Home At Last
by CN Winters
Part 5 – final installment the Homecoming Series
“I know you can hear me Gabrielle.” The warrior whispered as she made sure all of Gabrielle’s buckles were in place on her queen’s armor. “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this alone.”
Terris walked into the royal hut unnoticed to the grieving warrior. She listened to Xena’s almost silent confession.
Xena turned and took a startled look at Terris.
“I’m sorry,” Terris said quickly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Xena took a breath and ran her fingers through her hair. She was exhausted and she looked it. “It’s alright Terris,” she reassured the healer with a grim smile. “You meant no harm.”
Terris paused, summing up the warrior, wishing there was something – ANYTHING – she could do to ease her suffering.
“The pyre is ready,” she said softly. “I’ll call the amazons.”
“Wait,” Xena softly ordered. “Please send Lila here before they take her.”
Terris looked puzzled but she nodded just the same. Moments later Lila arrived, creeping in quietly.
“You sent for me Xena?” she asked.
Xena wasn’t sure how to begin. She had debated this issue back and forth for the last three days since Gabrielle’s death.
“Yes Lila. I . . . I don’t want to do this,” Xena sighed with frustration.
“Do what?” the bards sister asked softly, slightly confused.
“Burn her,” Xena began choking back tears. “I don’t want to ‘sacrifice her to the flames’.”
“But it’s customary to all amazons; especially the queen,” Lila pointed out.
“I know that but I can’t do it. I want to take her to Amphipolis. . . to my brother.”
“But Ephany said-
“I don’t give a damn what she said!” Xena replied harshly, a blaze of anger passing in her azure eyes. She paused a moment. Lila didn’t deserve her wrath. The bards sister was only being the voice of reason. A voice that would be mimicked by the entire village.
“I can handle the amazons,” Xena finally continued. “What I need from you is your blessing. . .if that’s alright.”
Lila considered what Xena was asking. It was going to be a ‘hard sell’ to the amazons but all Gabs ever wanted was Xena’s happiness. And if taking Gabrielle to Amphipolis made Xena happy. . .
“You have my blessing,” she said soundly, hugging her bond-sister. “I’ll deal with Ephany,” she grinned.
Xena pulled back and studied Lila. She looked nothing like Gabrielle but in many ways they shared a certain renegade spirit.
“Thank you Lila. I don’t know why but I just can’t. . .”
Xena couldn’t continue. She couldn’t even say the words out loud again. But she finished it in her mind. . . ‘Burn her. She’s too beautiful to reduce to ashes.’
“I’ll take care of it,” Lila whispered as she placed a kiss on Xena’s tear stained cheek. “Don’t worry.”
Xena closed the lid on the coffin as Lila gave the guards orders to fetch Ephany. When the regent – now queen – entered Lila went straight to the point.
“Xena is taking Gabrielle to Amphipolis,” the princess informed her.
“The pyre is prepared. We-
“Xena is taking Gabrielle to Amphipolis,” Lila repeated more sternly.
Ephany couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Do you have any idea what you two are doing?! The council-
“Leave them to me,” Xena said softly, entering the conversation. “I’ll explain my reasoning to them but either way, I’m taking her to Amphipolis.”
No one in the royal hut spoke – each woman contemplated what the other’s argument would be and considering their own words. Lila’s voice finally broke the growing silence.
“I’ll see that the litter is prepared,” Lila said making her way outside, finishing the debate.
Ephany and Xena stood sizing each other up. Both warriors tense and on edge, waiting for one of them to make the first move. Ephany spoke first.
“You realize,” she began, “her spirit will never be released as long as she’s in that tomb.”
“Says who?” Xena argued. “Artemis? The Goddess who tried to keep me from Gabrielle so many years ago? The goddess who couldn’t protect us from Zagreus attack? The goddess who-
“I get the point Xena,” Ephany said cutting her off. “You have contempt for our goddess. That’s fine but many amazons here will fear her wrath if you take their queen without a proper burial.”
Xena’s determined icy blue eyes meet Ephany’s. “She’s coming with me. Send a runner to Amphipolis to warn my mother of our arrival.”
Ephany was still unsure until Xena uttered one word.
The single, gently spoken word made Ephany feel totally helpless to comply. She could hear Xena wasn’t up for the battle right now, yet she was willing to fight if need be to see her wishes carried out. Ephany slowly walked over and pulled Xena into a tender embrace.
“Alright, my friend,” she whispered, stroking the warriors hair, letting her know that the warrior princess would win this fight. “Alright,” she said more firmly pulling away just a bit to face the warrior.
Xena began to cry. . .for the tenth time that morning.
“Okay sweet cheeks. Where’s your token?”
Gabrielle felt around her clothing, “I don’t have a token.”
Charon looked her up and down. “Well, sorry toots. Gotta have a token if you wanna ride. Neeext!” he yelled.
A man pushed Gabrielle aside, taking a spot on the boat to travel the river Styx.
“Hey!” the bard exclaimed. “Watch it!”
“Look lady,” Charon began. “I got paying customers here so if ya don’t mind move along.”
Gabrielle’s mind raced. She didn’t want to be stuck on the docks forever and she had to find someway across. Suddenly it clicked in her mind.
“Looks like a long journey,” Gabrielle commented to the ferryman. “Probably gets pretty boring huh?”
“Yeah. Some trips feel like forever,” he replied casually until he realized he was STILL talking to the bard. “Hey! I thought I told you to get lost!”
“Now hold on a second. You need something to pass the time and I have just want you need.”
Charon chuckled. “And what’s that sweetie?” he said doubtingly.
“Stories,” Gabrielle grinned. “I’m a bard. A pretty good one too. What do you say? You let me aboard and I’ll tell you some tales?”
“No thanks,” he replied, taking another paying customer.
“Fine,” Gabrielle replied casually walking away, “but it’s not everyone who has the tale of how Xena: Warrior Princess returned Hades helmet. In fact, no one but me.”
Gabrielle paused a few beats with her back turned, her grin well hidden.
“No one knows that tale,” Charon said with amazement. “How do you claim to know it?”
“Because I was there,” Gabrielle said triumphantly, walking back toward him.
Charon took all of three seconds. “Alright. You win. Get on the boat and don’t leave out the good parts!”
Gabrielle stepped aboard with her smile of victory firmly in place.
Ephany’s plan worked – Xena, Terris, ‘the girls’ and two royal guards had left under a shroud of secrecy. She said she would discuss things with the council and later the tribe.
The team traveled all day long. Night had just begun to fall in Amphipolis as they arrived. As Xena directed the guard on where to take Gabrielle’s body, Terris and the other guard offered to take the children while the warrior sought out her mother.
She didn’t have to look far. Cyrene and Taria were cleaning up for the night.
Upon looking up and seeing her daughter, Cyrene began to cry. “Oh little one,” she sobbed as she walked over with open arms. Xena nearly collapsed in her mother embrace, shaking uncontrollably.
“She’s gone,” Xena whispered between sobs.
“The runner told us everything Xena. I’m so sorry,” she said squeezing her tighter. “Here,” she said leading Xena to a chair. “Have a seat. I’ll get you some food and something warm to drink.”
“I’m not hungry mother,” Xena answered.
“You may not be but I’m sure those babies are. You need to keep your strength up for them. . .Am I wrong?”
Xena gave a half grin of defeat. There was no sense in arguing with the old woman – she’d only lose. “Whatever you have will do,” Xena said.
“No,” Cyrene answered. “Whatever you want is what you’ll get,” she said rising, tassling Xena’s hair. It made Xena chuckle. Here she was: a fearsome warrior; a grown woman, nearly a foot taller than her mother. And yet she was still coddled like a small child.
But she realized since having children herself that no matter how big her kids may become, no matter how powerful or how popular to the masses – they too would still be HER little ones. Hers and Gabrielle’s. . . Gabrielle. . .The name spoken only in her mind opened the flood gates.
When Cyrene returned Xena told her all in her own sob-filled words, even her non-attachment to Karis.
As if cued Terris and the guards walked in with Cyrene’s grandchildren. Terris felt Xena wasn’t quite up for introductions so Terris did it for her. The older woman took the newborn Karis in her arms. Lexia, Xena’s oldest, was fast asleep so Taria pointed out the kitchen and showed the guard where to carry the baby to bed.
“She’s beautiful,” Xena’s mother cooed. They were now alone in the dimly lit dinning room.
Xena’s face was grim in this light, although she grinned softly. “She is,” Xena agreed. “She’s got Autolycus’ dark hair but that nose and those eyes are Gabrielle all the way.”
Cyrene cocked her head as if to say something but changed her mind.
“Out with it mother,” Xena ordered playfully.
“She really looks like Gabrielle,” Cyrene acknowledged. “Has anyone told you that?” she added.
Xena reflected for a brief moment. ‘No’ she decided. ‘They haven’t. Come to think of it no one has said much about Karis at all.’
“There really hasn’t been time,” Xena confessed, she started to tear up. “With everything that’s happened. . .”
Cyrene put her hand on Xena’s to let her know that she understood and Xena didn’t have to finish the thought.
“She really is quite beautiful,” Cyrene whispered again. “I look at her and I can see Gabrielle,” she said trying to sound cheery.
“Really?” Xena asked. “You see it too?”
“Oh absolutely!” Cyrene agreed. “Does she eat all the time too?” Cyrene teased.
The more Xena thought. . .
“Yeah,” she began with a sincere grin of joy. “She does. I’ve had to wean Lexia. Karis was taking all the milk for herself.”
Cyrene smiled and stroked Karis’ face tenderly. “Gorgeous green eyes, bottomless pit of a stomach. . .I bet 15 years from now she’ll be beatin’ them off with a stick. . .literally!”
Xena giggled at the comment and the mischievous look in her mothers eye.
“Oh yes,” Cyrene considered aloud in baby talk to Karis, “You’re your mother’s daughter alright.” Cyrene looked up at her own child. “You know little one,” Cyrene told Xena, “instead of looking at this child as the one who took Gabrielle, maybe you could look at her as her legacy. I can already see so much of Gabrielle in her. Maybe instead of the negative, you can look on Karis and see all the things you loved about Gabrielle.”
She could see Xena was strongly pondering the suggestion. “Thanks mom. No one has mentioned that to me until now.”
Cyrene sighed. “Good I’m glad,” she teased. “It’s nice to know you can still only get motherly advice from your mother.”
Karis began to bellow before Xena could reply. Cyrene tried to comfort the child since Karis began to scream from out of nowhere.
“Forget it mom,” Xena said offering her arms to take the infant. “She’s hungry. And we’ll never hear the end of it until she eats.”
Cyrene chuckled before she turned the baby over to Xena. “Like I said. . . Gabrielle.”
As Xena settled into the chair to feed the baby, she smiled a genuine smile for the first time in days, perhaps even weeks. She looked down feeding her lover’s child – – and for the first time, her child as well.
Xena awoke after breakfast feeling more rested than she did in weeks. As she wiped the sleep from her eyes, Terris entered with Lex in her arms.
“Good morning,” the healer said putting Lex on the bed. “Your mother saved you a few eggs and some pork downstairs.”
“Thanks Terris,” Xena replied. The warrior watched her daughter struggle up the thick quilt, grunting all the way. Xena waited until she was half-way there before giving her daughter a hand.
“Good morning sweetie,” Xena cooed to Lex bringing her nose to nose. Xena was met with a barrage of ‘mama’s’ strung together repeatedly.
“Who’s your mama huh?!” Xena asked the baby. “Who’s your mama?”
With that, she laid the baby on her back and began to tickle her feet. Xena found herself giggling along with Lex and felt a pang of guilt strike her hard. She could play with Lex. Gabrielle never would.
Terris watched Xena’s happy expression fall in an instant and recognized it.
“It’s okay to play with your daughter and enjoy it Xena,” Terris smiled warmly. “Gabrielle would have wanted it that way,” she added sincerely.
Xena smiled again and they watched as Lex awkwardly tried to get herself upright again. She soon was on her knees again, crawling into Xena’s strong arms.
“Where’s Karis?” Xena uncharacteristically asked.
Terris was surprised. Usually Karis was brought to Xena. The warrior never asked for the child.
“She woke early. Your mother is down stairs with her now.”
“What about her breakfast?” the breast-feeding warrior grinned.
“We gave her a bottle of goats milk and decided to let you sleep in.” Terris waited nervously. She wasn’t sure if Xena would be upset since the action was done without approval. “It was Cyrene’s idea,” the healer added, hoping to lessen any backlash.
“It’s alrrright Terris,” Xena drawled as she chuckled. She stood up and stretched, working the kinks out of her over-rested muscles. “Please tell mother I’ll be down after I get cleaned up.”
“Certainly,” Terris nodded as she reached for the baby.
“That’s okay,” Xena said stopping her. “I’ll bring Lex downstairs with me.”
Xena noticed Terris’ shock for the second time that morning and Xena knew she had to address it.
“Terris,” Xena began, “Gabrielle is gone. And these kids need their mother. It’s time I got on and started ‘being’ their mother instead of just playing the role.”
“Xena,” Terris insisted. “You’ve done the best you could under these circumstances. No one blames you for filling only their basic needs.”
“No one but me,” Xena argued. “I miss her. . . but I can’t stop living because she’s gone. Because these kids need their mama,” she grinned.
Lex made her presence known again with her mama repetition all over again.
“Yeah!” Xena said in baby talk. “You tell her Lex!”
Terris chuckled and walked toward the door. “I’ll let your mom know you’re on your way down.”
“Hey Terris,” Xena called making her stop. “Thanks,” she said sincerely. “Thanks for everything. I don’t think I would have made it through this as well without you.”
Terris nodded her ‘welcome’ and closed the door leaving mother and child alone.
“Are you Gabrielle? The amazon queen?”
“I am,” the bard replied as she shuffled along with the crowd leaving Charon’s boat.
“I am Nices. Servant to Lord Hades. He requests I meet you here. Please follow me,” she said softly.
Nices was a beautiful blonde woman but small in stature – smaller than the bard in fact. She was dressed in white and glided gracefully as they moved along.
After a short walk down a corridor they reached a room filled with lush tropical surroundings.
“Is this Elysia?” the bard asked innocently.
Nices smiled. “No Gabrielle. Elysia is much more beautiful. . .Have a seat. Lord Hades will be with you shortly.”
Gabrielle looked around. There was no furniture but there was a fallen tree by a beautiful stream. She took a seat and played with a fray in her skirt.
“Hello Gabrielle,” the God of the underworld smiled.
Gabrielle shot to her feet at the sound of his voice, looking quite startled.
“Sorry to frighten you. . .You have nothing to fear here my dear. Please have a seat.”
Gabrielle did as he instructed and he took a spot next to her. “You’ve probably wondered why you’re here,” he said conversationally.
“The thought did cross my mind,” the bard admitted with a nervous smile.
“Relax,” Hades soothed again. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath to calm her racing nerves. “Well it’s not everyday that Hades singles you out on a boat load of people. . .At least I don’t ‘think’ it’s normal. . .Is it?”
“That’s correct,” he agreed with a nod. “But you have unfinished business.”
Gabrielle thought hard and recalled her last earthly memories. Xena. . .the kids. . .Oh gods, the kids! . . .And Xena, left to tend to them alone!
“She’s . . .doing okay,” Hades assured Gabrielle, sensing the bards discomfort. “Would you like to see her?”
“Yes!” Gabrielle answered immediately.
Hades took her by the hand and led her to a reflection pool. Slowly an image formed in the pool, becoming clearer and clearer. It was Xena at her mothers inn. She was taking turns between combing Lex’s hair and her own. As she finished she heard Xena ask if they should go find her sister, Karis.
Gabrielle smiled knowing that Xena was doing alright but she couldn’t help but feel jealous at the same time.
“It’s okay,” Hades said with a strong hand to her shoulder. “She misses you greatly Gabrielle but she wants to make you proud by raising happy, respectable daughters.”
“I should be helping her,” Gabrielle said feeling angry with Hades. Soon she was poking him in the chest as she spoke. “I should be with her now and instead you took me and stole me away from her and our children!”
Hades looked down at his chest the bard was recently jabbing before he answered. “I have my reasons,” he answered coolly, walking away.
“Oh yeah?! Well, clue me in ’cause this I gotta hear!”
“Does the name Perdicus sound familiar?” he taunted. “The one that showed you the ‘true meaning of love’,” he mocked. “You’ve forgotten him, haven’t you?”
Gabrielle turned away. “I’ve never forgotten Perdicus,” she answered. “But. . .”
“You didn’t love him,” Hades offered. “At least not like Xena anyway. . .It’s a shame too because you still wed him, although you knew your heart was for Xena.”
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Hades wasn’t lying. And the truth hurt. “What was I supposed to do?” Gabrielle whispered. “I never thought she loved me. . .at least not in the respect that I loved her.”
“I can’t change the past. I can only help you deal with the future. . . Like I said, you have unfinished business. Perdicus waits for you. . .Is he the one you want or is it Xena?”
Gabrielle hadn’t considered the ramifications her love with Xena would cause in the after life. And she remained silent. Hades voice pulled her from her thoughts.
“Who’s it going to be?. . .If you want Xena I’ll send you back to her. If you chose Perdicus you will stay. It’s your choice Gabrielle?”
“I want Xena,” Gabrielle answered without reservation.
“So be it,” Hades smiled, “but there’s a catch. . .”
Gabrielle tensed. The gods could be petty and cruel. And she held her breath as he continued.
“. . .You must tell Perdicus who owns your heart. Once, and only if, you have HIS blessing may you return. Do you understand?”
Gabrielle sighed. This was not what she expected – not at all. But she knew what she had to do.
“Take me to him,” she whispered.
Hades took a moment to admire the bards courage and her undying love for Xena.
“As you wish,” he smiled.
Cyrene felt it was her grandmotherly right to spoil the girls rotten. She told Xena to go for a walk, get a hair cut or do whatever warriors do with their free time. The kids were in good hands so Xena decided to visit Argo.
“Hey girl,” Xena called softly as she entered the barn.
Argo whinnied her response, happy to see her mistress.
“Probably been feeling neglected huh?” Xena began. “I know you have but it couldn’t be helped. . .” Xena started to think of all the events of the past moon but she pushed her sorrow down and continued. “That will change now,” she said getting the brush and going to work on Argo’s mane. As Xena worked on the mares coat she could tell she was being watched.
“You can come out Ares,” she announced with a smile.
As she turned she watched a gray-haired man transform before her. “Ares didn’t lie. You really can sense us,” he chuckled.
“Have we meet?” Xena asked, irritation heavy in her voice.
“Not formally. . .I am Zeus.”
Xena looked him up and down, unimpressed, and turned back to Argo. With a little persistence she knew that pesky knot would come out of the cream colored mane.
“I said ‘I am Zeus’,” he repeated.
“Heard you the first time,” Xena answered. “Am I supposed to be in awe?”
Zeus smiled at the defiant warrior and moved around the mare to be face to face with Xena. “I guess you really are disenchanted with us.”
“See, there’s where you’re wrong,” Xena grinned wickedly. “To be ‘dis’ enchanted would mean that – at some point – I WAS enchanted with you. And to be honest I haven’t met many god types I’m impressed with. . .including you.”
Zeus rested his hands on Argo’s back. “What if I could give you what you most desire?” he questioned, hoping to peak her interest.
“What I most desire is gone. Even you can’t get that back,” Xena answered. “So kindly get your hands OFF my horse and LEAVE!” she added hotly.
He maybe the king of the gods but in any case Zeus’ hands shot away. He looked deep into Xena’s eyes realizing he had to form a new tactical plan.
“Yes. . .I know. . . Gabrielle.”
With the mention of her name, Xena looked up and studied the aging god.
“I can bring her back,” he said meeting her gazing, knowing he had her interest now. “If you succeed in a task I need done.”
“What?” the warrior asked unsure if she heard the king of the gods accurately.
Zeus sensed her confusion. “Yes. You heard me correctly. . .See to this task I need done and Gabrielle will be yours forever.”
“What’s the task?” Xena asked skeptically.
“My son needs your help-
“Ares now has you trying to win me back?! Of all the low down-
“Not Ares!. . .My mortal son, Perseus. . .He loves a princess, Andromeda, but Thetas has unjustly deemed her for sacrifice. The Kracken will be released in 20 days. I need you to meet Perseus at the Ferryman’s Docks to travel to the Isle of the Dead.
“What’s the catch?” Xena asked, knowing the gods all too well.
Zeus smiled. This mortal was quite smart, and determined and angry. No wonder Ares loved her so.
“You must bring back the head of Medusa to defeat the Kracken.”
Xena chuckled in misery. “Oh boy,” she muttered.
“It’s a lot to ask. . .I realize that. . .But think of the reward Xena! You’ll have your Gabrielle back, the mother of your children. . .She will be able to watch them grow as you do. She’ll support them and raise them at your side. . .I’ll return to you when you have your answer. Think hard Xena. I’ll only offer this once since time is a great factor.”
With that, Zeus vanished. And after several minutes of brushing Argo absently, she made up her mind.
Xena found her mom and Terris in the living area, playing peek-a-boo with Lexia.
“I have to leave,” Xena announced to the room.
Cyrene and Terris looked at each other, confused by the urgency in Xena’s voice.
“Leave?” Cyrene asked.
Xena explained her conversation with Zeus and as she finished Cyrene expelled a long sigh.
“What makes you think you can trust him?” Cyrene questioned. “And what . . .what if you don’t return? What about the children?”
Xena paused. She’d considered these fact before even stepping foot in the house.
“Lila will raise the children,” Xena replied convincingly.
“And if Zeus lies?” Cyrene pressed, still unsure of her daughters’ determination.
“That’s a chance I have to take,” Xena said softly.
Cyrene was uncertain of this whole deal of Zeus’. She already lost one daughter – Gabrielle. The older woman didn’t feel any comfort in the fact her blood daughter was heading into unspeakable danger. But she also knew Xena had her mind made up. And when her stubborn offspring was determined. . .
“Go,” Cyrene said, trying to muster up enough pride in her voice to inspire Xena. “Bring her back and have your family together once more.”
Xena hugged Cyrene tight to her.
“I will,” she whispered. “Thank you for understanding,” she added with a kiss to her cheek.
“Go on,” Cyrene shooed her. “Get packed.”
Xena started on her way but stopped in the doorway, looking back at the four of them now in front of the fireplace.
Guilt washed over her for leaving them and a familiarly haunting feeling. The sting grew the longer she watched and she recognized it – she felt it the night she gave Solon to the centaurs.
‘This is different,’ she told herself. ‘You’re not leaving. You’re bringing their mother back.’
Cyrene could see Xena’s ambivalence.
“It’s okay little one,” she said softly comforting the warrior. “Go and get your bard,” she added with a grin.
With a quick nod, Xena turned and made her way up to her room.
“Gabrielle? Is it really you?”
Gabrielle smiled warmly, masking her discomfort well. Perdicus rushed over to greet her with open arms. He picked her up and twirled her around.
“Gods, how I’ve missed you,” he sighed before pulling her into a deep kiss. “How long has it been?” he asked pulling away, looking deep into her eyes.
“What do you mean?” Gabrielle asked.
“How long?” he repeated before pausing. He realized she didn’t understand the concepts of Elysia yet. “Oh, time here has no meaning – a year could be as short as a day.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath. “It’s been about . . . ten years.”
“Ten years?” he replied. “That’s a long time,” he smiled. “But you’re here now and that’s all that matters.”
‘Oh boy,’ the bard considered, ‘this is going to be harder than I expected.’
“Well, a lot changes in a decade,” Gabrielle informed him as diplomatically as possible.
Warning flags went up in Perdicus eyes. “Like what?” he asked pulling back from her embrace.
Gabrielle didn’t answer. She didn’t know where to start. Perdicus, however, knew what the indecision was about. After a few moments of silence he asked “What’s his name?”
Gabrielle gave a nervous grin before answering.
Perdicus blinked, uncertain of what he was hearing. “The warrior princess?” he asked, astonished, turning away.
Gabrielle followed. “I didn’t know what to make of it at first either,” Gabrielle sympathized. “But as the years went by – with all we had been through – I realized she was my hearts desire. Perdicus, I loved you. I always did and in many ways I still do but that love. . .that a ‘spouse’ has. . .well, that love is reserved for Xena.”
Perdicus shifted his eyes from his feet to Gabrielle’s face. “Xena?” he asked again, still trying to take everything in.
Gabrielle only nodded this time and held her tongue (not an easy task for her). She waited for him to continue. The second she saw the look of hurt and anger in his eyes she wondered if she had made the right choice.
“Where is she now?” Perdicus asked. “Is she in Tartarus?” His voice held a burning acidity that Gabrielle didn’t challenge at the moment.
She held back defending her bond-mate, thinking it better to just answer the question.
“No. She’s still alive,” Gabrielle answered.
“What happened?” Perdicus taunted. “Did an old enemy of hers run you through with her sword too?”
“No,” Gabrielle said staying remarkably neutral. “I died after complications in childbirth. . .We have two daughters which she’s now raising alone.”
Perdicus looked shocked. Xena was doing all the things with his Gabby that he dreamed of for so long. “I guess a lot has changed,” he said with a touch of sorrow.
“If you give me time I can explain everything,” Gabrielle insisted.
Perdicus took Gabrielle’s hand in his. The more he thought about it the less selfish he became. ‘What was she supposed to do? Wait to be with me again?’ he considered. It was obvious to him that, for whatever reason, Xena made her happy. Gabrielle left the village – left him – for Xena years before. Why would they NOT be together now.
“Go ahead Gabrielle,” he said sympathetically. “Tell me everything. I’ve got an eternity.”
“All packed?” Cyrene asked from the doorway of Xena’s bedroom.
Xena nodded briefly as she fastened the latch on her saddlebag, not able to face her mother. She felt selfish and spent most of her packing time second guessing herself. Was she making the right decision by helping Zeus? Was it worth the risk to perhaps leave her daughters motherless? Cyrene’s voice interrupted Xena’s thoughts.
“I’ve got a basket for your journey,” she said walking over to her daughter. “Dried meats, cheese. . .some bread. . .It’s not much but-
“Thank you mother,” Xena whispered sincerely yet still not looking up.
Cyrene cocked her head and Xena could feel her mothers examination of her.
“Do you think I’m making the right choice?” Xena said almost too soft to hear. When Cyrene didn’t reply, it forced the warrior to meet her mothers eyes.
“Does my opinion matter?” Cyrene asked with a warmth in her voice.
“It does . . .It always has deep down. . .and now more than ever,” Xena admitted freely.
“Gabrielle was like a daughter to me – no she was my daughter,” Cyrene added in afterthought. “When we got word. . .I cried in Taria’s arms for hours. . .I still cry but I try to be strong for you,” Cyrene said choking on her words as she thought of the bards death.
Xena stood motionless as she listened to her mother continue.
“But you have the chance to bring her back again. You have the chance to watch her see the kids grow. . .I always regretted that about your father. . .”
As she paused Xena watched her swallow hard, trying to continue.
“I don’t want to lose my other daughter,” Cyrene sniffled. “But taking this chance . . .it’s for the greater good. For yours, for the girls; for all of us.”
Xena let her mother’s words rattle in her head a few moments.
“So you think I’m making the right decision?” Xena asked tentatively.
Cyrene stood on her tip toes and brought Xena’s head down to her lips, lightly kissing her forehead.
“Yes little one,” she whispered into Xena’s over grown bangs. “I do.”
Xena smiled despite the unshed tears in her eyes. She wrapped her arms tightly around the older woman burying her head in the dark hair that matched her own.
Cyrene stroked the warriors back as they held each other, comforting each other for many reasons; not just the bards death and Xena’s soon departure but for the sins both mother and daughter inflicted upon each other over the years. They both said they forgave each other often but for the first time both finally felt it.
“Come on,” Cyrene said, taking one of the bags. “Say Goodbye to your daughters.”
Once down stairs, Taria hugged Xena goodbye and took the bags to the door. The warrior walked over to Terris in the living room. Both children were sleeping soundly for their afternoon nap, despite the sounds of the lunch rush.
Terris rose and lightly stroked the warriors arm as she left the room, letting Xena know she was giving her some privacy.
Xena put her pinky down to Karis’ fist and watched the infant grab it reflexively. She felt the small tug on her finger go all the way to her heart. Carefully she raised the tiny hand and kissed the even tinier knuckles. Lightly she stroked the dark hair that was beginning to thin. With a small chuckle, Xena softly disengaged herself from the vice grip her daughter had on her. ‘She’ll be a strong one’, Xena thought proudly.
Next she looked over at Lexia. She looked so much bigger by comparison when, only months before, she was Karis’ size. Xena smiled as Lex opened her eyes, seeing her mothers appreciative gaze. ‘She senses me’, Xena thought before she whispered, “You’re so much like your Mama Gabby like that.”
Lex popped her thumb from her mouth but Xena replaced it. “Shhh, sleep sweetie,” she whispered softly. “When I come back. . .I’ll bring your momma home again. I promise.”
Lexia’s eyes grew heavy again and soon closed. Somewhat reluctantly the warrior rose and walked out of the tavern. But not before turning back, getting one last look. When she did she saw Zeus give a brief nod before vanishing. The deal was set.
Terris and the amazon guards were talking at a table. Cyrene walked over and offered a wordless hug before going in to sit with the children.
Terris went to the door and handed Xena her bags.
“You TAKE CARE,” the healer ordered sternly with a warm smile. “We’ll see to the children.”
Xena forced the tears down. She didn’t think leaving would be this hard. She knew in an instant her days of travel were over. Her thoughts went out to Terris who had become not only a trusted ally but a good friend.
“You’ve got plenty of goats milk for them right?” Xena asked.
Terris smiled. “Yes Xena. They’ll be alright.”
“And powder? Sometimes Lexia gets that rash-
“Xena!” Terris said with a chuckle. The warrior had to smile too. Could she help it that she was a protective mother? “Between the years of experience of me and your mother, we’ve got it covered, okay?”
Xena fell into her ‘stoic mode’ as Gabrielle had called it and she nodded.
She was almost out the door when she stopped and turned around.
“I gotta question,” Xena said. Terris walked over with a huge smile.
“Yes Xena,” she said with mock irritation, teasing the warrior.
Xena just grinned and brushed it off.
“Karis has been losing her hair. Could she have some kind of . . . condition or illness-
“No Xena,” Terris smiled. “It’s quite natural for children to lose their ‘birth hair’ before the real stuff comes in. Some babies keep their ‘birth hair’, like Lexia, and some don’t, like Karis.”
“So she’s not doomed to baldness?” the warrior chuckled as embarrassment flushed her cheeks.
“Far from it,” Terris smiled. “I know your experience with children is . . .minimal. . .at best. But trust me – everything will be fine.”
Xena smiled, happy with the answer. “Thanks Terris.”
“Hey! That’s what I’m here for.”
Neither woman said a word more. Terris made the first move and brought Xena into her arms. “Come home soon,” she said softly. “Be safe.”
“You too,” Xena said returning the gesture. Without so much as a backward glance Xena finally left the inn.
Xena camped for the night. That evening as she sharpened her sword she looked across the campfire. For a brief moment she expected to see the bard working on a scroll – her tongue slightly protruding to one side, looking at the parchment deep in thought.
But tonight she was alone. Without her friends, her family or her daughters. . .Xena felt truly alone for the first time since the bards death. . .for the first time in years, in fact.
She thought maybe sleep would be the best solution but as she lay still she found sleep wouldn’t come.
Her thoughts traveled to the bard and how Gabrielle felt tucked away safely at her shoulder. The way her hair smelled. The way her skin felt. Xena’s mind replayed their first couplings on Lesbos so many years before. And with the memories her hands began to wander over her body.
The way Gabrielle sounded in rapture. The way she kissed so deeply. The way she tasted. The way she was always wet; always ready for her warrior. As wet and ready as the warrior was now.
Xena closed her eyes. Her fingers and her palms – they were Gabrielle’s now in her mind. Touching her; loving her; soothing her.
Xena teased her sex and in her mind’s eye she saw the coy bard, smirking from between her legs offering release but ‘all in good time’.
Xena smiled at the memory before ‘Gabrielle’ gave her the release she craved. The warriors hands worked frantically now as she felt herself approach her climax.
The name broke from Xena’s throat strangled but surprisingly loud.
As the quakes began to die down the warrior opened her eyes to find herself still alone, truly alone.
Xena finally did fall asleep.
But not before wrapping her arms around herself, coiling into a ball with silent tears staining her cheeks.
“I could stay,” Gabrielle said as she held Perdicus’ hands in hers. “But my heart belongs to Xena. You would be cheated and you deserve so much more.”
Perdicus considered her words. He had the power to make her stay. Gabrielle told him of her conditions to return to mortality. But he didn’t want the power – he wanted her love. He wanted her to stay by choice and not force. He wanted her to be his and his alone. Finally after hours of conversation he realized what he had to do – not just for her but for himself as well.
“I think you should go back and have a wonderful life with Xena,” he said as heart-felt as possible.
“Honestly?” Gabrielle disbelieved what she heard at first but she knew Perdicus well. He didn’t lie.
“Yes honestly,” he said trying to smile. “This hurts like Tartaris. . .but I think you’re right. . .We should both move on.”
As soon as he finished, Hades materialized behind the bard. “That’s what you need Gabrielle,” Hades said proudly of the bards ability.
“Could you give us a minute?” she asked.
Hades didn’t understand. She had what she wanted. What more could she want? Confusion played clearly on his face but he gave them the space she asked for.
The two former lovers encompassed each other in their arms. “I love you Perdicus. You were always my best friend in Poteidaia.”
“I know Gabrielle,” he whispered and pulled the bard away slightly. He raised her chin and placed a loving kiss on her lips. “Go find your happiness.”
Gabrielle had the strangest feeling she was being watched. She turned to see a brunette looking at the two of them.
“Who’s that?” Gabrielle asked in a teasing voice.
Perdicus chuckled. “That’s Sara. We met a time ago.”
“Oh really?” Gabrielle continued to tease.
Perdicus could feel his cheeks grow warm. “Hey! I waited for you,” he chuckled again.
Gabrielle joined him this time before turning serious again. “Perdicus,” she said nudging her head toward the woman. “Go find your happiness.”
Perdicus considered it a moment and smiled. “I think I will,” he said stroking Gabrielle’s cheek.
As he walked away, Hades returned to the bards side. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gabrielle smiled as she watched the two figures in the distance. “Take me home.”
“Not yet,” Hades answered as they started to disappear together. “You have more work to be done.”
The God and the bard had vanished but those in the fields could hear a frustrated Gabrielle’s reply loud and clear.
“Perseus I presume?” Xena asked as she dismounted, noting the man in a dark red cloak.
That morning Zeus visited her camp and told her what she was looking for – a man in with a strong build, dark hair and very handsome. If it wasn’t for the red cloak Zeus said he’d be wearing, Xena might have missed him this afternoon. He wasn’t quite what she was expecting. As she approached Xena wondered just what she did expect. Hercules perhaps? She wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure. This young man was no Hercules.
“Yes,” he said suspiciously, “And you are. . .?”
“Xena,” the warrior said offering her forearm in a firm yet friendly manner.
The warrior was taken back when all she got was a ‘humph’ and a view of his back as he walked away. ‘What a little snot!’ Xena stormed inside angrily. ‘Zeus failed to mention his son acted like a spoiled brat’, she added as she began to follow him.
“Look!” she said making him and his entourage of four soldiers stop. “I came here because I have a job to do.”
“You can go home,” he said firmly. “I don’t need any help.”
Xena considered his words a moment. “So he told you I was coming?” she said trying to confirm.
“Yes he did, and like I said. . .I don’t need any help. I’ve got all the help I need here,” he said point to his soldiers.
Xena strolled up to him, an evil grin fully in place. She, as politely as possible in warrior princess style, spun him around, keeping her arm tight around his shoulders. “Let’s take a walk, shall we?”
It wasn’t a question. He knew that. Xena could feel the man beginning to sweat. ‘Great,’ Xena considered silently as they made their way a few feet away from his men. ‘A snot and a coward. Am I in for a trip here or what?’
“I wish I could just walk away,” Xena began. “Nothing would bring me greater pleasure than to be home right now with my daughters. . .But you see, your daddy tends to think you’re a little in over your head and could use my help. I’m not doing this as a ‘favor’ to him. I’m not doing this for you. There’s something in it for me – something more important than fame or fortune. . .So I’m going to get that Gorgon’s head. I’m going to stop the kracken and win your princess for you. Do you understand? Here’s a tip. Say yes.”
Xena watched the young man wipe his sweaty upper lip with the back of his hand. She raised her eyebrows to say without words she was waiting for an answer. Finally he gave the briefest of nods.
“Good!” Xena said pulling away. “Let me get a few things and. . .we’ll be off!”
She sounded cheery but Perseus knew she was anything but happy. This was not a good beginning but perhaps the warrior could be of some service.
With the terran being too tough for the horses, the party then walked together for two candlemarks west without words – not even small talk to pass the time. Xena’s thoughts, as always, turned to the bard. If Gabrielle wasn’t trying out a new story on Xena they were playing ‘questions’. She was always thankful Gabrielle was there to cut the silence.
She remembered the last time they had played their favorite game and she smiled at the memory. The answer was the bard herself and she remembered how Gabrielle buried her head in the pillow upon giving up that night in bed. Xena laughed as Gabrielle groaned protesting that using ‘her’ was not fair. “We never said anything about using ourselves,” Xena countered as she petted the bards’ overgrown belly. Gabrielle just smiled and looked over at her bondmate. That’s all it took. Watching those green eyes sparkle was all the warrior needed and the two of them spent hours making love to each other that evening.
As they approached the junction point that would take them to the isle of the dead Xena pushed herself back into warrior mode. ‘Focus Xena,’ she told herself. ‘Focus’.
Perseus’ captain sounded the horn that hung by a post on a small dock. In the distance she noticed a piece of land. Another soldier walked up, handing Xena a coin.
“What’s this?” the warrior asked.
At that moment a small, unseaworthy vessel appeared out of nowhere. “For Charon,” the soldier told. “The ferryman. You’ll need this to travel across the river Styx.”
Xena looked at the coin and then at the skeleton aboard the rickety boat. ‘That’s not Charon!’ Xena thought shaking her head. It amazed Xena that so many mortals couldn’t separate legends from reality. ‘Oh well,’ Xena said brushing it aside. ‘As long as it takes me where I need to go.’
Everyone climbed aboard, silently handing over their money. . . except Xena. “This is the boat for the isle of the dead isn’t it?” she asked the cloaked skeleton. He simply nodded. “Medusa’s place of residence right?” He nodded again. “Bet you don’t get many return passengers do ya?” she joked as she handed over the money and stepped aboard. The skeleton didn’t reply. Not that Xena cared. She knew she was heading in the right direction now and that’s all that mattered.
Soon they landed with everyone on edge. “Everybody knows the rules right?” she asked. “No looking directly at her? No getting any gorgon blood on ya?”
Everyone nodded but still looked frightened out of their good senses. “Stay calm,” Xena said trying to inspire. “She’s mortal and she can be defeated if you all stay focused. . .Now let’s go.”
That seemed to ease the tension a bit in the group. They approached a marble structure with large decaying steps and stone statues. The place hadn’t been cared for in quite a while and it showed – overgrown ivy and plant life. Some of those marble statues included other humans. Xena pushed the fear down and steadied her breathing.
The group split into two groups when they got closer to the top. Xena glanced to her right for the briefest of moments. Seconds later she heard a growl deeper than any beast she’d ever heard. “Look alive,” she said as softly as possible to her comrades. “Medusa’s got a friend,” she grinned wickedly, getting ready for the battle to begin.
“What is that thing?” the captain of the guard asked, stepping closer behind Xena. “Is it a dog? A wolf?”
“I’m not sure,” Xena mused, “but whatever it is. . . I’m sure it’s not friendly.”
No one replied. The animal darted from the darkness and began to feast on one of the soldiers next to Perseus. The soon to be king froze at the sight – a two headed beast with razor sharp fangs and the demeanor of a harpy. The other soldier pushed Perseus aside and tried to defend his comrade although it was already too late. His sword was only making the creature madder.
It pounced with lightening fast speed. The other soldier soon met the same fate as his friend, a bloody mess of what once was a man. Xena’s team charged over and began to do battle. The captain and Xena wore the animal down with swift, forceful and well aimed strokes.
“Go for the neck!” Xena yelled as she battled on.
The captain nodded without diverting his eyes from the animal. As he and his other soldier took on one set of snarling, snapping teeth, Xena and the remaining guard took on the other. The captain saw his opening and took it. He shoved the blade deep into the animals throat, watching the head slump down in death. That’s all Xena needed. The face she was battling turned to see what happened. On swipe, long and deep, forced the blood from the remaining head.
The creature slumped to the ground in a heap of teeth, fur and blood. Xena re-sheathed her sword and wiped the perspiration from her upper lip and neck. She surveyed the damage.
“We’ve lost two,” she said seeing the dead men before her. “Keep your eyes open. He might have another friend someplace around here,” she warned.
She cast her glare on Perseus who was behind them the whole time. She’d swear the son of Zeus would need to have his underwear changed. Perseus was of no use to her, or anyone. He just stood by and watched two of his men die. He didn’t even lift a sword to help them. ‘Some hero’, Xena considered silently. A discussion of his inept nature, however, wouldn’t help them. Xena need the morale of the remaining men. And calling Perseus a coward would do no good. Besides her mission was not for HIS benefit.
Carefully, the troop traveled on. Xena poked her head inside the building first taking a quick look around, using more of an ‘inner sense’ and her other senses and not so much her eyes. She pulled her sword again and waved the men to follow her. More statues of once human bodies littered the room. People who thought they could have the honor of killing the most dreaded of creatures.
Xena felt her worry rise again. Thoughts of her daughters entered her mind but, once more, she pushed her personal feelings aside. She WOULD see her daughters again. . .and her bard. Xena took a deep breath and started deeper into the dimmly lit hall. Large pillars held the structure up, a perfect hiding place for them. . .but for Medusa as well Xena noted.
The sound of their footsteps and burning torches filled the large room but soon another sound caught Xena’s ear, a slither noise of something very large, getting very closer. Xena took the pillar nearest her and silently instructed the others to do the same. Everyone reacted, taking Xena’s lead although they didn’t quite understand why. Few mortals had Xena’s amplified senses. Soon, however, when they heard a large rattle, much like a snakes, did they understand.
At the noise Perseus dropped his sword and his shield. He fell to the ground, cowering like a scared child; shaking in a heap of flesh. ‘Oh brother,’ Xena said silently closing her eyes for a moment. ‘I do NOT need this right now,’ she thought in frustration.
The remaining guard moved two pillars up toward the sound. Xena tried to stop him but it was too late. She couldn’t go after him. She was sure the gorgon would be around the corner at any moment and she wasn’t going to take that chance. Xena knew the young man’s over-zealousness meant his demise. She heard a battle cry and glanced around the pillar.
It was over in seconds, the man’s body beginning to harden as soon as he saw the creatures eyes. And an ugly creature she was – snake hair, disfigured body. Xena realized that some legends are reality.
Xena knew that looking was a big chance but she had to establish the gorgons position. Xena closed her eyes and used her ears now. Her eyes gave her all the information she was going to get for now and she concentrated hard. But soon she felt someone else in the room besides the four of them. Someone. . .she knew quite well. Quickly she opened her eyes
Ares winked and placed his finger over his lips as he stood in the isle of pillars.
“Oh Xena. . .the things we do for love huh?” he teased. “Dad told me about his little plan to get you to help. . .” Ares paused as he observed Perseus, shaking uncontrollable in the corner, “the valiant one over there. . .I thought I’d give you a hand. Looks like you could use it about now.”
Xena was getting frustrated. She couldn’t sense Medusa with Ares babbling. She shooed him away with her free hand.
“Me?” he asked with a smug grin. “Oh no. . .I’m gonna help whether you like it or not.”
“NO,” Xena mouthed silently.
“Why not? You want all the glory for yourself Xena?” he asked before pausing. . . “Oh, I get it,” he said scratching his beard. “You think I’ll make you owe me if I help. . .Let’s just say this one’s a freebee shall we? If I ever have any plans of getting my favorite back it’s not going to do me any good if she’s a lawn ornament. Catch my drift?”
Xena grinned. She didn’t want to grin but she did. Ares had brought her so much pain in her life but she had to admit that when she needed him. . .really needed him like now. . .he was there for her. She had to take the bad with the good she figured. Plus Ares had a wicked sense of humor that she admired and mimicked herself from time to time. ‘Like father, like daughter,’ she thought silently.
“I told you I am NOT your father,” he said as he read her thoughts. Xena had to smile again. Her smile fell quickly however. She heard Medusa approaching closer and closer. Ares for his part got back to the matter at hand as well.
“Okay,” he said making the warrior pose to strike. “Almost there,” he said holding his hand up as Medusa crept closer. “Almost there,” he said again. Xena closed her eyes, her knuckles turning white from the death grip on her sword. After a few moments she heard Ares yell.
Xena swung with all her might. Ares grabbed Xena and pulled her away from any of the gorgons blood which was pouring from the stump of her neck. “She’s face down Xena,” he told her. “You can look now.”
Xena wasn’t sure if she should trust him but she watched the captain peek at the corpse with no harsh effects happening.
“That was amazing,” the captain said as he wandered out, looking at the destruction of the gorgon.
“Now get chicken boy’s cloak and wrap up the head,” Ares instructed.
Xena walked over and leaned down to Perseus, ripping the red cloak from his body without comment. She went back as the captain walked toward her, “Now what?” he asked.
“Now we wrap this head up,” Xena began. “And we get the Tartaris back to Joppa as soon as possible.” Xena spread out the cloth and grabbed the mass of snakes to lift the head. “Why don’t you . . .collect . . .Perseus and wait for me outside?”
The captain nodded and pulled Perseus to his feet. She watched as they left, turning to Ares. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“‘Twas nothing,” he smiled. “Like I said. . .I still have hope.”
Xena rolled up the cloak and stood to face Ares with a gentle grin. “You know. . .I’m probably going to regret saying this but. . .I enjoy ‘sparing’ with you from time to time. . .But as far as me ever coming back – well, that’s just not going to happen.”
Ares smiled and began to vanish. “We’ll see my warrior. We will see.”
They had two more night before they would arrive in Joppa before the sacrifice of Andromeda. Xena and the captain spoke often during their travel back to the city. Both had a lot in common besides the art of war. He had a wife; he had children. The evening before last Xena had confessed to him why she was helping Perseus. He told Xena about his sense of duty to Andromeda and the queen that lead to his involvement in the mission.
Perseus had said little about the events that had transpired and gave very little information about his life. He was kind of a ‘loner’, much like Xena was years before. How he ever won the princess’ heart was beyond her. But she didn’t really care to know. She just wanted to see the plan through and eventually see the bard again. She also looked forward to the girls. That night as they bunked down Xena had a smile on her lips as she thought of her daughters. Her reminiscing didn’t last long before sleep over took her.
When she did finally escape Morpheus’ hold she found her hands and legs bound. With a growing sense of alert confusion she saw the captain tied to a tree.
“I’m sorry” he called to Xena, “I fell asleep on watch.”
All of them had pushed it extra hard to get back in time; all of them exhausted. A man that resembled a horned, hunched-back beast towered over the warrior.
“I am Calabos,” he said with an evil grin. “Andromeda was rightfully mine until pretty boy came along. Did he tell you my story?”
Xena shook her head no, thinking it better to let him do the talking for now.
“Tomorrow’s her execution you know? I could kill you all but instead I think I’ll let you live with the fact you’ve failed,” he said turning to Perseus. He menaced toward the prince. “You’ll have to go the rest of your life knowing she died and there was nothing you could do about it.”
Perseus fought his restraints. Xena was amazed that he wasn’t running scared like usual. He actual wanted to confront this unknown foe.
Calabos mounted the captains horse upon setting the other horses free. “I told you Perseus. . .If I can’t have her, no one will have her.” With that he set the horse into a gallop. Once the cloud of dust dissipated. Xena turned to Perseus. “Who was that?” she asked in a friendly. . .cocky . . .tone.
“His name is Calabos. Zeus disfigured him for killing all but one of his flying stallions – A stallion I befriended called Pegasus. The gods gave me ‘gifts’ so I could win Andromeda’s hand from Calabos, which I did. . .He’s not very happy if you can tell,” Perseus smirked sadly.
“Well,” Xena replied before giving a whistle, “Looks like our time is limited. Too bad you don’t have the flying horse now – we’re going to have to push it too make it to Joppa on time.”
“What do you mean? We can’t possible get there in time even if we have Pegasus. We’re still bound.”
Argo came into view.
“Your horse!” the captain exclaimed. “Why didn’t he run away?”
“She,” Xena corrected. “Because she’s well trained.”
“Argo,” Xena said trying to wave her hands. The mare leaned over and worked on the knot until it was lose enough for Xena to finish it. Once free she released the captain and then, only then, Perseus. “Where’s the flying horse of yours?” she asked.
“In a glen not more than a candlemark from here I’d say,” Perseus answered. “She’s not very good to travel with over land in daylight. She tends to attract attention,” he grinned.
“Argo,” Xena called as the mare came over. “I want you to go to Joppa with the captain okay? He’ll be real nice and get you some carrots once you’re there. Then we’ll go home and see Gabrielle. What do you say?”
The mare whinnied and the captain had to laugh. “She understands you?” he asked amazed.
“Yeah,” Xena grinned, “and if you don’t treat her right I’m sure I’ll hear all about it when I get back so behave. Don’t ride her too hard. We’ll meet back at the palace tonight.”
The captain nodded and took off. Xena went over to the tree line and behind the first tree began to dig up the buried head of Medusa.
“That was a good idea,” Perseus complimented the warrior.
“I’m just glad it’s still here,” she grinned. “We’ve got a lot of ground, or should I say ‘air’ to cover so let’s get moving.”
“Right behind you,” Perseus grinned as they started to walk down the road.
Cyrene was cleaning up from the breakfast feast when I group of female warriors burst through her door.
“What in Tartaris?!” she exclaimed.
Terris who just finished feeding the girls walked out to see the commotion.
“We want our queen now,” a tall warrior announced.
“And just who do you think you are barging into my inn?”
Ephany pushed her way through the crowd. “I tried to hold them back for as long as I could but they want Gabrielle’s body to sacrifice to the flames.”
“Well you can’t have it,” Cyrene answered calm yet firm.
The tall one spoke again. “We can and we will. Search the area!”
“Hold on!” Cyrene yelled making everyone stop in their tracks. “This is MY home. This is MY land. And that queen of yours also happens to be MY daughter – if not by blood then by love. I will NOT let you take her from here. . . Besides, Xena is trying to bring her back through a favor for Zeus himself. . .So unless you want to end up on the business end of a. . .” Cyrene paused and pulled Terris closer to whisper. “What’s that round killing thing called?”
“Chakram,” Terris whispered back.
“Unless you want to end up on the business end of a chakram I suggest you sit peacefully and wait for her return or kindly get the Tartaris outta here!”
Terris had moved over to Ephany.
Ephany smiled and relaxed as she saw her subjects fall in line with the queen’s ‘mother-in-law’. ‘Now I know where Xena gets that temper of hers.’
“Look,” the regent began. “Everyone is tired and hungry. Let’s just do as Cyrene asks. Once Xena returns we can discuss this. I don’t want to take the chance of harming the queen’s body if there’s a chance of her return. Perhaps this is Artemis’ will and if you sacrifice her to the flames you will be doing the very thing you fear most, angering our goddess.”
Ephany’s speech worked. The amazons began to take their seats with little commotion. By this time Taria came out to see what the shouting was all about and walked over to Cyrene. “Are they staying?” she asked her lover.
Cyrene smiled. “Looks like it,” she replied.
“Where are we going to put them all?” Taria pressed.
Cryene thought a moment and decided, “I have no idea.”
Ephany pulled Terris aside. “Now tell me what Xena has up her sleeve. And don’t leave anything out.”
“Come on,” Terris said pulling Ephany away from the group. “Let me go check on the girls and we’ll discuss it.”
“You said if I spoke to Perdicus I could leave!”
Gabrielle paced back and forth in front of the God of the Underworld. The comfortable, lush, tropical room where she began her journey here was anything but comfortable at the moment.
“I know,” Hades began. “And I have every intention of keeping my word. But you aren’t the only one who has loved Xena. She has someone one waiting for her as well. And although she is not bonded to him, he waits for her.”
Gabrielle paused a moment. “Marcus?” she wondered out loud.
“Yes Marcus,” he answered. “I can’t hold you here because of him. . .but I would appreciate it if you would speak with him before my da- my warrior princess comes to the fields.”
“Your warrior princess?” Gabrielle muttered. He saw the wheels turning in the bards head. And Gabrielle sensed his nervousness. She fumbled the phrase and the sound in her mind.
Hades jaw almost dropped when realization washed over Gabrielle’s face.
“She’s your daughter,” Gabrielle whispered. “It makes sense now. . .All of it.”
“Gabrielle,” Hades began quickly but slowly trailed off. He was on the verge of denial but he knew the perceptive bard would see through him. “Yes,” he whispered back. “She’s my daughter.”
Gabrielle stopped. She had so many questions but she didn’t know where to start or even how. The truth hit her hard and she had to take a seat on the fallen log behind her.
“Let me start at the beginning,” he said taking a spot next to her. “When I saw Cyrene many years ago she was the most beautiful woman in the world –
“Let me guess,” the bard jumped in. “You made yourself look like Xena’s father while he was away, right?”
Hades nodded. “It was an old trick reserved only for Ares but I made a deal with him. One night with Cyrene with one condition. If by chance an offspring was created. . .well. . .he would the ‘guardian’ of the human. . .So as you see Gabrielle-
“Xena was always destine to belong to Ares,” Gabrielle said finishing his statement.
“Yes. . . About 8 mortal years after Xena’s birth Ares finds Cyrene’s husband in his temple. Being the big mouth that he is,” Hades took a moment to grin before getting back to his story, “Ares tells him that only he is Xena’s ‘true’ father and guardian. He tells him of the destruction Xena will bring to the world – World order through chaos.”
“And so Xena’s father goes to insure that it never happens?” Gabrielle asks.
Hades nods again. “When he arrived back home, it was I who went to Cyrene, although she never knew. I gave her the courage to. . .to save Xena’s life.”
Gabrielle took a few moments to digest the confession. “That’s why she’s sent so many to you.”
“Yeah,” Hades answered meekly. “That’s my girl. My pride. My joy.”
Gabrielle could see Hades sorrow. And she realized that the gods couldn’t control everything. Hades knew just what she was thinking.
“Yes, Gabrielle,” he began. “I would have been quite content in her leading the life she has now. A wife. A family. A sense of the greater good. . .But I couldn’t do that. All I could do was let her cheat Celeste as many times as possible.”
“I should have know by the many times she’s diverted death – escaped situations that for a ‘normal’ person would mean their mortality. . .I don’t know why I never saw it.”
“Easy,” Hades smiled. “You weren’t looking for it. You didn’t know she was a demi-god. You just thought she had many skills,” he chuckled before turning serious again. “I can say something now about Xena that I never could before. . .I’m proud of her. She still keeps me ‘busy’ now and then. . .but it’s the betterment of man, not its destruction. . .And if you don’t mind me saying, she has wonderful taste in women.”
Gabrielle had to blush at the compliment. As Hades rose he offered his hands the bard and brought her to her feet. “Now, will you speak to Marcus?” he asked.
“I will,” Gabrielle answered. “On one condition,” she grinned.
“You have to tell her the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Agreed?”
Hades ran his fingers through his slick hair. “You sure do drive a hard bargain.”
“When it comes to bartering I’m one of the best. . .Deal?” Gabrielle said offering her forearm.
Hades smiled and took it firmly. “Deal.”
“I thought you said that damn horse was in this glen?” Xena said hostile. “We’ve spent half the day looking for your winged stallion. . . .We’re never going to make it on time.”
“Let’s just try over this hill again,” he insisted.
“You try,” Xena announced, picking up the head. “I’m running to Joppa.”
“You can’t run back to Joppa. It’s too far!” he announced.
“I’ll take my chances. You stay here and look for the horse. I’ve got a Kracken to kill.”
“Xena,” Perseus commanded. “You must stay here!”
“Excuse me?” Xena said sounded quite offended. “Look pal, I take orders from one person – ME. . . and occasionally a cute little strawberry blonde whose resurrection depends on me killing your monster. So if you mind – Tartarus, even if you do mind – I’m going.”
With that Xena started down the dirt road. ‘Maybe I’ll find a horse along the way,’ she thought as she paced herself. All Perseus could do was watch the warrior move swiftly up the trail before continuing his search.
Marcus peeked into the jungle room and saw Gabrielle smelling the beautiful orchids.
“Gabrielle?” he asked not quite sure if memory was serving him correctly.
“Marcus,” Gabrielle said walking over with a gentle smile. “How have you been?” she added as they embraced.
“Good,” he said. “You’ve finally made it to Elysia I see.”
“Hades called me here,” Gabrielle said vaguely. “He needs me to ‘straighten’ a few things out.”
“What do you mean?” the handsome, well-toned man asked.
“Oh boy,” Gabrielle sighed. “Where do I start?”
“Hold on,” Marcus said putting his hands on the bards arms. “This is about you and Xena right?”
Gabrielle looked shocked. “How did you know?”
Marcus laughed. “I may be in Elysia but I’m not without my moments.”
“Care to explain?” Gabrielle pushed.
Marcus had a warm smile and she could see just what Xena had loved so much. “Although it’s not permitted, I tend to look at the reflecting pool areas now and again. I wanted to see Xena. See how she was doing. . .Let’s just say I saw her at a time when she was doing. . .quite well in your care.”
Gabrielle buried her face in her hands to shield her embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” he said. “She seems very happy.”
Gabrielle gave him a look that said ‘enough already’. Marcus was confused for a moment then quickly added, “I mean, she’s in love – deeply in love, and I’m happy for her. . .And you. I could see the light you bring to her life Gabrielle. . .I loved Xena and she did love me but. . .honey, you got what she needs.”
Hades materialized behind Gabrielle. “Reflecting pools huh?” Hades scolded the former warlord.
“Oops,” Marcus whispered to Gabrielle with a sly grin.
“Go easy on him,” Gabrielle insisted to Hades. “He’s a good man.”
“Thanks,” Marcus smiled before turning back to Hades. ‘Maybe it’s best I slink away,’ he considered. ‘while Hades is preoccupied with Gabrielle.’
“I’ll see ya around Gabrielle,” he said also giving a nod to Hades.
“Well since I’m going back to her again could you ‘see me’ at a more ‘convenient’ time next time?” Gabrielle wasn’t pleased to know dead people were watching while she and Xena. ..
“Will do,” he assured with a smile and a wave good bye.
“Are you ready?” Hades asked.
“I’ve been ready,” she said with a smile. “Take me home.”
Gabrielle could see nothing. She felt a tingling sensation all over her body. Slowly she managed to open her eyes and upon which was met with total darkness. She blinked a few times letting things come into focus. She was in an sucofficus. But most importantly she was alive. She pushed with all her might to force the lid open.
Suddenly Gabrielle had help. Two guards aided in removing the restrictive cover.
“My queen?” one guard asked, yet both, disbelieving what they were seeing.
“That would be me,” she grinned. Stiffly she sat up as one guard ran to get the regent.
Moments after Gabrielle stepped shakily from the wooden box, Ephany showed up, Cyrene trailing right behind her moments later.
“By the Gods,” Ephany cried.
“Hades actually,” Gabrielle grinned. “He said I had some matters to take care of.”
Ephany hugged Gabrielle gently and planted a soft kiss on the bards forehead. Cyrene walked over gingerly touching the bard to see if she was in fact real. Once she was convinced she pulled the bard into a tight embrace.
“Oh sweetheart,” she sighed. The woman was overjoyed. Gabrielle was back. “She did it,” Cyrene whispered to no one but herself. “She did it.”
“Who did what?” Gabrielle asked pulling back. No one answered and Gabrielle found herself asking, “Where’s Xena?”
When Ephany and Cyrene looked at each other without saying anything, Gabrielle’s heart began to beat out of her chest. “Someone answer me!” the queen demanded. “Where’s Xena?”
“If your back,” Cyrene said taking the cue, “then she’s alright.”
“What’s going on?” Gabrielle asked.
“Come on,” Cyrene said helping her to her feet. “We’ll explain everything on the way to the inn.”
‘Inn?’ Gabrielle wondered. ‘Must be in Amphipolis. . .But just what is going on?’ she asked silently. She felt at ease however with Cyrene nearby. It may not be her warrior but the older woman had the special gift at comforting too. Gabrielle nodded and the trio headed back to the gatherers that waited the queen’s arrival.
Xena ran most of the day until she highjacked a horse – well, she didn’t quite highjack it. She offered the rider the return of the horse when she got to Joppa. That plan however wouldn’t work because the horse fell lame halfway there. With no one around once more she was forced on foot to return to the city. It was harder when night fell. Without torchlight and cloudy moonlight she could only see a few feet in front of her at best. Her knees and shins took the heaviest tolls. But she still continued to run.
She made it to the applatheather around sun up. She was in the outskirts of Joppa now but her legs wouldn’t take her any farther. As she started to collapse she had only one thought. ‘I’m sorry to fail you Gabrielle.’
At that point, in the middle of the dusty theater, she collapsed.
Back at Zeus’ throne room Thettis smirked as she looked at the slumbering figurine of Xena in the looking chamber. The gods often used the ‘arena’ to keep tabs on their mortals. This time being no different.
“So the son of Zeus and the daughter of Hades has failed. . .The time is almost at hand.”
“That it is,” Zeus confessed grimily. “Per our agreement Thetas you may go to Poseidon and tell him to release the Krackin.”
Thetas nodded in respect and victory as she walked down the great steps to see the water god. Once she was at the landing, Zeus casually reached down and carefully put the figure upright. He didn’t know if Xena would have the time she needed to get to the sea. It was now in the hands of mortals, he decided.
Xena wasn’t sure how much time had passed but she wasn’t going to waste anymore thinking about it. She ran again; this time with renewed strength. As she crested the hill she saw the crowds of people gathered for the sacrifice. She ran with all she had, trying to keep an eye on the princess who was being lead out to the rock peninsula.
Xena pushed her way through the crowd of people without apology, fighting the tide of humans. She was almost clear when she was tripped by one of the on lookers. She looked up to see Calabos safely cloaked as an old beggar man.
“If I can’t have her,” he muttered. “No one can have her.”
He pulled a dagger and hurled it at Xena. The warrior rolled so it just missed her head. “I really don’t have time for this,” she muttered. A few people next to them noticed the commotion but so many were too caught up in the creature that was appearing from out of the water.
Calabos pulled another dagger and once more tried to impale Xena. But this time Xena was prepared and caught it with ease. She sent it straight back to its owner, burying it deep in his heart.
“Right back at cha,” she replied as he fell face first to the ground. Without giving another thought she scrambled to her feet. The monster was at his full height.
“By the gods,” Xena whispered, stutter stepping, upon seeing the beast.
He was huge. Three times as tall as the Roman Coliseum and almost as wide. Plated skin than no sword could break. And a snarl that rivaled a harpy’s. This guy was trouble. Xena shook her head to clear her thoughts and charged out to the peninsula. She didn’t stop until she met Andromeda.
“How’s it going?” Xena asked casually with a cocky grin.
“Oh fine,” the princess said sarcastically. “I have to admit I’ve been better.”
Xena wasn’t sure what a lovely woman like this saw in Perseus but after all love is blind as Gabrielle once said. She could only figure that Zeus made a deal with Cupid so Perseus would have the princess’ hand. It couldn’t be a choice of free will.
The Krackin began to close in on them. Xena, on reaction, threw her chakram. She was surprised when it became imbedded in the monster’s finger. She was surprised and pleased. It didn’t do any real damage. It was more of an annoyance to the beast but it bought her enough time to fight the wrapped cloak.
Ohs and ahs began to filter across the crowd as well as pointed fingers. Xena looked up to see that Perseus had finally arrived on his flying stallion. The Krackin swiped at the horse and it’s rider, sending both into the tide below. Perseus surfaced and swam quickly to the ledge.
“Give me a hand,” Xena said as she began to cut through the rope holdings. Once free Perseus felt around inside the sack, finding the location of the gorgons eyes. Finally certain of how to hold the ‘weapon’ he quickly brought it out. The evil eyes glowed and the Krackin was helpless but to focus. Quickly the beast began to moan, growing harder and harder as the seconds passed. Soon he was stone and Perseus began to pull the head away.
“No,” Xena instructed. “Leave it there. . .Let’s see what happens.”
He did as she said and the crowd watched as the monster began to crack apart, tumbling rock over rock into the sea. Once the bay was empty he drew back, tossing the head as far as he could.
The guards unlocked the princess as the crowd cheered. As Xena rested against the rock, trying to catch her breath, she felt the princess pull her into her arms.
“You saved me,” she said breathless into her ear. “How can I ever repay you?”
There was no mistaking the tone. She knew just what prize the virgin princess wanted to give her and she felt herself grow red.
“I’ll tell you what,” Xena said giving her hand to Perseus. “Have a wonderful life,” she said with a smile as she started to walk away. She turned around and saw the Prince and Princess wrapped in each others arms. “There is one thing. . .A man might be coming to claim his horse. I had to put her down so could you please see that he gets another one.”
“That’s all you want?” Perseus asked. “A horse for a stranger?”
Xena nodded. “All I ever wanted waits for me in Amphipolis I hope. . .Take care.” Xena gave a final wave which was returned. As she made her way to leave bystanders congratulated and thanked her. One in particular was real nosy with a list of questions. Finally after answering about ten of them she stopped walking and turned to face him.
“Why are you asking me all this?” she questioned him.
“I’m a bard. I have to write the story of who saved Andromida.”
Xena grinned. ‘Bards’ she thought warmly, shaking her head. “Nahh, this is his story,” she said pointing at Perseus. “Whatever you don’t have. . .just make it up. . .All the bards I know are pretty creative and tend to stretch the truth anyway. I’m sure you’ll come up with a fine tale without me.”
Finally Xena was able to leave the crowd behind. With two days travel she and Argo could be in Amphipolis just after night fall.
Thetis and Zeus sat in the arena. He beamed proudly. She looked utterly defeated but he could tell thoughts of revenge were taking seat in her mind.
“No harm will befall Perseus or Xena from this day forward,” he warned. “They have done well.”
Reluctantly Thetis nodded her agreement.
When Xena lead Argo into her mothers stable she found a litter of amazons sleeping in the hay. Not wanted to wake them, and wanting to see if the bard had returned, she simply pulled Argo’s saddle from her back.
“I’ll brush you tomorrow girl,” she told the mare quietly.
As she made her way up to the house she found two more amazons on the porch. Once inside the tavern, three more were on the floor. ‘What in Hades. . .?” Xena wondered with all the amazons around her.
Taria walked out from behind the kitchen door. “I thought I heard someone come in,” she smiled.
Taria nodded and gestured to the living area with her head. Without haste Xena opened the door.
By the fireplace the bard slept. Karis on one side. Lexia on the other. Xena put her hand over her mouth to stifle her sob. She never thought she would see this sight again. Taria came behind her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Too wrapped up in her thoughts, Xena didn’t feel her approach and jumped a little.
“Sorry,” Taria apologized for sneaking up on Xena. “She’d been awake for almost two days waiting for you.”
“I should let her sleep,” Xena whispered.
Taria shifted her head to look Xena in the eyes. “Don’t you dare,” she smiled warmly. “Go on,” she encouraged. “I’ll let your mother know you’re home and we’ll see you in the morning. . .You are fine right? I’m sure she’ll ask.”
Xena felt her bottom lip quivered. Her eyes grew moist. Almost too moist to see. “I’ve never been better,” she whispered in a cracking voice.
“Go on,” Taria said giving Xena an extra nudge into the living room.
Carefully Xena crept inside. She picked up Karis first. She’d only been gone for a short time, but still her daughter looked like she had changed so much – her pudginess starting to become leaner. She gave her a gentle kiss as not to wake her. Xena went back and did the same for Lexia as well. Finally, Xena had her bard to herself. She looked at her in the fire light for a long time, soaking up the beautiful features silently thanking Zeus for returning the bard.
Xena couldn’t wait any longer. The back of her fingers ran down the baby soft cheek of her lover.
“Gabrielle?” Xena called softly. “Beautiful? I’m home.”
Gabrielle’s eyes shot open but she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming. “Xena?”
The warrior broke down into tears and the two women clung to each other, nestled tightly together. The harder Gabrielle hung onto Xena, the more the warrior cried.
“I never thought I’d hear you say my name again,” Xena confessed once she began to settle down. “I missed that,” she added beginning to cry again. “I missed you so much.”
“I’m home now,” Gabrielle said, starting to sob just as loud as Xena. “We’re home.”
Xena began to calm down. She wiped both their tears away before giving her light kisses over her face. Finally Xena reached her lips. Gabrielle buried her fingers in the warriors black hair as she deepened the kiss. Relucantly, Xena pulled away to see her lovely bard.
“I’m so glad Zeus kept his word,” Xena smiled. Her smile soon fell though when she felt the bard tense up. “What is it?”
“He didn’t bring me back,” Gabrielle confessed. “It was Hades doing.”
“You were played by the Gods once again Xena. Regardless of whether you helped Perseus. . .I still would have returned.”
“Why that no good-!
“Shh,” Gabrielle said with a smile, putting her fingers over Xena’s lips. “You’ll wake the children. . . I’m back now. You’re back now. That’s all that matters.”
Xena had to agree. That’s all that did matter. Whether it was Zeus or Hades, it wasn’t relevant. But now she did wonder. . .
“Why did Hades bring you back? Did you talk your way out of it?” Xena asked with a sly grin.
“In a manner of speaking. . .yes.”
“Alright bard. Explain.” Xena said sternly.
Gabrielle didn’t want to be the bearer of unexpected news. Besides Hades agreed to speak with Xena himself. She had to come up with a diversion and since she hadn’t seen Xena in so long. . .and she knew the warrior’s ‘appetite’ rivaled her own in certain matters. . .
“Let’s forget the gods for the rest of the night. Okay Xena? I mean I can think of much better things to be doing, can’t you?”
Xena smiled. Oh yeah. Gabrielle was back for sure. “And what did you have in mind Beautiful?”
“Well first you’ll have to lose that armor,” Gabrielle began with a sexy grin.
Xena rose and in record time was stripped ‘defenseless’. “Is this better?” she asked, looking for approval.
“Oh yes,” the bard said quite pleased. “Much better. . .but you could make it really, really better.”
“How’s that?” Xena asked with mock ignorance.
Gabrielle met Xena’s eyes. “Lose the leathers.”
Xena felt Gabrielle’s words reach her ears and settle in her pelvis area. Xena did Gabrielle’s bidding so she soon stood cloaked only in her shift.
“Your turn,” Xena grinned.
“My turn?” Gabrielle asked, looking innocent. “But dear warrior all I have is this shift. I shall be bare if remove my sleeping attire.” She fluttered her eyelashes for emphasis, making the warrior chuckle.
“I think that’s the point,” Xena replied, starting to lose the last of her own clothing. Xena lifted her camisole and took off her britches. She heard the sharp intake of breath from the bard below her. “Nice to know the naked sight of me invokes such a strong reaction,” Xena teased.
“It always has,” Gabrielle said growing serious. “It always will,” she added as she pulled her own shift over her head joining Xena. Upon seeing Gabrielle’s bare breasts in the firelight Xena’s sound of approval mimicked Gabrielle’s earlier noise.
“Nice to see it works both ways,” Gabrielle smiled.
She held out her hand which the warrior was more than willing to take. For a moment Xena got her barring and realized just where they were. “Don’t you think we should take this little party upstairs? I mean, aren’t you afraid someone will find us?”
Gabrielle stood up and closed the doors, placing a chair under the handle. “There you go warrior mine. Feel better?” Gabrielle asked sincerely.
Xena simply smiled as Gabrielle made her way back to the furs; her eyes never leaving the bard, gazing admiringly.
“I love the way you look at me,” Gabrielle confessed as she started to nibble on Xena’s neck. “I feel like the most beautiful woman in the world in your eyes.”
“You are,” Xena replied honestly.
She cupped the bards face and brought her to her lips. Then she brought her to the furs. Then she brought her to ecstasy. After two hours of gentle and fiery lovemaking they fell asleep in each others arms. Xena awoke once during the night to find the bard safely tucked in her shoulder. She literally pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.
She wasn’t and she smiled as she cried. Silent tears cascaded down her face from her overwhelming joy. She was safe. Her bondmate was safe. The children were safe. Finally, all was right with the world again.
Xena awoke first thanks to a toddler tugging on her bangs. She opened her eyes to see Lex perched across Gabrielle’s back.
“Uhh. . .Beautiful? We’ve got company.”
“Huh?” Gabrielle replied groggily. She tried to turn but felt the weight upon her. “Ohh, I thought that was you,” she smiled.
“Mamamamamama,” Lexia cooed happily.
“Yeah,” Xena said picking the child from Gabrielle’s back. “Your mama’s are both home huh?”
Karis began to make her presence known as well with a few grunts and protests. Gabrielle rose and kissed Xena on the cheek, making sure Lexia got a kiss too. She reached over and gathered Karis in her arms.
“Hi there beautiful,” Gabrielle cooed. “How’s my princess this morning?”
Karis let everyone know with a blood-curdingly yell that she wasn’t happy and breakfast was needed. Once at Gabrielle’s breast she fussed a little but got the point. She’d been used to bottle feedings and this ‘breast’ thing was making her work a whole lot more. She protested a little at first but she found she liked mother’s milk much more than her grandma’s goat milk from the bottle.
After Karis was settled and nursing, Xena quickly donned her cami and britches. She rounded up a new diaper and went at changing Lexia’s soggy garment. As she cleaned and powered the toddler, Xena could wait no longer.
“Well since it’s officially tomorrow, do you mind telling me why Hades brought you back?” Xena asked.
Gabrielle stiffened. ‘Damn Hades!’ she cursed silently. ‘He said he’d talk with her himself.’ At that moment, the God of the Underworld materialized behind the warrior and Gabrielle smiled.
“Maybe you should ask him yourself,” the bard offered, motioning with her head toward Hades.
Xena finished with Lexia and turned around to see Hades watching the family with a sense of . . .pride? He looked awfully happy for someone who goes around collecting dead souls. It was then that Xena became concerned. Hades sensed it.
“No Xena,” he said answering her silent thoughts. “I didn’t trade the children or anyone else for Gabrielle’s return.”
That put the warrior at ease and her sigh of relief was audible. “Why are you here then?” she asked.
Hades considered what to say. ‘Cut straight to the point,’ he decided. ‘She’d admire that more.’
“I’m not going to sugar coat it Xena. You’re my daughter.”
He paused a moment, making sure that the warrior took a breath. Once Xena decided to remember to breathe did he continue. “I made a deal with Ares. One night of love with Cyrene. . .and a Destroyer of Nations for Ares.”
“You’re my father?” was all Xena could manage. Her mind wasn’t sure what direction it should take. Should she be angry? Should she ask why? Should she be glad to finally know of her half-godhood?
Hades began to address everything but his remorse rang through the loudest as he closed.
“I wish things had been different,” he said sincerely. “I wish you were born with free will but you weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make different choices now because you can. Your debt to Ares has been fulfilled.” He paused and pointed to Xena’s family. “You’ll always fight that ‘dark side’ as you call it. But you can succeed and have power over it. You can show your children what darkness brings without them having to go through it firsthand. If there was any wish I could give you – as a father to a daughter – that would be it – Knowledge of the difficulties in mortal life. . .but the ability around them through perseverance. I didn’t have that chance Xena. . .I’m begging you. . .Don’t waste it with my grandchildren. Teach them all you know – the darkness and the light – so they are prepared to handle what the fates throw at them.”
He smiled bittersweetly and bent down to tassel Lexia’s hair. “She’s beautiful like her mother,” he announced to the room. “Like BOTH her mothers,” he grinned in correction. “Two lovely children Xena. And a loving wife. . .Don’t blow it,” he said chucking her on the shoulder. He stood to make his exit but Xena stopped him.
“Hades. . .I know you can’t tell me when . . . but. . .”
Hades put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You and Gabrielle will live for many years Xena. I can insure you that. . .And your children will live as well under guidance and care. . .As for their paths in life, one will be a . . .well, guess there should be some mystery,” he teased. “I will say this though. . .There will be no more warlords in your family Xena if you heed my advice. Rest assured, you will always have children that make you proud. . .not that you won’t want to strangle them from time to time,” he grinned as he paused. “But still, they will be fine, upstanding individuals.”
Xena sighed and she had to admit she liked not knowing EVERYTHING. “Thank you,” Xena said with a sincerely grin. “Thank you for. . .everything.”
“If ever you need anything Xena, I’ll try my best to help you. I know I haven’t been there in the past – a condition of Ares, I might add – but nothing will stop me now that you’ve grown. You’ve chosen your destiny and I’ll do my best to see that it’s fulfilled.”
“There is one thing,” Xena smiled. “My chakram is sunk outside the coast of Joppa. Any chance I might get a new one?”
“I’ll look into it,” he said with a loving wink. Moments later he was gone. Slowly Xena turned to Gabrielle.
“You knew all along?” Xena asked.
“Well not ALL ALONG,” Gabrielle grinned. “I kinda figured it out when Hades slipped up about his dau-. . .warrior princess.”
“Nothing gets by you huh Beautiful?” Xena smiled.
“Not usually. I have my moments of lacking foresight but my average is pretty good on the whole,” she grinned.
Xena settled down next to Gabrielle and rested her head on the bards shoulder. Gabrielle switched nursing sides as Lexia crawled back into Xena’s lap, fascinated once more by her mothers long hair and how it twined around her small fingers endlessly.
Gabrielle caught a twinkling reflection on the blocked door and followed the source of the light to a position over the fireplace. “Look Xena,” she whispered, pointing at the mantle. A perfect, shiny chakram balanced perfectly between two candlestick holders. “Looks like he kept his word,” Gabrielle answered with a smile. When Xena didn’t make a move toward it the bard asked, “Aren’t you going to get it?”.
“Not now,” she grinned. “I’m comfortable right where I’m at. Besides, not like a need it right this minute.”
After Gabrielle finished burping Karis she gave the infant to Xena as she dressed in her shift. “Mom will be up soon. Did you want to visit everyone one?” she said motioning to the door.
“Not right now,” Xena said reaching for the standing Amazon queen. “At this moment all I want is to sit here with you and watch the kids if that’s okay?”
Gabrielle smiled. “Sounds like a wonderful plan,” she agreed kissing the warrior affectionately on the lips as she made her decent back to the sleeping furs.
“It’s good to be home,” Xena sighed.
“Yes,” Gabrielle answered, snuggling into Xena’s shoulder. “Home at last.”