Xena and Gabrielle entered a tiny tavern in a village outside of Corrinth. They had only been back from India for a few weeks. A village a short ways down the path from where they now were had been attacked by marauders and they now wanted to have dinner and sleep the night in this peaceful village.
Gabrielle had been working on her non-violent ways of helping Xena. She and the Warrior had designed a powder compact to blow in the faces of the enemy. So Gabrielle could distract them while Xena finished them off. Xena wasn't too crazy about the idea, but the mechanics of her friend's idea intrigued her so she helped her create it. Xena was concerned because on Gabrielle's new path, she wouldn't fight and the Warrior was worried about her being in the thick of it when she wouldn't defend herself.
Gabrielle and Xena sat down waiting for dinner to talk to the owner about a room. Xena glanced from helping Gabrielle with the small device when the smile on her face instantly turned to frown and growl escaped her lips.
Gabrielle looked up to see the narrowed icy eyes and the angry pressed lips. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," grumbled the other woman as she sipped the port the waitress just put in front of her. She looked at the young waitress and asked in a gruff but polite voice, "Are there any rooms available?"
"Yes, we have a very nice one. Would you like me to send the owner over?"
Xena nodded and stared into her tankard.
The waitress smiled and said, "Ok, your food will be ready soon."
Gabrielle smiled and thanked the young woman. She sipped her apple cider and then said as soon the waitress left, "Xena, I can tell when something is wrong after all this time, you know? So?"
Xena snorted and said quietly, "Yeah, I know that. It's just that?well sometimes my past really haunts me. This is one of those times."
Xena nodded and pointed with her chin, "See at those men at the end of the bar? The one at the very end is one of my old men from my army. He?He?uh, betrayed me. He sided with Darphus against me. In fact he was the first one to strike me in The Gauntlet."
Gabrielle looked at the man and was surprised he was a grizzled old man. She was stunned that he was a part of her friend's old army he looked so worn out and used up. "Xena, that man was in your army? He looks ancient!"
Xena shrugged and sipped some more port. Then she said, "He was one of my older soldiers I thought one of my loyal ones. I had thought I could trust all my men. That I was good judge of character. Gabrielle, I was so messed up by my hatred that I was deluded. It was a miracle Hercules was able to get through to me. Borias and Lao Ma had both tried and failed. It was even more miraculous that I stayed on that path after I left him. I think if I hadn't found you?my love for you?I would have failed and?"
"No!" Gabrielle grabbed the hand that was compulsively tearing apart a flower from vase on the table. She took the hand onto her lap and held it tightly. "Please stop it. Xena we have both come so far. Over come so much. You must see how good you are?In your next life you will be a?"
"A Saint, Yeah, I remember. I just?Sometimes I feel I like I am fighting my true character when I fight to do what's right. To be good. I love you deeply and you're good, so I try my best and stay on the right path. I just wonder what would happen if you hadn't been in my life. If I never found you at all. Would I have given up and either gone back or worse?"
"I don't believe any of that. We both know that you wouldn't have gone on the wrong path. When I fell into that pit with Hope you were all alone for quite a while. You could have gone back, done the wrong thing but you didn't. You told me you had found your light and I believe that, don't you?"
Tears fell from the blue eyes as they met intense green and Xena nodded. She sighed and whispered, "Yes, I did that because I learned how to follow my heart from you. I discovered my own light. I now know how to be good and judge wisely. I just?.When I look at him, I only can see the old Xena."
The man across the tavern notices Xena and stiffened. He stood up and walked across the room to the two women.
"Daudicles," Xena replied softly with a small nod of her head. She felt the small finger stroke her hand comfortingly and gained strength from the affection. "Sooo, have you beat up any women lately?"
The big man swallowed and shook his head, "No?I?Xena I've reformed too. I stopped that life after the night of The Gauntlet. At the time I was furious with you for denying us our bounty. In my mixed up head, Darphus made sense; you betrayed us. Then I saw you at the end of The Gauntlet all battered and bruised but still the noble proud warrior. I realized how wrong I had been. I was determined to change. I was the first one to argue when Darphus wanted you killed cause you got through it alive. I meant it. I left that night. I can't say it's been easy all I knew was how to fight. I had no idea what kind life I could I lead that was peaceful and survive. I found my path though and I have you to thank."
Xena was stunned, "What path is that?"
"I'm a black smith. A good one too. I was always good with my hands. I apprenticed with a kind man and he left me the business when he died. I have been here ever since. I even have a family. I swear to you Xena I haven't lifted a sword since that night and the only way I would was if I had to defend my wife and children."
Xena looked at Gabrielle who smiled back at her. Then she looked at the tall man and asked, "Why are thanking me? These were all your choices. Good choices I had nothing to do with them."
"Yes, you did. I heard about what you and Hercules did to Darphus. No one deserved that death more. And now all the good you have done. You're quite the hero. Me and the others were inspired by you. We are all very proud to have known you."
Xena blinked and asked in rough voice, "What others?"
"Several of us left the army after that. We all wanted to do as you did change and become good. We are all of the world not trying to destroy it. We watch and admire all the good you do and we still think you're the most remarkable woman we know, except our wives of course." He added with a smile.
Xena smiled slightly, "You all have families now? Good."
"Yes, we all have settled down to be a part of life, thanks to you." He put his and out to shake Xena's and she very tentivly shook the big hand. He smiled and then moved back as they brought food over to the table. "I'll let you eat your dinner. I just wanted you to know the good you inspired."
Xena nodded, Gabrielle talked to the owner to barter for their room while her partner silently ate deep in thought."
*** *** *** ***
Xena was a lying on the bed staring at the ceiling while Gabrielle meditated on the floor. When she finished she opened her eyes and looked at her still upset partner.
Xena rolled over and asked quietly, "How could someone who was stumbling through life have inspired anyone?"
"You aren't stumbling through life. You made choices some good and some bad but you learned from all of them. When I met you, you were trying to do the right thing. You have always inspired me. I so wanted to be like you when I first met you?"
"I still need your approval? I?um, I know that I have your support but what I need is to know you approve of the choices I've made."
"You know I do. You have made some of the toughest, bravest choices I've ever had the honor to see. I want to be like you?"
"I do. Your so beautiful inside and out. You're such a good noble soul. I admire you so much. I worry about you since you won't fight anymore but I am also so damn proud of you."
Tears fell as Gabrielle slowly got up and walked over to sit beside Xena on the bed. She leaned over and tenderly kissed the woman she loved. Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle on top of her so she could deepen the kiss. When they pulled back she gently dried Gabrielle's tears with her fingers. "I love you so much. You are and will always be the best part of my life."
"I love you too. I truly thank heaven that you are apart of my life, my soul. I am just so lucky."
"Not as lucky as I am," said the Xena as she pulled the salty lips back to her own.
*** *** *** ***
Xena had gone into the near by forest for her morning workout. She had just re-entered town and was walking back to her room when she saw Daudicles. He nodded at her politely. Xena nodded and smiled. Then she gestured for him to come over toward him. He looked hesitant but he smiled back walked toward the warrior.
Xena had reached the back stairs to the tavern that led to her and Gabrielle's room. She leaned against the door waiting for the older man to join her.
"Morning, something bothered me last night. You said you left that night and that I had inspired you to change. But how could I? I hadn't even changed yet, how could I have inspired you?"
"I guess because I realized that I wasn't that bad as I thought I was. You always protected women and children I admire that?"
"Not always, Cirra?"
"Xena I was there, you weren't. Darphus drove that madness. You said that we should enjoy ourselves not slaughter a whole town. It was not you and you know it. You protected that baby and survived the gauntlet. I could see how hurt you were yet you still stood tall and brave?I knew then that I not only couldn't hurt you anymore but anyone."
"So I didn't inspire you. It was a realization of your own. I was merely a catalyst."
"If you hadn't done all that I never would have reformed. I'm leading a happy life now and I admire the way you're leading yours."
Xena nodded and smiled softly, "I assure you that's because I have a great partner who keeps me on the right path just by shining her light on it?"
"Oh, I know that. I've read some of her scrolls. We all have and we all admire you both a lot."
"Who exactly is all?"
"Damascus, Bantini, Clovis?"
"Clovis!?! Clovis reformed? I am amazed he was one my most angry soldiers. I always had to keep an eye on him to make sure he was reined in. I would think of all my former men he would followed Darphus."
The older man looked grim and nodded, "Xena, I understand why you would think that but what happened that night really shook us all up. Clovis did go with Darphus at first but when he watched you fighting side by side with Hercules and realized what you were fighting for, it was like it all made sense to him. He simply dropped his sword and walked away. You awed him; he thought anyone who could do what you did was someone to admire. Of course now with all the good you've done were all very proud of you."
Xena turned slightly and said in rough emotional voice, "Um thanks?um, so you see the others?"
"Yeah, our families get together for Summer and Winter Solstice. Clovis lives in the next village, Santee?"
"Why do you sound stunned?"
"Gabrielle and I protected that village from marauders. I didn't see Clovis."
"Well you wouldn't, it's harvest time he'd be in the fields."
Her eyes became huge and she stuttered, "The fields?"
"Yeah, it's weird huh? He loves farming. He did it as a boy and missed it. So when he lay down the sword, he picked up the plow. He gets a lot of anger out in those fields. You should hear the cursing when he is working in the wheat field."
Xena was trying to get her mind around that one. Clovis was a butcher. An unstoppable killer once the blood lust was raging through his veins. After a battle it usually took her fiercest persona to stop him from destroying any innocent who might get in his way. She just couldn't imagine him laying down his sword for a peaceful life of farmer. It was beyond her imagination.
"That just boggles my mind."
The big man smiled and shrugged. "He has mellowed a lot. He is married with children. You probably met them yesterday when you helped that village.
Xena smiled and shook her head. "Life can be so strange sometimes. I would never have expected him to live long enough to have family with his temper. That is amazing. I am glad for him."
"It's easier to mellow when you settle down. Are you and Gabrielle going to soon?"
Xena looked down and kicked a stone with her boot. "Not yet, I still have a lot to make up for in this world. We have a lot of adventure in us too. We just got back from India. I found a lot about myself and so did Gabrielle. We have to work out many things before we even think of settling down."
"Yep, it was an incredible eye opener for both of us. It changed our lives it was truly amazing."
"I've never seen you so full of awe."
Xena snorted and smiled in grim memory, "No you wouldn't have would you? The old evil Xena would never have been affected by what we went through there. In fact if I'd gone through what I just did back then I would not of survived it. I would have been destroyed?it would have been to much for me."
"You were always up for challenge and new things Xena."
"Yeah, but all I wanted then was blood, profit and conquest. I would never have understood all the wondrous lessons we had or all the important choices we had to make. I can think of several times I would have destroyed if I was the old Xena."
"That must have been something. I just can't see anything getting the better of you then or now."
"It was." She shook her head and then said, "It was nice talking to you. I better go wake my Bard. If I leave her to her own devises she would sleep all day. Bye Daudicles I hope we see you before we leave tomorrow."
"Um, Xena, would you both like to come to dinner?"
"Are you sure? You have no idea how much my Bard can eat." She said with a wicked smile that reminded the big man slightly of the old Xena.
"Its no problem we feed field hands."
"Oh well, that might just make it then." Xena laughed and said, "Ok, We'd be delighted." Xena said with a wink and then gracefully entered the back stairs of the old tavern.
*** *** *** ***
Gabrielle was up doing her yoga when Xena returned to their room. The warrior simply walked to her bed admiring the beautiful woman as she went through each movement very slowly and gracefully.
When Gabrielle finished she looked up into the admiring gaze and asked with a matching smile, "Did you have a good work out?"
"Yep, we got a dinner invitation."
"Oh? By who?"
"Daudicles, we had a nice talk downstairs," she shook her head as if trying to clear it as she scooted back so her back was against the pillows. "I am amazed what happened to those men who left Darphus reformed. One of my most vicious warriors is now a farmer and family man. It boggles my mind, it is so far beyond my imagination."
Gabrielle go up and sat down beside the reclining woman with a sweet understanding smile, "Well you don't have as good an imagination as I do but yours is pretty lively."
Xena chuckled pulling the smaller woman close and kissing her on the nose, "Gee, thanks a bunch Gabrielle.'
Gabrielle rubbed her nose against her partner, which made the stoic woman smile fully, and the beautiful face light up like a candle. "I love you."
Xena leaned forehead against her loves smiling brightly, "That's good because I love you more then I can say." She pulled Gabrielle onto her body so her as she brought to the soft lips to her own kissing her tenderly. Then she pulled back and asked, "What do you think about dinner?"
"Free food I don't have to tell a story for? I'm all for that, Love."
Xena laughed and shook her head, "Well they may ask for some after dinner. They have apparently read some of your scrolls."
Gabrielle looked both pleased and annoyed. "They certainly seem to be circulated don't they?"
"Well that might because they are so well written."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "You have never read one of them?"
"I have heard many of them."
"Not the same, I write them differently then I tell them?"
"Really? I didn't know that. That's fascinating. Why?"
Gabrielle smiled and said, "Because what I write in a scroll is permanent. I write it to flow well and create beauty and drama. When I tell a story it's always the same story but I change the style and the way I tell it to fit my mood and the mood of those listening to me. I add?um, texture?."
"Xena, I tell stories of our lives; there is enough excitement in the facts I don't need to make it up?"
Gabrielle growled nose to nose with the tall woman, "Drop it Warrior."
Xena was very amused she licked the little nose and chuckled, "Ok, I'll drop it if you'll play with me."
Gabrielle rubbed her wet nose against Xena's, "Believe me you don't have to bargain with me for that. "Then she pulled the Warrior's smiling lips to her own kissing her deeply.
**** *** *** ***
Xena and Gabrielle were walking to the house on the edge of town.
"Who is suppose to be at this dinner?"
The tall woman shrugged and said, "His family I guess?"
"What if your other men are there?"
"One bridge at a time?"
"I'm not worried, If they are there we'll handle it."
"But won't you feel awkward?"
"Yes, but I know they will feel funny too. So that will give me an edge."
"You're so clever," said Gabrielle with a smirk.
"Yep." Xena replied chuckling.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "So, should we stick to the topic of the weather?"
Xena laughed and said, "No, they will probably want you to hear some of your stories? Um, could you do me a favor and tone down my so-called heroics?"
"Gabrielle," growled Xena.
"You are a hero. I tell the stories of our adventures and that's what I am going to do. All the parts of those stories not selected versions."
"You are so damn stubborn."
"I'm proud of you."
"Well I'm proud of you too." Xena sighed as they reached the door and said quietly before she knocked, "Well here goes nothing."
"Xena it will be ok."
Xena nodded and knocked on the door.
*** *** *** ***
The Warrior sat by the back wall only her eyes shining from the fire in the fireplace. She was in a comfortable chair with a tankard of port in her hands as she listened to her bard tell tale after to tale to a very receptive group.
It turned out there was only Daudicles' family. She was very relieved and they both enjoyed a fun and delicious meal. There were questions asked of both of them and they both good-naturedly answered them all. Gabrielle was asked about her Sari and the Mendi.
Sophia, the older man's wife was very interested in Eli's way of love. So Gabrielle enjoyed explaining it all to the curious woman. She was happy to the tale of the lessons that changed her whole life.
Xena was asked what they had gone through in India. The boys wanted some heroic tales right from the source. So she quietly explained her Way of the Warrior and tried to answer the boy's questions in the simplest terms for such young audience.
After dinner Gabrielle told some stories to the family. She could tell the bard was telling a gentled version because the children of the family were all too young to hear the all out-tales. Daudicles enjoyed the stories but he was fascinated by Xena's reactions to the bard's performance. From where he sat he had a clear view of her face he was struck by the glow that didn't come from the fire.
"She really is the center of your life isn't she?"
"Do you worry since she changed her path?"
"Every second of every day. I respect her choice but I?well let's just say I've had warnings of a very real danger to us both by the Romans. It haunts me all the time. I can't stop thinking of it."
Xena nodded but didn't explain further the visions she'd kept from everyone except Gabrielle. Alti destroyed all hope of protecting Gabrielle when she showed her the visions in India. Xena sighed and gazed into the fire.
"Hmm, well I doubt even Caesar himself could out-fight you."
Xena snorted, "He hasn't yet."
"Several times in fact, I probably frustrate the hell out of him and I will continue to till that mad man is stopped. If there is one person I hate more then anything it's him."
"He will continue to target you; you're a powerful foe, Xena."
Xena nodded, "Yes, that's why I've been so afraid for Gabrielle. I don't want her to suffer because she is my partner."
"She's very devoted to you and very brave. I don't think you'll be able to persuade her to go away."
"No, she wouldn't." Xena sighed and took a sip of port as she watched the family raptly listening to the beautiful young woman. "I tried to leave her behind before we went to India but the person I thought would protect her betrayed us both. I will die protecting her."
The older man nodded, "She knows that."
"Yes," whispered Xena, she stared into the fire as she continued, "Like you said she is very brave and devoted. I love her more then life itself..I?" tears fell and she impatiently dried them on the back of her hand.
"Xena I never saw you cry before."
"You wouldn't have back then, I would never have let you."
"I do like this new Xena a lot. Is this what reforming has done for you?"
Xena wiped the tears again and shook her head no. She looked at the Bard who was explaining something to her audience her face reflected only the purest love and devotion as she carefully replied.
"No, she did."