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Disclaimer: The Characters of Xena, Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement was intended.
Violence and subtext is restricted to the guidelines established by the television series.
This is the sixth of a series of eight stories starting with Turning Point.
by R. Az
The fishing village woke slowly to the bright Mediterranean sun that spread it's rays across the white columns of the Temple of Poseidon on the hillside, and then washed down into the village below. Shop awnings stretched out and the early morning bustle of market day slowly grew. Near the farthest edge of the village, close to the harbor was a tavern where the local fisherman gathered and the few travelers that passed this way would find clean, if basic, accommodation for the night. A gentle breeze off the water sent small, puff-ball clouds drifting overhead and swung the wood sign that hung over the entrance to the White Sail Inn.
The soft sea breeze drifted through the second story window, filled with the fragrance of the salty brine. It blew gentle over Xena's naked back as she lay face down in the pillows. Her eyes fluttered and she reached one arm out across the expanse of the bed. Gabrielle must already be up, she thought and letting her eyes close, she listened to the plaintive cries of the seagulls on the Aegean Sea and the rhythmic lap of the waves against the shore. Gabrielle had been right, it was worth the extravagance to have rented this room for a few days after their adventures in the north. She hadn't realized how tired she was and the luxury of a bed after months of sleeping on the hard ground was wonderful.
The door opened and Xena's body instantly became alert but then she relaxed again when she recognized the soft tread of her traveling companion, Gabrielle. Xena rolled over and pulled the thin sheet up to cover her nakedness. "Morning," she yawned to her friend. She looked over at a small, cute, blonde with a round, happy face who smiled back at her with excited eyes as she set up a table by the window with hot bread, fruit and cheese. They were as opposite as day and night. Gabrielle, was a talented Bard, who saw good in everyone. She dressed in the browns and greens favored by the Amazon women but carried no weapons other than a stout walking staff. Xena, was a tall and dark beauty and dressed in dark leather and armor. She was a warrior and carried on her the deadly tools of her trade with calm, confidence. Yet, they were bonded together in trust and loyalty by events that neither the Fates nor the gods could have predicted.
Xena smiled and touched the gold medallion that Zeus himself had put on her neck. It matched the one that Gabrielle wore. A golden feather of the Amazon within the ring of a warrior's chakra, the medallion was a symbol of the eternal bond that joined the two travelers' souls. Gabrielle saw the gesture and grinned, "Happy Birthday, partner!" she announced with a big grin. Xena looked questioningly at her friend and slipped out of bed wrapping the sheet around her as a robe. She came over and sniffed a dark, brown drink that Gabrielle had brought hot from the kitchen below. "It's called tea. You'll like it," explained Gabrielle.
Xena slipped into a chair and looked at her friend sleepily. "What is a birthday?" she asked dryly, reaching for a plum to break her night fast.
Gabrielle sat on the chair opposite and poured Xena some tea. "It's something I heard about while we were up north. People have a party and give gifts of thanks on the day that someone was born," Gabrielle explained.
"Gabrielle, most people don't know what year they were born on never mind what day," pointed out the pragmatic warrior sniffing at the tea and then gingerly sipping it. She smiled and downed a mouthful, "Say, this is all right!" she announced.
Gabrielle smiled, "It comes from the east. They're leaves and you have to dry and ground them and then strain hot water through it. The inn keeper said that if you drink a lot that you can't sleep," Gabrielle revealed in a rush. Xena shrugged and took another gulp. "I happen to know when your birthday is because your mother told me that you were born three days after summer solstice and that is today!" went on Gabrielle, delighted with her knowledge. "Happy Birthday, Xena!" cried Gabrielle again, slipping a small wrapped package across the table. Xena looked at it in surprise and then up at Gabrielle. "It's your birthday present. Go on, open it," explained the excited Gabrielle wiggling with anticipation.
Xena laughed and removed the cloth that was wrapped around the gift. Into her hand a bone handle fell. Xena looked at it closely as Gabrielle explained. "It's called a jackknife. I got it from a trader who had traveled all over. You see it..." But Xena had already discovered the blade that flipped out from inside the bone handle and grinned with pleasure.
"Gabrielle, this is great! I love it," Xena announced flipping the little blade with a sudden flick of her wrist so that it shot passed Gabrielle's head and imbedded itself in the wall. Gabrielle looked startled and then laughed and Xena got up and came and stood behind Gabrielle's chair and wrapped her arms around her neck. "You are the greatest," she said giving her friend a quick hug before she went to pull her new toy out of the wall. She came back and sat down with a worried frown. "But if we are going to celebrate our birthdays, I will need to know when you were born," pointed out Xena practically.
Gabrielle shrugged, "It doesn't matter," she said happily but when Xena's frown deepened she smiled and thought about it. "Let's see, I was born the year of the rainy summer and the cold winter. I know because my mother said that they were not sure I would survive. They had nearly starved and I was born small and weak during the cold months. So I guess, I must have been born around winter solstice," concluded Gabrielle.
"Then we'll celebrate your birthday from now on three days after the winter solstice," decided Xena with a grin expertly peeling an apple with her new knife and passing half of it over to Gabrielle on the end of the blade. Gabrielle nodded and took the fruit. "So what are you planning to do today?" asked Xena contentedly leaning back in her chair and letting the breeze that drifted through the open window feather her dark hair over her bare, white shoulders.
"I'm going to the market!" cried Gabrielle in excitement. She loved to shop. Xena rolled her eyes. The pragmatic warrior saw no purpose in shopping unless she had something to buy. This rarely happened as she traveled very light.
"In that case, I think I'll head down the coast and see if I can hear anything more about the slave traders that were seen in this area," Xena said looking out the window with a sour expression.
Gabrielle smiled softly, they had met when Xena, the fierce warlord, had turned to good and had rescued her from being sold into the slave trade when her village had been attacked. It seemed like ages ago, when Gabrielle had left her village and followed the Warrior Princess insisting that Xena take her along. The Warrior had tried her best to convince Gabrielle that she didn't need a sidekick but Gabrielle had refused to be put off. It really was only a matter of three years and yet in that time so much had happened to tear them apart and then to forge a tighter bond between the two of them.
Xena needed her, she knew. The Warrior Princess had a mortal mother but her father was the god of war Ares. Xena was torn between her mortal compassion and the blood-lust that ran through her god-blood. Gabrielle was the anchor in Xena's stormy life and when Ares had taken Xena to Mount Olympus to make her his wife, Gabrielle had gone after them and won in combat Xena's return to the mortal world. Demigod or not, Xena belong with her, she knew, and their life was a journey that even the three Fates could not yet unravel. Before the gods there had been the Windsong that the gods had accidentally separated by creating night and day. The power of the wind was trapped within Xena and the compassion of the song within Gabrielle. Only together were they balanced. "Xena, maybe I should go with you. I've been having this dream..."
Xena looked at her friend sharply. She had learned to respect Gabrielle's dreams as they often foretold their future. "What was it about?" asked Xena leaning forward and looking at her friend closely.
Gabrielle, who usually insisted on sharing her dreams, just shook her head and blushed a bright red. "It was, well very, I mean I, you, well, I don't think it matters. I mean it was just a dream," stammered Gabrielle awkwardly. "Just be careful, O.K.?" demanded Gabrielle and Xena nodded thoughtfully. Gabrielle's dreams often foretold of very dangerous situations that the two had fought their way through. Why was Gabrielle not revealing this one? Xena raised her eyebrow and gave her friend a stony look. Gabrielle squirmed, "There wasn't anything in my dream about you being in danger, just the opposite it was well," a deep blush once again spread across Gabrielle's face, "It was about us and well..." she stopped too embarrassed to go on and looked down at her hands.
Xena looked at her friend in surprise and cleared her throat, "I see," she snorted knowingly and with a wicked smile she looked at the jackknife that Gabrielle had given her and smiled broadly, "Say, maybe I should beware of Greeks bearing gifts," she teased.
Gabrielle went a deeper red yet and gasped in shook, "Xena!" Xena got up laughing and wrapped her arms around her friend in a quick hug of friendship.
"I'm going to get dressed and head down the coast. I'll be back by late afternoon. Enjoy yourself in the market and don't get into any trouble while I'm gone," warned Xena dressing quickly and letting the subject of the dream pass.
Gabrielle walked around the various market booths enjoying herself immensely. Although, she wouldn't want to trade her life on the road with Xena. There were times when she envied the women with their husband's and babies that they passed along the way. Gabrielle had married once but her husband had been killed before they had ever made a life together. Then there had been hope, her daughter who had killed Xena's son and nearly destroyed their love and lives...don't go there, thought Gabrielle. Not that Xena hadn't forgiven her and moved on. The Warrior was very protective of her friend.
But in the quiet of the night it was sometimes hard to forgive herself. A frown passed over Gabrielle's face and she licked her lips nervously. Xena would definitely not like her dream!
Lost in her thoughts, Gabrielle was not aware of the two men that had picked up her trial. She had turned down an alley way to cut from the street of textiles over to where they were selling pottery when the two men caught up to her. "Excuse me Miss," said one and as Gabrielle turned the other grabbed her arms from behind while the first placed a dirty rag over her nose and mouth. Gabrielle smelt onions and then a nauseating blackness washed over her.
Xena had worked her way down the coast to the next village and back again. It was well into the afternoon, when she entered the tavern to head back up to their room. "Warrior," called out the inn keeper. Xena turned, her right hand raising to hover over the razor sharp ring of metal that hung from her belt. Her chakra was a deadly and quick weapon, but the inn keeper meant no harm and Xena's hand relaxed as he came forward with a note. "Can you read?" he asked and when Xena nodded he said, "This note came for you." Xena raised an eyebrow in surprise and took the parchment. Then she turned and walked some distance away to read it by the light that still flooded through the doorway.
I have Gabrielle, your woman. I plan to sell her at
auction into slavery. Should you not wish this to happen
you are to meet me at the caves of Ithalic later today. I
will trade you Gabrielle for the right to trade in flesh in this
area without your interference. Meet me or I sell Gabrielle.
Xena's heart contracted and a nerve pulsed at her temple. She set her jaw and turned and headed out again. The caves of Ithalic were some miles off and she would have to set a steady pace to get there in time. She knew she was probably walking into a trap but there wasn't time to do anything else. The thought of her friend being misused in slavery made her god-blood boil in rage. She jogged down the steep village street to the rocky coast and then wound her way along the shore line to the series of interlocking caves that overlooked a narrow, hidden harbor. It was a well known hideout for pirates, smugglers and slave traders.
Gabrielle woke feeling very sick and with a terrible headache. She coughed up phlegm and tried to inhale fresh air into her sour lungs. When she tried to move she realized that her hands were chained. Someone grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to her feet. She cried out in pain but the ugly pirate laughed at her his breath, rancid with cheap wine and garlic, exhaled in her face. "So, the Warrior's sidekick is awake," he sneered, "You are just in time to watch your friend die," he laughed. He pulled Gabrielle along a cave tunnel and stopped at the back of a large cavern. Across from them, some fifty paces away, light filtered down a short passageway from the late afternoon sun. Suddenly, the light was blocked by the silhouette of her friend.
"Xena!" cried Gabrielle, "It's a trap!" The soldier laughed and held Gabrielle as she struggled.
He reached up and ripped Gabrielle's top, "What do you think, Xena, do you think she is worth a good price on the block tomorrow?" Gabrielle struggled to get free from the man's groping hands as she heard her friend's war cry and her footsteps charging in their direction.
Xena had arrived at the main cave in the late afternoon. Even as she moved cautiously forward she heard the cry of pain from her friend echoing from within. Without concern for herself, she climbed down the rock face and stepped into the mouth of the cave. There, down a short tunnel was a large cavern where a dirty, bearded pirate held Gabrielle against his chest. Gabrielle was in chains, clearly drugged and she was struggling groggily to get free. Xena pulled her sword, her god-blood raging. "Xena," she heard her friend call, "it's a trap!" Xena looked around cautiously, hesitating. But then the pirate reached up and pulled away Gabrielle's top and grabbed her. Xena charged forward with a battle cry. A second later, the space around her shattered. The cave walls in an instant went from solid form to a deadly spray of rock and dust. Xena hurled herself forward in a desperate attempt to escape the cave-in, but even as she did, she knew it was too late. Choking on debris and blinded by dust she felt pain rocket through her body as she was thrown like a rag doll by the blast of the released material. Debris settled over her inert body pinning her to the ground.
As the explosion dissipated and the dust settled, Xena gasped for breath. Gabrielle had watched in horror as her friend was buried in the falling rubble. She slammed back with her foot and caught her captor on the ankle bone. He gasped in pain and surprise as Gabrielle broke loose from the slave trader and ran to help Xena. Gabrielle fell to her knees and started to shovel the debris away from her partner's face. She looked down in relief to see her friend, although buried up to the shoulders under fallen rock, still alive. "Xena!" called Gabrielle working to clean the muck from Xena's mouth and nose so that she could breath. Xena felt the cool hands of her friend on her face, blinking repeatedly, gradually through swimming eyes, she saw Gabrielle's worried face and behind her the slave trader.
He leaned over Gabrielle's shoulder and leered at her. "You are a hard one to kill Xena, Warrior Princess," he said and raised a heavy rock and dropped it down on Xena' head. Xena felt a violent pain as her skull cracked and then nothing. Blood splattered up in Gabrielle's face and when she looked down, Xena's face had disappeared in a pool of blood. She screamed in horror and her owner laughed and hauled her to her feet and dragged her off.
Gabrielle was pulled through the cave and down a narrow path to a waiting ship. Here she was thrown on the deck while the slave trader bragged to his men as they jumped to make ready to sail, "Xena, is dead. And we have an Amazon to sell on the block in Carthage. I told you that no stupid woman could interfere in the business of Arkal the Pirate!" Rage built into a fury as Gabrielle listened to the murdering braggart. She leapt to her feet and swung the chain that hung between her two manacle hands. It caught Xena's killer across the face and tore at his flesh. Arkal roared in anger and pain and his motley crew laughed. Arkal grabbed Gabrielle's chain with one hand and with the other he hit her across the face several times. "So the bitch needs to be taught a lesson! I can do that." he growled and pulled Gabrielle over to the mast and hooked her chain over a cleat. "Whip her until she cries for mercy," ordered the slave trader stepping back and folding his arms to watch. A brute of a sailor stepped forward with a cat and ninetails and lashed at Gabrielle's back.
The nine knotted leather tails of the short whip bit again and again into Gabrielle's flesh yet she did not cry out. Biting down on her lip, she thought of Xena's stoic courage and held out. She would not be a coward nor would she be a slave. Dizziness caused her stomach to rise into her throat and blackness exploded across her eyes as she passed out with the pain. "Is she dead?" asked the slave trader of the sailor who had stopped his whipping to grab Gabrielle by the hair and look at her face. The sailor grunted a negative. "Then leave her hanging there until she is," smiled the slave trader as he turned and walked away.
Xena knew that she was hovering on the edge between life and death. She had been there many times before and had cheated fate. But this time she didn't think she could win. Gabrielle! She had to help Gabrielle. She forced herself to relax and then focused on her god-blood. Fighting the feeling of panic, she separated her spirit from her living body and stood up. For a second, she looked down at the bloody, broken body that still clung to life under the tons of fallen rock, then she turned away. She reached out with the powers that were within her and called into the Underworld, "Lyceus! Lyceus!" Lyceus was the brother who so many years ago had stood at her side and fought to save their village before Xena had ever taken up the sword. He had died bravely at her side. Would he come to her aid again?
"Xena," said a quiet voice. "You are not ready yet. Why do you call to the dead?" Before Xena stood a tall, handsome male on the edge of manhood. He was fair as his sister was dark. Yet each had the piercing sea-blue eyes and both brother and sister moved with the lethal grace of panthers.
Xena's spirit moved towards her dead brother beseeching, "Lyceus, once you supported me in fighting for what was right. You gave up your life defending the weak and helpless of our village. I need your help once again, Lyceus. My body clings to life and can not escape these rocks. You have crossed over the River Styxes and have lost your life force but regained your body. Let my soul enter you and give your body life on the other side of this wall of rock so that you can free my friend from the slave traders. Then when you return here, I will walk with you to the Underworld." begged Xena earnestly of her brother.
Her dead brother looked at her in surprise. "If you give up you soul and die before I return you will be lost forever! Your spirit would be trapped within me and I would live." warned Lyceus.
Xena's spirit reached out, "Lyceus, this is Gabrielle. She wouldn't hesitate to do the same for me or others. I can not die until I know I have saved her," Xena explained touching Lyceus' arm. He nodded with a knowing smile and stepped through the stone walls and Xena's spirit followed. Out in the open, Xena moved into her brother's arms and as she did so his form became solid and cast a shadow.
Lyceus breathed in deeply. You have no idea, my sister, how precious life is. Or how wonderful it is to breath in the fresh air of this world again. He smiled, Yes, I feel not only your panic over your friend's safety but also your deeper feelings for her. He turned and with Xena's war cry he ran towards the harbor.
Lyceus halted on the brink of the cliff. He watched as the sails of the slave ship disappeared over the horizon into the setting sun. Lyceus cocked his head and listened to the message from within his soul, You can hear my thought but not see or hear the world around me, sister? The slave ship has left and has about five hours on us. It is a sturdy ship but not fast. I'll borrow a small fishing boat and we should be able to catch up to them sometime late tonight. No, it wont be too late. They will have to sail a good distance from these waters to find a market that handles slaves.
Turning he worked his way along the cliff until his path was blocked by a dark warrior. "Ares! I should have realized that you would once again meddle in my sister's destiny! Haven't you done enough damage?" growled Lyceus.
"Hey! I'm a victim of bad press here! All I've ever wanted for Xena was for her to live her life as she should - at my side! I'm here to help. You must know that Xena is dying.
I owe her one. So here's the plan. You save her precious Gabrielle and keep Xena's spirit as your own." Lyceus opened his mouth to protest. " Wait! Let me finish here. Xena's spirit can not survive without a body and her's is broken beyond repair. If you go back, you'll both be going to the underworld only in separate corners if you no what I mean. Xena, you know has been a very bad girl. But if you keep her spirit, I'll work a deal with my brother Hades to give her life in the Elysium Fields. Wouldn't you want that for your sister?" coaxed Ares.
"Y..Yes, I would," stated a confused Lyceus.
Ares moved closer recognizing victory, "And it's an added bonus that you get a new life with Gabrielle. Xena would like that. She always felt guilty about leading you into battle. But you know that don't you?" Lyceus nodded sadly and Ares continued. "So it's settled. Oh, just one other thing. It's a tough world out there as your sister discovered. Let me give you a little attitude to help you out" Ares reached out and touched Lyceus' temple and then smiling disappeared in a flash.
Lyceus climbed down to the narrow harbor and stealthily came up behind a guard. With his fingers he jabbed at the neck of the man and he dropped like a stone gasping for breath. A very nice trick sister! No, I see no reason to save him. Let him die. No, I have no mercy, Xena, or conscious. I died a young man for being noble. I wont be such a fool the second time, thought Lyceus to his sister as he undid a small, light sailing craft and paddled it quietly out to sea. He stowed the paddle and raised the sail and brought the vessel around to fill the sails as he argued with his sister's spirit. I guess you should have thought about that before you so willingly gave me your spirit, Xena. No, I don't want to hear how sorry you are about your years as a warlord! I lack your conscious Xena. Lyceus smiled and settled himself at the tiller. He pushed the thoughts of his sister out of his mind and enjoyed the exhilaration of the wind in the sails and the water rushing passed the hull.
The sun burned down on the deck. The wind had died during the morning and now as the sun rose to it's apogee the slave ship drifted in the still seas. Gabrielle's head pounded and her back throbbed with pain. Her fair skin was blistered by the sun and her lips were cracked and bleeding. She did not fight death but waited quietly for Hades to claim her. Her thoughts were on Xena and their journey together. She would have liked more but was content to have been part of such a great adventure. She knew that the wind and song could not be separated for long and that in another life and time Xena and her would be together again. Her eyes closed against the glare of the sun. "Gabrielle," whispered a cool breeze that swirled suddenly around her.
"Xena? You're alive!" croaked Gabrielle through dry lips, looking around but seeing nothing but the still sea and the silent deck as the crew lay still in bits of shade and waited for the wind to pick up.
"Hang on," whispered the wind that suddenly rose to a roar and sent the tubby slave ship heeling over to its port side before the wind dropped just as suddenly and the ship righted herself again. The breeze and voice had gone but a bucket of fresh water had slipped along the deck to Gabrielle and the ship had turned so that the sagging sails now cast a shadow over her. Gabrielle reached up with her last remaining strength and lifted her chain from the cleat and allowed her body to slipped down the mast. She sucked water from the bucket.
"Thank you, Xena," she whispered and smiled. If Xena could hang on then so could she. As long as her Warrior friend clung to life then there was a chance. She would survive. She had too.
Lyceus dropped the windless sail and picked up a paddle and angrily stroked the water pushing the small craft along at a steady pace. By evening he had the slaver in view and by night he was quietly coming along side her. He tied his craft off the port bow, climbed up the anchor chain and slipped over the side. Staying in the shadows, he moved his way along the gunnels towards the stern. Most of the crew were asleep below but two sleepy pirates still sat near the wheel in case the wind rose. Lyceus took out a thin, long knife and ran it across the throat of the one sailor. Then he tapped the other on the shoulder and when he turned the blade was thrust up and under his rib cage to his heart. They are slavers, sister. The world is better with them dead. You grow soft in your old age and hesitate to kill when it can be avoided. Lyceus slipped over the stern of the ship and cut the bindings that held the rudder in place. It slipped into the water with a plop. Then he moved forward towards the bow in search of Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's eyes opened when she heard the plop of the rudder as it slipped down into the ocean and then surfaced to float away. Xena was here! How could she have escaped? Before her, she saw the crouched figure of her friend in the pale light of a rising sliver of a moon. She reached out and pulled her friend into her arms but the face that touched hers was male and bristly with a day's beard growth. She pulled back with a soft gasp. "Shh," warned the man as he picked Gabrielle up in his strong arms and carried her towards the bow.
"Hey! Who goes there! Stop!" cried the sailor who had just come on deck. His yell of alarm brought others out on deck as he ran forward. Lyceus swung Gabrielle over the side and lowered her to the small sailboat then he turned and kicked at the sailor that was almost on him. The blow caught the sailor on the chin and his head snapped back as he fell lifeless to the floor. Lyceus laughed, Leave? Not likely Xena, I am enjoying the fighting powers you have developed since our village was attacked.
Lyceus grabbed a robe and swung forward into two pirates that were running towards him. He somersaulted over their prone bodies and ran up the stairs to meet Arkal as he emerged from his cabin. With a snarl, Arkal swung at the intruder and Lyceus jumped clear of the blade and then swung around with his foot and caught the pirate in the chest. He staggered back and that gave Lyceus time to pull his sword. Their blades clashed in violent battle until Arkal's sword was kicked from his hand by Lyceus.
Lyceus laughed and walking towards Arkal he swung his sword across the slave dealer's throat. I don't want to hear it! he thought, pushing Xena's angry but weakening protests to the back of his mind. Grabbing a rope he swung over the heads of the crew as they grabbed for him and dropped over the side into the small sailing vessel. With the paddle, he pushed his small craft away from the slave vessel and once clear, he hosted the sails. A cool, steady breeze came up from nowhere to push the little fishing boat away from the large slaver. On deck men screamed orders and sails rose but the wind failed to touch them. The boat drifted in circles rudderless. Lyceus looked down at Gabrielle's unconscious body. Her ripped shirt revealed her bodies beauty. He smiled. Sleep sister, I feel your weakness. I have Gabrielle.
In the cave, night spread a blanket of darkness over the few cracks of light. Xena's bloodied remains lay cold and still, pinned beneath a tumbled wall of rock. A weak death rattle of breath escaped from Xena's lips as she struggled to breathe and hold on to life until she knew Gabrielle was safe. Out of the darkness a vertical line of red flame appeared and widened. Within, Hades materialized into a flaming form that gradually took solid shape. He moved forward and looked down at the bloody body of Xena. Over his shoulder a voice boomed out. "Is she dead?"
Hades grimaced, "She should be, father. She has cheated me of her soul so many times before. Yet, I believe the body clings yet to life," stated Hades to the disembodied voice. "Her spirit is gone, as you warned. This demigod abuses her powers and stretches their limits for her own ends," complained Hades.
"And for the lives of mortals," observed the voice.
Hades nodded his head, "She is my niece and your granddaughter Zeus and yet I feel a greatness in her life-blood that out shines our Immortal souls," observed Hades squatting down by his niece's head and looking at her wound closely. "Her wound is fatal. I do not know how she clings to life."
"Her journey is not yet done," observed the voice of Zeus, "There is about her a certain immortality. She is the bearer of the Windsong."
Hades looked surprised. " The spirit before time that the gods accidentally separated?" he asked looking more closely at the blood covered face of his niece.
"The same," said the voice. "At one time, I thought it best to see her dead so that the wind and song could reunite as one but the Warrior Bard felt otherwise.
"The sidekick of Xena's?" asked Hades in disbelief, "You listen to her!?"
The voice of Zeus responded thoughtfully, " I think it wise to do so. She is mortal and yet she speaks to the Windsong something that no other mortal or god can do. We gods interfered once in separating night from day. We separated the song from its home within the wind and introduced disorder into the heavens. I think it best now not to interfere a second time. The Windsong seems to have found a balance in these two unlikely friends." The mighty voice of Zeus sighed, " The Fates are not yet ready to cut the thread of Xena's life and yet once again she steps up to Death's door."
Hades nodded, " She has cheated me of her life more than once. And now I find myself aiding her in her escape." Hades stood and raised his hands and the rock that had fallen rose back into its natural place. He looked down at the broken body of the Warrior Princess. "Her back is broken, her internal organs crushed and her skull cracked. How can she cling to life? " Hades waved his hand over his niece's body and slowly healing took place. He beckoned with his hand and the stiff body of Xena rose up and faced him. "An undead. Can we join her living spirit to this ....thing and create a living mortal again?" questioned Hades lifting his head to the heavens where his father the king of gods lived.
"We can't. But perhaps Xena's spirit can. We must try. Take this undead and find it's missing spirit. Hades, my son, god of the dead. Only you have the power to keep her from Death's door."
Hades looked grim and nodded. He walked forward and disappeared within the undead. Xena opened her eyes and swayed. She reached out her hand and steadied herself against the rock wall of the cave. Then she looked around at the reassembled walls of the cave and then at her healed body. She shivered. She felt intensely cold.
"Xena, Warrior Princess of Ares, demigod and grandchild," said the voice as Xena looked up, "Once again you test the limits of your power and risk all on a noble cause. You are not alive but are an undead without a soul. You may live and reason but you can not feel. My son Hades is within you so that you may move. Xena, you must find your brother Lyceus and take back your spirit. The Windsong is in jeopardy and so is the thread of the universe. Go."
Xena nodded and picking up her sword, she turned and left the cave.
Hades felt the moonlight and the lingering warmth of day and cringed. The warmth of his niece's blood revolted him. Xena stopped and stood still. She sensed his thoughts within her. We are strange companions, niece. Even undead your life-blood beats strong and warm.
Xena smiled. Hades. My uncle. I didn't know that we were so close. Do you wait like a scavenger for my corpse?
Hades anger rose. Do not mock one that is sent to help you. Without me you would be lost. Come we must hurry.
Gabrielle woke to the gentle rocking of the little sailboat in the ocean waves. Her throat ached with dryness and her back throbbed in pain. She raised her head from the deck and through blurred eyes she could see the shadow of Xena as she worked behind the bellowing sail near the bow of the boat. "Xena!" she whispered and the figure turned and made its way around the lashed cargo to the stern of the vessel where she lay.
The figure that climbed towards her was not Xena but a man of incredible good looks and strength. "I am not Xena," the man smiled as he knelt beside her to offer her some water. His strong arms lifted her gently and held the flask to her parched lips. Gabrielle felt a surge of excitement and comfort in being in this stranger's arms that both delighted and surprised her. She looked up into his face. He didn't have Xena's coloring but he had the same high cheek bones and classic features. His eyes were the same stormy sea-blue too. They could be twins the likeness was so strong.
"Oh, I'm sorry," flustered Gabrielle, "I thought you were a woman. I mean, I thought you were a girl I know. Oh gods! I mean, I can see you're not a woman. You're handsome and sexy and muscular... no! I mean..." stammered Gabrielle going bright red in the face as her words dug her deeper into a hole.
The man took no offense but laughed. His eyes sparkling with amusement. He put down the flask near Gabrielle and gently lowered her onto the bed of sails that he had made for her so as not to hurt her whipped back. "I am not insulted. As a child, Xena and I were often told we should be twins. She is only a year older than I and as a child I followed my big sister around trying to do all that she could. As a young man, my sister was my hero and I was honored to fight at her side. I am Lyceus her brother," the man revealed.
"But you're dead!" whispered Gabrielle is surprise. She looked around quickly. "Am I dead too!? Is this the river Styxes!?" she asked in shock.
The man shook his head and looked away from Gabrielle "No, I am alive again. I am sorry to tell you that my sister is dead. But she prevailed on Hades to give me life to come to your aid."
Large tears welled in Gabrielle's eyes and her lip trembled. Lyceus took her in his arms and held her close as she sobbed, " She was trying to save me! It was her birthday. It shouldn't have happened on her birthday! "
Gabrielle slept, exhaustion having overcome her grief at last. Lyceus sat at the tiller keeping the swift fishing vessel close to the wind. Yes, sister she is safe. Your thoughts fade into thin air. I do not believe that your body will cling to life more than a few more minutes. Yes, I will hurry, Lyceus thought as he sailed his craft away from the cliffs where Xena's body lay buried. He smiled, Xena owed him this. He had given up his life for her cause while she had lived on. Now it was his turn to have life and to have Gabrielle. Ares was right.
The next morning broke warm and fair and Lyceus threw out a small fishing net. Gabrielle watched him with admiring eyes. He moved with the strong grace of his sister and he radiated with the same confidence and strength. Gabrielle let her eyes drift over his body. Lyceus' muscles bulged as he worked yet his stomach was flat and hard and his hips lean. Sorrow washed over her. How could she be so attracted to this man when her soul partner had just died saving her life? How could she ever replace Xena in her life? What was the purpose of her journey through life now that Xena was gone? A cool shadow drifted over her and she looked up into eyes so like Xena's. "I've got some ointment to put on your back. It will help in the healing," Lyceus said gently. "Turn around and lower your top." Gabrielle complied and heard Lyceus kneeling behind her. Then gentle fingers spread a cooling liquid over her hot wounds. Gabrielle shivered and a soft moan escaped from between her lips. Lyceus' fingers stroked up her back and massaged her stiff neck and shoulders. Gabrielle melted back against his chest. His head lowered and she felt his lips nuzzling at her ear.
"No!" she whispered turning towards him in surprise but her words were cut off by his mouth against hers. Slowly, her arms reached up along his chest and curled positively around his neck. Lyceus lowered her to her bed and together they made love to the gentle swaying of the small fishing craft. Lyceus sighed. Gabrielle was his.
My niece, this will be a difficult task. We have no idea which way the slave ship took or which course Lyceus will take back to the caves. If he means to return at all, thought Hades as he forced the body of the undead Xena forward to the harbor.
He does not mean to return. Life is too appealing to him now. Your brother Ares has got to him somehow. I can sense his presence. I would let him keep my soul. Let him have the life that following me took from him but my journey is not over and I fear that Lyceus' warm heart has been turned cold by Ares. He has done to Lyceus what he did to me in my warlord days, observed Xena as she stared blankly ahead, her face expressionless. Hades directed his niece's body down to the harbor and claimed a small craft with little difficulty from the night watchman who ran in fear at the sight of Xena's blood drenched body and staring dead eyes. He pushed the craft out and raised the sail. Hades, thank you, thought Xena.
Hades sighed deep within her. It is what Zeus wishes. I believe him right that your journey must continue with the mortal Gabrielle. I have learned over the years, as you so often have stood at the doors of my kingdom, that you are different. There is a great power within you that is tempered by your heart and personal suffering. It revolts me to be within your living form and yet I believe that this action that I do today is far greater than the domain that I control with my godhood. Nor must we let my brother interfere again!
Within, Xena went quiet. So many fear you. And yet I know you to judge fairly and care for the souls that enter your domain. I have learned that your somber nature comes not from a macabre heart but from a gentle heart that suffers with the realization that not all your subjects can be with you on the Elysium Fields. Uncle, no matter what happens today, I am glad of this joining. Xena felt the god of the dead within her reach out to touch her heart. An icy shiver coursed through her body.
Gabrielle lay with her head against Lyceus' chest, "She could cook! She couldn't! Believe me, I have tasted Xena's cooking, its awful!" Gabrielle laughed in surprise.
"She could so cook!" bragged Lyceus, "And as well as she could ride or embroider or sing. There is little that my sister could not do well. But some things, like cooking she hated and so she wouldn't make an effort unless our mother pressed her!"
Tears welled in Gabrielle's eyes and a soft smile hovered on her lips, "I wished I'd known. It is hard to believe that I've lost her. With you here, it is like the two of us lying under the stars talking before sleep. It's like I can still feel her soul close and comforting me." Lyceus moved uneasily and gently lowered Gabrielle to the bed as he stood and moved toward the bow.
"I need to check our course," he explained. Gabrielle smiled and looked up at the blue sky and white sail. A shadow of a bird drifted slowly across the canvas. Gabrielle sat up in shock and scanned the sky around her. There was no bird close by. Again she looked at the sail and again the shadow floated across. Realization hit her like a thunderbolt. She looked at Lyceus' back as he heaved on a line and sensed Xena's living spirit within him. A cool breeze gently swirled around her and she reached out with her fingertips and touched the spirit of the Windsong. Xena was alive!
Gabrielle felt the anger of betrayal building inside her. She staggered to the front of the craft and pushed Lyceus. He turned and looked at her in surprise. "You lied to me! You live because you stole Xena's soul! She is within you! That's why I felt so close to you! I don't know how but you have stolen her spirit and left her body to die! Turn this vessel around! We're going back to help my partner!" screamed Gabrielle pulling at ropes. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder and spun her around.
"By now my sister is dead," snarled Lyceus, "I have a right to life. She didn't die, I did! She had her life and now it is my turn! She's safe in the Elysium Fields. Gabrielle," beseeched Lyceus taking her by the shoulders and gently shaking her, " You are happy with me. We can have a good life together. I am what Xena was."
Gabrielle shook her head violently, "No, you are not! Xena doesn't lie to me, nor would she ever break a trust on the word of Ares. You are not like her at all! We are going back!" Gabrielle pulled away from Lyceus and tried once again to set the sails but Lyceus grabbed her and threw her to the deck. Gabrielle cried out in pain landing on her wounds. Then she set her jaw and leapt up. Before Lyceus could stop her, she had picked up a knife and cut the sail free and then dived overboard swimming for the distant shore as fast as she could. Behind her Lyceus cursed and fought to get control of the sail so that he could go after her.
The undead body of Xena stood on a high cliff and scanned the sea. The god Hades that dwelled within her to keep her body alive without it's spirit waited patiently. They had sailed for two days and nights and had pulled their boat ashore at full daylight of the third day to use the high cliff to search for the missing craft. There in the water. That's Gabrielle! We must hurry. She can't swim much longer! Xena turned and ran down the steep hillside and across the beach and dived into the water. Within her she could hear Hades yelling in rage. Water, like open air, was not his domain. With strong, long strokes, Xena swam out to sea.
Gabrielle forced herself to keep on moving. She hadn't realized how far the shore was from the boat when she had jumped over. Now her lungs ached and the salt burned into the wounds on her back. She sank lower into the water and panted frantically trying to keep her head above water. Suddenly, freezing arms wrapped themselves around her and she screamed fearing that a sea monster had got her. But as she turned to fight she saw Xena. "Xena!" she cried grabbing at her friend but Xena flipped her on her back and wrapped a strong arm around her and swam for shore. Close to the beach, Xena but her feet down and half carried, half dragged Gabrielle to shore.
For a minute, Gabrielle lay panting on her back. Her eyes closed. Then she opened them to look at her friend. Xena stood frozen. Her eyes unblinking staring straight ahead. Beside her stood Hades the god of the Underworld. Fear gripped Gabrielle's heart and she leapt to her feet. "No! Don't take her! She belongs with me!" cried Gabrielle looking at Hades. She turned and touched Xena's chest and Xena fell backward to the ground as stiff as a board and stared unblinking into the sky. Gabrielle's fingers felt freezing cold. "Ugh! Xena?!" cried Gabrielle in disgust and fear. She turned on Hades, "What have you done to her!?"
Hades looked soberly at Gabrielle, "I have kept her body alive and searched for her soul. She is at the moment an undead." Gabrielle looked at Xena in horror. "I can not do more. It is up to Lyceus and Xena now. Hades turned and with Gabrielle, he watched Lyceus beach the small fishing craft and walk towards them. Hades reached out and touched Lyceus' temple. "This can not be Lyceus. You must return with me. What my brother has told you is not true" Lyceus looked with love at Gabrielle but her eyes were on Xena as she nervously chewed her lip. Lyceus nodded. He took a step back and his solid form faded into a ghostly image another ghostly figure slumped forward to the ground. It was the spirit of Xena, now faint and weak.
"Good bye Gabrielle," whispered Lyceus and Gabrielle looked at him and smiled softly. He faded from view. Hades came forward and picked up the faded spirit of Xena in his arms and slowly lowered the spirit to her body. Then he stood and walked over to stand by Gabrielle's side. The undead's eyes closed and one of Xena's fingers moved. Gabrielle gave a gasp of joy and ran to kneel by her friend. Xena's lips turned blue and her body started to shiver violently. Gabrielle wrapped her warm body around Xena's freezing form.
Xena opened her eyes, "Gabrielle?" she questioned through chattering teeth reaching out with a shaking hand to touch her friend.
"I'm here Xena. I'm all right." reassured Gabrielle taking her friend's hand.
"I'm so cold," muttered Xena. Gabrielle looked up at Hades with questioning eyes.
"My niece has been as close to death as possible. She will be weak and ill for some time. I will help you get her back to the fishing village and then you can nurse her back to health." explained Hades.
Gabrielle looked at the god of the Dead. "Thank you. I don't know yet all the facts but I do realize that it is your doing that Xena lives. Thank you."
Hades nodded and for a second a smile almost touched his lips. Then he lifted his hand and Gabrielle found herself standing inside their room above the fishing tavern. Beside her on the bed lay Xena, pale and trembling with cold. Gabrielle lifted the blankets to cover her.
A month later Xena sat at the small table by their window enjoying the warm sea breeze as she played with her jackknife. Gabrielle sat on the window ledge and stared moodily out to sea. "You want to talk about what happened out there?" asked Xena.
Gabrielle turned and looked at her worried friend and shook her head. "Not yet," she responded honestly and Xena nodded her understanding. Then a smile creeped over Gabrielle's face. "You know what I want for my birthday each year, Xena?" she asked looking challengingly at her friend.
Xena raised her eyebrows, "What?" she responded realizing that her partner was setting her up for something big.
"Lyceus told me that you are a good cook!" Gabrielle revealed and Xena grimaced in irritation. I'll cook uncomplaining all year but on my birthday you have to prepare a delicious meal! O.K.?!"
Xena snorted and looked at her friend. "I just knew this birthday idea of yours had to have a catch." she stated dryly.
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