Disclaimer: Characters are owned by others, the story is mine. I have been blessed with the help of some the most talented women in the Xenaverse. I am indebted to them all, Unfortunately, I was still the one to write it. But their spirited assistance just proves what a special place this is. I am very grateful to Eve Ng, Maribel Piloto, Barbara Davies, Advocate, Lariel, IseQween, Georgia, Verath, Mary Morgan, Lawlsfan, and my partner in crime, Archaeobard. Quite a list, because I am very fortunate.
Synopsis: Champion takes place in an alternate timeline, in which Gabrielle ran away from Potadaia before meeting Xena, received the rite of cast and became princess of the Amazons under Queen Melosa. When the Queen became mortally ill, Gabrielle faced a challenge for the Queen's mask by Velasca and sought out the very newly reformed Destroyer of Nations, (who had returned home, only to be nearly stoned to death by the townspeople of Amphipolis.) Suicidal, she is stopped by the young princess who challenges her to a staff fight, hoping to goad Xena into being her Champion in the challenge. Not amused, Xena nearly kills the young girl, but not before she recognizing the girl's bravery, and the strange connection between them
This story begins at the end of Champion as Gabrielle, who has been unconscious for several days, awakens believing she has failed to convince the warrior.
Mail is always appreciated and answered Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh I realize
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of strangers
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small
Xena moved through the underbrush cautiously. The branches brushing against the cuts and bruises received from the stoning in Amphipolis went unnoticed. Her mind was too occupied with trying to understand her motives for still being in the Amazon territory to really be aware of her injuries. She halted and froze at an unexpected sound and waited before advancing closer to the break in the trees that signaled the outskirts of the Amazon village
This was insane. Risking her life, and for what? Because of something she felt in a moments glimpse into some little girl's eyes? Could it be simply admiration for that nutter's foolhardy bravery? She'd left the girl's still breathing body at the edges of the tribal grounds, that should have ended it. 'Damn her and her God's be blasted 'Destiny. ''
A hut door opened and a very frail looking blonde princess was carried out by two Amazon warriors. She saw that they were taking her towards the Queen's hut, where Melosa's body would have been laid out. Xena inhaled abruptly when she saw the discoloured welts that she had inflicted on the girl from the staff fight. How could she risk being here? Gabrielle still couldn't walk. She was assuming that the girl she had almost beaten to death wouldn't order her killed on sight. What was she doing? What WAS it about this girl?
Once the guards had carried their burden inside, she crept noiselessly to the side of the hut, just as the guards were ordered out. Through the thatching she heard Gabrielle's clear soft voice, trying to make her peace with the dead Queen, trying to apologize for her failure.
"My Queen...You accepted me when no one else...When my own family rejected me. You gave me a place where I was whole for the first time in my life. You tried to teach me what I could become, and let me travel, and learn, and you gave me a home. And my sisters." Her voice trembled slightly. "You punished me, and loved me, and I wanted nothing more than to make you proud. And now...."
Xena was not even aware that she had moved to the doorway. Somehow she was now standing there in full view of potential enemies. It was as though she was being forced to acknowledge that only she could ease this pain.
Gabrielle continued, blind for the moment to the empathetic presence behind her "I am so sorry, Melosa, I was wrong. Sometimes there is no way, sometimes no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try...because I really tried, I swear I tried, but.. I'm so sorry, I failed you, myself, and most of all I failed Xena....and now, The Amazons will lose everything, and I have lost you, and now....I am so alone..."
Xena swallowed. It was then that the young princess sensed her somehow, and even though it hurt, she slowly turned her body to face the intruder. Finding her tongue, Xena heard the words in her own mind before they were spoken. Knew that they were important. That they were right. That she was committed. She found the tear filled eyes in the darkness and promised them:
"You're not alone anymore."
Gabrielle was unable to fight the exultation she felt. "You came. " The thought flew through her mind, 'I WAS right. This is supposed to be'
Both women unaccountably smiled. 'Stunning, she's stunning, ' Gabrielle thought. Why hadn't I realized that before? Momentarily enraptured, she lost her grip on the coffin, and began to slide downward. In a swift movement, Xena caught her before she touched the earthen floor, but even that gentle capture was painful and the Amazon princess couldn't stifle the groan. She saw the regret in the warrior's eyes and wishing it to go away, managed to get out, "You should see the other guy."
Xena grinned and shook her head, saying, "What am I going to do with you?" Lying there in her arms, a hundred potentially agreeable suggestions flashed through Gabrielle's mind. Xena laughed at the blush that followed.
The mood was broken instantly when a voice interrupted angrily from the doorway. "Move away from her, and face me." Xena glanced up to see a grim-faced Amazon holding a dagger, preparing to throw. Her smile died, and she looked to Gabrielle. "Velasca?" she asked.
Gabrielle sighed. "No. This is Ephiny. My closest friend. Ephiny, Xena is here to help."
Ephiny snorted. "Like she's already helped you? I SAID... stand away."
Xena didn't move. "Only if you take her. She's too weak to stand."
"And whose fault is that?" She called over her shoulder. "Guards! Get in here!" As the two Amazons entered, they froze at the sight of the warrior holding their princess. Ephiny immediately laid into them. "That's right! You allowed the woman who almost killed her to walk right in and have a second chance! If you think border patrol is the only punishment you'll be getting, you're even more stupid than you already look. Now go and help the princess."
Gabrielle started to explain. "Ephiny, you don't understand..."
"What don't I understand? That you had some crazy notion to challenge this bitch to stand as your Champion? And now she returns to finish brutalizing you? No, Gabrielle. I think I do understand."
"No, you don't." Gabrielle voice was firm. "Xena has agreed to stand for me against Velasca." There was a quick but uncertain glance to the warrior to confirm this. With a slight flicker of her eyes, Xena corroborated. Gabrielle felt the exhilaration she'd felt earlier, return.
Drawing on as much dignity as she could manage, the young Amazon princess rose with the help of the guards as Xena stood back. "For now at least, I am the ruling member of this tribe, mask or no mask, and I order you to treat her with respect."
Gabrielle saw Xena stiffen, and she followed her eyes to the doorway. A tall dark haired Amazon stood there smiling. "Respect?" The newcomer took a moment to enjoy the tableau her entrance had created. "I don't think so. I don't think you're aware of all the facts about this woman, Princess." The last word dripped with condescension.
"Velasca?" Xena's body was on full alert.
Gabrielle slumped slightly. "Oh, yeah."
Leaving her entourage waiting behind her, Velasca sauntered into the hut, savouring the increase in tension. She stared with open appraisal at the dark warrior.
"Something about me you find interesting?" The warrior growled.
"Wanna tell me about it?"
Velasca chuckled. "I've made it a point to know all about you, Xena. I always considered you to be a role model. A true Amazon. Leader of the greatest army this part of the world has seen. So I studied you carefully. Methods and tactics. And when I heard that our beloved Princess was intending to ask for your help, I was tempted to stop her. But I suppose growing up is fraught with all sorts of unpleasant learning experiences." She smiled condescendingly at the Princess. "Glad to see you're up and around, dear."
"Is there a point to this interruption?" Gabrielle asked angrily
"Of course. Once again, you've proven your incapacity for being the leader of this tribe, Princess. You've just gone and allied yourself with the greatest enemy the Amazons have ever known."
Gabrielle felt the warrior beside her stiffen. "Say what you have to say, Velasca."
The dark Amazon gestured to the warrior. "Ask Xena, she knows. Ask her about the Northern Amazons. Ask her how they died. Ask her if she gave them a chance to pray for their souls before she betrayed them. Go ahead. Ask her."
Gabrielle didn't need to look. It was as if she was attuned to the breathing of the woman beside her.
"It's a pity, Xena, that your legend ends like this." Velasca smirked. "She should never have gone to you. A true Queen should fight her own battles. As I will. I even have the schedule worked out. I challenge for the mask tonight, kill her, and then we can have the execution of the Warrior Princess to open my induction as Queen. Barring rain, we should be able to declare war on the Centaurs by the next day. What do you think?" The warrior remained silent but Gabrielle was aware of the tension coiling inside.
Ephiny interposed, snarling, "you can't challenge her now, she's barely able to walk."
Velasca chuckled. "Queens can't choose when to fight, Ephiny. Wars happen at the most inconvenient times. As if her being healthy would make any difference." She laughed again "Anyway, my schedule is pressing, and I'd like to get this part over as soon as possible. Oh, and Xena? You'll notice she didn't propose to ask anyone else to stand for her. She wouldn't want to sacrifice any of her precious followers. She was just using you, and that's the only intelligent move she's made. So instead of making her your champion, Princess, I believe it's your duty to arrest this murderer."
Gabrielle said uncertainly. "Xena...?" The two princesses stared at each other. "She has to have a trial...." Gabrielle began.
Velasca shrugged, unperturbed. "I agree. One that has to be presided over by the Queen. And until the challenge is complete, she'll just have to wait, locked up, in chains. Amazon law is clear."
Xena struggled with herself for a moment. She mumbled to Gabrielle. "I can't... Gabrielle, I can't...not again."
Velasca turned and stared angrily at the motionless guards behind her. "What are you waiting for? I just told you, this woman is a killer. Take her! Or do I have to do it myself!" and she rushed at the warrior.
As Velasca leapt for her, Xena grabbed her shoulders and brought up one knee, and they all heard the sound of ribs cracking like dry wheat. Xena dropped the challenger to the ground as the two guards moved towards her. She was preparing to take them when Gabrielle cried out "No! Please, Xena," and the warrior froze and turned to give one anguished look to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry," was all she said, before she sprung sideways, crashing through the wall of the hut..
Gasping in pain, fighting to breathe, Velasca tried to rise but collapsed again. "After her!" she wheezed. The guards hurried out to obey the command. Ephiny stood over the challenger, evaluating her impaired condition. With more than a hint of her inner satisfaction, she said "Looks like your schedule will be have to be delayed, DEAR. Maybe for a moon?"
Gabrielle rubbed her eyes, still filled with dried tears, still smelling the smoke from the funeral pyre of her adopted mother. She had been installed in the Queen's hut in deference to her rite of caste, but she knew she was there only by that technicality. She tried to focus on the scroll again in the candlelight but her mind wouldn't let go of the memory of Xena's escape the night before. She tried again to study the Amazon tribal regulations. There had to be a way, some law, some loophole she could use. There was always a way. She had already given up once too soon; she vowed never make that mistake again. But what was she going to do? Velasca had only been delayed until she healed. She refused to believe that Xena had truly abandoned her, she still believed that the Fates meant her to be with her now.
It was with relief that she heard the familiar steps approach outside.
"Come in, Eph." The Amazon entered and knelt before her. Gabrielle grimaced and took her friend's hand and hauled her up. "Don't. Just don't."
Ephiny spoke seriously "There are things you're going to need to get used to."
"Well, my best friend kneeling to me isn't one of them." The Princess sat back down and waited for her confidante to tell her why she was there. She noticed the uncharacteristic hesitation.
"We need to talk...privately." Gabrielle nodded, trying not to show her curiosity. Ephiny returned to the doorway and called out: "Eppy, go ahead." then returned to sit beside her young friend.
"What was that all about?"
Ephiny spoke in low voice. "Eponin is moving the guards back a few lengths, and keeping on eye on them. This isn't a conversation I want overheard, and Velasca seems to have ears everywhere."
Gabrielle continued to wait.
"I spoke to Xena." Ephiny said slowly
Gabrielle did not hold back her surprise. "What? And you didn't arrest her on the spot?"
"She made that ...rather difficult." The princess' lips twitched at that, but diplomatically she did not ask for details. "She wants to meet you tomorrow on the far eastern border near the trout stream."
"Meeting with her might be considered treason..." Gabrielle began.
"She suggested that if you wanted to arrest her, she was willing to let you try....every day for the next few weeks, in fact..."
Gabrielle couldn't help but giggle. "What?... I can't just... are YOU trusting her?"
"No, but this is clearly an offer to train you for the Challenge, and, " Ephiny's shrug indicated her resentment, "she moves around here so easily, if she meant to do you any harm she could already have done it."
"So, she hasn't killed me yet, and that's a reason for you to go along with this?"
Ephiny stood up and looked towards the walls. "Gabrielle. Despite your age....well, you know how much I respect you now. I think you could grow to be a great Queen... not a good queen, a great Queen. And because of that, I've always supported you in your travels in order to learn. I've agreed to lead the Amazons while you're gone, because as much as I am a warrior, I want my son to grow up in peace and I believe you're our only hope for that ever happening. Your proposal for a treaty with the Centaurs is just the start. But there are some things that every great queen has to do...."
She sat again and took Gabrielle's hands.
"Xena is a murderer. Her death is inevitable, accept that. But until then..." She stopped again to choose her words.
"Until then, she is useful. Queens have to use what they are given, because they have a higher responsibility. YOU... have a higher responsibility, to use whatever tools you're given. Xena is a tool, a very powerful one, but a tool."
"How do you suggest I use this tool?" Gabrielle's voice showed none of her distaste.
"I'm not the strategist, Gabrielle. But I know that mind of yours. You could come up with a dozen ways that Velasca could be killed or lose the challenge with Xena's help. I'm asking you to do exactly that. Plot, scheme, do whatever you have to, but don't sacrifice the peace of this Nation, or the lives of your sisters for a fair fight you can't win, or because of misplaced loyalty to a killer."
"Would you do this, Ephiny?"
Her friend dropped her eyes. Then raised them and stared directly into Gabrielle's. "It doesn't matter what I would do. All that matters is what the QUEEN does."
Xena found herself, once again, waiting in a tree for the young Amazon. Though it was daytime, she was reminded of the first time she had seen the princess in a clearing only a few nights before. It was another admonition of how ridiculously short a time she had actually known this girl for all the trust she was placing in her. She watched as three Amazons approached several lengths away. The small blonde took a bundle and two staves from the other two and gestured that they should withdraw. Gabrielle waited for a moment until they were a distance away and then advanced towards the stream. She stood in the centre of the glade, searching through the leafy canopy, when she felt the warrior's presence suddenly behind her.
The low voice sent a shiver through her. "You never seem to react when I surprise you. That could be an asset in disconcerting your opponents." They turned to face each other.
"Are you an opponent?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"Are you?" Xena countered..
Gabrielle hesitated before answering. "Xena, I have a responsibility, and an obligation, to arrest you."
The warrior shook her head. "I'm not going to let that happen. But I'm willing to meet you here each day, and if you beat me, I'll stand for trial."
The princess laughed. "Right. Been there, didn't do that." Gabrielle looked at the warrior in front of her. "Do you think that's what I'm worried about? All I can think about is how glad I am that you're here." Both women smiled and relaxed. "Anyway," Gabrielle continued, "it's the Queen who has to judge you, not the Princess. I know in my soul who and what you are now. I know the woman in front of me. The Princess will never judge your past." she finished solemnly.
The Warrior felt her heart stumble at the words. Was this just another ruse? After all she had lived through, had she finally found the person who would not betray her? Xena stared at the young, open face in front of her, and knew she had no choice in this. What else was there? She was without an army, without a home. Her only child did not know who she was. All she had left was the desire to help this girl, and she was committed by her word to do so. But she could at least pretend that she had some options, some control. Her mask firmly in place, she narrowed her eyes and demanded, "You wouldn't turn me over, right now, if you could?"
The mask seemed to have no effect on this one. The Princess gave a coy grin. "I didn't say that. In fact, I think you've set the rules. I have to beat you, right?"
Did this girl know what she was asking? Fighting another smile, she felt compelled to lay it out before her. "Gabrielle. You have your obligations, and I promised to help. But you seem to be forgetting that I was put though a gauntlet by my men. I was stoned by my townspeople while my own mother watched. I won't let that happen again. I can't let myself be caught. I'll die fighting, or by my own hand, but I won't ever let myself be helpless ever again. No matter what the cause, no matter who is asking. Accept that, or we quit now."
The young princess considered what she was really being told. Behind the assertion of independence, one thing was very clear. Xena had lost everything and every connection she had with this world. She was standing here only because of one last thread. A thread Gabrielle held in her hands. After all of the betrayals this woman had known, she was putting herself in these young inexperienced hands.
Ephiny had been right. The greatest warrior Greece had ever known was Gabrielle's to use.
Assuming that the discussion was over, Xena took a stave from Gabrielle and opened the bag and looked inside. "What's with the sword?"
Gabrielle shook off her deliberations "Ah, as Challenger, Velasca has the choice of weapons. I think she'll choose either sword or staff."
Xena withdrew the weapon from the sack and began examining the edge and balance. "Why?"
"Because she sees the sword as THE weapon of the warrior, and seeing me flail around with one will merely confirm to the tribe how inadequate I am, or would have been, to lead warriors. It's either that or she'll want to defeat me in what is considered my area of expertise. The staff is my best weapon, so it'll be one or the other."
Satisfied with the weapon, Xena moved to weigh the fighting staffs and passed one the princess. "Sound tactics. But I can't make you an expert with the sword in a moon's passage."
Gabrielle took the staff and leaned on its familiar length. "You won't have to. I just need to know one drill, but be able to do it perfectly. We'll work out mainly with the staff. I need to know every trick, every cheating move she might try to pull on me. "
Again, Xena felt the need to explain to this innocent exactly what she was facing. "Gabrielle, none of this matters if you still refuse to kill. This is a fight to the death, yours or Velasca's. That's all the Amazons will respect. And I can't teach you that. I would prefer not to. But if you're not prepared to commit yourself, then you should leave the Nation now."
Without hesitation came the earnest response. "I was destined to play this part, and I'll do what I have to do, to accomplish it."
Xena shook her head, doubting that this girl truly knew what she was saying, when she was distracted. Something was wrong with the bandaged arm, and she bent over to examine it.
"Let me look at that splint, there's something..." She began to untie the bandage, surprised at the way it was wrapped. "It's not bound properly. You should have told your healer that you would be sparring. You could have reinjured yourself with even a light hit."
A shadow passed over the princess' eyes, but she stood quietly and stoically still as Xena expertly realigned the bone. Only a small cry escaped and then the warrior began to redo the wrapping. As her breathing returned to normal, Gabrielle very aware of the closeness and strength of the woman, and as a cover for her feelings she began to examine the stitches in the broad shoulders in front of her. Stitches she had put in only days before; and so she was surprised to see the wounds had already closed.
"You heal quickly."
"Comes in handy in my business." The warrior shrugged.
Gabrielle's fingers lightly traced the scarred flesh. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you in Amphipolis. I think I was supposed to be, and I wasn't."
Xena looked at her with amusement. "Supposed to be...? Oh yeah, late for your Destiny. It's okay, I wasn't expecting anyone. What DID happen to you?"
Gabrielle smiled at the memory. "I got stopped by a blind Cyclops. He said he knew you, but he didn't seem to like you very much."
"It happens. I get that a lot." They both grinned.
"So, we start." They moved to their starting positions, both women remembering the first time they had done this. Gabrielle couldn't resist. "Will you be my Champion?" she called. She was again amazed at the brilliance of the smile that answered her question.
Two candlemarks later, a very tired Amazon Princess watched as the warrior slipped away effortlessly through the trees.
As soon as she rejoined her sisters, the princess abruptly turned and vented her anger on her best friend. "Ephiny, Rasas was told very clearly that I was going to be working out today, and apparently she deliberately left my arm so that it could be reinjured. I think that she was willing to break her healer's oath to support Velasca."
Such a betrayal of a calling by a fellow Amazon was unheard of. Ephiny was shocked. "No."
"Oh yes. I want her watched from now on. And Ephiny? I 'm going to need a confession from her before this is over. Can you do that?"
Ephiny stared at the unfamiliarly hard-eyed young woman in front of her. The words 'By whatever means necessary?' went unspoken.
"Yes, your Highness." For once Gabrielle didn't interrupt to reprimand her on her use of the title, and Ephiny continued. "Velasca has chosen the day of the full moon for her challenge. She intends to send you to Artemis when She is clearest in the skies."
The Princess nodded. "That means that the arrest will have to take place the day before. Can you guarantee that you can take Xena without anyone being hurt?"
"No, your Highness."
The three walked in silence for a moment. Finally Gabrielle spoke. "Then I'll have to make sure that she gives herself up."
Ephiny nodded. "Yes, your Highness."
But I see your true colors
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow
Continued in Part 2