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Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle are owned by MCA/Universal/Renaissance (ooo...Xena is gonna be furious when she finds out..hehe). This is written for non-profit entertainment only.
This is a short Thanksgiving story. Harvest celebrations, like Thanksgiving, are observed all over the world, and at heart are ancient in origin. This is a story of one of them. Hope you enjoy it.
"No," came the firm answer.
Gabrielle looked over at her companion. "No? As simple as that?" She waited patiently for an answer, but received only silence. OK..let's try this again, shall we?
The blond woman and her friend were seated at their evening's camp. Dinner had been caught and eaten. Dishes had been cleaned and stored away. Xena had completed her evening rituals of weapon inspection and honing. Gabrielle had written down a poem that she had thought up earlier. Now, in the cool evening's silence, the two had nothing to do but talk. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Xena had suddenly decided that speech was best left to others.
Gabrielle cleared her throat, after a few long minutes of quiet. "You know, Xena, it's usually considered good manners to answer someone when they speak to you," she pointed out.
Xena sighed and looked at her friend. "Look. This..time of year...is rather difficult for me."
"Why?" the bard asked softly.
The warrior leaned her head back and gazed at the huge orange full harvest moon that lay close to the tops of the trees. Orange...so dark...as if fires glowed on it's surface, she observed silently.
"Harvest time. You asked me if we could join in the festivities that the farmer, we passed earlier today, said would be starting tomorrow in Altia. You have no idea how hard that would be for me, Gabrielle." The warrior stopped, her voice low, almost a whisper.
Gabrielle frowned. Something..some memory from her past was torturing her friend. The bard was used to the signs by now. She didn't like hurting Xena, but she also knew that the warrior needed to get her feelings out. To many years of suppressing those feelings had made the warrior build a shell that was harder, thicker, and higher than any castle wall.
"You're right, I don't know. But I think you should tell me. I'd like to understand." Gabrielle replied simply as she poured herself another cup of tea and offered some to the dark-haired woman.
Xena shook her head at the offer and considered Gabrielle's words. She knows what you were, Xena. What she thinks you've left behind, but what you know you still are. Running a lean finger along one of the leather straps that made up her skirt, she started to talk.
"An army needs a lot to survive, Gabrielle. Weapons to replace broken or lost ones. Armor. Clothes. Money. Food. Any warlord worth his or her sword learns the best way to keep their men happy is to keep them alive and happy."
"Keeping them alive meant good tactics and strategies. Intelligence."
"I was very good at tactics and strategy, I could beat almost any force that outnumbered me, as long as I knew the ground and took advantage of it, and except for a few battles, I always won. Even then, I never really lost a battle. I might have lost most of my men and had to retreat, but I never fled."
"The same went for feeding my men. You can't live just off the land or pretty soon you'd strip it to nothing...not that it stopped me. But I knew that every year at this time a ready source of food was available." Xena paused a moment as visions of her dark past rose up out the depths of her mind.
"Your parents are farmers Gabrielle, tell me...what would happen if a warlord came every year just after your father had gathered in the crops and took everything except for the most meager amount your family needed to survive?" Ice blue eyes looked into moss green.
Gabrielle took a sip of her tea to calm her nerves. I had to make her talk about it didn't I? she admonished herself. Gabrielle's family had been lucky actually. Poteidaia was situated on rich land, but it was rare raiders had come to harass them. "We would have survived I supposed," she answered quietly.
Xena shook her head. "No. Every year, Gabrielle...like clockwork. Your hard earned crops taken to feed men that would as soon kill you as leer at you. Half of your livestock, butchered and cured on the spot for their winter feeding. The fruit of a years labor taken from your hands and put into another without payment or compensation. What would happen?" she asked again.
"Either the people would give up and move elsewhere or starve." The bard shivered slightly at the thought.
Xena nodded. "And if a warlord didn't just take the produce from one village, but a whole surrounding area for leagues around?"
Gabrielle thought about it for a moment then answered. "With no where to really go, they'd probably stay, try again, and pray."
"Exactly. And what would happen, Gabrielle, if one of those villages survived years of predation, to finally thrive again when the warlord was gone, only to have that same person come back....this time with no army?" Xena asked gently, her eyes suddenly soft and vulnerable.
The warrior shrugged her shoulders slightly. "I've stayed away from this area for a reason, Gabrielle. Altia? I don't remember the names...there are countless number of them. But the people stay the same, not moving, not changing, and always...always remembering."
"You're not the same person, Xena." Gabrielle looked deeply into her companion's eyes and tried to convey her conviction.
The vulnerability ceased to exist, as the blue eyes closed, then opened again showing only hardness. "They aren't the only ones who don't change and who always remember." Xena abruptly lay down and turned her back to her companion. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."
The bard sighed, obviously the conversation was over. Putting down her cup she lay down next to Xena, in her own bedroll. "Goodnight, Xena."
The day was clear and chill, the leaves had only just finished their journey to meet with the earth days ago. It was the time between colorful Fall and the sharp winds of an early Winter.
Gabrielle walked silently beside a stoic Xena, both keeping their thoughts to themselves, but for different reasons.
Xena's senses took in all the sounds, smells, and sights around her, but she did not see the beauty today, only the danger. They were close by the village, taking the long way around, and not using a road at all. The warrior wasn't afraid of these people, but she didn't want to put her friend in danger...and she didn't want to spoil the people's festivities by being noticed. That's all these people need, a reminder of how many have died over past years. Starved because I took the food out of their mouths and into my own.
The bard on the other hand could only think of her companion. As they walked in the woods, with a hill between them and the village, Gabrielle's heart sank with each step. How do I help her? I'm good with words, but this is different...she has to believe in herself and she doesn't. How do I...
Xena reached out an arm and grasped her shoulder. Gabrielle stopped and looked over at her.
"Smell that?" The warrior's eyes were off into the distance, her eyebrows low as she frowned.
Gabrielle breathed in through her nose deeply, wondering what she was supposed to smell. Clean air. Fresh fallen leaves. Rich soil. A lot of smoke...too much smoke?
"Something big is burning...damn. We need to go check it out, Gabrielle." Xena vaulted onto Argo and held out her hand, helping Gabrielle behind her. With a sharp cry to Argo, they were racing through the sparse woods toward Altia.
As they crested the hill Gabrielle gasped at what she saw. Raiders.
"About fifteen I'd say!," Xena shouted over her shoulder and drew her sword, making sure not to slice her companion.
Gabrielle reached down into the saddlebags carefully and got the pieces of her staff. She'd been practicing lately with Xena, assembling the stout wood while on horseback in varying speeds.
They sped down the hill only slowing down as they got closer to the center of the town, where a large barn was burning and the people had gathered for a feast, and where now they were ringed by the group of raiders.
"OK, Gabrielle. Get ready....NOW!!" Xena cried as she plunged Argo into a small group of men.
Gabrielle slid off the back of the war-horse with practiced ease and stepped to the side bringing up her staff and parrying a blow from one of the men that was momentarily unmounted. With a deft wrist she spun the staff back down and caught him with a double blow in the ribs. Seeing him fall and holding his cracked ribs, she grimaced and turned to another raider.
Xena and Argo pushed past into the midst of the group, knocking one of the men unconscious with the hilt of her sword and kicking another off his horse with a solid blow to his chest. As she entered the chaotic circle of nervous horses and surprised men, she went into a flurry of blows, each aimed to either knock unconscious or just debilitate a man. Like white water she moved, her sword and fist connecting then rebounding onto another target, flowing from one man to another in a potentially deadly dance.
Moments later, as the last man fell, she scanned around looking for any more opponents. Only finding Gabrielle, who at the moment knocked a fleeing raider from his mount into a stout post, and the cowering villagers, she forced herself to relax and control the rising bloodlust that she always had to fight against.
Gabrielle made sure the man was no longer a threat, then headed over to her friend, her eyes looking for any damage, and feeling the warrior's sweep over her in the same manner. Seeing no obvious injuries she looked around and spotting the villagers looking at them in awe and fear smiled gently.
"Well it looks as if we made it to Altia anyway," the bard said, grinning wryly.
Xena's lips quirked up minutely. "Yes...well. Let's get these guys tied up and let's get out of here before they recognize me, OK?"
Seeing a small group of the villagers start toward them hesitantly, the bard replied. "I think it might be too late for that." She motioned with her chin.
Raising an eyebrow the warrior followed her companion's gaze. Wonderful, she thought silently.
Seeing the warrior woman looking at them, but not making a move in hostility, the villagers straightened their spines a little and moved more briskly until they stood before the duo. One man, wearing the apron of a blacksmith and having the muscles and built to prove it, seemed to be the spokesman. Nodding at them politely, for which he received an odd look from the dark-haired woman, he spoke.
"We know who you are, warrior...but we aren't sure why? Is your army near?" he asked.
Xena scowled, then wiped any expression off her face when she saw the man step back in fear. "No. I don't have an army. I'm not here for anything, OK? In fact we were just going to bypass your town when we smelled the smoke." She gestured to the burning barn that some of the villagers were trying to keep contained. "I hope you didn't lose any stock?"
The group before her seemed surprised by the question, then suspicious. "Just raised the barn today. Nothing in it yet." The blacksmith paused a moment. "You're not here for the harvest?"
Gabrielle stepped forward. "No she's not. Xena gave up that life over two years ago. I'm surprised you haven't heard any stories."
The men shuffled their feet. "You can't believe everything you hear."
"Well, don't worry I'll be out of your hair in a few minutes. I assume you have a traveling judge that will come to sit on the trial for these...men? If not I suggest you send for someone from the closest town that has one." Xena said over her shoulder as she started to move from body to body, stripping them of their weapons and tying them up.
"Yes. We have our own judge...in fact.." the blacksmith paused, considering.
Xena stood up from securing the last raider and walked back to stand beside Gabrielle. "In fact I'm wanted for past crimes. Is that right?"
The blacksmith looked the woman in the eye. "I need to speak to the other elders a moment." He abruptly turned, leading the group far enough away to speak without being overheard, and close enough to keep on eye out on the women.
Gabrielle frowned. "I suppose you're going to give yourself up too?"
"You don't want me too?" Xena raised an eyebrow.
"I know..I know...you can't just decide which laws to obey and which one's not too. You'll give yourself up...but I really don't want you too. If I have to I'll bust you out like I did Meleger."
"No, you won't. I won't let..." Xena was interrupted as the elders came back. The bard fire had now been contained and the rest of the people were gathered around.
The blacksmith spoke up again for the people of Altia. "There is a warrant out for Xena the Warrior Princess. The warlord. The Destroyer of Nations..."
Xena grimaced and made to unbuckle her scabbard, ready to give herself up.
"But not for Xena the savior of Altia. In our eyes it's another person." The blacksmith's eyes twinkled gleefully at the stunned expression on the two women's faces, especially the warrior's. "'The past is past', is a local saying around here. Yes...we went through a lot of hardship because of you, but when we dealt honestly with you, you never hurt us or left us starving."
The big man shrugged. "Anyway..we have a festival going on right now, and if you're willing....?" he left the question open.
Xena closed her mouth with a snap and turned to Gabrielle. "Well? You said you wanted to come."
Gabrielle chuckled, her green eyes sparkling. "I won't say I told you so...but I will say one thing. You were wrong. People do remember...but they also change. That includes you."