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by Lynn M. Price
Copyright 1998 by Lynn M. Price. The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo are the property of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and Universal/MCA. The rest are mine. This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission of the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.
Lyrics to the song "In My Life," by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Copyright 1965, Northern Songs Ltd.
The events in this story take place between "Been There, Done That," and "The Dirty Half Dozen."
This work contains mild profanity and scenes of mild violence.
This is a first attempt at fan fiction, and is the first in a series of planned stories.
With thanks to the late, great Mark Twain and his "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" for providing the inspiration needed to complete this piece of fiction.
And a great big "thank you" to all of you who write and read fan fiction. You are the wind beneath my wings...
Date of work: 1/1/98-1/10/98
It was nighttime of that first fateful day of Mariah's new life.
Earlier, the women went through Mariah's belongings, tearing all of her twentieth century clothing into small strips, putting the strips on the fire to burn. The sunglasses were tossed on the fire; the flames licked greedily at the plastic and metal offering. Mariah, dressed in one of the outfits Xena picked up for her that morning, threw her watch and her sneakers on the fire as well. It would do her no good to hang onto them. Most of the contents in the bag were also tossed on the fire...her students' essays, her portable Shakespeare book, her checkbook, money, wallet, credit cards, pictures, the bottle of Tylenol. None of these things will help me here, she thought sadly, as she dragged a bare big toe through the dirt. Mariah stared at the flames and wondered. Will I be like the phoenix that rises from the ashes to start my life anew? Or will I slowly burn out and die like most fires? She had no answer for herself. Finally the bag itself was burned. After the fire burned itself out, the ashes would be buried deep within the earth, hopefully never to be found.
There were, however, a few things Mariah refused to part with.
"I can't get rid of my rings," she said. "My parents gave me those rings before they died. They're my only link with them. When I wear them, I'll turn them so the designs face inward. That way, they'll look like other rings." Xena agreed, but cautioned her to not forget to do that.
Then there was the matter of her journal.
"I won't give this up," she said tersely, cradling the book in her arms. "Words are my life, writing keeps me sane. Look, I'll keep it hidden somehow, but, please, you can't burn it, Xena. It would be like burning my soul."
Gabrielle, who herself realized how much words and language meant to her, sympathized and offered a solution. "We could keep it covered in the bottom of my scroll bag. That way, if anyone just looked in the bag, it wouldn't be seen." Mariah threw the emerald-eyed bard a grateful look.
"Fine," replied Xena. "You two work it out. But whatever you do, Mariah, you have to keep it hidden away. And the only time you can use it is when we're alone in camp."
Afterward, the women returned to the creek. It was time to start thinking about supper, and what better supper than fresh fish? The warrior and the bard taught Mariah how to fish. That wasn't too hard; Mariah had fished when she was younger, and, after a few tries, she was handling the pole with ease.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. Maybe this wouldn't be so difficult after all.
"Gabrielle, stay here with Mariah, would you? I'm going to brush down Argo after I feed and water her." The warrior smiled at her friend as she walked away.
Mariah turned to Gabrielle. "So how did you two meet up?"
Gabrielle smiled, her green eyes sparkling, eager at the chance to tell a good tale in front of a willing audience. "It's quite a story. It was a few years ago when I was still living in Potadeia. The village had just been attacked by slavers. We were being taken away when I hit one of the men. He was going to whip me when this woman appeared from out of nowhere. It was Xena. You should have seen her fight!! It was amazing. I'm still awed watching her fight. She's incredible. After that, I just had to get to know her better, so I followed her. She didn't like it at first; I think she was too used to being on her own. She soon came around. We've been traveling together ever since."
"So where did Xena learn to fight?" asked Mariah.
"That's a story in itself, and even *I* don't know the whole of it. What I do know is this: ten years ago, *her* village was attacked by a warlord named Cortese. She led an uprising against him, and her brother Lyceus was killed in the fighting. She started taking more and more land around her village to protect it. Soon, all the killing and mayhem turned her into one of the most ruthless, bloodthirsty warlords around. She was out absolutely out of control, a killing machine. That was the time when the name 'Xena: Warrior Princess' brought nothing but fear and dread. Then she met a man who helped her turn her life around, a man who took her from her path of destruction put her on the path of good. She was just starting to travel that new path and turn her life around when I met her."
"So what exactly do you two *do*?" asked Mariah, as she pulled a fish from the stream. "Is Xena some kind of soldier-for-hire? A mercenary?"
"Oh, no!! Xena would never do that. Those days are behind her," I hope, the bard said to herself, thinking of the few lapses Xena had had since they met up. "No, we travel. We help people. We see the world," Gabrielle said simply. "We live."
"And you...are you a warrior too, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle laughed at that. "I'm more the bard type than the warrior type. Xena's taught me a lot about handling myself in a fight. I'm not too bad, but I'm not *nearly* in her league. No, I'm more comfortable telling a good story than mixing it up in a fight. Don't worry, though. We'll teach you some moves so you can take care of yourself when we get in a fight."
"When we get in a fight," Mariah repeated.
"With Xena, it's never 'if,' it's always 'when,'" replied the bard, laughing. "You'll see."
"What kind of weapons does she use?"
"Anything. Everything. Her main weapons are her sword and her chakram, but she can use anything in a fight, from her fists to fish to frying pans. And has." Gabrielle chuckled to herself, thinking of some of Xena's more memorable fights.
"What do you use? Do you use a sword, too?" asked Mariah.
"Oh, no. Xena said carrying a sword makes you a target. I use an Amazon fighting staff," said Gabrielle, as she struggled to pull another fish from the stream. "I think we have enough. Let's clean these and start cooking them."
After their dinner of fresh fish, the women sat around the campfire. Xena sharpened her sword, Gabrielle worked on her scrolls, and Mariah, after cleaning up the dishes, stared silently into the fire. I have to tell them, she thought. She screwed up her courage, and looked at her two new companions.
Mariah spoke up. "You asked me a question earlier today, Gabrielle, and I never answered it. I-I think I'm ready to, now."
Gabrielle put down her scrolls and Xena set aside her sword. They both looked at Mariah, waiting for her to begin.
Mariah sat back, crossed her legs, tucking in her bare feet, the flames of the fire reflected in her blue eyes. "You wanted to know about me. It's only right that I do tell you. You two are going out of you way to help me...it-it's the least I can do."
"Mariah, you don't have to do this now..."
"No, Xena, I want to." Who am I kidding, she thought to herself, I *need* to. She exhaled audibly. "It's a long story..."
Gabrielle perked up, her green eyes dancing in the firelight. That was her favorite kind!!
"All you know about me is that I'm from another land, another time. I am a teacher." They could hear the quiet pride in her voice. "I taught teenagers. After they finished their studies, some went on to study more, others chose to go out into the world. There were over 3,000 students at my school, and over 200 teachers. Some of those teachers taught mathematics, some taught science, others taught history. I taught speech, literature, and writing."
Gabrielle smiled at her. "So that's why you couldn't give up your journal! Hey! I don't mind. I think it's great we have something in common. I mean, something in common besides fishing!"
Xena spoke up. "Yeah, great...now I got *two* of you who'll be talking my ears off!" She rolled her blue eyes in mock frustration, a smile on her lips.
Mariah smiled back at them. "Books, reading, writing, teaching, my students, school...that was my life for the last few years. In fact, I was leaving school when I slipped on that ice, cracked my head open, and wound up here. It was a life I loved. And I will miss it." Tears welled in her eyes as she continued her story.
"But I had another life while I was a teacher...it was not a pleasant life." Her eyes closed with the pain and fear of those memories, visibly struggling with her inner emotions. "It was a time of sickness...it was during this time that I got those scars you asked me about earlier, Gabrielle."
Xena's eyes narrowed as she listened more intently to this part of the story.
"It began around seven years ago. I had an illness, a disease that caused growths to form in my body. It was a deadly disease. If I had done nothing, the disease would have killed me. I didn't have many choices if I wanted to live--and *I* wanted to live!! The first thing that needed to be done was to cut out the tumors--growths--they knew about. So I went to a surgeon who did that. That's where I got this scar," she pointed to the barely visible four inch scar in the fold at the base of the left side of her neck, "and the scar on my stomach." She lifted her top so her companions could better see the vertical foot-long scar that ran down the center of her abdomen.
"But surgery wasn't enough. Soon after, the tumors started growing again. It was worse the second time. I began to have pain in my back, terrible pain, and soon after, lost the ability to walk. It was then they discovered the growth on my spinal cord. They had to cut me open and scrape it out. That explains the scar you saw on my back earlier today, Xena."
Gabrielle winced at the thought. By the gods, what this woman had gone through!!
"The second time, I was treated with drugs that killed the disease. It was hard, though. The drugs made me very sick, and I still had the problem of learning how to walk again. I had to be on those drugs for almost a year..."
"But I did it," she said, her eyes hardening against the memories. "By god, I did it. I took all that medicine. I vomited, I hallucinated, I stumbled around like a baby, when I was learning to walk again. And after all of that, I vowed to do something with my life, to make something of myself. I *survived*," she said, blue eyes blazing in the firelight. And, she said silently to herself, if I could survive all that, then I damn well can survive this.
For a few moments, no one spoke as Mariah breathed deeply to reign in her emotions.
"No one doubts that," said Xena, as she watched the young teacher calm herself down. "Sometimes, though, in order to survive, we need help. I didn't understand that myself until I met Gabrielle." The warrior smiled at her best friend, who smiled back. "And not just help in surviving the physical side of injury or disease, Mariah Sometimes the soul needs healing as well." Xena's eyes searched Mariah's, the warrior remembering her screams of that morning.
Mariah stared back at this warrior woman who seemed to be able to see into the deepest recesses of her heart, as Xena said, gently, "We're going to help you. And, by the time we're done with you, you *will* be able to make your own way in this world. You'll see."
Xena stood up and stretched. "We've had a long day...all of us. We better get some sleep. Gabrielle, don't even *think* about staying up talking half the night. It's hard enough to wake you up now," Xena said with a smile. "Sleep would do us all good, especially you, Mariah. With a head wound, you want to get all of the rest you can. We'll stay here one more day so you can get some of your strength back, and then we'll be on our way."
The warrior walked over to her sleeping place. Gabrielle sighed, got up, and walked over to her own bedroll. Mariah stayed by the fire a few more moments until she too decided to turn in.
She hoped the dreams wouldn't bother her tonight.
Xena In Action...
Dawn slowly approached as the morning sun peeked over the eastern sky.
Surprisingly, Mariah had a relatively calm night, the tossing and turning due more to sleeping on the ground than any tossing and turning in her psyche.
As she awoke, she again took in the peaceful surroundings. The quiet was almost palpable. It was strange waking up and not hearing the all-too-common noises of cars driving past her house, train whistles blowing as the tracked vehicles moved through the downtown area...
She sat up slowly, her head throbbing slightly, the pain considerably diminished. She wished she could say the same about the pain in her back. The muscles shrieked in protest as she moved her arms and shoulders about in an effort to loosen up her sore, aching muscles.
Looking around as she stretched, she saw Gabrielle, asleep, snoring softly. Xena was not there, nor was Argo.
Quietly getting to her feet so as to not disturb the sleeping bard, she walked over to the waterbag for a drink. It was getting low, so she decided to go down to the stream and fill it up. Mother Nature was calling her, so first she went behind the bushes to relieve herself.
After filling the waterbag and cleaning herself up in the stream, she felt the need to stretch her legs. She wasn't used to this much inactivity, and after returning the waterbag to camp, she decided to go for a short walk.
She took in the sights and sounds the forest offered her. It's so calm, so peaceful, she thought to herself as she walked, her bare feet catching the dampness of the morning dew upon the grass, her muscles loosening up from the walk. She stuck to the trail. There was no sense wandering off in some unfamiliar wilderness.
As she walked, she heard a new sound. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. At first, she couldn't describe it, and then she realized what it was: it was something moving, cutting through the air at a fast rate of speed. Curious now, she followed the sound and came upon Xena, alone, in a small clearing, wielding her sword.
Mariah had never seen anything like this, not even in the Hong Kong action movies she so dearly loved The warrior's movements were as graceful as any dancer's as she kept the deadly blade in a twisting, whirling, glittering, constant stream of movement. She makes it look easy, Mariah thought, the blade flashing in the early morning sunlight, but the teacher knew it was an ease born of many years of practice. Her eyes had a hard time following the blade as Xena worked through a range of motions and movements designed to keep the warrior at the top of her form.
As she worked on the movements, Xena knew that Mariah had been watching her for some time. No use hiding it, the warrior princess thought to herself, as she slowed the movements of the blade. If she's going to travel with us, she needs to get used to it.
When the blade was still, Mariah stepped out into Xena's line of vision.
"You wield a pretty mean sword, Xena," the teacher said with a smile. "May I?"
Xena stared at her, her eyes narrowing. "You know how to use a sword?"
Mariah shook her head. "No. I never was much of a fighter. Well, not in the *physical* sense, anyway," she said, as Xena carefully handed her the weapon.
"It's beautiful. It's heavier than I thought it would be," said the teacher as she hefted the sword. "I don't know why, but I always thought swords of this size would be lighter." She handed the weapon back to the warrior.
"Do you have weapons like this where you come from?" Xena asked.
"We have worse," the teacher said simply, and Xena let the subject drop.
It was then that Mariah noticed the golden hoop on Xena's hip. She pointed to it. "Is that your," she searched for the word, "chakram? Gabrielle mentioned it yesterday."
"Yes," the warrior said, sheathing her sword in the scabbard on her back.
Mariah looked at the frisbee-shaped object closely. It looked like gold, but she was sure it wasn't gold. It was unlike any metal she had seen before, and was beautifully engraved.
Xena looked at her, amusement reflected in her blue eyes. "You want to see how it works?"
"Well stand over there, and whatever you do, *don't* move."
In a flash, the warrior reared back and threw the chakram. Mariah watched in amazement as it ricocheted off five trees before it returned to Xena, who caught it on the fly and returned it to its accustomed place on her hip.
"Amazing," the teacher said. "I've never seen anything like it."
Xena looked at her. "You're up early this morning. How do you feel?"
"Better," she said. "The head is much better, thanks. My back and shoulders, now that's a different story."
"Did they stiffen up on you? I was afraid of that. Here, sit down."
Mariah did as she was told, tucking her bare feet under legs, Xena kneeling behind her.
First, the warrior checked the gash on Mariah's head, which was healing nicely. The stitches could probably come out in four more days, she thought She then had Mariah lean over while she gently massaged the tender muscles in the girl's neck, shoulders, and back.
Mariah sighed as Xena's fingers kneaded her aching muscles, wincing only slightly when the warrior hit an especially tender area.
"Mmmmm, that feels good." Mariah said, as her weary muscles loosened up. "You're a healer, a warrior, a philosopher a masseuse..."
"Oh, I have MANY skills," Xena replied.
"I don't doubt it, Xena. I don't doubt that for a moment. Xena?"
Mariah wasn't exactly sure where to start. "Yesterday, Gabrielle told me a little about the two of you and the kind of lives you lead. She said that the two of you would show me how I could handle myself when a fight came along."
Xena didn't say anything for a moment as she continued to work on Mariah's aching back. "I always told Gabrielle 'words before weapons,' but it doesn't always seem to work out that way," she sighed. "Now that you're here, you *will* need to be able to defend yourself. Lone women make a tempting target. A *very* tempting target," she said grimly.
Mariah was quiet a few more moments. "Xena?"
"No offense, but I don't think I could use a sword. It's like what you told Gabrielle, that carrying a sword makes you a target. I won't go looking for trouble, but if trouble comes looking for me, I want to be able to deal with it."
The warrior laughed. "You're sounding more and more like Gabrielle. No, I don't think it *would* be wise for you to use a sword." Xena thought for a moment. "What about a fighting staff like Gabrielle has? It's a good weapon that doesn't look threatening."
Mariah thought it over. "Sounds good to me. I'll give it a try."
"Well let's go see if we can find you one," said Xena as she finished massaging Mariah's back. "How does that feel?"
Mariah flexed her muscles. "Wonderful. Thanks. Let me know if I can ever return the favor. I've given a massage or two in my time."
"Oh, I don't doubt it, Mariah. I don't doubt that for a moment," Xena said, parroting what the girl had said earlier.
Mariah blushed, and Xena took pity on her new friend. "Come on," she said with a smile. "There's a stand of wood over there that might have what we're looking for." She whistled sharply, and Argo appeared from the woods. "And after we find you a staff, you and I are going to town," she said looking at the girl's bare feet. "You need some boots."
Gabrielle was slowly waking up when the two women walked in the camp, Argo trailing behind. Mariah was walking in a new pair of brown leather boots, Xena was carrying what looked like a staff. She turned a sleepy eye to Mariah. "Oh, great...I suppose *you're* a morning person, too," she grumbled good-naturedly.
Xena spoke up, smiling at her sleepy friend.. "You two work on breakfast while I smooth out this staff," she said, pulling out a small cutting knife. She sat down, whittling off small branches and notches, smoothing out the rough edges.
Gabrielle got up, restarted the fire, and put water on to boil while Mariah laid out the food. It was a cold breakfast of the leftover bread and cheese, washed down with hot tea. The three ate, Xena while working on the staff.
Afterward, the warrior got up, picked up the staff and tossed it to Mariah, who caught it easily. It was a little longer than she was tall, with both ends rounded off. She ran her hands down the shaft. Xena had done a good job smoothing it out, she thought. Then she noticed something.
"It looks more like a walking stick," she said.
"That's the idea," said Gabrielle. "Who would ever think you'd be a threat with a walking stick?" She got her own staff out, as Xena took a hold of Mariah's.
"But watch what you can do with it," she said. The bard began twirling her staff in a series of practiced, intricate movements. She then stopped and went into a defensive mode as Xena lunged at her in a simulated attack, Gabrielle deflecting blow after blow. Then they switched roles, with Gabrielle being the aggressor and Xena being on the defensive.
Mariah's eyes widened as she watched the two friends spar.
When it was over, Xena tossed the staff back to Mariah. She caught it and twirled it around a few times, a pale imitation of Gabrielle, and almost knocked herself upside her head.
"Take it easy," Xena cautioned. "For now, get used to the weight and balance. Don't try anything fancy until your head, shoulders, and back heal up more. When you're more comfortable, we'll take you through the movements, and show you how to defend yourself against an attack."
"Yeah, there's no rush," added Gabrielle. "We've got plenty of time, Mariah."
Yeah, Mariah thought to herself. We've got time all right...about 2,000 years.
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