The Chronicles of Gabrielle:
“The Heart of a Warrior”
Heart of a Warrior Trilogy Book One
Xena, created by Rob Tapert and John Schulian, and all of its characters are the sole property of Renaissance Pictures. This piece of fanfiction is not intended to infringe upon the rights of the studio or any of its benefactors in any way. No copyrights or trademarks were harmed during the production of this story. I write about Xena and Gabby because I love them, and I want to share my imagination with the rest of the Xenaverse.
Jarra and Ezra, and any other characters not previously mentioned on Xena, are original characters created by me.
Copyright 2002 SliderBard
This story is dedicated to Kevin Smith, our beloved Ares.
We love you Kevin. We’ll never forget you.
PART 1: BURIAL
It was good to be home. But somehow it wasn’t the same. The colors weren’t as bright, the air not as sweet as she remembered. Had things really changed? Maybe it was just her. The way she felt right now, things would never be the same again.
Gabrielle slung her pack over her shoulder and walked down the dock onto dry land. How many times had she and Xena gone in and out of this very same port? Walked down that very same dock? Too many times for Gabrielle to count. Suddenly, Xena wasn’t there anymore. Gabrielle was alone.
The bard had had a lot of time to think on the voyage home from Japan. Bard- Could she really think of herself that way anymore? That was one of many questions that crossed her mind over those long days at sea. It was hard to think of herself of a bard anymore. She hadn’t written a single word since finishing the tale of Xena’s last stand. The words just wouldn’t come. “Battling Bard of Poteidia”- a title she’d heard people call her by. That was a bit more accurate. The battling part, anyway. Gabrielle felt more like a warrior these days than anything else. She had come so far from the naive village girl she once was. When she pictured herself back then, before Xena came to her small village to save them from the warlord Draco, it was almost like looking at a complete stranger.
There had been other questions, too. Like, why wasn’t she grieving as much as she thought she should be?
Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you...
Those words that Xena had uttered-Gabrielle had been hearing them in her head over and over again. The words-they had turned out to be absolutely true, if not exactly in the way that she wanted. In the days following her friend’s death, Gabrielle had been able to see and hear Xena as though she still lived. She still could sometimes. Maybe that was what was making things easier. Even when Xena didn’t appear to her, Gabrielle felt her spirit stronger than ever, right by her side, a guiding light in otherwise dark days. Maybe that was why she didn’t feel so lost, because for her, Xena wasn’t really dead. Still, it wasn’t the same, and the knowledge of that fact weighed heavily upon her.
Another question: what was it going to be like being on her own? All her life someone had been there- her mother, father, and sister Lila, while she was growing up, and Xena after that. It was certainly different. And lonely. She wasn’t sure if she would ever get used to it.
Where would she go now? She had decided on Egypt, the land of the pharaohs. Xena had talked about going there before they were called away to Japan. It was as good a place as any, and there really wasn’t anything keeping her here, with the exception of one last thing. It was the only reason she had come to Greece at all.
The sky had clouded over as her ship was coming into the port, and a light drizzle was now starting to fall as Gabrielle made her way down the small port town’s main thoroughfare, heading for the inn. She pulled her coat more tightly around her. Winter was definitely coming. Gabrielle had just barely made it onto one of the last ships to set sail here before the winter storms made travel by sea too dangerous. The cloud-darkened sky gave everything a dismal gray cast, only adding to her increasing melancholy.
Gabrielle was painfully aware of her best friend’s absence right then.
It came to her suddenly, just has it had all through her journey here, a feeling of love and warmth so strong it was beyond description spreading all through her being. Xena. The presence was unmistakable. Her friend’s spirit was touching her at that very moment, and it was like basking in the warmth of the most beautiful summer day, sun shinning down upon her.
You are never alone, Gabrielle, Xena’s voice gently whispered in her mind.
Just as suddenly as the feeling had come it was gone. A small smile touched Gabrielle’s face. It was nice to know that her friend was watching over her. It made things easier.
Coming toward Gabrielle from the opposite end of the street was a woman leading a black horse. She wore black boots, skin tight black leather pants, and black hardened leather torso armor over a black leather vest. A flowing full-length black leather coat completed the ensemble. Her reddish-brown hair came down just past her shoulders, an Amazon warrior braid woven on one side. Rich brown eyes looked idly around her as she walked, until they focused on Gabrielle. Recognition flashed across her features. Smiling broadly and waving she called, “Hey Gabby! You’re back!”
With a smile that she didn’t really feel, Gabrielle waved back. “Hi, Jarra!”
Gabrielle had recognized her immediately. The woman, Jarra, was a dear friend of she and Xena both. It struck Gabrielle then, as Jarra walked toward her, just how much she resembled the fallen warrior princess. Not so strange if you considered the fact that Xena had taught Jarra everything she knew about being a better warrior and a better person. Xena and Gabrielle met Jarra for the first time years ago, not long after thawing out from the “deep freeze”. “Deep freeze” was the term Gabrielle used for the twenty-five years herself and Xena had spent frozen in ice after the god Ares, mistaking them to be dead, placed them in an icy tomb atop Mount Idi. Jarra had been an emotional wreck, wrestling with a great deal of inner turmoil over her past. Gabrielle knew that was what had motivated Xena to help her. Not even the love of a wonderful man named Ezra could have brought her out of it in time if Xena hadn’t come along. Xena had become a sort of mentor to Jarra and helped her to become the strong person she was today.
She was not going to like the news that Gabrielle had for her.
Jarra, on her way back to the “Sea Breeze” inn, wasn’t paying much attention to what was around her. She looked at the road, the people on the street as they passed; nothing of interest presented itself until she glanced ahead at the docks and a flash of blond hair in the crowd caught her eye.
Could it be? Were they back already?
Jarra quickened her pace, pulling her horse Demos along with her. She squinted at the scene before her, a flood of people just getting off of the boats, trying to find that telltale flash of blond. If Gabrielle was here, then Xena was here, too. Jarra hoped so. They had been away for so long; it would be good to see her friends again, two people that had made such a difference in her life. And Jarra’s life had been a very interesting one.
Jarra had been born, and for the most part raised, an Amazon in one of the Greek tribes. Her mother was Lysia, the one that had commanded Queen Hippolita’s armies many years ago. She had been raised like any other Amazon child, steeped in the traditions of her tribe, trained to fight, and taught to be strong. She had been very happy. Jarra loved being strong, loved fighting, and was fiercely loyal to her Amazon sisters. Yes, being the strongest, fastest, and most skilled of her sisters made her very happy indeed. But as the years went by she began to feel that something was missing from her life somehow. Like there was more to her than just being an Amazon, but she didn’t know what. As if she could be something more… Jarra never really gave that feeling any kind of serious thought until the day that her mother sat her down and told her about her father.
He had been a kind and gentle man, a Celt from the faraway lands of Britannia. Her mother never did tell her the details of how they had met, but that was unimportant. It was the stories of his homeland, the life that he led before coming to Greece, which caught her attention. It was those stories that set in motion one of the most significant changes in her life.
That day was the day that Jarra discovered why she felt that there were missing pieces in her life. There was a whole other side of her heritage that she knew nothing about. It called to her. It made the following years somewhat difficult.
As much as Jarra loved tribal life and her sisters, she became restless, desperately wanting to experience and explore this other part of who she was. The Celtic part. And she wanted to find her father, who had left Greece after her mother told him that she could not leave her tribe to be with him. Of course, he could not live with the Amazons, so he went home to Britannia. As far as her mother knew he was still living there. When Jarra asked why he could not have stayed in Greece, her mother replied somewhat sadly, “He swore an oath to his King, to serve him. He could not break that oath. For him there was no choice but to go back to his castle in the Celtic lands and serve the King. I respected that.” After all that Jarra had been taught about honor and loyalty, she respected that decision, too, instead of possibly resenting it. After all, her father really couldn’t have been a part of her life, raised in an Amazon village as she was. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t be now that she was almost grown up.
Jarra wound up wanting more than she thought Amazon life had to offer her. She wanted to know her father and try living the life that he did. Her mother wouldn’t allow her to go off searching for him, which only made Jarra rebellious. She was stubborn (much like her father) and would not give up. For two years she kept up her private rebellion, questioning tradition and village life, and in general getting on everyone’s nerves. It didn’t make the tribal leaders happy, either. They were already upset with her mother for telling Jarra about her father. “She had the right to know,” was all her mother had to say in reply to the leaders’ complaints. The leaders were very unhappy with Jarra because of her behavior. They said it was “disrespectful to the Amazon Nation” and her heritage as an Amazon. Who could blame them, really? In hindsight, Jarra could see what it must have looked like to them. It had hurt her to hear them say those things. Jarra was proud of her heritage and proud to be an Amazon, but it wasn’t the whole of who she was. It never could be, not after what her mother had told her. Didn’t they understand that she needed to find this other part of herself, to know who she really was? To become that greater something that she felt she could be? It didn’t matter whether they did or not, because when she came of age they no longer had a say and neither did her mother. She was leaving for Britannia, this was something she had to do for herself, maybe she would be back but she didn’t know for sure. This was just something that she had to do.
The parting of ways went better than Jarra dared hope. Queen Marga actually gave Jarra her blessing and wished her luck on her quest, as did her mother. Lysia only wanted her daughter to be happy, even if she didn’t quite agree with the way Jarra was going about it. She had always known that Jarra would have to find her own way, even if that way wasn’t with the Amazons. She had just hoped that it would never come to that.
So Jarra had said goodbye to all that she had ever known and set off for Britannia in search or her father and herself. Things weren’t always easy, and sometimes all that had kept her going on the long journey was imagining how happy her father would be when he saw her. When Jarra stepped onto Celtic soil for the very first time, it was like coming home after being away for a lifetime, even though she had never set foot there before. And her father had been happy to see her. Overjoyed in fact, because he had never known his only child. “You’re more beautiful than I could have imagined,” he’d said to her in his lilting Celtic accent upon seeing her.
After a short time Jarra decided to stay with him and learn all that he could teach her about her Celtic heritage. The lifestyle there, though strange at first (not being able to run around in a loincloth like she had in her village, for example), quickly appealed to her and she came to love it, though she made sure never to forget that she was still an Amazon and that that would always be a part of her. No, Jarra never forgot where she came from. She kept many of the Amazon practices with her. She still said the prayer of thanks when she hunted, thanking the gods for their bounty and sending the animal’s spirit off in peace.
The duality of her life made her somewhat of an enigma-even to herself. So much like the Amazon she was raised to be, yet so much like the people she had only thought of as outsiders until she started to become one of them.
Jarra was happier than she had ever been, there with her father in Britannia, though she missed her mother and sisters from her tribe. She vowed to go back one day. Yes she was truly happy, complete for the first time in her life, until the day that her father was brutally murdered while she was away. Jarra didn’t want to go anywhere near that painful memory, the event that had sent her life spiraling out of control…
Pushing the past aside, Jarra continued to search for her friend. There! It was Gabrielle! Waving, she called out, “Hey, Gabby! You’re back!”
Smiling warmly, Gabrielle waved back. “Hi, Jarra!”
Grinning broadly, barely able to control her excitement, Jarra hurried down the street toward her friend. Gods, it was good to see her, and it would be good to see Xena, too. The warrior was her mentor, yes, but she was also one of Jarra’s best friends. How fun it would be to spend time with her again. There was so much Jarra had to tell her.
They met in the middle of the street, just in front of the Sea Breeze Inn, Jarra wrapping her arms around her friend and lifting the smaller, lighter Gabrielle off her feet briefly before gently setting her down.
“How have you been, Jarra?” Gabrielle asked.
“Good. Keeping busy here in Greece. You know what they say: a do-gooder’s work is never done. What about you?”
“Fine,” was Gabrielle’s reply, but something about the way that she said it made Jarra think it wasn’t entirely true. “I’m just happy to be home.”
“I’ll bet. Japan is a long way from here.”
Gabrielle noticed the way that Jarra was glancing about. She knew what Jarra was looking for, or more correctly, who Jarra was looking for. That’s when the inevitable question came, a little sooner than Gabrielle had expected.
“So, where’s Xena?” Jarra asked lightly.
Jarra didn’t see her warrior friend anywhere. Maybe she had already gone off to get a room at the in or some such thing. When Gabrielle didn’t answer right away, Jarra began to feel uneasy. A thought crossed her mind, but she dismissed it. It couldn’t be that.
“Gabrielle, where’s Xena?” Jarra asked again, a bit more insistantly. Why was there a note of panic creeping into her voice?
“Jarra, is there somewhere where we can talk in private?”
Why wasn’t Gabrielle answering her? Jarra was getting a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something about Gabrielle’s tone, her body language, was wrong somehow, and it bothered Jarra very much. What did she have to say that she couldn’t say right here?
“I have a room at the inn,” Jarra replied. “Ezra is waiting for me there, but-“
“Good. Let’s go.”
Gabrielle had never been this clipped with her before. This wasn’t like Gabrielle at all. What was going on? Where was Xena? Deep down, Jarra knew what the answer might be, but that just wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be.
Jarra kept telling herself that as she tied up Demos and guided Gabrielle inside the inn and upstairs to her room, the sense of foreboding becoming more suffocating with every step.
Moments later Jarra was holding the door to her room open for Gabrielle. She quickly followed her friend in, closing the door behind her.
“You’re back early.” This from a man who was sitting on one of the room’s two beds, mending a leather vest.
He hadn’t looked up when the two women came in, but when he did he got a pleasant surprise. “Gabrielle,” he said with a smile. “You’re back!”
He put aside his mending work and stood, crossing the room to give Gabrielle a big hug.
“It’s good to see you again, Ezra,” Gabrielle said when he released her.
“You, too, Gab,” he replied, flashing that trademark gorgeous smile of his.
Ezra Lusk, the love of Jarra’s life, the soulmate that Jarra never would have met had she not made the journey to Britannia. So handsome he could almost be considered beautiful, Ezra was tall and well muscled with close-cropped dark brown hair, sculpted cheekbones and an angular jaw, luminous gray eyes and a smile like the sun. He was so good looking that one could almost think he was a god, or at least a half-god. You would never know it, judging by his attitude. If Ezra did know just how striking he really was, he gave no outward sign of it. He thought of himself as just an ordinary guy trying to make it through the day in one piece. He didn’t think that there was anything particularly special about himself, and was as far from conceited as you could get. That was Ezra; laid-back and humble with a great sense of humor, and fiercely loyal to Jarra. Men of his type were rare.
He looked to Jarra, who was still standing with her back to the door, watching the exchange between he and Gabrielle with a faint smile. Something was going on with her, he could feel it. She should have been much more animated; one of her best friends was here after being away for a long time. Instead she was quiet and very still, posture rigid. And the way she was looking at Gabrielle-something was unsettled between them, and Ezra could tell Jarra was anxious to settle it, though it might not make her happy. A very strange vibe was coming off of Gabrielle as well, though he couldn’t quite figure it out at first…
It hit him then-Xena wasn’t there. She and Gabrielle were always together. That struck him as very unusual. He was just opening his mouth to ask Gabrielle the whereabouts of the warrior princess when Jarra beat him to it.
“Gabrielle, where is Xena?”
The edge in Jarra’s voice caught his attention. Was that panic he heard? No. Desperation was a little more accurate. It was also slightly demanding, as if she had asked the question several times without getting an answer. What reason would Gabrielle have not to tell her? Why wait to answer such a simple question until now? This was not like Gabrielle at all.
He looked to Gabrielle. The expression on her face-she looked troubled. She looked like someone who was about to deliver bad news. Ezra suddenly had a terrible sinking feeling, and he prayed that Gabrielle was not going to say what he thought she might be about to say. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be…
“Gabrielle, where is Xena?”
Jarra was desperate. Why wasn’t her friend responding? Gabrielle’s expression was grim. Something was horribly wrong.
“I think you should sit down before I tell you, Jarra,” Gabrielle said. “You, too, Ezra.”
The muscles in Jarra’s jaw twitched. It was becoming hard for her not to be angry.
Just tell me already! Jarra’s inner voice screamed at Gabrielle. Aloud she said nothing and went to sit on one of the beds. Ezra sat down next to her, and without thinking she took his hand in hers. Her heart pounded harder as each second ticked by, bringing her closer and closer to the answer that she wasn’t so sure she wanted to hear anymore. The sinking feeling intensified, threatening to overwhelm her. Why was she so afraid of what Gabrielle was going to say?
Jarra watched as Gabrielle gathered herself up, steeling herself against whatever it was she was about to say.
“Jarra-“ she started to say, then stopped. Gabrielle took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then looked Jarra straight in the eyes and told her, “Xena is dead.”
Gabrielle said it so softly that Jarra thought she had heard incorrectly. The silence stretched. Gabrielle had just said the one thing that Jarra had thought to be impossible.
“What?” Jarra finally managed to choke out.
“Xena is dead, Jarra. I’m so sorry.”
It was plain to see that it hurt Gabrielle to say those words, but not nearly as much as it hurt Jarra to hear them. Xena, dead? This couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. But it was, because Gabrielle would never lie to her. Not about this.
Jarra was too shocked at that moment to even cry. She just felt numb. Everything had just become some kind of surreal nightmare as she stared at Gabrielle in stunned silence. The person that had changed her life, saved her from herself, and ultimately became her closest friend, was gone. Xena was gone. Xena was gone.
Images of Xena flashed through her mind’s eye: strong, beautiful, and seemingly unbeatable. Alive. Jarra rallied then, fury boiling up inside her. It wasn’t true, it couldn’t be-
“No,” she said, softly at first, then louder, her voice rising to a near hysterical shout. Her mind was reluctant to accept the truth. “No!”
Ezra, who was still too shocked to say anything, tried to put his arms around her, but she shoved him away. Then she was on her feet standing directly in front of Gabrielle and looking straight into her eyes. “Gabrielle,” she pleaded, “please tell me this isn’t true.”
“I-I can’t,” was all Gabrielle could say. Watching her friend’s heart breaking was obviously difficult for her, and this was a far from comfortable subject.
“Please, Gabrielle… please…” Jarra kept muttering under her breath as she sank to her knees there in the middle of the floor, voice breaking. Undeniable reality sinking in, the brave Amazon who loved Xena more than almost anyone else in her life, started to cry. Gods, it hurt so much, the pain of loss piercing straight through her heart. Searing pain went through her in waves as the tears streamed down her face, sobs shaking her. It was happening again. First her father, and now this. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair!
Then Gabrielle was there, crouching down at her side, Ezra shakily following suit. Ezra’s arms went around her and this time she didn’t try to push him away.
“Is she going to be alright?’ Gabrielle asked him.
When he looked at her she could see the pain in his eyes. He was hurting, too, but was managing somehow to hold it together for Jarra’s sake.
“I hope so,” was all he said.
Gabrielle placed a comforting hand on Jarra’s shoulder while Ezra held her in his arms, rocking her soothingly.
For a long time Jarra’s sobs were the only sound in the room.
The news had left her shattered. That was the only way to describe the way Jarra was feeling right now, and she wondered if she could ever really pick up the pieces. She had lost friends, good friends, before, but it had never hurt like this. Of course, Xena had not been just any ordinary friend to Jarra, either. Xena had been her mentor and her hero, and had meant more to her than anyone could ever know or understand. Jarra owed Xena everything for all that she had done for her. Now she was just-gone.
The finality of it was like a hammerblow.
“How?” Jarra asked when she could speak again. “How did she-“ She couldn’t finish the sentence.
“In a way that was fitting. Violent, like most of her life had been,” Gabrielle replied softly. “She died a warrior’s death.”
That elicited a small smile from Jarra. “I expected nothing less. Xena wouldn’t have had it any other way, would she?”
The question was rhetorical, but Gabrielle answered anyway. “She got her way, to the last.” She wanted to say more, but she found herself getting choked up. Watching Jarra go through this, remembering what had happened, was opening up the old wounds, even though she thought she had dealt with them. Telling the story would not be easy, but Jarra had a right to know what had happened to her friend.
And so, after taking a few deep breaths and steadying herself, Gabrielle proceeded to tell them everything that had happened in the faraway land of the rising sun. She told them about Akemi, about what the ghost killer had told them after they put out the fire that was consuming Higuchi when they arrived. About how Xena’s actions many, many years ago caused a fire that killed thousands living in Higuchi then, albeit inadvertently. About how the demon Yodoshi had enslaved the souls of all that had perished, and about what Xena had had to do to set those souls free.
“I should have known when she tried to teach me the pinch. I should have known what she was going to do. But I really didn’t think that she would, “ Gabrielle said ruefully.
“Xena had to die in order to stop Yodoshi. Something about how only a ghost could kill him. So she went off to face the army led by Morimoto, Yodoshi’s General, and sent myself and the town militia off in the wrong direction.
“There were too many of them, even for her. Xena knew that, and it was exactly what she wanted. She went there to die and sent me away so that I couldn’t stop her.” Gabrielle had to pause there, too choked with emotion to continue.
“She let them kill her,” Jarra said, mostly to herself. “If she had wanted to beat them, she could have.”
“Let me get this straight,” Ezra said. “Xena not only held herself responsible for the people who died in the fire, but for the creation of Yodoshi as well?”
Gabrielle nodded. “Xena taught Akemi how to kill using the pinch, and Akemi used that technique to kill her father, whose evil spirit became the demon Yodoshi. Ultimately, if Akemi had never killed her father she wouldn’t have had to commit suicide, Xena wouldn’t have had to take her ashes to Higuchi’s burial ground, and the conflict that started the fire would never have happened. Those people would not have been killed.”
“Xena had to set things right. Kill Yodoshi, “ Ezra stated.
“What a mess,” was all Jarra could say.
“Like I was saying,” Gabrielle went on, “Xena was no match for Morimoto’s army, but she wanted it that way-“
“Because she had to die to get to Yodoshi and kill him,” Jarra finished numbly.
“Right,” Gabrielle confirmed. “The archers shot her full of arrows before Morimoto himself beheaded her. She fought them to the very end.”
Jarra became very still at that, swallowing against the sick feeling in her stomach. Her expression remained like stone, but a single tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. Jarra could only imagine the pain that Xena must have been in before the end finally came. A warriors death for certain, but a horribly gruesome one. She took a small measure of comfort in knowing that Xena gave everything she had, taking out as may of Morimoto’s soldiers as she could, never backing down even though she knew what was coming. So brave and unwavering-Jarra wanted to cry knowing that, but did her best to hold it back. Later…
Gabrielle went on to tell them about the teahouse where she had finally found Xena, or more accurately, her ghost. It was then that the ghost killer had told her how to bring Xena back to life: cremate her body and take the ashes to Mt. Fugi. Put the ashes in the Fountain of Strength at the summit, and Xena would be alive. But she had to do it by sunset the next day.
“I found the body strung up on display on the outskirts of the army’s camp. When I saw what they had done to her-it was all I could do not to be sick.”
Jarra was fighting a losing battle with the tears that kept coming to her. The image of Xena’s headless body shot full of arrows that kept flashing through her mind wasn’t helping.
“Her head was nowhere to be found. Then I remembered that samurai generals put the heads of their defeated enemies on display as trophies, so I rode into the camp to get it back.”
Gabrielle detailed her one-on-one fight with Morimoto, telling them how she used the skills that Xena taught her to beat him. And she told them how she humiliated Morimoto by leaving him alive, and riding off with what she came for.
“I didn’t leave Morimoto alive because I thought killing him was wrong,” she informed them coolly. “I wanted to kill him. I left him alive because I refused to give him the honor of death after what he had done to Xena.”
That those words had just come out of Gabrielle’s mouth-it was enough to shock Jarra out of her sorrow for the briefest of moments. She had never imagined that Gabrielle would say something so against her own nature. Her love for Xena had been that strong.
Getting back to the story, Gabrielle told them how she immediately built the funeral pyre for her friend, working faster than she knew she could because time was short. At first light the next day, Gabrielle began her ascent to the top of Mt. Fugi. On the way, Morimoto showed up to try and stop her, and in the struggle that followed she had almost lost the ashes. The rest really was history.
Yodoshi showed up, and after an intense battle, Xena killed him, setting all 40,000 innocent souls free, including Akemi’s. The task done, Gabrielle was about to put Xena’s ashes in the fountain when the warrior stopped her. The sun was setting. Time was almost up. Xena told her that she had to stay dead, much to Gabrielle’s disbelief. If she lived the souls would be trapped by her for all eternity instead of finding eternal grace. Xena had caused their deaths; now that she was dead they were avenged. They were free. So she had to stay dead for them to stay free and reach their state of grace. Xena had said it was the final, the good, the right thing to do. Do this one last thing and she would finally be redeemed.
Sitting there listening to Gabrielle tell that pivotal part of the tale, Jarra agreed. As hard as it was, it had been the right thing to do. Jarra did cry then. That Xena could be so selfless was nothing short of amazing.
“So I sat with her by the fountain and watched the sun set, and it was over.”
It wasn’t really over for Gabrielle, not in the way that Jarra and Ezra were thinking. Xena was still with her, but Gabrielle wasn’t ready to tell them about that just yet.
When Jarra looked at Gabrielle after finishing the story, she saw her friend in an entirely different light. Xena staying dead had been her decision as well, and she had made the right choice, the hard choice. The strength that it must have taken for her to do nothing- She loved Xena enough to honor her friend’s wishes.
“I admire you, Gabrielle,” Jarra told her, wiping away tears.
Gabrielle looked surprised at that. “Me?”
“Yes. Do you realize what it took to do what you did?”
Gabrielle did know. Jarra never could.
“You had the ashes right there in your hands and you did nothing. You could have said ‘to hell with what is right’ and dumped them into the fountain anyway. For you to be that selfless-it was almost harder for you.”
After a brief pause Jarra added, “You served the greater good, Gabrielle, in spite of what you knew it would cost you. That makes you a hero to me.”
Gabrielle’s face darkened as Jarra spoke those last words. Why did she look so uncomfortable with that statement?
Gabrielle finally sighed and said, “Even though I know I did the right thing I still ask myself why I didn’t just…”
“Because you loved her so much,” Jarra stated matter-of-factly.
Gabrielle nodded. “You’re right.” That much was true.
“It still doesn’t seem fair.”
Gabrielle smiled ruefully. “It doesn’t, does it? It never will be to me. I think I’ll always wonder if there was another way.”
Slowly Gabrielle got to her feet. She looked drained, like telling the story had taken everything she had out of her. It probably had.
“I should go see about getting a room before they run out,” she said.
“See you in the morning?” Ezra ventured.
With that Gabrielle left them, leaving behind two very heartbroken friends.
The ultimate sacrifice. Xena had lost her life, and Gabrielle had lost her best friend. Her soulmate. How hard it must have been to do nothing when you held the means to save the person you loved right there in your hands. The more petulant, unthinking part of Jarra’s mind wanted her to be angry with Gabrielle for that, but she couldn’t. That wasn’t fair to Gabrielle. She had just been doing what Xena wanted. It wasn’t her fault.
Jarra sat back in a chair propped up against the bed nearest to the window, her feet resting on the windowsill in front of her, watching the rain pour down outside. The last light of day was fading with a setting sun that, mercifully, couldn’t been seen, so thick were the rain clouds at the horizon. Fading just like Xena’s only chance of survival had. It was a good thing that Jarra couldn’t see the sunset. All it would do was remind her of Xena’s final moments, her chance at life slipping away as the sun sank ever lower-
Jarra shook her head, trying to get rid of the image. It almost worked. The moment played over and over again in her mind, bringing tears to her eyes. Those last agonizing seconds-and then it was too late. There was no going back. Ever. Tears spilled in silence, her heart wrenching in her chest.
It’s not fair! Not fair! She screamed inside herself, sounding like a petulant child throwing a tantrum. No. It wasn’t fair at all. Not to Xena, and least of all to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had done nothing. Nothing.
Anger flared inside her again. How could you, Gabrielle!? her mind demanded, and instantly she regretted even thinking such a thing. Gabrielle did exactly what she should have. She did what was right. Anything else would have been grossly selfish. That was one thing that Gabrielle was not. Gabrielle made a sacrifice that no one should ever have to make, just letting someone she loved go when she could have saved her.
Gabrielle did nothing. She had loved Xena enough to let her go. It was what Xena wanted. It was the right thing to do.
The right thing to do.
Jarra repeated those words over and over in her mind. They offered her little comfort.
Sometimes you gotta put those in need before yourself.
How many times had Xena said that to her? And it was true. Serving yourself could only lead to the dark. Xena had known that all too well. And that’s what all of this had really been about, doing that final good thing.
And Jarra wasn’t just hurting for herself. Right now she didn’t know who she hurt more for: herself or Gabrielle. No matter how many times she could say that she understood, she knew that she never really could. That almost hurt her, that she couldn’t feel the hurt Gabrielle had to be feeling and share it with her, maybe even lessen the burden on her friend. That’s what you got for having a tender, sympathetic heart.
Gabrielle was all alone now. Jarra felt a surge of pride in her friend. It was a testament to her strength that she hadn’t just folded and given up. Jarra wasn’t going to give up either. Not yet. And Gabrielle didn’t have to be alone; Jarra would stand by her, if that were what Gabrielle wanted.
At some point Ezra had finished mending his gear and had come to stand beside her, one hand resting gently on her shoulder. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. His loving touch was all that she needed. She imagined that she could feel his love and strength flowing into her, and it eased the pain a little. Gods, what would she do without him? Would she ever have to sacrifice him one day?
“Are you going to be okay, Jarra?” he asked softly. He didn’t even sound like himself. The news had hit him harder than he was letting on.
Was she okay? Her hero was dead. You never envision your heroes dying. They seem indestructible, immortal, larger than life. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to your heroes, especially if one of those heroes is your friend. Xena never thought of herself as a hero, but she always would be to Jarra. The news of her death had been a shattering blow. Jarra was beginning to think that she would be picking up the pieces forever.
“I don’t know, Ezra.” She looked out the window at the rain, her heart wrenching again. “I don’t know.”
Gabrielle told herself that she left them because there was nothing more to say, because they needed some time alone right now. That might have been true, but it wasn’t the real reason. Gabrielle couldn’t bear to stay there with them any longer. The pain on Jarra’s face, the hurt in her eyes-another minute in that room and she would have broken down, too. She couldn’t let them see that.
Telling the story of Xena’s demise had been like reliving the events all over again. She had experienced it all; hurt, anguish, sorrow, frustration, anger, everything. It had taken all of her strength to finish the story and get out of there.
Gabrielle knew what they didn’t know-that Xena was still with her, seeming so alive sometimes that Gabrielle could almost believe she had never died. But things would never be the same as they were. They never could be. For that Gabrielle still mourned, a very raw and deep hurt still lingering inside despite all that she knew. Comfort came in the knowledge that Xena’s spirit still walked with her, that death had been unable to separate them. It didn’t, however, make her miss her friend any less. Xena wasn’t always there, though Gabrielle could always feel her, and she missed that constant physical presence the most. Jarra’s naked pain only made Gabrielle more aware of just what she had lost, on top of all the feelings the telling of the story had brought out from deep inside.
The retelling of events also brought up an issue that Gabrielle was far, far away from being able to handle, something that she had conveniently left out of the story. It was too personal to share with Jarra and Ezra despite how close they were to her. It was the root of her frustration and anger. If only Xena’s redemption hadn’t been at stake, things would have gone differently. Xena would be alive. But how right would that have been, considering what it meant for all of those souls…?
For the first time in months, Gabrielle cried for Xena, deep melancholy coming over her like a smothering blanket. She lay down on the bed in her room at the inn and sobbed. Frustration over the way that things had played out pushed the tears out even harder. She could have saved Xena, if only- If only. Guilt seized her. She would have saved Xena if only- If only…
That was what made her uncomfortable when Jarra had called her a hero. Jarra would not admire her if she knew that the greater good had nothing to do with it. She was no hero. Not when she would have-if only…
Alone in the dark, she cried hard, unable to stop and not really wanting to. She had held it in for too long.
No one could ever know what it took to let Xena go. No one…
Night stretched into early morning in the small portside town. Sometime in the hours before dawn, Jarra slowly awoke from a deep and blissfully dreamless sleep. She curled more tightly against the still sleeping Ezra, listening to the rhythmic sounds of his breathing, the beating of his heart.
Hours ago, he had held her while they both grieved in silence. Then they had talked, about everything. And talking about it had made Jarra feel better, but it had not been enough. Suddenly she had found herself kissing him hungrily, desperately, wanting to feel something other than grief and numbness. Startlingly aware of her own mortality, she had wanted to feel alive, and she wanted to forget. Pressing Ezra back on the bed, she had lost herself in him, hungry for what only he could give her and wanting to love him before she lost him, too.
Their lovemaking had brought her peace for a time, healing her heart and giving her a respite from the pain. But it was fleeting. Now that Jarra was awake, the hurt came creeping back ever so slowly until it seized her heart once more. Would this horrible feeling ever go away? It hurt so much; Jarra wasn’t sure how much longer she could bear it.
She would never see Xena again. She would never hear her voice again. She would never fight by her side again…
Tears rolled down her face as she cried silently, not for the first time and certainly not the last. It would be a long time before anything felt right again.
The next morning Gabrielle found Jarra exactly where she thought she would be: in the tavern that made up the bottom floor of the inn.
Jarra was staring into an empty mug, looking rather dismal as she did so. Gabrielle sat down at the table without being invited.
“So how drunk are you?” she inquired.
“Depends. Are my eyes open?” asked Jarra thickly.
“Then the answer to your question is, ‘not enough’. She signaled for someone to bring over another mug of whatever it was she was having. A serving maid brought the drink, but rather than ask what it was, Gabrielle picked it up before Jarra could down it. Jarra didn’t look like she had enough energy left to complain.
“Jarra, I know you’re hurting, but crawling into a mug of wine isn’t the answer.”
“Babies crawl, Gab,” Jarra said in a very arch tone. “I’m an adult. Adults walk. I’m walking into a mug of wine.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Jarra…”
“Bringing her back is the only answer,” Jarra said suddenly. “And that’s not gonna happen. Ever.”
“Xena wouldn’t want you to do this to yourself-“
“Does it matter?” Jarra demanded. “She’s gone.”
Gabrielle watched in silence as she threw back another mugfull. This was not going to be easy.
“I know what you’re going through, but you’ve got to move on, or-“
“I hurt inside!” Jarra shouted at her, eyes glistening with barely restrained tears. “Don’t you?”
Gabrielle was shocked by the sudden outburst. Everyone in the tavern was staring at them. The accusatory tone of that question was like a slap in the face. Anger boiled up inside of her; how dare Jarra accuse her? She’d done everything she could have. Gods, she would have- She hurt more than anyone would ever know, and not just because Xena had died. Oh, no. What she would have done… Gabrielle found herself shouting back before she could reign herself in.
“Of course I hurt!” Her voice was unsteady, shaking as her emotions roiled inside. “We are all hurting! But nothing can change what happened! Nothing!” Her voice had risen steadily in volume, her own tears threatening to spill over. Jarra would never understand how hard it had been, how hard it was now-
Jarra didn’t say a word, startled into silence by the intensity of Gabrielle’s reaction.
“Wallowing in grief won’t accomplish anything. Get over it!”
Instantly, Gabrielle regretted the harshness of her words. Jarra was drunk. She was grieving. She didn’t know what she was saying. Such an outburst wouldn’t help her, and had only succeeded in making a huge embarrassing scene. Yet as she watched the emotions play across Jarra’s face, Gabrielle suspected that those harsh words had been just the thing Jarra needed to hear.
“I’m sorry-” Gabrielle started to apologize.
“Don’t,” Jarra said quietly, shaking her head.
They sat in silence for a long while. Long after the other patrons of the tavern had gone back to their own business, Jarra looked Gabrielle in the eyes and said softly, “I juz’ don’ wanna hurt like this.”
Gabrielle’s heart went out to her at those words, and she felt even worse about getting so angry. Jarra really was taking this hard. Concern replaced the previous anger, anger born more out of Gabrielle’s own hurt and guilt than anything Jarra had said. Gabrielle’s anger, fleeting and far from genuine, was about one thing: the guilt and frustration she was carrying inside of her. To know what she would have done that day on Mt. Fugi-she hated herself for that, and it scared her that she would have, if only she hadn’t loved Xena so much. That she would have so betrayed her beliefs-it was terrifying. But letting her emotions run away with her like this wouldn’t help Jarra. Jarra needed support, not her friends screaming at her.
Jarra swayed in her chair, and Gabrielle was there to steady her.
“Come on, Jarra,” she said helping her friend to stand. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
Jarra came to sometime that afternoon, finding herself in bed in her room at the inn. She felt awful, and not just because of her raging hangover. She didn’t remember much about that morning except yelling at Gabrielle. Why had she said such a thing to her friend? Accusing Gabrielle of being unfeeling (for surely that was what it had sounded like)-that was cold and totally uncalled for. Of course, she hadn’t meant it. Did Gabrielle know that?
I’ll be lucky if Gabrielle ever speaks to me again, Jarra thought sadly. She regretted those harsh words so much, but it was hard to take something like that back. Once something like that is said, it doesn’t just go away. Jarra didn’t think that Gabrielle was the type to hold a grudge, but still-
Words could cut just as deeply as any knife, and leave a wound worse than any physical injury. Jarra just hoped that she hadn’t really hurt Gabrielle. That would be hard to live with.
She couldn’t think about it anymore. The pounding in her head was making it too hard to focus.
Ezra sat down beside her on the bed. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
Jarra groaned and tried to sit up, but thought better of it and immediately lie back down when a wave of nausea and dizziness hit her. “Like I’ve been run over by a stampede of wild boar.”
“Serves you right for being so stupid.”
He was right about that. There was no excuse for allowing herself to get so out of control.
Lovingly, he stroked her cheek. His expression, however, was not one of affection but one of concern. “I’m worried about you, Jarra.”
“I worried about me, too,” she told him honestly. She didn’t like what she had done this morning. She didn’t like that she had let things go that far, didn’t like that she had gotten herself into that predicament. But she hurt…
“I’m also worried about Gabrielle.”
“Because of what you said to her?” he asked.
“Not just that-“ How could she describe what she had felt from Gabrielle? “Something is wrong.”
“She lost her best friend,” Ezra said reasonably.
“It wasn’t that,” she said, shaking her head and instantly regretting it. Just what had she felt? It was like something was eating away at Gabrielle. You could see it on her face, in her eyes. It wasn’t about Xena; it was different, like guilt or regret… But maybe she had imagined it. She had been drunk, after all. “I-its probably nothing. Forget it.”
Knocking at the door of the room. The sound couldn’t have been that loud, but it made Jarra feel like her head was splitting open. The pounding in her temples intensified. Covering her face with her hands, Jarra groaned miserably.
Before she knew it, Ezra had crossed the small room and answered the door.
“How is she doing?”
The voice was Gabrielle’s. Wonderful. Jarra felt guilt weighing heavily upon her. How could she face Gabrielle after this morning?
“How is she doing?” Gabrielle asked, genuinely concerned for her friend.
Ezra sighed. “Extremely hung over, but otherwise fine. Just keep your voice down.”
She nodded and walked past him, heading for the bed where Jarra lay resting.
Her angry outburst this morning had surprised her. It was very unlike her to act that way in any situation. Then again, this wasn’t just any situation, and she hadn’t been feeling or acting like herself for months. She had been so furious-maybe Jarra’s words had been uncalled for, but they did not deserve that response, not when the person saying them didn’t know what they were saying. There were things that Gabrielle still needed to handle within herself. She thought she had made peace. She had, over Xena’s death anyway. But there was more that no one knew about, that she had tried to ignore. She had just covered it up, and it had come roaring to the surface the instant that Jarra had triggered it. Her personal frustration and guilt were making her angry, and she had taken it out on Jarra. Gabrielle felt horrible about that. It wasn’t right. What was wrong with her, that she had done that? That back in Japan she had thought (though only for an instant) of doing something so wrong just so she could have Xena; that she would have done it if only…
The encounter had left her aching with reawakened guilt. She wondered: would she ever be able to accept what she had felt that day in Japan? Or would she have to keep covering it up, only to have it come back again and again until it destroyed her? She didn’t know. What she did know was that she didn’t like what was happening to her, and it left her feeling raw inside. And afraid.
Fighting those uncomfortable feelings down, she brought herself back to the moment. She was here to see Jarra, to apologize.
She sat down on the bed, hands resting in her lap. “You okay?” she asked, keeping her voice low.
Jarra sat up very slowly, wincing and putting a hand to her head. “I guess,” she said in a pained voice, squeezing her eyes shut against the bright light coming in through the window. “It depends on what your idea of okay is.”
Gabrielle knew exactly what she meant. Inside, everything was not okay. How could it be when you are constantly being wrenched by emotion?
“I’m sorry-“ they both began at the same time.
They stopped abruptly. Gabrielle smiled slightly. “Let’s start over. You first, Jarra.”
A deep breath. Jarra let it out slowly before she spoke, avoiding eye contact. “I feel really bad about what I said. You don’t say things like that to your friends. I just hope that I didn’t really hurt you. I didn’t mean it.”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Jarra,” Gabrielle said. “It did hurt. But I know that people in pain sometimes say things that they don’t mean when emotions get the better of them, and I know that you didn’t know what you were doing. I forgive you. Look at me, Jarra,” Gabrielle asked gently.
When their eyes met, Gabrielle continued. “I should not have reacted the way that I did. I was just so angry all of a sudden, and I couldn’t stop it. I’m actually thankful.”
Jarra looked slightly confused at that.
“What you said-it brought some things to the surface,” she explained. “Things that I had buried. I didn’t like being reminded of them, feeling them again, and I lashed out at you. That wasn’t right, and I’m sorry. Now that those things have been uncovered, I can deal with them. They need to be dealt with, so thank you for that.”
Jarra’s gaze dropped to the floor again. “So, you’re not angry with me?”
“No,” Gabrielle answered truthfully. “I understand why all of it happened. I don’t think that either of us is to blame.”
They weren’t to blame. Emotions were. Their roles could easily have been reversed. The words still stung, but Gabrielle knew where they had come from: a hurting heart. She could hardly hold that against Jarra. She also knew what it took for her friend to apologize, and that said a lot.
She reached out and took Jarra’s hands in hers. “We’re friends and Amazon sisters, Jarra. It would take a lot more than this to ruin that.”
Jarra looked up at her and smiled. ‘Forgotten, then?”
Gabrielle nodded, relieved to have that behind them.
Jarra’s smile faded, her eyes becoming distant. Her voice was almost a whisper as she said, “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Of course she was referring to Xena.
“I keep expecting her to walk through the door, but she doesn’t…”
If only Jarra could know what she knew. Jarra would understand why she wasn’t grieving as much as she should have been… But it was too personal, even if she did have the words to describe it.
“I’ll be right back,” Gabrielle said, going to the door to get Ezra, who had gone outside to give them some privacy while they talked.
“Whoa. Where did that come from?”
At first, Gabrielle had no idea what Jarra was talking about. She halted just in front of the door. “What?”
“The dragon tattoo on your back. It’s beautiful, but I never took you to be the tattoo type.”
Of course. The tattoo. Gabrielle had her back to Jarra and wasn’t wearing her coat. The stylized Japanese dragon, which stretched from the base of her neck to the small of her back, was spread over her entire back. Jarra would have to be blind to miss it. There was another smaller piece, a fish, on her lower leg, but that was hidden by her boot.
“It was given to me to protect me from Yodoshi,” Gabrielle answered stiffly. She didn’t want to go there right now. Jarra seemed to get the message, because she didn’t ask any further questions on the subject.
Gabrielle opened the door to the room and stuck her head out. Ezra was just outside, leaning against the wall.
“You can come back in now,” she told him.
“How did it go?” he asked her.
“Good,” she said. “No hard feelings.”
He smiled. “That’s good to hear. I admit I was a little worried, about both of you.”
They stepped back into the room together, Ezra closing the door behind them.
“You told me this morning that you were leaving tomorrow,” Ezra said to Gabrielle. “Where are you headed?”
“North,” Gabrielle replied. “I’m taking Xena’s ashes to the family crypt in Amphipolis.”
There was a somber silence between the three of them then. The reality was hitting all of them again. Putting Xena to rest-was that possible? The idea was still a bit strange to Gabrielle.
“I don’t want to impose,” Jarra said, breaking the silence, “but would you mind if Ezra and I came with you?”
Would she? No. Xena was their friend. They had a right to come along and pay their respects.
“Of course you can come,” she told them. “It’ll be good to have you along,” she added with a smile.
Talking to someone other than herself, or Xena’s ghost (for lack of a better way of describing it), would be a welcome change. The companionship that she shared with Jarra-she needed that right now.
“You’ll need to be packed and ready to go by sunrise tomorrow,” Gabrielle informed them. “We need to get an early start.”
Jarra and Ezra nodded their understanding.
“By the way, Gabrielle,” said Ezra. “Nice tattoo.”
The three friends had set out early, just before sunrise, after Gabrielle retrieved Argo from the town stables. That’s where Xena had left the mare, in the care of a friend, before she and Gabrielle had left the port on their way to Japan.
All of them were wearing long, warm coats to protect them from the freezing morning temperatures, their breath misting in the icy air.
Ezra’s attire matched Jarra’s; black leather coat, vest, and pants, minus the armor. All that black leather made them quite a striking sight, especially Jarra, sitting tall atop her black stallion Demos. Gabrielle wore her usual outfit; red velvet skirt and top with her long coat made up of patches of white cream and tan.
Hardly a word passed between them as they traveled that morning. Their solemn mood, and Jarra and Ezra’s black clothing, made them seem like a funeral procession. In essence, that’s what they were.
Before long the port town was behind them, the sun climbing into the sky as they traversed the hills to the north. By the time they reached the other side of the range of low hills a few hours later, the sun had done little to warm the countryside. Before them stretched a glade of trees and soft green grass, the road they were currently on winding its way trough the center of the tall trees. It was a beautiful sight to see on a cold, clear day such as this, but none of them seemed to take notice. They were preoccupied with thoughts of the friend that they were taking home.
They had traveled about halfway through the glade, trees rising on either side of the road, when Jarra reigned Demos to a stop. Her eyes were closed, head cocked to one side.
“Why are you-?” Ezra started to ask, but Jarra silenced him with a wave.
Jarra became perfectly still, listening just as Xena had taught her. Listening not just to the sounds, but what was behind them. The faint tinkling of the horses’ harnesses, Ezra and Gabrielle’s breathing-she pushed beyond those things, out into the surrounding trees. Long seconds passed before Jarra opened her eyes, looking around cautiously.
“Did you hear that?” she asked in a low voice.
“They’ve been following us since we entered the glade,” Gabrielle said quietly. “Just keep moving.”
Jarra gave Demos a slight nudge to get him moving again and let Gabrielle take the lead. So they were being followed. But she hadn’t heard anything until just now, and she was no slouch. Gabrielle had been aware the whole time. It was uncanny. Since when was she as in-tune as Xena?
Someone was crashing through the underbrush on either side of the road; six men armed with swords and clubs surrounded them in an instant. In an eye-blink Jarra was off her horse, weapons drawn and held ready. Ezra had his sword drawn as well, facing the men behind them. Gabrielle hadn’t moved. As still as a statue, she coolly surveyed the thugs from her position atop Argo, making no move to draw her sais or katana sword.
“Can I help you?” Gabrielle asked flatly.
“Yeah,” one particularly grubby, greasy haired, yellow toothed thug said. He appeared to be their leader. “You can start by giving us all your money and valuables, and then-“ His eyes raked over Jarra and Gabrielle suggestively. Ezra stiffened. Over his dead body; none of those thugs would lay a hand on them if he had anything to say about it.
“And if we don’t?” Gabrielle’s expression was unreadable.
“Then you’ll die,” their leader sneered.
“Hey, ain’t you Xena’s friend, Gabrielle?” one of the others asked.
“I hear they’re a lot more than friends,” another one said. This set off a round of snickering among the thugs.
The temperature in the glade dropped several degrees as Gabrielle said frostily, “That’s none of your business.”
One of the thugs started to step back. “If she’s Gabrielle,” he said, “then Xena’s bound to be here somewhere. I don’t wanna mess with her.”
Murmurs of agreement from the others.
“Ain’t you idiots heard?” the leader demanded. “Xena’s dead.” His hard gaze moved back to Gabrielle. “She’s not here to bail you out anymore, little one.”
Jarra noticed that Gabrielle bristled ever so slightly at his words, her hands clenching briefly as she held the reigns. She raised an eyebrow. “Little one? I hope that wasn’t a crack about my height,” she deadpanned. There was a dangerous tone to her voice.
One of the thugs snickered. A furious look from the leader silenced him.
“I was willing to let you go if you gave us what we wanted,” he informed Gabrielle. “But now that I know who you are, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Jarra didn’t like the direction that this was going in. She felt herself coiling even tighter, ready to spring into the fight that was almost surely coming.
“I still don’t know who you are,” Gabrielle said. The note of danger in her voice was plain now.
“You don’t recognize me, little one?” The leader grinned, exposing rotten teeth.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop calling me that.”
The tone of her voice was enough to make even Jarra shift uneasily.
The leader laughed nervously. “I’m surprised that you don’t remember me.”
“Low-life trash all looks the same to me.”
His smile disappeared. Touché.
“Xena cost me a lot of money the last time we met-“
“She stopped you from hurting innocent people,” Gabrielle stated. She recognized him now. He was a slave trader named Athos; Xena had put him out of business. Now he was reduced to this pathetic band of thugs, preying on innocent travelers.
Athos ignored her. “She owes me, and since she’s not here, I’ll have to take it out on you and your friends.”
He chopped a hand through the air; two thugs armed with heavy clubs made for Gabrielle. Argo promptly reared up on her hind legs, her front hooves catching both men square in the face. Two down, four to go.
“Good girl,” Gabrielle whispered into the mare’s ear. Metal sang as she drew her katana, a gift from the people of Higuchi, from the scabbard on her back. Dismounting quickly, she joined Jarra and Ezra as the remaining thugs circled.
Athos stood back a few paces, three sword-wielding thugs closed in. Jarra’s battle cry, a guttural yell, cut through the glade. She caught her attacker’s sword with crossed sais in front of her, shoving back as hard as she could. The thug recovered quickly, but she was ready. Reversing her grip on her weapons, she knocked his next blow aside with one and cracked a punch across his face with the other. He went down.
She glanced briefly in Ezra’s direction; he was holding his own. Jarra sprinted over to Gabrielle. Her friend’s katana sword was a blur as, with fluid grace, she knocked aside her enemy’s blows one after another.
Gabrielle had an opening for a kill shot, but she didn’t take it. Maybe she hadn’t seen it-no. She doesn’t want to kill him, Jarra realized. That was Gabrielle. She would avoid killing, where Xena might have taken the shot.
But for all her skill, the thug somehow got a shot inside her guard. Gabrielle was immediately sidestepping out of the way, but not fast enough. Then Jarra was there, lashing out with one sai to knock away the sword thrust aimed at Gabrielle’s stomach. Jarra had just saved her life.
“Nice save,” Gabrielle called.
“No problem. Now you owe me,” Jarra called back. “I’ll take this one. Get the leader.”
Gabrielle nodded and spun out of the way. Jarra deflected blows with lightening speed, sais almost moving faster than the eye could follow. The butt ends collided with the thug’s chest and face in rapid succession. The shot to the head spun him around. He staggered, but kept coming. Jarra hit him again with all her strength; this time he went down and stayed down. Two to go.
Not far away, Ezra dispatched his thug with a backfist, spinning and coming around with a roundhouse kick that sent the thug flying. One left.
Gabrielle advanced on Athos; Jarra and Ezra hung back.
Jarra watched her friend with silent amazement. Gabrielle was very different from the person she remembered. The way she fought-she did it with a degree of skill that Jarra had never seen in her before. The last time that they had been together their skills had been almost evenly matched. It was obvious to Jarra that Gabrielle had since gone over and above her. Increadible, the way she moved-it was almost like watching Xena. Gabrielle had become that good.
Athos was visibly shaken. He had honestly thought that his men could overpower them. Didn’t he know that Gabrielle, someone who had traveled with Xena for so long and had been taught everything the warrior knew, was a force to be reckoned with? Apparently not.
Panicked, but not quite cowardly enough to cut and run, Athos stood his ground. At this point his desire for revenge was keeping him in this fight.
“Tell you what, Athos. You leave right now, and I’ll spare you,” Gabrielle told him, eyes hard and unyielding. “But if I ever see you again-“
“You don’t get off that easy, little one,” he sneered. As rattled as he was, he was boiling with anger, not about to give. “Xena owes me, and you’re gonna pay off her debt.” His angry stare turned into a leering gaze, appraising, like her was undressing her with his eyes. He probably was. “I’ll have some fun with you before I kill you.”
Jarra’s stomach churned at his words.
“I don’t think so.” The tone with which Gabrielle spoke was almost more frightening than the look she was giving Athos at that moment.
Gabrielle not so much saw as heard his weight shift the instant before he came at her. It was all the warning that she needed; already in motion before Athos lunged, Gabrielle spun out of the way. He flew by her, his momentum pulling him off-balance. Gabrielle hit the back of his head with the pommel of her sword as he passed, sending him sprawling.
“I’ll give you one more chance, Athos,” Gabrielle warned.
He said nothing, scrambling to his feet and letting out a furious bellow before coming at her again. Gabrielle watched his eyes and saw his next move. Her sword deflected his blow faster than seemed humanly possible, then flicked her blade up to the side of his face. Athos yelped and touched his cheek; his fingers came away bloody. His startled gaze darted between his bloody fingers and Gabrielle, who stood calmly holding her katana before her.
Anger flashed in his eyes. “You’ll pay for that.”
He flew at her again. Clang, clang ; the sound of swords meeting rang through the glade. He swung wide, her sword flicked up again, leaving a razor-thin slice in his other cheek. Again Athos went from shocked to shaking with fury. Again he struck out with his sword. Again Gabrielle reacted an instant before he moved. She knocked aside his blows easily with almost unnatural speed, as if she knew where they would be before Athos ever made them.
Jarra had only seen one other person fight like that. It gave her chills to see Gabrielle so closely mirroring Xena.
The ringing of Athos’ blade changed pitch. Jarra knew that sound. It was about to break.
Gabrielle’s katana collided with his sword in one powerful stroke, and the upper half of his blade shattered into a thousand pieces. The jagged edge of what was left was still a threat, however. The katana flicked up again, the point coming to rest just underneath Athos’ chin. Razor-sharp steel bit into vulnerable flesh. Blood trickled. Athos was wide-eyed with shock, trying not to move lest he get his throat slashed. Gabrielle wouldn’t do it, but he didn’t know that.
Gabrielle’s eyes bored into his. “Drop. Your. Sword.” The steel in her voice conveyed that she would brook no argument.
He was in the process of complying when he suddenly stopped and smiled. Gabrielle’s brow furrowed. Why was he smiling?
Out of the corner of her eye she saw it; one of the thugs was conscious and coming toward them. In the fraction of a second that Gabrielle was distracted Athos lashed out with a kick to her middle that knocked her to the ground. When she recovered, the thug was dangerously close to Jarra, sword raised and about to cut her down. Jarra had heard him coming, but not in time. Gabrielle reached for the chakram clipped to her belt. An instant to aim, and she launched it at the thug. The metal disk flew straight and true, whizzing past Jarra’s ear and cracking into the attacker’s skull. He fell back, dead, and the chakram angled away to bounce off a nearby tree and back into Gabrielle’s hand.
Jarra had felt the breeze from the chakram’s passing. That had been very close. She was amazed. Gabrielle knew how to use the chakram! And she was deadly accurate with it, too. Jarra could only stare back in surprise.
“Now we’re even,” Gabrielle called to her.
“Thanks,” Jarra heard herself say.
Where was Athos? There, taking a sword off of one of the unconscious thugs. Time to put an end to this. Gabrielle was tired of playing games.
A quick parry and she had his sword pinned to the ground with her katana.
“Is that the best you can do, little one?” Athos taunted.
Gabrielle backfisted him across the face. His head snapped back but he stayed on his feet. Her fist cracked up underneath his chin. The uppercut lifted him up off of his feet and sent him sailing backward through the air. He was unconscious before he hit the ground. She took the few steps that would bring her to his side. Looking down at his unconscious form, she growled, “Don’t call me ‘little one’.”
Sheathing her katana, Gabrielle spun on her heel and walked briskly away from Athos, back to where the horses and her friends were waiting.
“Let’s get out of here,” was all she said before mounting Argo.
Jarra looked to Ezra. “You okay?”
The heat of battle, just now starting to cool, flared into the heat of passion, and suddenly Jarra found herself kissing him deeply, high on adrenaline, her survival instinct pushing her. Fighting always got her juices going, and not just her creative ones. Gods, if Gabrielle wasn’t there-
Gabrielle cleared her throat insistantly.
Jarra pulled away from Ezra, the flush of desire in her cheeks quickly turning into the flush of embarrassment. “Sorry, Gab.”
Jarra wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw the faintest trace of a smile on her friend’s lips.
“Remind me not to make any jokes about your stature in the future.”
Gabrielle cracked a smile at that, laughing good-naturedly.
Jarra climbed up into the saddle, and the three of them were once again on their way. They didn’t get very far before trouble came calling again.
Everything around Gabrielle suddenly froze. Argo, Jarra, Ezra, the birds in the sky; everything was frozen in place. It was an eerie sight. But she could still move, just as the man standing before her could. All bulging muscles and black leather, his face was handsome, if in a cruel way. Ares.
He had given Xena and Gabrielle their fair share of trouble over the years. It was he who, mistaking them for dead, had placed them in ice coffins where they remained, frozen alive, for a quarter of a century. It was he who called upon the Furies to afflict Xena with madness, very nearly driving her to kill her own mother.
The last thing Gabrielle wanted was to deal with him right now.
He paced around her, looking thoughtful, while she watched him warily.
“Aren’t we quite the little warrior,” he said finally.
“What do you want, Ares?” Gabrielle demanded impatiently.
“I was looking for Xena.”
“Is this your twisted idea of a joke? Because I’m not laughing.”
He didn’t seem to understand her anger. Innocently, he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about-“
“Cut the crap, Ares,” she interrupted, eyes burning with fury. “You know as well as I do that Xena is dead.”
The god of war went pale. He really and truly looked stricken. It was a good act, she had to give him that. No matter how hurt or surprised he looked, he was not to be trusted. She knew that first hand. What was the point of this? Was he trying to hurt her with this charade, just to spite her? If that was the case, then he was doing a damn good job.
Gabrielle looked at him more closely, trying to figure out what he might be up to; maybe he wasn’t acting after all.
“I didn’t know that, Gabrielle,” he said after a long silence. The hurt in his voice, in his eyes-it was becoming hard for her to think it wasn’t real. It was too intense, too deep.
Something still bothered her. “How could you not know?”
“I haven’t been able to sense either of you for a while,” Ares replied. “Wherever you went, it was out of my range. When I sensed you again and not her-I just wanted to know what was going on. Guess I got what I came for.”
For the first time Gabrielle thought that she might actually be able to believe what he was saying.
“How did she…”
“It was a warriors death,” she answered curtly. “Honorable, though I doubt you would know anything about that.”
He ignored the jab. “That sounds like her,” he said, a bit ruefully.
Ares looked to be on the verge of tears as he said in a small voice, “Despite what you may think, I really did love her.”
Gabrielle actually felt sorry for him then. Maybe in his own misguided way he had loved her. After all the time Xena had spent as his patron warrior, he had become fond of her. He was feeling her loss in some way or another. Maybe he was upset because he could no longer use her for his cause. One never knew with Ares, but Gabrielle’s past experience made her lean toward the latter. Then she thought back to those events some thirty years ago, to what Ares had done when he thought that she and Xena had perished fighting the last of the olympian order. When he had carved out that tomb in the mountain, he didn’t have any hidden agenda. He didn’t have a show to put on for anyone. He made that tomb, gave a proper burial, for them. For Xena. Not for anyone else.
The hurt she saw now, she didn’t wish that on anyone, even Ares.
She still didn’t trust him.
Then everything unfroze.
“What the-“ Jarra blurted. “What’s going on? Is that Ares?”
With one last pained glance in Gabrielle’s direction, Ares snapped his fingers and, in a burst of light, disappeared.
“What was that about?” Ezra asked, bewildered.
“Ares decided to drop in,” Gabrielle told him dryly.
“That doesn’t sound good.” Ezra had heard the stories of Xena and Gabrielle’s encounters with the god of war. Ares showing up always meant trouble.
“He said that he was just looking for Xena. When I told him about her, he acted like he didn’t know until right then.”
Ezra snorted and commented sarcastically, “Yeah, right.”
“That’s what I thought. But he really did seem surprised…”
“You think that he was lying?” Jarra asked.
“Were his lips moving?” Gabrielle asked rhetorically.
They all laughed. Ares was notorious for his deceptions. And yet something about the whole experience had been different. Still, Gabrielle stubbornly dismissed it. Why did she even care about what Ares had really been thinking or feeling?
Because you have a good heart, Gabrielle, Xena’s voice whispered to her. Don’t ever lose that.
Her friend’s spirit faded again, and Gabrielle fought the rising melancholy left in it’s wake. I am losing it…
“Are you okay, Gabby?” Jarra asked her with a touch of concern.
Gabrielle shook off the uncomfortable feelings and gave Jarra a smile. “Yeah. I’m fine. We should go, before one of these guys wakes up.”
The glade was far behind them by mid-afternoon. Jarra had opted to walk after they stopped for lunch, letting Ezra ride Demos for a while.
Jarra looked up at Gabrielle thoughtfully. It was strange to see Gabrielle riding Xena’s horse, carrying her chakram. Perhaps the strangest thing of all was that the warrior image it gave her seemed to fit. Gabrielle had undergone a metamorphosis in the time that she had been away. What she had become, this end result that Jarra had seen today, was remarkable.
“You’ve changed, Gabrielle,” Jarra told her.
“What do you mean?” The way Gabrielle asked, one might think she was afraid of the answer.
“You’re still you but…” She was lost for words for a moment. “The way you fight, the look in your eyes-it’s the same, but different. I see her in you, more than I ever have before.”
Gabrielle smiled, a bit sadly. “Xena taught me well.” She seemed relieved. What had she thought Jarra was going to say? That she seemed withdrawn, distant? That she had changed in some bad way? Funny that Gabrielle had almost been expecting it. Was she really feeling that way? Understanding dawned more clearly for Jarra. Things really were bothering Gabrielle. That scene in the tavern back at the inn had been a symptom of whatever was going on inside of her. Was she afraid that the whole experience of losing someone so close to her was having a negative impact on who she was?
Jarra had been wondering the same thing about herself.
She wanted more than anything to comfort Gabrielle, to assure her friend that everything was okay. But how could she, when she herself didn’t know if everything would be okay? Everything felt so wrong. How could it ever be okay again? Besides, Jarra didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that Gabrielle wasn’t ready to talk. It was still too soon, too close to her heart.
“When did you start using a sword?” Jarra asked her.
“When did you start using sais? I thought you had a sword.” Amusement twinkled in Gabrielle’s eyes.
“ ‘Had a sword’ is the key part of that. I broke it in a fight not too long ago. I haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement yet,” Jarra explained.
“That still doesn’t explain the sai.” Again the amused twinkle.
So Gabrielle was going to force it out of her, was she? So be it.
“Remember when you were showing me how to use yours, and I got really good with them? Well, I came across a pair, and they were better than any sword that I had found so far. I knew how to use them, so I figured, why not?” She sighed. This was the part that Gabrielle was fishing for. “You looked so good with yours that I wanted to have some, to be like you in a way, I guess,” she admitted.
Gabrielle smiled a little bit shyly. “I’m flattered. And, yes, you are very good with those.”
“If you say so,” was Jarra’s humble reply. “When did you learn how to use a sword?”
“I learned swordfighting on the voyage to Higuchi,” was all she said.
“You wield that thing like a master. Xena really did teach you well.” A pause. “I have to say though, I thought you would have Xena’s sword.”
Again a stiffness came over Gabrielle, like she was having to face something that she would rather avoid. Jarra felt bad. The last thing she wanted to do was make Gabrielle uncomfortable.
“I don’t think I would feel right using it, even if I did have it,” Gabrielle said after a moment. She sighed. “The truth is, I don’t know what happened to it, her armor, or her leathers. Xena did something with them. She wasn’t wearing them when she died.” She swallowed hard. “I found the chakram on the battlefield where she’d fallen, covered in her blood.”
Jarra wished that she hadn’t added that last part.
“Guess we’ll never know,” Ezra said sadly.
Gabrielle stared at the road ahead. It appeared that she was looking more inside herself than at what was in front of her. “I wish I had her sword,” she said so softly that Jarra almost couldn’t hear her. “Not to use it, but just to have it. Because it was hers.”
“I understand that,” Jarra said, trying to convey her empathy. “Having something tangible to hold on to-its comforting somehow.” Her expression brightened a little when she added, “At least you have her chakram.” The brightness faded. “Its more than I’ve got.”
That was one of the things that was bothering Jarra the most. She didn’t have anything that she could touch or hold that connected her to her lost friend.
“You have your memories of her,” Gabrielle reminded her. She was trying to sound comforting, but it was like she was saying it to herself as much as she was saying it to Jarra. “As long as you keep her in your heart, you will always have a part of her inside of you, something more precious than a sword or a chakram. And unlike those things, no one can ever take that away from you."
The words rang true, and for the first time it looked like there might be a light in the darkness after all.
“I never thought about it like that.”
They found a perfect place to camp for the night that evening at the base of another range of high hills. Gabrielle felt it best to wait and cross the hills in the morning. The site was in a small glade just upslope from a waterhole ideal for bathing.
The sun was just starting to set when Gabrielle got a decent fire going. Jarra had gone off to find food, while Ezra stayed behind. At the moment he was putting down their bedrolls.
“You might want to use your extra blankets,” Gabrielle suggested as she put another log onto the fire. “Its going to be cold tonight.”
“Thanks,” he said without looking up.
On second thought, you probably won’t need them. You and Jarra will keep each other plenty warm, she thought, not daring to say it aloud.
It was so unfair. They had each other, and she had no one.
Stoking the fire with a stray piece of kindling, Gabrielle looked to the west. The sun was just barely above the tops of the distant western hills. There had been a time not so long ago when Gabrielle had loved watching the sun set. It was so beautiful, seeing all the warm colors painted in the sky. Now she didn’t think she could ever think of them that way again. Every sunset since Xena’s death only reminded her of that horrible day. She became transfixed as she sat watching the sun creep behind the hills.
Suddenly, it was happening again. She was there on Mt. Fugi, sitting on the edge of the Fountain of Strength with Xena’s ashes in hand. The sun was slowly, oh so slowly, sinking behind far-off mountains. Xena’s life was slipping away with every second. And just when Gabrielle thought she couldn’t bear it any longer, it was too late. The sun had set, and Xena was gone.
A tear rolled down her cheek. Gabrielle blinked and she was back in the camp. The sun had disappeared behind the hills. Blinking back further tears she wiped the moisture from her eyes, her cheek. She hid her face in her hands, wishing she could soothe the deep ache in her chest.
Ezra must have sensed her distress. He stopped what he was doing and crouched next to her, one hand coming to rest on her shoulder. “Gabrielle-“
“I’m fine,” she said quickly, putting a hand on his. “Really.”
He didn’t buy it, but declined to say anything further. She was glad of that. She didn’t want to talk about it. Seeming to know what she needed, Ezra sat down beside her and put his arm around her. Gabrielle rested her head on his shoulder, taking in the friendly comfort that he was offering. Silently, she thanked the powers that be for her friends being with her. It would have been very hard to make this trip by herself, things being what they were for her right now.
Things went more smoothly after that, and Jarra returned just before twilight carrying a large rabbit.
“Dinner is here!” she declared.
Rabbit cooked, they ate in companionable silence. The only exception was a discussion about tomorrow’s travel plans. Afterward, everyone turned in for the night.
“I’ve done some really horrible things!” Jarra practically screamed. So this was what it felt like to be at the end of your rope, to hit rock bottom. Gods, all she wanted was for all of the turmoil inside of her to stop. She wanted to die. There was no other way to redeem herself.
“You think I haven’t?” Xena demanded.
That stopped Jarra cold.
“Let me tell you a story about a little girl from a village called Cirra. Her name was Callisto. Because of me,” Xena said pointing to herself, “her family was burned alive. I ruined her life that day, and the lives of countless others. That was just one incident out of hundreds, even thousands. You’ve got nothing on me.”
That was entirely true, but death was death. Wrong was wrong. There was no going back.
“I just feel like giving up,” Jarra told her, tears streaming down her face.
“So did I, until I found Gabrielle,” Xena admitted. “But I didn’t, and look at all of the good that I’ve been able to do, Jarra. If I had given up none of that would ever have been possible.”
Hope flickered inside of Jarra. It was quickly extinguished when she realized that she wasn’t Xena.
“I’m not as strong as you. I don’t think I have what it takes to start over.”
Xena stared hard into her eyes. Gripping Jarra by the shoulders, she said, “You’re stronger than you think, Jarra. I know that you have it in you to overcome this, but you have to want to. You do, don’t you?”
Jarra nodded. “Yes, but I don’t think that I can ever-“
Xena cut her off. “Never mind whether or not you think you can. Do you want to, yes or no?”
“The very fact that you want to make a better life for yourself means that its not too late for you.”
How did Xena get so wise, Jarra wondered. She was absolutely right. Would someone who was truly bad bother trying to change? No, They wouldn’t. Only good people felt bad about doing wrong. Maybe it wasn’t too late, but where to begin…
As if reading her mind, Xena said, “You have to start by forgiving yourself. I won’t lie to you; I wasn’t able to for a long time, but I did eventually. It wasn’t easy.”
Jarra’s hopes fell again. “I don’t think I can.”
“You have to, Jarra. You made a mistake. Forgive yourself and move on.”
Forgiveness was the key. It was the only way that she would be able to continue.
“If you’re looking to go back and make everything okay, I’m afraid that’s not possible. You can’t change what happened. What you can do is live a better life from this point on. It will bring redemption, if in a small way.”
“Will the past always haunt me, Xena?”
“Forget the past. It doesn’t matter. Each new day is another chance to recreate yourself. It is never too late to start over, no matter what you’ve done. All that matters is that you are making the effort to be better. Acknowledge your past and let it go.”
“If I can’t?”
“Then it will destroy you.”
It was with those words that Xena finally got through to her. Letting guilt and remorse tear her down-Jarra didn’t really want that. She wanted to make up for what she had done. The only way to do that was to continue living, and to live a life of good. That day she vowed to start over and follow the path of the greater good. If Xena could do it, with all of the demons that surely haunted her, then Jarra knew she could do it, too. She had just needed to hear it from someone who knew…
Remembering the past, Jarra lay awake, unable to sleep. The fire had long since died down to glowing embers.
That day that seemed to have been so long ago, Xena had changed her life. Xena had saved her from herself. And though she was still in the process of forgiving herself (Xena had warned her that it would not be easy), she had been able to come to terms with her mistakes. In doing so, she found a kind of peace inside herself that allowed her to continue and be who she was today. Jarra owed Xena everything for that. Yes, she probably would have discovered those things on her own, but not in time to save herself.
Without realizing it, Xena had become a sort of compass to her. Xena’s existence had provided Jarra with direction. What would Xena do? she often asked herself when no answers came to her about one thing or another. Now that Xena was dead, Jarra felt out of control, all sense of direction lost.
Ezra stirred beside her.
“Jarra,” he said muzzily. “Are you still awake?”
“Yes,” she whispered, staring up at the night sky. “I can’t sleep.”
His arm went around her. “Are you alright?” he asked, his voice suddenly alert. He was worried. Jarra could always tell when he was.
How could she explain it to him? Losing Xena-it was like someone had destroyed the one pillar that had been holding her up all this time. She had lost so much more than just a friend.
“I just can’t stop thinking about her, Ezra,” was all she ended up telling him.
“Xena was your friend. You loved her.”
“She was so much more than that. I feel like everything she helped me build has been torn down.”
“You haven’t changed.”
“How much longer is that going to last?” The question was more for herself than it was for him. “I’m scared that without her I’m going to go back to where I was. Go back to what I became after I lost my father.”
“I don’t think you will,” Ezra said honestly. “I think you’re too good to let that happen. I don’t think Gabrielle will either.”
Yes, she still had Gabrielle, but for how long? Jarra shoved the cynical thought aside. It would get her nowhere. And didn’t Gabrielle know everything that Xena did? But there was no replacing Xena. That was the problem. All of that flashed through her mind in an instant.
“I won’t let that happen,” Ezra added, pulling her closer to him.
For the briefest of moments, Jarra actually felt better. The two people that were closer to her than anyone else in the world were looking out for her. The third, however, was gone, and Jarra was more aware of her absence than ever.
“I keep thinking of all the things I wanted to say to her, things that I should have said while I had the chance,” she said in a choked sob. “I miss her so much, Ezra.”
Rolling over onto her side, she put her arms around him, burying her face in his chest and sobbing hard.
“I know,” he said, holding her tightly. “I miss her, too.”
“I just want her back. Her life radiated a kind of light that truly made a difference in this world. It made a difference in my life. Now that its gone, I don’t know what I’m gonna do…”
Her voice trailed off into more sobbing. All Ezra could do was hold her and try to comfort her, but it wasn’t enough. She kissed him forcefully, wanting him, needing him as she had that night at the inn. She wanted a respite from the hurt, no matter how brief.
He hesitated, breaking off the kiss and pulling away. “Jarra, Gabrielle is just on the other side of the fire-“ he began.
“Please, Ezra,” she whispered in his ear pleadingly. “I need you…”
He didn’t deny her.
Ever alert, even when she was asleep, the sound of Jarra’s sobs had been enough to wake Gabrielle.
Keeping her eyes closed, she lay still, listening to see if anything was truly the matter. There was no need for them to know they had wakened her if nothing was really wrong.
“Her life radiated a kind of light that truly made a difference in this world,” she heard Jarra say. “It made a difference in my life. Now that it’s gone, I don’t know what I’m gonna do…”
Oh no, Gabrielle thought. Were things really that bad for her?
More sobbing, then-what was that? Low whispers, first Ezra, then Jarra. Gabrielle couldn’t make out what was said. It was none of her business anyway. More of the sounds she couldn’t identify, then the rustling of bedding. A trembling sigh, breath coming in quick, ragged gasps. Were they-? They were.
Gabrielle felt her cheeks burning. Trying to tune them out, she did her best to go back to sleep immediately. It would be nice to have someone to love…
The morning was cold and clear, though not nearly as frigid as the previous one had been. Gabrielle was thankful for that. A crisp breeze stung her nose and cheeks. It was still plenty cold out, but at least the sun brought warmth when the air was still.
In one such moment, Gabrielle, having extinguished their morning cooking fire, stretched hugely and sat facing the slowly rising sun. Letting her head fall back she let the sun turn her closed eyelids red, felt the heat against her coat, her hair.
She heard splashing coming from downslope; Jarra and Ezra were at the waterhole bathing. She suspected that wasn’t all they were doing. Brow wrinkling, she thought, I so do not want to go there.
Another breeze, sharply cold against her sun-warmed skin. She opened her eyes-
Ares was standing over her.
Startled, heart hammering, Gabrielle wanted to jump a foot into the air. Outwardly, she showed no sign that he had surprised her. She just sat there surveying him coolly. Ares didn’t meet her eyes, just stared down at the ground.
“I’m sorry about Xena,” he said softly.
“Go away, Ares,” Gabrielle told him flatly.
His features hardened in sudden anger. “You don’t have to be rude, Gabrielle,” he snapped. “I was just trying to-“
“Don’t, Ares,” she snapped back. “Alright? You are too selfish and unfeeling to ever understand what I’ve been through. The last thing I need is you getting in my way.”
Ares seemed to deflate, like all the strength had gone out of him. He really looked wounded, but Gabrielle wasn’t going to let herself fall for it.
“Have it your way,” he said and disappeared.
Gabrielle again wondered if maybe, just this once, Ares didn’t have some hidden agenda. Maybe he really was as crushed by Xena’s death as he appeared. Was he even capable of caring that much for someone or, for that matter, caring at all? No. But the look in his eyes told her otherwise. She put it out of her mind. She wanted nothing to do with Ares. Going around in circles about his motivations was only giving her a headache.
Sighing warily, she stood, and when she turned around Xena was standing there before her. Her smile warmed Gabrielle in a way that the sun never could.
“Hey Gabrielle,” she said.
Gabrielle looked around quickly. No one was within earshot. Good. From their point of view, it would seem like she was talking to herself. She didn’t need anyone thinking she was losing her mind.
“Weren’t you a little hard on him?” Xena asked her.
She didn’t think so. How was she supposed to act toward Ares? If he hadn’t been so consistently dishonest over the years she might have considered believing him. Xena didn’t say anything further on the matter, but she had this knowing look, like she knew something about it that she wasn’t willing to say. Being a spirit no longer confined by mortal limitations, she probably did know more about everything than she had in life. Things that she was unable to share with Gabrielle for any number of reasons. That wasn’t the first time she had noticed Xena holding something back from their conversations.
“I can feel that something is bothering you,” Xena prompted.
“I’m worried about Jarra,” she said, only half-lying. Her concern was real. It just wasn’t the thing that was really bothering her.
“Jarra feels lost, Gabrielle,” Xena told her. “I was one of her closest friends, and more than that I was her mentor. That makes things doubly hard for her.” She sighed. “I changed her life. You could even say that I saved it. I had, in a way, become her center. I was a source of strength. She feels that my death has caused her to lose that.”
Gabrielle nodded, understanding.
“All I really did was give her a window inside of herself,” Xena continued. “Everything that she thinks she has lost is still there, just like it was before. I just helped her find it.” Xena looked at her urgently. “You have to make her understand that, Gabrielle. You have to help her find that center again.”
“It won’t be easy. Like you said, you changed her life. We both did. Its devastating to lose your mentor, your hero. Your friend.” Her throat tightened as she said those last two words. They were supposed to be about Jarra, but Gabrielle’s eyes told a different story. They were just as much about her. “That’s what you were in her eyes,” she finished.
Xena had not missed the double meaning in her words. She reached up, gently touching her friend’s face. She felt so warm, so real; for the smallest of moments, Gabrielle forgot that she was just a spirit. Xena’s love wrapped all around her, moved through her very soul. She wanted to cry, such was the beauty of it.
When Xena spoke again, the spell was broken. “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, Gabrielle.”
The duality of that statement was not lost on Gabrielle. She sighed heavily. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Xena smiled at her, beautiful and radiant as ever. Again Gabrielle felt the warmth of her love spreading through her. She closed her eyes, basking in it. When she opened them, Xena had gone.
Jarra and Ezra returned from the waterhole a short time later. Gabrielle could tell just looking at them that they had definitely been…”recreating”.
I still do not want to go there, she thought forcefully.
She had more important things to attend to now, and she had had plenty of time to think after Xena left her. She knew what needed to be said. But first…
“Ezra, could you go water the horses?” she asked.
Confused, he started to say, “We just brought them up from the waterhole-“ He stopped, picking up on her hinting expression and promptly started to walk away. “I’ll take care of it right away.”
“Wait, Ezra,” Jarra called, turning to follow. “I’ll come with you.”
“Stay here, Jarra.” Gabrielle’s tone wasn’t commanding, but the message was clear. In a moment, Ezra was gone, leaving the two women alone.
“You said that her light was gone,” Gabrielle stated.
Jarra whirled, obviously surprised that Gabrielle had overheard her last night.
“That’s not true,” Gabrielle told her. “She gave that light to you, she gave it to me, and we carry it inside of us. We have it as long as we never forget her and what she taught us. As long as we remember, it can never go out. It is our duty to remember, to spread that light to others. Its what she would have wanted.”
Jarra stood there, stunned and silent. Stunned by the feeling with which Gabrielle had just spoken, and stunned because she had overlooked the truth all this time. Gabrielle could see it on her face. Steely resolve flickered in Jarra’s eyes, the determination to go on. She could still see the sorrow there, far from resolution, but it no longer threatened to overwhelm.
A determined nod from Jarra. Gabrielle gave a sigh of relief. She had gotten through. Jarra accepted what she had been told; it was a good start to her healing and rebuilding.
The issue taken care of for the time being, Gabrielle called Ezra back from where he was waiting downslope. A quick check of their gear, and they set out once more.
Day by day on their journey, Jarra grew to realize how much she had leaned on Xena. She found herself looking for the warrior to be walking at her side, waiting for one of her dry comments-missing, increasingly, that steady pressure of goodwill and companionship she had always felt at her side. Even when she wasn’t travelling with Xena, those feelings had stayed with her.
When she looked at her sai she remembered doing weapon drills with the warrior-and she cried again, thinking it silly and ridiculous, but helpless to hold back the tears. It was impossible that Xena was gone, and gone forever. Jarra had thought of her own death, but never of Xena’s-now she could think of nothing else.
She knew that Ezra and Gabrielle watched her, and almost hated them for it. She had shared everything with Xena: hopes and fears, laughter, danger-she shook her head and went doggedly on, placing one foot in front of the other, hardly noticing much else. For a while she felt cool and distant, like she was watching herself from far away. Feel nothing, something inside her mind whispered. Feel nothing, lose nothing. But the concern in Gabrielle’s eyes and Ezra’s roused a rush of feeling for both of them. With it came the pain again, but this time she felt it as more of a good pain. Necessary. There was fear, too: fear for them. She looked at her hands, strong and skilled-she could still protect with those hands. She said nothing, and the tears came again and again, but somewhere inside a tightness was beginning to ease.
Despite everything, she was feeling better since that morning at the waterhole. It gave her a small hope that things could be better again someday down the line. What Gabrielle had said-she was right. Xena’s light hadn’t gone out, and that meant that Jarra had not lost what was really important. It had given her renewed purpose. She would not let Xena’s light go out. That was the thing driving her now. It was a lot better than the empty feeling that had been plaguing her up until then. And when the pain was too great? Ezra could take it away. But she still had doubts about herself.
As the days blurred one into the next, it was her newfound resolve that got her through the rest of the trip.
One day she looked up and Amphipolis was spread out before them. They had arrived.
It didn’t take long to pass through the farms and thatch roofed houses on the outskirts. Children came out onto the road, running alongside them as they walked, giggling and looking up in awe at the newcomers. Meanwhile, the adults looked on from the doorways of their homes or the fields that they were tending. In villages such as this, everyone knew everyone else, and nothing much exciting ever happened, so new arrivals were something to stop and take notice of.
Gabrielle could feel the eyes upon them; first the wary glances as they looked upon Jarra and Ezra, two people they had never seen before. Then more relaxed gazes when they saw who was with them. Gabrielle was someone they knew and welcomed, and anyone with her would also be welcomed. She could also see the question in their eyes; where was Xena, daughter of this very village? They knew that Xena traveled with her and that they were almost never apart. That she would show up here without Xena-it was definitely unusual enough to make them wonder.
As inevitable as they were, the looks from the villagers still made her uncomfortable. It was strange to see her without Xena-she couldn’t blame them for that. If only they knew how strange it was for her to be without Xena.
Shortly they reached the stone walled village square, passing through the open archway doors into the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily business. This was the heart of Amphipolis, where goods were bought, sold, and bartered, where services were rendered, where the people gathered for celebration.
Gabrielle heard the clang of metal on metal coming from the blacksmith’s shop and smiled. She was reminded of a certain handsome young blacksmith that had worked there many years ago; his name was Saul. Xena had favored him, to put it lightly, always finding an excuse to stop by when they were in town and bring a little extra heat to his forge. Gabrielle had teased her about it on occasion-she never would admit that he had been the real reason for a few of their visits.
The iron gray stone of the walls and buildings, the bright colors of the awnings of the stalls in the market, the sights, the smells-they were oddly comforting to Gabrielle. She let the warm familiarity of Amphipolis enfold her. Xena had grown up here. This place was a part of her. Knowing that, feeling that, was what gave her such comfort. Comfort that was nearly impossible for her to find these days.
Her gaze moved to the one empty building in the square. It had once been the local inn and tavern, run by Xena’s mother, Cyrene. It had been Xena’s home as well. Now it was run down and abandoned. After Cyrene’s death and the subsequent haunting of the place, no one had gone near it, fearing it was cursed. Xena had thought of fixing it up, maybe settling down there when her fighting days were done. That wasn’t going to happen now.
The new inn, the Hawkwind, was on the opposite end of the square. They would, however, be staying at Xena’s home. It would be easier that way; at least that’s what Gabrielle told herself. Jarra and Ezra didn’t need to know the real reason. It wasn’t fancy, but the last time that she had been here with Xena they had made it livable if a bit shabby. Okay-more than a bit shabby. But it would be a roof over their heads that they wouldn’t have to pay for. Good thing, considering that they didn’t have many dinars between them. They family tomb was also part of the building, and that was what they were really here for; they had brought Xena’s remains home and now they would put them to rest alongside her mother and beloved brother Lyceus.
Someday, I’ll end up there, too, Gabrielle thought. It was what she wanted, to be by Xena’s side forever.
Being in Amphipolis again-it was stirring up feelings and memories that Gabrielle wished would just go away. Maybe staying here hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
Sitting alone that night in one of the drafty bedrooms of Xena’s home, she closed her eyes and called out with her heart and mind. When she opened her eyes again, Xena was there, seated next to her. The warmth of her friend’s presence filled her, but this time it failed to ease the coldness that gripped her heart.
“Let go, Gabrielle,” Xena told her, knowing what she was thinking.
“Should I?” she asked faintly, her eyes locking with Xena’s. They glistened with barely restrained tears.
“That’s what’s really been bothering you, isn’t it?” It sounded like a question, but it was really a statement of the truth.
Gabrielle nodded almost imperceptibly, her gaze sliding down to look at the floor. “Being able to see you, touch you, talk to you like this-I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t, if you were just…gone.”
“You’ll never have to find out. I promised that I would never leave you, and I haven’t.”
A small smile at that before she returned to staring bleakly into space. Silence stretched. Xena said nothing, waiting patiently for her to say what was on her mind, even though she was already aware of what it was.
“I could have saved you,” she finally said. “But I didn’t. I wanted to; I would have.”
And that was really the crux of it. That had it not meant taking Xena’s redemption away, she would have. Losing Xena wasn’t what was really hurting her. Xena wasn’t lost to her. It was what she had been willing to do, without reservation, that was haunting her.
“Could you have lived with yourself if you had, under different circumstances?”
“It was my duty to save you, not to let you die,” she said, not really answering the question. She knew what her answer was. She didn’t like it one bit.
“It was your duty to do what was right,” Xena said with a forceful edge. “You didn’t answer my question.”
She didn’t want to answer it. She was afraid to answer it because she knew what she was going to say, and she hated it. Still, she found herself saying, “Yes. I could have, because you would still be here, and that was all that mattered to me.” Then, “I feel so guilty. It would have been wrong.”
Xena’s arms went around her, and she leaned into an embrace that was so real and yet not. She sobbed, the tears stinging her eyes. “I would have just forsaken all of them…”
“It wasn’t wrong to feel that way Gabrielle,” Xena said softly. “You couldn’t help it. And let me ask you this: would it have been right to ask you to give up someone you love just for a bunch of people that were already dead?”
Xena was right. But she couldn’t respond.
“That scenario didn’t happen, Gabrielle. It. Didn’t. Happen. As for what did happen; you did the right thing, whether it was for me or for them. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But I would have,” she finally managed to choke out.
Xena held her, softly stroking her hair. “But you didn’t,” she reminded gently. “Let it go.”
But the hurt wouldn’t go away. It went against everything that she was; how could she even think of doing something like that? What had gone so horribly wrong inside of her?
So this was the house that Xena grew up in. It should have been comforting to be here, in a place touched by her friend’s life. But it offered Jarra almost no comfort at all. It must have been a fine dwelling once, but it was hardly that now. Littered with cobwebs, drafty and dark, its windows boarded up, the place was empty, abandoned but for their presence here. The life of this place had long since gone, and it only made her feel that much more acutely that Xena was gone, too.
Laying there in the dark draftiness of her room, wind howling outside and whistling through every crack, Jarra thought about giving up. It would be so easy; she could go home to her tribe and isolate herself from the rest of the world.
Then she thought better of it.
She couldn’t leave Ezra, for one. She would never leave him, and that was what going back to her tribe would mean. Besides, running away wasn’t in her nature, as badly as she felt that she wanted to at that moment. Xena had taught her better than that. And she wasn’t about to leave Gabrielle alone.
Another memory; she clearly remembered the look in Xena’s eyes, the way they looked like two chips of burning ice. What Xena told her then Jarra had never forgotten:
“The instant you accept defeat, you’ve lost any chance of winning. If you think you can’t win, its impossible to fight with everything you have. Why bother? Remember, its never over until you’re dead. Until that point, there’s always a chance to turn the tables. Never. Give. Up.”
They had been talking about battle; at least that was all Jarra thought they had been talking about at the time. But she had realized later that those words were about life as well. She wasn’t dead yet. It wasn’t over, even though it felt like it might be. Giving up wasn’t the way to get through this. Gabrielle hadn’t; where would she be if she had?
Gabrielle had said that they all carried Xena’s light. Giving up would almost certainly extinguish it. Jarra had vowed never to let that happen, and she never broke her promises. She would keep going to honor Xena, if not for herself. How could Jarra spread her light if she gave up? She couldn’t. Giving up was unacceptable.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow was going to be hard for all of them.
The first light of day was just beginning to illuminate the sky when Gabrielle, carrying a small clay urn containing the ashes of her beloved friend and mighty warrior princess, led the way into Xena’s family tomb. Jarra and Ezra followed silently behind her, their footsteps echoing hollowly in the stone passageway.
There would be no public mourning in the village. There wasn’t anyone left in Amphipolis who really knew who Xena was. That saddened Gabrielle. Even though Xena was a native of this village, and had saved them from Lucifer and pure evil itself, no one really knew her, knew her worth and what her loss meant. For those that knew of Xena, she was more a figure of myth and legend that they had watched from afar than a real person that they actually knew. Would anyone here remember her? Would they even care that she had died?
In her mind, Gabrielle pictured it: a memorial for Xena, the greatest hero the world had ever known. All the people gathered in the town square for a memorial the likes of which none of them had ever seen. The image evaporated in the face of the sad truth: Xena’s courage had changed the world, and no one here would remember. Maybe one day someone would read the scrolls and remember…
Even if there was to have been a memorial, Gabrielle would not have attended. She didn’t need to have her emotions stirred up anymore than they already were. She didn’t want to stare the reality of her choices in the face any more than she had to. All it brought was anger and resentment and frustration over things that she would never be able to change. Jarra thought she was upset because she had to let Xena die, because she had to choose. Gabrielle knew what Jarra didn’t, that Xena wasn’t dead, not to her. And, yes, she was angry that she had been forced to choose. But that wasn’t even the half of it. All the guilt over her true feelings about all that had happened-that was the real problem. What she had almost done, what she would have done under slightly different circumstances-that was what was eating away at her, and every day it was getting harder to fight back the rage it had ignited inside of her.
* * *
Jarra numbly listened to the ring of her boots hitting the stone floor as she walked. Was this really happening? A part of her was still refusing to believe that Xena was gone, and that she was laying that friend to rest today. But it was very real, and with every step the wound in her heart was being torn open anew, bit by painful bit, hurting as much as it had on that fateful day at the port when Gabrielle told her the one thing that shouldn’t have been possible.
Jarra watched, feeling oddly detached from reality, as Gabrielle placed the urn upon its designated pedestal, right next to the coffin of Lyceus. At least she’s with her mother and brothers again.
Gabrielle stood, hand touching the urn, for a long time, saying nothing. Jarra figured that whatever Gabrielle had to say was between herself and Xena, and not for she or Ezra to hear. After a long time she stepped back and nodded. That was Jarra’s cue.
Pulling herself up, standing just a bit straighter, Jarra moved forward to stand by the pedestal with the urn and faced her friends. Drawing strength and comfort from them, as well as from within herself, she spoke from the heart.
“Xena of Amphipolis,” she said. “The bravest, truest warrior that ever lived. The best most loyal friend a person could have. She made the ultimate sacrifice, unselfishly giving her life and finding the redemption she had been so desperately seeking. Words cannot express how much I will miss her.”
In that bittersweet moment the sorrow of loss filled her, but at the same time her heart swelled with a kind of pride. Pride in her friend who gave everything to do the final, the good, the right thing. Pride that she went through with it, knowing what it would mean.
Reaching out and touching the urn she said, “Rest in peace, warrior princess.” Softly, in a voice that no one else could hear, she added, “I love you, Xena.”
Taking a deep breath, Jarra sang the burial lament, trying not to let her voice waver. She had heard Xena sing this very same lament for others who had fallen, remembered being entranced by its haunting beauty, remembered how much it had moved her as Xena sang, her voice strong and clear. How strange it was to be singing it for Xena now.
When she finished, Ezra was wiping away a stray tear. Gabrielle stood in silence, utterly still, her face an emotionless mask. But her eyes, glistening with emotion, betrayed her.
Gods, Jarra was going to miss Xena-her straightforwardness, blunt honesty without any malice, the sense of strength, her warmth.
Then she was crying, shaking with the effort not to cry, and failing. Gabrielle’s arm came around her, warmer and stronger than she expected. She gave up then, letting the sobs come. When she was done she felt ridiculous as always. Warriors weren’t supposed to cry. But the understanding and empathy she saw in Gabrielle made her realize that she didn’t have to be ashamed. She was human. She was hurting, the same as Gabrielle or Ezra, going through a difficult time. And though Gabrielle had been putting on a brave face most of the time (Jarra had not seen her cry openly), she suspected that Gabrielle did cry when there was no one else around.
She felt Ezra’s hand on her shoulder and retreated to the comfort of his arms. She held him tightly while he stroked her back comfortingly.
“We’ll be okay,” he murmured in her ear.
That’s when Jarra felt it-a presence, warm, firm, and gentle, so familiar yet so much stronger than it had ever been before. With it a sense of love that touched her very soul. The feeling was so strong and so pure that it made her want to cry-and then it was gone. Could it have been-? Jarra didn’t dare let herself believe it. That was crazy. But what if…?
So they left the tomb, leaving behind all that remained of their friend and hero, Jarra leaving behind the question of whether or not someone who was dead could touch you from the other side.
Listening to Jarra speak, Gabrielle wanted to cry. Not because of grief; she had settled that a long time ago. Not because she was feeling loss; Xena was still there when she needed her. It was the simple heartfelt beauty of the words, the emotion with which they were spoken, that brought tears to her eyes. And the pride and love for Xena that they inspired. Every word was true.
Gabrielle very nearly lost control when Jarra sang the burial lament. Xena had sung it for Ephiny, for Eli, for many others. Did she ever think that she would hear it sung for Xena? No, she did not. She should have been the one to sing it-she didn’t because she was afraid that she would break down before she could finish. And Jarra needed to do it, to honor Xena.
Frustration filled her, not for the first time. This whole thing was so wrong. They shouldn’t be here doing this. Xena shouldn’t have had to die to be redeemed. She deserved better than that. It was so unfair. And what kind of message did that send? That the only way to redemption was death? What kind of lesson was that for Jarra? It didn’t seem right to Gabrielle. It never would. Why did it have to be that way for Xena?
Anger. Not just because of the position Xena had been put in, but because of the position she herself had been put in. What a cruel twist of fate; she could have saved Xena, but for one thing, and even then there would have been a price to pay, if only to her conscience…
Guilt. She would have, but would that have been right? Everything inside of her said no, but she didn’t care. If not for that one thing, she would have. Gods, she would have…
Jarra was crying, and Gabrielle went to her, pushing her problems aside and trying to forget them. As she comforted her friend, she desperately wished that someone could comfort her. There was no comfort coming from within.
At some point during their private memorial, something had clicked for Jarra. With fierce certainty like none she had ever experienced, she knew exactly what she had to do. Suddenly her exact path was laid out before her; a way to honor Xena, a way that would make her proud. The rightness of it reverberated down to her core. In her heart she knew that this was what she wanted more than anything else. Every fiber of her being was committed. But it all depended on Gabrielle.
“…I’m upset that I would even think about doing something like that, Xena.”
Xena sighed. “Gabrielle. We’ve been over this-“
“I didn’t care about them. That’s not right.” Distantly she added, “That’s not me. What’s happened to me?”
“You can’t keep feeling guilty about something you didn’t do.”
“It’s the idea of it,” she insisted.
“It didn’t happen,” Xena said gently.
“It would have, if it hadn’t meant taking something important away from you.”
“Good was served, Gabrielle. What would have been doesn’t matter now. Let it go.”
Anxiety marred her face. “I wish I could.”
Xena didn’t have anything to say to that, and that scared Gabrielle even more. Was she seeing something truly wrong as well? Her concern was clear enough.
“I don’t feel like myself anymore,” Gabrielle confessed after some moments of silence.
“You’re not the same person that you used to be.”
Xena certainly had that right. Gabrielle thought that she felt colder, harder, to herself. Or was she just imagining it?
Xena put a hand on her shoulder. It felt the same as it always had, and yet-it wasn’t the same at all. It never would be, but it could have been…
“I’ve watched you grow into the person that you are today,” Xena said warmly. Her voice turned serious. “It hasn’t always been easy for you, but I haven’t seen anything, then or now, that makes me anything but proud of you."
That should have made her feel better, and it did for an instant. But the cold lump in the pit of her stomach refused to go away.
A light breeze blew, rustling the leaves of the trees and making the shadows dance. Gabrielle looked up-the sun was high in the sky. It was already past noon. Had she been in this little stand of trees for that long?
“Your friends are gonna start wondering where you’ve gone off to,” said Xena, echoing her thoughts.
Gabrielle hadn’t told anyone where she was going when she sneaked off to the privacy of the trees, not far from Xena’s home, just outside of the village square. She wanted to be alone. Alone with her thoughts, and alone with Xena.
“Gabrielle,” a voice called. It was coming from just outside the trees.
Jarra had found her.
“How did you find me?” Gabrielle asked when Jarra came into view.
“When I asked where you were, Ezra told me her saw you go off this way earlier,” Jarra replied. “I’ve been searching for a while now. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“No,” Gabrielle told her. She had said all that she needed to say to Xena for now.
Xena was watching them silently. Of course, Jarra couldn’t see her standing there; Gabrielle could feel her standing there. Jarra’s eyes were red-rimmed-she had been crying again. The strain of grief had etched visible lines on her face. Gabrielle wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to cry, that Xena was standing right there, but she couldn’t. Jarra would think she was crazy. She wasn’t ready to say anything. Not yet.
“I just came out here to think,” Gabrielle said.
Jarra nodded her understanding. “There’s been a lot to think about.”
Xena was moving, going to Jarra’s side. Seeing the pain in her eyes she reached out-Gabrielle saw the change come over Jarra’s face the instant Xena touched her.
“I’ll always be with you, Jarra,” Gabrielle heard Xena whisper.
Jarra’s lip trembled. She was on the verge of tears. “It’s weird,” she said with a sniff. “Sometimes I can still feel her, like she’s standing right next to me.”
“Xena is standing right next to you,” Gabrielle wanted to say, but she bit back the words. Jarra was sensitive to Xena’s presence. How was that possible? Maybe I should tell her…
Jarra shook herself, composure returning. “I’m sorry, Gab. You probably don’t want to talk about all that anymore.”
“It’s okay, Jarra,” Gabrielle said, and meant it.
Leaning back against a tree, Jarra studied the ground for a time before speaking again.
“I was wondering-where are you going to go after this? Home, to Poteidia?”
“South,” Gabrielle answered, “To Egypt. Its where Xena and I were headed before…” Her voice trailed off.
“The land of the pharaohs,” Jarra said reverently.
“Xena said they needed a girl with a chakram. That’s me, now.”
“I would go with you, to Egypt,” Jarra said quietly. The hint had not been lost on Gabrielle.
“Jarra-“ she began, and stopped. Suddenly it wasn’t Jarra that she saw standing before her, but herself. So young, begging to go with Xena and leave boring village life behind for a chance at adventure…
“This grief, this hurt inside of me-I’m determined to make something out of it,” Jarra was saying. “I’m going to pick up the fight for the greater good where Xena left off, and continue it in her name.” A brief pause, as Jarra studied the ground once more. “I’d like to do it at your side.”
Having Jarra along-it could work. Sharing the company of a good friend in such a faraway, unfamiliar place would be nice. Jarra was a good fighter with Amazon training as well as personal training from Xena. They fought well together, and Gabrielle would definitely welcome the help.
“Please, give me a chance, Gabrielle.”
Jarra had saved her life the day they had set out to come here. For that Gabrielle at least owed her a chance.
At the same time something inside of her wanted to say no. The reason was simple and selfish: Gabrielle couldn’t hide from herself when Jarra was around. Every time Jarra talked about Xena, every time Jarra called her a hero, she was reminded of that wrong thing that she wanted to do and would have done if only she hadn’t loved Xena so much… Gabrielle wanted to hide, even though she knew that she couldn’t.
“Have you thought this through?” she asked Jarra seriously. “What you’re talking about means leaving Greece indefinitely.”
“Ezra and I lived in Egypt for two years after he-“ Jarra hesitated. That part of her past was still and uncomfortable subject. “After he rescued me,” she finally finished. “I know things that would be of great help to you.”
She’s trying so hard to prove herself to you, Gabrielle thought. Jarra didn’t have to prove anything. She was more than aware of her worth as a warrior and, most importantly, as a friend.
“I feel like this is something I have to do, for her,” Jarra explained, eyes burning determinedly. “There is something that I think I should say.”
“I won’t lie to you-I do want to do this because of Xena, to be with you because you’re all I have left of her.”
Though hearing it made her a bit uncomfortable (not that Jarra looked like she was comfortable admitting it), Gabrielle could hardly begrudge her that.
“More importantly,” Jarra went on, “I want to do this because you’re my friend and I want to stand by you.”
Her heart warmed at that. Things could be okay as long as she had friends like Jarra. But her private doubts and fears still remained. You’ll be better off alone, part of her insisted stubbornly, while the other said, Jarra needs you. Don’t just push her away. She didn’t know what to do. She wanted to say yes, and at the same time say no.
The indecision must have shown on her face. An answer not forthcoming, Jarra stiffened formally and sank to one knee, bowing her head. Slowly, Jarra said, “I pledge myself to you, Queen Gabrielle. I offer my oath of allegiance.”
Gabrielle stared, bewildered. She had not expected this.
Jarra’s head came up and their eyes met. Gabrielle was taken aback by the fierce determination she saw.
“Trust that I will stand with you until death. You have my word as an Amazon.” Jarra’s tone was deadly serious.
Gabrielle was an Amazon queen. Though she was not ruling, she did have the right of caste, which had been passed to her years ago. If she went back to the Amazons this very instant, whoever was ruling in her place on the council would have to turn their authority over to her. She was only surpassed by Varia, the queen of all the Amazon tribes. Knowing Amazon custom, she knew what it meant to give this oath and knew that it was not given lightly. Jarra was really serious about this.
With this gesture, Gabrielle’s inner conflict was finally settled. Maybe Jarra was doing this because she saw a friend in need and wanted to help. Maybe it was out of some sense of loyalty to Xena, or some sense of duty to her since, technically, she was Jarra’s queen. Jarra was an Amazon, after all. Gabrielle suspected that all of those things played a part. Whatever the reason, Jarra was a friend in need, reaching out to the only friend she had left. Gabrielle couldn’t turn her back on that. She didn’t want to.
“I accept your oath, Jarra,” she said finally, tone shifting to give the formal response. “Rise, Amazon sister.”
Standing once more Jarra said, “I won’t let you down, Gabrielle.”
This elicited a warm smile from Gabrielle. “I know you won’t.”
They linked arms in the Amazon version of a handshake, sealing the oath, warrior to queen, friend to friend.
Watching Jarra walk away, Gabrielle felt better. It would be good to have friends by her side again.
Xena had been watching the entire time. She had stayed silent, knowing that Gabrielle had to come to the decision on her own. Now that it had been made, she returned to Gabrielle’s side.
“I didn’t realize that I meant that much to her,” Xena admitted.
“You did. You still do. She’s doing this for you.”
“That oath had nothing to do with me.”
That surprised her. She told Xena as much.
“As Jarra sees it, you’re alone. She wants to be there for you,” Xena explained. “To protect you.”
“I can protect myself,” she said defensively. She was far from helpless.
“She knows that,” Xena admonished. More gently, she said, “Jarra loves you, Gabrielle. You’re her friend, her Amazon sister. She doesn’t want to see you go off alone.”
For that, Gabrielle was grateful.
“She would die for you, you know,” Xena told her.
“I don’t doubt it,” Gabrielle agreed. “She just bound her life to mine with that oath.”
“That bother’s you doesn’t it?”
How did she do that? Xena had that uncanny ability to see what was in her heart. That skill had not diminished in the least. If anything, it had gotten stronger.
“Don’t get me wrong-I’m honored that she thinks me worthy of her oath. That’s a very serious thing. I’m still kind of blown away by it. It’s just that…” Gabrielle didn’t have the words to explain.
Xena had done it again. “Yeah. If something should happen, and I’m forced to chose again-“
“You could have turned it down,” Xena offered.
“I couldn’t do that. It meant so much; it would have crushed her, fragile as she is right now.” A sigh. “I’ve just barely been able to get her to hang on.”
“And you’re worried about yourself, Gabrielle?”
She didn’t understand. “What?”
“You thought of her before you thought of yourself. Bad people don’t do that Gabrielle.”
“This is completely different,” she protested. Xena still didn’t understand…
“Yes. It is.” The words came out forcefully, almost angrily.
Xena looked startled at the almost-outburst, but she covered it up immediately.
She was doing it again. Getting angry. What was going on? Why was she behaving like this? She had never been like this before. Before Japan.
“You made the right choice, Gabrielle,” Xena said softly. “She needs you.” After a pause she added sagely, “Maybe you need her.”
She left without saying anything more, having given Gabrielle plenty to think about.
That evening, long after the sun had set Jarra and Gabrielle sat by the big stone hearth in Xena’s home, letting the fire warm them. Freezing wind blustered outside; branches scraped against the walls as the trees swayed in the wind. Shutters creaked. The two of them were alone in the large room, what used to be the common room when Xena’s mother had maintained the inn here. Ezra had gone to bed early, wanting to make sure her was plenty rested for the long trip ahead of them. He had offered up no objections to going to Egypt when Jarra had told him. He had actually seemed rather excited about it.
Gabrielle’s chair creaked loudly when she shifted her weight; she prayed that the old piece of furniture would not collapse beneath her. Thankfully, it didn’t. She eyed it warily before resettling herself.
The two women were silent, their earlier conversation having been finished for some time. Now they were to friends sitting quietly, each one enjoying the others presence, listening to the wind outside and the crackling of the fire as they each thought their own private thoughts.
Gabrielle leaned over and picked up her katana, which was resting next to her on a low, dusty table, the chair issuing another loud creak as she did so. She held the sword, safely tucked into its scabbard, lightly across her lap. Her eyes ran over the highly polished, finely lacquered scabbard, admiring its shine, the rich color of the wood. It was flawless to the touch.
Even something as simple as the sword was symbolic of how much she had changed, how different she was from the girl that she used to be. She had begun with an ordinary staff, willing to fight, refusing to kill, her only desire being to have something to protect herself with. After giving up violence for the way of peace, and failing, she had graduated to sais, weapons that were lethal only if you wanted them to be. She could kill with them only if she had to, defend when she was unwilling to kill. But swords-Xena had told her never to pick up a sword unless she was willing to kill with it, because that was what swords were for. She had a sword now.
This sword was designed to take a man’s head off in one stroke, she thought. And she would do just that, if need be. Though she would do what she could to avoid it, she was willing to kill, something she had never been before. It started on Mt. Fugi with Morimoto; she had willfully killed him with the chakram. It might have started before that. Was it her true self starting to come out? She didn’t know. But if her travels with Xena had taught her one thing, it was that sometimes killing was the only way. She hated that it had to be that way. She accepted the way of the warrior for herself, knowing that the way of peace was not meant for her, no matter how she felt about killing. It still left a bitter taste in her mouth.
What has happened to me? she asked herself again. Have I lost that much of myself to the violence?
She didn’t have an answer for that, but the question alone terrified her.
* * *
The creaking of the chair had made Jarra look up; she saw Gabrielle holding her sword, still in its scabbard, staring at it and looking like her thoughts were a million miles away. Jarra watched the lines crease her face, her frown deepening with each passing moment.
I wonder what she’s thinking, Jarra thought. It couldn’t have been anything good. Not with that frown.
Slowly, Gabrielle drew the weapon; firelight danced on the gleaming length of it. It was simple, no gold or jewels adorned it, but it seemed magnificent to Jarra nonetheless. The blade was slightly curved, its single edge razor sharp. Its delicate but unquestionably strong circular hilt was just large enough to protect the hands. The longer-than-average grip was wrapped in a deep blue, thinly braided cording, the manner of wrapping forming little diamond shapes. It seemed fragile compared to the swords she was familiar with; those were straight, double-edged, thick and heavy.
Jarra’s eyes widened, dazzled. This was the first time that she had been able to see the katana up close. Reflected firelight made the mirror-polished blade seem as if it were ablaze.
“May I?” Jarra asked tentatively.
Without a word, Gabrielle offered the sword to her, grip first. She wrapped her hand around the grip slowly, carefully; she was afraid it would disintegrate in her hand if handled to roughly.
“Go ahead. Try it out,” Gabrielle urged, amused by her obvious awe.
A moment of hesitation as she looked at it, turning it over in her hands. Flawless. What if she damaged it? But Gabrielle had given her consent.
Jarra gave it a sharp twirl, slashed it quickly across in front of her. Light as a feather and perfectly balanced. She had never handled anything near its equal. A lazy smile of pleasure spread across her face. This was a real sword. Gaining confidence, she gave it another twirl and reversed her grip, stabbing under one arm and behind her as she dropped to one knee. She waited a beat, then sprang back to her feet, spinning and slashing down, the katana whirring softly as it cut through the air. Wow.
Her back to Gabrielle, she asked, “Any chance I might be able to get one of these?”
She turned around to see Gabrielle staring at her, the look in her eyes strange.
“You looked so much like her just then,” Gabrielle breathed. The tone of her voice told Jarra just which “her” she was referring to. Xena. Jarra would have been flattered by the comparison had it not been for the pang the mention of their lost friend brought her. “I didn’t know that you knew how to do that.”
“The infamous reverse move,” Jarra said casually, trying to cover up her sudden surge of emotion. “The only people that have seen it besides you and me are dead. Xena taught it to me herself, and it has saved my life more than once.”
“You do it well.”
“I certainly spent enough time practicing to get it right,” Jarra said with a hint of sarcasm.
That brought smiles to both of them. They both knew full well that when Xena taught you something, you had to do it right. She was never mean or impatient, but she demanded that you do it right because doing it right was the only way to survive in a fight.
Jarra remembered Xena standing by watching her, looking like a statue, observing and analyzing everything: her grip, the angle of the blade as she thrust it behind her, the speed with which the maneuver was carried out-those ice-blue eyes, hawklike as they stared, never missed a thing. Jarra had practiced it over and over, day after day until she thought she would go crazy. Then one day she had looked up and Xena was smiling that warm smile. She had finally gotten it right. Under Xena’s patient, skillful tutelage, she had finally done it. Xena had been proud of her, and somehow that had meant more to Jarra than nailing the sword maneuver.
She had never realized how much she loved Xena, how she respected her. She wondered why it was so hard to appreciate what you had until it was gone. All the time Xena had spent teaching her-cherished memories now. Sorrow pierced her, but it would pass, as things tended to with time. She hoped.
Caught up in her reverie as she was, she failed to notice that Gabrielle had been speaking to her. “Sorry, Gab. What did you say?”
“I said, if you want a sword like that you’ll have to go to Japan. Even then it would be very hard to get.”
Before she could ask why, Gabrielle was already explaining.
“In Japan, women aren’t allowed to have swords, let alone be warriors.”
Jarra snorted derisively at that.
“That I was given this sword was an extremely rare exception and a great honor.”
Jarra sighed and shrugged. “Oh well.” She handed the sword back to Gabrielle reluctantly.
Gabrielle took back the sword, wanting to laugh at Jarra’s longing gaze. Her friend didn’t want to give it up; Gabrielle could hardly blame her. The samurai katana was the perfect weapon, flawlessly crafted by a master swordmaker. One of a kind, especially in this part of the world.
She slid the sword back into its scabbard and placed it back on the table. When she looked back Jarra was still standing there, completely lost in thought.
“I can’t stop thinking about what you told me. About what happened,” Jarra said in a faraway voice.
Gabrielle felt herself withdrawing at the mention of that topic. The whole situation, Xena’s death aside, the feelings it had brought out in her, had been making her increasingly more uncomfortable. The discomfort with herself over what she had wanted to do, would have done without hesitation, and why had been growing every day since leaving Japan. At this point it was close to unbearable. She could deal with it if she didn’t think about it, but her conscience refused to let her forget for long, and when she had to think about Xena-well, there was no way to avoid it, especially not lately, when avoiding it was all that she wanted to do.
“It must have been so hard-“
“Do you know what I went through, Jarra?” she found herself demanding bitterly. “Do you know what it was like to be forced to into letting the person I loved more than anything in the world die when I could have saved her? I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for that.”
That wasn’t the whole truth of it. The real truth wasn’t something that she was willing to tell anyone. Ever. What would Jarra think of her then?
“I wish that I could feel what you’re feeling, so that you didn’t have to be alone with all that-“
“No,” Gabrielle said shortly, cutting her off. “No you don’t.”
“It’s not your fault, Gabrielle,” Jarra said soothingly. “Xena did what she had to do. You did the right thing in letting the greater good be served. It was heroic, what you did.”
Raw anger flooded her at those words. Jarra had it so completely wrong. The truth was so much different. The truth was horrible.
“Stop calling it heroic,” she growled warningly.
Not understanding at all why she was so angry, Jarra asked innocently, “Why? It was-“
Gabrielle couldn’t take it anymore. Something inside of her snapped. In an instant she was on her feet, her face inches from Jarra’s. To Jarra’s credit, she didn’t flinch at all.
“You think you know, but you have no idea,” Gabrielle told her angrily, so furious that she was beyond yelling, her voice deathly soft. “I didn’t let her die because it was the right thing to do,” she practically spat. “The greater good had nothing to do with it.”
Jarra stood there, mouth hanging open, staring in mute shock.
“I could have cared less about those 40,000 innocent souls. But I couldn’t deny Xena the peace she had been searching for all those years. I loved her too much.”
Remembering the unfairness of it all made her want to cry with frustration. Death shouldn’t have been the only way…
“If it had just been about those 40,000 souls and nothing else, not Xena’s redemption, not anything else, I would have brought her back, innocent souls be damned. That’s what scares me, that I would have done that even when I knew it was wrong.”
There. She’d said it. The truth was out and there was no going back. Hate me if you want, she thought. I don’t care anymore. “So what do you think of me now?”
Jarra stepped back, swallowing hard. She looked like a scared deer, but she quickly recovered from the shock and met Gabrielle’s angry eyes squarely. “You still did the right thing,” she said firmly.
No. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Why wouldn’t Jarra tell her she was wrong for feeling what she felt? She was shaking her head. “No. No-“
“I won’t tell you that you were wrong for feeling that way, that there’s something wrong with you. It’s not true, and it isn’t fair to you.”
Gabrielle looked away. No, there had to be something wrong. There had to be-
“Look at me, Gabrielle,” Jarra commanded, and she obeyed hesitantly.
“To deny Xena her redemption-that is something that would have been truly wrong. Only a good person could have let her have it and put their own wants and needs aside.”
Jarra still didn’t get it. “If not for that, I would have-“
Jarra cut her off. “As for what you would have done-love can make you do things you would never dream of doing, things that can go against everything you are and everything you believe in. That doesn’t justify it, but it does make it understandable. Your love was so strong that it would have driven you to that, strong enough to change who you were when it came to that one thing. Stop crucifying yourself for it.”
Jarra’s voice softened, her expression changing to one of compassion. “Everyone has some burden to bear, Gabrielle. That’s yours. That you would even question it-that tells me that you’re okay.”
Something in all of that had gotten through to her, for she could feel the anger draining away, the discomfort beginning to ease ever so slightly. But this was far from over. Though she had been listening, it would take time for her to actually hear the words. And there was one thing that she wanted to make absolutely clear…
“Remember this,” she said harshly, some of the anger returning. “I did what I did for Xena, because I loved her. I didn’t do it to set 40,000 innocent souls free.” Pointedly, she added, “I am no hero.”
Gabrielle had stalked off to bed that night without saying another word. She had wanted to be alone, and most likely sought the bliss of sleep, though Jarra doubted that it had come quickly or easily.
Jarra had never seen that side of Gabrielle before. She hadn’t even been aware that it existed. It had been ugly and frightening, and experiencing it had been unpleasant to say the least. That day in the tavern, back in Amphipolis, should have been a warning. There were, however, no hard feelings between the two of them. Jarra understood what was going on. What worried her was that Gabrielle had been holding it in for so long, letting it fester, build until it exploded. That was the stuff of self-destruction, and that was cause for concern. And though progress had definitely been made that night, it was far from over. One thing was certain: Jarra would be there no matter what happened. She stood by her friends.
They were really doing it. Going to Egypt. The rightness of what they were doing, continuing the fight for the greater good, put a spring in Jarra’s step, a lightness in her heart that had been missing for too long.
Heroes are brought into this world to show us the way, and Xena was one, she thought as they left Amphipolis behind. She showed me the way, how to fight evil and injustice in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I’ve chosen to follow that path, the way of the warrior, the fight for the greater good –that is the way for me. And I don’t just do it for myself anymore-she glanced up at the heavens-I do it for you, Xena.
She looked to Ezra walking beside her, then to Gabrielle riding next to her. A smile touched her lips. We do it together.
They were leaving Greece behind for the land of the pharaohs, but there was one thing none of them would leave behind-Xena. She would always be in their hearts.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . Part 2
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse