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Editor's Choice Award

The Dance of Destiny

by Becklee


WARNING: This story suggests love between two women. So if you donít like it or itís illegal where you live, you should go do something else.  

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended. 

AUTORíS NOTE: This is my second fan fiction attempt, and I have to say it was a lot of hard work to get this story finished. I put as much emotion and feeling into it as I possibly could, and I hope that you can get some of that back as you are reading this. Please enjoy! Any comments or suggestions are most welcome! Feel free to e-mail me at: Xena9799@AOL.com

 


CHAPTER ONE 

"I got a rock in my boot." Gabrielle complains as she begins to hop along side Argo. The horse glances at the bard, his ears perched up inquisitively. 

"Huh?" Xena slows the horse down to a halt. Gabrielleís distractions were really slowing them down over the last few days. Sleeping late, misplacing her staff, leg cramps, her stubborn refusals to ride Argo which soon turned into frequent stops so she could rest, misplacing her staff yet again, cleaning her boots because of an accidental present from Argo she failed to notice while walking behind him, and now a rock in her boot. How did a rock get in there anyway? "What do you mean a rock in your boot?" 

Gabrielle pulls her boot up and begins to examine it. She soon notices the problem when she sees her big toe sticking out of a hole. "Xena, a hole!" 

"In your head?" Xena says grinning. 

"No, in my boot." She stretches her leg out and rests it on Argoís back so Xena can see. 

"Well, that explains the rock. Get it out and letís go." 

"But Xena, the HOLE." 

"What about the hole? Weíll fix it when we get to Archam." 

"But thatís two days away!" She takes her leg off Argoís back, and starts to shake it around until finally a small rock comes flying out of the hole. "Why are we going there anyway?" Gabrielle asks in an annoying tone that makes Xena grip Argoís reins tighter. 

"Iím meeting an old friend at the festival. They hold it every five years." 

"Festival?" Gabrielleís interest suddenly sparks up. "What kind of festival?" 

"The usual: food, drinking, dancing. During the last hour of the festival, they have some sort of dance where five women are chosen, blindfolded, then they all stand separated from each other. When the music is played, they begin to dance and..." 

"The Dance of Destiny." Gabrielle interrupts. 

"Yeah. Youíve heard of it?" 

Gabrielle automatically goes into her story-telling mode. "It is said that this dance has the amazing power to attract a personís true soul mate, someone theyíre destined to be with for the rest of their lives. Whoever is chosen is pulled towards these dancers, and they begin to dance with them to this incredibly beautiful song that no one can resist. Once the dance is over, the blindfolds are removed from the women, and they can now see whom the gods have chosen for them to love forever. Iíve never seen it, but thatís what Iíve heard." 

"I really donít understand it myself." Xena shrugs. "I think itís just fixed to provide some worthwhile entertainment." She gives Argo a pat on the side and the horse begins walking along the dirt path again. 

"So who are we meeting there?" 

"Armis. He and I met along time ago at that festival. Heís a story-teller." 

Gabrielleís eyes grow wide. "Heís that Armis? Heís famous for his tales of love and passion. His ability to bring a whole audience to tears." 

"He speaks before the dance. Heís really quite good, Iím sure you two will get along well." Xena can see Gabrielle off in her own bard world, and hopes itíll keep her mind off of the hole in her boot until they reach camp. 

_______________________

 

Gabrielle limps over to where Xena is relaxing by the fire. With a moan, she plops down on the ground next to her. Xena looks over to see that her big toe has a nice sized blister, right under the nail. 

"Donít say it." Gabrielle says holding her hand up towards Xenaís face. 

"You mean donít say anything about the fact that if you rode on Argo you wouldnít have a huge blister on your toe?" Gabrielle gives Xena an annoyed look, and then bends down to inspect the blister on her toe. "Címon. Give me your foot." Xena reaches over and picks up her sword from off the ground. 

Gabrielle grabs her foot and pulls it away from Xena. "Oh no. Youíre not amputating my foot. Xena, I need my foot." 

Xena laughs. "Iím just going to release the puss. Donít worry, Iíve done this many times." 

Gabrielle slowly moves her foot over to Xena, still not completely thrilled with the idea. Xena takes her friendís foot up and rests it gently on her leg. Pulling back the big toe, she takes the tip of the blade from her sword and lightly punctures the skin of the blister. 

"You can open your eyes now." Xena says. "Feel better?" 

Gabrielle slowly opens both eyes, relieved to see her foot is still attached. She smiles. "That is amazing." 

"No, not really. I just released..." 

"No, not that." She looks up into Xenaís eyes. When did those eyes become so gentle? She could remember looking into the warriorís eyes and seeing a wall of cold blue sea. It hid what really lied beneath it all, what Gabrielle only saw a glimpse of when she would look at her. But now, with every glance there was nothing masking the side of Xena most people never knew existed. 

"What is so amazing then?" Xena asks like she had missed something. 

"You are." 

"Oh yeah?" Xena says in disbelief. "And why is that?" 

"When I first met you I wasnít sure what I was getting into. But there was something about you that always told me it was the right thing to do, like if I didnít go Iíd regret it for the rest of my life. And now, I couldnít imagine my life without you." 

Xena smirks, her expression somewhat puzzled. "All that from popping a blister? I think you really need to get some sleep." 

"Yeah... I guess." Gabrielle nods, disappointment hiding in her eyes as she tucks away under the blankets. Xena suddenly realizes that the attempt to hide her embarrassment hadnít gone over well with Gabrielle. She sometimes forgot how sensitive the young bard was, and how much their friendship meant. 

Quietly, the warrior sneaks over to where her friend lays and leans down to look at the most innocent, beautiful face she had ever seen. Xena quickly gives Gabrielle a kiss on the forehead, her touch startling the bard from her thoughts. 

Xena clears her throat, "Well, um... goodnight Gabrielle." Xena says in a soft, shy voice unlike Gabrielle had ever heard before. 

"Goodnight Xena."

 

CHAPTER TWO 

"I sing a song of..." 

"Yeah... now why do you say that?" Xena looks down at her friend. "I mean, do you ever actually sing?" 

"Singing comes in many forms." 

Xena rolls her eyes. "Singing comes in one form...singing." 

Gabrielle shakes her head. "Youíre so sensible. Xena, have you ever felt your heart sing?" 

"Huh?" 

"You know, when your heart feels like itís ready to explode with warmth and happiness?" 

"Oh... well I guess." 

Gabrielle taps Xenaís leg playfully. "See, thatís one form." 

"Alright. What form is it when you tell your stories?" 

"It is a song you sing with the rhythm in your heart. It doesnít have to follow notes or hit certain pitches to sound good... it comes from within." 

Xena canít help but smile. The way Gabrielle spoke always impressed her. Experiencing the world through Gabrielleís eyes was something Xena could only wonder about. Simple things carried new meaning when the bard began her tales. "Alright... sing to me." 

Gabrielleís face brightens, "What would you like to hear?" 

"Got any new songs?" 

The bardís head starts searching for ideas. She had written a couple of stories over the last silent nights at the campfire, when Xena was busy drowning in her own thoughts. Over the past two days there was a poem that had been building up inside her head, but the thought of sharing it with Xena was too overwhelming. Her deepest feelings would become words sheíd never spoken, not even when no one was around. Words that she wasnít even sure she was strong enough to say. 

"I wrote this one last night." Gabrielle says clearing her throat. 

"I sing a song of the Dance of Destiny. A dance so powerful it reaches out through all the lands in the world to find love. It harnesses the unknown, the fate of our lives we all know as destiny. The greatest power on earth in not good or evil... it is love. And love cannot exist without two souls... and destiny knows this. It brings us together, not only in body but also in spirit. The day we are born, destiny has decided who we are fated to be with. And the Dance of Destiny is proof of this. That we all have a soul mate, and there is no escaping what is meant to be. This is the Dance of Destiny, a dance of eternal love." 

Gabrielle looks up at Xena, waiting for a response. Although it wasnít the story she wanted to tell, she wanted to see how her friend would react to it. "You really do believe in that dance, huh?" Xena asks looking down at the bard. 

"What do you believe?" 

"I believe that you cannot force destiny... it just has to happen." 

"So you donít think the dance is real?" Gabrielle asks. 

"Not really." 

Gabrielle pauses for a minute. "Do you want to find out?" 

Xena pulls Argo to a stop. "Find out what?" Her eyes fall suspiciously on Gabrielle. Was she seriously thinking about taking part in that dance? "You donít mean you want to be in the Dance of Destiny, do you?" 

"Why not?" Gabrielle says stepping over to Xena. "Whoever wants to dance can go." 

Xena shakes her head. "Not necessarily... you have to be chosen. There are thousands who sign up to dance and only five are picked. The chances of you being one of them..." 

"Then whatís the harm?" 

Xena rolls her eyes and gently kicks Argo so he starts moving again. Gabrielle walks along side. "If you really want to do this, I wonít stop you. But donít be too disappointed if you donít get picked or if you actually do get picked and find out itís fixed." 

Gabrielle smiles. "If I didnít know any better, Iíd say you sounded worried about this." 

"I just donít want to see you get hurt." Xena lies. What she was really worried about was that the dance might really be more than just a show. She could lose Gabrielle forever if she found some one to be with, her true soul mate. 

"Itís okay, Xena." Gabrielle says placing her hand on the warriorís leg. "I know part of my destiny, and thatís you. Thereís no changing that." 

Xena reaches down and holds Gabrielleís hand for a few seconds before letting go. "Iím sure of that part too." 

____________________

 

Xena reaches out and pulls Gabrielle back by her side. "Will you stop it! Weíll never even get to the festival if you keep running off to every merchant shop you see." 

Gabrielle digs her staff into the ground harder as they continue to walk through the crowds of people. The festival was obviously a huge deal in Archam. Decorations adorned every part of the city, their brilliant colors could be seen from miles away. Music was being played at every corner, but the loudest music could be heard in the center building where the main attractions of the night would be held, including the Dance of Destiny. 

"You know Xena, we donít have to rush. We still have time to look around before..." 

"Weíre late as it is, no thanks to you." Xena says pushing her way through the slow moving crowd. 

"Me?" The bard says innocently. 

"Between looking for your staff and having to practically drag you out of the bed each morning, Iíd say weíre even lucky to be here this early." 

"Oh yeah." Gabrielle says, realizing that she had been a little careless over the last week. Especially the last couple of days. "I have been a little pre-occupied lately, huh?" 

Xena raises an eyebrow. "Pre-occupied? With what?" 

Gabrielleís eyes suddenly dart away from the warriorís face. "Gods, that was stupid!" She thinks to herself. "Oh, just stories." 

"Stories?" Xena says not fully believing her. "Gabrielle, are you hiding something from me?" 

Gabrielle suddenly stops walking. "Xena, can we talk about this later?" 

"Why not now?" 

"This is neither the time nor the place to talk about anything!" Gabrielle says gesturing to the crowds of people who were now bumping into them. "Letís just keep moving." 

"Are you sure you donít want to talk?" 

"Itís nothing... donít worry about it." Gabrielle fibs and continues to push along through the crowd. Xena continues behind her, going through things in her mind and at the same time, trying to keep one eye on her friend through the mass of people. It was unlike Gabrielle to keep things from her, so it had to be something very important. 

"Hey, Xena look!" Gabrielle shouts stepping out from the flowing crowd. "Theyíre selling boots over there." 

Xena appears from out of the line. "We donít have a lot of time..." 

"You can go ahead. Iíll just find you and Armis later." 

"Itís gonna get pretty crowded in there. Are you sure you can find your way?" 

Gabrielle was beginning to feel like Xena was her mother. "Iím a big girl now, you donít have to worry about me. Iíll find you, I promise." 

Xena is reluctant to let her go, but seeing how full the place was getting she needed to find Armis soon. "Alright. Weíre sitting up front near the stage." 

"Iíll find my way. Tell Armis to save me a seat." 

Gabrielle slips off to replace her boots, and Xena continues to push along towards the building. 

____________________

 

"Mind if I sit here?" Xena asks the man sitting at one of the tables. A large smile appears on his face even before he turns around to see who is talking to him. 

"Iíd recognize that cunning, clever, courtly voice anywhere." The man says spinning around in his chair. "Princess, I do believe you look even more ravishing every time we meet." He reaches out and holds Xenaís hand, gently placing a kiss on it. 

"You havenít changed a bit Armis." She smiles, taking a seat in the chair beside him. "Sorry Iím so late." 

"No apologies. Iíve heard some great stories about you over the last five years. I finally get to find out if theyíre true." 

"Really?" Xena raises a inquiring eyebrow. "Like what?" 

Armis leans back in his chair, placing one hand on his chin. "So many things. Iíve heard youíve gone off to play good girl now. Being bad get too boring for you?" 

"No... it made me realize how wrong Iíve been, how much Iíve missed. I was so blind with hatred I didnít even care whether I lived one day or died the next. There was no meaning behind who I was." 

"Iím glad you did what you did." Armis says leaning over the table, studying Xenaís eyes. "I can tell how much itís changed you. Thereís a renewed life inside you now." 

"Well, I canít take all the credit. I owe must of who I am to..." 

"Gabrielle?" Armis interrupts, taking a long sip of his ale. 

Xena has a bewildered look on her face. "How did you know that?" 

Armis laughs, "You forget who youíre talking to, Xena. Iím a storyteller, I hear things. Besides, your friend has made quite the reputation for herself. I barely ever hear your name anymore without the word "Gabrielle" turning up somewhere near it. By the way, where is she?" 

"Oh, sheíll be around shortly. Just had to make a quick stop." 

"You two are really close, arenít you? Why Iíve even heard sheís brought you back from the dead, though I doubt thatís true." 

Xena smiles. "Actually, it is. Weíve been through a lot together." 

"So Iíve heard. You guys have one of the greatest friendships anyone has ever known. You stick by each other with such love and devotion... she obviously must be someone really special to be walking by your side everyday. Not just anyone chooses to follow a warrior such as yourself." 

"Sheís very special. I know you will see that in her right away. Sheís really looking forward to meeting you, Armis." 

"And I am looking forward to meeting her." 

"I wonder whatís taking her so long anyway?" 

______________________

 

 

"And I suppose you have a better idea?" The bard snaps at the merchant. 

"Thatís a fine looking staff..." He hints eyeing the staff that is Gabrielleís main defense, and often times a lifesaver when Xena is not around. 

"This is not negotiable." She says hugging the staff close to her. "Donít you have any boots here for ten dinars?" 

"I told you that the lowest priced pair goes at twenty-five dinars." 

"Címon, Iím sure you can knock off a measly fifteen dinars for a simple pair of leather boots?" Gabrielle pleads in her attempt to haggle her way through this situation. She knew with time that she could bring this guy down to her offer, but time was something that she did not have knowing the festival would be starting any minute. The crowds of people were quickly lessening, and so were her chances of getting to Xena and Armis before the festivities would start. 

"Look lady, I have a family to take care of. I canít be hacking off dinars for every customer that comes up thinking they can buy what they need for what they have. And you do not have enough." The merchant seems to study the young girl before him, still his interest falling towards the staff. "What exactly does a girl like you need a staff for anyhow?" 

"I said itís not for sale." 

"No. Thatís not why I ask." His eyes seem to scan the area around him. When everything seems clear he leans in towards Gabrielle. "I know where you can get some money, enough to buy you a good pair of boots thatíll last a long time." 

"What do you mean?" 

The merchant lowers his voice to almost a whisper. "I saw you with Xena. You must be that girl sheís been traveling around with for awhile." 

"Gabrielle." 

"Yes. That means youíve crossed a few evil faces. Been through quite a few battles." 

The bard begins to wonder where the direction of this whole conversation is going. "I can hold my own pretty well. What does this have to do with boots?" 

"We both need something here. You need boots, I need money. With you, I might have a shot at it." 

Gabrielle begins to eye the man skeptically. "What exactly are we talking about here?" 

His eyes become wide. "Fighting... for money." 

Gabrielle stares at him for a moment, then suddenly puts everything together. "Oh no. Iím not going to take part in some blood-bashing spectacle just to make a few dinars. I fight only when I need to, and not to fill my pockets." 

"Well how about to fill some stomachs? My family and I need to eat, and truth is business hasnít been so good. I started betting on the fights as soon as I heard of them, and at first things were going great. I was making so much money I didnít even have to worry about food or my stupid business anymore." 

"But then it went too far, and you started losing." 

The merchant lowers his head. "I let my whole family down. I couldnít get my business back on its feet, and soon I was so poor I was begging for money. Now, all I have left is this. Iíve been saving though, and I now have one hundred dinars. Bets go triple tonight, so if you win I..." 

"I said forget it. I donít believe in fighting for no purpose. Thereís enough of that in this world already without people making a sport out of it."  

Gabrielle and the merchant turn their heads towards the main building as the sounds of drums and singing suddenly dominate the murmured voices of the people outside. The bardís eyes grow wide, fear bolting through her like the vibrations of the pounding drums. She could already feel Xenaís eyes shooting nasty glares at her all night. She had let her down, and for what? 

She turns back to the merchant. "See that?! Do you know how much trouble Iím gonna be in when I show up late, with no excuse, and still no boots?" 

"Well, I wouldnít want to be you." 

Gabrielle grunts angrily and starts running towards the building. The man yells with one last plea, "If you change your mind, just go all the way down the stairs until you reach the bottom floor! Iíll be there!" 

_______________________

 

The echoing of the bardís footsteps reverberated one by one as she made her way up the spiraling stairs towards the door that lead into the main festival. All sounds of drums and singing had ceased to a complete silence that seemed strange to Gabrielle. What was happening inside that had quieted an entire room full of thousands of excited people?

Gabrielle reaches the last steps, and is finally stopped by a tall and large brawny man who blocks the entrance into the festival. She could now see why everyone was so quiet. A storyteller was up on stage doing all sorts of movements, and his voice so clear and exhilarating that Gabrielle knew it must be none other than Armis. Even from this great distance, she could feel the overwhelming effect he had over the audience below. He seemed to hold them captive with every word he spoke. And to think she was missing out on it, all on account to some lousy cursed hole in her boot. 

"Excuse me sir." Gabrielle says tilting her head up towards the towering man. "Could you please move so I can go inside?" 

"No one is allowed into the festival now." He says shaking his head. "Go home." 

"What?" Gabrielle can hardly believe her ears. "There must be some mistake. You see..." 

"I said go home!" The man shouts angrily, jolting the bard backwards.  

She steps forward slapping her staff against the guy's chest. "Look, you move or Iíll make you move myself!" The guard doesnít seem to take that as much of a threat. "Alright... but donít say I didnít warn you." 

Gabrielle lunges into the guardís body with as much force as she can. Like rubber, she bounces off his stomach and is sent crashing to the floor. Not getting discouraged, she gets up and tries running past the guard, but is pushed back without much effort from the man. She stops herself in mid-charge, finally realizing that she is not going to get anywhere using this approach.  

She takes in a deep breath trying to control herself. "Iíve had a really bad day alright! I have a hole in my boot, I have a merchant who wonít sell me boots, I have Xena who is going to have my brains dangling off the end of her chakram by the end of the night, and when I finally think things canít get any worse... there is you. For Zeusí Sake just let me go through!!! 

A woman suddenly walks up from the stairs, dressed in a long elegant dress that is flowing down from her waist. She walks pass Gabrielle and up to the guard. 

"I cannot let you enter. The festival is off-limits once it has started." 

The woman smiles, "Iíve heard that there are two spots left for the dance tonight, and I would like to fill one of them." 

"The Dance of Destiny requires a two-thousand dinar donation from now on." 

"Yes, I know." The woman extends a large brown pouch towards the guard. "Youíll find itís all there. Now if youíll excuse me I have a date with destiny tonight." 

The guard gratefully accepts the pouch and moves aside to let the woman pass. Gabrielle couldnít believe it. "Two-thousand dinars... I thought that you were chosen to be in the dance?" 

"Not this year. Too many people want to take part, and itís causing the festival to get over-crowded. Besides, two-thousand dinars is a small price to pay for eternal happiness." 

"So the only way Iím getting into that festival is if I could get into the Dance of Destiny?" 

"Thatís right... but a peasant girl like you could never afford it." 

"Peasant girl huh?" Gabrielle says wanting to take another charge into the guy, but a small pounding headache convinced her otherwise. "Iíll be back, and I will have the money to get into that dance... one way or another." 

"You do that little girl, and Iíll personally escort you onto the stage!" He says laughing. Gabrielle turns and starts running back down the stairs.

 

CHAPTER TWO 

Armis throws his fists in the air, his face red with rage as his knees crash into the stage. He slouches over with his head curled into his arms, mumbling something as he slowly lifts his head with his eyes staring straight out into the audience. 

"And Talmidous felt his soul sink as he knew that his choice had cost him his love." Armis sadly moans as he lifts back to his feet. "Good and evil could never coexist without clashing, and it did that day. The struggle to choose was a constant war in his mind, but overtime his soul had been devoured by evil, even though in his heart he wanted so badly to be good and to keep Athesa as his wife. Never did he recover from her absence, and never could he fight another battle with his head held up high. He found relief at the end of a sword, unfortunately... his own." 

The audience stands at a still, their minds still left within the story. Soon the silence bursts into a loud applause. Armis smiles, taking a long bow, but his attention is drawn to the tall warrior sitting at the table in front of him. Xena smiles and rises to give him a standing-obation. The truth was she had hardly listened to anything the storyteller had said. Her mind was elsewhere, and no matter how many times she tried to convince herself there was nothing wrong, the thought would suddenly reappear in her mind. Gabrielle. Where was she? Was she hurt? Was she in danger? Or was she simply lost? Still, it was impossible to concentrate on anything else until she knew for sure. 

"Go and find her." The voice of Armis startles Xena. He was leaning down next to her, his hand resting on her chair. "You know you wonít be able to relax unless you do." 

"I know. I just donít want to leave you here." Xena yells over the continuing applause of the crowd. "But I just have this bad feeling." 

"I have one more story to tell before they start preparing for the dance. Besides, thereís nothing worse than looking down from a story and seeing my princess all upset. Now go." 

Xena rises from the table, securing her scabbard behind her back. "Iíll be back as soon as I can." 

_______________________

 

Gabrielle reaches the bottom of the stairs out of breath. It was almost pitch black with the exception of one torch hanging from the sidewall. It was also freezing cold which was a relief from the heat upstairs. The only thing in sight was a heavy solid oak door with strips of thick iron running vertically down the wood. 

Gabrielle knocks on the door a few times. A large metal grinding is heard from behind the door, and it just barely opens enough to reveal a figure standing on the other side. He grunts something she cannot understand, although she didnít think he was speaking to her but to someone else inside. 

"Excuse me?" Gabrielle holds her staff in front of her. "Iím looking for a fight. You wouldnít know where I could find one, would ya?" 

"Are you alone?" 

"Yeah. Just me and my staff. Weíve been through plenty of attacks. I got more battle scars than the snakes on Mudasaís head!" 

"Right..." The man says eyeing Gabrielle strangely. "Do you know the risks?" 

"Of course I do. Do you think Iíd be here if I didnít? But Iím more interested in the stakes. Iím talking dinars, and plenty of them." 

"Stakes are high tonight. Five hundred dinars for each successful victory. Bets are triple, and the loser..." 

"Will be begging... no pleading for mercy when Iím through with them." Gabrielle continues to use her bard gifts to persuade the guard that she is worthy enough to be given a chance. 

"Do you have any rank?" 

"Rank?" Gabrielle jerks her head back at the question. 

"We just donít allow peasants in here ya know." 

Gabrielle feels a quick panic come over her. "Um.... Iím an Amazon Princess." 

"Amazon Princess eh?" There is a pause and some more grunting she canít figure out. The door suddenly opens and a guard, much like the one she had seen upstairs, towers in the doorway. He seems surprised at how small the bard is. "I guess you can come in. But once you step inside the arena, there is no turning back." 

"No need for the warning. I know what Iím doing." 

Gabrielle strolls past the guard giving him her mightiest glance as she enters the room. He shuts and locks the heavy door behind her, reassuming his post. Another large guard joins his side. 

Gabrielle feels like she had just stepped into the biggest mistake of her life. She looks back at the guard who nods his head for her to keep moving. She makes her way into the large room and begins to see how things are organized. In one corner there are people struggling to place their bets before the next fight begins. Small pouches full of peoples hopes are quickly being tossed to the man in charge of holding the bets until the end of each competition. In the opposite corner there are warriors that are practicing for their turn in the arena.  

Gabrielle can tell that all the people competing are definitely warrior material. Some swing swords around with almost as much grace and skill as Xena. Others hold staffs, which they twirl with such speed that it looks like nothing but a blur as it is whipped through the air. The most dominating thing in the room, of course, is the arena where the spectators are looking on as two men take turns clashing their swords against one another. 

"Hey!" A man shouts from across the room. He runs over to Gabrielleís side. "I knew youíd come." 

The bard rolls her eyes. "Well if you would have just sold me the stupid boots..." 

"No, this is great! I know you can beat these guys." The merchant smiles with confidence. One of the warriors suddenly walks by, blood covering the end of his sword. Gabrielle and the merchant back away a few steps and look at each other. "Okay, so theyíre a little intimidating when they get up close like that." 

"A little intimidating? These guys would even make Xena look small." 

"Címon. Have some faith woman! You have to get up there with something to prove." 

Gabrielle shakes her head. "But donít you see... um..." 

"The names Talmonis!" 

"Talmonis, Iím not a warrior. I donít belong in a place like this." She looks into the arena as one of the men are thrown to the ground, suddenly realizing that this is not something she wants to be involved with. "I canít do this." 

Gabrielle starts to head back towards the door. Talmonis runs in front of her. "Please, you canít leave. Youíre the only one I trust right now." 

"Iím sorry. This was a mistake. I did the wrong thing coming here." 

Talmonis watches as Gabrielle heads for the door. His face becomes red with rage as he begins to yell. "Guards! Guards! Seize that woman!" Gabrielle swings around to look at the screaming merchant. "Sheís a spy! Grab her!" 

"Talmonis?!" Gabrielle shouts as two guards suddenly take hold of her arms. "Hey! Let go of me! What are you doing?" 

Talmonis walks up to the frantic Gabrielle and snatches her staff away from her. "You were right. You did the wrong thing coming here." He looks up at the two guards. "This girl works for the king. If he discovers whatís going on down here he could put a stop to it for good." 

"Heís lying!" Gabrielle pleads. 

"Weíll take her outback to the cells." The guard decides. "Weíll figure out what to do with her later." 

Gabrielle tries to get away from the powerful grip of the two guards, but just exhausts herself as she is dragged away to a back room. She is thrown into a small jail cell and the door is locked behind her. She runs up to the long metal bars reaching out towards one of the men. "Iím not a spy! You canít leave me here." 

The guard only looks back at her and quickly pulls his arm away. Talmonis walks in as the two men are leaving. They stop him from going near the cells. "I need to talk to her for a minute." Talmonis says. 

"Make it quick." 

The guards leave for their posts, and the merchant walks over to Gabrielleís cell. Her eyes are filled with fury as she comes face to face with him, the only thing keeping her from ringing his neck are the bars. "Why did you do it Talmonis? What are you trying to prove putting me in here?" 

"Only one thing. That you canít cheat me out of my money. You wonít fight, then Iíll get someone who will. But my chances of winning just got a whole lot better." 

"What are you talking about?" 

Talmonis gets a greedy look in his eyes. A look Gabrielle had seen many times on the faces of power-hungry warlords. "Youíd bet your life on Xena... and Iím going to do the same. Once she knows that I have you sheíll do whatever it takes to get you back." 

"Sheís found her way around that plan before, and not only once. Donít think youíre the only idiot that has kidnapped me looking for some kind of ransom." 

"Iím not like the others. They only had their own selfish desires to think about. I have my whole family. I will do whatever it takes to make sure they donít suffer anymore, and if that means risking my life or yours... Iíll do it." 

_______________________

 

Xena stops at the top of the stairs, looking back at the guard she had passed. "Have you seen anyone come through here recently?" 

"Not that many." 

"What about a young woman, blond hair, about this big..." She lifts her hand to about her shoulders. 

The guard rubs his stomach. "Charging girl? Yeah, she tried to go right through me just because I wouldnít let her in." 

"You wouldnít let her in?" 

"New rule. You canít get into the festival after it starts." 

"Do you know where she went?" 

"I told her the only way she could get inside was if she was in the Dance of Destiny, and suddenly she took off down the stairs." 

"Where could she have gone?" Xena asks herself. 

"Follow me and find out." A voice comes from the stairs. Xena turns around, but can only see a shadow of a man along the wall. It quickly darts away until it is no longer visible. 

Xena leaps into action, racing down the stairs as fast as she can. Ahead of her, she can hear footsteps hurrying down each step. The further down the chase went, the darker it got. Soon it was impossible for Xena to see, and impossible to continue running without the risk of falling downward. She halts to a stop, listening for anything. 

"I hope youíre not afraid of the dark Xena." Talmonis laughs from somewhere further down from where Xena is standing. 

"Where is Gabrielle?" 

"You donít expect me to tell you at this point of the game do you Xena?" 

"And what game is it weíre playing?" Xena asks as she slowly starts to descend down the stairs. 

"Itís called make me a rich man... and the rules are simple. You fight, you win. I get rich with each one of your victories. Five rounds and Iíll have around twenty thousand dinars, plus you can give me the two thousand, five hundred dinars youíll get from winning. Then Iíll tell you where you can find your friend. Do we have a deal?" 

Xena stops on the stairs. She could tell that the man was extremely close now. Not more then a few steps down. "Fine. Now show yourself." 

A staff suddenly jabs into Xenaís stomach, and her sword is pulled from her back. She feels her chakram being yanked from her side. The staff whips across her face and she is sent tumbling down the stairs. The fall is short, and she lands at the bottom after only a few steps. 

Talmonis lights the torch on the sidewall near the oak door. He looks down at Xena with a smile, Gabrielleís staff in his hand. She looks up at him, her bottom lip covered in blood. "Not bad for someone who doesnít know how to use a staff." Talmonis grins. "Never try to sneak up on me again or Iíll make sure this staff is the only thing left of Gabrielle. Now get up, we got work to do." 

_______________________

 

Xena makes herself at home among the rows of armed warriors ready to do battle in the arena. They eye her suspiciously for a woman warrior was obviously not seen around too often. Although the attention did not bother Xena because her mind was elsewhere. Every possibility of getting out of the situation had been struck down by some sort of flaw, and even though Talmonis wasnít much of a threat, he still had Gabrielle.  

Talmonis walks over to Xena with an empty pouch clutched in his hand. "One-hundred dinars... can you believe itís going to soon be a fortune? Tripled each time you win? Any man could get rich down here. No wonder they only do this the day of the festival." 

Xena stands up with her eyes set onto the merchants. "And what makes you think after I get Gabrielle Iím just going to walk away from this whole thing?" 

"Nothing. As long as I get this money to my family first... you can punish me however you wish. But is it such a crime to want your family to be happy?" Talmonis voice trembles slightly as he tries to keep himself from losing control. He takes in a deep breath. "You donít know how much theyíve suffered because of my failures. You donít see them when theyíre so hungry they can hardly move or when my son has to steal food from his own friends just so he can live another day. Now you tell me Xena, if you were me what would you do?" 

Xena shakes her head. "Iíve spent all my life hurting others to protect my family... and Iíve caused them nothing but pain. It isnít always easy watching those you love suffering, and I know it can drive a person to do some horrible things. But you got to look inside yourself for the right answer, not for the easy way out." 

"Iíve spent plenty of time searching." Talmonis argues. "And Iíve never found anything. I know this may not be the right answer but itís the only choice I got. At least this time my family has a chance." 

"Yeah, and an innocent girl has to sit and play victim while you run around trying to be some kind of hero. Iím sure your family will be very proud." Xena says sarcastically trying to reason with the merchant. She can see the pain in his face as he is trying desperately to withstand the temptation of just giving in to what he knows is right. It is a feeling Xena knew well through most of her life. That certain revenge that can twist around thoughts and emotions into a blinding hatred for everything. His revenge seems drawn towards his own guilt. He blames himself entirely for bringing his family into poverty, and Xena knows it wonít be easy to change that kind of guilt around. 

"No Xena! You canít change me!" Talmonis yells, furiously whipping the pouch at her and storming to the opposite side of the room. 

The man beside Xena shakes his head. "You see that?" He points over to Talmonis. "Most men turn to the sword because of that very reason... but it always becomes a senseless cause. And they never realize it until too many have died. By then the guilt is so overwhelming itís almost impossible to go back." 

Xena is taken back by these words from the warrior. "I understand that all too well." 

The man shakes his head. "Yeah... me too." His words fade off like he is being drawn into memories from long ago. Xena could recognize that look in his eyes, the same look she would have sometimes during those nights of staring into the campfire.  

Xena extends her arm out. "My name is Xena." 

The man locks his arm against hers. "Xena... Warrior Princess? What brings you down here?" 

"Bad luck I guess. You didnít tell me your name." 

"Oh, Harmos." 

"And why are you here?" Xena asks. 

"Iím hiding from..." 

The door bursts open followed by a large warlord carrying a hefty sword. He scans the room and almost immediately his eyes fall upon the warrior sitting beside Xena. "Harmos!" He shouts with a yellow-toothed smile spread across his face. "Are you hiding down here or are you trying to repay a certain debt you owe me?" 

Harmos slowly stands up, panic all over his face. "Iím still working on it. Iíll have the money soon, I promise you." 

The warlord shakes his head. "Iím not much for promises. I saved your skin and this is how you return the favor?" 

"Iím sorry... I..." 

"Oh not as half as sorry as your gonna be when Iím through with you. Youíre worth money to me one way or the other. If I have to trade you as a slave then so be it. Guards! Take that man to the jail. Iíll be by tomorrow to pick him up." 

Harmosí eyes are wide with alarm. "No, please. Just give me more time..." 

"No more time. Iím a busy man, Harmos. A very busy man." The warlord declares as he leaves. The whole room is silent with all eyes fixed upon the warrior whose eyes have not left the spot where the warlord had stood. Obediently, the guards take Harmos by both arms and drag him off to the jail cells. 

"Xena!" Talmonis calls from across the room. "Itís time!" 

_______________________

 

Gabrielle glances over at the next cell. Through the bars she can see a man leaning back against the cold stone wall, his hands constantly rubbing together trying to create some warmth. When he was thrown in the cell he went absolutely insane, not only cursing but also threatening the guards with clenched fists. They had a hard time trying to keep control of him, and finally ended up punching him in the stomach. Gabrielle had watched helplessly as he laid curled on the stone floor, gasping for breath. When she offered him help he did not say anything, and since then neither has spoken a word. 

"Not a sound, not a sound." Harmos speaks suddenly. "Sage is silence as the night, to my ears it sings... but stings in my heart." 

Gabrielle is stricken with astonishment. From a man that had seemed so relentless and out of control only moments ago, those words appeared impossible to have come from the same mouth "That was beautiful." 

"Silence has two sides. When you are alone silence can be as comforting as words. Or it can be so lonesome you just want to scream." He seems baffled by his own conclusion. "Sometimes I even have to talk to myself. It keeps my mind from going on and on. You know, too much thinking can actually be harmful." 

"Right, itís like a release." Gabrielle explains. "If you keep everything locked up inside you, one why or another itís going to come out. I think when you let it sit too long, thatís when it becomes harmful. You get obsessed with it to a point where you canít concentrate on anything else." 

"You know this stuff well." Harmos says impressed. 

"Thank you." Gabrielle smiles. "Why are you here?" 

"Some power-hungry warlord I crossed paths with a few days ago. He wants to sell me as a slave because of a debt I didnít pay. I better get use to being locked up for now on." Harmos lets out a deep sigh and it is turned into a white mist in the cold air. "What about you?" 

"Oh, you know, just the usual kidnapping ritual I go through once in awhile. I get caught, Iím used as bait, and finally Iím rescued. This hasnít been so bad though. Last time I was forced to marry a dead king, and then slowly pulled into a burning pit of fire to be cremated." 

"And this happens often?" Harmos asks. 

"When youíre traveling with Xena, this kind of stuff happens all the time." 

"Xena? The Warrior Princess?" 

Gabrielle nods her head. "Thatís the one." 

"I was just talking to her outside! Sheís going to be one of the fighters in the arena tonight." 

Gabrielle leaps up almost immediately. "You mean sheís right outside?" She pushes her face up between the bars trying to squeeze as much of it through as possible. 

"Yes, she..." 

Gabrielle starts shouting, "Xena! Xena Iím in here!" She yells as loud as she can. "Xena Iím..." 

"She wonít be able to hear you." Harmos interrupts. "The fights have already begun, and it gets very loud out there. She couldnít hear you even if you were two feet away." 

Gabrielle collapses back in the cage, once again consumed with the fear of what Xena had to face. Not only that, but a wave of anger towards herself. She and Xena had created a bond that both of them knew was unbreakable. There were no limits on what they would do for each other, and not even death could stand in their way. It was a friendship neither of them had known with anyone else... but was it too strong? How many times could the warrior risk her life for her, and come out victorious? 

"Whatís wrong?" Talmonis asks noticing the sadness on Gabrielleís face. 

"Iím whatís wrong." The bard says slowly. "I canít keep doing this to her. I could never live with myself if I knew she died fighting for me... but how can I just walk away from her?" 

"Donít be afraid to say what you feel." Talmonis edges up close to the bars that line Gabrielleís cell. "I will listen." 

Gabrielle seems reluctant to say anymore. She had held back for so long that she didnít know if she could find the strength to release all her feelings. Her body becomes suddenly tense as nervousness quickly overwhelms her. "I have always believed that everyone has a soulmate, and when you find that person you will know that they are the one you are meant to be with for the rest of your life. I came down here hoping to force destiny." 

"Do you mean the Dance of Destiny?" Talmonis suggests. 

"I thought it could do the one thing I havenít been able to." Gabrielle pauses, her bottom lip quivering, her body no longer shivering because of the cold. "Itís unlike any love Iíve ever felt before. It goes right into me... but it hurts so much. What Iím trying to say is..." 

The door suddenly swings open and three men walk in, two of them the guards from outside. The other man walks over to the cells and examines Talmonis and Gabrielle carefully. Finally, he nods approvingly. "Theyíll do." 

Gabrielle gets up and walks over to the man. "Do for what?" She asks looking over at Talmonis for an answer. He seems just as clueless as she is. 

"The Dance of Destiny is starting soon!" The man exclaims. "You two will be in it." 

"Excuse me?" Talmonis says totally confused. 

"There is one more spot left for the dance so we need another couple to fill in. Your reward for doing so will be your freedom. Youíll be let out of this jail and as soon as it is over you may go wherever you wish." 

"I donít understand." Gabrielle says. "Another couple?" 

The man lowers his voice. "There really is no destiny involved in this dance. We use it to get a crowd, and as you can see from the thousands of people upstairs, it works. Itís really simple actually. The women pay to be in the dance and we give that money to the men who in turn agree to take part in the dance. The women never know itís a set up, and the men keep their mouths shut. Itís not a crime or anything. Everyone wins at the end." 

Xena was right after all, Gabrielle thinks to herself. There is no forcing destiny. "So we do this, and we are set free? Is that right?" 

"Thatís right." The man smiles. "Just make sure I never hear word that one of you squeal or Iíll make sure you end up back here real soon." 

"We wonít." Talmonis says anxious to get out of the awful dungeon, and away from the punishment of the warlord. 

The guards unlock the cells and take hold of Talmonis and Gabrielle. "Take emí through this way." The man orders the guards pointing to a back door on the sidewall. "The other way is much too crowded." 

They all leave through the door, Gabrielle hoping somehow that Xena will figure out where she has gone.

 

CHAPTER 3 

The warrior ducks as a wooden staff whips over his head. He dodges another swing darting to the left, reacting with a quick jab to Xenaís stomach. She falls back, but regains herself in time to block another attack from her opponent. They both stand defensively, their eyes fixed upon each other waiting for someone to make the next move. 

The Warrior Princess spins her body low to the arena floor and does a full circle until the staff kicks her opponentís legs out from under him. His body drops down, his weapon spiraling out of his hands. He soon feels the end of a staff digging against his chest and looks up to see a set of cold blue eyes staring down upon him. 

Taking Xena by surprise, he lifts his legs into the air and wraps them around her neck. With a quick jolt he pulls her down to the floor beside him. He rolls on top of her, taking hold of her staff and struggling to push it against her neck. They both fight for control, the staff sinking and then rising, the match suddenly becoming like a game of tug-of-war. The wood touches Xenaís neck for a split second, and then is pushed back again. The crowd gasps, Talmonis still and waiting. All his hope lying in the hands of the Warrior Princess. 

"Mercy!" A voice yells from the arena shocking everyone into silence. The two figures in the arena are still, the staff clutched in both their hands but no longer moving. All eyes suddenly move over to the referee, waiting for him to say something. 

He looks at the two opponents just as baffled as the rest of the crowd. "Mercy is called." He finally claims. "Xena... loses." 

Talmonis leaps up from his seat, his face shaking in absolute madness. "Xena!" He shouts with clenched fists. "You did that on purpose! You waited until the last battle so you could rip my heart out!" 

Xena gets up off the floor, staring into Talmonisí enraged eyes. "I did it to teach you a lesson." 

"What?" Talmonis cries. "Iíll teach you a lesson Xena!!! Iím going to kill Gabrielle! Do you hear me!?" He grabs onto his shirt and pulls it forward. "I am going to rip open her chest and kill her!!!" 

"Wrong." Xena walks out of the arena and pulls out a man from the crowd. Armis stands at her side, a smile spread across his face. "This is Armis. He is in charge of seeing who will be in the Dance of Destiny, and he saw Gabrielleís name on the list. 

"Thatís not possible." Talmonis says. "I had her locked away!" 

"Not anymore." Armis says. "After I saw she was on the list I went looking for her, and I found her backstage. She told me what happened, and where to find Xena." 

Talmonis backs away into the crowd, shaking his head and repeating the word "no" over and over. After realizing there is no way out he drops to his knees breaking out into tears. Everyone watches him as he weeps out loud, his dreams of saving his family gone forever. 

Xena reaches down and pulls him up from the ground. He refuses to look her in the eyes, and stares down at the floor. "Kill me." He sobs. 

"Iím not going to kill you, Talmonis." She says lifting his face. "Look, I think youíve learned your lesson, but now is not the time to give up on your family." 

"I have nothing left." He says softly. 

"Yes you do."  

Xena takes his hand and drops a small pouch into it. He looks down at it puzzled. "Whatís this?" He asks. 

"Each fight I won five-hundred dinars. Four fights..." 

"Two-thousand dinars." He says looking up at Xena. "Youíre giving this to me? Why?" 

Xena smiles. "Just promise me you wonít go gambling this away. If I can forgive you I think you can forgive yourself. Replace the guilt in your heart with the love you have for your family, and youíll do fine." 

"I will Xena..." Talmonis nods with renewed hope in his eyes. "I promise. And Iím sorry about Gabrielle." 

"About Gabrielle," Armis speaks up. "She should be just about ready to start the dance!" 

Xena and Armis head for the front, Xena stopping just before she leaves the room to look back at Talmonis. She knew why she had helped him, because he had reminded her of herself. And in another way of Gabrielle. When she looked into that poor manís eyes she saw what she was, and maybe if it wasnít for Gabrielle teaching her to forgive and help others the same way she had helped her, she might have left him to drown in his own guilt. 

_______________________

 

Five women, all dressed in magnificent long dresses, stride up to the center of the large room. They line up separate from each other, and take their positions for the start of the dance. Gabrielle awaits with her breath held, hoping she can remember the steps that her mother had taught her long ago. She couldnít believe she was here, in the infamous Dance of Destiny. Women would wait all their lives to be standing in the same spot she was. All of them believing that their love would soon fall into their arms and destiny would be joined in one magical moment. Although she knows otherwise. How could anyone think of such a deceiving act as to fake true love? 

The crowd is hushed as the blindfolds are tied around the eyes of each woman. The room becomes dim, only a few torches lighting up the center stage. The dancing fire creates long swaying shadows on the back wall soon to become as hypnotizing as the music itself. Not even Armis could erect such a feeling throughout the room, not even with the most passionate story he could tell.  

The music begins to play. 

It starts out slowly, a single lyre piercing through the air. It builds as the sounds of drums begin to vibrate the floor, along with swift strokes of a harp. The dancers begin to sway back and forth, their arms sweeping gracefully above their heads and then expanding outwards as if they were the wings of a bird. The music comes alive with the sound of a womanís voice as it sings a story of love. 

Gabrielle could concentrate on nothing but the music. It moved her through each step, she didnít have to think at all. The darkness had become a song that guided her around the stage without worries or fears. 

The song calms until there is nothing left but the harp and the womanís voice. The dancers stop where they had first stood, and they wait. Gabrielle feels two hands rest upon her bare arms, gentle and warm; fingers slightly trembling against her skin. She runs her hands along her partner's arms, and places them atop the shoulders. There is a sudden warmth against her body as it is pressed into her partners, and they begin to sway together. She can feel the strength in the arms around her as they pull her in close, seeming like they never want to let go. A warm breath melts against her neck reminding her of the heat from a campfire on a cold night. The way it comforted and protected her, made her want to get closer. Like with Xena... knowing that if she tried to reach out and touch her those flames could easily burn her. 

Gabrielle rests her head up against her partnerís body and allows her to be rocked back and forth like a frightened child. She feels a hand lay on top of her head and it begins to lightly stroke her hair up and down. Suddenly, she feels a kiss on her neck sending her heart into a pounding rage. She arches her head backwards and allows the kisses to move upwards onto her face. They move closer and closer to their target, and suddenly they lock with the bardís lips. They kiss deeply, passion running through their tongues and their bodies. Hidden love unleashed, desire revealed as their lips press into each other never wanting to let go. 

The music stops. 

Gabrielle pulls away, her heart pounding within her chest. She feels the blindfold being untied from her eyes, and with a small tug it drops to the floor. Tears begin to roll onto her face, and for a brief moment she canít help but wonder if the blindfold had done something to her eyes. She reaches out and touches the face before her making sure it is real. 

"Xena..." Gabrielle whispers in disbelief. For a moment she could do nothing but stare into her endless blue eyes. How deep she could drift into them, captive in the warriorís world. Melting into her soul as destiny finally completes itself. Their love is set free. No more hiding, no more secrets, and no more pain. 

Xena pulls Gabrielle back into her arms and they hug for a long time. She was afraid to let her go, afraid that the love she was feeling would slip away and be lost for eternity. Everything she had loved in her life always seemed to be taken away, why not this? 

"Iíll never let anything take you away from me Gabrielle." Xena promises. 

"Nothing can separate one soul... Xena, you are my soulmate. I know it in my heart." Gabrielle smiles and then kisses Xenaís lips again.  

The building thunders with applause. Harmos and Armis turn to each other with huge grins on their faces. "I think this dance might not be so fake after all." Harmos says. "It looks to me like it did the trick." 

Armis shakes his head. "Definitely a tale to be told! Iíll make sure this story is heard throughout the world, inspiring people to follow their hearts and search out true love." 

_______________________

 

Later that night, Armis invites Gabrielle up onto the stage to close the festival with one last story. She remembers the one she wanted to sing to Xena two days ago, but didnít have the courage to.

"Where is my warrior tonight?
Warrior, can you feel my eyes?
Warrior, can you tell I lie?
Can you smell my fears,
can you taste my tears?
Whereís my warrior?"

"Where is my warrior tonight?
Warrior, can you be so blind?
Warrior, can you see my cry?
Do you wake up crying too,
cause my heart it bleeds for you.
Where is my warrior?"


 


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