A Xena: Warrior Princess ã story.
(Written: Oct 1996)
Tripping in the torch-lit corridor, Gabrielle reached out for something to stable herself. Her fingers contacted a small stone statue. Unfortunately, she found one of the many secrets in the labyrinth, which she just activated by tripping forward. The floor disappeared into a cavernous pit. Her fingers slipped off the statue, allowing her to plummet helplessly into the darkness.
"Gabrielle" Xena called to her friend as she entered the Tavern. Gabrielle jumped, knocking her plate of food into her goblet of water.
"Sorry, but you really should be more alert in a place like this," Xena relayed as she sat down.
Gabrielle grunted what was interpreted as agreement as she started cleaning up the mess she had made.
Something had been on Gabrielle's mind for a few days now and Xena thought a good meal at a Tavern might lift her spirits. After Gabrielle was finished dabbing up the water from her skirt, Xena noticed the bags under Gabrielle's eyes when she lifted her head. The reason for Gabrielle's lack of attention was pure exhaustion.
"You weren't asleep were you?" Xena asked incredulously. Gabrielle, still tired, sighed.
"How could anybody sleep in a place like this?" Gabrielle responded with irritation. Xena reached out to check her friend's forehead for a temperature.
"I'm not sick" Gabrielle protested, pushing Xena’s hand away.
"You look horrible" Xena spoke plainly.
"Thanks. That makes me feel so much better."
Gabrielle's sarcasm was a small relief to her concerned friend. It was a sign Gabrielle was not that sick. Xena eyed the tired bard. Before she could question her friend, Gabrielle spoke. "We should really get going if we intend on delivering that wedding gift on time."
Gabrielle was right. Their travel pace was slower than usual and they had no time to waste. Xena nodded, getting up. If Gabrielle wanted to talk about it she would, Xena concluded, deciding not to press. Gabrielle then touched on a point of contention between the two.
"And besides, you promised you would deliver it - and you can't break a promise." Gabrielle grinned to herself.
"As I recall Gabrielle, you were the one who promised," Xena countered with a raised eyebrow.
During the evening, Gabrielle jolted out of a sound sleep with a gasp.
Hearing Gabrielle, Xena instinctively reached for her sword but quickly realized it was only a nightmare. Sitting up, Xena looked at her friend, who volunteered no information. What ever she was dreaming, it seemed to be upsetting her more every night.
Xena finally broke the silence.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Gabrielle took a calming breath. She thought a moment, then looked over to Xena.
"Just a dream,” she offered. “Must have been something I ate. Or maybe this," Gabrielle grimaced, pulling a rock from her bedding and tossing it over her shoulder.
"Dream? Sounded like a nightmare," Xena responded skeptically. Gabrielle shrugged it off.
"Just a dream," Gabrielle repeated unconvincingly and lay back down on the bedding, staring into the starry sky.
Xena decided not to press the issue but her curiosity grew. Why was Gabrielle not willing to discuss what was bothering her?
The dreams were vivid, so incredibly vivid, Gabrielle thought to herself. The detail and intricacy of her dreams would have been better appreciated if not for being so disturbing and the fact that she was loosing precious sleep over them.
Gabrielle's thoughts briefly took her back to Poteidaia and that crazy old lady, Sybil. Sybil lived alone just outside of Poteidaia and used to warn people of the horrible things she saw in her dreams. She scared and alienated people because of her overly passionate, and always inaccurate, warnings.
"That's all Xena needs," Gabrielle thought. "A companion who not only has to be frequently bailed out of trouble - but who is also losing her mind."
The dream that abruptly woke her this evening repeated through her mind. It revealed another of the many small surprises in a danger-laden maze she had to navigate through. The dimly lit maze was covered with elaborate murals on each stone wall which, at first and second glance, seemed to be exactly the same. However, upon further critical inspection, Gabrielle had noticed there were small differences pointing the way.
The texture of the dream mural was so real to her. As her hand brushed its surface she tripped another surprise in the labyrinth. The walls came closer and closer. Frantically trying to stop them from getting closer to her, she realized she didn't have the strength. Closer and closer the walls came, pressing against her with increasing pain. The vivid sound of her ribs cracking awoke her.
"Falling to death, being impaled, drowning, or being squished to death, friendly places I visit," Gabrielle thought, taking another deep breath to calm herself down. However, something in this evening's dream disturbed her more than risk to her own life. The dream evoked a familiar emotion of grief, of having failed and losing someone close.
Remembering her own experience of grief, she looked over to her friend and discovered Xena watching her. No words were exchanged. However, Gabrielle revealed a small smile of appreciation and reassurance before she turned her head back and closed her eyes in an attempt to allow one of them to sleep that night. Gabrielle knew there was little chance for a good night's rest for herself.
The former Queen of Walsas sat alone, in shock, in a prison cell of the castle that used to be hers. So much had happened so swiftly. The full impact and pain of the day's events still had not hit her. Her attempts at getting help to save her beloved were unsuccessful. The overthrown King, the love of her life, had just been brutally executed in front of her. Grickas, the cause of all her pain, now stood before her.
"Well my Queen, you've witnessed your King lose his kingdom and his head - but frankly I expected more of a fight from him."
Grickas was feeling pleased with his successes and enjoyed tormenting Sarah about her inner most doubts. "The Great Warrior, Enerall!" He announced with great bravado, then laughed. "Perhaps, if you hadn't softened him up over the years, he would be alive today. He never really was much of a king anyway. A fitting end for a weak ruler."
Grickas smiled, playfully twirling the keys to the cell. Sarah's eyes were full of hate. She wondered if she had weakened him over the years. Perhaps he would be alive today if it weren't for her, she thought, briefly falling into Grickas' web. However, her feelings of guilt were overcome by her great grief and anger. She vowed to find a way to make Grickas pay for his crimes.
"It is not over" Sarah pulled herself together and spoke with a controlled calm, which disturbed Grickas a moment. The small victory gave her a small smile. Angered at her reaction and realizing he had nothing to fear from the beaten Queen, he forced a laugh.
"Well it will be, my Queen, when you die. Since you have given me much more trouble than your husband, I will ensure you die a slower, more painful death. The fun will be to figure out how." Grickas smiled placing the keys on the wall, then left the dungeon.
With Grickas gone, an elderly woman emerged from the darkness - her face worn with many years of a hard life.
"Oh my Queen, I have failed you.
I didn't get you that help. I
could not save King Enerall."
"Our time for morning must wait," Sarah said firmly, summoning strength for the two of them. "We must continue to summon help to defeat Grickas. The battle is not over yet."
"How do you know they will come? Dreams, by their very nature, are not clear messages."
Sarah was surprised that this normally confident woman would have such doubts about her remarkable ability. This wasn't the first time Sarah was surprised a strong person she thought she knew very well exhibited unusual self-doubt. Enerall acted similarly before he was overthrown.
"I have faith in you - and them." Sarah confidence was
infectious. She held
In the morning, Xena was surprised Gabrielle was up so quickly and ready to go. Xena eyed her. "How do you feel?" Her friend looked more exhausted.
"Just peachy, and you?" Gabrielle blurted and started down the road.
Xena mounted Argo and reached down a hand for Gabrielle. "Ride with me."
"No thanks," Gabrielle said, waving her off.
Xena wouldn't take no for an answer, keeping her arm out.
Gabrielle sighed. "I guess I have slowed us down a bit haven't I?" Gabrielle said, taking the offered arm. She was swiftly pulled up to sit behind Xena. "I would hate to think I prevented you from keeping your promise." Gabrielle smiled, recalling how she volunteered Xena and herself to deliver that wedding present before Xena could protest. It was the right thing to do, even if Xena didn't see it that way.
"Your promise," Xena countered.
"A promise is a promise," Gabrielle responded with a shrug.
Xena sighed but was pleased Gabrielle was getting a rest from walking.
The gait of Argo and Gabrielle's exhaustion lulled her to sleep as Xena had hoped. Xena held Gabrielle's arm securely against her waist to ensure the sleeping bard wouldn't fall. The promise to deliver the wedding present was less amusing now. Xena wanted to stop and give Gabrielle a break from traveling while figuring out what was bothering her. However, the bard had made yet another promise, having been swept up in the romance of romance. Now Xena was stuck with a promise to fulfill - acutely aware how important promises were to Gabrielle.
Worrying her almost as much as Gabrielle's lack of sleep was the little matter of Gabrielle not telling her what was bothering her.
Gabrielle tensed up as she experienced another vivid vision in her dream. Xena debated whether to wake Gabrielle or to let the dream take its course. While Xena was still deciding, Gabrielle once again jolted out of a dream into consciousness. This cycle was becoming too familiar, Xena thought with concern.
"Well?" Xena asked after a moment of silence, tired of waiting for Gabrielle to volunteer information. Gabrielle returned her cheek to Xena's warm back as if seeking strength from her friend.
"Another dream," Gabrielle said softly, taking a deep breath. Wide awake now, she sat up straight and rubbed her eyes.
Enough was enough, Xena thought and stopped Argo. "We are going to discuss this – Now,” Xena finally insisted, her patience at an end.
Gabrielle dismounted, not thrilled with the prospect of sounding like a fool or like that crazy woman Sybil. Xena's gaze down at her companion was diverted to the nearby bushes.
Five soldiers came out brandishing swords and big grins.
Xena let out an annoyed grunt. However Gabrielle, for the first time, found an attack against them a welcome diversion. She quickly assembled her staff but Xena had already dismounted Argo with a flip that mesmerized the attackers, giving Xena her usual fighting edge. Xena easily disarmed and knocked out two guards. However, she was not taking her usual pleasure in defeating boorish ruffians. They had interrupted her talk with Gabrielle.
Gabrielle enjoyed watching Xena's fighting skills. But she could enjoy the show for only a moment as she had two men to deal with herself. In the beginning of their travels, attackers would typically dismiss Gabrielle as simply hostage material and focus their attack on Xena. However, this was becoming a thing of the past and Gabrielle wasn't so sure she was entirely happy about that.
In the process of knocking out one attacker, Gabrielle's grip loosened and her staff was whipped from her hands. She mentally scolded herself for being so careless, even if exhaustion was the cause.
The eyes of the remaining attacker twinkled with vicious glee as he raised his sword over his soon to be dead victim. Fighting the urge to look over to Xena, Gabrielle kept her eyes on the attacker with the intent of avoiding his blow. Seeing Gabrielle in a bad situation, Xena finished her third attacker and pulled out her chakrum. The familiar noise of the chakrum made Gabrielle smile, which confused the attacker. He understood the reason for his victim's smile after he looked up to his empty hands in disbelief. Gabrielle had retrieved her staff and didn't look very friendly. Her attacker ran to the forest followed by the defeated and groggy group.
Gabrielle plopped down on a near-by bolder to rest. "Well that was fun. We should be going, times-a-wasting," the still tired Gabrielle said, starting to get up.
"Not so fast." Xena walked over to her while returning her sword to its sheath.
Gabrielle stood up. "The present, remember?"
Xena pushed her back down. "Why are you being so evasive? TALK to me Gabrielle," Xena demanded.
Gabrielle was surprised at Xena's level of annoyance. After thinking a moment, she realized she had been so preoccupied with her sleeping problem she had not noticed how worried Xena was getting. An explanation was due, she concluded reluctantly.
"OK, OK" Gabrielle conceded, pausing a bit then the bard in her came out. "Only because you requested so nicely - pull up a rock," Gabrielle offered.
Xena, a little embarrassed with her outburst, sat down on the boulder and intently listened as Gabrielle explained her dreams.
"The textures, the sights and sounds," Gabrielle said, summing the experiences up. "It is as if I really experienced each and every one of them. I never had such vivid dreams before. The only really disturbing parts are the endings - my ending."
Xena thought a moment. "It sounds like someone wanted you to explore the labyrinth without really getting killed. Do you know where the labyrinth is?" Gabrielle tried to answer.
"In some castle or maybe a cave...."
Xena sighed. "I'm glad you could narrow it down."
Gabrielle was a bit annoyed at Xena's sarcasm. "I'm sorry I was a little DISTRACTED trying to survive, which I may add, I failed at MISERABLY." Gabrielle shuddered at the various endings of her life. The whole situation was making her a bit testy.
Xena continued her questioning, although careful to avoid sarcasm. "Did you sense why you were there?"
Gabrielle shook her head no. Her annoyance turned to sorrow.
"I was supposed to be - to help. But I never did, I never got through the labyrinth...."
No matter how much Xena wanted to, she couldn't solve this mystery. Xena concluded they needed help.
"I know a woman, Cumae of Walsas, who may be able to help you understand your dreams, we can make it there in a day easily." Xena spoke, consumed with concern for her friend and momentarily forgetting about the present.
Gabrielle was livid at the suggestion. "This is your way at getting back at me for promising something without consulting you - isn't it! OK, I admit I got carried away, I should have asked you but XENA, a promise is a promise"
Xena had different opinions than Gabrielle had about promises, considering they had varying degrees of importance. However, to Gabrielle, they all were important.
"Gabrielle," Xena sighed and offered a compromise. "I will
take you to
"There is no time for a side trip Xena."
They stared at each other in determined silence. Xena had never encountered such a strong willed opponent as Gabrielle. She both admired that trait and was annoyed by it - especially now.
"The answer is simple Xena," Gabrielle offered. "You deliver the present while I go find this Cumae of Walsas. You can get there much faster alone and meet up with me in Walsas in no time." Gabrielle seemed please with her solution.
"Xena," Gabrielle spoke forcefully, cutting off any more objections from her friend. They stared at each other once again in determined silence.
"By the Gods, she is so stubborn!" Xena thought to herself. If only it were a battle of physical strength, Xena reflected, slowly accepting the fact she wasn't going to win this battle of wills.
"I don't suppose I could say or . . . do anything to change your mind," Xena asked, knowing the answer, which was confirmed by Gabrielle's expression. Xena sighed "I didn't think so".
After mounting Argo, Xena was still uneasy about Gabrielle's solution. Gabrielle knew her friend wasn't pleased but was glad the promise would be kept.
"I won't take long. And don't get into..." Xena sighed, recognizing Gabrielle would always find trouble. "…trouble."
Gabrielle tried to reassure her friend. "Don't worry. I'll see you in Walsas."
Grickas sat on the thrown in Enerall's royal robe and eyed his lieutenant.
"That wonderful haze of doubt and fear will be wearing off in a few days. The remaining loyalists will start getting organized again. I don't need any more resistance from these people. Go find them and kill them," he ordered.
The lieutenant nodded to his king.
The captain of the guard was confused.
"Why can't we continue to drug them? We've put many barrels of that water in the town and it works quickly enough. You seem to have plenty of this stuff in storage."
Grickas was annoyed at the suggestion.
"I don't want to waste any more of my supply on these stupid people, they've been conquered and all we need to do is clean up a few loose ends. We should be focusing on using the drug for the future. You never know when you'll need to prey on the doubts of your enemy." He laughed with amusement, then his annoyance with his captain returned. "The supply is not unlimited you idiot," he snapped, stroking his precious pendant.
After going many miles, Gabrielle stopped to rest. She could finally see Walsas. It boasted of a beautiful countryside and impressive castle. The sight of the castle was familiar as were the sights of this land as she approached, yet she had never traveled to Walsas before.
Once in the town, she realized how famished she was. She sought out a tavern for some food and
with any luck, information about
The service was quick. A waiter came by immediately after Gabrielle sat down. "How may I help you?" He asked.
"Some water and cheese please."
Business was slow after the overthrow, not much interest in dining out on the town. Gabrielle was one of two customers. As a result the waiter came back very quickly with the water and cheese. She gratefully guzzled the water noting it had a slight sweet taste to it.
"I'm new in town and am looking for a woman named
Gabrielle looked around uneasily, concerned she might not get her answers
and get herself in trouble for mentioning
"Why do you seek her, Miss?"
For some reason, which Gabrielle didn't understand but was thankful for, the waiter warmed to her and was going to help.
"A friend told me she could help me understand the dreams I have had." Gabrielle hoped he didn't think that sounded too odd and suspicious.
"Have you been summoned here?" The waiter asked with hope, surprising Gabrielle. Before Gabrielle could answer, soldiers came in for a drink.
"Go to the inn and tell them 'Farr the barkeep' sent you and then ask
This kingdom was in trouble, but so were so many others she thought. Why would she be "summoned" to this one? She also thought about that word "summoned," it wasn't really accurate. Her dreams didn't come out and tell her "Come to Walsas NOW and save someone" she thought.
Spotting the inn, she headed towards it but stopped hearing a familiar and loud voice in an alley.
"Get your hands off me!"
Gabrielle thought her lack of sleep was finally getting to her. She thought she heard her sister Lila's voice - but that was crazy. "Great, I'm hearing things," she spoke out loud. "And I'm talking to myself! Ugh....." Gabrielle shook her head.
The familiar voice yelled again.
"I mean it!"
Gabrielle realized it was real and ran towards the voice to find her sister Lila at the center of attention in a band of four soldiers.
"I suggest you do as she says" Gabrielle spoke low and deliberate, holding her staff at the ready. Lila smiled with relief as the soldiers smiled with amusement.
"Another pretty girl to add to the fun," one spoke as he advanced.
The soldiers quickly reconsidered their first impression of Gabrielle when she, in a graceful yet effective motion, swiped the feet from underneath the first soldier making the mistake of coming too close. He landed hard on his back, knocking the wind from him. Her next blow was as swift and to his head, rendering him unconscious. The remaining soldiers exchanged surprised looks and took her more seriously now, drawing their swords. Her fatigue was overcome with adrenaline - she had to protect her sister.
Gabrielle questioned if she could keep Lila safe while she fought. She appreciated Xena's fighting skills more, if that was possible. Gabrielle considered all the times Xena had to fight multiple attackers AND protect her without any assistance. Not an easy task to worry about two, Gabrielle was learning. Two soldiers came at Gabrielle while one stayed back observing. Gabrielle surprised even herself with the ease with which she clobbered them. Three soldiers were now unconscious and one to go.
The last one grabbed Lila and placed a knife to her throat. Gabrielle stopped in her tracks.
Her mind raced with options. She found this situation very familiar, only with the knife at her throat and Xena with the task of saving her. "What a burden I must have been to her" Gabrielle thought to herself. The voice of the last soldier brought her back to the present situation.
"We underestimated you Red. I'll give you that."
Gabrielle thought hard on what to do remembering Lila had learned a few things in Poteidaia from Meleager.
"Now drop your staff" Gabrielle, focused now, looked into Lila's confident eyes. Lila understood and was ready. Gabrielle dropped the staff close to her feet. The soldier relaxed his arm from Lila's throat, amused at his easy victory. With this opening, Lila gave him a hammer fist to the groin. In a blink of the soldier's teary eye, Gabrielle retrieved her staff and finished the attack Lila started.
"Good move. They shouldn't have underestimated you either." Gabrielle smiled. Lila beamed, happy for the acknowledgment. Before Gabrielle could ask her sister why she was there, Lila spoke first.
"Are you OK?" Lila asked. Gabrielle nodded.
"They were no match for the two of us" Gabrielle smiled.
"No, I mean, isn't there other trouble?" Lila tried to explain.
"Other than my lack of sleep and vivid dreams..." Gabrielle responded, but then it dawned on her.
"You thought I was in trouble?"
Lila shrugged. "Yes. I've been dreaming too. Someone very close to me really needed help. Of course, I thought it was you ...so... here I am. There must be something to this dream stuff - here you are".
Gabrielle smiled that her sister would go to such lengths to help her. "I'm fine. I can't believe you would come all this way for me."
Gabrielle's smile faded as she realized how far Lila was from home. "Wait a minute, you came all this way....alone?!" Gabrielle scolded her.
"I don't see anyone with you Gabrielle!" Lila snapped back defensively and looked around to emphasize that Xena wasn't around.
"You haven't traveled this far alone before. The roads are dangerous." Gabrielle remarked assuming her sisterly role as Lila rolled her eyes.
"I had to and I wasn't alone. Meleager came with me." That was good news to Gabrielle but she didn't see him anywhere.
"Meleager?" She repeated his name but the stirring of one of the guards interrupted her train of thought. "We should leave."
"Where are we going?" Lila asked.
"To hopefully find answers to our dreams." Gabrielle explained.
"Good" Lila responded.
Finally arriving at in the Inn, Gabrielle asked for
"Thank the Gods I am not crazy...." Gabrielle exhaled.
Lila chuckled at Gabrielle's remark, squeezing her sister's arm.
"Perhaps that only means we are both crazy..." Lila replied.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Lila's sarcasm, Gabrielle was glad Lila was there.
"You didn't happen to discuss your dreams with anybody did you?" Gabrielle asked.
"NO, are you crazy?" Lila responded emphatically, then revealed a grin. Gabrielle and Lila giggled.
Gabrielle asked her sister how she then got Meleager to bring her.
Interrupting Lila's answer,
"It's about time you two came."
"You were expecting us?" Lila asked, excited to be part of an adventure.
"I was the one who summoned you. Although, I was expecting more"
"Hey!" Gabrielle and Lila took offense in union. They were not
timid, these two,
"She said you two would help gather the loyalists and help with the rescue." They looked at each other as confused as ever.
"Exactly what" Gabrielle started with Lila finishing "are you talking about?"
Lila looked at her sister, grinning and enjoying this excitement. "I knew it was a matter of time for you Gabrielle, but I never thought I'd be one."
Gabrielle eyed her sister, "What is that supposed to mean?"
"We outlaws prefer the term loyalist."
"Loyal to whom?" Gabrielle asked trying to understand why they were there. The look in Gabrielle's eye was very familiar to the old woman.
"King Enerall. Go now, you will get your answers when it is safe to
Gabrielle and Lila left for cover in the forest.
"I still don't know why we couldn't have hidden in the
"Where did Meleager go?" Gabrielle asked, concerned there was still no sign of him.
"After I mentioned this was the place I thought the trouble was, he was going to find out about this overthrow and to see if he could find you. He told me to stay put at our camp until he could determine what was going on." Lila explained.
"And of course you listened to and obeyed his words of warning...." Gabrielle responded, her thoughts drifting to Xena.
"How many times has Xena told me to stay back, only to have to be bailed out of a dangerous situation because I didn't listen" Gabrielle thought to herself. "What a heavy burden I must be for her" Gabrielle's darkening thoughts were interrupted by Lila's justification for not listening to Meleager.
"He took a long time. I was worried!" Lila explained defensively.
Gabrielle nodded. "I know. I'm sure he is ok Lila. He is Meleager the MIGHTY remember." Gabrielle tried to convince herself of that as well. Lila tripped over a tree root and bumped into Gabrielle.
"Sorry. Gabrielle, who do you think this 'SHE' is
"Don't worry Gabrielle. We will get through this." Lila smiled at her sister. Gabrielle smiled back but she was weary and not as confident.
What ever happened to Meleager might happen to them. Gabrielle wasn't sure she could protect her sister.
"It will certainly make for a good story." Lila reminded her sister.
"Hey! I thought I was the bard!" Gabrielle shot back.
"Great, you get to travel, you get to be the Amazon Princess, you get to be the bard...there is not much left for me. Humph." Lila joked.
"Nonsense, you have many skills - you make great clay pots, and your nut bread is outstanding," Gabrielle offered.
"All true. I can't believe I wanted more," Lila smiled at her sister. They had succeeded in lifting each other's spirits.
Lila slept as Gabrielle stayed up guarding the camp. Unlike Lila, there was no way she could sleep now, so she didn't try. A noise in the woods alerted her someone was approaching. Gabrielle realized the night would not be uneventful as she had hoped. Standing with her staff in hand, she motioned the now wide-awake Lila to stay put.
Proving she had to be related to Gabrielle, she ignored the warning and stood beside her sister. When the noise came closer Gabrielle instinctively pushed Lila out of the way of an attack, landing her into the bushes.
Within a now rapid heartbeat, Gabrielle thrust her staff into the darkness at the approaching body. It hit, thankfully, a friendly sword.
"I'm glad to see you too...." Xena's voice, even if sarcastic, was a welcome sound. Gabrielle breathed a big sigh of relief. As Xena came from the darkness, they exchanged warm smiles.
Gabrielle's expression quickly changed when she realized she had pushed her sister into the bushes for a false alarm.
"Ugh oh." Gabrielle uttered and called out her sister's name and apologized.
"Lila?!" Xena questioned. Lila came from the bushes with twigs and leaves in her hair and on her clothes.
"If this is what I am missing by not getting out of Poteidaia more, I think can go without it." She brushed the dirt and leaves off with Gabrielle awkwardly helping. Lila eyed Gabrielle. Gabrielle took the hint and stopped 'helping'.
"Great. We have some help" Lila's frustration faded when she saw Xena.
"Help for what?" Xena asked.
"We are still trying to piece that together" Gabrielle sighed as they walked to the camp.
At the camp, Gabrielle handed a thirsty Xena her skin of water and discussed what had happened so far.
"Don't know." Gabrielle sighed with obvious frustration. "We didn't get a chance to 'visit' before the soldiers came looking for us."
Xena, always amazed at the trouble Gabrielle could attract, shook her head. "You are in town for one day and you already have soldiers after you? I thought I told you not to get into trouble.... "
The sisters looked at each other with a playful glint in their eyes.
"They don't like aggressive strangers..." Lila explained looking back to Xena.
"They thought we were loyalists..." Gabrielle corrected, trying to be more specific.
"You beat them up." Lila added to correct her.
"I wouldn't have had to if you hadn't attracted their attention," Gabrielle added defensively.
"I didn't attract their attention, I was just new in town and they questioned me, very rudely I must say" Lila turned to Xena to explain.
Xena sat back in amazement at the two debating over useless facts.
"You wouldn't have attracted their attention if you stayed put -like Meleager had told you to..." Gabrielle looked over to Xena. "By the way, we don't know where he is..." Gabrielle explained then turned back to her sister who continued.
"Which is why I went into town..." Lila explained and added "and I was a stranger. THANK you." Lila spoke with triumph.
"You are strange all right." Gabrielle muttered. They looked at each other and smiled.
"Are either of you ever going to tell me something useful?" Xena finally asked, not sure of what just happened. She wondered, with some apprehension, whether they were always like this.
Lila yawned, her fatigue catching up to her. "Excuse me, I've got to get some sleep. Glad you're here Xena" Lila smiled and dragged herself over to her bedding and plopped down.
"Guess she's not used to all the excitement." Xena noted, watching Lila.
"I'll be right back." Gabrielle got up.
"Isn't she a little old to be tucked in?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle looked down at her friend not sure if she was being serious or sarcastic.
"You're never too old to be tucked in." Gabrielle spoke with a sly grin.
Xena watched as the young woman joined her sister at the other side of the fire.
"I'm glad you are here and safe." Gabrielle told her sister.
"So far so good, no thanks to you." Lila playfully slapped Gabrielle's arm.
"For that, no bed time story - get some rest." Not a bad idea Lila thought.
As they hugged good night, Xena watched. The sisters spoke again quietly then laughed. Xena guessed it had something to do with their 'discussion' about their adventures in town which amused at least two of the three in the camp. Xena tried not to stare but she found it hard not to watch the precious gift of affection as Gabrielle kissed her sister on the forehead.
What would it be like to be as open and free to express herself as these two did, Xena pondered. Out of necessity, she had perfected the skill of hiding her emotions. Expressing them was only a liability to a Warrior.
Over time, Xena successfully buried her feelings so deep she had thought she could not resurrect them, even if she wanted to. Yet without warning, a young woman named Gabrielle had arrived in her life and managed to extract long dormant emotions.
Even so, it would not be wise to completely forget that skill. Xena knew she still had many enemies and because Gabrielle traveled with her, Gabrielle was already a target. Xena's thoughts returned to her concern about Gabrielle's reluctance to tell her about the dreams. Perhaps Gabrielle was tired of this one-sided friendship, Xena guessed as her distorted perceptions grew.
"OK." Gabrielle came back and sat across from Xena. "Where was I?" She asked.
"You weren't really anywhere," Xena answered and stared as she was still pondering what she did to prevent Gabrielle from confiding in her.
Assuming that stare was one of impatience, Gabrielle felt an embellished story, however artfully told, wouldn't be appreciated at this moment.
"Ah, well, ... OK ...the short and sweet version" Gabrielle took a breath ready to begin the explanation.
"A first..." Xena interjected, her thoughts and wits back to the present situation. Gabrielle feigned annoyance and looked coolly at Xena.
"I'll remember that....Anyway...King Enerall was overthrown and killed.
There are still loyalists who the new King wants killed.
Xena leaned back with amusement. "Gabrielle, 'short and sweet' really doesn't suit you...."
The response made Gabrielle wonder what she meant by that. Didn't she think Gabrielle could get the points across without having to embellish? Or had Xena actually started to appreciate her skill at embellishment? Xena grinned, her comment had the intended effect.
Xena kept waiting for Gabrielle to go to sleep but Gabrielle looked out to
the forest waiting for
"I can't sleep now, we're so close to getting some answers." Gabrielle was not going to agree so easily. Xena thought a change in subject would help lighten things up.
"Hey, you didn't ask me whether I delivered the gift." Xena commented, holding back a grin.
"I didn't have to" Gabrielle, too tired to banter, said honestly not realizing how deeply that simple comment touched Xena. Gabrielle's trust in her seemed absolute. Or was it? Xena was still bothered by Gabrielle not confiding in her about the dreams.
"You should really try to get some rest." Xena repeated. Gabrielle could see a change in Xena's mood, incorrectly attributing it to annoyance with her decision not to go to sleep.
"All right. You won't even have to tuck me in - this time" Gabrielle smiled, giving in without much fuss.
Xena looked surprised, which pleased Gabrielle, as her comment had the intended effect.
Xena looked over at the Poteidaian sisters occasionally. They were resting well she noted with relief. The sunrise had struck Xena as particularly beautiful with its vivid pastels. Xena finished off the skin of water when she heard the noise of somebody coming from the woods.
In an instant, Gabrielle was standing ready with her staff, beside Xena.
There was no need for a fight this time, Xena and Gabrielle realized. Both
"Xena? Ah ...now things really are looking up."
"I want some answers." Gabrielle interrupted the greeting rudely.
Xena cleared her throat in an attempt to get Gabrielle to show some more
respect for the old woman.
"You are direct, much like your sister Gabrielle." Gabrielle
looked over to Lila who also didn't understand how
"Not that sister - your other sister, the one who needs your help - Sarah."
It took a moment for the words to sink in but when they did, Gabrielle's anger at the woman grew rapidly. Xena noted a change in Gabrielle, who took a moment and gathered her strength to bury her anger. This change left Xena uneasy. Gabrielle's eyes turned very cold as she spoke.
"Why are you saying this. Sarah is dead."
"She is alive, for now. Queen Sarah is captive in her own castle awaiting her death."
Gabrielle couldn't believe this woman, even if she was Xena's friend. Gabrielle displayed no hint of the thoughts racing through her mind. What exactly was she supposed to do with that information? Sarah's alive. Sarah's about to be killed.
Lila waited for Gabrielle to make sense of the situation. Yet seeing the usually verbose bard numb and speechless, Lila explained. "Our sister Sarah died many years ago. This is not an easy or welcome subject."
Gabrielle's eyes turned to Xena's for help. Seeing the painful emotional
upheaval that had just occurred in Gabrielle, a feeling of helplessness
overwhelmed Xena. A feeling which included panic at the distorted realization
that Gabrielle had grown away from her. With her improved fighting skill, she
didn't need Xena's protection anymore - and now, when she needed emotional
support, all Xena could offer was "Listen to what
They sat listening quietly to
"There is so much we don't understand." Lila spoke truthfully. "How she survived ... We were told she was killed trying to escape after she was captured by slavers."
Xena saw that Lila's words bothered Gabrielle.
"It is Sarah's story to tell."
Gabrielle stared at the fire. Xena recognized the look on Gabrielle's face. Surely Gabrielle couldn't have felt responsible for what had happened to her sister all those years ago.
"Sarah needs your help or she won't be able to tell you that
Lila and Gabrielle looked at each other for what seemed a long time. Xena felt incredibly uncomfortable waiting but kept quiet. After all, there was nothing she could do now but wait. She wondered what was running through their minds. The sisters were not convinced the woman in trouble was their sister but a person was in trouble -and someone went to an awful lot of trouble for their help.
Lila's questioning look evoked a nod from Gabrielle.
"We've got a Queen to save." Lila spoke for both of them.
The absence of comment from Gabrielle was disturbing to Xena. It was clear Gabrielle didn't object, but Xena grew more concerned the longer Gabrielle kept quiet. Gabrielle looked to her worried friend.
"Hey, it will give us something to do..." Gabrielle shrugged, letting Xena know she was going to handle this. Xena wasn't so sure.
They planned to rescue the Queen at dusk. The day would be a very long one
for Gabrielle, Xena reflected.
Xena looked back, not surprised. Stopping her friend, she asked "
Xena immediately regretted asking.
"They are not convinced, yet they will try to save the Queen. Sarah
will be pleased her sister's have turned out to be such fine women. That is, if
we are successful."
Lila was getting ready to sleep again, having an extraordinary ability to sleep through anything. She would have preferred a bed. Lila watched as Gabrielle left to fill up the water skin. Gabrielle would have to sort things out herself, Lila concluded. When Sarah was first thought dead, Lila had tried to tell Gabrielle there was nothing that could have been done, many times, too many to count. Gabrielle never accepted that, instead accepting some blame, which infuriated Lila. Eventually, Lila and Gabrielle agreed never to discuss that topic with each other to avoid the arguments.
Gabrielle sat by the stream staring at the water.
"Well, we've got a plan," Xena noted to her friend after following her to the stream.
"Yes, we have a plan." Gabrielle agreed as her friend sat next to her.
"Are you OK?" Xena asked.
"I'm scared we won't succeed." Gabrielle spoke honestly.
"We've faced worse before, why the doubts now?" Xena tried to be light yet get at the root of Gabrielle's misgivings.
"I've failed before trying to help Sarah. I ran to get help. I wasn't fast enough." Gabrielle explained. She sighed. "And I never even checked out the messenger's story." Gabrielle added.
Xena wanted to choose the right words to comfort her, just like Gabrielle had done for her so many times.
"That was a long time ago Gabrielle. We both know it helps no one to live in the past." Xena spoke with great feeling.
Gabrielle understood and agreed with Xena's point but emotions disregarded common sense. "Why would she not try to contact us until now?" Gabrielle felt a new hurt. Her question was rhetorical but Xena answered.
As the three women started their trek to the Castle's outer wall, they ran into the soldiers who had not given up their search for the two girls.
"Oh great," Gabrielle moaned to her sister, both recognized the soldiers.
As a soldier lunged from the forest, Gabrielle, instinctively wanting to protect Lila, pushed her into the bushes - again.
Xena somersaulted behind the attackers. The soldiers were no match for Xena's sword and Gabrielle's staff.
"Friends of yours?" Xena asked after the brief attack was over.
"We ran into them in town. I guess they were still upset." Gabrielle responded then realized she was in Lila's doghouse again.
Lila emerged from the bushes. Xena restrained a smile.
"Ah, are you OK?" Gabrielle tried to help an annoyed Lila, who pulled her arm out of Gabrielle's hand.
"This is getting old." Lila informed her sister coldly.
The three found themselves at a heavily fortified wall of the Castle.
"Well?" Xena asked the young women.
The sisters looked at each other a little confused. "I thought it was this wall. The dream was so vivid." Lila spoke with Gabrielle nodding.
Xena sighed as she started to believe they were relying too heavily on the dreams. "Wonderful" Xena uttered.
"It's got to be this wall, I saw it too. We both can't be having the same dream and it not be true." Gabrielle spoke with conviction.
Xena gave Gabrielle an impatient look, which was interrupted as an odd noise came from the wall. Both Xena and Gabrielle grabbed Lila, pulling her with them into better cover. She was slower to realize they were going to encounter more trouble very shortly but caught on quick.
An entrance appeared when a secret stone door opened. The now validated Gabrielle and Lila gave a look to Xena, who knew it was going to be a long night.
A small band of guards came out for a night patrol and passed very closely to them. Xena watched Lila noting she was alert and showed no fear. Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other both concerned about Lila tagging along but Gabrielle knew Lila wouldn't have it any other way. Lila, surprising Xena, was first to head to the now visible entrance. Xena looked to Gabrielle who shrugged.
"She's like me Xena" Gabrielle explained volumes, looking at her sister with respect.
"That's what I am afraid of" Xena and Gabrielle quickly followed Lila into the castle. Xena's sarcastic comment stuck in Gabrielle's mind as Xena's true feelings.
Lila seemed to have no problems with direction in the dark corridors as she kept leading them.
"Does any of this look familiar to you?" Xena asked Gabrielle but didn't get the conformation she was hoping for.
"Hun?" Gabrielle's mind was still on Xena's last comment.
"Good thing Lila knows where SHE is..." Xena remarked. This comment was as stinging to Gabrielle's feelings as the last.
Lila did an abrupt about face and came running back towards them.
"They seem a little upset." Lila spoke as she passed them and three soldiers followed. The soldiers' expressions changed when they saw Xena's sword drawn. One ran to warn others. After knocking out one soldier, Xena glanced over to Gabrielle to confirm she had everything under control before she went after the potential messenger.
Gabrielle easily handled the last threat to her sister. Gabrielle almost panicked noticing Xena had left. The warrior wasn't aware of all the surprises in the Labyrinth.
"We shouldn't waste any more time. Xena is buying us time," Lila commented and went in a different direction than Xena had. Gabrielle didn't like leaving Xena alone in the Labyrinth, yet Xena was too fast for Gabrielle to warn her and was now out of sight.
Xena caught up to the guard and prevented his alerting the castle army. However, she quickly appreciated the value of the castle's defensive design. She found herself unsure of which direction to go.
Gabrielle and Lila approached the dungeon cells cautiously but found that the guards were few and far between. Probably due to the confidence in the Castle's defensive design, Gabrielle thought. The sisters saw the outline of the woman they had come to save.
The prisoner wore a white dress, which almost glowed as she walked closer to the torchlight. Her long hair was a beautiful red, which matched Gabrielle's.
The sisters turned to each other unsure of how to feel. Lila saw a shiny object behind Gabrielle's head.
"Look" Lila saw a key on the wall and grinned. "This is too easy."
That is precisely what worried Gabrielle.
Sarah looked over not able to focus on the two rescuers but knew who they were. Hearing the guard come, she not so subtly warned her two sisters.
"Hour after hour you stop by but we never really do get to visit. Don't you have something you want to tell your Queen?" She asked loudly.
He grunted as he passed. She knew the guard was a dungeon guard for a reason.
"I bet no one ever said you talk too much."
Unbeknownst to Sarah, her usual humor was actually appreciated by the guard, who didn't like the job he had to do. A job he would do never-the- less.
After he left, Lila ran over with the key as Gabrielle stood guard a distance away.
"Sarah," Lila gasped with mixed emotions of joy, fear and relief as she fumbled to get the cell door open and release her beloved sister.
"Lila, if you calm down you'll be more likely to get the door open." Sarah placed a calming hand on Lila's shoulder and looked into her eyes.
Their older sister was always was able to keep her head in a crisis Gabrielle noted, considering it a useful trait, especially now.
Unexpectedly, the guard came back. He saw Lila with the key. Lila laughed nervously. "Just visiting, I'll be going now. Bye!"
Lila stumbled back as the Guard grabbed a sword.
"Hey," Gabrielle barked, getting his attention. "Did you know it is very rude to pull a weapon out on someone unarmed?" Gabrielle was ready with her staff.
The guard shook his head, she was obviously a fool.
"Gabrielle," Sarah spoke with great concern.
"Don't worry, she's really good." Lila relayed, focusing on opening the door, confidently leaving Gabrielle the task of taking care of the guard. "She saved Poteidaia from a warlord once," Lila explained as she opened the door.
The two watched Gabrielle disarm the Guard and quickly knock him out.
"How many more guards?" Gabrielle asked directly to Sarah, the first words she spoke to her sister in many years. She was all business, which Sarah appreciated in this situation.
"This level is the least guarded - there are ten guards who patrol."
"That makes five left," Gabrielle calculated.
Sarah was surprised. "We also have help," Lila explained.
Gabrielle looked concerned, realizing that Xena had been gone a long time. "Do you think she got lost?" Lila asked.
Xena was getting really annoyed. It seemed as if the paths changed. She ran into four more guards. Xena looked around the area and noticed a stone statue Gabrielle had mentioned in her dreams. A sly grin crossed her face as she rested on the statue, calmly waiting for the men to get closer. She pushed the statue away from her and as expected, the floor opened up.
The four men fell to the bottom of the pit with thuds and groans. "Thanks for dropping in, but I really have to go."
Xena looked around wishing she knew where she was, then heard a familiar voice.
"There you are." Gabrielle called out, a sight for sore eyes.
As she walked towards Xena, Gabrielle jumped.
"What is it?" Xena looked around.
"A rat! Ugh!!!" Gabrielle responded with great disgust.
"I just don't like rats - OK?" Gabrielle spoke defensively.
"Did you find your sister?" Xena asked.
"They are outside the walls waiting for us." Gabrielle relayed no more information - unlike what Xena had come to expect from Gabrielle.
Xena was glad to get outside of the Castle.
"What now?" Lila asked Sarah.
Xena couldn't help but notice how much Sarah and Gabrielle looked alike. Sarah was about ten years older but with strikingly similar hair and facial features. Her eyes revealed weariness and experience that Xena hoped Gabrielle would never share. Even so, Sarah was quite beautiful.
"I'm going to get my kingdom back and punish Grickas." She spoke with utter confidence. "But first sanctuary and something to eat. I'm starving. The dungeon food was really bad." Sarah relayed causing Lila to smile.
There was no question these three were sisters, Xena thought.
"You're placing a lot of faith in the strength of the loyalists, how can you be so confident there are enough and that they are willing to fight again?" Gabrielle asked not amused.
"Gabrielle, I am confident in the people's will to survive and their heart."
Lila could see her sisters look at each other without speaking. The silence was too much for her.
"Food sounds good." Lila spoke up to Xena's relief as well.
"And food you shall have..." Sarah turned and put her arm on Lila's shoulder as she had done so many times in the past.
Gabrielle had a bad feeling as she watched them walk ahead.
"Are you OK?" Xena asked.
"She will try to get her kingdom back and Lila will be by her side." Gabrielle said evenly.
"You said Lila was like you. In fact, they both seem to be as stubborn as you." Xena relayed.
Gabrielle nodded with a slight smile but remembered how often Xena had tried to protect her from situations like this. The thoughts of her being a burden on Xena resurfaced stronger than before.
"Didn't your sister mention food?" Xena eyed her.
"I think she did." Gabrielle's spirits were somewhat lifted.
Xena felt satisfied with the evening's successes.
Gabrielle's thoughts strayed back to her concern about her being a burden. They were very strong in her. Gabrielle knew she had to do something to be less of a burden on Xena.
"Lila, what do you know about this woman Xena?" Sarah asked her sister as they traveled ahead. "She is Gabrielle's best friend." Lila said simply. "I think I've figured that out Lila. I can see they are...close. What do you know about her? What I have heard, well troubles me." Sarah revealed honestly.
"She was a ruthless warlord once, but she's changed for the better. She would have to be to be Gabrielle's best friend." Lila reminded her.
Sarah nodded relieved and reflected on the parallels to her own life.
"Gabrielle has changed too." Sarah commented smiling. "She swings a pretty mean staff doesn't she?" Sarah added.
Lila laughed and agreed.
"We are here" Sarah said with cautious enthusiasm. Unaware the
rescue would be successful so soon,
"Go on now we don't stay open late anymore. Good Gods, your majesty is it you?" She asked, squinting her eyes.
"I am afraid I need your help again my friend." Sarah stated concerned about everyone's safety.
"Ma'am what ever you need is yours. Come you'll be safe here."
Sarah held back Lila when she started to enter. "
"We are dying now ma'am, only very slowly. Now are you going to stand out here and make it happen quicker!" The woman motioned them in.
"No ma'am" Sarah answered with a smirk and entered.
Xena found a legitimate excuse to leave Gabrielle's side to give her a chance to talk with her sister. "I'm going to make sure this place is secure." Xena mentioned to Gabrielle and her sisters.
"I'll go with..." Gabrielle was interrupted by Xena for a change.
"That's OK, I think I can handle it." Xena looked at Gabrielle then Sarah who appreciated what the Warrior friend was doing.
Gabrielle sighed, dejected at yet another sign of Xena considering her not
helpful, a burden. Xena left with
In front of the Inn, Xena and
"We have a place underneath the
"Oh yes Xena, I know exactly what we are getting into." Xena
released her arm and watched her dart across the street to the tavern. Xena
"You are angry," Sarah stated to Gabrielle after a long silence.
"We lost so much time." Gabrielle spoke cautiously.
"I have imagined this day when we would be together again. I didn't think it would ever happen. So much time has passed. I don't know where to start." Sarah sighed with pain.
"Well ...how about the beginning?" Gabrielle offered coldly, torn inside with annoyance being the only reaction she would let out. Lila sat silently listening to Gabrielle ask the questions.
"The beginning" Sarah sighed heavily, ready to explain the unpleasant past. "As you know, I was captured by the Ouzas and sold into slavery." She paused unable to meet her sister's eyes. "I had six owners in a short period of time. They found me ...difficult. I ended up very far away from home and was found unsuitable for hard labor when the last owner got me pregnant." Sarah spoke bluntly.
"He wanted me to kill the baby because he had no use for one. I refused and he took it upon himself to kill his own child. Before the owner could kill Beula himself, we were rescued by a warrior. Despite his harsh reputation, Enerall showed us great compassion. He was feared by so many, but I found his heart."
Lila glanced over at Gabrielle who was entranced by this long overdue tale.
"He accepted Beula and me into his life. I fell in love with him despite his warring ways."
Gabrielle and Lila wondered what happened to their niece but allowed Sarah to continue. "Eventually, Beula and I were able to change his ways. He became a good leader and eventually king of this land."
Lila looked over at Gabrielle again, this time commenting. "That seems to be a trend in this family."
Gabrielle dismissed the comment. "What happened to Beula?" Gabrielle finally asked.
Sarah's eyes moistened, revealing the sad answer. "She died two years ago...playing by the river." Sarah couldn't continue as the memories of the recent and distant past overwhelmed her. The sisters held hands tightly.
"What ever you need, we will do." Gabrielle spoke for Lila who nodded.
"I am so sorry Sarah, I had no right to treat you so harshly." Gabrielle added with an aching heart for her sister. Sarah looked up at her sisters gaining strength.
"We must live for now and the future." Sarah assured Gabrielle of no ill feelings. With one problem resolved, Gabrielle thought about the next. "We will need to assess our strength against the enemy's and then come up with a fool-proof plan." Gabrielle spoke confidently.
"Obviously" Lila commented rolling her eyes. Sarah was happy to see her sisters were as close as they were in childhood.
A loud thumping at the door made the sisters jump. "Castle guards probably looking for me." Sarah said to her sisters. "Time to hide." Sarah added directing them to the hiding place. Sarah opened the entrance to a well-supplied hideout - a welcome sight to Lila and Gabrielle.
"Remind me to thank
"Outlaws can't be choosers" Gabrielle remarked, gently pushing her sister to move her more quickly.
"I'm going, I'm going."
Xena came in from the back. "Very nice," The warrior commented,
also impressed with the setup. The noise was
"A bit jumpy are we? They will be here soon though - go on in there's
food and water inside."
Sarah and Lila sat down away from the door while Xena and Gabrielle were poised near the entrance - just in case.
"Is everything OK?" Xena asked nonchalantly as she picked up a water flask and took a drink. This water was sweet like the water at the camp, Xena noted as she sipped it.
"Except for the current situation. Not too bad..." Gabrielle smiled warmly.
Xena is pleased and hands her friend the water flask. "Thanks" Gabrielle was thirsty and took a drink.
Sarah watched the two together, remembering how Enerall would also know what she needed without a word spoken between them. Even after Lila's assurances that Xena was "good" now, that seemingly simple gesture convinced her.
As Gabrielle went over to the basket of food by Lila, Xena noticed Sarah looking straight at her.
Xena returned the stare and wanted to develop their strategy. "We need to discuss a few things." Sarah, who was not intimidated by Xena, nodded.
"Agreed." Sarah glanced towards Gabrielle then back to a now uneasy Xena. "but the first thing we should discuss is our plan" Sarah added.
Xena also glanced over at Gabrielle who came over when she heard the word "strategy."
Sarah held back a smile at how the fierce Xena could be made so uncomfortable.
"Have I missed anything?" Gabrielle asked.
"No Gabrielle, we have just started..." Xena responded.
Part 1 | Part 2 |