months apart Ė after all the years together Ė she OWES me a real conversation about this. Sheís not just gonna walk away. Not again.
"Hey!" Xena called out as she began to jog after the bard. "We need to talk about things here. I gave you space," she added as she grabbed Gabrielle gently by the arm.
That was it. The bardís temper boiled over.
"And what are you gonna do if I donít Xena huh? Are you gonna drag me behind a horse? Fall for some Roman while I watch? Or perhaps youíd like to take the back of my head off with your chakram? . . . Oh wait," Gabrielle paused in her sarcasm. "Youíve done all those things already. What do I have to fear?" the bard concluded throwing her arms up in the air.
"Iíve been paying for my sins every day weíve been apart and I would spend my life making it up to you if I could but thatís a little tough when you wonít speak to me for more than 10 seconds . . . Besides there are other factors at play here that Iíve learned about. Things that you should know."
"Like what?" Gabrielle answered growing angry herself.
Like the fact Eve truly is YOUR daughter. No donít say it like that. Not when youíre mad. Xena took a deep breath. "Things that I think you should know . . but not discussed while weíre yelling at each other. Please let me talk to you. If you want to leave me and keep going your own way Iíll support that decision. Iím not your keeper. I never wanted to be your keeper. I only wanted to love you Ė the way you loved me. Iíve prayed to Eli that it isnít too late and that we can repair things but if you feel that isnít possible," Xena said feeling a lump form in her throat before quickly swallowing it down, "you can walk away and never look back . . . All I ask is that you talk with me first."
The sob in Xenaís voice almost brought the bard to tears herself. She didnít want to hurt Xena. She truly didnít. She was only looking out for herself and trying to avoid what had become a very damaging relationship Ė both emotionally and physically. Perhaps Xena was right. Perhaps this is something they both needed in order to Ďroll up the scrollí so to speak, a final chapter in the story of the warrior princess and her bard.
"Alright," Gabrielle sighed, trying her best not to sob as well. "Alright. Weíll talk but first things first. That army isnít going to stay away for long. These villagers are thinking they are in the clear but you and I know better. Theyíre gonna plan a counter strike."
Xena smiled as she nodded in agreement. Sheís good . . . Sheís grown up . . . Why on earth didnít I see it before. "True. What do you suggest?"
Did she just ask my opinion? Yeah I guess she did. Ha. "Well, weíll need to put some bucket brigades in place. Just in case he attacks with fire. And weíll have to put some scouts up high," Gabrielle continued as she looked up. "Those trees would be a good place Ė lots of limbs and plenty of leaves to hide behind to go unnoticed."
"Leave it to an amazon to take to the air," Xena teased. Gabrielle grinned slightly. "Iím just teasing. It sounds like a wonderful idea so far," Xena added when she reconsidered that her comment might be taken in the wrong context. "May I add something?"
Did she just ask me to give her opinion? Oh lord I think Iím gonna have a stroke. "Certainly."
"I noticed that his men arenít heavily armored. We could bring out more villagers to fight if we gave them something more solid to strike with. The staff is an easy weapon Ė no offense-."
"None taken," Gabrielle teased. "Iím sorry. Go on," she grinned.
Sheís grinning. This is a good sign. "Anyway, if we armed them with staffs, mallets, anything they can strike hard and fast with it might be enough to take the majority of the army out once they make it inside the village."
Gabrielle considered it. "Very true . . . Okay. Letís get some things in motion. Do you know who the leader is here?"
"Sure do," Xena grinned.
"Okay then. Letís get everyone to the tavern and tell them what we have planned so far."
"And as for the rest?" Xena asked
"Weíll do what we always do . . . make it up as we go along while trying to look brilliant in the process," she teased.
Xena laughed out loud heartily and Gabrielle found herself chuckling as well. Soon Xena cleared her throat and a perplexed look over washed over her face.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena smiled and shrugged it off. "Nothing really . . . I just . . . I havenít laughed like that since youíve been gone . . . It felt good is all," Xena grinned warmly. "Anyway, Iíll find the mayor while you organize the tavern okay?" Xena replied becoming Ďstrictly businessí. Gabrielle simple nodded as Xena walked away.
As the warrior strode across the village street Gabrielle felt the tears well up in her eyes as she thought of Xenaís laughter comment. "For what itís worth," she whispered knowing the warrior couldnít hear her. "Neither have I.
CONTINUED IN 'BATTLEPLANS'