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Unintended Consequences

General Disclaimer:
This is a fan fiction based on the television series Xena: Warrior Princess. All characters, locations, quotes, etc borrowed from the show belong strictly to the original creators and whomsoever holds the ultimate copyrights. There is no intention of copyright infringement or profit wherein this fan fiction is concerned. The remaining ideas, storyline, characters, etc are but a figment of my fevered mind and I will bear full responsibility for them.

Other Disclaimers:
Violence is inevitable and may even be overly graphic since a certain Warrior Princess is involved hence anyone who may be uncomfortable with such depictions are advised to avoid reading the stories.

The underlying theme for these stories is a loving consensual relationship between two adults of the same gender. There may also be scenes describing or hinting at sex between others of the same gender, different gender, different species, different tribes. Violent sex scenes may also make an appearance in these stories. Any person(s) uneasy with any of the sexual content above should leave this site now.

In the event that you are under the legal age wherever you may reside or it is illegal in your country to be exposed to any of the contents listed above, please do not proceed to read any of the stories herein.

Please note that I will not be responsible for any trauma resulting from a failure to heed any of my warnings above.

It had been a little over two weeks since they’d returned from Bimini. Xena had recovered from her injuries and been sparring with the dragon warriors for nearly a full week now. Given the warrior’s chronic wanderlust, Gabrielle would have expected them to be back on the roads by now, but that had not been the case. Instead, Xena’d reminded her that they had unfinished business with the oriental dragons.

Truth told, Gabrielle had completely forgotten there were two parts to the prophecy that’d brought them to the Southern Forest clan in the first place. They had fulfilled the first part by killing the tyrant. That left the second part, returning the oriental dragons to their glory days.

From what Ci Nu had told them, the oriental dragons had lost more than half of their numbers after the great clan wars and the fight against the tyrant. Since then, their population had been in a steady decline, due to their low birth rates and the sacrifice of their female dragons to the tyrant every year. Left unchecked, there was every chance that the oriental dragons could die out altogether.

Granted, the dragons were an immortal race, or as close as it was possible to be immortal and still succumb to death. The normal lifespan of a dragon was at least a few thousand years; but they would not survive another war, much less return to their glory days without help.

In many ways, the dragons reminded Xena of the Amazons. Once, the Amazons had been a mighty nation too. But the passage of time and attrition due to infighting and wars had left their numbers greatly reduced. After their last encounter, both Xena and Gabrielle were painfully aware that the Amazons were in a precarious situation. As an Amazon Queen, Gabrielle had a duty and a responsibility to ensure their survival; and Xena had promised Ephiny that she would never let the Amazons just die away. It was a promise the warrior fully intended to keep.

Xena doubted it was a coincidence the prophecy had named Gabrielle as the deliverer of the oriental dragons; the same Gabrielle who was a queen of the Amazons. She strongly believed the Amazons were the answer to fulfilling the second part of the prophecy. By bringing the Amazons and the dragons together, it was her hope that the two peoples would be able to develop a symbiotic relationship, that would allow them to not only survive, but to thrive.

It would have been easy enough to pitch the idea directly to the Southern Forest clan chief. But there were too many variables at play, and the dragons might not be willing to open their territory to the Amazons. It would be a different scenario altogether if the dragons were the ones to make the proposal. In that case, the outcome would be all but assured; once Gabrielle convinced the Amazons it would be in their best interest to relocate to Chin. To that end, the soulmates had concocted a plan.

Just the day before, they’d been formally adopted into the Southern Forest clan. As part of the ceremony, their names and contribution to the clan had been added to the ancestral records, forever memorialising them in oriental dragon lore. The clan chief had also presented each of them with a pure white jade token. The token depicted a dragon crouched on three legs, its right foreleg held up next to its mouth, encircling a transparent crystal ball within its claws. The token identified them as members of the clan and allowed them free access to and from the clan territory.

At the huge celebration that had followed, they’d put their plan into action. Using the memorialising of their adventures with the clan as a prelude, Xena had casually mentioned their adventures with the Amazons. The word spread quickly, and with the clan already familiar with Gabrielle’s bardic talents, they quickly started chanting, “Story! Story!” And so the bard had told them about the Amazons and how she’d unwittingly become an Amazon Princess in her first encounter with the warrior women. The purpose of the story was to introduce the clan to the Amazons, and also to set the stage for her next story, both of which were an integral part of their plan.


It was nearly mid-morning when Xena headed for the duelling arena where she often sparred with the dragon warriors. Instead of following her, Gabrielle made a detour to their bedroom and grabbed her scroll case and writing materials. She also grabbed a couple of wineskins. After all, it was a hot summer day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nor was there a hint of a summer breeze. The day was gearing up to be a brutal one and she needed to make sure her soulmate remembered to stay hydrated.

Since their return from Bimini, Gabrielle had been hovering over her soulmate like an overprotective mother hen, but she couldn’t help it. With everything that had happened in the past month, she felt entitled to a little worry. What’s more, she’d had that nightmare last night. This was the first time she’d dreamt of Jappa or Xena’s decapitated body since the warrior had been brought back to life. And it unsettled her. The bard couldn’t help but wonder, not for the first time, if it was a premonition of some sort.

Trouble usually followed them wherever they went, and that was despite them not staying in the same place for long. But they’d been at the clan village for more than two weeks now and there hadn’t been any problems. Even Xena’s recovery had gone off without a hitch.

Despite having been nearly eviscerated, the warrior had surprised everyone with the speed of her recovery. The clan healer had initially estimated it would take Xena at least two weeks for her wounds to be completely healed. It had taken her soulmate just two days. When the healer removed the stitches, the only thing that remained of her grievous wounds was a mess of pale pink scars. By the third day, the warrior was up and about. Two days after that, she was practising with a sword. Before the week was up, she was sparring in earnest at the arena. The warrior had always healed quickly but even Gabrielle had been surprised at how fast her soulmate had recovered.

I’m going to jinx it. Gabrielle thought, shaking her head irritably. It was a beautiful day and all was right with the world. There was no reason to believe anything bad was going to happen. It was sheer coincidence that she’d dreamt of Jappa last night. It had to be…


There was a huge tree across the duelling arena with a clear line of sight to where Xena was sparring. It was one of Gabrielle’s favourite spots. The tree shielded her from the sun and allowed her to work on her scrolls while keeping an eye on her soulmate. She found a comfortable spot to set up her writing materials and took out the scroll she’d been working on the day before. Dipping her quill into the ink pot, she looked at the last line of the scroll to see where she’d stopped previously.

‘Higuchi is saved.’

The words transported the bard back to Higuchi. That was where Xena had revealed that she’d taught Akemi the pinch after just a few weeks. When Gabrielle heard that, she’d been filled with an overwhelming sense of jealousy. She’d known Xena for six long years and her soulmate had never once taught her the pinch.

What a ridiculous thing to be jealous over. Gabrielle thought, replaying in her mind the moment when Xena had finally shown her how to do the pinch.

Gabrielle:  “Why are you doing this?”

Xena: “Gabrielle—if I only had 30 seconds to live—this is how I’d want to live them—looking into your eyes.”

Gabrielle: “Stop this.  Stop it.”

Xena: “Always remember, I love you.”

Gabrielle: “Why would you teach me this right now?  I don’t understand!”

Xena: “There’s nothing to understand.  I just wanted you to know everything I know.  Let’s go.  We got a battle to win.”

XWP Season 6 Episode 21: Friend in Need I

After that, Xena had walked out onto the battlefield to die alone, having arranged beforehand for Gabrielle to lead a contingent to the east plain where she would be safely out of harm’s way.

Tears sprung up in Gabrielle’s eyes and she blinked furiously, trying to avoid getting the parchment wet. She did not like thinking about Jappa or the events that had transpired there. The memories were almost always painful. Chronicling their adventures in Jappa hadn’t been any easier. This was already her fourth attempt and she still hadn’t gotten beyond Higuchi.

Dashing the tears angrily from her eyes, Gabrielle took a drink from a wineskin before focusing her attention once again on the scroll. While she concentrated on stringing words together in her head, her finger moved of its own accord, tapping absentmindedly against her calf in no discernible rhythm.

The ghost killer confronted Xena. He told her the vengeful spirit of Akemi’s father had enslaved 40,000 souls, the souls of those who’d perished in the fire Xena had set years ago… It works. Gabrielle thought, dipping her quill into the inkpot and jotting the words down.

Midway through, a disturbance in the air made Gabrielle look up. Unsure of what had caught her attention, her first instinct was to look for her soulmate.

Xena was in the arena, dressed in her trademark armour—not the original, which was still buried in Jappa, but a new set that the dragons had gifted her, together with a custom-made sword that was beautifully balanced and a perfect fit for Xena and her fighting style. Across from her, a dragon warrior wielded a glaive-like weapon that was called a ‘guandao’. At first glance, the weapon appeared unwieldy and was often used by amateurs like a staff or sabre. Only someone who truly appreciated the ‘guandao’ could wield it the way it was designed to be used—as a graceful and deadly weapon that was also highly versatile.

Xena’s opponent was obviously well-versed in the use of the ‘guandao’ and he held it angled above him, gripping it near the base of the shaft with his dominant hand and supporting it near the blade with his other hand. The dragon warrior adopted the stance of a crane, one foot firmly on the ground with the other tucked up against his opposite calf. As Gabrielle watched, he jabbed the ‘guandao’ downward at Xena, the action resembling a crane stabbing down with its beak.

Most people would have dodged the blow by moving away from the threat, but not Xena. The warrior princess dove forward into a front roll, barely clearing the tip of the ‘guandao’. She popped up inside the guard of the dragon warrior just as he shifted the ‘guandao’ into a horizontal pursuing movement. In most circumstances, it would have been the correct move. But because Xena hadn’t retreated, the dragon warrior quickly found himself flat on his back, Xena’s sword mere inches from his face.

Xena lowered her sword then extended a hand to pull her opponent up. He bowed to her, acknowledging her victory before leaving the arena. Another dragon immediately took his place. This one was easily seven feet tall and hefted a huge halberd over one shoulder. He towered over the six-foot-tall Xena, a sight that was so uncommon that it took Gabrielle a while to notice the line of blood on her soulmate’s bicep.

Is she hurt? Gabrielle thought, getting to her feet. Take a break, she said via their soul-link. When Xena made no move to leave the arena, Gabrielle glared at her soulmate, hands on her hips and added forcefully, NOW!

Having heard her soulmate’s silent admonishment, Xena was tempted to roll her eyes at Gabrielle’s overreaction, but the bard was too far away to notice her response. The warrior held a hand up in apology to her opponent and gestured towards Gabrielle. He took one look at the irate bard and graciously excused her. After some discussion amongst the spectators, a petite warrior with a fighting staff took Xena’s place.

Xena sheathed her sword and headed in the direction of her soulmate. Her long powerful legs ate up the ground quickly and she had almost reached Gabrielle’s side when a huge wave of exhaustion suddenly hit her. She stumbled; and would have fallen if Gabrielle had not rushed over and caught her.

Gabrielle helped her soulmate to the tree where the warrior slumped down, like a puppet with its strings cut. Concerned, she handed over a wineskin and said, “Xena, you need to take it easy.”

The warrior took the wineskin, draining it in a continuous swallow before tossing the empty container to the ground. Feeling slightly rejuvenated, Xena looked up at her soulmate with a tight smile and said, “Gabrielle, I’m fine.”

“Xena, you would have fallen if I hadn’t caught you. I wouldn’t call that ‘fine’.”

“I’m just—a little dehydrated.”

Gabrielle picked up the other wineskin and shook it. It was full. “This is the last one. I can bring you more from our room…” She trailed off, a strong sense of unease coming over her as waves of excruciating pain flowed through their soul-link. There was something wrong with Xena.

Dropping to her knees beside her soulmate, Gabrielle saw that the warrior was unnaturally pale and her lips had a bluish tint to them. Her skin was cold and clammy to the touch—unusual for such a hot summer day. But most alarming of all, Xena was clearly gasping for air despite efforts to hide it from her.

“Xena, where do you hurt? You’re—cold. What’s wrong?” She ran her hands over the warrior, checking for injuries but finding nothing more than the shallow cut on the right bicep.

“Just—help me back to our room, won’t ya?” Xena murmured. Her vision was turning black and she was struggling to keep her tenuous hold on her consciousness.

“You know, this wouldn’t have happened if you’d just rest and recuperate like everyone not named Xena, warrior princess.” Gabrielle chided. “What if you’d reopened your wounds? There could be internal bleeding. And you could die. Then what am I supposed to do without you!”

“Gabrielle, yell at me later…” Xena managed to whisper before darkness rose up and claimed her.

The warrior had uttered those same words at the end of Gabrielle’s first year with Xena. While responding to Salmoneus’ request for help, Xena had been hit by a poisoned dart. The warrior had kept quiet about the incident. It wasn’t until Xena had succumbed to the poison that she finally learned about it. By then, it had been too late. Gabrielle remembered how helpless she’d felt then, watching the warrior grow weaker and weaker as time went by—until she’d returned to find the cold lifeless body of her best friend under a sack cloth.

Gabrielle shook her head, expelling the memory forcibly from her mind. Her hand, reached out to touch the warrior, as she’d done back then. Her soulmate’s skin was still cold and clammy, possibly even colder than it had been a moment ago. Xena’s eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving.

“Xena?” Gabrielle gave her soulmate a gentle shake, willing the warrior to open her eyes and say something—anything. “Xena?” But there was no response.


Gabrielle had to ask Ci Nu for help in carrying the unconscious Xena back to their room. As strong as she had grown over the years, there was no way she could carry a six foot tall woman all by herself. It had nothing to do with her height. It was about leverage–or the lack thereof.

She’d stripped the armour off her soulmate in an effort to make the warrior more comfortable. Xena lay on their bed dressed only in her linen shift. Even unencumbered by her breastplate, the warrior’s breathing was so shallow that her chest barely rose or fell. Ci Nu had left to summon the clan healer and Gabrielle was left alone with her fears. She cradled Xena’s hand tenderly against her cheek, staring tearfully at her soulmate.

The Fates controlled the destiny of mankind and Gabrielle wanted to blame them for what had happened to Xena. But they were in Chin, far from the influence of the Greek gods. Furthermore, she had personally set fire to their loom, forever taking away their ability to meddle in the affairs of man. No, the Fates were not to be blamed here.

Gabrielle still did not understand what had happened. Was it her fault? Had she really jinxed it by thinking how well things were going? Or hadn’t she been careful enough?

The bard had been fully involved in every step of her soulmate’s recovery and recuperation process. Granted, she could have persevered on Xena to convalesce in bed longer, but the stubborn warrior had refused, once she’d recovered enough to walk around. And Gabrielle had not pushed the issue. Given the warrior’s restless nature, being confined in bed for a protracted period would have been counterproductive and done more harm than good.

Even after Xena had been given the all clear to commence sparring, Gabrielle had kept an eye on her soulmate’s wellbeing. She’d made sure the warrior ate her meals on time, drank plenty of fluids, took regular breaks throughout the day, and kept her bedtime… Even at the expense of certain extracurricular activities, though they really hadn’t gone without. They had a healthy sex life; a very healthy—and vigorous sex life.

Gabrielle’s brow furrowed as a thought suddenly struck her. She’d been so careful to ensure Xena did everything in moderation. Except for one aspect… Could it be that—all their vigorous lovemaking had overtaxed the warrior somehow? Gabrielle frowned. She’d never really thought of it as a form of exertion. And it really wasn’t that many. There was earlier this morning, then last night after dinner, and of course that little quickie before lunch. And the morning in bed… and… Good gods above! Have we really been going at it like bunnies?

The sound of booted footsteps outside the hallway interrupted her thoughts and Gabrielle quickly dismissed the idea. It was ludicrous to think that their passionate lovemaking could be the cause of Xena’s abrupt collapse. After all, the warrior had been full of energy and raring to go this morning. She turned as three pairs of boots stopped outside the door. Ci Nu and the clan chief stood respectfully outside, concern etched on their faces as the clan healer entered the bedroom alone.

Still holding onto Xena’s hand, Gabrielle stood and gave a small bow of thanks to the dragons before making space for the healer at the side of the bed.

“What happened?” The healer asked Gabrielle as he began his physical examination.

“I’m not sure.” Gabrielle said. “One moment she was fine. The next moment, she was not. She sustained a small cut in her last fight. But it barely drew blood. I—I don’t understand. You’ve gotta help her.” The bard said with a pleading look in her eyes.

The healer pulled out a palm-sized white crystal from his sleeve and passed it slowly over the unconscious warrior, his eyes closed in concentration. All oriental dragons had an innate ability to see the aura of every living being. Their healers used this ability to identify and diagnose medical conditions that would have baffled ordinary healers. Dragon healers often used a crystal to focus and amplify the aura of their patients.

The crystal travelled down Xena’s body then back again, before stopping above the warrior’s chest. Glancing up at the healer, Gabrielle noted the furrows creasing his forehead. This worried her further. “Is something wrong?” She asked.

Opening his eyes, the healer secreted the crystal back into the hidden pocket sewn into the sleeve of his robe. He looked down at Xena, clearly puzzled, and said, “It’s the poison.”

“Poison? How…” Gabrielle paused as the full impact of the healer’s statement hit her. “Wait a minute. You said THE poison. Not poison—but THE poison. That means this isn’t something new. Why wasn’t I aware of this? Xena never said anything. Neither did you. Weren’t you the one who told me she was fully recovered? I told her not to keep anything from me. Why didn’t she listen? Oh… I should—“

The healer raised his hands, patting the air in a mollifying gesture as he tried to cut off Gabrielle’s rant before it gained too much steam. He succeeded, in that the movement distracted the bard enough that her brain finally caught up with her mouth. She stopped in mid rant, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Well?” Gabrielle demanded, “You can heal her, can’t you?”

The healer slowly shook his head.

“I’m not taking no for an answer!” Gabrielle said vehemently. She looked down at the face of her beloved soulmate, imagining that it looked more drawn than it had a moment ago. “No!” Gabrielle growled. “There must be something we can do! Poisons can be neutralised. You’re a healer, you must know how.”

“I know you are upset, golden one. But we cannot neutralize the poison if we do not know what it is or where it came from.” The healer told her.

That gave Gabrielle pause. She could not deny the healer’s logic. It was sound, if not exactly what she wanted to hear at the moment. “Ok. What do we know?”

Hands clasped behind his back, the healer paced up and down the length of the bed as he gathered his thoughts. “I know you don’t remember much of what happened during the fight with the tyrant. But when his claws struck you, I saw poison take root in your soul, corrupting your aura. It was death, as sure as the sun is the giver of all life.”

“It’s strange,” he admitted. “The tyrant’s claws are not inherently poisonous. Enough of our clan have died at his hands that we would have noticed if they were.” At this, he paused and looked to the clan chief for confirmation. At the chief’s nod, he continued, “After your souls merged, I could no longer see the poison. It was as if her soul had burned it out of you.”

“When you brought your soulmate back to life, I checked both of you for signs of the poison. There wasn’t any. But I had seen how insidious the poison was and I wanted to be prepared just in case it resurfaced. So I scoured our records for any clues to what the poison could be. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything.”

“The speed of your soulmate’s recovery surprised me. I had never witnessed anything like it before. With the injuries she’d suffered, a dragon would have been incapacitated for at least a ten-day. But she—a mortal—was already walking around on the third day! When I verified that she was fully recovered from her injuries, I asked her about the poison.” The healer said.

He recalled his conversation with Xena. They were alone in the treatment room, Gabrielle having stepped out momentarily.

Healer: “You look good.”

Xena: “I feel good. Better than brand new.”

Healer: “And the poison?”

Xena: “That ain’t poison. It’s evil. Pure unadulterated evil. Been there, done that. And Gabrielle has the scrolls to prove it too.”

Healer: “Evil is poison to the soul. You know that better than I do.”

Xena: “For someone with a pure soul like Gabrielle, it is. But for someone like me? I know evil. I was evil. As much as Gabrielle woulda people believe otherwise, evil’s a part of me. I’m used to keeping it on a tight leash. I think it helped me recover faster than I woulda on my own.”

“She sounded so sure of herself.” The healer told Gabrielle. “But I have seen the rot of evil take root and poison the soul of many a man. I know what it looks like. I know how it acts. It’s not the same. Looking at her aura now, it would seem that I was right about it being some kind of poison; a particularly virulent form of poison that corrupts both the aura and the physical body.”

As the healer was speaking, Gabrielle was deep in thought. Something he said had sparked a faint memory lodged within the deep dark recesses of her mind. She bit down on her lower lip, worrying it between her teeth as she tried to tease the memory into the light.

“You know,” she said to no one in particular, “I think—Xena was right. It had felt like rage—unbridled rage. And—hatred.” Gabrielle gave an involuntary shudder as the memory clarified itself.

Gabrielle stood over Callisto, who was soundly asleep. She raised Perdicus’ sword with both hands, pointing it at her archenemy’s chest. The sword was heavy and her hands shook from the effort of holding it there. As she steeled herself to shove the sword into Callisto’s heart with all her might, she saw Xena’s face. Gabrielle was reminded of how she’d accidentally stumbled across her best friend kneeling in the middle of the forest, a look of indescribable anguish on her face as she pleaded with the gods.

Xena: “If anyone’s listening—you know, I’m not much for praying. But I don’t know what else to do. I was ready to give up once, and—and Gabrielle came into my life. Please—don’t let that light that shines out of her face go out. I couldn’t stand the darkness that would follow.”

XWP Season 2 Episode 5: Return of Callisto

Gabrielle had never heard Xena beg for anything in all the time she’d known her. But on that night, there had been so much desperation in her best friend’s voice. At the time, Gabrielle had been too consumed by hatred to appreciate the significance of the moment. But now, the sheer depth of the warrior’s love for her finally broke through the spell that had held her captive since Perdicus’ death. No longer consumed with revenge, Gabrielle lowered the sword. It was time for her pain and anguish to end.

The memory of Xena’s plea threatened to bring Gabrielle to tears again. She swallowed her tears past the lump in her throat and took a deep breath. That had been the one and only time the bard had almost succumbed to the darkness. To the healer, she said, “Xena’s right. It’s evil.”

“How can you be sure?” The healer asked.

“Trust me.” Gabrielle told him, “I’ve felt it before.”

“If it is evil and not poison, something must have happened to turn it against her. Did anything out of the ordinary happen today?” The healer asked.

Gabrielle thought through the events of the morning. “It was just an ordinary day.”

“Did you feel or sense anything odd?” The healer pressed.

“There was—something…” Gabrielle said, remembering the fleeting feeling she’d had. “I dunno what it was. But it made me look at Xena. That was when I saw the cut on her arm. After that, everything happened quickly.”

The healer looked equally perplexed and intrigued. “Did she say anything?”

“She said she was dehydrated.”

“That does not give us anything to work with.” The healer said, frustrated.

“I’ve been thinking—about what Xena said. If she’s right, and she usually is; evil would be poisonous for me, not her. But we’re soulmates. We share a bond.” Gabrielle said. Aware that the dragons were staring at her, she held up a hand and said, “Bear with me. I’m thinking aloud here.”

“We’re soulmates. We share a bond. I know it’s there. But there was a time when it wasn’t.”

“When your souls merged.” The healer said with a thoughtful look on his face as he made the same connection Gabrielle was making.

“What if,” Gabrielle continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “that incident affected the bond between us? The bond allows us to draw strength from each other and communicate through our thoughts. And Xena was able to send her spirit through it. What if, the bond was damaged? And my vulnerability has negated Xena’s immunity to evil?”

The healer opened his mouth and said, “That’s—“

“Ridiculous?” Gabrielle finished for him.

“I was going to say, possible.” The healer corrected her gently. “It does not explain everything but I can see the logic. I had forgotten your soul-link had been broken. I will look through all our records on soulmates. I am sure we will find something useful. Too bad we do not know the source of the poison. If we did, there is a chance we can counter it.”

“The stone…” Gabrielle said as another memory unlocked for her. “Xena saw a stone—embedded in the tyrant’s armour. She said it was magic. If it’s magic, couldn’t it turn evil into poison?”

“I have heard of such things. It is definitely possible. If the poison is magic, we will need magic to counter it.” The healer said.

“What about your seers?” Gabrielle asked.

“Magic is forbidden to us.” The healer said. “No dragon can wield the forbidden arts. Not even our seers.”

“What about the magic that hides your territory from the outside world? Or the magic that allows you to take human form?”

“Our territory is given to us by the dragon kings. It is their power that keeps it hidden. Taking human form is an innate ability, the same as our ability to see auras and our ability to fly. It is not magic.” The healer explained.

“Looks like our only hope is to find out why the evil turned on Xena and stop it.” Gabrielle said, sitting down on the bed. She reached over to gently brush an errant strand of hair off her soulmate’s face. “Xena’s the strongest person I know. If anyone can walk through the fires of evil and come out unscathed on the other side, it’s gotta be Xena.”

Gabrielle looked up at the healer and said, “I want to stay here with her. Will you bring the records over? I would like to help you look through them.”

The healer half bowed in silent acquiescence.

“I’ll have lunch brought to you.” Ci Nu said from outside the door. “You need to keep your energy up—for yourself and for her.”

Nodding her thanks, Gabrielle said, “Xena’ll need food too. Is there chicken broth? I’ll feed her.”

Ci Nu gave a bow of acknowledgement and the dragons took their leave.

Alone with her soulmate, Gabrielle climbed up onto the bed. She considered laying her head on the warrior’s chest but was afraid that it would interfere with Xena’s ability to breathe. Lying down beside her soulmate, the bard pillowed her head on Xena’s shoulder and listened to the slow thumpa thumpa of the warrior’s beating heart.

Xena, I know you’ll come back to me. I need you, Xena. I will not lose you—again.


Xena woke up alone in a cage that was as long as it was wide, surrounded on all sides by gleaming bars of light that stretched into the darkness high above her. She was stark naked and the cage was completely empty. Unperturbed by her nudity, the warrior casually walked up to the bars of the cage. The beams of light, for that was what they appeared to be, made it impossible to see anything on the outside.

Let’s hope these bars ain’t made of lightning, Xena thought, steeling herself as she reached out and grabbed one of the bars. Her fears turned out to be unwarranted. The bar was smooth, unyielding, and surprisingly cool to the touch, almost like some kind of metal. She paced around the cage, walking over every inch and running her fingers along every bar, only stopping once she’d verified that there was no way out.

How did I get here? Xena wondered. And where is Gabrielle?

The thought of her soulmate unblocked her memories and the events of the morning flooded into her mind. The day had started out just like every other day before it. Xena had woken before the crack of dawn, Gabrielle sound asleep beside her. She’d had a dream, a strange dream.

In the dream, she was on her knees, staring up at a naked body strung up on a tree. Arrows stuck out of the body in numerous places and it was clear that the person had been on the losing end of a terrible fight. What had struck Xena most vividly was the emotions that crashed through her when she realised the body was missing its head.

The dream had to be Gabrielle’s—likely the same one that had haunted her soulmate since Jappa. Xena never would have allowed the bard to retrieve her body if she’d known someone had cut off her head. Finding Xena’s headless body had obviously traumatised the bard. And now that she’d experienced the dream for herself, the warrior finally understood the torment her soulmate had gone through as a result of her actions.

When the bard woke that morning, they had made love, with a passion born out of a desperate need on both sides—Xena, to erase any remnants of the dream from Gabrielle’s mind; and Gabrielle, to reassure herself that they’d left the worst behind them in Jappa. It was the first time Xena had felt her soulmate’s arousal and orgasms as if they were her own; though she had enough self-awareness to differentiate between the two. The experience had been intense enough that she’d climaxed when Gabrielle did.

They then enjoyed a late but hearty breakfast and Xena had gone to the duelling arena where she often pitted herself against the skilled warriors of the Southern Forest clan. She was in the middle of her third bout when she was assaulted by random flashes of thoughts, sights, and sounds. The intrusions had been fleeting, but vivid; and one such episode—the phantom tap-tapping of a finger against a calf—had distracted Xena enough that she’d made her pivot a heartbeat too slow, allowing her opponent to draw first blood.

The injury had been minor. But then there had been the sudden wave of exhaustion that came over her seconds before Gabrielle caught her; and the squeezing pain in her chest that had her gasping for breath. It had taken nearly all her willpower and strength to keep up a strong façade in front of Gabrielle. In the end, despite her best efforts, Xena had lost her hold on consciousness. And here she was, stuck in a—cage.

There has to be a link somewhere. Xena thought. The dream… Gabrielle’s dream… The flashes of thoughts and sensations. Could they also be Gabrielle’s? If that’s the case, they must have leaked through somehow… Our soul-link!

Xena called up her bond with Gabrielle. The glowing cord of purplish-gold energy came slowly into view, looking much the same as it had the last time the warrior had seen it. Does it seem… brighter? Xena wondered.

Suddenly, a ball of golden energy broke off from Gabrielle’s side and raced towards her. Before it could reach her, she was back in the cage. The bars around her were glowing, getting brighter and brighter in their intensity. Xena closed her eyes, throwing up a hand to further shield them when her surroundings turned a blinding white.


It was night, the second since Xena had fallen into a coma. Bamboo books laid scattered haphazardly on a huge desk and on the floor of the bedroom. Flickering lamps situated at the corners of the room and on the desk cast dancing shadows over the two figures seated across from each other, their heads bent over their respective piles.

“Here! I found a record of two soulmates who successfully sent their spirits through their bond.” Gabrielle said excitedly, her finger tracing the words on the bamboo slips as she read. “It says they were able to experience everything their soulmate did.” She quickly scanned through the rest of the record. “This is very detailed… But nothing we can use… Oh wait, there’s a note right at the end. The ink’s darker; it musta been added much later.”

“It’s written by someone named Bian Que. He believed the experiment destabilised the soul-link, corrupting both their minds and souls and driving them crazy.” Gabrielle looked up at the healer in shock, saying, “They killed each other.”

“I knew Bian Que. He was a well-known healer with the Sky Mountain Clan.” The clan healer paused, thinking. “I believe I have copies of his medical journals in my study. Maybe he recorded something in them.”

After the healer left, Gabrielle rolled up the bamboo book and placed it on the floor before getting up and walking over to the bed. She sat down beside her soulmate, running her fingers poignantly over the warrior’s face. “Oh Xena, I miss you.” Her eyes followed her fingers down sharp cheek bones before alighting on her soulmate’s lips, which were dry and slightly cracked.

“You must be thirsty.” Gabrielle said, silently berating herself for having neglected her soulmate. It had been at least an hour or more since she’d last checked on the warrior, having been so caught up in the records the healer had brought her. She snagged a wineskin from the bedside table, took a small sip of water and leaned over the warrior. Using the pressure of her own lips, Gabrielle pushed Xena’s lips slightly apart, enough so that water trickled slowly into her mouth.

Once her soulmate had swallowed the water, Gabrielle would take another sip, repeating the process until she was satisfied. Patting Xena’s arm tenderly, she said, “That should be enough. Xena, hang in there, ok? We’ll get through this—we always do.”


The healer soon returned with Bian Que’s medical journals. There were 8 in total. One of the healer’s assistants refreshed the oil in the lamps and they settled in for a long night.

Gabrielle was looking through her second journal when the words started to blur before her eyes. She hadn’t found anything pertinent so far. The journals were full of medical knowledge and marvels, but nothing vaguely related to soulmates or the soul-link. She rubbed her eyes tiredly and pushed on.


Thinking that the healer must have found something, Gabrielle looked up expectantly. “Did you find something?”

“Maybe. According to Bian Que, the soul-link is broken when one or both of the soulmates die.”

“That didn’t happen to us.” Gabrielle said.

“The two of you are the exception, not the rule.” The healer told her. “Bian Que made this observation after reviving a patient who had a soulmate.”

“And?” Gabrielle prompted impatiently. She could feel a Tartarus of a headache beginning to build behind her eyes.

“Their soul-link re-formed after the patient was brought back to life.”


The healer shook his head. “It says the bond was made anew. That means a new bond was formed.”

“That’s… interesting…” Gabrielle said, filing the information away for later. “Let’s see if there’s anything else in these journals.” She returned her attention to her journal.

The headache hit Gabrielle a short while later with the force of a battering ram. She winced, rubbing her forehead in a futile attempt to ease the pain. Her throat was strangely dry. Water—I need water.

She pushed herself blindly away from the table, the headache having robbed her temporarily of her sight, and stumbled over a book. Catching herself Gabrielle took another step before a spike of excruciating pain sent her crumpling senselessly to the floor.

The healer leapt up from his seat and rushed over to her. He immediately noticed the dark tendrils of poison that had appeared in Gabrielle’s aura. That weren’t there just now. Why was there no warning? I should have been more vigilant. He thought bitterly as he lifted the bard and laid her down beside her soulmate.

Looking down at the two unconscious women, he felt like a failure. He was a healer, yet he could not do anything for them. And with Gabrielle in a coma, he had no way of fixing whatever was wrong with their soul-link. Unless he was able to find a cure or bring either of them out of their coma, the chance of them pulling through in the next few days was slim to none.

I’m not giving up! The healer turned and gathered Bian Que’s journals from the table. He would continue his search in his study. As he turned to leave, he remembered the throwaway comment he’d made earlier that night. They are the exception, and not the rule. If anyone can survive this, it will be them.

He returned to the soulmates, picked up Gabrielle’s hand and placed it over Xena’s. Touch amplifies the soul bond. Even if the bond is damaged in some way, they have a better chance of combating the poison together than alone.

Calling one of his assistants over, he instructed her to look after the two women. “Call me if anything happens.” The healer said before leaving with Bian Que’s medical journals tucked under his arm.


The blinding light cut out suddenly, leaving Xena in momentary darkness before a faint glow drew her attention upwards. A portal hovered in the air above her, light whirling in its depths.

Could that be my way out? Xena thought. As she contemplated making a leap for it, the portal cleared, revealing a scene from her past. She immediately recognised her younger self, the murderous rage that had arisen in her as M’Lila fell into her lap, dying from an arrow that had been meant for her. That had been a defining moment for the young Xena.

M’Lila’s sacrifice had shocked her and Xena hardened her heart, vowing to visit death upon her enemies and anyone who would stand in her way. That was the start of her all-too-familiar refrain—‘kill them all!’ And it had begun with the Roman soldiers whom Caesar had sent to kill her. In the face of her burning anger and deadly resolve, they hadn’t stood a chance.

In the past, the guilt arising from this memory would have weighed heavily on her and sapped her of her will to live. But those days were behind her. She had come to understand and accept that her past was not only an indelible part of her, it had also played a critical part in making her into the person she was today. Without everything that had happened in her dark past, she would never have met Gabrielle. And meeting Gabrielle was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

The portal continued unveiling scene after scene from her past, scenes filled with unnecessary violence, death and destruction. But Xena did not flinch. She forced herself to watch each scene unfold, accepting her role in them, and claiming them as part of who she was and what she had been. They had aptly named her the Destroyer of Nations, for that was what she had done—destroyed everyone and everything wherever she went.

With each scene, wisps of darkness flowed through the bars of the cage, surrounding Xena. There was a sense of familiarity and completeness where the darkness touched her. It was like greeting an old friend. Xena welcomed it. She’d been afraid of her dark side once. But her travels had taught her that there was nothing to fear. Her darkness was an integral part of her.

Wisps of darkness covered her whole body, leaving only her head and neck free. When the last scene had played out, one in which she’d kidnapped and tortured a young Ming T’ien before ruthlessly executing his father before his young eyes, Xena was enveloped in a sphere of darkness.

From this darkness, the warrior emerged, now dressed in the black leather armour from her warlord days, armed with sword and chakram. The darkness fell to the ground, seeping into the cage floor. Cracks appeared beneath Xena’s feet, spiderwebbing across the floor and up the bars. With a loud thunderclap, the light cage shattered, dropping Xena into the pitch black darkness below.


Gabrielle was in a forest. From the rays of sunlight peeking through the leafy canopy above her, it appeared to be close to noon. Wasn’t it night? Did I fall asleep? She rubbed absently at a phantom pain in her head, voicing aloud her next thought. “Am I dreaming?”

“If this is a dream…” she trailed off, recognising her surroundings. It was in this forest that she’d found Xena’s blood-covered chakram; the same forest where Xena had taken on 3 armies and lost her head in the process. This forest had never appeared in her dreams. Her dreams of Jappa had always revolved around one event and one event only—the night she’d stumbled across her soulmate’s naked body hanging from the trees.

A heavy and ominous darkness descended over the forest and she shivered at the sudden chill in the air. In the distance, a war horn sounded. Gabrielle froze, straining her ears to listen behind the sounds, the way Xena had taught her. Soldiers… An army was gathering. Another war horn sounded, closer this time. She automatically reached down for her sais but they were not strapped to her boots where she usually kept them. It was only then that she realised there was a katana belted at her waist.

Why does this feel like déjà vu?

Hand resting on the hilt of the katana, Gabrielle walked cautiously through the forest, ready to draw her weapon at the first sign of danger. At the sound of a war horn nearby, she dropped into a crouch, her senses on high alert.

Moments later, a soldier came into view, dressed head to toe in black ridged armour with a mask covering his face. He was alone. Spotting Gabrielle, the soldier raised his broadsword and charged at her, yelling, “Kill, kill, kill!”

Shifting her weight onto her front foot, Gabrielle drew her katana in one fluid motion, raising it across her body to parry the first blow. The soldier held his sword with both hands, chopping down repeatedly in an attempt to overpower his smaller opponent.

Gabrielle was content to defend, deflecting his blows with her katana and patiently biding her time. The two of them quickly developed a rhythm—swing, parry, swing, parry. On their last exchange, she allowed the soldier’s sword to come dangerously close. Convinced that she was tiring, the soldier raised his sword high above his head before bringing it down with all his strength.

Now! Gabrielle dropped her weight over her back foot, tucked her head against her chest and fell into a back roll. Thanks to his momentum, the soldier was thrown off balance by her move. She came to her feet as he stumbled past her. Taking advantage of the opening, she hit him in the back of the head with the hilt of her katana.

The commotion had attracted the attention of the soldiers in the vicinity. Two soldiers charged out of the forest on her left. She spun away from their charge, snapping a kick at the nearest soldier, hitting him in the stomach and knocking him onto his back. More soldiers rapidly closed in on her position and Gabrielle decided it was time to run.

There were too many of them for her to fight. She ran from tree to tree, changing directions abruptly to throw off any archers that might be lurking nearby. She turned sharply behind a tree and was tackled to the ground.

Rolling over desperately, Gabrielle reached for the katana she’d dropped and found herself staring into the familiar face of—“Perdicus?”

Perdicus smiled down at her, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Let’s get you out of here.”

He grabbed Gabrielle’s hand and began leading her back the way she’d come.

“Perdicus, wait. Where are we going?”

“Home,” was his answer.

Gabrielle yanked her hand out of his grip. “Look, I don’t know what you’re doing here. But we’re a long way from home. Perdicus, you need to go. It’s not safe here.”

“But I love you.” Perdicus said.

“I love you too.” Gabrielle told him. “But, you’ve gotta go.”

“Kill, kill, kill!” The forest roared around them.

Soldiers had closed in on them while they had been distracted. Gabrielle quickly brought her katana up into position just as Perdicus jumped out in front of her. She watched in horror as the tip of her razor-sharp katana pierced his stomach.

Perdicus stared at her katana in disbelief. He opened his mouth but did not get a chance to say anything before a sword exploded out of his chest, killing him instantly.

Acting solely on instinct, Gabrielle slid her katana free and spun behind the soldier who’d killed the man she loved. The soldier had one foot braced against Perdicus’ back, trying to pull his sword free, but it was wedged inside Perdicus’ ribcage. The soldier was completely at Gabrielle’s mercy as she cut and slashed at him.

When she was sure the soldier was dead, Gabrielle dropped to her knees beside Perdicus. She closed her eyes, her head bowed in grief. Her grief threw open the doors to another place and another time where the grief had turned into a simmering rage and a burning need for revenge. Gabrielle threw her head back and screamed a challenge at the sky.

A group of black-clad soldiers answered her call, screaming a challenge of their own, “Kill, kill, kill!” Spurred on by her anger, Gabrielle sprang to her feet and rushed headlong at the soldiers. She danced circles around them, cutting them down easily where they stood. With each kill, her bloodlust grew.

She slammed her katana into the throat of a soldier, nearly decapitating him. Revelling in the thrill of the kill, she let out a guttural roar. More soldiers appeared around her and Gabrielle proceeded to kill them all. Blood ran down her sword, onto her hands and her arms. Her armour was liberally coated with blood and she resembled a half-crazed animal as she shouted at the top of her voice, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”


The cavern Xena landed in had a myriad of tunnels leading in and out of it, all of which were nondescript and unremarkable in any way. One of the tunnels had to be the way out but it was impossible to tell which and it would take too long to check each tunnel out. Luckily for Xena, there was another way. Her keen sense of hearing had picked up the faint sounds of an infantry on the move. The sound was distorted from bouncing off the walls of the caves and tunnels but the ex-warlord would have recognised the sounds of an army even in her sleep.

Wherever she was and whatever she was doing here, Xena was sure of one thing—an army meant trouble. And if there was trouble, the warrior fully intended to be there. She closed her eyes and slowly turned in a circle, processing the sounds and echoes she heard from each direction, until she had narrowed down the location from which it was coming from.

West! There were only two tunnels in that direction and the warrior stood in front of each before taking the rightmost tunnel. She followed the sound through every twist and turn, stopping once or twice to get her bearings when the tunnel forked or branched out in similar directions. As she navigated the tunnels, the sounds became louder. There were the sounds of men talking and coughing, booted feet shuffling, weapons clanking against armour, and the unmistakeable sounds of war horns sounding the advance.

At the sound of the war horns, Xena broke into a run, and then a sprint as a light appeared in front of her. Her sword ready in hand, she put on a final burst of speed and dove headfirst out of the tunnel. She dropped into a front roll and emerged in the middle of the army. The soldiers, outfitted in black ridged armour with full-faced helmets covering their head and face, ignored her as they marched on.

Before her, a city gate stood ajar, obviously having been breached some time back. The soldiers were converging on the gate, slipping through in twos and threes. When Xena reached the gate, she observed a golden glow emanating from within but could see nothing more than the silhouette of the soldiers who had passed through before her.

She placed her hands on the gate, thinking to pull it close but it was stuck fast and refused to budge. Reacting to her touch, the golden glow intensified, spilling out of the open gate to surround her. The moment the light touched her, Xena’s weapons and armour disintegrated, only to re-form seconds later into her familiar trademark armour, the sword that had been a gift from the dragons, and her yin-yang chakram.

That was when Xena realised that the gate was her soul-link to Gabrielle. Whoever or whatever the army was, her soulmate was in grave danger. Her first instinct was to rush through the gate to her Gabrielle’s aid. But Xena had learned a long time ago that giving in to one’s base instincts wasn’t always the best idea. Besides, she had a bigger problem.

The soldiers had apparently tire of waiting. Or they really didn’t like her new outfit. Behind her, the war horns blared, sounding the attack. Xena turned as a roar erupted from the soldiers followed by the shi-shi-shick of a thousand swords sliding out of their scabbards.

There were tens of thousands of soldiers, probably even a hundred thousand. It was hard to tell when the surrounding tunnels and caves hid the army’s true numbers. To get to Gabrielle, the soldiers needed to make it through the gate. And while some of them had already done so, they could only pass through in single file. That meant the bulk of the army lay before her. If she wanted to protect Gabrielle, she needed to stop any more soldiers from passing through the gate.

The easiest and most logical way to do so would be to hold the gate from the other side. If she walked through the gate, she would be able to deal with the soldiers one by one as they crossed over. But, the gate wasn’t truly a gate. It was her connection to Gabrielle. Once the soldiers were inside the gate, they would have free access to her soulmate. There was only one way to stop the soldiers, and that was to hold them right here, before they even reach the gate.

Xena yelled her battle cry and charged at the nearest soldiers, lowering her shoulder at the last minute to knock them back into their comrades. Using her sword and chakram, she laid into the soldiers around her, hacking and slashing at anyone who came near her. For every soldier she killed, two more took his place and Xena quickly found herself surrounded. By some unspoken agreement, the soldiers charged, knocking her off her feet.

“Gabrielle!” Xena screamed, as she disappeared under.


In the forest, Gabrielle was similarly surrounded. She had sustained numerous cuts on her arms and legs and her armour was shredded in a few places. She spun furiously in place, her katana a blur as she fought. A sword slipped through her defences, nicking her in the knee but Gabrielle was beyond pain. Rage drove her—insatiable rage.

All around her, the soldiers chanted, “Kill, kill, kill!” Gabrielle gritted her teeth, forcing herself to move faster. There was no way she was going down to these scumbags. No, she intended to kill them all. Maniacal laughter bubbled out of her as she drew blood, her katana slicing through a soldier’s armour like a hot knife through butter.

“Gabrielle!” The scream silenced the constant chant around her and cut through her rage-induced haze. An image flashed before her, of her best friend down on one knee, pleading for the gods—anyone—to please, please, not let the light in Gabrielle’s soul go out.

Blinking, as if having been awoken from a spell, the bard muttered, “Xena?”

The distraction cost her. A sword raked across her ribs before she managed to spin away, the pain rekindling the rage that was simmering within her and she launched into a counterattack. She cut another soldier down before Xena’s voice was in her head again.

Xena: “Do you remember that poem, ‘Elysian Fields’, you used to like so much? Every time you feel angry, I want you to recite it.”

XWP Season 2 Episode 8: Ten Little Warlords

Gabrielle parried a blow aimed at her head then ducked another as she recited out loud, “Elysian fields, calm and green…“ She turned, ran up the trunk of a tree and vaulted over the heads of the soldiers that had her surrounded. Landing on the balls of her feet, Gabrielle immediately took off running, still reciting out loud, “Love birds singing, so serene…”

The soldiers chased after her but Gabrielle no longer had any desire to engage them. She sheathed her katana, picked up her pace and headed in the direction where her soulmate’s voice had come from.

“Wait for me, Xena. I’m coming.”


A logjam had appeared at the gate and the advancing army slowed to a near stop as the soldiers in the vanguard considered the human pile blocking their way. One of the soldiers started to climb over the pile and the rest quickly followed but they didn’t get far before the pile of bodies exploded upwards and outwards, sending the vanguard flying back into the rest of the army and forming a new logjam.

Xena was back on her feet, looking worse for the wear. Her left arm hung awkwardly at her side, dislocated when the mob of soldiers had jumped her and knocked her into the side of the gate. Bruises marred the left side of her face and her leather armour had been gashed wide open on that side. Her eyes resembled flints of blue-grey granite that promised death and destruction in equal measure to anyone who dared to stand before her.

“You’ll have to do better than that.” Xena snarled, spitting blood out of her mouth from where one of her teeth had cut her.

She nonchalantly threw herself against the side of the gate, angling her left shoulder in such a way that the impact popped the joint back into place. She shook her left arm to get it working right again and rolled her shoulders before raising her sword, holding it with both hands. “C’mon then,” Xena said, pointing her sword at the vanguard in invitation. When they duly obliged, she let out a bloodcurdling yell.

Midway through fighting off the first wave of soldiers, it dawned on her that there were no bodies on the ground. Curious, the warrior cut another soldier down, watching intently as the dead soldier turned into smoke. Moments later, the smoke solidified, leaving two soldiers standing where the dead soldier had been.

Son of a Bacchae! Xena swore. It hadn’t been a figment of her imagination the first time—the army was definitely multiplying. In a way, it was like fighting the hydra—cut off one head and two more would grow to replace it. The only way to kill a hyrdra was with fire. But she had no access to fire and it wasn’t likely the army would respond to fire the same way the hydra did.

Stopping an army was not the same as killing a hydra. As long as she did not kill anymore soldiers, the army would cease to increase its numbers. And that would be her first priority. Changing tactics, Xena dropped her sword and grabbed the arm of one of the soldiers. She pulled him towards her then swung him around, using him like a human club to knock the nearby soldiers off their feet. Once a space cleared in front of her, Xena waded in and proceeded to beat the vanguard into submission with her hands and feet.

The new tactic worked beautifully. Soldiers who had been knocked out remained on the floor and the fighting became increasingly manageable as the growing pile of bodies around Xena limited the number of soldiers able to engage her at any one time. While the tide had turned momentarily in her favour, she was mindful that the soldiers she’d knocked out earlier would rejoin the fight before the day was over. And it would take her more than a full day of fighting to subdue this army. Unless they surrendered or fled, neither of which appeared likely.

Sooner or later, something was going to give. And Xena suspected that something was her. The adrenaline that had sustained her thus far had long since run out and she was beginning to tire. It was only a matter of time before she failed—but not yet. There was one thing that kept her going, one thing that she held onto, a recurring chant in her mind: Gabrielle… Gabrielle…


Gabrielle ran through the forest, muttering the poem ‘Elysian Fields’ under her breath and utilising every skill Xena had taught her to elude her pursuers. She melted into the shadows just before the enemy came into view, timing her movements to slip through gaps in the enemy lines whenever she could, and standing still to avoid detection when she couldn’t.

On and on she ran, her katana still sheathed at her side. The bard had no idea where she was or where she was going. She only knew that she needed to find Xena. Cresting a small hill, she caught sight of a city wall below her. From her vantage point, she was unable to see beyond the wall but the gates were standing wide open and there was no sign of the army that had been hunting her in the forest.

The open gates promised sanctuary but it could just as easily be a trap. Gabrielle crouched behind a tree, undecided. The way she saw it, she had two choices: she could either stay in the forest and play hide and seek with the army or approach the gates and head into a possible trap. For all she knew, the walls could be hiding an army larger than the one she would be leaving behind in the forest.

One thing she was certain of: Xena wasn’t in the forest. If she had been, Gabrielle knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her soulmate would have found her. That left the city. So she started down the hill and towards whatever awaited her behind the city gates.

Stepping out of the forest and out onto the empty plains, Gabrielle felt vulnerable. It was dark and visibility was limited but she would still be out in the open without any cover. She jogged towards the gates, her senses on high alert. When she drew closer, she heard the sounds of a fierce battle raging on the other side. Her footsteps slowed and she drew her katana, holding it down by her side. Soon, she was close enough to peer through the gates but she could see nothing more than a pulsing light.

Confused, Gabrielle stopped and listened. Sounds of fighting could now be clearly heard coming from the open gates. Her heart skipped a beat when she heard a familiar ‘Yah! Yah!” from within, followed by an ululating battle cry.


Gabrielle ran.


A full day and night had passed since Gabrielle had succumbed to her soulmate’s affliction. In that time, the clan healer had managed to go through both the clan’s records and Bian Que’s medical journals with a fine tooth comb. He’d found records of soulmates falling sick within days of each other—much the same way Gabrielle and Xena had. Most of those had involved diseases that could be contracted through close contact or through some form of contaminant in their shared environment.

So while it had been postulated that the healthy soulmate could have contracted the disease through the soul-link, the healer was understandably sceptical until he came across the case of a patient who’d hit his head on a stone after falling off his horse. After the incident, the patient had complained of headaches but had not sought medical assistance. It wasn’t until he fell into a coma a few days later that Bian Que had been informed. On further examination, Bian Que determined that the patient had developed a brain bleed as a result of the fall. The excess blood in his head was putting too much pressure on the brain, causing further damage which resulted in the patient falling into a coma. Bian Que had drilled a hole into the patient’s skull to relieve the pressure and drain the excess blood. The patient made a full recovery shortly after.

This patient had a soulmate who’d been visiting with another clan at the time of his accident. The day after the patient fell into a coma, the soulmate was similarly stricken. According to the medical records provided by the other clan, the soulmate was in excellent health and there was no medical reason for her sudden collapse. The soulmate subsequently woke up, coincidentally on the same day the patient had.

All the soulmates who had fallen ill within days of each other had a common denominator—they reportedly had a very close relationship; closer than most soulmates. It was generally believed that the strength of the bond between soulmates was correlated with the strength of their relationship—the stronger the relationship, the stronger the bond.

In the case of the soulmates who had experimented with their soul-link, the healer suspected that they had inadvertently strengthened their bond to a point where it could no longer be controlled. That was likely what had happened to Xena and Gabrielle.

For their souls to have merged, the healer imagined that it would have made their soul-link re-form stronger and likely without the boundaries that were necessary to keep their souls distinct and separate from each other.

With everything he’d learned, the clan healer knew enough to reverse the effects of the poison in Xena—and in Gabrielle. Unfortunately, he needed Gabrielle’s help to do so. He could always use acupuncture to rouse the bard from her coma. But doing so in her current condition would be irresponsible, if not downright dangerous. Besides, even if he did wake Gabrielle, he would still need to teach her to put up shields between her soulmate and her; time they wouldn’t have.

What they really needed now was a cure, a cure that he could not provide. The Chin had a saying: Ailments of the heart can only be treated with heart medicine. Basically, it meant that physical ailments must be treated with physical medicine while heart ailments must be treated with medicine for the heart. Using that analogy, it meant that the soulmates could only be cured with magic medicine.

And that was something he had no access to. As he’d explained to Gabrielle, magic was forbidden to his people. It was a restriction placed upon them by the dragon kings to prevent them from becoming too powerful and possibly challenging the gods themselves. In the more than 5000 years he’d lived, the healer had never regretted their inability to practice the forbidden arts until now. If only there was another way!

But of course, there was. He could wake Xena. Everyone in Chin knew that the legendary warrior had inherited the power of Lao Ma and used it to singlehandedly defeat Khan’s ten-thousand strong army. It would be an easy matter to use that same power to purge the poison from their bodies and souls.

If she wasn’t afflicted with a virulent poison. The healer thought. Can she even call on Lao Ma’s powers in her current condition?

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. One of his assistants stood at the entrance of his study. “What is it?” He asked.

“Teacher,” The assistant greeted her mentor with a bow. “The golden one’s soulmate is deteriorating rapidly. I fear her time is at hand. Will you please come?”

The healer grabbed his medical kit off the table and was already heading out the door before his assistant had finished speaking.


“Alalala-lalalalai-sheeyah!” Xena yelled, somersaulting through the air. The pile of bodies in front of her was almost waist deep and interfering with her ability to move. She landed on top of the bodies, balancing precariously as the bodies shifted under her weight. Searching for a stable foothold, she stepped on the chest of a soldier and noticed something that had managed to escape her attention until now. Embedded in the breastplate of the soldier was a black stone.

Her eyes quickly scanned the soldiers around her, picking out the shape of the black stones where they were embedded into the breastplates. She’d seen something similar not too long ago—on the tyrant when he’d come to the Southern Forest clan to demand his annual tribute. The tyrant’s stone had pulsed with a dark light and emanated such a strong sense of wrongness that she’d immediately warned Gabrielle about it.

Her train of thought was interrupted by a soldier swinging a sword at her legs. Without hesitation, she jumped; tucking her legs under her and turning into a back flip to land behind the pile she’d been standing on. Thinking back on the fight with the tyrant, Xena recalled the web of darkness that had spread down Gabrielle’s arm like tendrils of poison—a darkness that had struck her with the same sense of wrongness as the stone.

Army. Soul-link. Black stone. Poison. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place for Xena.

Something had destabilised their soul-link, allowing bits and pieces of her soulmate to leak through. The poison, which Xena had absorbed into herself, had been drawn out by the bits and pieces of Gabrielle within her. It was uncertain whether the link had been breached by the poison, manifesting as this huge army; or by whatever had destabilised it in the first place. Regardless of how it had been breached, the poison was definitely using it to gain access to her soulmate.

Gabrielle was susceptible to the poison, Xena had witnessed it first-hand. Through sheer luck, or whatever this was, she had made it to their soul-link in time to stop most of the poison from reaching her soulmate. But this reprieve was short-lived. The moment was coming, sooner rather than later, when she would no longer be able to hold the gate. When that happened, Gabrielle would be completely at the mercy of the poison.

Knowing what she knew now, there was only one way to stop the poison and save Gabrielle. Love had stopped an army once. But Xena hadn’t felt the power of Lao Ma since she’d parted ways with K’ao Hsin. Even if, by some miracle, the power answered her call, she couldn’t control it—she never had. But it was the only option she had left. She needed to trust that the power of Lao Ma would protect the people she loved—just as it had done previously.

In the meantime, the vanguard had clambered up onto the human pile. When Xena realised this, she growled in exasperation, “I don’t have time for this!” To have any chance of success, she needed to focus—and she couldn’t do that with an entire army up in her face.

Xena flipped into a handstand, kicking out with her legs to clear the soldiers off the top of the pile. Once it was clear, she threw herself back up and over the makeshift field fortification. She needed to buy some breathing room and hopefully give herself enough time to reach the power of Lao Ma. “Alright boys, time to dance!”

“Is this a private party, or can anyone join?” Gabrielle asked, vaulting over the pile of bodies to reach her soulmate’s side.

“Gabrielle, what are you doing here?” Xena asked, giving the bard a one-arm hug while keeping an eye on the soldiers in front of them.

“I followed the sound of your voice.” Gabrielle said.

Xena rolled her eyes at the bard’s sardonic reply. “Lose the sword,” she said, as the soldiers charged at them.

While they fought, Xena opened her mind to Gabrielle, sharing everything she’d learned and her plan to call on Lao Ma’s power. The whole process took less than a heartbeat, much quicker than it would have taken if Xena had tried to explain everything with words, either telepathically or verbally.

Aloud, Xena asked, “Think you can hold them off?”

Gabrielle punched a soldier in the face, shaking her hand at the pain. It had been a while since she’d punched anyone with her bare fists. That was the reason she loved her sais, they gave her the flexibility of fighting hand-to-hand, but with an extra oomph and without the ouch. To Xena, she said, “I’ll do what I can.”

Xena nodded. She barrelled into the mob of soldiers and started laying into them with her head, fists, elbows, knees, and boots—whichever was most convenient. As each soldier fell, she picked them up and threw them in the approximate vicinity of Gabrielle, creating a reinforced position from which the bard would be able to fight freely without having to worry about facing more than one opponent or perhaps two at a time.

When she was done, Xena clapped a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and said, “Give me as much time as you can. But don’t push it. If you can’t hold them, call for me.”

At Gabrielle’s nod, Xena took a position between her soulmate and the gate, closed her eyes and took a deep breath to centre herself. Slowly but surely, she blocked out the sounds around her and focused her mind on everything Lao Ma had taught her.

“The entire world is driven by a will—blind and ruthless. In order to transcend the limitations of the physical world—one must cease desiring—and become what we desire.”

The world faded away and Xena felt the power of Lao Ma gathering all around her, surrounding her. “To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself—is to know the way.”

She reached out for the power. It was so close. But when she tried to grab hold of it, the power slid and slithered out of her grasp, time and again, like an elusive eel coated in slime. Frustration ate away at Xena. As she lost focus, Lao Ma’s power started to unravel and drift away.

Not ready to give up, she took another deep breath and centred herself, letting all her frustration and impatience drain out of her as she breathed out. Emptying herself of all her desires, Xena focused on Lao Ma’s power, calling it to her. It answered, just like before, the power building up around her once again.

“To achieve a perfect stillness, one must cease to will—and submit to the greater whole. If something can be imagined, it can also be realised.”

This was the final stage. But it was easier said than done. And yet, Xena had not come so far only to fail. Her time as a ghost had taught her much about ceasing to will and submitting to the greater whole. And she put those lessons to good use now. Between one breath and the next, she achieved perfect stillness.

That was when her plan started to unravel. A pained gasp from Gabrielle brought Xena abruptly back into the present. Her soulmate was skewered on the end of a sword, pushed back forcibly towards her. In an instant, her perfect stillness shattered into nothingness. Time had run out. She had failed.

But she wasn’t thinking about failure. She was thinking about her soulmate. Gabrielle needed her. When she did things she could not do. It was because of Gabrielle. The love they shared. It was stronger than either one of them. It transcended this world and this life. It endured through heaven and hell. Nothing could stop their love. Not an army. And certainly not death.

The power of Lao Ma crowded around her, buffeting her on all sides. She opened her arms wide, surrendering herself to it. “Love conquers all,” she intoned. The floodgates burst wide open and Lao Ma’s power rushed into her.

“Love conquers everything.” She reiterated. The four elemental powers of Lao Ma came at her call: wind, carrying her high into the air; fire, licking hungrily at her skin; water, rushing noisily below her feet; wood, sprouting into a gigantic tree.

“To love—is to live.” Xena declared as the power took complete control of her and the four elements were absorbed into her body. Fire raged within her veins, searing a path through her body and burning her from the inside out. Water filled her every pore, saturating her like a sponge and threatening to split her asunder. Wood scattered its seeds within her, their roots using her as sustenance and devouring her alive. Wind scoured her skin, turning her into tiny specks of dust and scattering her to the four winds.

As the four elemental powers coalesced into a ball of searing white light, it was as if someone had stuffed Xena full of black powder. She was the fuse, and Lao Ma’s power was the spark that would set her alight. ‘Gabrielle!” She screamed and the world exploded.


Entering the soulmates’ bedroom, the clan healer saw his chief assistant bent over Xena, an acupuncture needle in one hand. When his assistant moved to lift the unconscious warrior’s right arm, the healer yelled, “Stop! What do you think you are doing?”

Startled by the censure in the healer’s voice, Bi Dan, the chief assistant, dropped Xena’s limp arm and turned to give his mentor a deep bow. “Master, I was about to use acupuncture on the golden one’s soulmate.”

“By activating the heart meridian? You would have killed her!” The healer said, pushing Bi Dan roughly to the side. He leaned over to peer at the crystals he’d set up to monitor the soulmates’ condition.

“Master, she’s dying!” Bi Dan said, “Activating the heart meridian is the only chance of saving her!”

“Nonsense.” The healer waved Bi Dan over and pointed at the crystal showing Xena’s aura. “Tell me what you see.”

“The poison has reached her heart.” Bi Dan replied. “Death is imminent.”

“Did you look before you answered?” The healer asked, irritated at his chief assistant’s lack of understanding. He tapped the crystal and the image changed to show an overhead view of Xena’s body. Dark tendrils of the poison permeated all throughout the warrior’s body, concentrated mostly around her vital organs, including her heart and lungs. At first glance, it appeared that Bi Dan had been right in his assessment. But there was a reason he was still an assistant and not a full-fledged healer.

“You look but you do not see.” The healer chastised Bi Dan. “Focus on the patient, not the poison. Look at her aura. Can you see how strong and vital it is? This is not the aura of a person on their death bed.”

With the healer’s guidance, Bi Dan quickly realised the mistake he’d made. It was a novice mistake, one that he should not have made, given his seniority. He fell down at the feet of his mentor and prostrated himself. “Forgive me, Master.”

The healer looked down at his prized student, shaking his head in disappointment. He said, “Bi Dan, I had such high hopes for you. You will be stripped of your title as Chief Assistant. Return to your room and do some serious self-reflection.”

“I hear and obey, Master.” Bi Dan said. He kowtowed to his mentor three times, picked up his acupuncture kit and left the room.

Once Bi Dan had left, the healer returned his attention to his patients. Both appeared to be in a stable condition despite their affliction and he was quietly optimistic when Gabrielle suddenly gasped in pain. Though unconscious, the bard clutched at her chest, in obvious physical distress.

He picked up Gabrielle’s hand, placing three fingers on her wrist to palpate her pulse—which alternated between being thready and strong. Baffled, he checked Gabrielle’s crystal but did not detect any change. He glanced over at Xena, thinking that the bard could be reacting to something that was happening to her soulmate. A flash of light on Xena’s aura monitor caught his attention and he instinctively raised his hand to shield his eyes as a searing white light suddenly filled the room.

When the light had gone, the bedroom appeared undisturbed. The healer checked on his patients. They were still unconscious. He first looked at Gabrielle’s aura monitor, then Xena’s. Then he checked them over once again without using the crystals.

He could hardly believe his eyes. The poison was gone. There wasn’t a single streak of black in either of their auras.

That white light must have purged the poison from their bodies. He thought. Did Xena use the power of Lao Ma to cleanse the poison?

Just then, Gabrielle stirred. The bard pushed herself up into a sitting position and appeared disoriented.

The healer moved over to Gabrielle’s side of the bed and said by way of greeting, “You’re awake.”

Gabrielle had to clear her throat a few times before she could get out the words, “I had the strangest dream.” She glanced over at her soulmate and remembered that she was supposed to be looking for ways to help Xena. She scooted over to the side of the bed and was about to climb out of it when the healer stopped her.

“You have been in a coma since last night. You need to rest.” He said.

“You mean it wasn’t a dream?” Gabrielle scrambled over to Xena’s side. The warrior no longer looked like death warmed over. Instead, she appeared to be in a deep but peaceful slumber.

Not wanting to wake her soulmate, she gently stroked the warrior’s face. Xena’s skin was warm and smooth under her fingers. She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding and said, “Xena was going to use Lao Ma’s power to destroy the poison. I couldn’t buy her more time… but I guess it was enough.”

“It seems she was successful.” The healer said, pleased that his suspicions had been confirmed. “But I would like to monitor both of you for the next few days just to be sure. For now, get some rest.  I will ask the kitchen to send some chicken soup over.”

Gabrielle nodded absently, still staring at the sleeping Xena. “I rarely see her sleep so soundly.”

“She’s probably tired from using the power of Lao Ma.” The healer reassured her. “Rest, I will check on both of you tomorrow.” He bowed and left.

When they were alone, Gabrielle leaned down and kissed Xena on the lips. “Thank you.” She whispered to her soulmate.

Sky blue eyes blinked blearily up at her and Xena mumbled in response, “Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You’re awake.” Gabrielle said in surprise.

“Had to make sure you’re alright.” Xena said.

Gabrielle took the warrior’s hand in both of hers, pressed it against her face and said, “Thanks to you.”

“You got hurt ‘cos of me.” Xena said, lifting her free hand to cup Gabrielle’s other cheek.

“No, you silly goose,” Gabrielle said, leaning into Xena’s hand then kissing it. “I’m alive because of you.”

“That’s something.” Xena agreed sleepily. Her eyelids felt weighted down with a dozen horseshoes and she was having trouble keeping her eyes open. Caught between sleep and wakefulness, she muttered, “I love you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle gave her soulmate a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you, Xena. Sleep. I’ll be here when you wake.”

“Alright.” Xena mumbled before finally succumbing to the yawning exhaustion that had been threatening to swallow her up.


When Xena woke next, Gabrielle was nowhere to be seen. But she could hear the bard splashing around in the bath up front. She swung her legs off the bed, took a long pull from a wineskin that was conveniently hanging beside her, and headed towards the long bamboo screen that hid the bath from her view.

The bard was lounging against the side of the huge bath, submerged in water all the way up to her neck. Her eyes were closed and she was obviously luxuriating in the feel of the warm water jets against her skin. From the smell, it appeared that lavender bath oil had been added into the water. Gabrielle looked happy and at peace, a sight that brought a smile to Xena’s face. Moments like these—when they were not fighting for their lives or trying to overcome some obstacle that the world delighted in throwing their way—were rare.

“Want some company?” Xena asked.

“I was waiting for you to show up,” Gabrielle said, smiling contentedly at her soulmate.

Xena did not need a second invitation. She shimmied out of her linen shift, leaving it where it lay by the side of the bamboo screen and eased herself into the water next to her soulmate. Some of the stiffness left her body as the warm water jets worked their magic. She ducked under the water, holding her breath, and enjoying the warmth all around her until a hand reached down to grab her.

Gabrielle pulled her soulmate out of the water and back beside her. “Wouldn’t want you to drown.” She said drolly.

“Not a chance.” Xena retorted. Picking up the wash cloth from the side of the bath, she asked, “Want me to do your back?”

“Yeah, it probably needs a good cleaning. Been a while.” Gabrielle said. She pushed herself away from the side of the bath and moved in front of her soulmate. Xena immediately set to work with the wash cloth, scrubbing vigorously at the back of Gabrielle’s neck, then the top of her shoulders, and down her back.

“How long was I out?” Xena asked.

“Two days—you’ve been sleeping for two whole days. I was afraid you were gonna turn into sleeping beauty.” Gabrielle replied.

Xena rubbed behind Gabrielle’s ears then picked up a bar of soap and commenced rubbing it all over the bard. “Nah, you’re the sleeping beauty in this partnership.” Xena quipped, referring to her soulmate’s year-long sleep in the Norse Lands.

“Did you forget the 25 years we slept after Ares sealed us inside that ice cave?” Gabrielle said, fidgeting and giggling as Xena stuck the wash cloth inside her left ear to clean it.

“We weren’t asleep. We were frozen.” Xena said. She ran the wash cloth one last time across her soulmate’s back. Satisfied, she said, “Now, your hair.”

Gabrielle ducked under the water and resurfaced so that the warrior could work the shampoo into her wet hair. She let out a tiny moan of pleasure at the feel of Xena’s long fingers massaging her scalp. “I love when you do that.”

Xena let out a low sensual chuckle and whispered seductively in the bard’s ear, “I aim but to please—Ga-bri-elle.”

Gabrielle shivered at the feel of Xena’s breath in her ear. Ignoring the shampoo still in her hair, she turned around to face her soulmate. “Gods Xena, I have missed you.”

An arched eyebrow greeted her statement. Mischievous blue eyes full of mirth and life held her spellbound as the warrior leaned in close and murmured, “You mean you miss… this…” Xena captured Gabrielle’s lips with her own, causing the bard to turn into putty in her hands.

When they finally came up for air, Gabrielle agreed breathlessly, “That too.”

They locked lips again. Gabrielle ran her hands down the warrior’s body, feeling the toned muscles of her soulmate tensed and relaxed against her. A callused hand brushed lightly over her nipple, sending a lightning bolt of desire shooting through her body. She moaned into Xena’s mouth.

“So sensitive.” Xena murmured. She bent down and closed her mouth over Gabrielle’s other nipple, teasing it back and forth with her lips, tongue and teeth.

“Too much?” Xena asked when the bard shivered again.

Gabrielle’s normally forest green eyes had gone dark with desire. She arched her body against Xena, wanting more, needing more, and knowing that she did not need to say anything.

Xena lifted Gabrielle onto the edge of the bath. She kissed her soulmate again, their tongues duelling hungrily with each other as she cupped Gabrielle’s womanhood with her right hand.

Arms around her soulmate’s neck, Gabrielle bit down on Xena’s lower lip as she ground herself against the warrior’s callused hand. A moan escaped her lips when the hand glided across the entrance to her womanhood, one finger extended slightly so that it dipped—almost teasingly—within her folds.

At some unspoken signal, the soulmates began moving in tandem, a familiar dance that they had perfected throughout the years, building up pleasure and tension in equal measure. One moment, Gabrielle was as tightly wound as a badly strung harp, ready to snap at the slightest touch. In the next, she was pushed over the edge and freefalling. She screamed as the first orgasm ripped through her. And Xena was right there with her, echoing her pleasure.

The subsequent orgasms came fast and furious but the final orgasm caught them both off guard, seeming to last forever in a never-ending loop of positive feedback from Gabrielle to Xena and back again. When they finally rode it all the way to the end, the soulmates collapsed against the side of the bath, thoroughly spent.

“What was that?” Gabrielle asked once she’d managed to get her breathing under some semblance of control.

“Guess our soul-link’s still broken.” Xena said.

To Gabrielle’s unspoken question, Xena answered, “I felt your arousal, your orgasm. It was like—I was you and I was also me; at the same time.”

“Sounds intense.”

“You don’t say.”

“I only felt the one at the end. And that was intense. Are all your orgasms like that?” Gabrielle said.

“Was there a question in there somewhere?”

“Apparently not.” Gabrielle muttered. Louder, she said, “The clan healer doesn’t think our soul-link is broken, it just re-formed without the usual boundaries.”

“That’s not good.”

“It’s not all bad.” Gabrielle said. “He believes we’ll be fine if we put up some metaphysical shields to keep our soul-link under control. I spent the whole of yesterday learning how to do it.”

“Well, it’s not working.” Xena observed matter-of-factly.

Gabrielle shrugged somewhat sheepishly. “I still haven’t gotten the hang of it. It’s more miss than hit at the moment. I’ll teach you and we can practice together.”

“I always have my shields up. But I obviously need to do a better job if you felt that last orgasm.” Xena said.

“I didn’t know you knew how to shield. Is that why I haven’t been as affected as you have?”

“Lao Ma taught me.” Xena replied. “After a while, it becomes as natural as breathing. It’s easy. I’ll help you.”

“Okay, my turn to do your back.” Gabrielle said, picking up the wash cloth where Xena had left it.

“You still have shampoo in your hair.” Xena pointed out.

“Oh.” Gabrielle ducked her head under the water and washed the remaining shampoo out of her hair. “Your turn.”

Xena lowered herself into a crouch in front of her soulmate, giving the bard easy access to her back. As Gabrielle scrubbed away at five days’ worth of filth, Xena asked, “How’s the plan coming along?”

“It’s not as if I had the time to move the plan along.” Gabrielle huffed, slapping playfully at the warrior with the wash cloth.

“Too long and they’re gonna forget about the Amazons. You ready for the second part of the story tonight?” Xena said.

“I’m ready if you are.”

“Gabrielle, you’re the one doing all the heavy lifting. I just… move things along…”

“I’m glad you appreciate my hard work.”

Xena turned and pressed a kiss to her soulmate’s lips. “Gabrielle, I always appreciate you.”

Gabrielle laughed, pushing the warrior away. “Xena, Stop that. Or we’ll never get out of the bath.”

“And that is a bad thing?” The warrior asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.


“Fine.” The warrior grumbled, turning around so Gabrielle could finish washing her back.


“And that is how the warrior princess helped a peasant girl from Potidaea become the Queen of Amazons.” Gabrielle bowed to the audience and hopped off the stage to enthusiastic applause and cheers.

“I think that went well,” Gabrielle said as she took a seat beside Xena.

Xena gave the bard a one armed hug, then grabbed her flagon of ale and stood up. She raised her flagon high above her head and when she had everyone’s attention, she spoke loud enough so that the entire clan could hear her. “May I propose a toast to Gabrielle—Warrior Bard of Potidaea, Queen of the Amazon Nation, and love of my life!”

“Hear, hear!” The dragons chorused, coming to their feet and lifting up their own drinks in a toast to the woman who had saved their clan.

Gabrielle was so taken aback by Xena’s public toast that she remained frozen in her seat, like a deer that had been caught out in the open and did not know whether to stay or flee. Grinning broadly, Xena bent down, grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to her feet.

Blushing, Gabrielle grabbed her own drink and raised it above her head in acknowledgement.

“Hear, hear!” The dragons roared again and everyone threw back their drinks before slapping the empty tankards down on the table.

“Kiss!” Someone shouted from behind them.

Gabrielle looked startled. Xena laughed.

The clan members banged their empty tankards on the table in unison, chanting, “Kiss, kiss, kiss!”

Hands still around Gabrielle’s waist, Xena turned so that they were face to face. She bent her head towards her soulmate, her eyes already dark with desire and asked quietly, “Shall we?”

“We are so going to have words about this—later.” Gabrielle said, lifting herself up onto her tippy-toes and claiming Xena’s lips with her own.

Catcalls and hoots of approval sounded all around them but the soulmates ignored it all. Xena pulled Gabrielle against her so that the bard’s calves would not develop a cramp from holding the position for too long. Gabrielle had her hands hooked in Xena’s breastplate which she used to pull the warrior down to her.

When the kiss finally ended, Xena had a Cheshire cat grin on her face. Seeing the look, Gabrielle felt like a canary that had unwittingly flown within reach of a very hungry and very dangerous cat.

Xena swept Gabrielle up into her arms. “I’m just getting started.” She whispered to the bard, the tone of her voice promising a great many things.

Loud cheers and catcalls followed them as Xena carried a mortified Gabrielle in the direction of their bedroom.


They were sprawled out on the bed, naked as the day they were born. Xena’s armour was in a neat heap nearby while Gabrielle’s clothes were scattered all over the room. Their boots lay discarded at the side of the bed where they’d kicked them off earlier. Xena had a smug grin on her face while Gabrielle stared blankly into space—yet to recover her senses from the intense session she’d just been put through.

Xena rolled off the bed and padded across to the doorway where she picked up Gabrielle’s top. She retrieved an armband from under the bed then crept along the wooden floor like a spider, plastering herself flat on the floor in front of a chest of drawers. Reaching into the narrow space underneath, she managed to snag a vambrace using her index and middle fingers like a pair of chopsticks. The other vambrace was propped crookedly against the wall behind the bed. She gathered Gabrielle’s skirt from where it hung precariously on top of the bamboo screen, before going behind the screen to fish the bard’s soaking wet undergarments from the bath.

She draped the undergarments over a drying rack and dropped the rest onto one of the chairs. At the fireplace, Xena quickly started a fire, adding a couple of logs to keep the fire stoked. She moved the drying rack in front and was heading back to the bed when she spun around and carefully lifted the bard’s other armband off the tip of the fire poker. She deposited it with the rest of Gabrielle’s stuff then picked her armour off the floor.

After putting on her linen shift, she pulled up a chair and began cleaning her weapons and armour. As a warrior, her armour and weapons were her bread and butter. She always took good care of them, circumstances willing. And she definitely had time now. It would take Gabrielle a while to regain her senses.  Xena had made doubly sure of that. She finished attending to her sword and was cleaning her chakram when her soulmate finally stirred


Xena smirked at the breathless wonder in Gabrielle’s voice but continued her cleaning routine. She raised the weapon to the firelight. Spotting a smudge of dirt on the handle, she twisted it apart and ran the cloth over both sides of the handle before carefully rubbing some oil on both halves. Once she was satisfied, she popped the two halves back together and started on her breastplate.

“Xena, have you seen my undergarments?” Gabrielle asked.

“They landed in the bath.”

“I should’ve known.” Gabrielle said, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Xena, why do you always do that? You can calculate angles with one glance and throw your chakram with deadly precision but you cannot keep my clothes out of the water. I’m starting to think it’s not an accident.”

Xena used her breastplate to hide the smile playing on her lips. Aloud she said as way of explanation, “I had more important things on my mind.”

“Xena, I can hear the smile in your voice.” Gabrielle harrumphed. “You’re a rapscallion. But you’re MY rapscallion. Now… what am I going to wear tonight?”

“Look in the top right corner of the drawer.” Xena told her.

Gabrielle padded over to the drawer. Along the way, she passed the chair on which her clothes had been placed. “I see you found my clothes. Thanks. Saves me the trouble of hunting them down.” She pulled open the drawer and looked in the top right corner. And there they were—her spare set of undergarments—exactly where Xena said they would be. “Hmm… I could’ve sworn they weren’t there this morning.” She muttered.

“That’s cos I just put ‘em there. Xena said.

More comfortable now that she was dressed, Gabrielle pulled a chair over and sat down next to her soulmate. She too had grabbed oil and cloth and set about cleaning her sais and armour. She wasn’t as fastidious about her equipment as Xena but it was a habit they’d developed during their time in the dragon clan village. It reminded her of their days on the road, when they would sit around the campfire, Xena sharpening her sword while Gabrielle talked about whatever was on her mind.

“So… you planned this…” Gabrielle said.

“I figured we were gonna have another roll in the hay before the day was over.”

Gabrielle could not fault Xena’s logic. But, they didn’t just have a roll in the hay. “And the pony and horse show?

“What show?”

“Xena, don’t pull the dumb warrior routine with me. You know what I mean.”

“Is this where we have words?” Xena asked, checking the straps on her breastplate before carefully putting it to one side. She picked up one of her epaulets and examined it.

“Yes, this is where we have words. Xena, you can’t put on a show like that and expect me to say nothing.”

“I was just reminding everyone who you were.”

“You mean you were staking your claim… on me.” Gabrielle said.

Xena stopped rubbing oil into her epaulet, looked up at her younger partner and said with all sincerity, “Gabrielle, I’ve no claim on you. I was just—reminding everyone that you are the love of my life.”

“And why would you need to do that? Everyone knows we are soulmates.”

“Soulmates are not always exclusive.” Xena said. “Gabrielle, when you tell stories, you come alive. You’ve this glow that captivates people and draws them to you.” She fiddled with the epaulet in her hands, a nervous tic of hers that Gabrielle was very familiar with. “I saw how some of ‘em were looking at you.”

Gabrielle placed her hand on the warrior’s arm. “Xena, I don’t care how anyone looks at me—except you. Besides, don’t think I haven’t seen the looks you’ve been getting when they think I’m not looking.”

“You don’t have to worry about that.” Xena told her. “You are their deliverer. No one’s gonna touch your soulmate.”

“Xena, I wouldn’t have defeated the tyrant if you hadn’t stepped in to save the day.”

“You’re the Chosen one, Gabrielle, not me. As your soulmate, I’m off limits to the dragons, but you aren’t. Even before you started doing the bard thing, you already had many admirers, especially amongst the warriors. But I’ve earned enough of their respect that they’ll not make a move on you. Can’t say the same about the scholars though.”

Gabrielle looked at her soulmate in surprise. Everything Xena had just said was news to her. “You weren’t just sparring for fun?”

Xena shrugged. “Started out that way. But when I found out how many of them thought it’d be an honour to bed the Chosen one, I decided to show ‘em who they were messing with.”

“So it’s about sex.”

“Isn’t it always?”

“Right.” Gabrielle said.

Having finished with her armour, Xena stood up and cleared everything away. She stood there for a moment, debating with herself before saying quietly, “Gabrielle, I’m sorry for earlier. You belong to yourself. If you want to take a lover, I won’t stand in the way.”

“I’m a little tired. I’m going to bed.” Xena said before leaving the bard still seated in front of the fireplace.

“What’s gotten into her today?” Gabrielle mumbled to herself. She put her armour aside and hurried after her soulmate. “Hey Xena, wait up.”


It was still dark when Xena snuck out of their bedroom. Dawn was a good hour away and the clan village was quiet. In a few minutes, the cooks and the early risers would be up. But until then, she could move around unobserved, as long as she avoided the guards on night patrol. The warrior headed for the back of the village, keeping as much to the shadows as she could before slipping into the surrounding forest.

Three weeks was a long time to be staying in the same place, especially for a nomad like Xena. She’d spent much of the time familiarising herself with the territory that surrounded the clan village. Now, she used that knowledge to locate the river, following it to the edge of the cliff where it tumbled down into a steep ravine.

Near the river was a huge tree that must have been thousands of years old. Xena grabbed hold of one of its roots and lowered herself over the cliff edge. When she reached the end of the root, she used her hands and feet to feel around for suitable handholds and footholds, making her way down the cliff much like a human spider would have. By the time she reached the bottom, the first rays of light had crept across the sky, dispelling the darkness of night. She dusted the dirt off her hands then thought better of it and went to wash them in the river.

The water was cool and refreshing. Xena cupped her hands together and took a drink. She hadn’t brought a wineskin with her and all that climbing was thirsty work. After she was done slaking her thirst, she headed to the nearby meadow. There, she easily found what she was looking for, a clump of dark purplish blue flowers swaying gently in the cool morning breeze. The Chin version looked very similar to its Greek cousin. Xena had no doubt she was looking at what the Chin called ‘fuzi’—what she knew as wolfsbane.

Using a stick, she dug around the plant, careful not to touch it with her hands. The plant was highly poisonous and any contact with her bare skin would be enough to poison her. Xena wasn’t interested in the leaves, or the flowers. She was here solely for the roots.

Once she had uncovered the roots, which looked like tiny brown carrots, she took out her dagger and cut them free, using the stick to avoid touching them directly. When she was done, she stuck her dagger into the ground and wiped it off thoroughly using leaves from a nearby tree. She glanced up at the sky, estimating that she had an hour before Gabrielle woke. If she hurried, she would be able to make it back to the village before then.

Less than an hour later, the extraction process was complete. Xena carefully poured the wolfsbane extract into the glass vial she’d prepared beforehand. After stoppering the vial, and ensuring that it would not accidentally spill its precious contents, she hid it in a small crevice near the back of a cave before heading back.


A gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead. All around them, birds chirped away without a care in the world. Xena and Gabrielle were seated cross-legged in a small clearing a short distance away from the village. Both of them had their eyes closed and were taking slow deep breaths to help them achieve a meditative state.

“I’m ready.” Gabrielle said.

“Imagine building a fortress around you.”

“A fortress?”

“Or…” Xena hunted around for a better analogy, “Walls. Whatever works.”

“Like the walls I saw around our soul-link in your dreamscape? Okay. Walls… I can do walls.” Gabrielle imagined building a wall around herself. It was slow going, the stones materialising one by one around her. At that rate, they were probably going to be there the whole day. “Uh… Is there a way to speed this up?”

“Gabrielle, you don’t have to physically build the wall. Try having them just drop around you, like the curtains at the end of a play.”

“Right.” The familiar analogy helped speed things up significantly and Gabrielle had her walls up in no time. The thick stone walls hemmed her in on all sides. She felt as if she was trapped in a stone sarcophagus. “I hate tight spaces.”

“The walls are there to stop anything from getting out or getting in, kinda how walls work for a city under siege.” Xena said. “They don’t have to be close to you.”

Gabrielle thought of the wall she’d seen in Xena’s dreamscape. That wall had stretched as far as her eye could see and as high as the great wall of Chin. She mentally adjusted her walls to something more comfortable—like the ones that had surrounded her home town, Potidaea. “Got it.”

“Now hold them there. You want those walls to be permanent.” Xena told her.  If you can keep them up for the next half hour, we can move on to the next step.”

The two women lapsed into a comfortable silence—Gabrielle focusing on keeping her shields up, and Xena brooding over an entirely different matter altogether.

Under normal circumstances, Xena had no problems maintaining her shields. She was more concerned about how well her shields would hold up in certain situations. It was clear that her shields could slip when she was caught in the throes of an orgasm. But it wasn’t clear how they would fare if she was seriously injured or incapacitated. Given her fighting style, it was normal for her to take quite a bit of punishment, especially when she was up against someone who could whoop her ass. And injuries were a common occurrence. She couldn’t afford for her shields to slip whenever she sustained an injury or was severely beat up, because if that happened, it would distract Gabrielle.

The bard fought defensively. That was how Xena had taught her and it was also the style that suited Gabrielle best. Her soulmate was smaller than the average person and could not afford to take too many hits. By fighting defensively, the bard could avoid getting hit while taking advantage of her quick reflexes. But it also meant that Gabrielle could not afford any distractions. Distractions meant getting hit. Xena did not mind taking chances or risks when it came to herself but she was averse to doing the same when it came to her soulmate.

She took some comfort that her new and improved shields had held through their intense lovemaking session this morning. But she needed to make sure they held when push came to shove and they were neck deep in centaur crap. That was not something she was willing to leave to chance. There was little enough margin for error when they were on the road, they did not need their soul-link adding to the equation.

A marsh tit alighted on a branch above Gabrielle’s head. It hopped along the branch to a flower and swung itself over, hanging by one leg so that it could snap at an insect inside the flower. Following the little snack, it launched into a very loud and assertive call, “titi-zee-zee-zee”.

Xena opened one eye to stare at it. Alarmed, the marsh tit exploded into a loud “pit-chew pitz-its-its”. It repeated the call again. This time, Xena opened her other eye and glared daggers at the little bird. Having obviously had its fill of warrior princess for the day, the marsh tit gave another “pit-chew pitz-its-its” before finding a safer place to hang out. Satisfied, Xena closed her eyes and peace returned to the clearing.

When Xena gauged enough time had passed, she called to her soulmate through their bond. Gabrielle.

Xena? Gabrielle responded immediately. Her shields did not seem to be interfering with her ability to communicate via their soul-link.

Are your walls still up?

They are. Not even a wobble. Gabrielle’s pride at the achievement came through loud and clear.

Good. Now, think of something you feel strongly about. Don’t share it with me.

There was only one thing that came to Gabrielle’s mind. This morning—the thought brought a dreamy smile to her face.

Gabrielle… Stop thinking about sex…

I can’t help it, Xena. You know how I feel about… Wait… You weren’t supposed to know that. Oops. I didn’t see that door there. Guess I didn’t close it. Let me try again.

Make sure you think of something else this time.

How about now?


Guess I got the hang of it.

What were you thinking about?


How is that a strong emotion?

Xena, you know how I’m with food.

Gabrielle, I don’t think that counts. But at least we are getting somewhere. Now try it with your eyes open.

In the next two hours, Xena had Gabrielle maintain her shields and communicate through their soul-link while simultaneously running; trying to balance a peach on her head; doing handstands; executing a back flip; practicing with her sais; engaging in light sparring; taking on Xena in a full-on fight. All in all, the bard fared fairly well. She managed to hold onto her shields through all of the activities except the last.

“You’re doing well, Gabrielle. We’ll continue after lunch.” Xena opened the cloth bundle containing the food she’d packed for them earlier that morning. Compared to the fare they’d been enjoying at the clan village, this was fairly simple, more in line with what they were used to having on the road.

Gabrielle plopped down beside her soulmate and picked up a chunk of bread. She dribbled some olive oil on it then threw a hunk of cheese on top. “This brings back fond memories.”

“We will be back on the road before you know it,” Xena said, biting into the peach Gabrielle had been balancing on her head earlier.

“I never thought I would miss all the traveling, but I do.” Gabrielle said, picking up another chunk of bread.

“Kinda grows on you.” Xena agreed. She finished the peach and threw the pit over her shoulder.

Gabrielle broke off another chunk of bread and offered it to her soulmate but the warrior shook her head. “You can have it.” Xena told her.

“Xena, you ate a few olives for breakfast and now a peach for lunch? Are you on a diet or something?” Gabrielle asked, concerned. Her soulmate generally had a healthy appetite, not as healthy as hers, but still, this was a woman who got cranky if she missed breakfast.

“I just have a lot on my mind,” Xena said.

Gabrielle placed her hand on her soulmate’s knee and said, “You know you can talk to me about anything.”

Xena gave the bard a crooked smile. “I know. Now eat up so we can get back to work.”


Later that night, long after Gabrielle had fallen into a deep contented sleep, Xena slipped out of bed and got dressed. She could leave before the crack of dawn but the chances of Gabrielle noticing anything amiss would be lower if she was fast asleep when Xena did what she had to do.

The warrior took a full wineskin from the foot of the bed and hung it on her belt. She then pulled a piece of parchment from her vambrace and placed it on the bedside table, weighing it down on the corners so that Gabrielle would see her note when she woke in the morning. Xena took one last look at her soulmate, grabbed her bedroll and an unlit torch and walked out the door.

Xena hadn’t been lying when she said she had a lot on her mind. But they were not the kind of things that she wanted to talk to her soulmate about. Years before, Najara had told her that hurting Gabrielle was her job. Najara had been right—she was forever making the wrong decision when it came to the bard. And Gabrielle always ended up getting hurt; even though that was never her intention.

Her decision to stay dead in Jappa had almost cost Gabrielle her life. It was true she hadn’t known about their soul bond. But even without taking that into account, she’d still hurt the bard. As evidenced by the nightmares that had plagued Gabrielle after Jappa and the haunted look on her face every time she was reminded of Xena’s decapitated body.

Then her attempt to sever their soul-link and save Gabrielle from dying at the tyrant’s hands had backfired. Their bond had reformed even stronger than before. Not only would Gabrielle die if she did, they were no longer in control of what they shared through their bond. As a result, Gabrielle had nearly died after succumbing to the poison Xena thought she’d successfully neutralised. Now she had to contend with not just her death, but also her injuries negatively impacting the bard. If she couldn’t find a solution, she wouldn’t be able to continue fighting. As a warrior, she could not afford to hesitate or doubt herself in the heat of a battle. That would be suicide.

All of that was before taking into consideration what she’d done when she thought she would never see Gabrielle again, in this life or in any other lives after. Now that she was alive, it was an added complication they did not need. She didn’t even know how to broach the subject with her soulmate. The problem was—Xena wasn’t even sure if she’d done what she thought she had. Was it any wonder then that her mind was so messed up?

Xena slipped into the shadows as the night patrol passed by mere inches from where she had been standing. Once they were safely past, she retraced her steps from earlier that day, making her way down the cliff face by feel alone. She entered the cave where she’d hidden the vial of wolfsbane and lit the torch. Retrieving the vial, she squeezed herself through a narrow crack near the back of the cave. It was a tight fit initially but the crack gradually widened before opening up into a small cavern.

The cavern was big enough for Xena to lay out her bedroll and still have space for her to walk around. She wedged the torch in between some rocks at the back of the cavern so that the light could not be seen from the main cave. She then laid out her bedroll and placed the wineskin next to it. Next, she unstrapped her scabbard from her back and placed it within easy reach on the right. Her chakram went under the blanket she would be using as a pillow.

She paused then stripped off her armour, placing them in a neat pile on the left. Chances were she would not have time to put on her armour if there was a threat. But Xena didn’t really need her armour, or her weapons. She’d brought them along because leaving them in the room would have only caused Gabrielle to immediately suspect something was amiss. No, her soulmate must never find out that Xena had come here to die.

Dressed in only her undergarments, she sat down on her bedroll, picked up the glass vial and examined it in the flickering light of the torch. There was enough wolfsbane in there to kill a grown centaur so there was definitely enough to kill her. She had been contemplating the best way to do this ever since she’d woken from her deep sleep the day before.

Her first thought had been to enlist the help of Ci Nu to recreate a scenario where Xena would be beaten within an inch of her life. It would arguably be the best way to test out her shields and the strength of their soul-link. But she had quickly nixed the idea. There was no guarantee that Ci Nu would keep her plans secret from Gabrielle. And getting beaten to a pulp would leave very visible signs—signs that her soulmate would be blind to miss. Xena would have had to explain them away and she could imagine how badly that conversation would have gone.

Next, she had thought of using the local fauna. Chin was home to a number of highly poisonous snakes, one of which—the Chin cobra—could be found within this very forest. Antidotes for snake bites were readily available. She could have easily gotten some from the clan apothecary or even from one of the nearby human settlements. But there was a little problem. Cobra venom caused necrosis of the flesh. If the antidote was administered too late, there was a chance, however minor, that she could lose a limb or end up permanently crippled. For a warrior, that was a fate worse than death. To prevent that from happening, the antidote had to be administered almost immediately, which would defeat the purpose of what Xena was trying to achieve.

Finally, she had looked to the local flora. She wasn’t as familiar with the herbs in Chin as she was with those back in Greece. But she had recognised the wolfsbane immediately when she’d spotted it on one of her exploration trips. The distinctive shape and colour of the flowers were a dead giveaway. She was well-acquainted with the plant. It was widely used in Greece as a poison.

Once upon a time, every spear, arrow, sword, and javelin in Greece had been coated with wolfsbane. Her armies had used it in her warlord days and she had been on the wrong end of the poison on more than one occasion. Two of those had come on the battlefield; one from a javelin that had barely grazed her thigh, the other had been an arrow she’d taken to her side. That second one had been a particularly nasty experience. The others had come from her enemies slipping the poison into her food and drinks in an attempt to take her out. Many of her army cooks had lost their lives in those failed attempts.

There was no antidote for wolfsbane. Exposure to enough wolfsbane was a death sentence—for anyone not named Xena. She had chosen the poison for a reason. She knew intimately how the poison worked and had even developed some resistance from her prior exposure. Most importantly, she had won more than one battle with the deadly poison—alone, with no one to help her and without an antidote to fall back on. Wolfsbane was her best chance of doing what she had to do and still come out at the end with her life. Plus, the poison would not leave any visible marks; nothing she would need to explain away.

Now, the only question that remained—was how? Should she ingest the poison or introduce it into her body through a cut? She was leaning towards the latter. She just needed to die, or at least come close enough to death so that she could find out if there was a way to sever their soul-link. Drinking wolfsbane caused nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. In short, it would be messy. Xena hoped to avoid messy; again, less explaining to do. That left only one option.

She pulled out a small dagger from her boot and made a tiny cut on her left wrist. She unstopped the glass vial, pouring the wolfsbane extract directly onto the cut before wrapping an oiled strip of cloth over it. Carefully stoppering the now empty vial, she placed it to one side, blew out the torch and lay down. The warrior did not want to take the off chance that someone would enter the cave and follow the light to her. It was imperative that she not be disturbed. Furthermore, leaving the torch lit would only cause smoke to build up in the cavern. It would be unfortunate if she were to die from suffocation before she had time to do what she’d come for.

Almost immediately, there was a tingling sensation at her wrist. The poison was already taking effect. It was faster than she’d expected—probably because she’d erred on the side of caution and given herself twice the normal dose. The cut on her wrist felt as if it was on fire and the tingling crept slowly up her left arm, to her elbow, then her bicep, and shoulder. Before a minute had passed, the tingling had spread throughout her entire body followed by the feel of ants crawling all over her. A few more heartbeats later, the tingling had been replaced with an unpleasant numbness—kind of the way it felt when her foot got trapped under her body for too long, causing it to fall asleep.

She could no longer feel her arm, nor could she lift it. Her body broke out into a cold sweat and her heart squeezed so hard that she felt sure it was going to burst. It was getting harder to breathe, her lungs stubbornly refusing to inflate. Her heart fluttered in her chest like a trapped butterfly, the beating of its wings growing weaker and weaker. With her last gasp, she whispered “Gabrielle” reflexively, almost as a prayer. And then the warrior fell silent and still. Her chest no longer rose or fell and she had no discernible heartbeat. Xena, the warrior princess, was dead.

Barely an hour had passed since Xena had left. The clan village was quiet and Gabrielle was sound asleep. She twitched and as if in answer to a phantom voice calling her name, mumbled, “Xena.” Invisible to the naked eye and unobserved by anyone, her soul bond with Xena flickered, like a torch being buffeted by a strong wind. This continued for a few minutes before the bond dimmed completely. It flared to life and then dimmed; vacillating between the two until with an almost audible ‘pop’, it disappeared.

Perhaps sensing something was wrong, Gabrielle tossed and turned in the bed but she did not wake. Instead, she was caught in a dream—of Xena kneeling in front of her, blood streaming from her nose after putting the pinch on herself, those earnest baby blue eyes looking right into her soul, as if willing her to understand. “Xena… stop this… stop it. Stop… Please stop…” Gabrielle muttered in her sleep.


The sun was high in the sky when Gabrielle finally stirred. She sat up in the bed, leaned back on her hands and stretched her back and neck. Turning her head to one side, she popped the vertebrae there before repeating the action on the other side. She rubbed the back of her neck gingerly and wondered why it felt as if she’d been sleeping on a rock the whole night.

She climbed stiffly off the bed and stretched, trying to work out the kinks in her back and neck. Xena would be back soon from her early morning routine. Gabrielle imagined the feel of her soulmate’s long tapered fingers against her neck and smiled. There were definitely perks to having someone with many skills as a partner, in every sense of the word.

She puttered around the room, gathering her clothes and debating whether she should get dressed. It was no longer early and it was unlike Xena to be late. Her soulmate usually made it a point to be back in time for a little romp in the bed before breakfast. At the thought of breakfast, her stomach growled unhappily, an unnecessary reminder that it was past their usual meal time. Gabrielle slipped into her clothes and was in the process of putting on her boots when an unexpected sight gave her pause.

From where she was seated, she could see the corner where they kept their bedrolls. There was an empty space where Xena’s bedroll should have been. She jumped up, hopping awkwardly to regain her balance as her half-worn boot snagged on the floor and almost caused her to do a face plant. She pulled the offending boot off her foot and hurried over. Xena’s bedroll was definitely missing. There was no reason for the warrior to have taken her bedroll—unless she was planning to spend a night away.

She looked around the room, searching for any other clues that she might have missed. Her eyes immediately lit on the bedside table where a square of parchment lay under her sais. The familiar scrawl and Xena’s trademark X at the bottom of the note left no doubt in Gabrielle’s mind who had written the note.

Gabrielle, I am sorry for leaving so abruptly. There’s a lot on my mind. I’m afraid that talking about it with you would only make things worse. I need some time alone to clear my head. Please do not try to find me or contact me. Give me a few days. I will be back. I promise. No matter what happens, remember this: I will love you forever.    —X—

After reading the note, Gabrielle wasn’t sure what to think. Xena hadn’t gone and left her behind, unlike the last time—when the warrior had gone north on a suicide mission. The note said that she would be back and that she just needed some time away.

There had been a time when Gabrielle would have been oblivious to her soulmate’s worries. Her hair had been longer then. And she’d been so caught up with her own struggles that she hadn’t really paid much attention to what was troubling Xena. Back then, the warrior had been more secretive, often choosing to keep her in the dark and Gabrielle hadn’t been any the wiser.

But this time, she’d noticed the signs almost immediately. The brooding silences, the disinterest in food. Xena had even come right out and admitted it. Gabrielle thought she’d done well to give her soulmate space and that the reticent warrior would talk to her once she was ready. Apparently, she had thought wrong. Her first instinct was to go after her soulmate. But Xena had made it clear that she wanted to be alone and she’d even used the magic word—‘please’. Gabrielle had to respect that. It was the least she could do.

Besides, with their soul-link, she knew where her soulmate was at all times. Xena had said not to find her or contact her. But she hadn’t said anything about not locating her using their bond. Gabrielle figured that as long as she did not physically look for Xena, there was no harm and hence no foul. She closed her eyes, checking that her shields were still up—they were. Then she cast her senses along their bond to search for her soulmate. It didn’t work.

Gabrielle dismissed her shields and tried again. Still no luck. It was like following a physical trail that had stopped in the middle of nowhere. Confounded, she called up their bond. It appeared, almost reluctantly. But when it did, it became apparent what the issue was. Their soul-link, like the trail she’d been following earlier, ended abruptly in mid-air.

Telling herself not to panic, Gabrielle focused on their bond. This wasn’t the same as what had happened after her fight with the tyrant. Back then, she’d felt only a yawning emptiness where Xena had been. But now, she could feel Xena on the end of their soul-link. This felt more like something was blocking off her access to her soulmate.

Could it be Xena’s shields? Gabrielle thought.

The more she thought about it, the more plausible it seemed. She knew that Xena had been concerned about the state of their bond and had redoubled her efforts to strengthen her shields. If the warrior didn’t want to be disturbed, it would make sense to cut Gabrielle off—temporarily.

With no way to locate Xena, Gabrielle would have to do things the old fashioned way. Or she could wait and give her soulmate a few days. But the bard had never been good at waiting. And she could not get rid of the nagging suspicion that she was missing something—something very important.


Summers in Chin were unbearable sweltering affairs. While the ambient temperature in Chin was probably the same as back in Greece, Chin was humid where Greece was dry. The high levels of moisture in the air meant Gabrielle felt the heat more intensely than she would have back home. Sweat poured down her face and neck, running in tiny rivulets down every exposed part of her body.

Sais in hand, she spun and whirled in the forest clearing, flipping her sais after a two-handed block to an offensive position for a strike, then back again for a block on the inside of her forearm. Her movements possessed a fluidity that was mesmerising to watch. With her sais pointed out, she twisted her wrists, trapping imaginary blades in them, her hands moving closer to her body, as if being pushed back by the momentum of the blades. She pushed off her back foot, throwing her arms wide at the same time she released the imaginary blades. She switched her sais into the defensive position and struck from her hip, landing four quick punches—right, left, right, left—with the head of her sais. Her right arm swung out to the side, striking the imaginary opponent there before following up with a pivot into a snap kick.

By the end of the session, Gabrielle was breathing heavily and her clothes were soaked all the way through. Using the back of her hand, she mopped the perspiration from her forehead and face. She picked up the wineskin where she’d left it in the shade and took a drink. The water was tepid but it slaked her thirst. When she had her fill, she perched on a nearby boulder and took out Xena’s note.

She had spent the morning and afternoon asking around if anyone had seen Xena. No one had seen the warrior after dinner last night. She had struck out similarly with the guards who’d been on night patrol duty. They reported that the night had been uneventful and they had not seen her soulmate leaving the village.

Gabrielle wasn’t surprised. The warrior obviously hadn’t wanted to leave any tracks, and that included making sure no one saw her. She hadn’t really expected to find any traces of Xena or where her soulmate had been headed. But she could hardly sit around and do nothing. All this waiting around was making her antsy. At least losing herself in a fight with imaginary opponents had done her some good. The physical exertion had helped take the edge off her restlessness and, in the process, cleared the fog from her mind.

She shook out Xena’s note and re-read the words that she had committed to memory.  Perhaps it was her heightened senses after the sparring session, or perhaps it was the newfound clarity she’d gained. Whatever the reason, the last part of the note leapt out at her. “No matter what happens, remember this: I will love you forever.” Gabrielle recited out loud.

“How did I not see this earlier?” Gabrielle berated herself. “Her public declaration of love the night before. Then this note—telling me to remember that she’ll love me forever. Xena does this every time she thinks it could be our final goodbye.”

“Dammit Xena! You better not get yourself killed! ‘Cos I’ll never forgive you.” The bard raged, crumbling the note in her hand.

As fast as it had come, the anger drained out of Gabrielle completely and she slumped over the note, muttering. “I didn’t mean that… I just want you back… alive and well…”


Sick with worry over Xena, Gabrielle had little appetite. She spent dinner pushing her food around her plate. This uncharacteristic behaviour drew the attention of more than one clan member. They came up to her, individually and in groups, expressing their concern and asking after Xena. Some even suggested that they would be more than willing to offer her comfort—in the privacy of their homes. Gabrielle turned them all down, saying that she just wanted to be left alone.

Watched by the entire clan, she left the communal dining area and headed for the back of the village, where it opened into the surrounding forest.  She could have returned to her room where no one would have disturb her. But the room felt empty without Xena and she could not bear to return to their bed or sleep, knowing that her soulmate was out there somewhere, possibly hurt—or dead.

She missed her soulmate so much that her heart physically ached. Xena’s note was still nestled in between her breasts. She had read and re-read the note more than a dozen times but she took it out now, looking at the words that Xena had scrawled across the parchment and running her fingers over them as if she could touch her soulmate through them.

“Where are you, Xena?” Gabrielle asked pensively.

Standing at the edge of the forest, Gabrielle looked up at the star-filled sky. The day was almost at an end and she was no closer to finding her soulmate. She didn’t even know where to start looking. Should she stay in the clan village and wait for Xena to return? Or should she ask around in the nearby human settlements? If the warrior had left clan lands, she could be anywhere by now. Without a general idea of where to start, how was she supposed to find her soulmate in a land as vast as Chin?

Gabrielle consoled herself that the warrior was probably out there somewhere, looking up at the very same sky she was. They used to gaze up at the night sky all the time, trying to find patterns amongst the glittering constellations. The last time they’d done so was before the fight with the tyrant. She had pointed out a series of stars that resembled a dragon. Xena, being Xena, had insisted it was a warrior, with those same stars making up the belt and sword.

There was one constellation they never argued over. And that was the fish that Xena had sent into the heavens as a dedication to her younger brother Lyceus. The fish reminded her of the North Star and a quirky conversation she’d had with her soulmate.

Xena: “I’m sending the North Star back to the heavens before nightfall. Hopefully, the power of the Mystic Diamond will help guide it home.”

Gabrielle: “But, it’s mine!”

Xena: “Well, just think, Gabrielle. Every time that people look up into the night sky and see that perfect star—they’ll think of you.”

Gabrielle: “Hmm.”

Xena: “It’ll be a symbol of your beauty for all time to come.”

Gabrielle: “It is too bad that the people can’t see the real thing. Guess a symbol of it will have to do. Fire away!”

XWP Season3 Episode 18: Fins, Femmes and Gems

“Are you looking up at the North Star and thinking of me? Only you would see it as a symbol of beauty… I miss you, Xena.” She said as a shooting star streaked through the sky. “Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I should be there with you. You should not be alone. You’re not alone.”

Footsteps sounded behind her—cloth shoes, not boots. Whoever it was, they weren’t trying to be subtle. She turned and saw that it was one of the scribes—a young male dragon named Ji Yu. Dressed in the standard white robes of a scholar, he had tousled sandy hair and a clean cut youthful look that would have made a younger Gabrielle swoon all over him. He held a folding fan in his right hand, looking like one of those rich young gentlemen she’d seen in Chin’s capital.

Ji Yu bowed, and asked, “Mind if I join you?”

Gabrielle shrugged and said. “It’s a free country.” She turned her back on him and returned her attention to the sky.

The young dragon stepped up beside her, close enough that she felt uncomfortable, but not close enough for her to make a fuss over it. He said, “I was observing you at dinner. You did not eat. You must miss your soulmate.”

When she did not respond, Ji Yu continued, “You must feel lonely, being all by yourself. I am willing to lend a listening ear, if you need someone to talk to.”

“Thank you, Ji Yu, but I’m good.”

Unfazed by Gabrielle’s dismissive tone, the young scholar blurted, “But it’s obvious you are hurting. I don’t like seeing you in pain.”

“You’re sweet but you need to understand. My heart belongs to Xena.” Gabrielle told him.

“We don’t get to choose who we love.” Ji Yu agreed, nodding sagely. “Does she do this often? Go off without you?”

Gabrielle did not reply. She had no intention of talking to a stranger about her complicated relationship with Xena. And it really was complicated. When she’d first laid eyes on the warrior princess, that day so long ago, no one—least of all her—could have imagined that Xena would one day become her entire life.

For most of their time together, she’d been wary and afraid of Xena’s dark side. It was only after their crucifixion on Mount Amaro and their adventures in Heaven and Hell that she’d finally come to accept the warrior for who she truly was. Gabrielle had always prided herself on being this loving and accepting person. But she hadn’t understood what true acceptance really meant, until she’d met Xena and been exposed to the warrior’s unconditional love towards her.

Ji Yu took her silence for affirmation because he said, “If I were her, I would never leave you alone. Or have other lovers.”

”You are not her.” Gabrielle told him pointedly. “And she does not need other lovers. She has me.”

Ji Yu looked unconvinced. “I have heard about your soulmate and her many lovers. It is said that Ares, the god of war; and Hercules, son of Zeus, number amongst them.”

She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. The young dragon was getting on her nerves and she was trying very hard not to snap at him. It was abundantly clear that he had no intention of leaving her alone and she really did not want to continue their conversation.

“It’s late. I’m turning in. Good night.” Gabrielle said. She did not wait for a reply but turned on her heel and stalked off.

Unseen by anyone, the shooting star entered the territory of the Southern Forest clan. It flew through the forest and down into a ravine where it transformed into a tiny dragon the size of a ferret. The dragon stopped briefly at a meadow before continuing its way further back where there was a cave.


It had rained earlier that day, a passing shower that had given way to a sultry afternoon. Gabrielle hadn’t slept well the night before. She’d tossed and turned the whole night, coming awake at every sound. And the morning hadn’t improved her mood. Without Xena by her side, she’d been swarmed by concerned clan members and even had to endure propositions from her admirers.

Then Ci Nu had dragged her away to the communal dining area, refusing to let Gabrielle leave until she’d finished the lunch laid out before her. There had been so much food but she hadn’t been able to summon up any appetite, even though she was rightfully hungry. It had taken her nearly two hours to polish everything off; and she spent the hour after that being sick to her stomach.

Now, she sat in the clearing she often used for her sparring sessions with Xena. Gabrielle preferred it to the duelling arena. There was always an audience at the arena and sparring there felt too much like a spectacle for her comfort. Honestly, it was distracting. Xena never had that problem. Her soulmate enjoyed fighting wherever she could find it—in front of a huge crowd, in a secluded alley, out in the desert, in a quiet clearing in the middle of nowhere—it was all the same to the warrior.

She didn’t know what she was doing there. She wasn’t up to a practice session; not when her stomach was still distended from lunch. But she hadn’t wanted to stay in the village and deal with all the questions—or the persistent offers. Before Xena’s sudden departure, Gabrielle never noticed how many admirers she had amongst the clan members. The majority of them were male though there were also a few females. All her propositions had come from the former. The latter were more subtle, expressing their interest in ways that were more palatable.

Considering what Xena had said the night before she left, Gabrielle wondered if the warrior’s keen sense of hearing had clued her in to the general sentiment around the village. Knowing her soulmate, that seemed more likely than not. And of course—there were the looks. They weren’t as obvious when Xena was around but without her soulmate to act as a deterrent, it was impossible to ignore them.

Gabrielle let out a long sigh. “Xena, it’s been 2 days. Where are you?”

The crunch of a dry leaf nearby, as if someone had stepped on it, caught Gabrielle’s attention. She whipped her head up and caught a glimpse of long dark hair, a scabbard slung over the back, familiar brown leather armour, and brown leather boots.

Whoever it was, it looked like her soulmate and moved like her soulmate. Could it be her soulmate? “Xena?” Gabrielle called tentatively. At the sound of her voice, the figure fled. She immediately leapt to her feet in pursuit.

Sweat poured down her face, dripping into her eyes but Gabrielle kept on running. She dodged trees, leapt over exposed roots, and almost lost the mystery figure on a few occasions. But then she would catch a glimpse out of the corner of her eye and the chase would be on again. It was almost as if she was being led on a merry chase. But she couldn’t stop. If there was a chance, just a chance that it was Xena, she had to catch up to her.

She burst out of the forest and pulled up abruptly when she realised she was in danger of running off the edge of a cliff. “Xena!” Gabrielle shouted, looking around and finding no signs of anyone. She crept over to the cliff edge and looked down. Far below her, there was the silhouette of a person pressed up against the cliff wall; it was a long way down… Gabrielle shuddered—she didn’t do well with heights.

“C’mon, you can do this.” Gabrielle said, trying to psych herself up. She rolled her shoulders and shook her limbs out. “You can do this.” Taking a deep breath, she found an exposed root and grabbed hold of it with both hands. “Please let it hold.” She prayed before swinging herself over the edge.

The climb was easier than Gabrielle had envisioned it to be. She was stronger now, and had no problems hanging onto the tiny hand holds that she managed to find along the cliff wall. About three-quarters of the way down, her left hand started cramping and she was forced to wedge herself into a crack, using her feet to hold herself up until she could use her hands again.

When she finally reached the bottom, she was so happy she would have kissed the ground under her feet. Except, she’d taken too long on her descent and the mystery figure was nowhere to be seen.

“Xena!” There was no answer. She dipped her hands into the river to rinse off the mud before looking around. The ground was still wet from the earlier rain. If someone had come this way, there would be tracks. But there were none. Baffled, Gabrielle shouted her soulmate’s name again.

She spotted a glint of light reflecting off something metallic and headed in that direction, noticing the boot prints she left as she walked and how there weren’t any tracks in front of her. She was starting to wonder if she’d been led on a wild goose chase when she came across a cave. The cave was deep and it was dark. Gabrielle peered inside and saw what appeared to be a flickering light from within. “Xena?”

The possibility that she was walking into a trap crossed her mind. Whoever she’d been following had made sure to keep her on their trail; which meant they wanted her to follow them to this cave. Gabrielle didn’t know why. But whoever she’d been following looked suspiciously like Xena. And that was a good enough reason for her. Even if this was a trap, she needed to find out what was going on.

Once inside the cave, she couldn’t see anything around her, just the flickering light ahead. Sliding her feet forward carefully to avoid accidentally stepping into a hole, Gabrielle made her way cautiously towards the light. It was coming from a narrow crack in the wall. Being small in size, she fitted through the crack easily, following the passage until she stepped out into a cavern—where she was greeted by the sight of a familiar figure lying on the ground.

“Xena!” She dropped down beside her soulmate and was immediately struck by how quiet and still the warrior was. She reached out a hand to touch Xena’s face—it was stone cold. “No.” Gabrielle whispered in disbelief.

“No, no, no, no, no!” She threw herself at the still figure. Xena’s body was cold, stiff and unyielding—like a marble statue. Gabrielle curled up on top of her soulmate, her head tucked under the warrior’s jaw and her legs pulled up towards her own chest as she held the love of her life and sobbed.

As she cried, she muttered sporadically, “She’s not breathing… Her heart’s not beating… She’s so cold… How long has she been lying here…? If only I’d found her earlier…”

Up above her, the golden dragon watched in satisfaction as their soul bond flared back to life.


Xena had accomplished everything she’d set out to do. Her shields had held, except near the end, but that was only to be expected. After that, she’d succeeded in cutting her soulmate off from her side of their soul-link, utilising the same principle that had allowed her to merge her soul with Gabrielle’s previously.

Now, she needed to go back. The only problem was—she was lost; hopelessly lost. Cutting off her connection to Gabrielle meant she’d lost her only tether to the land of the living. Technically, she was dead, her link to her physical body severed the moment she’d taken her last breath. Without her soul-link, Xena had no hope in Tartarus of finding her way back. But she had to. She’d promised.

She tried focusing on their soul-link once again, hoping this time that it would spark to life and she would get a sense of where Gabrielle was. No luck. Well, at least Xena knew where she was—the land in between, where spirits lingered before entering into the afterlife. It was dreary and foggy, with neither landmarks nor signs to show the way.

The last time she’d been dead, it had been easy finding her way to Gabrielle. She only needed to think about the bard and she would know where to go. Here, that didn’t work. Thinking about Gabrielle produced the same results as thinking about life, or death, or pretty much anything—a whole load of nothing. She figured it had been their soul-link that had guided her then, not that she’d known about their bond at the time.

Where to start? I guess any direction is as good as any other. Xena thought. She snatched a coin out of thin air and flipped it. Heads. North it is. She turned north and started walking.

Xena had no idea how long she’d been walking when everything changed suddenly. She was crying—so hard that she was hiccupping. Her heart felt like it had been shattered irreparably. It hurt… It hurt so bad… She was cold, made colder by whatever she was lying on. Her eyes blinked open and she was staring at a linen cloth and a small scar on the top of a right breast.

“Oh no, Gabrielle… You weren’t supposed to find me.” Xena said. She’d recognised the scar instantly—it belonged to her. And that had been her soulmate heartbroken and crying over her dead body.

As she thought of Gabrielle, it became clear that she’d been walking in the wrong direction. Xena quickly corrected her course and broke into a run. Unfortunately, returning wasn’t going to be as easy as it had been when she was a ghost. The moment she set foot into the land of the living, she was drowning. Doggone it! The wolfsbane. That was her last thought before the poison pulled her under.


Gabrielle had no idea how long it had been since she’d found Xena. It felt like no time had passed, and yet a thousand lifetimes had gone by. Her mouth was dry from all the crying, her hair was matted to her head, her eyes were glued shut, and her bladder was ready to burst. Not wanting to befoul Xena’s body with her bodily fluids, Gabrielle headed out of the cave to relieve herself.

The moment she stepped out of the cave, she was hit by the oppressive heat of the noon day sun. A new day had dawned while she’d been beside herself with grief. I must have cried myself to sleep. Gabrielle thought.

She found a suitable place to empty her bladder then walked back to the cliff. At the river, she took a long drink and proceeded to wash up. Feeling slightly more like herself, she looked up at the cliff face. It looked daunting. There’s no way I can carry Xena up that…

The dragons could move Xena, if I can get their attention from here somehow. But how are they going to get her through that narrow crack? Alternatively, she could put rocks over the crack to block it off and turn the cavern into Xena’s final resting place.

Gabrielle shook her head. It was too early to be thinking about tombs. She wanted to spend as much time as she could with her soulmate before it was no longer possible for her to do so. Who knows? She thought. Maybe I will follow Xena soon. Then the cave can be our tomb. And we will be together forever. The thought cheered her up immensely.

On her way back to the cave, she wondered about the mystery figure that had led her to her soulmate’s body. It couldn’t have been Xena. The warrior’s body had been stiff and cold when Gabrielle had found her. That meant her soulmate had been dead for at least half a day. The mystery figure had also left no tracks on the wet ground. All signs seemed to point to Xena’s ghost or spirit. But there wouldn’t be the need to play cat and mouse to lure her all the way out here. It was cruel. Xena would never do that to her.

Still pondering the question, Gabrielle re-entered the cavern. This time, she noticed the fireflies on the walls and ceiling. They were the source of the flickering light that had drawn her in the day before.

That’s odd. Fireflies don’t live in caves… And why are they only in here?

It was all a little too convenient. She would not have found the cavern without the fireflies. And without their light, it would have been too dark to see anything, much less Xena’s body. Things just weren’t adding up. There had to be more going on here than she had been led to believe.

Hope sparked in her as she allowed herself to entertain the idea that her soulmate wasn’t really dead. Xena had been dead before. And on all of those occasions, other than when Eli had brought them back, the warrior had returned for her. Even when they had been dead, Xena had always come for her, whether it was in Heaven or in Hell. Perhaps she’d been brought here for that exact purpose—to ensure that her soulmate would return.

She took a seat next to Xena’s body. The warrior’s face was deathly pale and a little waxen but her body was no longer stiff. Gabrielle took that as another encouraging sign. She lay down on the bedroll and snuggled right up against the warrior. It was probably morbid, and a whole lot of crazy to be sleeping with a dead body. But Gabrielle didn’t care. Touching Xena felt right, at a time when everything seemed wrong in her world.

As Gabrielle lay there, pressed up against the cold body of her soulmate, she began talking.

“Xena, I’ve never told you this story. Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs and one head. But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited—because they each shared the same soul. And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul.”

“I always thought it was just a story, to make people believe there was someone out there who’d complete them and make them whole. When I was younger, I desperately wanted to believe the other half of my soul was out there somewhere; that I’d find them and live happily ever after. Remember all the boys I fell for back when we first started travelling together? Every time I fell for one of them, I’d be convinced they were The One. But they never were.”

“I was so in love with the idea of being in love, I don’t think I understood what love really was. Do you know who taught me love? It was you, Xena… you. You saw me in a way that no one ever saw me. You believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. You accepted me for who I was—who I am. Yes, you bitched and moaned but you were always there for me when I needed you. You loved me unconditionally and demanded nothing in return. You made a dozen small sacrifices every day just to make me happy. And you thought nothing of sacrificing your happiness and your life for me.”

“Who would believe a washed up warlord like you could teach someone like me about love? But they don’t know you the way I do, Xena. They don’t see all the things you do when nobody’s watching. I do. When I first realised I’d fallen in love with you, I was afraid—afraid that I wasn’t enough; afraid that you’d never love me the way I wanted you to; afraid that you’d send me away. I was also afraid of your dark side; your propensity for violence; your passion for all things good and bad.”

“When you died in Nicklio’s hut on Mount Nestus, I wanted to hate you for leaving me. But the person I really hated—was myself. I hated myself for never telling you that I love you. Hated myself for not showing you how much you meant to me. Hated myself for not being able to love you the way you deserved to be loved.”

“I still remember the day when I understood my search for The One was finally over. I’d given up the search long ago. But that day, I realised that you had been right beside me all this time. How could I have been so blind for so long?”

“It’s like that story you told me before I left to pursue my dreams in Athens. Do you remember? The one about two orphans who decided to search the world for their families. You really need to work on your delivery.” Gabrielle said that last line with a chuckle, remembering how the warrior had skipped right to the end instead of telling the story in its entirety. “But it’s just as you said. And when the first man reached the end of his journey, he found himself at the beginning. The family he’d sought; the other half of my soul I’d sought; had travelled the world with me.”

Xena’s voice, hoarse from being unused for too long, interrupted her monologue. “The family you had ever known—ever needed—was standing right beside you. Yes, Gabrielle—I remember.”

Gabrielle pushed herself up from the ground at the sound of Xena’s voice and stared down at the warrior with her mouth hanging open.

“Have you been talking this whole time?” Xena croaked.

“Aren’t the dead supposed to hear when we think of them?” Gabrielle asked.

“Technically, I wasn’t dead. I didn’t hear a thing ‘cept that last part about the orphans. What did I miss?”

“You could’ve fooled me.” Gabrielle told her. “I thought you were dead.”

“I know.” Xena said. She cupped Gabrielle’s face in her hand and brushed a thumb over her cheek. “You weren’t supposed to find me like this.”

Gabrielle shivered at the chilly touch. She took the warrior’s hand in both of hers, rubbing it and blowing on it to warm it up. “Why are you still so cold?” She complained.

“S’okay. I’ll warm up in time.” Xena pulled the bard down against her chest and wrapped her arms around her. “Gabrielle… I felt your grief. I’m so sorry I hurt you. Seems that’s all I do… hurt you.”

“Well, I’m still angry with you—very angry.”

“I deserve that.”

“I’ll get over it.” Gabrielle said. “But I want you to tell me the truth; no more secrets. What were you doing here?”

“Clearing my head.”

“The truth, Xena.” Gabrielle reminded her curtly. “No one clears their head by dying.”

“It’s… the truth.” Xena told her. “After Jappa, learning you would die with me? I couldn’t deal with it. You know me, Gabrielle. I am a warrior. I do not fear death. One of these days, it’ll come for me. With the life I lead, it’s bound to come sooner rather than later.”

Xena took a deep breath, barely suppressing a wince at how much breathing hurt. As a matter of fact, her whole chest hurt. It would probably take a while before the effects of the wolfsbane wore off. She wrapped her fingers around Gabrielle’s and continued, “But I don’t want that for you, Gabrielle. I always imagined you going on to live a fruitful and happy life long after I’m gone. I couldn’t risk it… I thought perhaps…”

Gabrielle’s fingers tightened around Xena’s as she interjected forcefully. “No! I don’t want you to give up being you. I love you too much for that. I know what you want for me. But Xena, I could never be happy without you. This way, I can be with you in death as in life. After Jappa, I didn’t know how I could go on. I wanted to die, just so I could be reunited with you.”

Bitterness crept into Gabrielle’s voice as she continued, “But you wouldn’t let me. You’d rather condemn me to a life of misery than let me take my own life.”

Xena opened her mouth to argue but stopped herself. Her soulmate was right. She would not have stood by idly while Gabrielle took her own life. The bard was still young with many years ahead of her. In time, she would meet someone who made her smile, who made her happy in a way that Xena never had. And if that never happened, yes, Xena was willing to condemn Gabrielle to a life of misery—because as long as the bard was alive, there would be hope. That was her hope for Gabrielle. She’d never considered what her soulmate wanted. It had been selfish of her. So she only said, “I’m sorry.”

Gabrielle waved away the apology. “That doesn’t explain why you were cold and stiff when I found you.”

“I was testing a theory.”

“A theory…”

I need to know if I can cut off our bond before…”

“So you came out here to die—alone” Gabrielle cut in angrily, pulling herself away from Xena and putting some space between them. “If you’d told me this beforehand, I could’ve saved you the trouble and killed you myself.”

Xena pushed herself up in response to Gabrielle’s anger, the desire to placate her soulmate so strong that it temporarily overcame the weakness that the wolfsbane had left behind. Arms trembling with the effort, she tried to reach for the bard but her right arm gave out and she fell back. Luckily, Gabrielle caught her before she could hit the ground.

“I’ve got you.” Gabrielle said, shifting herself so that the warrior lay half cradled in her lap. “Now, you just stay still. And don’t move. I should collect some wood and start a fire. At least get you warmed up.”

“Nowhere for the smoke to go. We’ll die of suffocation.” Xena pointed out.

“Couldn’t you have picked a better location?”

“Works for what I was planning.”

Gabrielle spotted the wineskin nearby, hooked the strap with her foot and pulled it towards her. She uncapped it and sniffed at the contents suspiciously. “This wouldn’t be some kind of poison, would it?”

“Naw. It’s just days-old water.”

“Good. Here, take a drink. I’ll refill it at the river later.” Gabrielle said, tipping the wineskin to Xena’s mouth.

The warrior tried to take the wineskin from her soulmate but her hands were trembling so badly she only managed to spill water on herself.

“Xena, I told you not to move. I won’t let you choke.” After her soulmate had her fill of water, Gabrielle said, “Next time you plan on dying, make sure you do it when I’m around.”

“Gabrielle, I can’t promise you that…” Xena said in exasperation.

“Well, at least don’t go off by yourself to die.” Gabrielle said. “What did you do? Ingest poison?”


“Wolfsbane… Xena, there’s no antidote for wolfsbane.”

“That’s kinda the point.”

“You could’ve died. You should’ve died. That was a stupid thing to do—especially alone.”

“Gabrielle… You wouldn’t have let me take the poison. I couldn’t ask you to watch me do it and make you wait before administering the antidote.”

“I could’ve lived with that. Better than finding you dead and not knowing what happened.” Gabrielle said dryly.

“That reminds me. How did you find me? I’d my shields up. You shouldn’t have been able to locate me. And I didn’t leave tracks.”

“It’s funny. I thought I was following you. Then when I saw you were dead, I thought it was your spirit.” Gabrielle nodded at the light around them, “Have you noticed the fireflies?”

“I was wondering about that.” Xena said. “They weren’t here when I came.”

“Their light led me straight to you.”

“Hmmm…” Xena looked up at the fireflies thoughtfully. There was every chance that she would be well and truly dead right now if her connection with Gabrielle hadn’t been restored when it had. Someone or something must have brought the bard here to reactivate their soul-link. The question is—who or what?


Later that afternoon, Gabrielle was out catching dinner when Xena felt well enough to leave the cavern. She put on her armour, picked up her bedroll and was about to squeeze her way out when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She turned. The fireflies were no longer lining the walls of the cavern. Instead, they had clumped together into a bright ball of light which eventually resolved itself into the form of a tiny dragon. She stared at the dragon for a beat, her mind whirring as she realised it had been the sacred dragon who had intervened to save her life.

“Thank you.” Xena said.

For such a tiny creature, if that was even its true size, the voice that sounded in her head was a deep baritone. “Severing your bond will destroy everything you cherish. You must trust in your path and in your love.”

Xena was thinking of her decision to merge their souls when she said, “I could not stand by and let Gabrielle die.”

“That was born out of love. What is done out of love can never be wrong. This was born out of fear. You have never given in to fear. Why start now?”

Xena hadn’t really thought of it that way. Everyone had fears, even the warrior princess. But she’d never given in to them—until now. The golden dragon was right. This whole exercise had been born out of fear; fear that she would always be the cause of Gabrielle’s pain. It was Najara who had first planted the seed but over the years, it had festered within her. And she’d fed it with her doubts until it had blossomed into a full-blown fear that she could no longer ignore.

“Why do you give so much credence to the words of a madwoman? Words spoken out of jealousy should never be taken seriously.” The sacred dragon said.

“My job is to protect Gabrielle.”

“When you tried to defeat the tyrant’s curse, were you protecting your soulmate? You put her in harm’s way. If you hadn’t, would you be here today? Would your soulmate? You could have given in to fear then, when her life hung in the balance, but you did not. Instead, you gave in to…”

“Love. I trusted in our love.”

“Lao Ma would have been proud of the person you have become. Farewell, warrior princess.” The sacred dragon said before twirling in on itself and disappearing in a flash of golden light.

“Xena, I caught us some catfish.” Gabrielle’s voice called from outside.

“You hate catfish.” Xena said. She almost bumped into Gabrielle at the entrance as she squeezed through the narrow opening.

“Oh!” Gabrielle said in surprise, reaching out a hand to help her soulmate. “Are you sure you should be moving around?”

“Gabrielle, I’m fine.” Xena protested though she did not shrug off the bard’s hand.

“Xena, your definition of fine and my definition are worlds apart. Here, lean on me.”

“Alright.” Xena conceded. She was still a long way from being a hundred percent. Her body hurt like a herd of horses had stampeded over her and she was weaker than a child but she could make her way to the entrance of the cave under her own power. Letting Gabrielle help was more for the bard’s benefit than hers. Besides, there wasn’t anyone around to witness her moment of ‘weakness’.

Gabrielle sat the warrior down near the entrance of the cave where a pile of wood had been placed, together with four good-sized catfish still dripping wet from the river. “Sit here. I’ll get the fire going so we can cook these catfish.” She said, picking up some stones and arranging them in a rough circle where the campfire would be laid.

“You’ll need something to cook the fish in. I’ll go get some leaves. We can wrap the fish in the leaves and put ‘em in the fire.” Xena made a move to get up but was stopped by Gabrielle.

“No, you stay here. I’ll get some branches to skewer the fish. Let me get the fire going first.” Gabrielle said.

“If you won’t let me leave the cave, then let me start the fire and clean the fish.”

“Starting the fire won’t take me a minute.” Gabrielle said.

“Gabrielle…” Xena said, holding out her hands demandingly.

The bard shook her head helplessly at her soulmate. She knew that tone well enough to know that the warrior would not take no for an answer. Gabrielle handed over the stones and pushed the wood closer to Xena. “I won’t be a minute.”

Xena nodded, completing the rough circle before placing tinder and kindling in the middle. Next she took larger pieces of wood and built a small tepee around and above the kindling. Using flint and steel, she ignited the tinder then waited for the wood to catch fire before adding a few more logs to it. She then proceeded to clean the catfish; an easy enough task since catfish had no scales and they would be cooking the fish whole.

Gabrielle hated catfish, in large part due to its dirty muddy taste. If they had a pan, Xena would have filleted the catfish and they could add some seasoning to mask the taste. In the absence of a pan and seasoning, she cut off the fins and gutted the catfish, removing as much of the innards as she could reach and rinsing the insides with water from the freshly filled wineskin.

When her soulmate returned with the branches, she handed Gabrielle one of her daggers and said, “I’ll take two.”

The bard took the dagger and passed over two of the branches. “You’re being very… accommodating today.”

“Beats getting yelled at.” Xena said, nonchalantly. Using the dagger from her boot, she quickly stripped the bark from both of the branches and whittled the ends into a sharp point. She pushed the rough stake through the mouth of a catfish until it came out through the open abdominal cavity then stuck the stake into the ground so that the fish hung at an angle above the fire.

After Gabrielle was done with hers, she took a seat next to her soulmate and leaned her head on the warrior’s shoulder. In moments like these, she was glad of her height. If she’d been any taller, it would have been an awkward fit. They stayed that way in companionable silence as light gave way to darkness, leaving only the campfire to crackle and pop as it filled the cave behind them with their dancing shadows. When the smell of cooked fish started wafting in their direction, Gabrielle reluctantly got up and turned the fish so that they would not end up charred on one side and raw on the other.

It wasn’t long before the fish was ready. As Gabrielle picked at hers, she grimaced and said, “What I wouldn’t give for a little salt right now.”

Xena didn’t have any problems with her fish. After not eating for two whole days, she was famished. Besides, she’d had worse. To Gabrielle she said, “There should be some peppercorns nearby. That should mask the taste.”

Gabrielle placed her hand on her soulmate’s arm. “I’m not letting you wander around in the dark searching for peppercorns, Xena. This fish is perfectly edible. It’s just—you know how I’m with catfish. Maybe I should’ve taken the chakram and hunted something else.”

“I’ll get you a nice fat chicken for breakfast. Or maybe a plump hare?”

“We’ll see how you’re feeling in the morning. Let’s just finish dinner and get an early rest. The sooner you get better, the better I’ll feel.”


Bright and early the next morning, Xena woke up feeling more or less like her old self. The deep seated ache in her bones was gone and her heart no longer felt like an old labouring war horse trying to climb up a hill. Disentangling herself from her soulmate, she threw on her armour and stepped out of the cave.

Once outside, Xena took a deep breath of the cool morning air, feeling satisfied as her lungs expanded to their fullest extent without a twinge. After limbering up her body, she flowed into the various martial art stances that Lao Ma had taught her then ended her morning workout with a half hour meditation session. As workouts went, it was relatively mild but Xena didn’t want to push it. Her breath was growing increasingly laboured near the end. It would take another day or two before she was back to full strength.

By the time Xena finished her meditation, dawn was breaking. She popped back into the cave to check on Gabrielle, who was sleeping peacefully, before heading off towards the woods on the western side of the ravine where she’d previously seen a flock of wild chickens.

She returned with a fat hen in one hand and a bunch of banana leaves, herbs and spices in the other. She quickly dressed the chicken and stuffed it with herbs and spices before wrapping it completely in banana leaves. The recipe worked better if the spices were ground into powder and rubbed onto the chicken but Xena did not have a mortar and pestle with her and it would have taken too long to make one. She then brought the wrapped chicken to the river where she scooped up handfuls of mud and smeared it all over the banana leaves until it was completely encased in mud.

When she returned to the cave with her ball of mud and an armful of firewood, Gabrielle came out and spotted her. “Xena, why are you playing with mud so early in the day?”

Xena smiled and answered coyly. “You’ll see.” She cleared the remnants of the fire outside their cave then dug a hole, using the ball of mud to gauge the size needed. Once she was satisfied with it, she stacked firewood inside then placed the mud-encased chicken on top before covering it with a few more layers of wood. Laying down tinder and kindling on the top of the wood stack, she started a fire while Gabrielle watched on intently.

“Is that supposed to be breakfast?” Gabrielle asked.


“We’re having a ball of mud for breakfast… And I thought catfish was bad.” Gabrielle grabbed a stick from the ground and made to poke at the fire.

“Leave it alone.” Xena swatted playfully at her soulmate. “It’s gonna take a while. Why don’t we take a dip at the waterfall? I stink.”

Gabrielle’s nose crinkled as she pretended to sniff the air around the warrior. She then lifted Xena’s armpit, reared back and pinched her nose, waving exaggeratedly at the air in front of her. “Pee—eww. You’re right. You stink. Let’s go.” The bard turned away, walking purposefully towards the river and deliberately ignoring the look of affront that the warrior had affected.

Not hearing Xena behind her, Gabrielle asked without looking back, “You coming?”

Xena raised her eyes to the sky, as if questioning why she put up with the cheeky and irreverent blonde, before striding after her soulmate.


As they were wont to do, the pair became distracted while cleaning up at the waterfall. One thing led to another and before they knew it, the sun was high in the sky by the time they finally returned to the cave. The fire had long since burned down and they were greeted by a lump of fire-hardened clay sitting in a pile of greyish white ash.

“That mud ball of yours has to be overcooked by the looks of it.” Gabrielle said, poking at the ball of clay with a stick.

“I wasn’t the one who got sidetracked.” Xena said, picking up the ball of clay from the fire pit, pleased to find that it was still warm to the touch. She searched around the cave entrance for a suitable rock to crack her masterpiece open.

“I didn’t hear you complaining just now.” Gabrielle grumbled.

The warrior hefted a rock the size of her fist. Satisfied that it would do the job, she laid the clay ball on the ground and lifted the rock, trying to work out the best angle to attack the clay ball. She wanted to break it open, not smash its contents into smithereens. “Gabrielle, I was just teasing. It’s not possible to overcook this.”

Gabrielle sat back on her haunches, watching curiously as the clay ball disintegrated before her eyes revealing what appeared to be an oval-shaped package wrapped in leaves. “What’s that?”

“They call it beggar’s chicken.”

“Beggar’s chicken?”

“The story goes that a beggar was so hungry that he stole a chicken from a farm. When the farmer gave chase, the beggar dug a hole in a nearby river bed and hid the chicken inside. Later, he retrieved the mud-caked chicken. Not having anything to dress the chicken or cook it in, the beggar dug a hole and threw the whole thing into the fire, burying it underground to hide it and so that the smoke would not give him away. Since the chicken still had its feathers, this prevented it from drying out when cooking. When the mud shell was removed, the feathers fell right off.”

Xena pushed the clay fragments to one side and peeled the banana leaves back, releasing a tantalising aroma that had Gabrielle salivating. The bard shuffled closer and took a seat as Xena tore off one of the drumsticks and handed it to her.

“Thanks.” Gabrielle said, taking a bite. The chicken was tender and juicy, so juicy that she had to lean forward to avoid the juices and oil dripping onto her skirt. “Xena, this is good.”

“Glad you approve.” Xena said, tearing into her own piece of chicken.

Having missed breakfast, the soulmates made short work of the meal. Once it was gone, Gabrielle licked her fingers clean, gave a satisfied sigh and said, “That was really good. Maybe I should let you cook more.”

Xena raised an eyebrow at the bard’s statement, causing Gabrielle to retract it immediately. “On second thought, that’s a terrible idea. Cooking isn’t one of your many skills.” It wasn’t that Xena couldn’t cook. On the contrary, Gabrielle believed the warrior could be a great cook if she only put some effort into it. The problem was—Xena couldn’t be bothered to. To the warrior, food was a means to an end. Xena couldn’t care less if the food was good—as evidenced by the sort of taverns the warrior had frequented before Gabrielle put a stop to it—as long as it provided her with the energy to fight and travel.

Gabrielle had a different philosophy when it came to food. Food was to be enjoyed and appreciated. When she realised that Xena’s idea of cooking did not include spices of any kind, not even salt, Gabrielle had immediately volunteered to take over the cooking duties, a standing arrangement that had persisted from their very first days travelling together.

Xena did not take any offence at the bard’s disdain for her cooking skills. To be honest, she found it a dreary chore and was more than content to let Gabrielle handle it. Instead of pointing out the obvious, she switched the conversation to something else altogether. “Your shields are holding up well. I haven’t felt anything from you since…” Xena paused, unsure how to describe her ‘return from the dead’. In the end, she decided to go with, “…I woke up from the wolfsbane.”

Gabrielle looked at her soulmate a little funny, as if undecided whether to dispute the interesting choice of words. Thinking better of it, she said, “I had a good teacher.” Following a long pause, she added, “Since we’re talking about shields… Do you remember the first time I returned home?”

Xena glanced quickly at the bard, trying to gauge where the conversation was headed. Her soulmate’s eyes were unfocused, as if lost in a memory from long ago. “I remember. You froze. I tried to tell you that it happens. But you wouldn’t listen.”

Gabrielle nodded. “I felt like a liability—that I was putting you in danger. And you told me…”

“It’s a risk I can take.” Xena finished for her. The warrior remembered that day vividly. Gabrielle had looked so lost and full of doubt. Xena hadn’t known how to help her. In fact, she’d been certain that the bard would run for home and never return.

“But I can’t.” Gabrielle said, echoing the response she’d given Xena back then. “Those old doubts came back to haunt me recently—when you were teaching me how to shield. I kept thinking… What if I cannot do it? What if you got hurt or killed because I forgot to keep my shields up? It was driving me crazy.” She paused, waiting for the warrior to interrupt. But to her surprise, Xena stayed silent.

“For a moment, I panicked—just like that day. But I’m no longer that scared little girl who thought running back home would solve all my problems. And things are different now. Leaving you is no longer an option. Your path is my path. Where you go, I go too. It was a struggle though. My desire not to be a burden to you—it’s so deeply ingrained within my soul—the same way your desire to protect me is ingrained in yours.”

“From the moment I met you, I was always afraid you would find me to be a burden and get rid of me.” Gabrielle noticed the frown on Xena’s face and quickly added, “I know. You never thought of me that way. I still remember when I was hit by a poisoned arrow and you fought off an entire army just because you refused to leave my side. You told me that I could never be a distraction… that I was your inspiration… I think I would’ve died happy that day, just knowing that.”

“I wouldn’t have let you.” Xena said fiercely.

Gabrielle smiled fondly at her soulmate. “I know. And I’m not even going to argue with you though what I said back then still holds true. I accepted the consequences of our life a long time ago. But that’s what helped me overcome my doubts—your words and your actions. Not just on those two occasions but in all our time together.”

“Xena, you’re a force of nature, like Hercules.” Gabrielle gave a small laugh. “At least Hercules has an excuse, he’s half god. Most mortals are resigned to living the lives they’re given by the gods. Not you. You spit in their faces and never accept defeat, despite the odds being firmly stacked against you. Even when forces beyond our control interfere with our lives; you always find a way to turn things around.”

“Honestly Xena, I’m in awe of you. The things we’ve done and seen—most people would be sceptical just hearing about them. But we lived through them. And we’re still here.”

“I would never have been able to do any of those things without you, Gabrielle. You’re the reason I’m able to reach down inside myself and do things I’m not capable of. Without you, I’m just a washed-up warlord, destined for an early grave.”

“Come on, Xena. We both know that’s not true. You’re a hero. That’s why I no longer doubt myself. Because I know that even if I fail, you’ll be there to catch me. And if the day comes when you can’t, I know you’ll never leave me—in death or in life. As long as we’re together, I don’t really care. Even if we’re no longer welcome in Heaven since you tried to kill Michael.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have tried to kill you.” Xena interjected.

“He underestimated you… Now, what was I saying?” Gabrielle paused, her brows furrowing as she tried to regain her train of thought. “Oh yah… I was trying to say that I should’ve guessed you would have the same doubts. But I was expecting you to talk to me about them, not run away and kill yourself.”

Xena had the good sense to look sheepish. “My mind was messed up. You know how I get when you’re in danger.”

Gabrielle patted her soulmate’s hand reassuringly. “Considering how you only put me in dangerous situations when you have a plan to keep me safe, yes, I know. But that’s the thing, Xena. You’re so used to being in control. Sometimes, you need to have faith—that no matter what happens, we’ll find a way. We always have before. And I believe we always will.”

“I’ve always said that people like us should listen to people like you more. You’re wise beyond your years, Gabrielle. And before you say otherwise, I didn’t teach you that. You always had a good head on your shoulders. I’ll try to talk to you in the future instead of running around like my hair is on fire.” Xena said.

“Xena, you never run around like your hair’s on fire.”

“Yes, I do. But only when it comes to you.”


While waiting for her soulmate to return with herbs and spices, Gabrielle started a fire and was in the midst of prepping the wild hare Xena had caught when she heard the clinking of chainmail headed her way.

The warriors of the Southern Forest clan used a variety of armour. The most common were scale armour and leather armour. Rarer were the lamellar armour and chainmail armour. The last was only worn by Gabrielle—when she’d fought the tyrant—and Ci Nu. Given the slap-slap of the twin scabbards hitting the armour with every stride, it only confirmed her suspicion. No one else in the clan used twin swords. It was a difficult weapon combination to master, requiring dexterity with both hands that was rare even amongst the dragons.

Gabrielle had been expecting Ci Nu to make an appearance eventually. It had been two days since she’d gone missing and the clan chief was bound to have tasked his daughter to locate their house guest and ensure everything was alright. She looked up as the young dragon came into view and gave a smile in welcome.

Ci Nu greeted the bard with a bow and said, “I saw the smoke from your campfire and thought I’d find you both here. I am glad to see you well.”

Gabrielle gestured at the hare in front of her and said, “You’re just in time to join us for dinner.”

“Thank you for the invitation but I would not want to intrude.” Ci Nu said, taking a seat across from the bard.

“Don’t worry about it.” Xena said, stepping into the cave. “We’ve enough to go around.” She’d heard the dragon warrior and caught a second hare to go with the first. To Gabrielle she said, “Shall I prep this one?”

Gabrielle shook her head. “I’ll do it. Put the herbs over there.”

Xena did as she was told and took a seat to Ci Nu’s right. She asked the dragon warrior, “How did you get down here?”

“I presume you climbed down the cliff?” Ci Nu said.

“You didn’t.” Xena said.

“There’s a passage through the caves. It’s faster. The healer and his assistants often use it when they come here to gather herbs.” Ci Nu replied.

“You mean I could’ve gotten down here without climbing that cliff?” Gabrielle exclaimed in mock outrage.

“I can show you the way.” Ci Nu said.

The soulmates exchanged a glance. “We’ll return to the village with you, after dinner.” Gabrielle said.

Decision made, they lapsed into silence. Xena added more wood to the fire and Gabrielle dressed the second hare. All the while, Ci Nu fidgeted. After some time, the dragon warrior said, “Since we are here… May I ask a question?”

“Depends on the question.” Xena said at the same time Gabrielle said, “Sure.”

The bard shot her soulmate a glare but the warrior just gave her an unrepentant shrug. To Ci Nu, Gabrielle said, “You can ask.”

“Your people—the Amazons. Would they be willing to move to Chin?” Ci Nu asked.

Xena raised an eyebrow at this turn of events. It was in line with their plan. But she had been expecting the question—when it came—to come from the clan chief. And yet, it made perfect sense. Ci Nu would be clan chief someday and must have given the issue serious thought. Being younger, the dragon warrior would be more open to changes than her father who was thousands of years old and had been chief of the clan for nearly half that time.

“It depends. If there’s a good reason for the move, I might be able to persuade them.” Gabrielle said.

“From what I’ve heard, the Amazons are a fierce nation of warrior women who have been hunted to near extinction. If they are willing, they can make a home amongst us. They would be safe in our territory and both our peoples could learn to live together in peace and harmony—as long as they keep our secret.” Ci Nu said.

“Keeping secrets is part of being an Amazon.” Gabrielle said. “Are you thinking of encouraging relations between the Amazons and the clan?”

“She means sex.” Xena said helpfully.

“I mean relations. Not just sex.” Gabrielle clarified, frowning at her soulmate.

The interaction between the two never failed to amuse Ci Nu and she chose to be diplomatic in her answer. “Two peoples living in close proximity to one another. It is only natural for relationships to develop—of any kind.”

“Sex is important for keeping both your peoples strong.” Xena said.

“Xena, can you stop talking about sex?” Gabrielle piped up.

“Well, it’s true.” Xena insisted.

Gabrielle pointedly ignored her soulmate and addressed Ci Nu directly. “Are you asking this in an official capacity?

“I have not spoken to Father about this. If he agrees with me, he will need to inform the other clans of his intention. It’s likely they will ask for a similar arrangement.”

“In that case, we’ll talk more after you have spoken to your father.” Gabrielle said.

“I will need your help.” Ci Nu told her. “Father may not see the benefit of such an arrangement. Do you have a story that can help with that?”

“A story isn’t going to change his mind if he’s against the idea. But I’ll see what I can do.” Gabrielle said after a long pause.

“I would be most grateful.” Ci Nu said.


Gabrielle had been working tirelessly on the story since they’d returned to the clan village three nights ago. When Ci Nu had asked for her help, she’d known immediately which stories she wanted to tell. Her main problem was seamlessly blending two stories that had occurred nearly 30 years apart.

The only way she could get it to work was to use one as a back story to segue into the other. After all the work she’d put in, Gabrielle really liked how it’d turn out. And she hoped the dragons would enjoy it. She took the stage, looking out at her enthusiastic audience, smiling when Xena winked at her.

“I sing of Ephiny—my sister and friend—who inspired the Amazon Nation with her life and ensured their continued survival with her death.”

In the hours that followed, the clan listened raptly as Gabrielle told the story of Ephiny, bringing them along with her for a ride through Ephiny’s life, her reign as regent of the Amazons, her death at the hands of the Romans and how Xena had made a promise to never allow the Amazons to die out. She then regaled them with the story of Bellerophon, the son of Artemis, who had tried to wipe out the Amazons as revenge for his mother and how the Amazons had prevailed under her leadership and with help from the warrior princess.

When she finally finished, everyone was so caught up in the story that there was a prolonged silence. Gabrielle stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, before stepping off the stage. The moment she did so, the applause started. It began as a smattering but it quickly grew into a standing ovation as the clan showed their appreciation for a story well told.

“You nailed it.” Xena said, enveloping Gabrielle in a warm hug when her soulmate reached her side. “Ephiny would’ve loved that.”

“I would like to think so.” Gabrielle said. Once Xena had released her, clan members started coming up to them, clapping her on her back and thanking her for the story. Some of them even mentioned how much the Amazons reminded them of themselves and their recent struggles.

Ci Nu was one of the last to offer her congratulations. “That was a beautiful story. The Amazons are lucky to have people like Ephiny and the both of you in their corner.”

“And the clan is lucky to have you. You’ll make a great chief when the time comes.” Gabrielle replied.

To the soulmate’s surprise, the normally impassive dragon turned a deep red. Ci Nu ducked her head in an attempt to hide her uncharacteristic blush. “Father will rule for a long time yet. But when the time comes, I hope to be half the chief he is.”

“We know you’ll exceed his expectations for you.” Xena and Gabrielle said together, causing the young dragon to blush even further. Trying not to draw any further attention to herself, Ci Nu gave them a deep bow and hurried away.

The soulmates exchanged a smile. “I wasn’t expecting that.” Xena said.

“Me neither. Good to know that she has emotions like everyone else.” Gabrielle said.

Xena suddenly stiffened then wrapped an arm possessively around Gabrielle’s waist, turning both of them around so that they were face to face with the handsome young scholar who’d come up behind them. His eyes had narrowed into snake-like slits and he was staring intently at the warrior’s hand resting casually on Gabrielle’s hip.

Gabrielle cleared her throat noisily and said, “Ji Yu.”

The young scholar quickly schooled his facial expression and gave the bard a small bow. “You are a natural story teller.”

“Thank you.” Gabrielle said, deliberately wrapping her own arm around Xena’s waist.

Ji Yu pretended not to notice and said, “It is a pity you did not stay with the Amazons. You would have been a great queen. I was wondering if you would grace my lodgings tonight. I would love to hear more of your adventures with the Amazons.”

“I don’t think that would be appropriate.” Gabrielle replied icily. She was appalled at the sheer brazenness of the young scholar. How dare he proposition her in front of her soulmate? It was downright disrespectful.

“You are the most amazing woman I have ever met.” Ji Yu told her, unperturbed by her frosty response. “You are smart, talented, and beautiful. Anyone would be fortunate to have you. You deserve to have someone who appreciates you and treats you the way you should be treated. I can be that person. With me, you will never be alone or be an afterthought. Give me one night and let me show you how a real man treats the woman he loves.”

The young scholar might have intended his words as a slap to Xena’s ego but his insults were like water off a duck’s back. It was Gabrielle who instead got all riled up. In fact, the bard was so angry that she was trembling uncontrollably. Both her hands tightened into fists, one grabbing onto Xena’s belt so hard that the warrior worried that it might break.

Gabrielle should have been flattered. It wasn’t every day that someone sang her praises or declared their love for her. But his words were an obvious dig at Xena. And that was something she could not tolerate. What did this man know of love or what they had gone through? How dared he talk about the woman she loved in this manner? “I’ll not have you disrespecting my soulmate.” She told Ji Yu, her voice shaking with the sheer force of her anger. “You should leave now.”

“I did not mean any disrespect. Everything I have said is the truth.” Ji Yu insisted. “Soulmates do not always stay together. If your soulmate hurts you, abandons you, and drives you to seek comfort in the arms of another, I would strongly suggest you leave them. I would never do that to you. One night is all I need to prove it.”

Well aware that the brash scholar was only adding fuel to her soulmate’s raging inferno, Xena took the bard’s hand in her own, stroking it gently with her thumb until Gabrielle finally relaxed against her. “If that’s how you show your respect to Gabrielle, you’ve a lot to learn.”

Ji Yu scoffed. “I show her more respect than you ever have. You spend all your time duelling in the arena. How much time do you actually spend with her? Have you thought about her needs and wants? Do you know how much she suffered when you ran off without a word? You claim to love her but your treatment of her belies that. Even though I am a scholar and you are a legendary warrior, I will fight you for her if I must.” He pushed his sleeves up and adopted a martial arts pose, holding his folding fan in front of him as if it were a weapon.

“Gabrielle is not a possession to be fought over. She asked you to leave. Walk away. Do not come anywhere near us until you’ve learned how to treat Gabrielle right.” Her icy blue orbs narrowed threateningly as she whispered to him, “I’ll not be so forgiving the next time you disrespect her.”

“I am not afraid of you.” Ji Yu said. “I will not stand by and watch the woman I love being treated so abominably.”

“Enough!” An authoritative voice rang out, cutting short anything else the young scholar might have said. The clan chief walked towards them with Ci Nu following closely on his heels. Ji Yu took a step back and bowed respectfully to the chief.

“I apologise for the offence this young pup has caused. We usually have better manners.” The chief told the soulmates.

“Chief, I…” Ji Yu said.

“Shut your mouth. You have embarrassed yourself and our clan enough for one day.” The chief said. “Leave us. I will decide what to do with you in the morning.”

Ji Yu bowed deeply and hurried away.

Once he was out of earshot, Gabrielle said, “I’m sorry we caused a scene. That was not my intention.”

The chief waved away her apology. “You gave him the opportunity to walk away with his pride intact. He was too stubborn to take it.”

“Too full of himself.” Xena muttered under her breath.

“Would you really have beaten him up?” Ci Nu asked Xena.

“She would.” Xena said, indicating her soulmate with her thumb.

“He shouldn’t have said all those things about Xena.” Gabrielle insisted.

“That was a grievous breach of etiquette.” The chief agreed. “I might need to send him away.”

“There is no need to send him away on our account. We’ll abide by your decision, whatever it is.” Gabrielle said.

“S’long as you don’t mind me roughing him up a little. I meant what I said.” Xena reminded them.

“I will take that into consideration.” The chief replied. “Though, if he does persist, he deserves to be taught a lesson. Just don’t kill him.”

“Xena only kills when it is necessary.” Gabrielle said.

“I won’t kill a member of the clan unless I am forced to.” Xena reassured everyone.

“Then I hope he never forces you to.” The chief said.


“Take off your clothes. I’ll give you a massage.” Xena told Gabrielle when they were back in their room. “It’ll help you relax.”

She waited until the bard had stripped and was lying face down on the bed before picking up a bottle of olive oil. Climbing onto the bed, she straddled Gabrielle’s waist and slathered oil onto her soulmate’s back. She then proceeded to rub the oil thoroughly into the skin, starting with the lower back and working her way up to the neck before kneading each muscle into submission.

By the time she was done, Gabrielle was feeling pleasantly warm and thoroughly relaxed. “I think that was just what the doctor ordered.” She murmured languidly.

“You wanna turn over?” Xena asked.

“Not really. I think I’m ready to fall asleep.”

“Sleep then. I’ll join you in a bit.” Xena said, getting up from the bed.

“Don’t take too long…” Gabrielle trailed off, asleep before she could finish her sentence.

Xena pulled a chair next to the bed, placed her equipment on the bedside table and set to work cleaning them. While her hands worked, her mind returned to her conversation with the golden dragon.

She’d always considered Gabrielle her responsibility and made the bard’s safety one of her top priorities. But that hadn’t always worked out well and she’d ended up hurting her soulmate on more than one occasion.

The bard had always forgiven her and Xena had always sworn to do better. But she was forever making the same mistakes. And it all stemmed from her desire to protect her soulmate at all cost. Perhaps it was time to do less protecting and more loving. That would mean talking things through with Gabrielle more and making joint decisions instead of trying to shield her soulmate from the darker realities of life.

Deep down, Xena knew that Gabrielle was no longer the young innocent girl she’d met outside Potidaea but old habits die hard. From the start, she’d wanted to protect and preserve her soulmate’s sweet innocence and it still irked her that she’d failed so miserably. There were times when she wished they could return to those days, when Gabrielle had not lost her blood innocence and life was still full of awe and wonder for the young bard.

Maybe she could finally give her soulmate what she’d been clamouring for all this time—that Xena stopped treating her like a kid and started treating her like an adult. It would mean becoming partners in every sense of the word. Change would not be easy though, especially for someone as set in her ways as the warrior princess. But if it meant not hurting Gabrielle any more, she would give it a try.

She finished polishing off the last of her daggers, set everything aside before climbing into bed next to her soulmate. She kissed the soundly sleeping bard tenderly on the cheek and whispered, “I love you, Gabrielle.”


“I have spoken with Father.” Ci Nu said. The young dragon had popped by the soulmates’ room to give Gabrielle the news, having bumped into Xena earlier at the arena. “He will talk to the other clans if you will speak with the Amazons on our behalf.”

Gabrielle nodded. “I will. But it’d be best if you could accompany me as a representative of the dragons.”

“Certainly. I will inform Father. He will call for a gathering of the clan chiefs. If all goes well, we should have an answer from the other clans by the next new moon.” Ci Nu said.

“That’s more than a month away…” Gabrielle said. “I don’t think Xena’s going to be too happy about that.”

“Is there a problem?” Ci Nu asked.

“Nothing serious.” Gabrielle reassured her. “Xena has a chronic case of wanderlust. I’m not sure she’ll be able to stay here for another month without going crazy.”

“You are both free to leave and explore Chin anytime you wish. But I would prefer if you stayed in the village. At least until a decision on the Amazons has been reached.”

“I understand.” Gabrielle told her. “I’ll talk to Xena.”

Ci Nu nodded at her and got up to leave.

Gabrielle stopped her. “What about Ji Yu?”

“Yes, Ji Yu. Father plans to send him to the royal courts.”

“That doesn’t sound like a punishment.”

“Ji Yu will serve the people as a district magistrate. Father hopes he will learn something during his time there.”

“I like it. The world would be a better place if there were more people like your father. There would be no need for wars or violence.” Gabrielle said wistfully.

“Even good intentions can end up with bad outcomes.” Ci Nu said. “The recent clan wars are a good example.”

“I have not heard that story.” Gabrielle said.

Ci Nu sat back down. “I believe you are familiar with the green dragon?”

“You mean Ming T’ien?” Gabrielle loathed thinking of the one-time tyrannical emperor of Chin. In a misguided attempt to save him, she’d betrayed Xena and almost got the warrior killed. It hadn’t been one of her finer moments.

“Yes. Son of Ming Tzu and Lao Ma. Do you know how he came to be known as the green dragon?” Ci Nu said.

“Does it have something to do with your people?” Gabrielle asked, her curiosity piqued.

“There was a dragon in Ming Tzu’s court. It was he who coined the moniker for the young boy.”

“What does that have to do with the clan wars?” Gabrielle asked.

“After Ming Tzu’s death, the dragon took Ming T’ien under his wing, hoping to turn him into a wise and benevolent ruler. It didn’t work. As a last resort, he had Lao Ma brought to Ming T’ien. He thought Lao Ma’s wisdom and love would help him see the errors of his ways.” Ci Nu said.

“Instead, Ming T’ien killed his mother.” Gabrielle said.

“Lao Ma’s death was a huge loss to Chin. All the clans, except one, sent assassins to kill Ming T’ien. They were betrayed. That was the start of the clan wars.”

“Good intentions indeed.” Gabrielle said, thinking how similar Ci Nu’s story had been to her own situation.

“Lao Ma was Xena’s mentor. It’s fitting that she succeeded in killing Ming T’ien where everyone else failed.”

Gabrielle had nothing to say to that. She’d been vehemently against Xena murdering Ming T’ien in cold blood. But Ci Nu was right. Sometimes, what’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right. It’d just taken her a long time to understand that.


That was the day Gabrielle first noticed something odd with her sense of smell. It was sharper than normal, which meant she could smell things she normally couldn’t. She had originally treated the experience more as a curiosity than anything else—until the smells became so overpowering that they were turning her off some of her favourite foods.

She loved pork, especially the way the dragons prepared and cooked the meat. But she hadn’t realised how strong pork smelled. And it was bad—so bad that she felt nauseated just sitting across from any dish containing pork. It was the same with goat or lamb.

Then it became a whole lot worse. With her heightened sense of smell, came nausea. At first, it was sporadic but soon persisted throughout most of the day. It was almost as bad as being on a ship. Gabrielle had resorted to using the pressure point that Xena had taught her for seasickness. That had helped initially but it hadn’t stopped her from throwing up after every meal.

When things still had not improved by lunch the third day, she decided to pay the clan healer a visit. Whatever this was, she needed it gone before her soulmate returned. The warrior did not know about her nausea or her inability to keep food down. Gabrielle had made sure of that by sending Xena away a few days earlier, ostensibly to see what news she could glean from the surrounding human settlements and to work some of the wanderlust out of the warrior’s system.

She hadn’t wanted to worry Xena unduly and the astute warrior would have suspected something amiss if Gabrielle hadn’t sent her away when she did. It had been her hope that whatever was causing her malaise would be gone before her soulmate returned. But there hadn’t been any improvement and the warrior was expected back any day now.

At the clan healer’s residence, she was greeted by one of his assistants who led her to the treatment room. It was located near the back of the house, in a huge room that reminded Gabrielle of a small hospice. It held 12 beds, all of which were empty.

A short while later, the healer hurried into the treatment room, followed closely by two of his assistants. He gave Gabrielle a bow. “Golden one, how may I be of assistance?”

The bard returned his bow and said, “Please, call me Gabrielle. I’d like to think we’re not strangers.”

“I am an old man who has spent his whole life in Chin. Foreign names are hard for me.” The healer said.

“You had no problems repeating Xena’s name after hearing it once.” Gabrielle pointed out.

The healer chuckled. “Xena’s name is well-known in Chin. And her name is easier than… Gabrielle.”

“You’ve a point. But I’d really appreciate if you could use my name.”

“I will try.” The healer said. “Now, Gabrielle, will you please tell me what I can do for you?”

“I haven’t been feeling well these past few days.” Gabrielle said.

The healer waved her to take a seat on one of the treatment beds. His assistants quickly moved a folding screen over to hide the bed from the rest of the room. He nodded at them and told them, “Leave us. Do not let anyone in here without my permission.” When his assistants had left, the healer turned back to the bard and said, “Now, tell me your symptoms.”

Gabrielle told him about her sensitivity to smell, aversion to strong smelling foods, nausea, and throwing up after every meal.

“How long has this been going on?”

“This would be the sixth day.” Gabrielle said.

The healer nodded, as if she was confirming something he already knew.

“What’s wrong with me?” Gabrielle asked.

The healer gave her an inscrutable look and took a seat on a stool. He opened his mouth to say something then seemed to change his mind. After a long pause, he finally said, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You are in the prime of your life.”

“That wasn’t what you were going to say.” Gabrielle noted.

“It wasn’t.” The healer agreed.

“Tell me.”

“I—“ The healer stopped, realising there wasn’t any way to sugar-coat things. He said, “Those are all early signs of pregnancy.”

Gabrielle’s jaw dropped and she stared at the healer in incomprehension. It took a while before her brain finished computing what he had said. “Are you saying I’m pregnant?” She shook her head emphatically. “You must be mistaken. I can’t be pregnant.”

“There is no mistake. You are more than a month into your pregnancy. That is usually when the signs start.” The healer said.

“That can’t be right. I haven’t. I—“ The bard was so shocked by the news that she could not think straight. “How can you be so sure?”

“Your aura. Or I should say—your baby’s aura. It becomes visible around 4 weeks after conception.”

“So you knew before I came here.” Gabrielle said. At the healer’s nod, she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“It wasn’t my place to say anything.”

“Does anyone else know?”

“Anyone who looks at your aura would know. But rest assured that none of us would gossip about such matters. The last thing we want to do is intrude upon your privacy or cause any offence.”

A thought struck Gabrielle. “Ji Yu—he knew. That was why he made all that fuss. He thought I’d cheated on Xena.”

The healer sighed. “That boy was always a little impetuous.”

“Does everyone believe I went behind Xena’s back and slept with someone else?” Gabrielle asked tentatively.

“It is not uncommon to seek comfort in the arms of another when one’s soulmate is dead.”

“I. Did. Not.” Gabrielle said, enunciating each word clearly. When the healer did not respond, she dropped her head into her hands and muttered, “Xena’s gonna hit the roof…” A host of conflicting emotions threatened to overwhelm her. But when she heard her soulmate calling for her out in the village, she told the healer, “Xena must not learn about this.”


The warrior had travelled all through the night without stopping. She’d already been on her way back but had picked up the pace when she’d felt Gabrielle through their soul-link the day before. Being on foot, it had taken her much longer than anticipated and Xena couldn’t help but blame herself as day turned into night then back into day again. She should have suspected that something was amiss when the bard had suggested Xena travel the countryside by herself. Gabrielle would never do that unless she had a good reason. And the reason she’d given had been flimsy at best.

But Xena had only been too keen to leave. It hadn’t even crossed her mind to question why her soulmate was sending her away. When she finally reached the village, she went straight to their room but Gabrielle wasn’t there. She then searched in a few of the bard’s usual haunts without any success.

Their soul-link wasn’t any help either. It told her that Gabrielle was somewhere in the village but could not narrow it down any further. That was why she had resorted to wandering around the village calling for her soulmate. “Gabrielle!”

She was contemplating continuing her search in the surrounding forest when Gabrielle’s voice sounded from behind her. “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”

Xena spun around. The bard looked a little green around the gills and a tad unsteady on her feet. She quickly closed the distance between them, gingerly placing an arm around her soulmate. “Are you sick? You’ve been throwing up since yesterday.”

“How do you know that?”

“I felt it. And you’re a little green around the edges. C’mon. Let’s get you to bed.” Xena bent down, gathered the bard into her arms and made for their room.

Gabrielle burrowed herself against Xena’s chest, drawing comfort from her soulmate’s presence but also feeling a little queasy from all the sudden movement. “Slow down. Unless you want me to puke all over you.”

“Sorry.” Xena slowed down and shortened her stride to avoid jarring her soulmate. “Better?”

“Good enough.”

Back in their room, Xena gently let Gabrielle down onto the bed then snagged a chair with one foot. She sat down and studied her soulmate intently. “You don’t have a fever. Is it just nausea and vomiting?”

“That’s about it.” Gabrielle said.

“When did it start?”

There was an almost imperceptible pause before Gabrielle said in a chirpy voice. “I just have an upset stomach. You know, from eating too much oily stuff.” She studiously avoided looking at Xena, aware that her soulmate was giving her the ‘I wasn’t born yesterday’ glare.


“Xena, the clan healer says I’ll be fine. So can you stop worrying? I’ll be good and rest.” Gabrielle said, trying once more to deflect the warrior’s questions. She needed time to process what she’d just learn before breaking the news of her pregnancy to her soulmate.

Xena wasn’t happy. She wanted answers. But she also knew she wasn’t going to get anything out of Gabrielle when the bard was in this kind of mood. Hopefully the clan healer would be able to shed some light on what was wrong with her soulmate. “Have you tried the pressure point?”

Gabrielle let out a heavy sigh. “I think that only made it worse.”

“Hmmm… Guess numbing your taste buds isn’t the best idea. I’ll make you some ginger tea. That should help.” Xena gathered all the pillows in their room and placed them on the bed, using them to prop Gabrielle up slightly so that she would not be lying flat on her back. The warrior leaned down, kissed her soulmate on her forehead and told her to get some rest.


Gabrielle let out a huge sigh of relief when the warrior finally left the room. She was not naïve enough to believe that Xena suspected nothing. But, at least this way, her soulmate would be more worried about her condition than what had caused it or what it implied.

She was still struggling to come to terms with the revelation that she was pregnant. As she’d told the clan healer, there was no way she could be pregnant. She had never betrayed Xena—at least not that way. Although she really couldn’t blame anyone for believing otherwise—a month ago, Xena had been dead. Besides, it was impossible for her soulmate to get her pregnant.

Unfortunately, that left only one possible explanation—divine intervention. Her first thought had been Eli. The timeline was right. It had been approximately one month ago that they’d visited a temple dedicated to him. Eli had been responsible for Xena’s pregnancy and he certainly could be behind hers. But if he was, what reason could he possibly have?

Her second thought… had been Dahak. The evil god had tricked her into giving up her blood innocence and added insult to injury by impregnating her with his evil spawn. In her naiveté, she had welcomed the child with open arms, blood of her blood, and flesh of her flesh. She’d named the child, Hope; convinced the little bundle of joy nestling in her arms was the physical embodiment of the hope she’d lost when she went against everything she believed in and lost her blood innocence in the process.

Xena, with her vast experience and intimate knowledge of evil, had seen the child for what she was, the offspring of Dahak—a physical embodiment not of hope but of evil. But Gabrielle had thwarted the warrior princess’ attempt to kill Hope, fleeing into the protective arms of the banshees who’d kept Xena occupied while she’d fled with her daughter, her only hope.

Had she been rational at the time, she would have realised that the banshees wouldn’t have protected and worshipped her if Hope had just been an innocent baby. But Gabrielle hadn’t stopped to think, her only goal at the time was to protect her daughter—from Xena, who was pursuing them with a vengeance, determined to rid the world of an evil before it could come of age.

The warrior had caught up to them, as Gabrielle knew she would. Thinking quickly, she had placed Hope in a basket, lowering it into the river below. Her heart broke as she watched the current carry the basket away, bringing her daughter with it. She’d lied to Xena then—lied to her best friend that Hope was dead. That innocent lie would later come back to haunt her, to haunt them. Before the year was over, Hope would return, this time to carry out her father’s evil will.

Once again, Gabrielle had been blinded by her love for her daughter—believing that a young child could never be inherently evil, regardless of whom her father had been. She’d been so wrong. Hope had used her, used her love; all so that she could kill Xena’s son, Solon. Shocked by her daughter’s role in Solon’s death, Gabrielle had poisoned Hope.

Her betrayal had caused an insurmountable rift between Xena and her—a rift that had nearly destroyed them both. Gabrielle never wanted to go through all that pain, guilt and regret ever again. Luckily for her, Dahak was dead. Hercules and Iolaus had killed him.

But Dahak’s death did not make Gabrielle any less conflicted about being a mother. Her experience with Hope had scarred her for life. And that was before taking into account how Xena would take the news of her pregnancy.

What would her soulmate think? When Gabrielle first learned that Xena was pregnant with Eve, she’d all but accused the warrior of cheating on her with one of her many lovers. And despite her soulmate’s protests to the contrary, Gabrielle had seethed for many days at the thought of the warrior in the arms of another.

It was not difficult to imagine that Xena would think she’d been unfaithful to her. After all, most if not all of the Southern Forest clan dragons already believed that, so why not Xena? The mere thought made Gabrielle physically sick. She leaned over the side of the bed and dry heaved into a bucket.


“Sip this.” Xena said, handing a steaming cup of ginger tea to Gabrielle. “Be careful, it’s hot.”

“What’s in it?” Gabrielle asked, taking the cup and sniffing at it.

“Ginger, honey, chamomile, and a touch of lemon.”

“No wonder it took you so long. I thought it was going to be just ginger and hot water.” Gabrielle said, blowing gently into the cup.

With a little sleight of hand, Xena produced a small lemon seemingly out of thin air and placed it on the bedside table. “I got this for you. Took me a while to find a tree. It ain’t used much in Chin.”

“What’s it for?” Gabrielle asked, staring curiously at the yellow fruit.

“A theory I wanna test. When the nausea hits, scratch the skin and smell it. You’ll need to carry it around.”

“Huh… I never knew lemons could be used in that way.” The bard took a small tentative sip of ginger tea but it was still too hot. She made a face. “Can you hand me a spoon from my pack?”

The warrior picked up Gabrielle’s pack, rummaged inside and came up with a wooden spoon. She passed it over to the bard who used it to stir the hot tea, speeding up the cooling process. After a while, the tea had cooled enough that Gabrielle could sip it more comfortably. She gave a small sigh of relief as the tea did its work. Her rebellious stomach settled and she no longer felt like emptying her guts into the ground. “This is the best I’ve felt all day.”

“Good. Now stay here and rest.” Xena said.

Seeing her soulmate get up to leave, Gabrielle asked, “Where are you going?”

“Gotta go talk to the cooks.”


Technically, Xena hadn’t been lying. She’d dropped by the kitchen to give the cooks some suggestions for Gabrielle’s dinner. But it would take some time for the food to be ready. In the meantime, she would pay the clan healer a visit.

She hunted the healer down in his study and knocked on the door.

The healer did not look surprised to see her. “Xena, come in. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Bi Dan.” Xena said as she entered the study and closed the door behind her.

The healer’s forehead furrowed in confusion. He had been expecting the warrior but he certainly wasn’t expecting Xena to bring up his one-time protégé. “What about Bi Dan?”

“You should reinstate him.”

“Did he ask you to intercede on his behalf?” The healer asked.

“No. I overheard your assistants talking about what happened.”

“Then you know that he made a fatal mistake. He could have killed you.”

“But he didn’t.” Xena said. “Look, everyone makes mistakes.”

The healer shook his head, obviously not agreeing with Xena’s assessment. “A healer cannot afford to make mistakes. It could mean the difference between life and death. How can I reinstate him to chief assistant when he made a mistake that only a novice would make? He has lost the respect of his juniors.”

“That was not what I heard.” Xena told him. “Your assistants agree with him. If it’d been anyone but me, he woulda been right. It’s not his fault I don’t play by the rules.”

The healer looked unconvinced. “That is the difference between a good healer and a great healer. Bi Dan is book-smart. He knows everything there is to know about the art of healing but he does not deviate from the tried and tested. Not everyone responds in the same way—one man’s meat is another man’s poison. To be a great healer, he must be able to assess and evaluate the patient’s condition and find the best treatment for that patient, not use what has been proven to work for others.”

“Then teach him.” Xena said. “Bi Dan’s heart is in the right place and he has the knowledge to be a great healer. He just needs someone to show him how. If you demote him, he’ll never reach his full potential. That’d be a waste.”

There was a long pause as the healer pondered Xena’s words. The warrior wasn’t wrong. He had promoted Bi Dan precisely because of his potential for greatness. The young assistant could be the greatest healer their clan had ever known. And he was only a thousand years old. It had been his hope that Bi Dan would take over from him in time. Those hopes had been dashed when the young dragon made that critical mistake. But, everyone made mistakes. He’d made his fair share and would not have become clan healer if his own mentor hadn’t been patient with him. Xena’s words had merit. “I will think on what you have said.”

“Thank you.” Xena said.

“But that’s not the main reason you are here.” The healer said.

“I want to know what’s wrong with Gabrielle.”

“What makes you think there is something wrong?” He asked.

“I’m not here to play games.” Xena told him. “How long has she been sick?”

“Six days.”

Xena nodded. It made sense. Gabrielle had sent her away 4 days ago. And she hadn’t sensed anything amiss at the time. Her soulmate had obviously been trying to hide her sickness from her.

“Is it—serious?” Xena asked. The warrior’s healing skills tended towards the practical. Her diagnostic skills were more… rudimentary. She could treat Gabrielle’s symptoms but she wouldn’t know if there was some serious underlying illness until and unless the bard’s condition worsened.

“Alleviate her symptoms and she will feel better very soon.” The healer said.

“There’s something you ain’t telling me.” Xena said.

“I have told you everything I can.” The healer said.


Speaking with the clan healer hadn’t given Xena any clarity on Gabrielle’s condition. But she couldn’t help the nagging suspicion that this was most likely a consequence of what she’d done after the fight with the tyrant.

She stopped by the kitchen to pick up Gabrielle’s dinner. When she returned to their room, her soulmate was sleeping peacefully, without any of the stress lines that had marred her face earlier. This soothed the worry that had been gnawing at Xena and her heart felt a little lighter as she placed the tray of food on the bedside table. She took a seat beside the bed, leaned back in the chair and watched Gabrielle until exhaustion overtook her and she too fell into a dreamless sleep.

The clink of china startled Xena awake and she caught herself in time to avoid falling off the chair. The sound she heard had been Gabrielle lifting the lid off the bowl she’d brought from the kitchen.

“Sorry, porcelain makes such a din.” Gabrielle said apologetically. “I was trying not to wake you.” She picked up a spoon and scooped out pieces of food, trying to identify the dish. “Chicken soup?”

“I had them add some ginger. There’s rice too.” Xena said, pointing to the other covered bowl on the tray.

Gabrielle took a couple mouthfuls of soup then eyed the rice, trying to decide if it would be worth the risk. As if reading her thoughts, Xena said, “Try drenching the rice with the soup.”

The bard scooped up some rice, dipped it into the soup and drank it down. When her stomach did not protest, she became emboldened and began taking bigger mouthfuls. Soon, she was shovelling food into her mouth like there was no tomorrow.

“Gabrielle, slow down.” Xena cautioned. She was heartened by her soulmate’s healthy appetite. It was a good sign. But eating too fast could stress the stomach and exacerbate her nausea.

Gabrielle smiled sheepishly and forced herself to take it easy. As she ate, it suddenly occurred to her that her soulmate must have been exhausted. It wasn’t like Xena to fall asleep in the middle of the day.

The warrior must have rushed back without stopping to rest or to eat. And here she was, making sure Gabrielle was well fed and taken care of when she was most likely dead on her feet and starving. “Xena, when was the last time you ate?”

Xena honestly could not remember. She’d been so worried about Gabrielle that the idea of food hadn’t even crossed her mind until that very moment. “It’s still early. I’ll grab a bite later.”

“You don’t remember, do you?”

The warrior shrugged, neither confirming nor denying Gabrielle’s statement. “I’m not hungry. I’ll get something from the kitchen when I bring the tray back.”


To appease the bard, Xena dug inside her pack and came up with a somewhat shrivelled apple which might have been intended as a snack a few days back. She polished it on her armour and took a bite. “Happy?”

“That’ll do for now. You still need proper food. Who’ll take care of me if you fall sick?” Gabrielle said.

“I don’t fall sick that easily.” Xena grumbled around another bite of apple.

After Gabrielle had finished her dinner, Xena took the tray back to the kitchen and returned with two plates, one heaped with fruits and the other with some bread and cheese. There was also a tiny bowl of olives and olive oil on the side.

“That’s your dinner?” Gabrielle asked. She was expecting something more substantial, especially considering that her soulmate had probably not eaten anything other than that sorry excuse of an apple the entire day.

Xena took the plate of bread. “This is mine.” She pushed the plate of fruits towards Gabrielle. “That’s yours.”

Gabrielle looked at the fruits quizzically. “I already ate.”

“You’ll get hungry later. Watermelon’s for tonight. The bananas and oranges can keep for tomorrow. How’re you feeling?”

“My stomach stopped trying to turn itself inside out.”

“That’s good.” Xena said. “You look better. At least there’s some colour in your cheeks now.”

“That’s cos you took good care of me. Now lemme see you eat.”

“I hear and obey, Queen Gabrielle.” Xena said in a half mocking tone, popping an olive into her mouth and chewing the salty treat slowly before biting into a chunk of bread.

If only everything was that simple. Gabrielle thought.


With the change in her diet and Xena’s constant care, the worst of Gabrielle’s morning sickness was behind her. The nausea still hit her like clockwork every morning but her soulmate always ensured there would be a steaming cup of tea waiting for her when she awoke. And for those increasingly rare occasions where the nausea would come at some random time of the day, she always had a lemon to hand. The little experiment had proven to be a true lifesaver more than once and she’d developed a newfound appreciation for the mouth-puckering fruit.

Since Xena’s return, Gabrielle had been on edge. Every time her soulmate looked at her funny, her heart would skip a beat, certain the day had come when she would finally be forced to divulge the news of her pregnancy. But that moment never came.

Ji Yu had left the village early that morning. Without him around, the chances of anyone broaching the subject with Xena were infinitesimally small. And Gabrielle was starting to believe that she wouldn’t have to bring up the subject of her pregnancy until she started showing.

She should have known better than to jinx it because the very moment that thought crossed her mind; she became aware that her soulmate was standing at the doorway of their room observing her. The warrior had a look on her face—a look that told Gabrielle that whatever time she thought she had, that time had just run out. Her mouth was parched as a desert wasteland as she watched Xena’s mouth open in slow motion.

The words that followed were the stuff that Gabrielle’s nightmares had been made of. “Are you pregnant?”

Silence ruled the room as Gabrielle gaped at her soulmate. Her mind was a complete blank. She’d thought about this moment every day since she’d found out that she was expecting. She’d been prepared for questions about her sickness and how she’d ease into the subject of her pregnancy. But never once had she imagined Xena asking her point blank. What was she supposed to say?

“You’re glowing.” Xena said when it became apparent that no answer was forthcoming. “The nausea and vomiting. The sensitivity to smell. Your breasts barely fitting into your top.”

Gabrielle scrambled frantically to find a response and the only thing her mind could latch on to was Xena’s last statement. “You’ve been staring at my breasts?”

The warrior shrugged, as if it wasn’t a big deal. And it really wasn’t. Xena stared at Gabrielle a lot, but it did not take a rocket scientist to notice that the bard’s top was no longer fitting as well as it used to. “Are you?”

“Xena, I haven’t been with a guy since Perdicus.”

“Answer the question.”

Gabrielle’s shoulders sagged. This wasn’t how she’d imagined this conversation going but Xena was laser-focused and none of her attempts at deflection were working. So she did the only thing she could—she answered the question. “The clan healer believes so.”

Xena was silent for a long time. Now that her suspicions had been proven correct, she wasn’t sure what to think. She’d known this had been a possibility. When she finally spoke, her tone was very gentle. “How do you feel about it?”

“I don’t know.” Gabrielle said in a small voice. “I’ve been struggling with the news since I learned about it. I keep coming back to the same thing—I cannot be pregnant. It’s just not possible.”

“Well, the same thing happened to me with Eve.”

“Are you telling me Eli did this?”

“Eli?” Xena looked genuinely confused. “What has Eli got to do with you being pregnant?”

Gabrielle looked at Xena suspiciously. The warrior wasn’t acting like someone who’d just found out their partner was pregnant. She thought over the past few days, the remedies that her soulmate had provided and the foods that had been prepared for her. Once the idea took root in her mind, it became very clear that Xena had known about her condition from the very beginning. “I was expecting you to be all jealous, like when you found me snuggled up with Phyleus. Or when I became too chummy with Iolaus and you dragged me away. And let’s not forget Najara…”

A dark shadow passed over Xena’s face at the mere mention of Najara, the look reminding Gabrielle of thunderclouds and lightning striking the ground so close that she could feel the prickle of electricity running across her skin, causing the hair on her flesh to stand on end. “Never mind that.” Gabrielle mumbled, waving her hand in front of her as if she could banish the name from existence. “Xena, you’re unnaturally calm. You knew, didn’t you?”

“I suspected.”

“You knew.” Gabrielle insisted, her tone accusatory.

“I… I wasn’t sure.”

The idea that Xena had known but not bothered to tell her anything brought anger rushing through Gabrielle’s veins like hot water, causing her face to flush. “You knew I was pregnant. I bet you knew how it happened. And you couldn’t be bothered to tell me? If you had, I wouldn’t have to go through the morning sickness alone, thinking I was deathly ill. And I wouldn’t have to worry about Dahak getting his claws into me again.”

Xena’s face had lost its colour at the mention of Dahak. It had been her fault that Gabrielle had been in Britannia. The bard would never have lost her blood innocence if she hadn’t left her alone. And none of what followed would have ever happened. “Gabrielle…”

Gabrielle did not even wait for Xena to say another word. She put out a hand to stop the warrior and said, “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t even want to see you right now.”

The bard got up to storm out of the room but did not make it to the door before Xena said, “No, I’ll go.” She walked over to her pack, pulled out a few packets and placed them on the table. “Use one for each cup. This should last you for a few days. If you run out, you can get more from the clan healer.” From one of the cupboards, she took out a lemon and placed it beside the packets of tea. “This is the last one. Hopefully, you won’t need more.”

Xena tied her bedroll to her pack and slung it over her shoulder. She stood staring at her soulmate for a long time, as if trying to commit the sight to memory. “I love you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle did not look at Xena or acknowledge her. It was not until the warrior had turned and walked out the door that she finally looked up, her forest green eyes glittering with tears.


For the next few days, Xena wandered around the countryside. She had no particular place to be and no particular timeline to keep. The only criteria she’d set herself was to remain within a day’s travel from the Southern Forest clan, just in case Gabrielle needed her. Given a choice, she would have stayed within clan territory but her soulmate needed space and she did not want to crowd the bard by staying in the vicinity. So she’d flipped a coin and headed east.

It felt good, being on the road again, helping people in need and falling into the familiar habits of old. Two days into her travels, she came across rumours of a woman spreading the message of love in a town 5 days due east. For a moment, Xena had been tempted to follow the rumours and see if her daughter, Eve, who was now more commonly known as the Messenger of Eli, was indeed in the area. It would be good to see her daughter again. And let Eve know that the rumours of her death were untrue.

But travelling 5 days east would take her too far away and so she’d contented herself with verifying the rumours in the surrounding villages. There would be time to visit with Eve before they returned to Greece. Besides, she wanted Gabrielle with her when they broke the news that Eve was going to be a big sister. Xena had so many regrets where Eve was concerned. Events outside of her control had transpired to separate her daughter from her when she was just a baby, depriving Eve of a mother’s love for 25 long years.

That had caused a lot of resentment in Eve towards her mother and Xena knew that the news of Gabrielle’s pregnancy could easily reopen old wounds for her daughter. They would need to be careful in how they broached the subject with Eve. Considering how she’d botched things with Gabrielle, she would definitely need the bard along for that particular sensitive chat.

It was getting late in the day and the warrior was in the process of looking for a campsite when she came across a group of bandits harassing a family of 4—two kids and their parents. The bandits were shabbily dressed and looked seriously malnourished, due in large part to the secluded area they’d chosen to waylay unsuspecting travellers. They were quite a ways from the main roads and were lucky there was even anyone to rob. Xena suspected the family was either lost, or had decided to take an ill-advised shortcut to avoid being out on the roads after dark.

She stepped out into full view of the bandits, drawing her sword and twirling it casually in one hand as she did so. “Look boys, two for the price of one. Guess it must be your lucky day.”

A stupid smile appeared on the face of one of the bandits as he caught sight of the warrior princess. He was young, in his early twenties and his broad smile revealed brownish black teeth rotting within. “See boss, tol’ ya our luck was gonna change. I ‘as right, ain’t I?” He was addressing a balding man in his late forties dressed in clothes less threadbare than the rest. The leader of the motley crew was the only one armed with a sword. The other bandits wielded crudely made clubs and staffs.

Having taken note of Xena’s attire and the casual skill with which she wielded her sword, the bandit leader said, “Ya stoopid boy, that ‘un’s trouble.” He then pointed to the family and said, “Take their stuff, quick.”

Xena planted herself between the bandits and the family, gesturing for them to stay behind her. “That would be a no.”

The bandit leader hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat in disgust at the sudden turn of events. “Shite luck. Let’s go.” He turned to leave but found himself confronted by pale blue orbs that stared straight into his soul. Damn, that broad’s fast, didn’t even see her move.

“It’s rude to leave without saying goodbye.” Xena told him. She sucker punched him in the face then turned to address the rest of the bandits. “C’mon boys, party’s just getting started.”

Driven by desperation and probably hunger, the bandits rushed her instead of running away. A grin of wicked delight lit Xena’s face as she waited for them to come closer. Once they did, she spun into action, slapping aside their weapons with ease and knocking them out. When she was done, she took a rope from her pack and tied the bandits securely to a tree.

Satisfied they would not be going anywhere, Xena turned to the family. She learned that they had been visiting relatives at a nearby village and was rushing to get home before it got dark. Along the way, their younger child, had come down with a bad case of diarrhoea, and delayed their return home. They had resorted to the shortcut, not realising that bandits had taken up residence in the area.

The younger child, a 7-year-old girl, was hiding behind her mother. Xena crouched down to make herself less threatening. Smiling reassuringly, she pointed at the child’s stomach and asked, “Does it still hurt?”

The girl glanced up at her mother who nodded encouragingly at her. She looked back at the strange foreign woman and shook her head no.

“Can I touch it?” Xena asked.

This time, the child nodded yes. Xena gently placed her hand on the girl’s stomach, pressed down in a few places and asked if it hurt. The girl shook her head each time. Satisfied, Xena patted her on her head and stood up. To the parents, she said, “She’s fine. It’s late. I’ll walk you home.”

Xena spent the night in the family barn. The grateful parents had offered her one of the girl’s beds but she had declined. There was no reason to deprive a child of their bed when she would be as comfortable in a pile of hay as she would be in a proper bed. She turned onto her back, stared up at the thatched roof high above her and thought of Gabrielle.


Gabrielle had no idea why she’d lost her temper. She hadn’t even given Xena a chance to explain. That was stupid. Now, she didn’t even know if there was anything to be angry about. Yes, it seemed likely her soulmate had known or suspected she was pregnant. But it could have been as simple as putting two and two together and coming up with four.

There was no reason to believe the warrior had known before Gabrielle’s symptoms had started; except there had been something about her soulmate’s response that had made her believe otherwise. Xena had said she wasn’t sure.

What did that mean? If her soulmate had known beforehand, why wouldn’t she be sure? She had initially believed Eli had done it at Xena’s behest but the warrior’s response had been unequivocal. That was where things got muddy. If it hadn’t been Eli, Gabrielle didn’t know who it could have been. The gods of Jappa? Chin? The sacred dragon? The possibilities were endless.

Aside from that, Gabrielle was also terrified. Her first taste of pregnancy and motherhood had been a nightmare. What if history repeated itself? When Xena had been pregnant with Eve, she’d said there was life in her and it was good. Well… Gabrielle didn’t feel anything. How would she know if it was good or if it was something she needed to rid herself of?

She placed both hands flat on her tummy, willing herself to feel something, anything. But all she felt was her heart racing a mile a minute, like a spooked deer racing through the woods. And then the nausea started. Her eyes immediately lit on the packets of tea that Xena had left. She fingered them absentmindedly and picked up the lemon instead. Using her fingernail, she scratched off a thin strip from the peel, put it to her nose and took a deep breath. The clean citrusy smell settled her stomach instantly. But it was time she made some tea. She picked up one of the tea packets and headed for the communal dining area.

At the kitchen, the cooks and their assistants were bustling around, prepping food and cooking. Gabrielle wondered how she was going to make her tea when one of the assistants spotted her and hurried over.

“Golden one, do you need something?” The kitchen assistant asked with a bow.

“I need some tea.” Gabrielle said, taking out the packet and showing it to the assistant.

“Ah yes. Your soulmate left instructions.” The assistant said as she skilfully moved Gabrielle out of the way of someone carrying a pot full of hot water. “Please wait outside. I will bring the tea and your lunch shortly.” She plucked the packet from Gabrielle’s fingers and disappeared into the maelstrom of activity that was the kitchen.

“She left instructions… Of course…” Gabrielle muttered to herself, taking a seat on one of the benches nearest to the kitchen.

Not long after, the assistant came outside and handed Gabrielle a tray with the tea and a covered dish. “What’s in that?” The bard asked.

“Beef stew. We strained out most of the oil with cheese cloth and added a little ginger. We also put the rice inside the bowl before we poured in the stew.”

“Xena asked you to do all that?” Gabrielle asked somewhat incredulously.

“Not really. We just followed her instructions. Less oil, ginger in every dish, things like that.” The kitchen assistant replied.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.”

The kitchen assistant looked at Gabrielle with a wistful almost dreamy smile as she said, “Your soulmate doesn’t look like the kind and sensitive type but I wished my partner was as considerate as she is.”

Gabrielle returned the smile with one of her own and said with not a little pride, “Looks can be deceiving. You’d be surprised by how kind and sensitive Xena really is.”


Gabrielle spent the three days since Xena’s departure wondering where her soulmate was, what she was doing, and when she would return. Every morning, upon waking, and every night, before she slept, she would search for the warrior through their soul-link. Xena was no longer within the clan territory but was somewhere to the east of her. Part of her wondered if her soulmate was ever coming back. There was no reason to believe Xena wouldn’t. And Gabrielle knew deep down in her heart that her soulmate would never abandon her. But she could not help the fears and worries that assailed her constantly. It was almost as if her emotions had run amok.

After what she’d told Xena, Gabrielle knew the warrior wouldn’t initiate contact or return unless and until she reached out first. She desperately wanted to. But an irrational part of her was convinced that the whole debacle with Hope would repeat itself as long as the warrior was part of her life.

Whenever she thought of Hope, she would inevitably think of Xena. It was like they were two sides of the same coin. Gabrielle dug her fingernails into her palm until the pain drove the incessant thoughts out of her head. She looked at the last packet of tea sitting forlornly on the table and decided a visit to the clan healer might be in order.

An assistant greeted Gabrielle at the clan healer’s abode. But instead of leading her inside, the assistant informed her that the healer was away and not expected to return for a few days.

Gabrielle hadn’t been expecting that. She asked, “Who’s in charge while he’s away?”

“The chief assistant. Do you wish to see him?”

“Yes.” Gabrielle said. She couldn’t wait for him to return. Her tea was running out and she needed to consult with a healer before she went crazy.

“This way please.” The assistant led her to the treatment room where a young man who bore a striking resemblance to the clan healer was seated.

“Thank you, junior.” The young man said to the assistant before bidding Gabrielle welcome. “I do not believe we have been formally introduced. My name is Bi Dan. I am the chief assistant here.”

“Bi Dan… Are you related to the clan healer in any way?” Gabrielle asked.

The chief assistant smiled. “Yes. He is my father.”

“I didn’t know he had a son.” Gabrielle said.

“My father is a private man.” Bi Dan told her. “To the outside world, he is my master and I am his student.”

“You look just like him.”

“Have you come for more tea?” Bi Dan asked, changing the subject.

Gabrielle nodded. Bi Dan went to one of the cabinets, opened a drawer and took out a few packets. He handed them over. They looked exactly like the one she had left on her bedroom table.

“Did Xena pack these?” Gabrielle asked, running her fingers over the packets of tea.

“She did.” Bi Dan admitted.


“Before she left.”

Tears welled up in Gabrielle’s eyes and she swiped them away angrily. “Sorry about that, I seem to be doing a lot of that these days.”

Bi Dan looked at her compassionately. “It’s the pregnancy. It makes women more emotional and their emotions stronger, especially in the first 3 months.”

“So that’s what it is… I thought I was going crazy. I don’t suppose there’s a tea for that.” Gabrielle said half-jokingly.

“Unfortunately not.” Bi Dan said. “You may want to keep your soulmate close during this period. Something about the soul bond keeps the mood swings under control.”

“That explains a lot.” Gabrielle said wryly. “Thank you.”


After speaking with Bi Dan, Gabrielle felt better. All the anxiety and fear she’d been feeling were totally valid, just amplified out of whack, the same way it had been with her sense of smell. Understanding what was happening helped a lot but it was difficult to be rational when her emotions were playing tricks on her.

One part of her wanted to ask Xena to return this very minute. Another part was screaming that her soulmate had run out on her and would not be coming back. And that she would only be setting herself up for rejection if she tried. Then there was the treacherous part, clamouring that Xena would never have left if she’d truly loved her.

She spent the rest of the day wrestling with herself and her doubts. And most of the night tossing and turning. Eventually, she fell asleep. The dream came almost immediately.

In the dream, she saw a small rundown farmhouse with an equally ramshackle barn next to it. It was night and the only light came from the full moon above. A cloud drifted across the moon, hiding it from sight and everything went dark. Suddenly, there was a spark, then two, three… The sparks turned into flames, the flames into hungry tongues of fire licking at the barn until it became wholly engulfed. Backlit by the fire, a dozen dark figures stood in a circle around the barn. Light glinted on their drawn katanas. They were dressed in black robes, just like the ones who had tried to steal Xena’s ashes before.

The black robed figures glanced at each other as the roof of the barn collapsed inwards. They were on edge, as if waiting for someone or something. Moments later, the door of the barn flew outwards like a burning missile, disgorging a tall dark figure from within. Dark blue eyes set in a fearsome mask framed by long dark flowing hair; the figure was instantly recognisable as Xena. There was something slung over her shoulder and she had a nasty burn across her back.

At the sight of the warrior, the black robed figures flowed into action. They converged on Xena but she somersaulted over them and ran towards the house. She dodged a flash of silver and turned to the left. Something must have caught her attention because she changed directions. A child burst out from the house, running towards her. There was a flash of silver and Xena was flying—fingers reaching. She grabbed hold of the child’s clothes, pulling the child down just in time to avoid being hit by the shuriken. But whoever had thrown the missile must have anticipated Xena’s move because two more throwing stars followed closely behind. One hit its target, embedded deep in the side of the warrior’s neck.

Bright red blood immediately spurted from the wound. Gabrielle knew what that meant; she’d seen enough of combat injuries to know her soulmate would die if the bleeding was not stopped immediately. She woke up screaming, “Xena!” Luckily, the chief’s abode was empty. Both the chief and Ci Nu had left that morning to meet with the other clans.

The shout immediately roused Xena. She had one hand on her sword and was rolling onto her feet before she remembered Gabrielle was back in the clan village.

Gabrielle? What’s wrong? Xena asked telepathically.

Are you in a barn?

Yes. Did you have one of your dreams?

You need to get out now. Mikaboshi’s assassins—they’re coming for you. I saw the barn on fire.

Xena’s mind went into overdrive. She could not afford for the assassins to find her here. There were too many innocent people who could get hurt or lose their lives if things went wrong. And the family did not deserve to lose their home or livelihood to a fire just because they had unwittingly crossed paths with her. She needed to lure the assassins to somewhere secluded, where there was no chance of anyone accidentally stepping into the line of fire.

Be careful when saving the child. It’s a trap. Gabrielle told Xena.

The barn door squeaked open and the small figure of a child slipped through. Gabrielle, I need to go. Xena grabbed her weapons and went to find out why the child was sneaking into the barn in the middle of the night.

“I love you, Xena… be careful.” Gabrielle murmured into the dead silence of the bedroom.


“What’re you doing here?” Xena asked gently, trying not to startle the little girl.

The younger daughter looked up at the tall foreign woman and spread her arms wide for a hug. “Bad dream.” She mumbled.

Xena bent down and the girl ran into her arms, burying her face in the warrior’s bosom. She stroked the child’s hair and said, “It’s alright. It’s just a dream.”

Once the child had calmed down, Xena said, “You and me, we’re gonna play a lil’ game. You’ll need to be really quiet. Can you do that?” The little girl nodded enthusiastically, her eyes wide at the idea of sneaking around in the dark. “Good girl. I need you to bring me to your sister. Then we’re gonna play hide and seek. Okay?”

“Okay.” The little girl said, holding firmly onto Xena’s hand as they exited the barn.

The door to the house stood wide open, a sure sign that something was amiss within. Xena turned to the little girl, placing one finger over her lips in a hushing motion. Thinking it was all part of the game, the child repeated the gesture with a broad smile on her face. The warrior picked up the sounds of people in one of the rooms as she carefully stepped through the front door.

She took a step towards the room but was stopped by the little girl who pointed to a small bedroom to the left. Signalling for the 7-year-old to stay where she was, Xena darted into the bedroom and gently roused the older girl. She gestured for the sister to follow her and was helped by the younger girl who appeared at the doorway, her finger on her lips in a conspiratorial manner.

When Xena got the children outside, she whispered, “Is there somewhere safe to hide?”

“Why?” The elder sister asked.

“We’re playing hide and seek.” The younger sister said, looking at Xena for confirmation. The warrior smiled and nodded.

“The cellar. It’s behind the house.” The elder sister said.

“Okay. I want you both to go there. Lock the door and don’t open it until you hear me or your parents. Do you understand?”

Both girls nodded. The elder sister had realised by now that they weren’t really playing hide and seek. Xena’s instructions had made that very clear.

“Good, go now.”

The sisters ran off without a word into the darkness, the elder leading the younger by hand.

When they were gone, Xena stepped back into the house. She heard a heavily accented male voice asking questions about a foreign woman who’d been spotted in the area. The parents insisted that they had seen nothing and knew nothing. They don’t know I’m here. Xena thought with satisfaction. I can use that to my advantage.

She crept silently through the house until she came to the room where the voices were coming from. Drawing her sword, she cautiously extended it past the doorframe so that she could use the blade to see within the room. Inside, three black robed figures stood with their backs towards her. The parents were on their knees by the side of the bed.

Xena sheathed her sword slowly, careful not to make a sound. She did not want to alert the assassins to her presence before it was too late. A wail from inside the room spurred the warrior into action and she burst through the doorway. She took out the nearest assassin with a swift chop to the neck. The remaining assassins immediately turned around to face her. Xena punched one of them in the face, breaking his nose before following up with an elbow to the temple that knocked him out cold. She exchanged blows with the last assassin, keeping him focused on her hands before kneeing him in the groin when the opportunity presented itself.

Leaving the last assassin rolling around squealing on the floor, Xena turned to the parents. She told them to hide in the cellar with their children until the coast was clear. After they left, she pulled the groaning assassin up and asked him, “Where’re the rest of your friends?”

The assassin spat at her. Xena wiped the spit from her face, her eyes narrowing as she glared at him. “Now we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” When he hawked and tried to spit at her again, she backhanded him. “Guess you prefer the hard way.”

She put the pinch on him and said, “I’ve cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You’ll be dead in 30 seconds unless you agree to do what I say. I’ll give you some time to think about it while I take out the trash.” She picked up his unconscious companions and left the room.

When she returned, the assassin was gasping for air, blood dribbling from both nostrils. “So, what’s it gonna be?”

“I d-don’t want to d-die…”

“That’s reasonable.” Xena said. “All you have to do is call your friends to me. Not here. I’ll tell you when we get there.”


“Glad you decided to see it my way.” Xena released the pinch and punched his lights out.

She slung the assassin over her shoulder and walked out of the house, melting into the shadows as she headed out into the wilderness.


Xena was a goodly distance from the house when she heard an owl hooting to the north. The warrior cocked her head at the sound. A few seconds later, another owl answered from the south. Shortly after that, there was a hoot from the east.

The calls from all three directions had been the same, a soft hoo-hoo that sounded like a great grey owl defending its territory. Xena thought about it for a moment and decided she might as well join in all the fun.

“Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” She pitched it slightly higher than the other hoots she’d heard, pausing for nearly half a minute before repeating the female great grey owl’s mating call. Answering hoots came from 5 different directions.

“Guess I don’t need you after all.” Xena muttered to the assassin she’d been carrying. She used vines to tie him up so that his friends would have something to keep them occupied while she waited for them in the branches of a nearby tree.

It did not take long for the first group of assassins to come into view. There were 3 of them and they came from the east. From her vantage point, Xena could see another 3 making their way over from the south east. She decided to take care of the assassins in the south east first. If she could make them disappear without a trace, that would be 3 less assassins to deal with.

She ran along the tree branch she was on, jumped to another branch that led her in the direction she wanted to go and made her way from tree to tree until she had circled around behind the group she’d been aiming for. Running out onto the end of a tree branch, the warrior gripped the branch with her thighs and allowed herself to swing upside down behind the last assassin in the group. She struck the neck of the unsuspecting assassin with a double knifehand strike, causing him to slide bonelessly to the ground.

Job done, she sprung back up onto the tree branch and headed for her next target. She repeated the same manoeuvre with equal success. But this time, instead of disappearing back up into the trees, she dropped lightly to the ground and caught up with the last assassin. She tapped him on the shoulder. When he swung around, she hit him in the Adam’s apple with her elbow. His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell rigidly backwards, like a falling tree after someone had shouted ‘Timber!’ Xena checked to make sure she had not accidentally killed him. Satisfied, she grabbed a tree branch and swung herself back up into the tree.

On her way back, she took out 2 more groups of assassins, one from the south, and the other from the west. That left 2 groups; the ones from the east, who should have reached their bound friend and the ones from the north. When Xena caught up to them, both groups stood arguing amongst themselves. The group from the north was the largest, numbering 6 strong.

Now that she had the assassins gathered in one place, the time for stealth was over. Xena dropped out of the tree and brazenly walked up to the bickering men. “Lost something?”

“You!” One of the assassins said, accusingly.

“So, you found me.” Xena said. She unsheathed her sword and held it in both hands, turning in a circle as the assassins quickly moved to surround her. She gave a sinister chuckle and asked, “Who wants to be the first to die?”

“Isn’t she a bit tall? And her hair is black. Wasn’t the foreign woman supposed to be blonde and short?” One of the assassins asked. Upon hearing his words, the other assassins started mumbling amongst themselves.

Xena could have easily made use of the distraction but she had worked up an appetite for a fight. So she chose to add fuel to the fire by saying, “That’s cos I’m the ghost you’re chasing. When you see Mikaboshi, tell him Xena sends her regards.”


“Get her!”

“For the glory of the dark lord!”

The more zealous of the assassins rushed her and Xena flashed them a feral grin. She swung her sword out to the right, pushing aside a katana and kicked the wielder into another assassin. Twisting her right wrist, she rolled her sword around just in time to catch the tip of another katana on the blade of her sword. She continued the motion, allowing her body to turn so that the katana slid harmlessly past her right shoulder.

Swivelling her hips, she pushed off from her left foot, reversing the swing of her sword so that her blade bit into the shoulder of the assassin whose katana she’d just deflected. Flowing into the move, she placed all her weight onto her right foot and kicked out with her left, sending the injured assassin out of her way. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a metallic blur and realised that another group had arrived and taken to the trees with their shuriken.

If there was a sixth group, there might be a seventh, or even more. But the stage was set and the battle joined. It did not matter whether there were 10 opponents or a hundred. She would take them all down. Xena brought up her sword, deflecting a shuriken into an unlucky assassin that happened to step into its path.

In one smooth motion, she unhooked her chakram from her belt and sent it ricocheting into the trees to take out the new group. Her sword immediately swept up and down, beating away two katanas before cutting right, nearly severing an assassin’s sword arm at the wrist. The assassin went down screaming and Xena threw herself backwards as someone swung a katana at her. With her weight supported by her left hand, she kicked upwards with her left foot, connecting squarely with the jaw of the assassin who’d tried to cut her in half.

Xena pushed herself upright as the chakram came flying back. It clipped an assassin on the head before she plucked it out of the air. Six assassins were still on their feet though they were no longer eager to cross blades with the crazy foreign devil woman. Noticing their reluctance, Xena went on the offensive. She swung her sword at one of the assassins, causing him to hop back nervously.

But it was a feint. She was trying to tempt one of those behind her to take advantage of the opening she’d presented. And two of them did. One swung his katana high, trying to cut off her head, while the other swung his katana low, trying to cut her off at the knees. Xena allowed her momentum to turn her around, swinging her sword down to block the katana down low. Her left arm went up to block the katana up high. Seeing the foreign woman fully engaged and seemingly unable to extract herself, the assassin who had hopped back now leapt forward, his katana leading, its tip aimed for a spot between her shoulders.

Sensing him, the warrior dropped her left arm and left shoulder, rotating down and to the right. Without the resistance from Xena’s left arm, the katana that had been aimed at her head continued its path, cutting into the neck of the assassin who had been trying to skewer Xena. In turn, that assassin found himself impaled on the sword of the man he’d just killed. The two assassins stared at each other in disbelief before toppling to the ground.

Meanwhile, Xena shoulder checked the assassin who had been aiming for her knees. He hit the ground with a loud ‘oof’ and received a boot in his family jewels for his troubles. The remaining three assassins stared at the warrior as if she had sprouted eight arms. She spread her hands wide and drawled, “Whasamatter boys? We ain’t done yet.”

A metallic glint to her left reminded her that there were still at least 2 assassins in the trees. She raised her sword so that the throwing star bounced off the blade and fell harmlessly to the ground. Not taking her eyes off the assassins, she reached down and felt in the grass until she had the shuriken in her hand. She was in the process of straightening up when another glint caught her eye. Without a second thought, she gripped the throwing star between her thumb and index finger, at the thickest part of one of its points. Tracking the flying missile with her eyes, she raised her hand towards her ear and flung the shuriken with a flicking motion of her wrist.

Just like her chakram, the shuriken was unwavering in its accuracy. It struck the oncoming throwing star, deflecting it into the back of an assassin before continuing a new path to embed itself in the hand of an assassin hiding in the trees. Perhaps it was the easy mastery with which Xena had thrown the shuriken, or perhaps it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Whatever the reason was, the assassins turned as one and faded into the night.

“Well… that was fun…” Xena mumbled. With no one left to fight, she sheathed her sword and headed back to check on the family she’d left hiding in the cellar.


There was no sign of any assassins when she returned to the house. She did a quick search of the perimeter and even checked the house and barn before heading to the back of the house. Hidden in the wild grass out back was a square wooden door that jiggled in place but did not budge when Xena tried pulling on the handles.

“It’s safe to come out now.” Xena called. She waited a few seconds before she heard the locking bar being lifted. Shortly after, the doors were pushed open and the father peered out at her.

“Are they gone?” The father asked.

Xena nodded. “Is everyone alright?”

“Yes, thanks to you.” The father climbed out of the cellar first then stooped to help his wife and children out.

“I don’t think they’ll be coming back. But it would be best if I leave.” Xena told them.

Both girls ran over and hugged her legs. The warrior crouched down and gave them a hug and a huge smile. “Both of you were very brave. Take care of your parents and each other.” She told them. The sisters nodded solemnly.

Xena collected her belongings from the barn and left. It was still dark but dawn was not far away. She took a pull from her wineskin and debated contacting her soulmate. It had been at least a few hours since Gabrielle had woken her up. The bard could be asleep, though she highly doubted it.

She found a nice quiet spot, dropped her pack and bedroll to the ground and sat on it. Deciding that her soulmate had most likely spent the night awake worrying about her and not wanting to prolong that worry, Xena tapped into their soul-link. Gabrielle?

Xena! The answer came almost instantly, accompanied by a huge sense of relief. How did it go?

Thanks to you, there was no fire. Everyone’s fine.

I’m glad to hear that. There was a pause. Where are you headed next? Gabrielle mentally slapped herself. That wasn’t what she had intended to say.

Reading between the lines, Xena replied, I thought I’d head back—if you’re ready for me to.

Gabrielle bit her lower lip to stop herself from screaming yes. Instead, she very calmly told Xena, I would like that.

Are you still mad at me? Xena asked.

I’m sorry I lost my temper. Gabrielle told her soulmate. My emotions have been a little crazy recently. But you still owe me an explanation.

Xena wasn’t sure she could explain it to her soulmate’s satisfaction but she said, I’ll try.

Gabrielle sighed, a heavy weight lifted off her shoulders. I’ve missed you, Xena. I shouldn’t have sent you away.

You didn’t. I volunteered. Xena replied. After a slight pause, she asked, Should I not have… left?

Next time I ask you to leave me alone, ignore me. Gabrielle answered.

You said you didn’t want to see me. I thought you wanted me to leave. Xena said.

It’s not your fault, Xena. Just come back soon, will you? Gabrielle thought over what she’d just said and added a disclaimer. But no skipping meals or travelling through the night.

Xena mulled it over. She would not need to travel through the night and she could eat while she walked. I’ll be there by night fall.


Dusk had come and gone when Xena finally arrived at the cave that hid the entrance to dragon territory. At the back of the cave was an elaborate carving of a dragon. She placed her hand on it and the cave wall turn insubstantial once the clan guardian had ascertained that she was a legit member of the clan.

She stepped through into a dense forest, her pace picking up the closer she got to the village. Most of the clan were already in their homes and the few that were still outside waved at the warrior as she passed by. Xena smiled and nodded in acknowledgement but did not stray from her path. She made straight for the clan chief’s abode, which lay smack dab in the middle of the village. The silence was almost palpable when she entered, letting her know that there was nobody home. She filed that knowledge in the back of her mind and headed further in, where light could be seen flickering from an open doorway.

“Gabrielle?” She called, walking through the doorway and into their bedroom. She had barely stepped inside when a blonde blur launched itself at her. Her arms were suddenly full of bard and her mouth full of demanding tongue. It was a good thing Xena had braced herself for the impact; otherwise they would have both hit the floor—hard. Gabrielle had her arms locked around Xena’s neck in a vice grip and her legs wrapped around the warrior’s waist.

Xena placed one arm around the curve of Gabrielle’s butt and shrugged her pack and bedroll off her shoulder. Once unencumbered, she tightened both arms around her soulmate, pulling the bard closer as their kiss continued with the kind of desperation that came after a long separation. Without her eyes or hands to guide her, she had to rely on her memory of the bedroom’s layout to make her way to the bed.

Mindful of Gabrielle’s delicate condition, Xena was careful not to jostle her soulmate too much as she climbed onto the bed. Feeling the bed under her, Gabrielle broke off the kiss. She was clad in only her undergarments, either having changed for bed, or in anticipation of Xena’s return.

She pulled on Xena’s breastplate, her fingers suddenly fat and clumsy as she fumbled with the clasps. “Let me.” The warrior said, unhooking her breastplate and dangling it over the side of the bed before letting it fall on the floor. Between the two of them, one pulling and the other tugging, or vice versa, the soulmates managed to divest themselves of everything that was in the way.

The feel of Xena’s bare skin against hers seemed to catapult Gabrielle’s desire to new heights. She pulled her soulmate down against her and growled huskily into the warrior’s ear, “I want you to take me, Xena. Make me utterly and completely yours. No holding back.”

Xena pulled back, her eyes turned a deep dark oceanic blue, nearly black, as if a dangerous predator was hidden within its depths. “Gabrielle…” She growled.

The bard, staring into those unfathomable depths suddenly caught a glimpse of the monster lurking within and she couldn’t stop a shudder from running through her. It was how a prey would feel in the presence of an apex predator—the helplessness, the surrender to the inevitable. “Xena…” Gabrielle said breathily. “Let me in…”

The warrior blinked as the words and their incongruity registered. Her eyes lightened to a more manageable blue and the monster was gone as quickly as it had surfaced. “Gabrielle?”

“I want to feel what you feel. The way you looked at me just now, all raw animalistic desire. I need to feel that.”

“You want me to drop my shields.” Xena said, studying the bard so intently that she squirmed.

It took all of Gabrielle’s willpower to meet Xena’s gaze but she managed it. Her need was greater than her fear. “My mind has been playing tricks on me. I don’t know what is real anymore. I need something to anchor me. This way, I’ll know what I’m feeling is real. Please Xena, I know it goes against every grain of your being. But I need this.”

Piercing light blue eyes stared at her searchingly, then the look on the warrior’s face gentled. “Alright. You might want to brace yourself.” Xena said, mentally throwing the door to their connection wide open.

Gabrielle had a momentary sense of vertigo and thought that she was going to be sick again. But she wasn’t. Instead, she was in two places at once, both staring down intensely at herself and looking up at her soulmate. She reached out a hand and placed it on Xena’s chest, feeling her own heart skipping a bit. Or was it her own? Her hand moved, seemingly of its own accord, down, her fingertips grazing lightly over her soulmate’s skin like feathery appendages.

In that moment, Gabrielle’s own shields came crashing down and all the doubts and fears that had assailed her for the past few days washed over Xena. The warrior growled, her eyes turning black as the feral part of her responded instinctively to the threat to her soulmate.

Desire, all dark and shadowy and armed with razor-sharp teeth rose up within both of them, burning Gabrielle with its sheer intensity. She barely let out a gasp before Xena’s mouth was on hers, possessive and demanding without any hint of apology. Gabrielle was only too willing to cede control and give herself up completely. She yielded to the all-consuming desire that was Xena, her body responding readily to the warrior’s forcefulness—the strong unshakeable grip on the back of her neck, the knee forcing itself between her legs.

Lips, hair, tongue, hands, fingers, palms, breasts, thigh, skin. The bard’s body and senses melded with the warrior’s until Gabrielle could no longer tell who was who. Her hands were stretched above her, held in place at the wrists by fingers that felt like iron bands in their unforgiving rigidity. She let out a small cry as fingertips traced a path down her inner arm to the erogenous zone that was her armpit. A hot breath in the same spot caused a shiver to run down her spine and she startled when a hot wet tongue traced an ever dwindling circle around her armpit.

Strong callused hands caressed her thighs, running down the outside then turning so that the thumb ran along the inside, stopping short of where her legs met. The thumb dug into the inside of her thigh, pulling her legs further apart. Xena’s knee pushed up into the space, grinding against her womanhood and the bard eagerly pushed down to meet it. Gabrielle was already dripping wet and her juices coated the top of the warrior’s knee as they moved together.

She moaned when Xena’s long fingers splayed out on her sensitive breasts, squeezing them almost to the point of pain before releasing and repeating. Tongue and lips replaced the fingers. The tension within Gabrielle had built to a breaking point and the feel of Xena’s teeth grazing the top of her nipple brought the bard screaming over the edge.

But the warrior was not done. Her soulmate had asked to be made utterly and completely hers. And that was what Xena set out to do. She switched up the angle of her attack and brought Gabrielle to orgasm after orgasm until the bard was a limp quivering mass. Then she leaned over and whispered fiercely in her soulmate’s ear, “You’re mine, Gabrielle, mine.”


Gabrielle felt as if someone had thrown a barrel of black powder at her head and blown her mind to bits. Everything she’d known and everything she’d believed in—it had all been a lie. The truth lay in the ferocious unfettered desire that had devoured her; the raw animalistic part of her that had revelled in claiming and being claimed. Xena once said that sex with a man was different every time—you’re always hoping for Greek fire but sometimes you just get diddly. In that sense, Gabrielle felt lucky. With Xena, she never had to settle for diddly but this—was in another stratosphere altogether.

“Xena, you scare me sometimes.”

The warrior didn’t blame Gabrielle. The bard had always been afraid of her dark side. And even though her soulmate had learned to accept that part of her, Xena was careful to keep it hidden away most of the time. If she’d thought things through, she might not have allowed her dark side free rein to do with the bard as it pleased. But she had, and Gabrielle’s words made her wonder if she’d gone too far.

“I know.” Xena said, propping herself up on her elbow so that she could see her soulmate’s expression. “Did I hurt you?”

Gabrielle turned her head and met her soulmate’s eyes. “Xena, I think you just blew my mind. Like literally. I feel discombobulated.”

“That’s a big word.”

“Never mind that.” Gabrielle said, trying to remember if such a word existed and realising it didn’t. “I think I just made that up.”

“So did I blow your mind in a good way, or a bad way?” Xena asked.

“I’m not sure.” Gabrielle admitted. “Xena, I know you like it wild. But tonight, it was like unleashing a wild beast that had been caged up forever. Even our wildest lovemaking seems tame compared to this.”

Xena shrugged. “I usually keep it on a tight leash.”

“I know. I felt what you were feeling. And I’m starting to think you have been holding back all this time we’ve been together. I’m not sure what I feel about that.”

“Gabrielle, it’s not about me. It’s about what makes you happy.”

“But, Xena, I want you to be happy too.”

“I’m happy if you are happy.” Xena told her.

“Is this about me saying that gentle and kind men make good lovers?”

Xena let out a low chuckle and Gabrielle joined her after a while. They had been staying with the Amazons when one of the girls had asked an innocent enough question: ‘What makes a man a good lover? Being gentle and kind?’ The soulmates had answered the question at the same time but their answers had been the exact opposite of each other. Gabrielle had glossed it over by claiming that it was a complicated subject—but not before Xena had shot her an affronted look.

“Gabrielle, you respond better to sweet and gentle. You may like it rough sometimes. But that’s only when the mood hits you.” Xena said.

The warrior had hit the nail squarely on the head. “Well—I think I might be more open to experimenting with my wilder side.” Gabrielle said.

“Gabrielle, you don’t need to do this.”

“Xena, you blew my mind. It would be a shame to lock the beast in the cage and just throw away the key. But I don’t think I can…” Gabrielle was having difficulties trying to articulate her thoughts. She was a bard, words usually came easily to her, but none of the words she had seemed capable of conveying what she wanted to say.

“How about this, next time the mood strikes you, just tell me—like you did today.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Gabrielle agreed readily.


It was the morning after. With Xena’s little demonstration, followed by a good night’s rest, and having her soulmate back by her side, Gabrielle’s emotions no longer resembled an out of control roller coaster ride. This was the most rational she’d felt since she’d first learned about her pregnancy.

She pushed her breakfast tray to the side and said, “It’s time for that explanation.”

“About that…” Xena got up, turned her chair around before sitting back down, straddling the back of the chair and placing it between herself and Gabrielle. It was an unconscious defensive mechanism. This was one topic the warrior was not comfortable with. But it needed to be done. She just didn’t know where to start. “Whaddya wanna know?”

“How about everything?” Gabrielle said.

Xena looked down at the floor, as if hoping that a chasm would open up and swallow her whole. Seeing how lost her soulmate looked, Gabrielle took pity on her. “When did you know?”

That was a question with an easy answer and the warrior was able to answer confidently, “When you told me.”

Gabrielle was not expecting that. She was sure Xena had known about her pregnancy before that day so she changed the wording of her question. “When did you suspect?”

“When you were sick. I know that feeling. I’ve felt it twice before—with Solon and Eve.”

The answers made sense. And Gabrielle would have accepted them at face value if Xena hadn’t been so calm about the whole situation. Her soulmate had to know how she had fallen pregnant, otherwise the warrior would have raised hell and demanded to know who the father of her baby was. “So how did this happen?” Gabrielle asked, laying one hand on her still flat tummy.

“It was—me.”

Gabrielle stared at her soulmate, at a loss for words. That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. Xena couldn’t have gotten her pregnant. It was physically impossible. And yet, Xena hadn’t been physically present during the time when the baby was supposedly conceived. “Can ghosts even do that? Father a child? Not to mention you’re a woman. Xena, that’s a sure way to get myself chain up in an asylum like Orestes—telling people my ghostly lover impregnated me while we were making love.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, Gabrielle. It wasn’t something I could do—when I was a ghost…” Xena said.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“My memory’s a little fuzzy around the edges… especially after your fight with the tyrant.” Xena paused, swallowing hard.

She had never spoken about what had happened that day. If she’d a choice, she never wanted to remember that feeling again. She had merged her soul with Gabrielle’s, just long enough to turn the tide of the fight in the bard’s favour. But when it was over, she had no physical body to return to. It hadn’t been like the time she’d possessed Autolycus or Gabrielle. On those occasions, she would return to her ghostly state after being expelled from their bodies.

After the fight with the tyrant, there hadn’t been a way to return to her ghostly form. Instead, without anything to hold her together, her soul had started disintegrating. One moment, she’d been whole. The next moment, she was a million tiny fragments soon to be relegated to a memory. Belatedly, Xena had realised that there would not be a next life for her. She would not be Arminestra, Mother of Peace and she would never see Gabrielle again—not as Shakti or any of her other reincarnations. In that split second, Xena did not know who or what guided her, but she’d reached out and secreted a part of her within Gabrielle; something for the bard to remember her by—and to keep her company on the long road ahead.

Xena took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry I never gave you a choice, Gabrielle. But I didn’t have much time and I thought I would never see you again. It just felt—right…”

The pieces finally fell into place for Gabrielle as she stared at the warrior in shocked comprehension. She had some idea of the sacrifice Xena had made when the warrior intervened to save her during the showdown with the tyrant. But her soulmate had steadfastly refused to talk about it. It must have been a terrifying ordeal, not that Gabrielle could even begin to imagine.

What must that have been like, knowing that only a few heartbeats stood between yourself and complete annihilation? Not just of the physical body but the essence of who you were—your soul. She hadn’t thought about it much. Had actually avoided thinking about it. If their roles had been reversed, Gabrielle didn’t know if she could have done it. But Xena had.

Time and again, the warrior had jumped into danger knowingly and willingly, heedless of the consequences to herself, all for the sole purpose of getting to Gabrielle and saving her. And she felt guilty for putting Xena in those situations, especially that time in Madador when the warrior ended up a convenient punching bag for Gurkhan’s men just because Gabrielle had been blinded by her need for revenge.

That had been the worst beating Gabrielle had ever seen Xena suffer but even that had paled in comparison with what the warrior had gone through after the fight with the tyrant. Even then, her soulmate only had her best interests at heart. “You didn’t want me to be alone.”

Xena nodded. “It was the only thing I could think of. Gabrielle, I saw how hard you took my death in Jappa. I couldn’t let you go through that again. You’re not mad at me, are you?”

“How can I? You’re always looking out for me, making sure I’m taken care of. Though I don’t understand why you couldn’t have told me about this earlier.”

“I only have flashes of memory from that time. When you brought me back in Bimini, I thought it’d been a dream.” Xena said, struggling to explain herself. “You weren’t showing any signs.”

“Until my morning sickness.” Gabrielle said. “You could’ve told me then.”

“Gabrielle, I’m not good with these—things. I didn’t know how you would react.” Xena said, her hands gripping the back of the chair so tightly that her knuckles had turned white.

The warrior’s face was an impenetrable mask but Gabrielle could sense the turmoil raging behind those pale blue eyes. This was the woman who had demonstrated the pinch on herself, held her hands, looked into her eyes, blood trickling from her nostril, and told her that was how she wanted to spend the last thirty seconds of her life, looking into Gabrielle’s eyes. All when Xena had really meant ‘goodbye Gabrielle, I love you’. The warrior hated seeing her hurt, but more than that, she hated hurting her in any way.

Suddenly, Gabrielle understood what was troubling her soulmate—understood her hesitancy. “Cos of what happened with Hope.”

“Hope.” Xena echoed. She could still see Gabrielle as she had been back then, her long straw blonde tresses streaming behind her as she fled, a bundle held tightly against her bosom, wrapped in a soft blanket the same colour as the sack cloth dress she had been wearing. Through a forest, across a stream, up a hill, they’d gone; the scent of wildflowers dogging their every step. Until the ragged cries of Gabrielle had brought Xena running. Running—her heart pounding like a crazed drum in her chest; running—her fear for Gabrielle pumping adrenaline through her body; running—her certainty of purpose gnawing bitterly at her heart.

She’d found the bard hunched over a cliff where she claimed to have thrown Hope after the baby had tried to strangle her. But Xena knew what a mother’s love for a child could do. After all, she had carried Solon still covered in birth fluids through the night and into enemy territory, all so he could be safe. At first she’d doubted Gabrielle but with Hope nowhere to be found, she had believed, until the fateful day when Hope’s reappearance had pitted mother against mother, to the detriment of them both.

Gabrielle was similarly lost in memories. She remembered her best friend’s anguished screams, the warrior’s heart shattering into pieces as Xena cradled Solon’s limp and unresponsive body; her self-loathing and pain as she poisoned Hope, cursing herself for doubting her best friend; wishing she was dead, the mouth of the wineskin just inches away from her lips.

It would have been so easy to end it all just then but something had stopped her. And she’d learned why when Xena came into view after Gabrielle had dumped the poison out. The look of pure hatred on the warrior’s face had caused her heart to stop beating, as surely as if Xena had physically stuck a dagger into her chest, piercing deep to bite into the deceitful organ within. “Bad memories, huh.” She whispered.

Xena nodded absently, her mind far away. There had been nothing but hatred when she’d rode into the Amazon village that day, nothing but rage when she’d dragged her best friend behind her horse, nothing but pain when she’d stood at the edge of the precipice holding Gabrielle aloft—as an offering, a sacrifice.

The crashing of the waves far below and the salty tang of the cool air had barely registered in her berserk state. Nothing had registered until that frenzied kick Gabrielle had landed on her head. If things had turned out differently, Xena had no doubt she would have killed her best friend that day. She shook her head violently, trying in vain to dislodge the sound of Gabrielle’s voice screaming loudly ‘I hate you!’ Those three words reverberating over and over again in her head. No, that had definitely not been one of her better days, not by a very long shot.

The pain emanating from Xena was enough to snap Gabrielle out of her own. Crawling on all fours, she slunk off the bed and closed the distance between them. Her hand reached out of its own accord for her soulmate, as if the demons they still carried could be exorcised by touch alone.

A buzz of energy hummed through their veins when Gabrielle’s fingers grazed Xena’s arm and the warrior flinched visibly at the contact. She shook her head vigorously when Gabrielle reached for her again. “Don’t.” Xena said, her voice ragged with emotion. “I don’t like myself very much right now.”

Ignoring the warning, Gabrielle drew closer, hands cupping the warrior’s face as she leaned down, their lips meeting tentatively. A shiver through down their bodies at the contact and they sighed in unison, their bodies relaxing. They deepened the kiss, seeking to breathe each other in, both needing, both surrendering, filling themselves with the all-encompassing love that is their other half. After a long moment, they finally disengaged.

Gabrielle tenderly tucked a few stray hairs behind her soulmate’s ear. “Xena, you never did like yourself much. It’s a good thing I like you enough for both of us.” She teased.

“You do, do ya?” Xena rumbled, her breath hitching in her throat at the revelation. “What’d I ever do to deserve you, Ga-brielle?” She murmured, her voice catching on the second last syllable of her soulmate’s name.

“Xena, I could say the same about you.” Gabrielle laid a finger on the warrior’s lips, shushing her. “And before you say anything, let me say that you’re the best thing that ever happened in my life. Bar none. So stop beating yourself up over it.” She chided softly.

Xena turned away, self-loathing once again evident in her voice as she said, “Gabrielle, how can you say that? I tried to kill you! I was a monster, a killing machine with only one goal in life: revenge.”

Gabrielle turned her soulmate’s face back towards her, catching the warrior’s stormy blue eyes with her own. “Xena, we’re not doing this again.” She stated emphatically. “Remember our little talk after Illusia? And what we discovered? Without Ares and Callisto inciting us against each other, things would’ve turned out differently. I know it. We might’ve struggled a little initially but we would’ve worked things out eventually. Just look at where we are now.” She flashed a smile at her soulmate.

Shaking her head in surrender, Xena decided not to press her point. No matter what Gabrielle said, she knew differently. She remembered that clearing in the forest just like it had been yesterday. After taking care of Callisto, she’d been headed back to the centaur village when she’d stumbled upon Gabrielle. A piece of burlap covered the figure of a child beside her, the forlorn look upon the bard’s face leaving no doubt whatsoever that the child was Hope—and that Hope was dead.

She’d watched as Gabrielle lifted a wineskin to her lips and even though Xena couldn’t smell its contents from where she was standing, she knew instinctively that it contained poison. That the Gabrielle she knew could have murdered her own child was shocking enough but for her to then take her own life? It was unthinkable. At least, it would have been if Xena hadn’t given herself over to hate.

The bard had needed her and the Xena who’d been Gabrielle’s best friend would have rushed over and wrapped the obviously stricken woman in her arms. But that Xena was dead, in her place a heartless monster remained, one that would like nothing more than for Gabrielle to drink the poison and save her the trouble of killing the bard herself.

Instead of feeling relief, she’d been disgusted when Gabrielle had emptied the wineskin into the ground. That was when she had finally shown herself, hatred etched upon every plane of her face as she’d glared at the bard. Oh how she wished she could turn back time. There were so many things she wanted to make right. But the warrior had learned a long time ago that there was nothing she could do to change the past, only the present; which meant living with her guilt every day for the rest of her life.

Gabrielle did not need to see the dark cloud passing behind Xena’s eyes to understand that her soulmate would never stop blaming herself for what had happened with Hope, with Solon, and with her. Neither would she. But if Gabrielle was to be honest, this was what she’d always dreamed of—a child with someone she loved and who loved her. This child was a miracle, the antithesis of the abomination that had been Hope. With this child, she could finally put that unhappy memory out from her mind for good. And they would both get a chance to correct everything that had gone wrong with their children.

She took her soulmate’s hand, placed it on her stomach, and said, “Xena, I always wanted a child with you. This child has something none of our other children ever had: it was conceived out of love—our love. With this child, we can start afresh.”

Xena stared at their intertwined hands. The bard made a lot of sense. It had also been one of the reasons she’d thought it would be a good idea to give Gabrielle a child. This would not make up for what had happened with all of their children. But they had a chance to do it right for once. And Xena would give her life, if that was what it took, to make that a reality.


Gabrielle was into her second month of pregnancy when Ci Nu and the clan chief finally returned to the village with the news. The other clans had agreed to open up their territories to the Amazons. It was time for them to return to Greece to speak with the Amazon tribes and convince them to make the long trip to Chin.

But before that, Gabrielle thought it would be a good idea to pay Eve a visit. Their daughter was somewhere in Chin, spreading the message of Eli. It would be a good opportunity for them to share the news of their pregnancy. And Xena would certainly appreciate being able to spend some time with their daughter.

It was a little more complicated for Gabrielle. She loved Eve. After all, Eve was their daughter. She’d been there at her birth, held her as a baby, rocked her and fed her. But then they’d woken up from 25 years on ice to find a stranger where their sweet little daughter had once been.

Eve, known as Livia at the time, had attacked the Amazons and sold them as slaves to Gurkhan. She had also persecuted the followers of Eli and had tried to kill both Xena and Gabrielle. And when Joxer tried to intervene, Livia had killed him. For all those reasons, and the fact that Eve was now physically older than her, Gabrielle found it difficult to reconcile her memories of baby Eve and this adult iteration of their daughter.

She understood none of it had been their daughter’s fault. As her soulmate had pointed out, Eve had been born with Callisto’s soul and inherited Xena’s darkness. That was a lethal enough combination. With the addition of Ares’ influence, Eve hadn’t stood a chance. Things would have turned out differently if they’d been around to watch Eve grow up. But Ares had robbed them of that. And added insult to injury by corrupting their beloved daughter.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Xena’s arrival. The warrior had noticed Ci Nu’s return and hurried back to hear the news for herself. “How did it go?” Xena asked.

“The clans are in agreement. Before we return to Greece, I thought we might drop in on Eve. And tell her about…” Gabrielle waved a hand at herself.

Xena nodded and said, “You do the talking. I wouldn’t want her to take it the wrong way.”

“I know.” Gabrielle said. “We need to tell Lila and Sarah too.” As much as she was worried about how Eve would take the news, she thought their daughter would be more understanding than her sister and niece would be. The idea of her being pregnant with Xena’s baby was so ludicrous that Lila would be more likely to believe that it was a cover story for Gabrielle’s indiscretion. “I’m not looking forward to that…”

Xena sat beside Gabrielle and wrapped an arm around her. “They’re your family, Gabrielle.”

“Sometimes family are the worst.” Gabrielle said, resting her head on Xena’s chest and snuggling up against her soulmate. “But it can’t be helped.”

The warrior kissed the top of her head. “Have you thought about what you wanna do after we bring the Amazons to Chin?”

“We don’t know they’ll agree to the move.”

“You’ll convince them.” Xena said with conviction. “With your condition, we need to think ahead. It’s not a good idea for you to be on the road. It’s too dangerous.”

“Xena, you did it. Why can’t I?”

“I had no choice.” Xena replied. “You do. Gabrielle, you know how inconvenient it can be. Do you really want to give birth in the middle of nowhere?”

“We can always find a town when the time comes. And it’s not like I’m sick anymore.” Gabrielle reasoned.

“Is that what you want?” Xena asked. “I thought you might wanna stay here or with Lila. You’ll need to stay with the Amazons, at least until they are settled in.”

Gabrielle turned, putting some distance between her and her soulmate so she could maintain eye contact. “We can continue our travels once they get used to each other. Xena, you’re not leaving me behind.”

“I thought you’d prefer to stay in one place. You wanted to settle down before.” Xena said, referring to the time they’d stayed with the Amazons after Gabrielle had given Eve her right of caste.

Gabrielle shrugged. “I got sick of howling at sister moon. And all that mud wasn’t doing my skin any good. Besides, you’re not the kind to settle down, Xena. We both know that.”

“We could give it a try.” Xena said. “With the dragons, we could go anywhere and still be back in the village within a day or two.”

“You’ve actually given this some thought.” Gabrielle said, realising that her soulmate wasn’t just throwing out possible scenarios for the sake of it. Settling down with the Southern Forest clan wasn’t a bad idea. Her sister Amazons would be close by and they could have the best of both worlds. She said thoughtfully, “We won’t have to worry about babysitters.”

“You can even do all that queen stuff.” Xena added.

“I’m not sure I wanna go through all that again. But… it could work.”

“This would be a good place for you to raise our child if anything happens to me.” Xena added. “You’ll be safe here and the dragons love you. Add in the Amazons, and you’ll never be lonely.”

“Don’t talk like that, Xena. Nothing’s gonna happen to you.”

“I’m a warrior, Gabrielle. How many old warriors have you seen? Besides, I’ve cheated death too many times. It’s gonna come for me one of these days. And when that happens, I want to know you’ll be well taken care of.”

“Then we’ll go to our deaths together.” Gabrielle said defiantly.

“I don’t think so.” Xena raised her index finger when Gabrielle appeared ready to interject. “Do you remember our next life? You were a young man and I was an old woman. Isn’t it obvious you would spend more time in this life than me?”

“That doesn’t mean anything.” Gabrielle insisted, though she couldn’t deny Xena’s words had a ring of truth to them. Arminestra had been at least thirty years older than Shakti. She did not want to imagine living without her soulmate for 30 long years. “Our bond is too strong for either of us to live if the other dies.”

If the bard hadn’t been pregnant with Xena’s child, she would have been right. But the simple act of implanting a part of her soul within Gabrielle meant their soul-link would recognise their child as a part of Xena. It did not work the other way around though. If Gabrielle died, she would die too—which was why, for the sake of their child, nothing must happen to Gabrielle.

After she’d confirmed Gabrielle’s pregnancy, Xena had asked Bi Dan to do some research on its implications with regard to their soul bond. It had taken the chief assistant a while but he’d found records suggesting that soulmates who had children together were less likely to die within a short period of each other. And it was Bi Dan who had come up with the theory that the bond would regard the child as being part of the deceased soulmate. The young dragon had a quick mind when he put his mind to it and Xena was glad the clan healer had decided to give Bi Dan a second chance.

To Gabrielle, Xena said, “You’re carrying my child. That changes things.” She continued by giving a brief summary of the young dragon’s theory but left out the part where Bi Dan believed it would not apply to Xena due to the way their child had been conceived. In a conventional male-female soulmate pairing, the child would inherit a part of their soul from both parents. That was obviously not the case for them.

Gabrielle was ambivalent about the change in their circumstances. It was logical that a child should not have to lose both parents if something happened to either of them. But Xena had been right. Serious injury and death were very real risks they ran when they were on the road. And those risks would only increase for the warrior if Gabrielle insisted on continuing their travels in her condition.

Her soulmate would be sure to pay particular attention to ensure her safety. It could be potentially dangerous, especially later in her pregnancy when her ability to fight and protect herself might be hampered. But some of those risks could be mitigated if they stayed with the Southern Forest clan. They could bring one of the dragon warriors along on their trips. Having an extra person to share the fighting would definitely help. And they could always retreat to the safety of the village anytime the need arose—for example in the event of an injury or illness.

The more Gabrielle thought about it, the more attractive the idea became. To Xena, she said, “Let’s stay here after we bring the Amazons over… At least until our child is born.”

“I thought you’d say that.” Xena said with a relieved smile. “Shall we go have a chat with the clan chief?”

Gabrielle nodded. “And then we can start packing up. I can’t wait to get back on the road.”

“Me too.” Xena said.

***THE END***