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Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstory used in "The Choosing" are the sole property of Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction, but only to share a microscopic portion of the enjoyment and insight she has gained from this series.
This tale may not be sold and may be archived at public sites only with direct permission from the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.
These events occur after the 3rd season episode of XWP entitled "Forget Me Not".
"THE CHOOSING" is dedicated to those, like me, who find it hardest to forgive themselves. There is not much violence portrayed. There seems to have been sufficient of that already to have gotten us to this point.
"Why did you just walk away?" the girl demanded as she shook her head in deepening frustration. "Why didn't you even come inside Apollo’s Temple and at least pretend to support what I was trying to do?" As she stirred the embers of the now smoldering fire in her efforts to fend off the increasing chill, Gabrielle couldn't help but turn farther away from her silent companion.
Finally, the dark-haired woman looked up from clasped hands and sighed, holding back the increasing anxiety.
"Gabrielle, I thought we had already gone over this before. Why do you keep bringing these things up? How many times do I need to try and explain? You know I don't feel very comfortable even talking about stuff like this, much less discussing something I especially, umm, I really am.... uncertain about."
"You, Xena? You, the Warrior Princess, afraid of a little deep, meaningful conversation?"
The almost mocking tone was not missed by the older woman.
Xena looked up sharply, her brow angled in familiar warning. "I didn't say I was afraid, Gabrielle.." She hesitated, searching for the right words, " and even you have to admit that you and I have definitely had our share of "little, deep meaningful conversations.." She paused and then added almost under her breath, "especially lately."
At this dubious remark it was Gabrielle's turn to quickly glance up. Realizing that she was tempting Xena's already strained patience, she decided on a safer line of approach.
"Look Xena, " turning completely around to face her friend eye to eye. "Zeus only knows during the past few months you have been through, (a pause), I mean we've been through the gauntlet to Tartarus and back several times over. And all the suffering! I mean each of us has experienced more of a range and depth of emotions than either of us had considered possible. Even the furies can't deny that we have both been pushed by one thing or another beyond any limits we thought we could endure. Then timidly smiling up at her companion Gabrielle added, "And yet we still................."
At that moment both women were interrupted by a intense but melodic noise; a string of several high-pitched notes which unmistakably demanded their immediate attention. Xena's always instant reflexes had her up on her feet with lethal chakram in hand, searching for the next sign or sound of any danger. However, in this instance there was only complete stillness to greet her finely tuned senses. Just a lone crow could barely be seen sitting in a laurel tree in the distance, as the sun peacefully completed its setting. Everything seemed as it should in this campsite Xena has used since her youth. Nevertheless, the warrior's body remained on alert, as she couldn't quite quell the sensation that something was coming towards them.
Gabrielle started to loosen her stance, staff still at the ready, but waited for Xena to signal that it was safe to relax. The expected gesture didn't come and both friends stood back to back, scanning their surroundings for the slightest change or movement. Although to the bard it seemed like several candlemarks had passed, they didn't actually have that long to wait. Xena was the first to feel, rather than see, the strange mist crawling through the forest to the west of them. As the shimmering fog drew nearer, they both noticed their skin prickle as an involuntary numbness seemed to attach itself to their taut muscles. Even Xena began to feel a heaviness so intense that she had to lower her weapon for fear her arm would collapse from sheer fatigue She also noticed the wooden battle staff dropping to the ground between them. All the friends could manage to do was stare at the encroaching cloud, and wonder not if, but how much fear they should allow.
Gabrielle was the first to notice that Xena seemed to be getting further away from her, although her eyes told her that neither of them had moved an inch since being seemingly rooted in place. She kept trying to adjust her eyes in hopes they would validate the feeling that she was somehow drifting away from Xena. That little by little she was losing that ever present bond of her friend's protective nearness, which she had grown so accustomed to. It was as if her best friend was being taken away from her, almost torn from her. She wanted to cry out, to reach for Xena's hand, to do anything but what she apparently was confined to do--- to remain powerless; watching, thinking, and worst of all, still able to feel the isolating sense of loss.
Of course Xena immediately noticed the distancing she felt from her bard, and exerted all her formidable will and strength to break free from whatever it was that held her. She refused to admit defeat, especially when it came to anything affecting the safety of Gabrielle. But, as of now she had no choice. She wanted to curse aloud at the maddening confinement, but couldn't even move her mouth for that token resistance. Finally, she turned all her attention to what was left to her. Xena focused every muscle, every thought, every sense she was capable of toward examining and ultimately overcoming the reality of what was happening. By now, Gabrielle seemed very far away, entirely out of her physical and emotional reach. That was probably the most difficult limitation of all--not being able to offer her friend even the slightest act of encouragement or comfort. There was nothing Xena hated more than to feel completely, utterly helpless.
Gabrielle, exhausted in her efforts to repulse this unknown force, had about given up hope of anything breaking through, when she suddenly became aware of a soft, rushing sound, almost like a calming whisper.
"Fear not, little one."
Gabrielle tried to focus her eyes more clearly ..Where was that voice coming from?
"This separation from your friend, this necessary "evil" that you obviously both find so painful, will not last long. That is, at least not this time.."
At this portentous thought Gabrielle tried to swallow, to catch her breath, to just glance in Xena's direction, but found she was unable to control these most simple of reflexes. It seemed that whatever it was that was holding her so motionless, wanted her complete and undivided attention..
The soft words continued. "I know you are bursting to speak, young one, for you are quite talkative, even for a bard." At this the voice seemed to rise in slight amusement.
"But first, you must LISTEN. Listen well so that you understand. It is vital that you completely comprehend what you are about to hear. Will you try, Gabrielle, to concentrate upon the meaning of my message?"
At first Gabrielle thought she wouldn't be able to respond to the question, but was surprised to find that she could barely move her head up and down in order to nod, Yes, in reply.
"Very well. Now, believe it or not, faithful bard, this is for both your and Xena's greater good. Incredibly, even against overwhelming odds, you both have survived the many trials and tests of your friendship. However, the most difficult challenge has yet to come."
At this Gabrielle found herself just able to shake her head in a defiant "NO!"...
"Yes, I'm afraid that there is no other way. No other path that will take you both where you must go. Now the key to your success, your hope, and yes, even your lives, Gabrielle, is this. I know you think you understand about forgiveness. What it is, why its important, and who to include. But you will discover in time, my dear, that forgiveness is not only a part of everything you do, and have done, but it is also the key to your destiny as well as to Xena's. You need to ask yourself, have you really forgiven all those who have caused you pain?"
The voice paused as if to allow her a moment to consider, and then tenderly added, "Don't forget to consider your friends, Gabrielle. Have you completely forgiven Xena? Do you feel she has entirely forgiven you? All these issues are important, but as you go forward to what awaits, remember this .......You alone will decide the outcome."
As these last words were said nearest her ear, Gabrielle noticed a warming sensation beginning at the back of her neck radiating outward. As she felt a heating throughout her body, she couldn't help but collapse into a welcome blanket of release and refreshing rest..
"Xena, Warrior Princess, do you hear me?"
Her alert senses could hear the voice, but couldn't decide its origins.
"Xena, stop struggling against me and hear what I am about to tell you!"
The Warrior fought to quell her growing rage at being held so impotent. Finally, through total focus and finely honed self-discipline Xena was able to quiet her heart and open her ears to hear what paradoxically seemed to be only a still, small voice--small, but piercing and unmistakable.
"Noble woman, your concern for your friend is admirable, but not necessary. She is well, and will not be harmed."
Xena hearkened to her instincts, which assured her that, even though it seemed to be against all logic (not to mention her distrustful nature), she knew she could believe the words of this unknown being .
"I need your singular attention Xena, and am well aware of how often you are torn and distracted by so many warring voices. I speak not only of your inner demons, but of those who offer their outward opinions and influences as well."
Xena puzzled over this statement for a moment and decided to file it away for further reflection.
"You are a child of great promise, favored of the gods, who must choose whether or not to walk in high places until your life's path finds it rightful ending. You have been blessed with a great ally in this quest for inner peace, but the strength of this friendship also may lead to your greatest failure. "
Xena sharpened her gaze and tried to protest, to speak.
"No, don't try to talk" (Did she hear a soft chuckle?). "You should feel comfortable, Honorable Warrior, being at a "loss" for words like this, but I do understand your need. However, it is not yet time for you to react. You must first look inside yourself. Have you truly put aside what you must, and release all the wrongs of others from your heart? It is true that the most painful words are often the ones left unspoken. You must first know that what is coming towards you and Gabrielle, no matter how many skills you may have, could still be more powerful than you both. That is unless you ...................."
At this point the words seemed to penetrate inside her head and enter her mind to form a visible picture. What was then said seemed cryptic, even to Xena , who had been occasionally known to converse in riddles herself. She tried to concentrate but found the effort to be beyond even her considerable abilities.
As the final words echoed away, she could feel herself falling limply into an invitingly heated pool of light.
Xena was the first to awaken. Her head snapped up as she struggled to make sense of the fading images in her brain. She demanded that her eyes clear and orient her to her present surroundings. She was relieved to find herself next to a glowing fire, with Gabrielle lying just out of reach on the other side of the flames. The little blonde appeared to be quite comfortable, and Xena was surprised to hear even an occasional snore emanating from that direction. She had to smile to herself. No matter what seemed to be happening to them, she had no doubt that her friend would still find some moments to visit Morpheus, and also to enjoy a full-fledged feast or two in-between crises.
Once assured of Gabrielle's security, Xena's mind automatically returned to the task of trying to make sense out of what had just occurred. She quickly reviewed the events in their proper order and time frame. Then she began to run through her usual checklist to analyze any new situation.
"No, there was no apparent cause or trigger right before everything happened.
No, she didn't know what force had kept them immobile.
No, she had no idea who or what was behind any of this. Especially, whose voice, if you could accurately call it a voice, that they had been compelled to hear.
But before she discounted this last point, she did make a mental note of asking Gabrielle if she had any ideas, having learned from bitter sweet experience to acknowledge the bard's input as well as her unique view of the world of mythical figures and legends.
No, she didn't understand the purpose of what happened or of what was said to her, except that it was a caution about something in the future, something that would come to both of them and had the capacity to be either devastating or beneficial. Her instincts told her this was a warning not to be taken lightly and that all that which was spoken should be carefully considered. But she was especially confused by the very last words she remembered. Xena's thoughts were interrupted by the motion across from her as Gabrielle suddenly sat up, looking around frantically for her friend's presence. Xena immediately stood up and in less than two strides was able to kneel closely beside her and offer a reassuring arm.
"Oh Xena, I felt so far away from you. It was awful, not being able to call to you, to move, to reach you. I was so helpless, and, and......." choking back a sob, tears started to come down Gabrielle's cheeks.
Xena pulled her nearer and even though she had felt exactly as her friend had described, she envied Gabrielle's ability to release her emotions; whereas Xena, Warrior Princess, seemed to be condemned to always turn them inward and suffer alone.
The morning's dawn found the companions asleep once again, after having spent the long night sharing what had happened to each of them during their "separation". The intensity of their emotions, concerns and efforts to make sense of it all had eventually exhausted them. Xena's sleep was fitful, which was not unusual for the nightmare plagued warrior. In-between bouts of dream-filled sleep she would find herself staring into the sky, turning everything over and over once again to try and get a new insight, a better perspective than what she had already come up with. She still felt that she was missing something, something important..
Gabrielle stirred and rubbed her eyes, which felt like they were filled with sand. "Xena, are you up?"
"Yes, Gabrielle, but I'm surprised you are--especially since being an "early bird" isn't your usual style."
"Ha, ha, ha very funny. Actually, my hawk-like warrior, my stomach is the reason I've decided to temporarily change my "style" as you call it. And a bird, a pheasant actually, sounds pretty good right about now. You know we missed dinner last night when we were so rudely interrupted by that shining cloud-thing, and now I'm really STARVED!"
Xena couldn't help but feel relieved that at least Gabrielle's appetite was back to normal. "Well, I'm glad to see that what happened didn't shake you up too badly. I'll see what I can do about the menu for this morning."
As Xena went into the woods to procure the main course for their breakfast, Gabrielle threw some more logs on the fire and laid out their cooking gear. Her mind did not stay on her chores for long, however, as the questions that the voice had posed repeated themselves in her head.
'Hmmm, have I truly forgiven those who have hurt my life? Well, that must include Callisto for sure.' Had she forgiven Callisto for killing her dear Perdicus only one day after they were married? (And realistically, can anyone ever get to the point where they can totally forget something like that?) To be honest, she still thought about that day, and her body reacted with the same horror and sense of despair. However, it had gotten a little less painful as each moon's cycle had gone by, and now she realized she could actually think about those events without the cold sweat and choking hatred crashing down upon her spirit.
Then there was Khrafstar, the lying hypocrite, whom she had innocently trusted as he had led her to that evil alter, while tricking her into killing Meridian, and then ultimately to being implanted with Dahok's child. The loss of blood innocence and violation of all she held inviolate, eventually resulted in her being betrayed by her own maternal instincts and in her tragic execution of that child.............her child..........
She felt a shiver as these memories surfaced, still aching as if from a fresh wound. With the pain so recent, time hadn't allowed much healing. She knew in her heart the bitterness was gone now, but how could she adequately describe what was left? What remained to fill the holes in her soul: the mourning for the loss of innocence, the betrayal of trust, the damage done to psyche and image of self. Not to mention, of course, all the guilt. And the burden of this alone was almost too much to bear at times, without even considering what had happened in the Kingdom of Chin. .She knew that she hadn't finished paying the price for that particular choice either, and that the final accounting for her giving into the insecurity of jealousy would be costly indeed. And then, obviously, there was Xena and what happened before and in Illusia to consider."
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled to warn her friend that two birds were on their way into her lap to provide their morning meal.
Gabrielle ducked just in time to keep from getting smacked in the face with quail feathers.
"Sorry , there were no pheasants around here. Will quail do?" Xena smiled as she realized she had caught the bard daydreaming again. "So what are you thinking about?"
Gabrielle wasn't sure she wanted to start another deep discussion before breakfast, so she just shrugged and changed the subject. "You know, Xena, I was thinking that maybe we should try and stay out of harm's way for awhile. Since you know this countryside around here so well, maybe we could head for some safer place to ride out whatever it is that will be threatening us?"
Xena looked at the bard for a moment to see how serious she really was about this idea and then walked over to put a supportive arm on her shoulder. "Gabrielle, I understand that what happened yesterday was very upsetting and I know how hard it is for both of us to just sit around and wait for this "thing", whatever it is, to happen. "
('And you better than anyone else knows, she thought, that patience is NOT my strong suit.') "But I honestly think that right now the best plan is to just go ahead one day at a time and take things as they come. What do you think?"
Gabrielle nodded reluctantly and turned to resume their food preparations. Xena knew that they both needed more opportunity to sort out exactly how they were feeling about everything and decided there was no time like the present.
"I'll go check on Argo and be back in a bit," she said over her shoulder as she headed for the clearing where she had stabled the palomino.
The bard was taste testing her efforts to get the herbs just right and barely managed to mumble with a full mouth, "All right, but don't be too long. Breakfast won't wait forever and neither will I."
As Xena began to rub down the appreciative Argo, her mind was irresistibly drawn back to the troubling words the voice had spoken. He had talked about forgiveness.
'Well,' Xena thought with a warm glance in the direction of their campsite, ' if there is one thing I have learned is that forgiveness is not only an attitude, but a way of life itself.' Granted she knew she had a long way to go on that particular trail.
Take for instance her feelings about Cortese... or Caesar. However, when they had been in Rome last month hadn't she made some progress in breaking away from the chains of hate with which he had imprisoned her so long ago?
On the other hand, whatever the ties were that had so securely bound her to Ares, they had consistently proven to be more difficult for Xena to escape from. The soulless God of War seemed to persistently interfere and disrupt her life, doing everything he could to destroy her resistance and bring her back to his service.
'Everyone knows it is much harder to forgive an enemy who is still hurting you, isn't it?' the warrior reasoned somewhat defensively. 'And how do you forget about someone who actually tried to get you to kill your own mother?'
Xena knew from her damaged past that some pain and nightmares never completely went away, and although the pain may dull, the memories fade, they would always be there. But on a more positive note, the Warrior had been pleasantly surprised at how she had found it within herself to forgive Gabrielle for her betrayal to Ming Tien. She was also proud that she had been able to overcome the consuming hatred of those who had had a part in her beloved son, Solan's, death. In her now unchained heart, Xena knew that the biggest challenge that still remained was for her to forgive herself, including all the wrong choices, the harming of innocents, the lives corrupted because of her influence, and especially, how to forgive her most recent transgressions------the shameful deceit and vengeful treatment of her beloved best friend. If she had only chosen differently............
Xena shook her head in self-disgust. 'But how much remorse can one person bear?' Perhaps she could try to remember the small victories, those moments when she had actually triumphed over her devilish gut and listened to the more angelic impulses of her heart?
These thoughts were almost too overwhelming for even a warrior to deal with, and Xena, although increasingly humbled by her latest experiences with Gabrielle, still was not ready to verbalize more than she already had. She was deeply convinced in her heart that some pain was beyond the power of words.........and tears.
The smell of well-cooked fish called Xena from her thoughts and Argo nickered in gratitude as Xena headed back to join her friend. As she re-entered the clearing she noticed the sound of running feet heard off to her left. Turning to face this new threat, she was just in time to catch a collapsing woman in her arms.
At first the woman could only pant and gulp in large amounts of the air that her body was so obviously lacking. Xena, fully into her healer mode, quickly assessed that the danger was minimal at worst and pulled the exhausted body over to the nearest tree to rest against.
Carefully cleaning the beads of sweat off her forehead and brushing back the perspiration soaked hair, Xena was stunned as she recognized the face of a long lost friend. " Flora! What in Hades are you doing here?"
The girl was able to slow her breathing enough to grunt out a reply. "Hello, Xena. I thought I might find you around this place." Her efforts at a smile were lost on the warrior, as Xena quickly looked around for the dependable help of her companion.
"Gabri..." Suddenly a voice behind her interrupted her call..
"I'm right here, Xena. So what is going on now?" Gabrielle looked down at the reclining figure and then gasped as she too recognized the girl;
"Well, it looks like we are having an unexpected visit from the "Black Wolf." After hearing her code name from her freedom fighting days, Flora made a concerted effort to sit up straighter and address the two woman, who were obviously not only worried about her condition, but also waiting for an explanation. She decided to be direct, no matter how difficult she knew this was going to be.
"Xena, I came because, because, your......." She had to look away, "because your mother is dying!."
Both the warrior and the bard stood in shocked silence at this sudden revelation. Neither woman knew how to react and both secretly hoped they had been transported somehow by a dreamworker's spell, so that they could mercifully wake up from this day that had so cruelly turned into a horrible nightmare.
Xena was the first to speak. Taking Flora firmly by both shoulders she deliberately maintained a controlled tone as she demanded, "Tell me exactly what it is that has happened, about my mother's condition, I mean."
Flora struggled to sit up more directly and tried to look her friend, her childhood hero, directly in the eye as she explained. "Xena, it all happened so fast, no one is sure when it actually began. Last week, while I was home visiting my family, your mother, Cyrene, was working in the tavern and a stranger appeared among her regular customers. According to the other patrons, she offered him the usual tankard of wine, which he refused. He then mysteriously warned her that what was about to happen was nothing personal, but was inevitable and had to be. Less than a candlemark after he left, your mother was found collapsed over a counter in the back storage room, apparently suffering from some sudden pains in her heart."
Feeling a bit stronger, Flora reached for the warrior's arm. She continued, "Toris and my mother immediately confined Cyrene to bed, but her condition steadily worsened. The healer was called in but concluded that nothing more could be done and that this seemed to be in the hands of the gods. Yesterday your mother lapsed into some kind of delirium, Xena. She started calling out your name. "
At this point Flora managed to reach up and gently brush Xena's cheek. "I have been running all night to reach you...... They say she has less than a few days left."
Xena's heart grew chill at this solemn pronouncement. Gathering all her reserves of stoic, single-minded purpose, she refused to give in to the threatening waves of fear and grief. Turning to the two younger women she calmly directed, "Let's pack everything up and be out of here in the next few minutes. I'll go get Argo ready."
Gabrielle's first reaction, of course, was to go with her best friend, her adopted sister, and comfort her. But one look in the hardening steel blue eyes warned her that now was not the time. Later she would try and break through the walls that Xena was so quickly building to protect her vulnerable, breaking heart.
Insisting that Flora ride Argo, Xena and Gabrielle pushed themselves to their limits to reach Amphipolis just before sunset. Toris was waiting outside for them and ran to hug Xena in his arms as soon as they entered the town. Xena's back remained stiff, however, and he belatedly realized that this was not the best time for such displays of emotion---at least not in his sister's eyes.
He stepped back respectfully and reported, "Mother has had a few coherent moments this evening and she has been calling for you." Not knowing what else to say as he recognized Xena's valiant efforts to hold herself together, Toris firmly took her hand and lead her into the back bedroom. Gabrielle and Flora looked at each other and with one glance communicated their unanimous decision to remain outside.
"Mother? Xena, your daughter, is here. Mother??"
Even in the darkened room Xena could make out the shape of her parent's bed and slowly walked toward it. "Mother?" Xena tenderly called....and waited.
There was a stirring and then Cyrene turned towards the face of the prodigal child. "Oh Xena, I'm so glad you're here." The voice was barely audible, but Xena leaned down as close as she dared to her chest to listen to what could be the last words she would ever hear from her mother.
The dying woman struggled to be heard and to be understood. She was after all Xena's mother, and shared some of her same unyielding resolve and stubborn refusal to give up, even when facing unbeatable odds. "My dearest Xena," She paused as if to gather any remaining strength. and then barely whispered, "Please, forgive me. "
Xena leaned nearer, thinking she had not heard her mother clearly.
"Can you forgive me for not accepting you completely and for turning away from you after Lyceus's death?"
This question caught Xena totally by surprise and the well practiced control almost slipped. She couldn't help but gasp, 'But Mother, it is I who should ask your forgiveness. I'm the one who talked everyone into defending our village and it's my fault that my brother was killed!"
Cyrene took Xena's hand. It was surprising how firm her grip was considering how feeble she had become. "No, Xena , no! There is nothing left to forgive. I understand so much better now. Ever since you were a small child and your father left us, you have always been the first to blame yourself for everything. Lyceus wanted to defend us, to fight by your side. It was his choice and he died doing what he believed in. Is there any better cause to die for than one you've given your whole heart and soul?" Her mother's shallow breaths were coming very slowly now, and Xena could tell that each one was more painful than the last. "Please, before I die."
Xena interrupted, "You're not going to die, Mother."
"Yes, Xena, it seems to be what the gods have willed." Faintly squeezing her daughter's hand she whispered, "I don't want my life to end, but I am not afraid to die." Cyrene halted as if unsure of whether to she could or should continue. "But I will tell you what I am afraid of. I fear that if I go to the other side and if something were to happen to Gabrielle, that your relentless self-condemnation and guilt, which has only gotten worse over time, will eat at your soul until you have no soul left!"
With this last confession, Xena's mother laid her head back into her pillow and sank almost gratefully into unconsciousness.
Xena leaned over and determinedly checked each vital sign, every physical symptom she could find, but could diagnose nothing which she could treat. Finally, she just starred down at her mother's hand clasping her own and still could not, would not let the tears come--- tears for this woman, this intimate stranger who in many ways she barely knew. Mechanically she folded her mother's arms on her breast and walked outside to join the others.
Gabrielle was the first to reach her. "Xena, what happened? Did she say anything? How are you?" Looking at her friend's body language, she intuitively knew the answers to all her questions. She could tell her friend was suffering from more internal pain than any mere physical wound could ever inflict.
"Oh , Xena, I am so sorry, so very very sorry. I wish there was something I could do, anything I could do for you." Toris and Flora lingered uncertainly in the background, sharing the same sense of helplessness that Gabrielle had expressed.
Xena wouldn't even look any of them in the eye, but turned deliberately and walked away to the woods in the hills above her village.........the mask of the warrior still carefully in place.
The bard couldn't leave things like this of course, and as soon as she entered the tavern and gathered the information she needed, put a sympathetic hand on Toris' shoulder and told Flora where she was headed, she was hot on the warrior's trail. Xena had the head start and longer stride, as always, but Gabrielle's determination tended to make up for any temporary physical limitations. Once she reached the woods, it was only a few minutes before she spotted Xena, or rather heard her, viciously attacking a poor defenseless laurel tree for all she was worth. Shorn and shredded limbs covered the ground around her but didn't seem to impede her efforts to slice and dice the mighty tree into tiny pieces of tender. She just watched her friend for a time, understanding that this was Xena's preferred method of dealing with emotional wounds. Nevertheless, she resolved within herself that she would find a way to reach her friend and help her deal with the pain, knowing from personal experience that buried feelings never die.
As Gabrielle remained undecided on the best way to approach her, she realized that it was very unusual for Xena not to have already sensed that she was nearby. She started to walk over and announce her presence, so as to not startle the warrior in the midst of this frustrated frenzy, when she noticed a cloaked figure approaching from the opposite direction.
"Stop it, Xena!" The words seemed to vibrate off the trees and had an innate power to them which commanded unquestioned obedience.
Surprisingly, Xena halted her arm in mid-strike and looked in the direction of the stranger. "If you know what's good for you, you'd better get as far from here as you can. THIS INSTANT!!!" Xena growled.
"Xena, Xena, so soon we remember nothing. Did you forget the promise you made to Gabrielle by that campfire so many months ago? And what about your latest resolve to let love be you guide from now on?"
Xena and Gabrielle both stared at the man who somehow knew the unknowable about them. Gabrielle couldn't help admiring the man's obvious courage in facing down the warrior in the midst of one of her rages.
"How do you .....?" Gabrielle blurted out as she interrupted the stranger's dialogue.
"Never mind that, little bard. What's important is what are we going to do about things right now?" He paused and glanced at the barely recognizable tree." And we'd better do it quickly, before your warrior friend here totally destroys this beautiful creation of the gods. Don't you think?"
Xena's mind began to regain some order after this temporary deviation from her usual restraint, and she realized that there was something about this man that seemed to feel familiar. She turned to face him squarely and started to approach.
"Ah, ah, ah. Let's keep our distance for the time being, shall we? I have a proposal for you that you may both be interested in, and which may help "heal" the current situation."
As the implications of what he was saying hit both women, Xena and Gabrielle carefully looked at each other, recognizing the mutual distress in each other's eyes, and chose to remain silent.
Facing both friends directly, the voice continued, "No, don't look upon me as a savior from your problems---that lies solely in your competent hands. But there is a way, only one way, in which Xena's mother can be restored to full health."
At this bold statement both women began to protest in outrage "Who are you and how DARE YOU come and speak of making deals for my mother's life! " Xena exploded.
"Just who do you think you are anyway, a god or something?" Gabrielle demanded..
"Ladies, ladies, please. Give me a chance to finish. As I was about to explain, there is one way left to you. To either of you, or both of you, to save Cyrene."
Xena was pacing now like a caged minotaur, and looked up unbelievingly and sneered, "Yeah sure, and just what is that?"
The man first offered a patient smile and continued. "You have a choice to make."
"Exactly what kind of a choice are you talking about?" Gabrielle asked in an almost normal tone of voice.
The man still remained partially hidden by his cloak as he moved confidently toward them. "As with most of life's "decisions" this one will depend totally upon the strength of character that lies within you."
He looked slowly and deliberately at both woman, who had halted their pacing and now unconsciously gravitated nearer to each other.
"Either one or both of you must make the final choice. It will be up to you how you reach that conclusion."
.After a long dramatic pause he explained. "In order to save Cyrene's life, you must first agree to change one event that has already occurred in your past. It may be in your individual past, before your paths merged as one, or it may be something that happened after you decided to continue this mortal journey together."
The friends looked at each other in momentary confusion. Xena was the first to ask suspiciously, "Are there any hidden catches or conditions attached to this "offer"?"
The stranger knowingly nodded acknowledgment at the expected question.
"Just one caution. When choosing, you must necessarily consider every future development that was related to that specific event, and be aware of all the impact if that particular history were .....rewritten. This is vital because there is NO turning back once the decision has been made."
By this time Gabrielle was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by all she had gone through the last two days and primarily wanted the man to leave them alone. But Xena had one more crucial question.
"Is there a time limit in which we have to make this "choice"?"
"Ah, my dear skeptical warrior. You will soon understand that I am not trying to trick you in any way." He shook his head in resignation at something and then added as if thinking aloud, "Yes, a deadline just might prove to be the catalyst we need here."
Then looking back at both friends he spoke more loudly, "Yes, Cyrene will have one more rising and setting of the sun before she passes over to the other side. You have until then to agree upon your "selection." "
Gabrielle belatedly decided to speak up with a few queries she'd had of her own, when the man abruptly turned and walked away, concluding over his shoulder, "Until then, my brave ones."
When the stranger left, both women seemed unsure as to what, if anything, to do next. Even Gabrielle was at a loss for words and Xena's brain cells were so close to overload that she dare not add any more stimulus or felt her head would surely explode. By silent consent they began heading back towards Amphipolis, walking as slowly as would still allow some pretense of movement. At last Gabrielle spoke up.
"Xena, what do you think about all this? I mean maybe I should ask how do you feel, but I know how its easier for you to put your thoughts into words at times like these. Do you think we should believe him?"
It took quite a few moments for the warrior to carefully weigh her words. "I don't know for sure yet, but I do sense that he is speaking only the truth."
"You know Xena, I tried, but I couldn't feel any darkness in him." Then Gabrielle hesitated, remembering how easily she had been mislead by her naivet‚ in the past. "But I don't know if I can really believe he has any special medicine or ability to cure Cyrene. I mean, we didn't see him demonstrate any extraordinary powers or anything, really."
Xena stopped and looked searchingly in the bard's eyes. "We both know, Gabrielle, that some things are true, even if you can't see them or don't believe in them. I guess its a question of trusting in blind faith sometimes."
"Yes, I know Xena, and I understand how much you must want to grab onto any life raft there is out there for your mother. It's so very important to hold onto any source of hope you can find right now, especially when everything else seems so bleak But this offer or whatever it is. Exactly how can we---how should we decide on what to change from our past?"
"Ah, now that's the million dinar question, isn't it? And as for the answer, well, he said we have until tomorrow night. Maybe things will become clearer as we talk about this over dinner. Then she smiled faintly at the younger woman. "That was your stomach I heard rumbling back there a few minutes ago, wasn't it?"
"Xena! How can you think about food at a time like this? "
Xena turned and placed a steady hand on the bard's shoulder. "Gabrielle, I, probably more than anyone else recognize the seriousness....." The warrior couldn't help but release a sad sigh as she paused.
"I mean I do feel the gravity of what's happening here." Looking into her friend's eyes she pleaded for understanding. "You know me, and you know what this is doing to me. More than anything, I wish I had the power to fix it and make everything all right. But, no matter how many skills I may have, how defiantly I fight it, no matter how much I may want to, I can't make this all better!"
Gabrielle sensed her friend was resisting a powerful urge to put her fist through the nearest tree, but instead she was surprised by her companion's next words.
As though ashamed of some great weakness, Xena quietly admitted, "I can't heal my mother." At this last statement the warrior looked down at the ground in a tremendous effort to maintain her weakening composure. After a few struggling moments she looked Gabrielle in the eye and resumed. "We need to keep our strength up, both mentally, emotionally, and yes, physically too, in order to give our best to this."
Xena then softly added, "My mother deserves no less."
With this apparent impasse to their conversation, the friends continued side by side out of the forest.
They sat around the table late into the night, and in spite of their good intentions most of the food Flora had prepared remained untouched. As dawn started to approach Toris arose and with a discouraged demeanor, walked to the fireplace. "So there was nothing else, no other clue this cloaked man told you. Something you're forgetting, perhaps?"
Xena looked at her older brother in patient indulgence. "No, I wish there was, but we've told you everything we know. We don't know who he is and couldn't see him very clearly."
"Wait! wait!" Gabrielle blurted out suddenly more awake than she had been all night. "When I had asked some of the customers yesterday about the person who had first come here with that message, they said that no one noticed anything unusual, except that he did have a tight-fitting cloak on."
Xena responded cautiously, "Well, lots of people have cloaks, Gabrielle, especially when they're passing through a village like this one. Many people don't want to be recognized for one reason or another."
"Yes, but not everyone uses it the same way to hide their appearance. The stable boy noticed that he had wrapped it around his head tightly, but had caught a glimpse when he walked out the door and a part of it blew open. The boy was surprised that inside it seemed to shine with some kind of brilliant yellow lining."
"Well, I do remember in the woods how he kept clasping his hood more closely so we wouldn't see his features. But I don't recall seeing any yellow fabric or anything." Then looking at her friend she encouragingly added, "But its something we do need to keep in mind to add to the other pieces of this puzzle. Right now I think we need to focus on the choice we are supposed to make. Glancing with concern at the rising sun, Xena reminded them, "We only have until tonight, if what he said is true."
Flora finally spoke up and said, "Even though I'd do anything to help Cyrene, don't you think that since he directed all this at you and Gabrielle, that you two are the only ones who have the right to make this decision? Xena, you know you are a skilled problem solver, and I remember well the lesson about trust you taught me in Xerxes' dungeon. I think its time you both have faith in youselves to determine the best course here."
The friends looked at each other and no one knew any argument against her sensible reasoning. Following more supportive comments and some awkward excuses, it didn't take long for Toris and Flora to leave the warrior and bard alone in the tavern kitchen. At long last it was time for the critical discussion to begin.
Gabrielle was the first to speak. "Xena, I think that you should be the one to decide on what to erase, since its your mother whose life is at stake here."
Xena looked warmly at her friend. "You know, I kind of thought you might say that, so I already have an answer for you. Remember what the stranger said when he began that it could be either or both of our choices? ......Well, I think that if nothing else, our past has proven that we have always done better when we do things TOGETHER!"
Gabrielle reached over and lightly touched Xena's hand in appreciation. "So, we do this together, right?"
"Right!" Xena then sat back in her chair and stretched her long legs. "The first thing we need to do is list all the events that might be good candidates for "deletion". Silence followed as neither woman was sure they wanted to be the first to suggest something.
At last Gabrielle cautiously offered, "Well, what about getting rid of Callisto? I mean not her exactly, but about your destroying her village of Cirra and everything."
Xena nodded approvingly, "Yeah, I thought about that one first too. It might actually even help both of us at the same time. But we need to remember the warning he told us about as well. What consequences or later actions would also disappear if we eliminated my army's attack on Cirra?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment then said, "I suppose that Callisto would have grown up "normally" whatever that means, and at least she wouldn't have had it in for us particularly, and tried to destroy you! " Then counting off on her fingers she added, "And, all those innocent villagers wouldn't have been killed, and you wouldn't have almost died from that poisoned dart, and I wouldn't have been taken prisoner by her, and you wouldn't have put her in jail, and she wouldn't have escaped and, and ....." Gabrielle became more somber. "And, she wouldn't have killed Perdicus." At that thought she became quite still, and Xena got up and moved her chair closer.
More softly now, she continued, "That's right Gabrielle, she wouldn't have killed Perdicus. Which means you'd probably still be married to him now. And it also means we probably wouldn't have met Joxer, and even though I know how sometimes we think he's a headache, he's still proven himself a very kind and loyal friend." Gabrielle reluctantly nodded in agreement. Then Xena teasingly said, "And you wouldn't have gotten to impersonate me and make friends with Argo." At that remark, Gabrielle tossed the nearest towel at her friend's head.
"But seriously, Gabrielle. if we change that, we also change everything that happened that she was involved with, like beating Velasca and saving Ephiny and the Amazon nation. Remember she was immortal and I don't think I could have done it without Callisto's "assistance", unfortunately. And since you would still have been with Perdicus, that means everything that has happened to the two of us since then, wouldn't have been. We wouldn't have been together, and all the good we have been able to do wouldn't have been accomplished either. At least not by us---no Senticles, no Meleager, no Ulysses, no saving Athens from the Horde or from the Persians, no stopping Ares and his warlords........and, and who knows how much good would not have occurrred that was later done by all those people we saved. It's like trying to predict all those ripples caused by throwing that stone into the lake.........."
Both friends minds were whirling and they came to the same harsh realization at how complicated tinkering with the past could be.
However, Gabrielle wasn't ready to let it go. "Yeah, Xena, but what about her helping Hope and, and, what happened to Solan?"
A slight shadow passed over Xena's face, but her voice remained reflective. "I think I'm beginning to understand that life is too short to burden yourself with that kind of bitterness .......and sorrow. They are a far heavier load to bear in our heart than if we could carry them on our backs. We somehow have to face our fears, our hatred, and not be paralyzed by those memories."
The warrior had to look away in order to confront this war within herself. "I've tried to hide my painful feelings because in the past I've had to. It's much easier to just direct it all into anger, because that's familiar territory." Then turning back to her friend with renewed conviction she affirmed, "But now I know that's not right."
Taking both Gabrielle's shoulders in her hands she was emphatic, "Gabrielle, we need to be able to make this decision not based on our pain or our loss--but based on our love. Some things we just have to learn to live with. It's not a selfish thing to try and accept what's taken place in the past and appreciate what we now have. Are we willing to gamble all the significant good that's happened in an attempt to reduce some of our personal suffering?"
This mental maze the women seemed to be going through was taking its toll. As Gabrielle laid her head down to rest on the table in exhausted confusion, Xena decided it was necessary to boost their resources. "Let's go upstairs and try to get a little rest. Maybe we will be able to come up with a better idea."
Gabrielle turned her face toward's her friend and protested, "But Xena, we only have what's left of today to decide something. We can't just do nothing! We have to come up with a choice or I'm afraid what will happen to Cyrene."
The older woman sighed, "Yes, I know, but if our brains and bodies are fatigued, we can't do much good for my mother or anyone else, can we?"
Gabrielle tried to suppress a yawn. "I suppose you are right, but we can't sleep for very long."
After checking once again and finding her mother's condition still unchanged, Xena took her arm and started to guide the bard up the stairs. "Don't worry, I'll be sure we're both awake in plenty of time."
As the women collapsed on the sleeping pallets, Gabrielle tentatively proposed one more idea. "Xena, what about if we never went to Britannia in the first place?"
Xena had begun to allow herself to drift off, but this suggestion got her juices working again. "Well, let's see. If we hadn't gone to the island then Boadicea probably would have lost everything to Caesar. But, you wouldn't have been captured by the Romans, you wouldn't have been in Dahok's vile temple, or had to stab Meridian, and you wouldn't have had to go through all those nightmares, all that agony, and, and..........."
"No Hope." Gabrielle concluded with surprisingly mixed emotions.
"Yeah, there would have been no ......." Xena was really at a loss at anything to say more, as the companions each reviewed in their mind's eye all that had happened to them after the birth of Gabrielle's child. Even though they still both viewed those events quite differently, they had managed to build some bridges on common ground, agreeing that there had been no easy or palatable solutions. Once they had learned to communicate without blame, they both realized that Gabrielle had been unwillingly placed into a situation that could not have ended in any way but painful tragedy. Thank the gods that they had their love to get them through even that. But not without some mystical intervention from Solan, now in the Elysian fields, to help them work through the healing of their torn-up souls.
Gabrielle continued with their thoughts. "So I guess the question is, do we really want to give up all the good memories, friends, and experiences along with the painful ones?"
"Well, I've been trying to think of something that's in the past that isn't linked in some way to something good, and I haven't been able to find anything yet. I mean even if we picked my going back to the land of Chin, that means that Ming Tien would still be in power, terrorizing his kingdom right now. It also means that I may never have discovered that purity of essence within myself that Lao Ma had tried to teach me about so long ago." Xena looked down sadly at her own hands. "And though its gone now, I don't know if I would be willing to give up even those few moments where for the first time I was able to feel completely free. Free from my desires, my guilt, and------from my crushing hate."
"But Xena, in Chin. That's where I betrayed you. I gave into my stupid jealousy and came after you and ruined everything. How can you not remember that???"
Xena stood up and walked nearer her friend. "I remember ......... "
Her hesitation lasted so long that Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena would go on.
"But you know, Gabrielle, part of forgiveness is knowing what it is not. Forgiveness is not approving negative actions, and not pretending everything is fine, when it isn't. It's true that sometimes it may need to remain a private choice within ourselves, but many times it needs to be openly discussed. And most importantly, forgiveness is a decision as well as a process."
Looking her bard directly in the eye she confided, "You know Gabrielle, I had decided to forgive you even before you came to me in Ming Tien's dungeon. How could I not? And since then, the debt's been paid many times over."
Gabrielle inwardly struggled for a moment, then added, "Yes, Xena. But in Chin I knew I needed to forgive you for leaving me. And later on when I found out you had killed him, I knew that for both our peace of mind as well as for the future of our friendship, I had to choose forgiving over all the destructive accusations and self-doubt that was my alternative. But it was so hard, and it took my going to Mnemosyne's memory-scape to finally face myself and my fear of the truth."
Xena now noticed more tension and anxiety in the air than in any battle she could remember fighting in. She was unsure of how to best support her friend and offered a comforting hand on the girl's shaking arm.
Gabrielle then whispered almost imperceptibility, "Xena, it hurt so much to have you just leave me, just abandon me like that when you responded to Lao Ma's call. I...I guess I just needed to trust you, to trust us-----more." With this confession, she buried her face in her hands. Trembling now, she sobbed, "How can I really know you've truly forgiven me? How can you ever trust someone again who's failed you like I have?"
Xena's breath caught in her throat as she realized it was past time to take down more of her walls. She gently reached over and took the crying girl and held her soothingly in her arms. "Oh Gabrielle, Gabrielle. Can't you tell by my actions, by what I do? I know how few and inadequate my words often are, but can't you tell how I feel about you? How I've shared with and confided in you, tried to help you, taken care of you when you were hurt, protected you by shielding you with my own body, trusted you with my life?" And what about you forgiving me? How can anyone forgive all the blood that's on my hands, not to mention all the worry and torment I've put you through...............I can barely think about even the possibility of forgiving myself. "
Gabrielle tried to choke back her feelings so she could better hear each of her companion's words. She slipped her hand around Xena's and gave it a slight squeeze.
Xena quickly wiped away a single tear of her own......"But, my dearest friend, forgiving, like any other gift, isn't any good if you don't accept the present. And that means you need to forgive yourself, too!"
Stillness filled the room for almost a candlemark. Xena thought Gabrielle had finally drifted off to sleep and had returned to her own bed. Her warrior's mind wouldn't turn off no matter how hard she had tried. Then, she noticed a change in Gabrielle's breathing from across the room.
"I thought you were asleep."
"No, I can't stop thinking. about all this. I've been reviewing all we know so far.
"And what have you come up with?"
"Well, we learned that we can't erase anything that happened to you before, Xena, like with Cortese or anything. We found that out when we were at the Temple of the Fates."
"You're right, we've already been there and done that and besides, my past is the reason I developed so many of my strengths and skills. If we erased something like that, I'd be a different person." She grinned at the blonde woman. "Not the wonderful warrior princess everyone knows and loves today!" Then in a more serious tone, "But it would also probably mean that you and I would never have met. Never gotten to know each other or be together like we are now." Firmly shaking her head, Xena once again smiled over at her bard." And we can't take a chance on that now can we?"
Gabrielle responded to the smile with an even warmer one of her own, but then hesitated. "But Xena, that means we also can't get rid of Caesar and everything he did to you, because then you wouldn't have met Nicklio and Lao Ma, and Borias, and that means no Solan, and...."
She had to break off, realizing she had unintentionally brought back even more painful memories. Gabrielle started to roll over to face the wall, because she didn't want Xena to see the wetness she couldn't stop from gathering once again in the corner of her eyes.
Xena arose from her cot and went over to sit next to her friend. "It's all right, Gabrielle. I"m slowly coming to terms with all of that--- that pain. I've been trying to open up my heart for a long time to you so that we could talk more about this.
"But Xena! How can I? I mean how can you ever forgive or forget what happened to your son? How can you even try to deal with this?"
Xena spoke more to herself than to her tearful friend. "Well, it sure beats screaming on a mountain top."
"What?" Gabrielle turned back curiously to face her friend.
Taking Gabrielle's hand in hers she calmly continued. "Forgiving at times requires painful honesty, Gabrielle. There are some things, I've found, that you can't go around. You just have to go through. And even then, the peace isn't immediate, at least not like you'd like it to be. It comes in stages, and doesn't allow you ever to completely forget."
Gabrielle turned to face her warrior. "And you can just live with that. With the ache inside of you all the time?"
"Yes, Gabrielle, you do ------- because you must!" Stroking her friend's cheek she spoke in dulcet tones. "Hey, you know we have to go on. There's so much to do out there, so many to help, so much for us to experience---together. If we just crawl up into a ball like we'd like to sometimes, that means we've been beaten. And you know, as well as I do that we NEVER accept defeat! Right?"
Lifting Gabrielle's chin so her eyes were directly in line with her own, she asked more forcefully.."Right, my friend?"
Suddenly the pain-filled tears were back in full force. "But I don't want to Xena! I don't want to live with all this sorrow and hurting inside the rest of my life. Just waiting for me to be weak or give into it. I guess I'm just a coward, I mean, these aren't even wounds you can see!"
Xena was quick to interrupt her. "You're NOT a coward, Gabrielle! Actually you're very courageous. Don't you know that some of the worst of injuries are the internal ones, invisible to the naked eye. That's what pain is for. It shows us what's wrong and what needs attention. If we let each other know when we're hurting, then we can help each other heal properly, both inside and out. "
It still amazed Xena how this young girl could somehow find a way to say things she herself had struggled with for so long and had assumed were beyond words. Resisting the tears that tried to spring to her own eyes, the warrior slowly stood up and had to distance herself from her friend for just a moment before she could continue.
"Gabrielle, I, I think I know exactly how you feel. I'm not sure what to tell you about that, except to tell you that the only way I've found to keep dealing with it is everything we talked about so far and, and.....you. I mean that "you" have been the difference, the main reason I've been able to live with my own pain and not turn back and become that "monster" that you made me promise not to become" ('Although there have been some close calls,' she thought to herself.)
"Your friendship and support have helped me so much and I want to be that kind of support for you as well. I want to help you through those times when you hurt and when the memories and loss seem too painful to bear. Will you trust me to be there for you?" Xena closed her eyes, unaccustomed to the feelings washing over her, this baring of her soul.
The bard just stared at the back of her friend and for the second time in that many days was struck speechless. "Xena! I don't know what to say. I'm so, so.......... "
She got up and walked over and hugged the back of the warrior. "I'm so grateful that you told me. I really needed to hear that from you. Understanding you feel this way makes all the difference. How can I not go on now, knowing you'll always be there?"
Xena turned around and slowly opened her eyes. The obvious fear in them broke Gabrielle's heart and she instinctively pulled her companion closer. All the warrior's resistance melted as she felt her friend's heart next to her own. A sigh escaped her lips as she whispered into the blond head, "I can't lose you...Please don't ever leave me."
It was then that Gabrielle realized how far Xena's barriers were down and just how much she cared. "We both will go on together, remember?"
After another quick embrace both woman parted . Xena re-grouped and pretended to scowl. "However, we still need a little sleep to help us figure all this out. I think these emotions we're feeling might be intensified a bit because we're so exhausted. This time pressure combined with the intense stresses we've been dealing with is breaking through all our usual reserves. I'm tempted to put my nerve pinch on you just so you'll sleep!"
Gabrielle stood back feigning shock. "You wouldn't dare!"
"Oh, yes I would. Now let's get some sleep! Morpheus is long overdue."
Gabrielle returned to her bed but couldn't resist getting in the last words. "I don't know what we should do Xena. I feel so baffled, and its like the more we try to figure things out the more mixed up it gets. It feels like we're running in the Olympics--backwards!"
Xena resisted answering because she knew she'd never win this kind of contest with the bard. But her thoughts suddenly found a new perspective and as she drifted off to sleep her mind replied, 'Exactly Gabrielle, that's what this is. We're running backwards! We've been just looking behind us, racing to forgive and forget from the past.................'
The sun shone brightly through the window on Xena's tired face. The warmth felt good and comforting and then a memory clicked into place. The warrior suddenly sat up in bed and shouted, "That's it!"
Gabrielle was startled almost into falling out of bed. "What? What is it?"
Xena was already pulling on her leathers and Gabrielle reluctantly swung her legs over the side of the bed. As she was struggling with her boots, she ventured to ask, "Uh, Xena, exactly where is it we're going?"
Xena looked excitedly at her friend and said, "Back to the woods, Gabrielle. We need to go back to those trees where we saw that hooded man. I know what I need to say to him now."
"You do?" Gabrielle usually wasn't amazed at Xena's mental prowess, but this was kind of a shock.
"Yes, I think so. Now let's hurry. I'll go get Argo ready and you come down as soon as you can."
Before the bard could think of an appropriate reply, Xena was out the door, placing her sword in her sheath as she went.
Gabrielle couldn't help noticing that the sun had already reached its zenith and was beginning its descent as they reached the edge of the forest. She had paused just long enough to tell Toris and Flora where they were headed and not to follow them, before rushing off to catch up with the warrior. Xena hadn't been very talkative up to this time, and the blond was getting a little tired of being patient.
Suddenly the taller woman slowed her pace and turned. "Gabrielle, this morning when you talked about running backwards that idea kept racing around in my head as I went to sleep. We were so worn out I couldn't think straight! My mind had been all clouded over like yours, but then I remembered something that the voice had whispered to me in the middle of that mist the other night.
"What was it?"
"Well, the last clear thing I recall was the voice saying that we wouldn't be strong enough to survive, unless I believed that we both had done the best we could have at each difficult point, based on the degree of love or fear we were feeling at the time."
Xena hesitated as they both mulled over the implications if this were accepted as truth. She then continued, "Afterwards, there was sort of a combination of phrases and pictures scrambled together, kind of like that campfire game you taught Tara and me awhile ago, remember?"
"Oh, you mean that charades thing. I thought you didn't like that game." Noticing Xena's scowl at the interruption, she prodded, "OK. so go on."
"Anyway, at the very end the voice entered my head and I saw some symbols and a small stone rolling down a mountain, leveling everything in its path. The words I could make out were something like, 'In the simple things will all be made whole'....and then everything broke up into tiny pieces and I don't think there was anything more before I fell asleep."
"Simple? Simple things? I wonder what that could mean?"
"I'm not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with our understanding that we can't go on harboring the past. That its ended, and now only the future is what matters. We can't and shouldn't try to erase anything bad or good that has already happened. The decisions we've made are over, no matter what their outcome, and we can't dwell on them. The most hurting, Gabrielle, seems to come from when there is no forgiveness and everyone is stuck looking behind them."
As they neared the spot where Xena had "attacked" the tree, the bard asked in mounting frustration, "But the choice, Xena! What is the best choice to make to save your mother?"
"Ah, Gabrielle, it was right in front of us all along. We just needed to focus on the sun, instead of on the shadows cast by it."
"What, what are you talking about? The sun?"
Just then a personage appeared in the clearing ahead. He was a manly looking youth, whose appearance seemed to be almost too brilliant for their eyes to gaze at. He wore a beautiful laurel wreath on his head and held a folded cloak over his arm.
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm. "It's HIM! I know who that is! It's................."
"Hello again, ladies. My name is Phoebus........"
"Apollo", Gabrielle finished for him. "You know Xena, I should have figured it out. I mean the music, the laurel trees, the crow, the shining light, even the black wolf.........."
"Yes indeed, and I'm pleased to say that you have both lived up to your excellent reputations. Artemis told me how loyal and stalwart the two of you were. Not many mortals ever come as far as you have, you know. You have learned how to care for each other so deeply, that you've been able to prove your friendship in the most ultimate way----.true forgiveness." His voice was calming to their spirits, but the two women still felt compelled to look at each other, stunned by this revelation.
"But why? Why did a God like you put us through all this? I feel like our whole lives have been on trial here!" Gabrielle could feel herself start to become angry at what seemed to be just another case of immortals manipulating humans again.
"Because, my sweet bard, I too know what its like to love a dear sister." Then addressing both women, "I wanted you to be able to learn from your past mistakes without beating yourselves up in the process. You needed to see if you could offer the same compassion to yourself as you so generously offered to your friend."
The companions recognized the friendly chuckle the god indulged in before he continued.
"An extra push seemed to be needed for you ladies to get past your current stalemate. I knew that your devoted but confused feelings for Cyrene, combined with your willingness to endure and sacrifice anything to save her, would be the impetus you both needed to uncover some of what you had tried to bury."
Then turning to the older of the two companions he kindly said, "I saw you walk away from my temple and the urn. Your mother and Gabrielle both forgive you, Xena. But being gentle with yourself is a great act of self-forgiveness. Especially for a conscience stricken warrior like you, the forgiving of self is the most difficult of all challenges. To be able to do so, you have to be humble enough to accept all the doubts, inner fears, and harsh self-judgments as a natural part of the healing process. Only a rare few in history have had the courage to attempt to do this."
Gabrielle still felt she had to speak up. "But what about Xena's dying mother and that choice you told us we had to make?"
"Ah, yes, the choice." Glancing westward at the setting sun, Apollo cheerfully turned back to them and asked, "Well, what have you decided then? Time is almost up."
Xena and Gabrielle turned and faced each other. Xena softly put a hand on her friend's shoulder and said, "Remember what the voice said? That you, Gabrielle, would decide the outcome? Well, now's the time, and I trust you to make the right decision."
The bard began to protest, but then realized all the meaning behind the warrior's action. There was a wave of tender humility as she acknowledged the confidence placed in her. Xena had entrusted the bard with her mother's life!
Thinking back quickly over all that had been said, she tried to think as Xena would in this case. "Hmmm, something simple, huh?" She suddenly smiled.
"All right, I...." then taking Xena's hand in her own she triumphantly added, "I mean WE decide to change what we had, rather what we were going to have, for breakfast yesterday."
Xena stared at her friend in startled surprise, then burst out laughing as the realization hit her.
"Yeah, that's right! I didn't catch any quail, instead I caught pheasants!"
Apollo nodded in hearty approval. "Very well, yesterday you ate pheasant under glass for your morning meal ."
He winked at the bard and affirmed, "Outstanding choice!"
Then with another look towards the horizon sighed, "It's been fun but I must be going now. Its time for me to put the sun to rest for the day. And don't worry Xena. Your mother has already risen from her sickbed and is serving dinner to her customers even as we speak!"
Gabrielle couldn't help but notice the warrior's shoulders sag as if a tremendous weight had been lifted.
"Will we meet you again, oh Most Honorable God of the Sun?"
"No reason to be so formal after everything I've put you through. It's true I'm now called the God of Light and the God of Truth, as well as the Sun-God, but in the future that will just be shortened to "The Son."
Xena finally found her tongue. "Well, whatever we may call you, I want to thank you for healing my mother. And for helping Gabrielle and I work through all this..........."
"My pleasure. And I would be honored to call you my friends. Never have I seen such willingness to sacrifice so much, and to remain so teachable. Until we meet again."
As the figure started to shine and then explode into a cascade of light, they could hear a gentle chuckle. "And we WILL meet again!"
It took several days for the women to recover from all the strain they had gone through and to completely regain their strength. Gabrielle enjoyed Cyrene's cooking almost as much as Xena enjoyed getting to know her mother better than she ever had before. It was another one of the benefits of Apollo's lesson, she supposed. She had always thought it wise to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, but in this case............
But finally the friends knew it was time to move on and embrace whatever lay ahead. It was sad to say goodbye, but promises were made to visit soon and that night the warrior and bard found themselves camping once again in that same spot from Xena's childhood.
Evening saw them at their usual tasks. Xena was sharpening her sword with relentless determination to get it perfect. Gabrielle prepared to begin work on her latest scroll. But when she went to open her pack, the young girl froze in her place.
"Xena, something's wrong."
Xena was remiss to move right then as there was one stubborn nick she was trying to finish off. "Yeah, what is it?"
"It's my scrolls, or rather, it's not my scroll... I have an extra one"
"There's an extra scroll in my pack. Here, see for yourself!" Taking it out and bringing it closer to the fire, Gabrielle noticed the flawless writing.
"Xena, there's something on it."
"Well, read it Gabrielle!" She still wasn't sure what all the fuss was about.
"OK, I will. Let's see................
'When your hearts are bleeding
You don't know how to heal
Reach for each other's pain
Forgiving mends the seal.' "
Battle On My Friends!
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