By Linda Crist

Disclaimers: Xena & Gabrielle standalone story, rated PG. I don’t own them. I just like to take them out to play every now and then.

A lone figure stood on a rise in the early light of dawn, overlooking a small village.  The wind picked up suddenly, whipping long dark locks of hair in the woman’s eyes, momentarily hiding the village from her sight.  She angrily pushed back her hair, tucking it behind her ears as she studied the town more closely, closing her eyes and cocking her head to one side, listening intently.  If she concentrated hard enough, she could hear the cock crowing from the barn behind the village inn.  Flaring her nostrils, the breeze brought the scent of fragrant eggs and sizzling ham to her nose, making her mouth water.

She missed breakfast.

And home.

“Not my home anymore,” she muttered under her breath.  She sat down, drawing up her knees and tucking an ornate black cape around herself as she wrapped her arms around her legs.  A golden mare stepped up behind her, nudging her in the back.  “Hey, Argo.”  She scratched the horse's nose, smiling as the bristly whiskers tickled the palm of her hand.

The young mare was a relatively new acquisition, one she had singled out from a herd of wild horses living in a box canyon just below the mountains that separated the river valley and Amazon territory.  It had been an impulse capture, as she already had a perfectly good horse, a dark bay stallion.  But something about the golden horse had caught her eye, and her instincts were rarely off.  This time had been no different, as she and Argo quickly bonded, and the mare easily learned the subtle signals and intricate maneuvers that would eventually save the woman's life in battle.  Besides, it would never hurt her to have two horses.

She was a warrior now.  She laughed, the deep throaty sound drifting away on the wind and into the trees above the village.  “You made me what I am.”  She almost spat toward the small cluster of huts, and the few people who were starting to stir around outside, fetching water and mucking out their barns in preparation for a new day.

It was partly true.  Yet something deep inside of her had been pushing her toward her destiny for most of her life.  She and her younger brother, Lyceus, had often played war games, and plotted how someday they would ride together in battle, for the greater glory of Greece.  It would never be.  She would find her own kind of glory.

She still remembered the terrified  shouts of her fellow villagers the morning Cortese and his men attacked Amphipolis.  It was a morning not too different from the one at present, a pleasant autumn day that began with a crisp, cool morning, but promised afternoon sunshine and gentle breezes.  It turned out to be the worst day of her life.

She and her brothers had mounted a defense, and she had been the ringleader, convincing some of their mild-mannered neighbors to stand and protect what was theirs, instead of running for the safety of the hills as the other villages down the river valley had done.  It had been a mistake of huge proportions, and she watched as one by one, the young men of her village were taken down, their mothers screaming in anguish before scattering to the hills and caves for shelter.  They were boys, really, and she had grown up alongside them, playing games and studying lessons as time permitted, when she wasn't busy helping her mother run the inn, or getting into mischief with her brothers.

At last only a few of them remained, defiantly taking a stand in what she already knew was a lost cause.  Her older brother, Toris, and her mother, and most of the rest of their neighbors had dropped their pitchforks and run away.  She and her brother Lyceus stood back-to-back, defending themselves against a ring of men twice her size.  There were too many of them, and as she raised her sword against the blows coming from in front of her, she felt something warm and wet splatter against the back of her legs, and saw her assailant grin wickedly.  “What’re ya gonna do now, missy?  You’re all alone. Ya can’t fight off all o’ us.”  His stinking breath almost made her gag.

“No!”  She had spun around, not caring if the man gutted her.  She knew, and as she turned, her eyes confirmed it.  Lyceus lay on the ground, his life oozing out from a gaping wound in his stomach.  He was dying, and she knew it was already too late, as she watched his eyes glaze over.  She looked up into the face of Cortese himself, and he laughed at her, barely moving as she lunged at him in a blind rage.

“Take this one and tie her up until we're finished here.”  He held her off, kicking her sword aside and grabbing her hands, twisting her arms behind her back.  “She’s for me.”

She knew what he meant, as they dragged her kicking and cursing to a fence post, where they bound her hands behind her, and pushed her down to sit on the dusty ground.  She watched helplessly, the tears streaming down her face, as they roughly kicked her brother’s body aside and began ransacking the remains of her home.  What they didn’t know was the fence post they tied her to was loose, in a shallow hole.  She had meant to fix it.  It was part of the corral of her family’s barn.  Now she was glad, and managed to work her hands down, using them to lift the post from the hole, and gaining her freedom.

She bided her time, watching, until they began arguing over distribution of the loot.  None of them were guarding her, and their backs were turned.  She quickly ran behind the barn and continued to watch, her eyes taking in the broken up remains of her home.  Then she turned and ran, as fast as she could, hiding out in the woods until well after dark, when she finally fell into exhausted asleep, sheltered under an overhang behind some thick brush.

Morning came and she cautiously made her way back to the village.  Cortese and his men were long gone.  The fires had all died down, and half the huts in the village were reduced to charred bits of wood, their thatched roofs gone.  Her mother’s inn had been spared, and with half-hearted hope, she ran toward it. 

“Mother?  Toris?”  She stepped inside the doorway and stopped.  Lyceus’ body was stretched out on one of the long wooden tables with a soft woolen blanket covering him from neck to foot.  A lump rose up in her throat and tears stung her eyes.  “Ly?” she whispered hoarsely.

“Don’t you speak his name.”  Her mother entered the room and came toward her, shoving her against the wall.  “Get out!”

“Mother, please.”  She reached out, only to have her hand slapped away.  “I’m sorry. So sorry.” She began to cry.

“ ‘Sorry’ won’t bring back my baby. If it wasn’t for you, he would have gone to the caves with Toris and me.”  Her mother stepped backward until she was pressed against the edge of the table.  “He always had to do everything you did. Now look at him.” Her mother swept her arm in the air above his body. “He’s dead! You killed him!”

“Mother, I –”

“I’m not your mother anymore, Xena. Go! You don’t live here anymore.”

“Mother, please.” Xena’s blue eyes filled with fresh tears.

“Are you deaf? Get out!”  Her mother lifted a ceramic vase from another table and hurled it at her, smashing it against the wall next to Xena’s head.

Xena brushed a piece of the shattered pottery from her shoulder, feeling an icy vise slowly wrap itself around her heart. “Alright.  Can I at least say goodbye to Toris?”

“He’s up in the hills, helping bury the dead.  That blood is on your hands, too.”  Her mother’s voice was strange and flat, all compassion drained away.  “Go up there if you dare.  I won’t kill you, but our neighbors might.  All our sons.” She shook her head and turned her back on her daughter. “Go. Just go, Xena, and don’t come back.”

Six moons had passed since she’d walked out that door and out into the world.  Six moons in which she’d wandered mostly in the wilderness, only approaching villages if she needed something.  A pilfered blanket here, a heisted loaf of bread there.  She’d tried to find work and earn her way, but no one had anything to offer a girl of fifteen, at least not anything honorable. 

At first she felt badly about stealing from people, but the more time she had to think about her mother and her former home, the more bitter she had become.  What choice did she have?  Life hadn’t turned out the way she had expected it would.  It hadn’t given here what she needed. Well then, she reasoned, she’d just have to take what she needed.  She wasn’t willing to sell her body to earn a living, but she’d slowly become willing to sell her soul.

After a few moons, she’d grown weary of traveling alone, living only on what she could trap or fish or take from a stranger’s meager garden.  Back in Amphipolis, she had begun to make a name for herself working with horses and helping the local smith forge horseshoes and swords as he allowed her to, and of course everyone assumed one day she would take over the family inn with her brothers. 

She wanted more. So much more.  Gradually, after being forced out on the road, she’d gathered other stragglers along the way.  Young, disillusioned men, some still boys.  Orphans, outcasts, and those who’d lost their homes in raids similar to the one on Xena’s own home village, they all shared a common bond: they needed a family, a place to call their own, and a secure means of living.  Now they were her men, and she had begun to teach them some of the same fighting skill she and Lyceus had honed together.

They’d conducted a few small raids of their own, taking jewelry, weapons, livestock, and other things they could sell or trade, and riding away with sacks full of food to fill their empty bellies.  She’d left the men in some small caves in the mountains two days’ ride away, while she snuck back to take a look at her former home one last time.  It was off limits, of course, in their grand plans for fame and fortune. She would never attack Amphipolis, despite how it had treated her.  She had yet to kill anyone.  Eventually it would be necessary, she knew, but not the people she’d grown up with. She wouldn’t go that far.

Maybe someday, after she’d fought her way to wealth, they’d want her back.  Then she could turn the tables, and reject them instead. “Enough of this pity party,” she reprimanded herself.  “Time to get back to your new family.”

She stood and mounted Argo, setting her sight in the opposite direction of her mother’s inn, never once looking back.  After a long day’s ride, she stopped and made camp on the bank of a creek, in the shelter of a thick grove of trees.  Her first task was to brush down Argo, and then send the mare into the woods to forage.  She’d be back by morning. She always came back.  Next, she gathered wood and started a fire to cook her dinner, which would hopefully be fresh fish from the creek.

It was just before dusk, and she was grateful for a small measure of warmth from the remaining sun, as she stripped down to the shift she wore beneath her leathers and armor.  She’d just shucked her boots, when she heard a rustle in the brush beneath the trees, and then the high-pitched giggles and breathless whispers of children.  “It’s not polite to spy on people.” She turned and faced her hidden audience.  “Go on now, get home with you.”

“Trick or treat!” A half dozen children charged at her from behind the trees, running in disorganized circles around her campsite.  She thought to grab her sword and scare the daylights out of them, but she didn’t. Maybe it was the loneliness.  Maybe it was the remaining pangs of having seen her home.  Or maybe it was her own childhood memories of running amuck with her brothers and the other village children.

“What do you mean, ‘trick or treat’?” She crossed her arms and frowned fiercely.

“It’s a game!” One of the boys ceased running around and stopped in front of her.  “You give us a treat, or we play a trick on you.  Gabrielle made it up. She’s always making up games and stories.”

“Which one of you is Gabrielle?”  Xena moved to the middle of the throng, just as one of the taller girls shoved one of the smaller ones toward her.  She was a scrap of a kid, with long blonde hair and sparkling, mischievous green eyes.  “You?”

The girl nodded, and crossed her own arms and widened her stance, mimicking Xena’s posture. “What are you going to give us?” she demanded.

“Nothing to give.” Xena gestured around the campsite.  “You can’t have my weapons, and you certainly can’t have my horse.”

From somewhere nearby, Argo whinnied in agreement.

“Nutbread?”  Gabrielle asked hopefully.

“No nutbread.  I’ve nothing at all to eat.”  Xena stepped closer to the girl, until she was towering directly over her. “Do you really think you’re going to play a trick on me, and live to tell about it?”

The girl’s green eyes grew huge, and she took a step back, swallowing with an audible gulp.  Slowly, she shook her head from side to side, as her lower lip trembled.

Aw, Xena chided herself.  She hadn’t meant to scare the kid quite that badly.  “How about if I show you a trick instead?” The girl’s crestfallen face shifted into a hesitant smile.

“Gabrielle!” A brunette girl came up beside her.  “Let’s go. Mother and father don’t like us talking to strangers.”

“No, Lila.” The girl stood her ground. “I want to see the trick.”

“Suit yourself.” Lila’s face scrunched up in disapproval.  “But I’m going home.”

“Fine,” Gabrielle retorted.

“Fine,” Lila parroted, and stomped away into the trees.  One by one, the other children looked first at Gabrielle and then at Xena, and then followed Lila, until only Gabrielle remained.

“You’re not going with them?” Xena raised one eyebrow.

“No.” Gabrielle watched as the last boy disappeared.  “Bunch of scardy-cats.  I’m not like them.”

“Obviously not,” Xena responded with mock gravity.

“So.”  Gabrielle tilted her head to the side. “Show me the trick.”

“Alright.” Xena pulled her hair back and tied it up into a knot at the back of her neck. “I’m going fishing.”

“Fishing!” Gabrielle exclaimed.  “That’s no trick.”

“Oh, but it is.” Xena turned and picked her way down the creek bank. “Watch.”

Gabrielle trotted after her and stopped at the water’s edge, as Xena plowed in until she stood mid-stream, with water flowing smoothly past her at mid-thigh.  The girl pursed her lips out, skepticism written all over her face.  “Where’s your fishing pole?”

“Don’t need one.”  Xena grinned and bent over and closed her eyes.  She listened, hearing the ebb and flow of the current, and feeling the water as it brushed past her legs. After a few minutes, something more solid brushed past, and she quickly plunged her hand into the water, closing it around a slick, scaly body.  “Incoming!” She tossed the silvery trout onto the bank.

Gabrielle shrieked in a mixture of surprise and delight, as it landed at her feet, flopping around.  “Wow! Do it again!”

“I intend to.” Xena laughed heartily. “Now, be quiet, so I can concentrate.”

The girl complied, and very shortly, another fish landed at her feet.  Xena emerged from the water and collected her catch. “Hey kid, you hungry?”

“Su – sure.”  Gabrielle followed her, as Xena took the fish to a nearby rock and made quick work of cleaning them.

“You won’t get in trouble at home for staying out late?”  Xena plucked a fistful of fresh rosemary from a nearby bush, to stuff the fish with.

“I’m already in trouble,” the girl replied forlornly.  “Most days I’m in trouble.”

“Really?” Xena wrapped the fish in some broad leave and tucked them into the ashes at the base of the fire. “You don’t look like you’d be much trouble.”

“It’s because I’m different.” Gabrielle sat down across the fire from her, and drew her legs up, wrapping her arms around them.

“You said that before.” Xena located a long stick and poked at the fire, rearranging the logs to help draw the heat of the fire and the smoke over the fish.  “What’s so different about you?”

“It’s what they said earlier. I make up games and stories.”  She shrugged her narrow shoulders. “It’s just what I do.  I can’t help it.  I see the stories in my head, and I can’t help but tell them. My father, he thinks it’s a waste of time.  He doesn’t think much of things that aren’t useful.  Lila, my sister, she’s a good girl.  She sews and cooks, and does everything she’s supposed to.  Me, mother and father are always having to poke me out of my daydreams.”  She sighed sadly.

Probably does more than poke her, Xena realized angrily.  Poor kid.  “Hey, why don’t you tell me a story?”

“Really?” The girl appeared charmed.

“Really.”  Xena used the stick to turn the fish, so it would cook evenly.

“Okay.” With a huge smile, Gabrielle launched into a very creative story about three pigs dressing up and going to market. Xena managed to laugh and appear surprised in all the appropriate places, and when the girl finished the first story, she went on, telling another as Xena finished the cooking and then handed over one of the fish for Gabrielle to eat.

In between bites, Gabrielle told a third story, and also recited two classical poems.  It was pretty impressive for such a young girl.  “How old are you, anyway?”

“Seven.” Gabrielle finished her last bite of fish.  “Hey, do you ever look at the stars?”

“No,” Xena answered quickly.  “Not anymore.”

“But look.” Gabrielle pointed up to the now-darkened sky. “They’re so pretty.  Sometimes, after dinner and after we finish our chores, my sister and I will go out to the barn and climb up into the loft, and look out the window up there, and watch them.  Sometimes we make pictures out of them”

“Pictures?”  Xena used the star constellations for navigation, having memorized all the major patterns.  Stars had long ago ceased to be anything other than a map to her.

“Sure.”  Gabrielle got up and came around to her side of the fire and sat down.  She pointed toward a cluster just above the tree line. “Like that one there. It looks like a squirrel. See the tail?” She made an S-curve with her finger.

Xena squinted.  “Squirrel? Looks more like a frog to me.”

“A frog!” Gabrielle squealed. “No way. I think your eyes have gone bad.”

“Maybe your eyes are the ones that are bad,” Xena teased her.

“Oh no, not my eyes.” Gabrielle shook her head adamantly.  She leaned closer. “Up over there, that one is a bear.”

“Pig, like the ones in your story.”



They both laughed.  It called up old memories, and Xena grew melancholy. 

“Hey.” Gabrielle touched her arm.  “You look sad. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Xena managed a smile. “Just reminds me of my brother.  We used to look at the stars, when I was a lot younger.”

“Where is he now?”

“He – he died.”

“Oh I’m sorry.”  Gabrielle threw both arms around Xena in an unexpected hug.  “Is that why you’re out here? You don’t have a family?”

“Something like that.” Xena gently disengaged herself from the girl’s arms and stood up.  “Look, I should probably make sure you get home okay.” She gathered her leathers and armor, along with her boots, and got dressed again. The evening was growing chilled, and she donned a cloak over it all.

“I’m going to be in awful trouble.” Gabrielle reluctantly rose to her feet.  “Maybe I can go with you wherever you’re going?”

“Sorry, kid. No can do.” Xena held out her hand. “Come on. I’ll make sure you don’t get too much grief from the old man.”

“He hears you calling him old, and you’ll be in trouble,” Gabrielle chided her.

“I’ll take my chances.  Now, let me guess, Potidaea, right?  Past these trees here.”

“Yes.” Gabrielle took her hand and they followed a narrow path toward the small village, as Gabrielle chattered non-stop the entire way.  Gabrielle’s home was a tiny hut at the edge of town. Behind it was an impressive barn and a windmill silo, and beyond that Xena could see the dark silhouettes of corn stalks in the garden.

Xena knocked on the door, and it flew open. “Girl, you better get your backside in this house.” An angry man grabbed Gabrielle’s arm and jerked her through the door. “Lila told me about your friend here. Running around in the woods with some unnatural gypsy woman. Go out back and pick yourself a switch!”

“Hey.” Xena stood to her full height, and shifted so her cape fell away from one shoulder, revealing the sword she had strapped at her back.  “A word with you.”

“Nothing to say.” The man sneered at her. “Maybe I’ll have you locked up for bothering our children.”

Xena grasped him by his collar and hauled him outside, then slammed him up against the side of the house, pressing her forearm against his throat.  She topped him by a good six inches in height. “You listen to me.”

His eyes looked as if they might bulge out of his head. 

“You won’t touch her over this. This was my fault.  I was making dinner, and we shared it, that’s all.”

“My daughter, my rules.”  He struggled against her, and she pressed against him harder.

“No, my rules.” Xena snarled.  “Here’s how it’s going to go.  She’s going to go to sleep tonight, unharmed.  Me, I’m going to come back by here in the morning, on my way out of town.  If she has so much as a scratch on her, then I’ll share some more of my rules with you. After that, who knows when I might turn up again. You got me?” She tucked a knee against his groin, stopping just short of causing additional pain.

He nodded angrily, and she let him go.  He glared at her, went back inside, and slammed the door.

Xena took a step back and watched, until the last candle was snuffed out from her view through the windows.  She returned to camp and the next morning, true to her word, she came back and snuck inside the barn to wait beside the chicken coops, busy with nesting hens. The stench made her wrinkle her nose. “Maybe I’ll take a few eggs for breakfast.” She thought about it, and realized she couldn’t bring herself to steal from Gabrielle’s family.

The kid was special. For a little while, Xena had forgotten she had no family and no home. Forgotten she had a small army to lead.  Forgotten she was a thief and a hack warrior.  As they’d shared their fish dinner, for a short while, she’d been just a village girl again, a little older, but not too unlike Gabrielle. 

In a little while, Gabrielle appeared in the barn with an egg basket over one arm.  “Hey!” Her eyes flew open in wide surprise.  “You really did come back. I heard you, you know.”

“I know.” Xena grinned and then grew sober. “He didn’t hit you, did he?”

“No.”  Gabrielle looked down at her feet “Not last night.”

“Good.”  Xena ruffled her hair. “Hopefully never again.”

Gabrielle set the basket down and lunged at her, hugging her with all her strength.  “Thank you. I don’t even know your name.” She was trembling, and her voice was thick with emotion.

“Xena.”  Xena hugged her back, realizing Gabrielle needed to receive a hug, as much as she needed to give one. 

“Xena.” Gabrielle reluctantly let go. “You know, I still think you could take me with you.  I bet your horse wouldn’t mind.”

“My horse sometimes doesn’t even like for me to ride her.” Xena laughed lightly. “It’s going to be okay, Gabrielle. Hang in there.”

“Will I ever see you again?”  The girl tugged forlornly at her cloak.

Xena sighed. Would she?  How could she promise to come back? Where she was going, she couldn’t even promise she’d be alive at the end of the week.  For a moment, she had a crazy notion.  Find a village, build herself a hut, grow a garden, maybe rescue Gabrielle from future beatings.  No. She shook her head to clear it.  Her men were waiting. They already had big plans.  There was a ship coming into port in Thessaloniki, a trader’s vessel from the far East. There were rumors of silk, gold, spices, and fine oils for the taking. Hades, maybe they’d take the ship itself and make it their own.

“Ever?” Gabrielle drew her out of her musings.

“I don’t know.” It was the only honest answer she could give. “Maybe someday, kid. Maybe someday.” Xena straightened her cape, fluffing it into place. “Gotta go. Try to stay out of trouble.” She made it to the barn door with great difficulty.

“Goodbye, Xena.”

Xena paused and looked back. Gabrielle was smiling brightly, tears swimming in her eyes.


“Goodbye, Gabrielle.”

“If I see you again, will you teach me how to fish with my hands?”

Xena smiled.  “You got a deal.”  Gabrielle’s answering grin gave her just enough strength to walk out the door.

And then she was gone.