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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
Training Days and Mondays...
Time passed quickly, the days turning into weeks.
Mariah's head wound had healed up enough for Xena to remove the stitches. The first thing the young teacher did was go wash her hair, luxuriating in the feel of the soap and water on her scalp. Her back and shoulder muscles soon lost their soreness, helped by swimming and learning how to use the fighting staff.
It was hard at first, especially with all of the walking and the breaking in of new boots. It wasn't that Mariah wasn't in good shape. She had worked out faithfully in both the swimming pool and the weight room, but now she was using muscles she had never used much before. She knew enough to stretch often, keeping her muscles warm and limber, especially her calf muscles and her hamstrings. Xena and Gabrielle gave her some tips and pointers, too.
Mariah learned much during those weeks. She learned how to start a fire, what plants were safe to eat and which ones she needed to avoid, the art and science of outdoor cooking (courtesy of Gabrielle), and where/how to successfully forage for food. Xena and Gabrielle even taught her the fine art of haggling when they visited village marketplaces.
The young teacher was a sponge soaking up all of this information. Now that she had resigned herself to her situation, she decided to make the best of it. Mariah had never shied away from a challenge; to her, next to beating cancer, this *was* the ultimate challenge, and she intended to come out victorious.
Now and then, there were some hurdles she had to conquer.
First, there were her hands.
Her twentieth century world and lifestyle didn't condition her hands for the kind of life she had to live in this world. Her hands were soft, tender. In fact, the first time she had sparred with Gabrielle, the stinging shock of the two staffs colliding made her palms and fingers sing in pain. After that session, she had to soak her hands in the cold waters of a nearby river to get the swelling down. Her hands soon adjusted, and through the sometimes painful process of training and living, they began to toughen up, developing some much-needed callouses.
Her rings posed a second problem.
She found out early that wearing the rings affected her grip on the staff. If she gripped it too tightly, her ring fingers would swell up Gabrielle suggested they put the two rings on a long necklace she could wear, and she could tuck the rings under her top. "Just think of it this way," the young bard told her. "You're wearing them close to your heart." Mariah smiled at Gabrielle, who seemed to always know the right thing to say.
There was the issue of her clothing.
Try as she might, Mariah was having a difficult time adapting to the wardrobe limitations of ancient Greece. Unlike Xena, she didn't feel comfortable wearing leather, and, unlike Gabrielle, she couldn't show off that much skin due to her scars. She didn't want people asking too many questions. With her friends' help, the young teacher finally created an outfit that was functional, yet comfortable, an outfit that covered her entire upper body from shoulder to hip. She finished it off with a wrap-around, above-the-knee skirt like Gabrielle wore.
And then there were her two companions.
Gabrielle reminded her a great deal of her friend Sandy. Like Sandy, Gabrielle loved to talk, tell stories, and chitchat around their nightly campfire. Mariah was grateful that Gabrielle like to talk so much; that meant she didn't have to talk about herself. Oh, she told Xena and Gabrielle some things about herself and her life in the twentieth century; they both tried to draw her out, but she didn't tell them *too* much. Mariah truly liked the young bard; it was almost as if she found a part of Sandy's soul in this young woman from Potadeia.
On the other hand, she had a hard time figuring out Xena.
There was the public Xena, ever alert, ever on guard, showing no emotion whatsoever; that Xena was one tough customer, Mariah thought. I'd hate to meet *her* in a dark alley. Then there was the private Xena, the one she had met that first night, the one who laughed easily around the campfire, the one who had helped her find a fighting staff and a good pair of boots. Mariah couldn't quite reconcile the two sides of this warrior woman. And so Mariah continually worked on the dynamics of the relationships with her companions.
And, while she was working things out, she found new loves in her new world.
She loved her staff.
Mariah loved the feel of the wood in her hands, loved working the intricate patterns and twirls, loved the sound it made as it cut through the air, loved the fact that it was her improving hand-eye coordination and reflexes that made it all come together.
The only thing she didn't love about it were the mistakes.
At the beginning, she made a lot of them, her body covered in the bruises of her mistakes. She thought she would never catch on, that she would only succeed in killing herself. Gabrielle and Xena were patient, repeating moves over and over until the teacher began to understand the movements and rhythms involved in wielding the weapon. She grinned triumphantly the first time she worked through a rather complicated pattern of moves and didn't hit herself once, Gabrielle cheering her on the whole time. Xena and Gabrielle didn't spar with her too much with her during this time; they wanted the young teacher to get familiar and comfortable with both the weapon and her new society.
So Mariah hadn't used the staff to defend herself. Yet.
Her favorite time to practice was the predawn early morning. This was her time of the day, the time when she could practice and be alone with her thoughts. She was usually the second one up; she wondered if Xena *ever* slept. The warrior's sleeping gear would be folded up and stowed away. Gabrielle would still be snoozing when Mariah would quietly pick up her staff and walk a short distance away so she wouldn't wake up the sleeping bard. There, she would stretch, warm up, and slowly start twirling the weapon, her muscles bunching and tightening, her body sweating, as the patterns she wove with the staff grew increasingly more and more complex. She practiced lunges, feints...practiced all the things the two women showed her. After, she would go to a nearby stream, clean up, and, if time allowed, go for a quick swim. By the time she returned, the sun was just coming in over the horizon, Gabrielle was waking up, and Xena was returning from her own practice and her hunting forays. The bard and the teacher would make breakfast and clean up the camp while Xena looked after Argo's needs. After breakfast, they would pack up and spend the day traveling to a new location. They would stop and rest during the day.
The young teacher found a second love--traveling.
This was unlike any traveling she had experienced before. And Gabrielle made it fun, the young bard talking a mile a minute about the many different adventures she shared with her warrior friend. Mariah, in turn, would tell the two women stories based on some of the movies she had seen and the literature she had read and taught. She had to change the stories around a bit so they'd fit the time. Gabrielle was especially fond of romance, and loved the story of *Romeo and Juliet* and *Gone With The Wind*, while Xena was more partial to the action-based stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and *Escape From Alcatraz*.
Her flute was her third love.
One thing that Mariah missed tremendously from her time era was music. She had loved music, and had always found solace in her favorite songs. Songs from the Beatles, Celine Dion, Madonna, the Carpenters, her favorite movies...often, she found herself humming and singing her favorite tunes when she was by herself, or while she rested from staff practice.
One day early in their travels together, the three women came upon the village of Tyldus. It had quite a complete marketplace, so they decided to pick up supplies. It was there that Mariah spied the flute. It wasn't much to look at; about a foot in length, and a little bigger in width than her thumb. It wasn't much different from the one she had played while in high school. The merchant saw her eying it, and told her to try it. She put it to her mouth, her fingers exploring the holes, and blew. Her fingers moved along the holes as she continued to blow, testing the instrument and her ability to master it. She liked what she heard; it had a fine musical quality, but she put it down, a little wistfully. They were a little short on dinars, and the money had to be spent getting supplies.
The old merchant looked at her. "You like it?"
"Oh, yes," replied Mariah. "But I can't afford it right now." She sighed. "I guess I'll get one another time."
The merchant carefully studied his customer, and then made a decision. "Then you leave me no choice: I will give it to you, but on one condition; that when you travel through this area again, you must come back here and play for me."
Mariah protested. "But I may never be back this way again. And it-it's too much."
But the merchant insisted, smiling at her all the while. "Your eyes tell me you have a greater need of it than I do," he said gently. "Take it. I hope it brings some of the peace you seek." Mariah, tears in her eyes at the old man's generosity, gratefully accepted the gift, hoping she *could* one day return and play for him.
She often took the flute with her during her morning staff practice sessions, adding that to her predawn routine. It took her some time to remaster the instrument; she hadn't played the flute on a consistent basis in ten years. The merchant had been right. Playing it *did* give her a peace of mind. She searched her memory for her favorite songs, and was soon roughing them out on the instrument. She was reluctant to play it around Xena and Gabrielle, for she didn't want to disturb them. After a hard day's traveling, Mariah thought, the last thing they needed to hear was her fooling around on her flute.
The young teacher also rediscovered her love for writing.
For the past few years, she hadn't written as much as she wanted. There always seemed to be something that cut in on her time. But now, she made an effort to get back to her writing. Around the nightly fire, as Xena sharpened her sword, and Gabrielle worked on her scrolls, Mariah wrote in her journal.
At first she wrote of her fears--how would she survive, what if the cancer came back, how could she deal with the dangers inherent in her new life...all of the negative things she could think of.
But as time passed, she noticed her entries took on a different tone, one of acceptance and hope and understanding. Mariah also began to write poetry, something she hadn't done since she was in college. Gabrielle must be rubbing off on me, she thought wryly. It was her hope that one day she could even set some of her poems to music, when she remastered the flute.
Gabrielle was always eager to share her work, the bard having a wonderful talent for poetry and stories, but Mariah was more hesitant, more shy. She rarely shared, and Gabrielle did not press her, feeling the young teacher would share when she felt ready.
Mariah also found the most important love of her life--friendship, camaraderie, acceptance.
She didn't find that new love right away. It wasn't anything that Xena or Gabrielle did; Mariah was reticent, restrained around them as she was around many people. She knew these two women had been together for a long time, and were the best of friends. She was respectful of the relationship between the bard and the warrior, and didn't want to intrude upon their friendship. They had gone out of their way for her, had done much to make her feel welcome, and she didn't want to be the third wheel infringing upon their close friendship. Gabrielle was as open and free as the wind, but the warrior sometimes kept a fairly tight rein on showing any form of emotion, and it was hard for the teacher to get a read on her. Just as Mariah had developed her "battle-mode" for dealing with illness, Xena had developed a "warrior's face" for dealing with life.
But she saw just how close their friendship was that night in Popolis.
They had been traveling the better part of a month. It had been a long day, one of those hot, humid, sticky days without a breath of air. Argo's head drooped in the heat, and all three women walked tiredly, sweat streaming down their bodies. They had come upon the village of Popolis, and decided to stable Argo and spend the night at the inn.
They ate dinner after they cleaned up. It was good to have someone else have to make the meal for a change. They were relaxing, Xena with a cup of wine, Gabrielle with her mead, and Mariah with a cup of ale. The three women talked easily about their recent travels, keeping to themselves as was their habit. It was a slow night at the inn; the local musician who provided the entertainment was home sick. Looking to perk up his business, the innkeeper asked if anyone would like to make a few dinars entertaining the crowd.
Gabrielle immediately spoke up. They could use the dinars and she hadn't performed as a bard since Mariah joined up with them. The young blonde got up on the makeshift stage, and told the story Xena freeing Death.
Mariah had heard the story from Gabrielle while they were traveling, but here the bard told it with all of the skill and nuance of a trained professional. She's found her calling, thought Mariah, marveling at Gabrielle's performance and presence. She's a natural with quite a gift.
And then Mariah looked at Xena. There was a mixture of embarrassment and pride on the warrior's face: embarrassment at being the topic of Gabrielle's story, and pride at her best friend's ability to skillfully tell a good tale. Her eyes glowed as she watched Gabrielle work the room, wringing every bit of emotion from the story she told. Xena looks like a delighted mother or lover, Mariah thought to herself.
When Gabrielle finished, Xena was leading the applause. Customers tossed dinars at the young bard, yelling for more. Gabrielle told three more stories, and then begged off, saying she needed to get some sleep. As they walked up to their room at the end of the evening, their ears rang with applause, and their purse was full of money.
Yeah, it's quite a pair I've met up, thought Mariah. Lucky me. I would be dead by now if it wasn't for those two finding me. And now, they're stuck with me, she thought. They're stuck with a cancer-traumatized, twentieth century high school English teacher who's ill-equipped to deal with ways of ancient Greece.
So she did what she could to keep out of their way.
Xena greatly admired and respected the young teacher for dealing with the realities of a situation many would have found incomprehensible. The warrior saw a lot of herself in this stranger from the future. She liked Mariah, and thought of her as a friend. Xena knew what the young teacher was doing, and was appreciative of it. She may have been a difficult read to Mariah, but the warrior easily picked up on the young teacher's cues. She and Gabrielle had been on their own for some time, and the warrior knew how difficult it was to suddenly be an outsider thrown in with two people who knew each other so well. But Xena also knew that Mariah was all alone in this strange new world, and her only link to survival was her two traveling companions. She had to open up more; she had to learn to *trust*. A few days after leaving Popolis, Xena talked to Gabrielle about this while Mariah was out for a swim.
"Gabrielle, I'm worried about Mariah. It's like she goes out of her way to avoid us so she won't be *in* our way."
"You noticed it too? I thought it was just the bard in me being overly sensitive," Gabrielle said, smiling at her best friend. She was very fond of the teacher who told such great stories and who wrote such wonderful poetry, and she sensed that wall of reserve Mariah had built around herself. She wasn't too sure how Mariah would like her charging over that wall. "So what do you want to do about it?"
"We have to find a way to draw her in more, make her feel like she's a part of us." Gabrielle opened her mouth, but Xena gently cut her off. "No, it's nothing that either of us has done to her to make her feel like an outsider. I think, deep down, she's afraid."
"Afraid? Afraid of what?" asked the bard.
"She sees how close we are; I think she's afraid she'll ruin that for us by her being here. You know: two's company and three's a crowd. We've got to get that idea out of her head, Gabrielle."
The opportunity for doing just that presented itself that evening.
Much Ado About A Lot...
It was a beautiful night. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as the stars shown down from the heavens.
It started like every other night. Gabrielle and Mariah cleaned up after dinner and laid items out for breakfast in the morning while Xena fed, watered, and brushed Argo.
After the chores were done, the three sat around the campfire; Xena with her sword, Gabrielle with her scrolls, Mariah with her journal. Mariah had a hard time focusing on her journal, and after getting angry and frustrated with herself because she couldn't concentrate, she decided to go to bed earlier than usual.
She awoke a few hours later in a cold sweat, shivering under her blanket, plagued once again by her cancer dreams. It had been a few weeks since she had had the dreams; she thought she was beginning to leave them behind as she left the rest of her twentieth century life behind. Gabrielle hadn't heard her, but Xena had. Mariah sat up and rolled herself in her blanket, and sat, hunched over, shivering with the coolness of the night air, her rapidly drying sweat, and her memories
"You want to talk about it?" a quiet voice asked.
"Xena! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."
"That's OK. I'm a light sleeper," the warrior said, getting up from her sleeping place and coming over to sit down next to Mariah.
The two women sat in silence, one upset and fearful, the other patiently waiting.
"Mariah, it would help if you talked about it."
"I-I don't know if I can. I've never talked about my dreams with anyone."
Mariah was getting a little uncomfortable. "I always figured it was my own business, that I had my own private demons to deal with. And I thought I could handle it by myself."
Xena thought for a moment. "Mariah, how long have you been having these dreams?"
"For about seven years. Ever since," she stopped, swallowed hard, started again, "ever since I was first diagnosed with my illness."
Xena put an arm around her, pulling her close, not saying anything. Mariah, enveloped in the warrior's warm, solid arm, soon began to cry. Xena wrapped both arms around her, hugging her, rocking her, soothing her as she did Gabrielle in those horrible days and weeks following Perdicas' death. Mariah clung to the warrior as she wept for her pain, her fears, her anger, and mourned the part of her innocence that died when she was forced to come face to face her own mortality at so young an age. As she cried and mourned, she felt the burden of her illness begin to shift a little off of her shoulders. She felt better. She felt hope.
As her tears dried up, Xena was still there, holding her, rubbing her back to calm her down. Mariah, her face burrowed in Xena's shoulder, emotionally spent, said to the warrior, "I-I don't know what to say. Thank you doesn't begin to cover it. I know this sounds funny, but I haven't felt this good in a long time."
"No, it doesn't sound funny at all," Xena replied gently. "Do you feel more like talking now?"
Mariah was, but wasn't ready to let go of the comfort Xena provided. As Xena held her, she told the warrior what she had told no one else: told her of her struggles, her hopes, her fears, her anger. She began to cry again as she broke down and told Xena about the dreams. Xena held her tight. When Mariah looked up, she saw tears in Xena's eyes, tears running down her face.
"Oh, Xena, I didn't mean to get you crying, too!" said Mariah, sitting up.
"There's nothing wrong with tears, Mariah. Remember what I said to you a few weeks ago about healing the soul? Well, I think you began you're healing tonight. You know, you and I are a lot alike...more alike than I think you realize. We've both gone through some very painful times, and we've both thought that we could carry that burden all by ourselves. But being with Gabrielle has taught me something; being strong doesn't mean being alone. Being strong means having the courage to ask for help when you need it, sharing your joys and your sorrows, and letting people get close to you in your life. Gabrielle and I...well, we're the closest thing you have to a family. We *are* your family now, Mariah. And you're a part of ours."
"But Xena, I would never want to get between yours and Gabrielle's friendship. I mean, you two are so close..." Mariah trailed off, looking down. "I don't want to spoil that friendship," the teacher said softly.
"You couldn't, Mariah," said Xena, cupping the teacher's chin, lifting it so she could look in her eyes. "Stay with us as long as you like. Please. And when the day comes that you're ready and you want to set off on your own, you'll have mine and Gabrielle's blessing. And our love. And Mariah...never forget who *we* are....we are not just three people who travel together. We are more than that. We are three friends...three sisters."
Mariah looked at this woman who had given her so much. "Thank you," she said, unshed tears glittering in her eyes. She grabbed the warrior in a ferocious hug. "Thank you for everything...my sister friend."
Xena returned the hug, glad that she could help her friend begin healing the hole in her heart and the rift in her soul.
As they separated from their hug, Xena looked at Mariah and said, "Now when will you play your flute and sing for us?"
Mariah stared at her friend in amazement. "How did you know about that? I never sang or played around you or Gabrielle!!"
"Oh, I have MANY skills," Xena said with a big smile, arching her eyebrow. "One of which includes checking on a certain friend of mine who gets up so early every morning and goes off by herself." Mariah blinked. "Well, I have to see how you're coming along on your staff practice, don't I?" said Xena. "And we should start working with you more on defensive strategies. We haven't run in to any trouble yet, but you never know."
"But why didn't you say anything earlier?" Mariah asked.
"Sometimes, Mariah, we *need* to be by ourselves," the warrior said simply.
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