Make your own free website on Tripod.com

This site has been moved to http://www.dreamwater.org/wolfsword/home.htm due to that irritating bandwidth problem

privacy

Love's Test by Wolfsword  

Chapter Three

“She was a friend. No that’s wrong, she was my best friend. Back in Amphipolis, when I was young, we grew up together, played together, got into trouble together.

Xena smiled a bittersweet smile, remembering old memories she had pushed into the dark recesses of her mind.

“She came to my village when she was eight, and I’ll never forget that day. I was ten, and I was playing on the hillside with my brother, Lyceus, when I spotted a group of people coming along the tree line, heading towards our village. I was curious because there was a perfectly good track nearby, but for some reason, this group insisted on hugging the woodland border. We watched them for a while, before I realised that it was a group of kids. I counted seven of them, mostly only about eight or nine years and they looked worse for wear. Some of the smaller ones looked like they were about to drop if they walked another step.

Me and Ly rushed down the hill to help them. As I came down the hill, I was met by this girl, apparently their leader, who was several inches shorter than me, holding a sharpened stick and using it as a weapon. I stopped and Ly nearly ran headlong into me. I just stared at the small girl and she stared back at me. There was something in her eyes that told me that I really did not want to mess with her. It sounds stupid now, but I think I was actually afraid of her.”

Xena laughed lightly and Gabrielle could tell that Xena needed to let this out. Gabrielle smiled at the warrior and squeezed her hand in comfort.

“Anyway, the kid wouldn’t let me anywhere near the other kids, even though I only wanted to help. In the end, she still wouldn’t listen to me. She wouldn’t even follow us to Amphipolis and I could see some of the kids needed the healer’s help. So we charged her. Ly and I ran straight at her, knowing she couldn’t take us both on.

Well, I got a stick in my face, while Ly tackled her. It's how I got this.”

Xena lifted her neck to expose a thin white scar, the length of a thumb, on the under-side of her neck.

“The branch just swept upwards and caught me as I tried to avoid it. You know, a little to the right, and it would have opened my jugular. But anyway, Ly was on top of her, and pinning her hands to the floor because she was struggling. And there was some foul language coming out of that kid that even stunned me.

I said to her, that if I had meant to kill her, she’d already be on her way to Hades. She didn’t say anything and she just glared at me but then one of the children screamed and I rushed over to see what was wrong. A girl, of about seven, had just fainted and I asked them all when was the last time they had eaten or drank anything. Two days was the reply I got, and I knew that if we didn’t get the child to the village, she’d probably die. I picked up the child and told Ly to stay with the group and bring them to Amphipolis as quick as he could. He stood and held out his hand for the girl, but she didn’t take it.

I could see that she was torn, between staying to watch over the group, in case Ly couldn’t be trusted, or going with me, in case I couldn’t be trusted. I walked over to her and I said,

“Don’t worry. You can trust in me. I’ll keep her safe.”

I don’t remember her replying, but I started trekking back to the village at full pace, carrying the child in my arms.” Xena looked up at Gabrielle. “She could have easily picked up the stick and thrown it at my back, and I wouldn’t have been able to stop her, because of the child I was holding, but for some reason, I knew she wouldn’t.” Xena paused for a minute, remembering that moment of faith. “That was when I first met Kaelin.” 

“She was eight?” breathed Gabrielle.

“Yeah. I was ten and Ly was about Kae’s age. Toris was twelve. You would have been erm, five or six?” Xena smirked.

“What were those kids doing out there? Where did they come from?”

“Well, there were rumours that they came from a neighbouring village. I’m not actually sure what happened, but I think their village got attacked by some warlord. I don’t know the details; none of the kids would speak of it. I guess they just wanted to forget everything that happened there. All I know is that no one came to claim the children and they were all taken in by people in our village. We took Kae, so I suppose you could call her my sister.”  

“But, how come I’ve never heard of her? You’ve never spoken about her before, and neither have your family.”

Xena sighed, and waited as one of the maids served their food, before she resumed her tale. “We’ve never spoken of it, because we didn’t think it was necessary. And, I guess it hurt too much.”

“Hurt?” Xena looked away. “If you don’t want to talk about it, its ok. I’ll understand.”

“No, it's ok now.” Gabrielle looked perplexed and Xena smiled gently. “Let me explain.”

As they ate, Xena recounted her story. Gabrielle sat silently, realising that this was probably the most the warrior had spoken in all the time they had been travelling together. It gave her a wonderful insight on what Xena had been like when she was younger and she made a mental note to talk to Kaelin as well.

“Kaelin, Lyceus and I became very close. Toris was always off with his friends and didn’t really have time for us. At first, Kae was very hostile towards everyone, but after a while she got used to the way things were. I think, actually, we were really bad influences on each other. I seem to remember that my life got considerably more disruptive after she came along than before. The three of us terrorised the village. Those seven years were some of the happiest years of my life and I remember thinking that I never wanted to grow up. I just wanted to stay like that forever.”

Gabrielle smiled at the picture of a young Xena that was conjured up in her mind. Suddenly, Gabrielle was aware that Xena had fallen silent.

“Xena?” she asked, “What happened?”

Gabrielle realised that Xena was talking about things she had never spoken about to anyone, or it would not have been so hard to tell. She watched, as Xena pushed her plate of food away from her, most of it still there, and sat back in her chair.

“Cortese happened,” Xena stated quietly.

Gabrielle’s brow furrowed. “Cortese? Isn’t he the warlord that attacked your home? When you’re brother…” Gabrielle trailed off as she saw Xena’s jaw tighten.

“Yeah, that’s him,” said Xena bitterly. “Guess you could say he had a big hand in shaping the Warrior Princess.”

Gabrielle sat quietly, waiting for Xena to explain. “He attacked my home and my family when I was seventeen. I lost things so precious to me that day and I vowed I would never be that vulnerable again. My life, as I knew it had been stripped away from me and there was nothing I could do to change it. The village was half incinerated and many of the men had died, before Cortese retreated. Toris had run-off, leaving me, Kaelin and Ly to fight on.”

Gabrielle heard the bitterness in Xena’s voice. “A sword was all it took and… Ly was…” Xena faltered, and had to stop to take a couple of calming breaths.

“It was horrific. There were bodies everywhere after the fight. I had become separated from Kae and Ly during the battle, and I looked through the bodies of the fallen, hoping they weren’t there. I couldn’t find Kaelin anywhere though. I found Lyceus lying over a body of a small child. He must have been disarmed because he wasn’t carrying a weapon.” Xena swallowed. “He gave his life for that child. He gave his life for our village.” She paused to take a deep breath. “I once told Hercules that I lost all three of my brothers in that battle. I meant to say my two brothers and my sister but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t quite true, but that was what it felt like. I was so angry with everyone. Toris for running away like a coward, Kaelin for disappearing on me, and even Lyceus for dying.”

Xena looked up at Gabrielle.

“I didn’t understand it then, why he just gave himself, knowing that he was going to die, just to save that child. I do now though. And feel so proud to have known him as my brother. He died a true hero, like he always wanted to be." Xena smiled sadly and she could feel the tears pricking at her eyes, but she refused to them fall. She sniffed and ran her hand through her hair, and shook her head sadly.

“All I know, is that I lost the two people I loved most dearly that day,” Xena whispered. “The three of us would never stand in this world together again.”

For some reason, Gabrielle felt that Xena was talking to herself rather than to her. “So there I was, in the middle of the village, cradling my dead brother. My older brother had deserted us, my mother hated me, and I had lost Kaelin. I felt like my whole life was for nothing. Thus began the reign of Dark Xena.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gabrielle couldn’t help think that Xena was leaving some things out, but she decided to let it be for now. Silence reigned for a few minutes, before either of them said anything.

“Do you know what happened to Kaelin? Where did she go after the battle?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t had the chance to talk to her yet. I don’t know what to expect, it’s been ten years.”

Suddenly, Xena laughed, maybe in relief. Gabrielle just stared at her. “I’m sorry, it’s just that some things never change.”

Gabrielle looked to where Xena was indicating. She was shocked at seeing Jorana sitting in a man’s lap moving in a slow circle, her arms around his neck and his hand on her breast. The man said something to the woman and they both headed for the stairs, Jorana winking to Gabrielle as she passed the table. As they reached the bottom step, Kaelin came down the flight of stairs, barely acknowledging the two people. Xena signalled to Kae and Gabrielle watched as Jorana headed up the stairs behind the man, her head turned, staring at Kaelin’s back, biting her lip. Gabrielle turned back to Xena, a confused expression on her face, but Xena was just grinning.

Kaelin grabbed a chair and reversed it, sitting astride and leaning on the back of it. She called over to a serving girl and indicated she wanted some ale. Gabrielle noted that the warrior had changed her clothes, sporting a black silk shirt with leather trousers, tucked into her black riding boots. Both swords were missing, but suspended from her left hip was a thin dagger in a black sheath, embossed with ornate designs and hanging next to the weapon was a small, leather pouch. Her wound over her eye had clotted, so she hadn’t bothered to bandage it. All that was left now was a thin red line, which in time would form a neat scar. Xena cast an experienced eye over her friend, thinking that she looked every part an assassin. Not someone you’d wanna mess with on a dark night she thought, wryly.

“Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” replied Xena.

“Listen, I gotta go and clear some things up with some of my acquaintances tonight. I’m all yours tomorrow though,” Kaelin said with a grin. The noble Amazon was gone, and in her place was a rugged warrior.

The serving girl brought over Kaelin’s drink on a tray and placed it in front of the warrior. The good looking warrior looked up and flashed a smile at the girl of about twenty-two summers, causing her to blush. The girl almost tripped up as she turned away from the table and headed back to the bar, Kaelin’s eyes never leaving her.

“Kaelin, we were planning to go to the Amazons tomorrow. Maybe you wanna come with us,” offered Gabrielle, knowing that the journey there would give Xena and her a chance to talk.

“Yeah, sure. I’m done with Cularis by tonight,” replied Kaelin, returning her attention to Gabrielle and Xena. “I’ve arranged your room for tonight as well, just go and talk to the innkeeper there,” she said, indicating the man behind the bar.

Just then, two men came into the tavern, but before they could sit down, the tavern-keeper came over and spoke to them. Barely a few seconds went by before one of the men became angry, and started swearing at the tavern owner and Gabrielle recognised them as the two guards who had been rude to them at the gate.

“What the fuck, Bo!” shouted the man, “How can you turn away paying customers!”

“I told you, Calo, all the girls are taken already.”

“You’re lying!”

“Why would I lie! Look around. None of them are here.”

Swiftly, the man named Calo, drew a dagger out of his tunic and advanced on Bo. “It's that woman who said something to you, isn’t it! Ares, when I get my hands on her, I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

All this time, Kaelin had been sitting with her back to the scene, quietly sipping her ale, but now, she stood and challenged them. Suddenly, a scene, which seemed like it was getting out of hand, cooled off. The two men glanced at each other, obviously not willing to confront the warrior.

“Nothing, forget it,” said Calo after a moment’s hesitation, his eyes darting around, not meeting Kaelin’s eyes. He signalled to his friend to go, but not before glaring at Kaelin. She watched them leave, her eyes thoughtful.

“Thanks Kae,” the Tavern keeper said, nodding at the warrior.

Kaelin sat back down, and resumed drinking her ale. Xena laughed. “Ah, Kae, still picking on the guys then.”

“They asked for it,” replied Kae good-humouredly.

Kaelin drained the last of her drink, and stood. “Don’t wait up for me,” she told them, winking at Xena. They watched as she strolled over to the bar, as the girl who had served Kae was placing more drinks on her tray to serve to other customers. She exuded confidence and an aura of charm was around her. The warrior placed her hand on her arm to stop the girl, and said a few words. Gabrielle watched curiously as Kaelin gently stroked the girl's arm and the girl flushed scarlet, but smiled and nodded. Kaelin turned and headed for the door, Gabrielle seeing a mischievous half-grin on her face.

“What was that all about?” inquired Gabrielle.

“Oh, I just think that Kaelin was erm… securing a bed for the night,” answered Xena, hiding a grin.

“Oh,” said Gabrielle as it dawned on her, what Xena was implying. “But what about Jorana? Kaelin just blanked her when she saw her just now.”

“Hm, lets just say that Kaelin doesn’t like to be tied down to anyone. She likes her freedom. She's always been like that.”

“Well, I don’t think Jorana is going to be too pleased about that when she finds out.”

“I think she already knows. Didn’t you see her going upstairs with that man? She’s just the same. ‘Free’ people.”

“How can they do that? It's wrong.”

“How can it be wrong?”

“Well, because when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise with that person. It’s meant to mean something, not just anytime you feel like the urge.”

“I guess you could see it that way, but not many people would think that what you’re saying is right, especially not Kaelin. She’s all for getting the most out of life and enjoying it while she does it.”

“Hm,” replied Gabrielle, not at all happy. “She could hurt a lot of people that way.”

“No, I think it’s more of protecting herself then anything. If she doesn’t stay with them, she doesn’t get hurt by them. She doesn’t have to deal with the bad parts of a relationship,” commented Xena.

“Well, then she wont get to experience the good side. Being with someone you love completely; surely it out-weighs whatever troubles you have to go through to get that far.”

“I dunno, I guess she just has some commitment problems,” Xena said, unsure of where the conversation was going.

Just then, the tavern-keeper came over and interrupted them, asking whether Gabrielle was ready to perform.

“Go ahead, it’s your turn to tell me a story now.” Xena smiled as Gabrielle rose from her seat.

“Well, maybe you can take over my job one of these days. You’re not so bad.”

“Thank you,” she added, earnestly.

“Anytime, warrior,” replied the bard, aware that Xena was talking about their previous conversation and the comfort she had shown the warrior.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gabrielle awoke to see the sun streaming in through the window. Xena as usual, had risen at dawn, Gabrielle feeling the bed shift slightly as the woman got out bed. She had fallen asleep again, and now she realised that she had slept the whole morning away, seeing the sun high in the sky. She sat up and yawned, stretching her arms out, breathing in the smell of the new day. She also detected the faint musky, leathery scent of Xena and she smiled to herself.

She thought back over the events of yesterday, remembering that she was still in the dark about a lot of things. Where had Kaelin been all these years? It had been at least ten years since the attack on Amphipolis, and why did she just disappear? Gabrielle felt a small prick of anger at Kaelin for leaving Xena to cope with the aftermath of Cortese’s attack by herself, with no support from anyone.

Gabrielle sighed. There wasn’t anything that she could do, aside from going and telling her what she thought. And besides, that wouldn’t really work. Kaelin looked more than capable of handling a small blonde with a staff, even though she was very skilled with the weapon. Gabrielle knew that she was no match for Kaelin. But Gabrielle could not help feeling that there was more to the story than she was hearing. One way or another, I’ll find out she vowed to herself.

She looked around the room, spotting a scroll of parchment on the table next to the bed. Jumping off the pallet, she recalled her excitement last night, when she realised that she was to share a bed with Xena. That excitement had quickly turned to disappointment as Xena suggested that she sleep on the floor, while Gabrielle slept on the bed. Of course Gabrielle had protested, arguing that they had both been through a lot and the floor wasn’t really an option since the bed was large enough for the both of them. Xena had given in, as what normally happened with a dispute between them. But Gabrielle couldn’t help feeling slightly hurt that Xena would not even share the pallet with her.

She changed out of her night shift and picked up the piece of parchment, quickly reading the short note.

Gone for a run. Back later.

X.


”Short and sweet, right Xena,” she commented to no one in particular.

“Yep, that’s Xena.”

A voice came from the doorway. Gabrielle turned and saw Kaelin leaning against the door frame, a strange glint in her eyes, almost curious. She was clothed in the same black attire that she had been wearing the previous night, complete with the slim dagger at her side, but the leather pouch was gone.

“Did you two sleep well last night then?” Kaelin asked, an almost imperceptible smile playing on her lips.

“Er, yeah. Remind me to thank the innkeeper when we leave,” replied Gabrielle, aware of the double sided meaning of Kaelin’s question.

Kaelin nodded, pushing off from the doorframe and entering the room.

“What about you?” asked Gabrielle, innocently as she watched Kaelin move towards the window.

“Me?” responded Kaelin, a hint of humour creeping into her voice. “Not really. Didn’t get much sleep at all.” Kaelin rested her forearms on the ledge and stared down at the street below, remembering the previous night of lust. She turned her head and looked straight at Gabrielle. “But I have a lot of stamina.”

Kaelin returned her gaze to the outside before Gabrielle could see her grin. Gabrielle on the other hand was feeling very uncomfortable. She didn’t understand how people could talk so freely about their private life. She put most of it down to the way she had been brought up, but she knew part of her just didn’t like sharing what was meant to be the most intimate act of love with anyone else. Gabrielle was also feeling slightly confused with Kaelin, as if every time she spoke to her, it was like talking to a different person.

“Did you want something, Kaelin?” Gabrielle asked, realising afterwards that she sounded quite rude.

Kaelin seemed to ignore her and instead put her hands on the window ledge. Gabrielle thought for a minute that she was going to jump out of it, but she did not. Kaelin jumped and twisted in mid air, landing lightly to sit on the edge of the window, facing Gabrielle. She smiled a dazzling smile at Gabrielle, who couldn’t help at feeling very guilty at her harsh words.

“No, not really. Just to talk, I guess.” Kaelin shrugged. “Talk. You’re good at that, aren’t you?”

“Well, I have to be really. I am a bard after all.”

“Yes, I know. A very good one at that. I heard from many people last night that you spun such a tale of wonder and mystery, that they felt as if they were in the story themselves.”

Gabrielle blushed at the compliment. “I’m glad to have entertained so well.”

“I’m sorry that I missed it. I would have loved to hear one for myself. You could say, I'm a lover of the arts.”

“I’m sure there’ll be another time. If you come with us to the Amazons’, I’ll tell you one when we camp. We’ll probably only get to within five miles of the Amazonian borders by the time we start,” said Gabrielle, looking at the sun over Kaelin’s shoulder. At the same time, she thought she saw a glint of a silver chain hidden beneath the collar of the silk shirt.

Kaelin nodded, but didn’t turn to look for herself, her gaze fixed on Gabrielle, as if trying to read something. “You don’t like what I do, do you?”

Gabrielle was thrown for a moment, before she realised Kaelin was talking about her sleeping patterns. She frowned in confusion.

“I saw your face when I walked past Jorana yesterday. You were shocked at my treatment of her,” explained Kaelin.

“I guess I was a bit surprised.”

“Why don’t you agree it with it?”

“Well, it’s just that I don’t think its right for people to just sleep with anyone at anytime and then be so casual about it afterwards. Do you know that she likes you a lot?”

Kaelin's brow furrowed slightly. "No. How do you know?"

"She told me yesterday when we went into the Tavern."

The warrior sighed. "It doesn't matter whether she does or not. To me, she's just... another lover along a line of many."

Gabrielle started to move around the room, sorting out their weapons, trying to find something to do, to keep from feeling awkward in front of the warrior.

”Why don't you think it's right?” Kaelin asked.

“Because... I believe sex is meant to be an act of love,” Gabrielle replied, her actions becoming more frantic.

“Why?” Kaelin asked again.

“Because, its special. It’s a special moment in time between two people.”

“Why?” Kaelin persisted.

“Because, when you’re in love, you don’t believe that you can do that to someone you love!” The words came tumbling out of her mouth before she could stop them.

Gabrielle looked at Kaelin in shock, but Kaelin’s face was impassive. They held each other’s gaze for a long minute, before Gabrielle looked away. She felt somehow that Kaelin had been baiting her, and she had just bitten. She blew a breath out of her mouth in frustration, and sat down on the edge of the pallet, looking down at the floor. She didn’t look up even when she heard Kaelin hop down from the ledge. Kaelin walked slowly over to where Gabrielle was standing and stopped just in front of the bard, kneeling down, waiting for her to meet her eyes.

When Gabrielle finally did look up, Kaelin smiled slightly. She brought her right hand up in front of Gabrielle’s face, palm side up and then turned her hand over, showing her there was nothing there. She then rolled up her sleeve, exposing her bare forearm. She then did the same with her left, rolling her sleeve to her elbow as she had done with her right arm. Kaelin brought her hands about half a metre apart, the palms of her hands facing each other, her gaze locking onto the smaller woman’s. She clapped her hands once, her outstretched hands changing into fists upon impact.

“Choose,” she ordered.

Gabrielle was confused, but she reached out her hand and touched Kaelin’s left hand gently.

Kaelin opened her left hand and Gabrielle saw a shiny olive in the palm of the warrior’s hand. It was black. She opened her right hand and showed Gabrielle that there was nothing there.

Gabrielle’s face scrunched up in bewilderment. She’d seen magic tricks like that before, the magicker concealing the object up their sleeves. The only problem here was that Kaelin had showed her that she had nothing there and the object was in perfect condition, as if it had just been plucked from the tree.

“How did you…?” Gabrielle began, but Kaelin shushed her.

“Listen. There is part of you, which screams at you to find the logic of the situation and a way to explain what you can’t. That’s your mind. There is a part of you, which wants to believe that it is possible. Your heart. It is your choice, which you decide to follow, but there is magic in this land, Gabrielle. You just have to open your eyes.”

With that, she opened Gabrielle’s hand and dropped the olive into it and closing her fingers around it gently. She smiled again at the smaller woman and left the room, quietly closing the door behind her.

It was several minutes before the tears started, and then, they would not stop.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Continued... Chapter Four

Home ] Updates Page ] Stories ] Links ]