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"That's enough, Gabrielle. Go to sleep."
Alright, she didn't need to tell me twice. With the mood she'd been in for the past week, I surely wasn't about to argue, so I stopped telling my story, and went about laying out my bedroll, and then I closed my eyes.
And with that she set herself up against a tree near the fire and pulled her sword close. Another sleepless night for Xena. I wish I knew what was bothering her, but of course she'll never tell me. Whenever I ask her about it, I get one of those infamous "Don't mess with me, I'm in a bad mood" looks.
I can feel her eyes boring holes into me, but I don't dare move. Eventually, I hear a slight scuffling noise coming from where Xena is. She thinks I'm asleep, but I notice. She does this every night. I open my eyes briefly to see her pull a flask of wine out of one of her bags. I know her routine by now. She'll be finished with that within the hour.
I wish I could help her with all this guild she carries with her. It's not fair that despite everything good she does now, all she can remember at night is the horrible, murderous warlord she used to be.
I stayed like that for half the night, waiting for sleep to come. But as long as Xena suffers, so do I. Finally, unable to take it any longer, I throw off my blanket and go to her. She seems a bit suprised that I'm up, but she quickly covers it.
"Why are you still awake?" she says in an irritated albeit somewhat bemused tone. "You're usually asleep as soon as you close your eyes."
Yeah, thats what she thinks.
"Xena, we need to talk," I say as I sit myself down next to her. She tries to hide her glazed expression from me, but I already know she's had too much to drink. Oh well, if she won't tell me what's wrong when she's sober, maybe now she'll be more willing.
"In the morning..."
"No! Now," I interrupt her. I know that if I wait, I'll never get an answer to the question I've been waiting to ask.
She gets a funny look on her face, like she's ready to tell me to take a flying leap off of a high cliff, but then she realizes I'm not in the mood for games and awaits the inevitable.
"Xena, you've been acting really strange for a week now. I know that something is bothering you, and I want to help you, but first you have to tell me what's on your mind. So, please, will you tell me what's wrong?"
Xena just looks me in the eyes for a long time, but finally decides to give in.
"It's just that it's about the time of the year when my brother Lyceus died..."
"Xena, you really shouldn't feel guilty about that. You said that you had to fight Cortese, and he believed that, too. Stop beating yourself up over this, it's not your fault."
"That's where you're wrong. It *is* my fault. I should have paid more attention..."
"Xena, you couldn't have prevented his death. You can't save everyone; it's not like you struck the blow..."
At that, Xena turns away from me and slumps against the tree trunk. I was left staring at her back. Then an idea popped into my mind. No, it can't be...
"Xena, what happened?" I asked quietly, not wanting to believe the thoughts that were running through my head. I put my hand on her shoulder and she tensed up, but soon relaxed again.
She sighed. "Why don't you go back to bed, Gabrielle?"
I just waited, and eventually she started to tell me her story.
"I was young, and had never been in battle before, so everything was rather disconcerting. But I had led half of Amphipolis up there to fight that day, so I tried hard not to let my confusement show. Anyways, I don't know why, if all that time I had spent sparring with my brother had really paid off or what, but I easily managed to dispatch the first dozen soldiers that came at me without killing a single person. So I felt all of that was beneath me, and I set off to find their leaders. I had spotted one of their commanders a ways off the battlefield, and I spurred my horse towards him. When I finally felt I was close enough, I dismounted and attacked. Needless to say, he was more of a challenge than what I had already encountered, so we traded blows for a while, but then I got an opening. Just as I was going for it, I felt a presence behind me, and I saw the commander look up. I changed my swing and struck out behind me. Then I saw who it was..."
Here, Xena paused, unable to go on. I squeezed her shoulder, and after a while she continued.
"It was Lyceus. I had just slashed my younger brother's throat, and his eyes were open very wide, looking straight into mine. Then he dropped to his knees, and he hit the ground, dead. The first person I had ever killed was my very own brother, my best friend. I was so shocked and outraged that I swung my sword around with as much force as I could muster, and I beheaded the commander. Then I dropped my sword to the ground, and I grabbed Lyceus's body and sat there for a very long time, holding him and crying.
"After a while, one of the men from my village found me and told me that we had repelled Cortese's army, but I didn't really care. I remember he pulled me to my feet and put Lyceus's body up onto a horse, and together we went back to the village. When we got there everyone was cheering and shouting my name. Apparently, no one had seen what had really happened, and I didn't want to tell anyone, so they praised my bravery, and only I knew the truth.
"That night, we buried Lyceus and held a ceremony honoring the dead. I didn't feel that I had the right to be there, but everyone, including my mother, insisted that I was a hero, and also that my brother loved me so much and would have wanted me there. But I hated myself, and I was constantly worrying that someone would come out and tell everyone what I had done, and then they would all hate me too. So I came up with some stupid idea about taking the surrounding villages as a buffer, just so I could leave Amphipolis. I left the next day, leading whoever would follow me, and many did because I was their 'hero'. What did they know...
"Anyways, the nearby villages fell easily, but I still could not go home. Not only had I killed my own brother, but for some strange reason I got a real high from spilling blood. Besides, during a fight, I could always forget what happened...
"So, that's how it all started. I never went back home, until recently that is. I was afraid of the truth coming out, and also of my mother fearing me because I *loved* to kill. I didn't want her to see that. It was just too much..."
Xena's story had ended. I was shocked; I didn't know what to say. All these years, she had never told anyone, she'd kept it all bottled inside.
I started to say something, but then I just shut my mouth. I leaned forward and hugged her, and I started crying for her.
"You hate me, don't you?" she whispered, fighting back her own tears.
"No!" I shouted, suprised that she would even think such a thing. "I don't hate you. I never could. I... I'm so sorry for what happened."
She turned around, and looked me in the eyes for the longest time, but finally she said "Thank you."
We sat there like that, silent, content with each others company, for the rest of the night. When dawn came, she got up and started her morning ritual like nothing had ever happened.
Now I finally understand. I know, and I will help you get over all of this. You've got a friend now, Xena.
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