hooves thudded hard against the dirt beneath them as Xena urged the mare
onwards. The horse, sensing her mistresses need had kept a steady gallop all the
way form Poteidaia, covering the distance in a fraction of the time.
body exhausted and her soul defeated Xena found a small reserve of energy as she
entered her home town. Amphipolis sprawled out in front of her and she slowed
Argo enough to manoeuvre through the streets. Finally her destination was in
sight, the tavern grew closer and she reigned Argo to a complete stop and
dismounted. As she slid from the saddle she barely found her footing and had to
brace herself against the mares side. The dull throbbing in her head ached and
she reached a tentative hand to her left temple and her fingers met with
stickiness. Drawing her hand back she examined the red liquid on her fingertips,
she had not even known that the injury that Lila had inflicted upon her had been
the satchel from Argo’s saddle and slinging it over her shoulder - she forgot
to tether Argo, but the horse was not going anywhere - she climbed the steps to
the tavern, her legs feeling like dead weights. She shoved against the door, it
swung open and she stumbled inside.
did not notice the five pairs of eyes that turned immediately in her direction,
concern etched in their features; her eyes searched out the person that she had
travelled all this way to see - her mother.
darted out from behind the counter the moment that her daughter entered the
tavern, it was so rare that Xena visited her; but as she looked more closely she
saw the blood on Xena’s face and the despair shown in her eyes, her body, even
her soul - something was most definitely wrong. She took Xena by the shoulders,
raised her head and looked at her mother through heavy lidded eyes,
“Gabrielle....” she stammered the word in barely more than a whisper,
“....she’s dead.” It was the first time she had admitted it out loud and
at that moment her world shattered into a thousand pieces.
could only watch as her daughters body finally gave into the exhaustion and
fatigue. Xena’s world began to fade as her body began to fall. Cyrene could do
nothing to help her daughter, but one of her customers, the charismatic one with
broad shoulders caught Xena’s prone body and lifted her easily.
the eyes of the young man Cyrene said, “I need to take her to my home.”
can carry her.” He replied, very sure of himself.
a long walk,” she warned him, “can you make it that far?”
you kidding, this is Hercules.” Another of the travellers, a shorter, fair
haired man stood and prodded Hercules in the biceps.
can carry her as far as you need me to.” Hercules assured the woman.
nodded and headed towards the door, surprised when the two Amazons and the third
man followed, accompanying her and her daughter to their home.
made their way out of the tavern; Cyrene leaving one of her helpers in charge,
and the assorted procession made its way through the town. Joxer grabbed the
free hanging reins of Argo’s bridle, noticing that the staff was gone, and led
the horse along with them.
was right about there home being a long walk, the group had passed through a
couple of meadows, a sparse wood and over a small stream before the cottage was
in sight. Hercules however showed no signs of strain or fatigue and held
Xena’s body close to his own and cradled her head against his shoulder. He did
not think he had ever seen the warrior look so helpless; even after she had been
forced through the Gauntlet by her own men her body had been strong and her
spirit remained unbroken. That pivotal moment had changed her, and made her turn
her life around; Hercules feared that losing Gabrielle would send her straight
back to her tainted past.
hero vaguely heard introductions between Cyrene and Ephiny and Solari, and the
brief explanation of what had happened. Joxer kept quiet, only uttering soothing
noises to Argo as they walked along. Iolaus hung back from them, he had not been
himself ever since he had found out about Gabrielle; Hercules hoped that he was
taking Solari’s advice and remembering rather than wallowing in sorrow.
I should take her advice.
Hercules chuckled to himself, but he could not help his anger. Gabrielle meant
everything to Xena, she was her light, her goodness and deep down Hercules knew
that it was the bard who was the other half to Xena’s soul. Still it pained
him that he had known what would happen, had known what it would do to Xena and
he had stood back and let it happen anyway, unable to do anything. Damn Zeus,
had not meant to give into the exhaustion, she was just so relieved to see her
mother, to be in the tavern to be welcomed home - it had overwhelmed her.
blackness gave way to harsh light beating down upon her closed eyelids. She felt
far removed from her numb body, but as the feeling slowly returned she was aware
that she was being carried. She could feel the straining muscles of the arms
that cradled her weakened body, the firm chest where her head rested and the
strong scent of the man that had shared that physique with her in the heat of
passion - Hercules.
had never needed protection from anyone, mortal, god or otherwise, she prided
herself on it, but with Hercules had begun her path to redemption, he had given
her protection from herself. By the simple action of refusing to end her life he
had given it a new beginning. He had placed trust and belief in her and opened
his heart to love her; it was the same protection she had felt from Gabrielle.
particular set of memories brought a new wave of grief. No, not yet. I
won’t grieve yet. She pressed her head further into Hercules chest and
winced in pain. Her eyes flickered open and she tentatively touched the wound at
her left temple. She winced again and then turned her gaze to meet the strong,
chiseled features above her.
looked down at her and cradled her tighter to him, “I’ve got you Xena.
I’ve got you.”
alerted Cyrene to her daughter’s state, “It’s just up here.”
frowned for a moment trying to place the voice, “Mother,” she whispered in
Hercules looked up for a moment, the cottage was in front of him and as he
climbed the steps to the door he said, “We’ve brought you home.”
Cyrene fumbled frantically with the locks and bolts on the door, Hercules softly
gave out orders, “Iolaus find some water and bring it in, Ephiny and Solari
get some medical supplies, Joxer,” Hercules tried to think of something the
man could do, “Take care of Argo.” They all hurried to their tasks as
Hercules ducked inside the house with his charge and followed Cyrene to a room
at the rear of the cottage.
felt the cool sheets and the soft mattress beneath her as she was lowered to the
bed. Cyrene sat and held the upper part of her daughters body to her. Hercules
tried to slide the rucksack from her shoulder, a fatal mistake.
Xena screamed as she sat up and held onto the bag with all the strength he knew
that Xena possessed. Hercules released his hold immediately and Xena clutched
the bag to her chest, “It’s all I have.” She fell back into her mothers
arms, turning her face away.
had been too late, Hercules had seen the tears beginning to well up in her eyes
and this time they threatened to spill from the beautiful sapphire eyes.
got the water.” Iolaus announced as he approached the room with a bucket in
his right hand. The others were in his wake. Hercules strode to the door,
preventing their access, he left the room closing the door behind him, but it
was not enough. Each one of them flinched as the first cry pierced the silence,
and their expression remained haunted as they heard the screams of pain as the
mighty Warrior Princess finally gave into the grief.
held tightly to her daughter as the violent sobs racked her body and the howling
cries filled the room, accompanied by the soothing noises of a mother, “Let it
go Xena, let it go.”
gulped desperately for air as tears blurred her vision and fell thick in her
throat. “I tried....” Xena choked out the words as she heaved hard in her
mothers embrace, “but I couldn’t.... I couldn’t stop her.... I couldn’t
lifted her daughters face, her hands gripping both sides of Xena’s head and
looked into her eyes, “It’s not your fault.”
lower lip quivered uncontrollably and she shook her head, releasing it from her
mothers grasp. “It is.... it is....I saw her face.... She did it for me....
She did it so I wouldn’t die.” She threw herself back into her mothers arms
and continued to cry, letting out all of the pent up sorrow until her exhaustion
claimed her again.
mother eased out from under her daughter and rested her injured head on a soft
pillow; she then proceeded to strip her daughter of her boots, her armour and
her leathers. She laid a blanket over her sleeping daughter, pressed a kiss to
her clammy forehead, made sure the rucksack was in easy reach of her hand and
then quietly left the room for her daughter to rest.
people who rarely showed their emotions, and one who wore his on his sleeves,
sat isolated from one another in the sitting room. They no longer knew what
pained them more greatly, losing Gabrielle, or losing Xena to her grief.
Gabrielle they could do nothing about, but Xena.... they all silently vowed to
help Xena through her pain, whether she knew she needed it or not.
entered the room, silently closing the door behind her. Hercules took a step
towards her, “Is she...?”
held a finger to her lips, “She’s sleeping.” She looked up at Hercules and
noticed something for the first time, “Are you going to give me that shirt so
I can clean it?”
big guy looked down and discovered the bright red stain on his right shoulder,
where Xena’s head had rested. He started to pull the shirt tales from his
you all for your help, I really appreciate it. You obviously care a great deal
for my daughter, to travel so far to see her.” She paused, shyly looking at
the five strangers in her home, yet feeling strangely close to them already, she
thought about what she wanted to say, “I would be most grateful if you would
consider staying here for a few days to help me....”
would be glad to.” Hercules assured her as he slipped his yellow shirt from
just try getting rid of us.” Iolaus added, seeming to be in better spirits.
other three nodded their acceptance of the invitation and Cyrene’s face
brightened, “Thank you, now give me that shirt.” She took the shirt from
knew they were facing another agonising wait, but at the end of this one would
be the grueling task of helping Xena deal with her loss.
in Part 4