4th Part of The Darkness and The Light series
By Mikael Helbo Kjaer
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other original characters portrayed in the TV show Xena, Warrior Princess are the exclusive property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA and Universal Television. No infringement is intended by this piece of fiction. The story is however the exclusive property of the above mentioned author. This story can be freely copied and distributed online under the condition that any website or list informs the author about the posting or the author approaches the website or list with the story for posting. The story and this note must be presented unedited except for any HTML added for presentation purposes. All other situations must be negotiated with the author as named above. No commercial gain must come from the usage of this story.
Setting: Post FIN
Sexual references: GEN (with subtext)
Violence: This story contains scenes with and descriptions of intense violence
Summary: 4th installment of the series 'The Darkness and The Light'. This story sees Xena track the heartbroken Gabrielle, who is searching for some kind of healing for her ailing soul. Trekking all across Asia and divided by a 2 year time difference Xena can only hope that the darkness revealed in Gabrielle won't consume her friend, before she reaches her.
Author's notes: First of all I want to thank everyone for their nice reviews. By the way I've got myself a website http://www.icebear.dk, where I have posted all of my stuff as a complete set of HTML and PDF files. This story is in a different setting and mood from anything I've written before and I am trying to adapt to it. I hope it works out. This is the last episode, where we see the life of Gabrielle as told to Xena. The two final installments in the series will no longer be about Xena following Gabrielle through the past. I've based the General in this story on Sun Tzu as I imagine him from the Art of War treatise and how he'd be in the Xenaverse. In a way this story and the next are the climax of the series. By the way to any history buffs amongst you I know that Buddhism only reached China in the 1st century AD and that the Mongols didn't attack until the Sung dynasty, but this is the Xenaverse, where Jesus' name was Eli and Caesar was defeated by Xena.Chapter 1:
Xena looked at the churning mass of people that filled the Chinese port city. She loathed going into that din of people. That was just how she had become after all those years as a warlord looking over shoulder for the blade that would surely come if she didn't look. The years as a hero had done nothing to reduce this as her life of adventure had been even more dangerous than her life as a warlord.
"Are you disembarking here Xena-san?" The samurai captain, who had been drafted to bring her back to the Chinese mainland sounded relieved at the thought of being rid of her. The presence of what to his people was a spirit of a dead hero given form seemed to grate just as much on his nerves as it had done to the different lords she had gone to see on her short jaunt across islands of the rising sun.
As the ship, which had carried her from Higuchi, made its way into the port Xena thought back on the last three months.
She had left the amazons the same day she had learned off Gabrielle's fall into darkness. The amazons thought, she had left to track down her blonde bard, but in reality she had needed to be alone for a while and the trackless wastes that lay between her and the mountains guarding the way into India had very much seemed like the perfect place to let out her anger and frustration. Not at Gabrielle she didn't care to blame her friend. No, she had looked long and hard inside. She felt guilty of letting Gabrielle become like her even encouraging her in the end. She felt guilty for being a teacher of darkness.
In the end Gabrielle had ended up just like most people she got close to. She had given the brilliant light of Gabrielle's soul the gift of her darkness, remade the naïve farm girl as a warrior and in the end left her friend with powerful abilities for warfare and no one in the world to walk the path through life with her, surrounded only by casual acquaintances and estranged family, separated from the world by time and carrying experiences unlike any other person on this world. Xena had ridden through the plains contemplating their lives the entire time.
It hadn't been easy finding any trace of Gabrielle as Xena had passed through the mountains down into India itself. Sure a short blond woman with a dragon tattoo, wearing amazon leathers and a couple of exotic weapons weren't something the Indian saw every day, but anyone would forget such a thing passing by after two years. After erring around in the mountainous regions of India, which they hadn't visited on their first trip there, for a while, she had gotten lucky.
Gabrielle would never allow others to come to harm, not even when she was seeking something to alleviate the darkness and violent instincts now apparent in her mind and soul. She had come upon a violent battle between two rivaling factions fighting over the control over some trade route. Her intervention had been remembered because she had not only saved many people from death at the swords of both factions but also established a lasting peace in the area. Xena remembered with clarity, how men and their wives had told her of the sad blonde, who had cried as she fought, but who had still refused to put down her weapons until the last of both groups had left their lands, a woman capable and caring enough to negotiate a peace between factions that had been at war for months.
Gabrielle had gone through India seeking out monasteries, hermits and every wise man that she came near. Xena knew better than anyone what she had been seeking. Gabrielle was looking for some kind of way to appease the darkness that now lived in Gabrielle soul. It was probably like having a hatred aimed at every one and no one. It most likely was threatening to boil over every second, just like hers had been before she had met that little blonde farmer girl, who had wanted to follow her into adventure and gotten so much more than that in the bargain.
However she soon lost track of the bard again. Gabrielle had spent some time in a monastery near the greatest mountain range to the North. The monks there told Xena, how Gabrielle had learned the many ideas and practices of their religion called Buddhism during her stay, but when the monks, who had grown to care for the brilliant little blonde, asked for her to stay, she had revealed to them that their way wasn't what she sought. She had left the very next day. She had given them no destination or goal. That night she had simply gone away on her white horse never to return.
Still Xena hadn't given up. On instinct she had followed the trade road towards Chin, which they had followed several times together before. Her instincts hadn't been wrong and she had been able to pick up Gabrielle's trail again, when she learned, that a foreigner with hair like the sun and the image of a dragon of the Far East on her back had spent a few weeks in a small village helping to cure a dangerous disease with her knowledge of healing herbs. The villagers remembered her heading east into unknown lands instead of following the traders into Chin. Proud of her friend's achievement but still heavy in her heart Xena had gone on into the lands east of Chin seeking her friend.
Only Gabrielle had changed her route again. Her tracks long cold and gone with the wind disappeared as Xena got deeper into the jungles of the east. For nearly a month she had erred around in the lands south and east of Chin asking questions and getting no answers. Then chance had intervened on her side.
Arriving in a small port city she had encountered the captain of a Chinese merchant ship. He spoke up; when she quite by chance asked questions about a blonde woman with a dragon tattoo on her back traveling the lands around here. He told her that he had met her, when she bought passage on his ship to the islands of the rising sun. He told of how troubled she had been by news from the land of the rising sun she must have heard in this port city. Everyone had heard about it as well back then. Japan was still troubled by the legacy of war left behind by Lord Yodoshi's armies, who were still roaming the lands back there, attacking and pillaging. She had revealed to him that she went to the islands to finish a job. A job she hadn't been able to do a year earlier. And he told of how the woman seemed to grow unhappier and more desolate each minute she came closer to that land. She had seemed to be expecting something to come to her, but nothing had come and it had saddened the woman greatly.
Xena remembered having been filled with conflicting emotions herself upon hearing where Gabrielle's tracks went. She was unwilling to give up on her hunt for her friend, yet the prospect of going back to the land, where she had thought that she had found her final rest filled her with a fear she hadn't even been aware she could have. She had banished it like she had done with so many others in her life, but still it had spooked her. Even worse than that was the thought of coming near the realm of afterlife she had only recently escaped from. That land would probably never become a favorite of theirs no matter its great beauty. Still like all the times before during their adventures Xena had followed her heart to Nippon and sought its holder there.
It had not been easy to tread the soil of Nippon again for neither her nor Gabrielle. So Xena had known and learned. She quickly learnt to keep her identity secret to avoid scaring any villagers of another ghost from the beyond the grave. It didn't matter how corporeal she was. She also quickly found that Gabrielle was famous in the lands where she had landed. Her name and many affectionate titles were as popular with the people as were the stories of her two great adventures in their lands first her battles to rescue Xena's body and then her more recent adventure. To these people Gabrielle was renowned for great mercy and even more important great honor even in the face of having severe odds against her. Xena learnt that while many talked about her actions in the defeat of Yodoshi and the destruction of a lot of his army, many more honored Gabrielle as a samurai something almost unheard of in a land, where they had denied even her, the right to a katana a true warrior weapon.
On her first day in Nippon she learnt the entire story of Gabrielle from several people. It would seem that her bard had come ashore just as another of the supposedly dishonorable leaders of Yodoshi's armies decided to make his bid to rule over all of Japan. Gabrielle had reluctantly organized the defense of many villages and cities in the end saving many lives and forcing the armies to a standstill until the other lords of the island could field an army to stand against him. Gabrielle had managed to travel across the enemy occupied lands many times almost like a shadow, while leading defenseless people to safety until she had found herself in the middle of the centre of power in Japan called Osaka just as the warlord's final desperate power grab was in the offing. She had been instrumental in foiling the plots of the warlord to kill many local lords through deceit and poison. Still in the end in spite of her attempts to avoid it, she had seen herself forced to challenge the warlord to single combat having been made legally a samurai by the other lords. Gabrielle had easily defeated the man and ended the war that had ravaged Japan for almost a year. Yet no one had been able to tell Xena, what had happened after Gabrielle had won and so she had been forced to roam the islands looking for some hint to where Gabrielle was.
In the end she had been forced to reveal to the new Lord of Higuchi, who she was before she had been able to get a straight answer out of anyone. Gabrielle had left the islands just days after her victory seemingly eager to flee the home of so many of her worst memories, he told her. She had been given free passage back to the Chinese mainland and according to report setting ashore in the very port city now filling the coastline in front of her eyes. She had gained a little time on her friend and now found herself trailing her by a little under two years having spent nearly half a year either recovering or looking for her lost friend already. Gabrielle would become 27 years old in just under one moon.
Meanwhile the ship had glided towards a safe place to anchor in the mean time.
The crowds buffeted her left and right as she made her way from the bustling wharf. Her eyes wandered across the people studying them, looking for clues and dangers. More than a decade of habit made her do that, made her see the things others ignoring, assembling the clues from the way that certain buildings were just getting new roof tiles, how new lumber was used in many roof constructions instead of older wood and how the entire city buzzed of pent up energy seeming to finally have been released. "This is a city rebuilding from a battle or maybe even a war," she realized as she finally saw what she would need: An inn, where she could bed down for the night, allowing her to start out on her hunt for her friend early the next morning. Xena went over and put up her horse now named simply Nike in the inn's stables before heading inside.
The taproom was also bustling with travelers obviously attracted by the brisk trade. Xena went up and unceremoniously ordered a large port, some hot food, a room for the night and paid the barkeeper for her horse as well. Yet another time on her long trip she bemoan not having her bard around to share these comforts with and not the least to talk the price down. Xena had never really managed to get the hang of trading without drawing her weapons. Sensing a longer period in the wilds collecting furs or other valuables coming on by the weight of her purse, she went over a found herself an empty spot to sit with her food and drink. All around her in the airy inn people ate drank and made merry, filling the room with the clink of ceramics, eating utensils and the voices of happy men. Xena found her eyes once again roaming the inn and the road filled with people passing by just on the other side the railing. While slowly eating her food she found herself missing the banter that had always been so natural between her and Gabrielle and for lack of conversation she let her hearing guide her, let her sense the sounds behind the massive din of the room, wandering like a ghost from conversation to conversation until she heard: "…And then I saw her ride away from that wall of water she had created. I say the rumors are true. She was not just another warrior. She was something else, the daughter of a dragon at the very least. I saw her back a brilliant dragon sat upon her skin and on the jackets of all her soldiers as well."
Xena was not even aware of it, before she was in the middle of the move. Her body was flying over the tables in a tumble her tongue yelling her warcry before she landed besides the frightened man and a table with a lot of startled men. She grabbed in by the collar and asked her voice almost having turned into a hiss: "Who were you talking about?"
The man swallowed for a while then stuttered his reply: "I am sorry great warrior. I am but a simple man. I didn't want to offend…"
"Cut out the apologies! The woman you were talking about. Who was she?" She enforced the question by slightly lifting the man from his seat by his collarbone.
His eyes squinting to keep his watery eyes from weeping in pain the man answered in a pained whisper: "I do not know her real name. She was the leader of the army, which protected this part of the land, during the Great War. I was but a lowly soldier, but she still rode out with her troops to save us, when the Green Dragon's soldiers had us encircled and his general threatened to slaughter us all. She could easily have sacrificed our unit and kept herself hidden, but she rode out into the trap she herself had set and rescued us. I am sorry I will not speak her real name for she forbade us to do so but around here she is known as the Little Dragon. It is said that she had only told her true name to the Emperor and his Great General."
Xena let him go and felt a great amount of pain escape her just as she released a shuddering sigh. If Gabrielle hadn't been the Green Dragon, if she had been a savior to these people, then there was still hope, then she could still be reunited with her friend. They could be together. For the first time in months the light of hope returned to her. Xena looked down at the still shocked looking man. She realized from her good heart's perspective that it would be right and proper to apologize for her action, before it resulted in bad blood. She needed more information and this man could probably tell her more.
"I am sorry for attacking you. I just thought you spoke well of the Green Dragon from your mentions of dragons and I… Well I hate… such a… creature," Xena halting admitted wishing again that Gabrielle had been there to lend her the words or even better to smooth things like she always had.
The man said nothing for a while; he just massaged his obviously still hurting shoulder, and then finally nodded. "I guess that would be what I would do if I was able to jump like that," the man looked pointedly at Xena and then all the way past her shoulder towards the spot where she had launched herself from.
"I know it is a bit much to ask, but could you tell me, where G… I mean the Little Dragon went after the war ended," Xena guessed that it was the war she had seen traces of everywhere that he had spoken off.
"Well no. I don't know. All I know is that when she left the war was halfway over and that was almost a year ago. She was pulled away from here and put in command of a larger army up north. I heard from some of my soldier buddies that she led the last battle against the Green Dragon herself or at least at the side of the Great General. But then again it could be just a rumor, my friend you see wasn't at the battle himself, he was a guard at the Imperial Palace. But I don't know what has become of her after that. At least I know that the Green Dragon is dead and good riddance to that monster. But I am sure the Imperial court can tell you. Last thing I heard they were doing something to honor the Warrior Bard or Poet or what ever it was those northerners called our dragon-backed heroine. Bah, they have no idea…," the man began ranting about how she had been their hero and that those northerners were just trying to usurp her and were probably keeping her from coming back here to be properly honored by those people she had truly been there to protect.
Xena suddenly cut him off with another question: "This war when did it end? I mean when was the last battle fought?"
The man stared at her for a few seconds then after thinking and mumbling through a slow count of months answered: "Five months almost on the day. Of course the peace has lasted a lot longer for us down here in the south"
"I've gained almost two years. I am almost caught up with her. This is my lucky break even if this fellow isn't the most trustworthy witness," Xena exulted in her mind. If she was lucky Gabrielle still lingered somewhere in the north probably enjoying a vacation to get over what must have been over a year in the field as a commander… Gabrielle had been commander of an army for over a year. It was a strange thought that her bard, who had for so long tried to end war and hate in the world through love and understanding, had become the long term commander for an army, while seeking a way to heal her darkened soul. Xena's mind was boggled at the strange contradiction of that thought. "Thank you," she idly commented and stalked back towards her abandoned seat.
It was at the crack of dawn. A light fog had spilled across the lands of bamboo and undergrowth as a horse came hammering through the peaceful landscape. The warhorse thundered across a wooden bridge as the rider drove her horse forward at the highest speed she could press her horse to without causing it permanent damage. She was heading north and had been for many days now. She was chasing a friend looking for her soul mate and she was losing her patience as she felt the goal coming closer. She continued on only stopping to avoid killing her mount and feed her body. But her eyes and bearing revealed the restlessness of her soul. She passed on towards the great city in the distance.
Xena looked upon the extremely well guarded palace and its burly guards. For a moment her darkness suggested that it would be much more impressive and fun to just burst in there. To beat up those pathetic guards and everyone in her way until she found what all parts of her soul demanded: her blonde warrior bard standing before her. But as so often these last years she repressed her darker nature and instead walked up to the building. "I have important business with the Great General, would you get someone to bring me to him," she said in her best attempt at her most haughty but still commanding voice.
"Sure just present your pass," the one guard answered and smiled a little too widely for it to be a legitimate response for her respectful request.
"Listen to me. I have come to speak with the Great General about the Warrior Bard that helped him against the Green Dragon. Now either you give him my message or I beat you up and give it to him myself," she meant the last part the last few nights of either riding or walking having completely worn her patience out.
"You don't give any orders around here woman…," Xena's fist sending the man into slumber land ended his unfortunate sentence before it got him killed and resulted in the other guard gasping in air to call out in alarm. Only he never got that far because Xena kicked her armored boot into his not so armored balls and sent him to the ground with a pained whimper. Knowing full well that with such a large palace and probably a fitting number of guards she only had moments before either other guards or people on the street sounded an alarm, she applied the Pinch on the unfortunate and almost crying guard, who was to his misfortune still conscious.
"You only have seconds to live. Now tell me, where is the Great General?" She asked the suddenly gasping man with a growing nosebleed.
"He… He is in the northern compound, west wing I think. He is usually training with his sword at this time," the guard said through his futile gasp for air.
Xena nodded, undid the Pinch and knocked him unconscious. As quick as she could she dragged the two bodies into the guardroom. Inside she grabbed some guard clothing and a spear and set off, while trying to cover up her gender and weapons. She headed north in the gigantic palace hoping to find an important looking man, who was in the middle of some sword practice.
Her search leads her to a large hall obviously meant for practicing martial arts with wooden walls covered in holders for many different and often exotic weapons or big banner with Chinese proverbs written in the same dialect of the Chin language that had been written in the treatise that had hinted at Gabrielle's presence in the Empire of Chin. A man, naked from his waist up, was working his way through a series of very complex sword katas and techniques. Some techniques were from Chin and India. There were even some reminiscence of Roman and Greek sword fighting styles. Then he surprised her by making a move that she had only seen direct student of her or Ares use before and there she realized that he had obviously met her bard, and somehow learned sword fighting from or with her. Her acute hearing warned her that her little break-in had been discovered and that guards were heading her way. Slowly she slipped into the room and discarded her disguise. She made no attempt to hide her entry.
The man spun about and beheld Xena standing tall, dark and dangerous before him. He seemed taken aback for a moment then regained his bearing and fell into a comfortable guard seemingly awaiting an attack. "So the Witch sends assassins to kill me instead of the Emperor now. I should be honored," he commented and held out his sword in a customary greeting she had often seen Borias' raiders use before a battle of honor a battle to the death.
"I am not here to kill you. At least I hope I'm not. I am here to ask you where I can find the one you have called the Warrior Bard, the warrior woman who helped you against the Green Dragon, the warrior woman who has a three toed dragon on her back," she asked.
He seemed to fall silent and his guard dipped further to the ground. Xena knew at that moment that both she and Gabrielle was superior warrior to this man. A lifetime of experiences had led them to expect surprises and to ignore the banter of a potential enemy before or during a fight, it could get you killed. But maybe this man was a better commander than fighter. She didn't want to judge him too early. "I am afraid I am not willing to speak about the Warrior Bard. You look like you serve my enemy," he said.
"I do not. I am the Warrior Bard's best friend," Xena asserted.
Suddenly a huge group of armed guards burst in from both sides and surrounded her. She estimated that she could still escape, but it was getting dicey.
"Anyone could claim that. Prove it," he commanded, suddenly speaking from a much stronger position.
"I know her name. I know the name of her place of birth. I know the exact time of the exact day of the exact month of her birth. I have heard every tale she has ever told. I have walked the path of life with her for six years. I have the scars, the emotions, the love in my heart to prove that I have met the greatest person in this world," Xena was surprised at her own suddenly eloquence and for a moment wished that her beloved friend had heard her.
"Come towards me," he asked in a much more benign tone and motioned for the guards to allow her to come closer.
Xena found herself standing alone besides the man. "Tell me her name and the name of the place she was born, then I may know if you speak the truth," he whispered.
"Her name is Gabrielle of Poteidaia. Poteidaia is the name of the village in Greece, where she was born," Xena answered falling into a low tone of voice, hoping that there was no reason better than paranoia for them to speak like this.
He nodded and sighed. "I see. I can tell you everything you need to know, but I have very little time as I am preparing to lead an army into the field to roust the last shambles of the Green Dragon's army from the northwest. But I know of a man infinitely better suited to tell you about your friend. He was with her the entire time," he explained. He walked over to a small desk in a corner, wrote something on a small piece of paper and gestured for a soldier.
"Bring this to Master Fong and kindly guide this warrior to him as well," he said and gestured towards Xena.
Xena and the soldier walked through the labyrinthine halls and paths of the palace heading to a seemingly outlying one story quarter, which was surrounded by beautiful and well kept garden complete with a small stream running through it. Xena barely took time to view this marvel as the soldier knocked on a door and went inside to be greeted by the grumbling hoarse voice of what was obviously an older man. After a minute the soldier came back outside and gestured for her to go inside.
Xena walked inside to be greeted with a truly Spartan quarter. On the floor in one corner lay a mat obviously for sleeping in front of which a yellow orange robed elderly man sat. Before him lay a low but wide table filled with paper and the implements for writing.
"Come inside my dear. I understand you are the friend of the Light of my life. My beautiful tiger did say that she had lived with and been touched by a dragon that must have been you… Right" The elderly man mused and gestured for her to find a place to sit in front of him. "I am Master Fong," he explained.
"I am sorry for the nature of my quarters. You should have pillows to be seated comfortably on. At least if you plan to hear the entire tale of our friend," he explained.
"Just skip to the end and tell me where Gabrielle is," Xena suggested impatient to get to her, when she was close that she could nearly smell her.
"Ah, my new friend I think not. You see, for you to understand the end of any tale no matter how funny or sad, you must be told the entire tale. Please my dear you will be happier for it. Yes," he finished his explanation with an encouraging nod like he was a confused old man, who had already heard her answer, but Xena could see in his eyes an ancient wisdom that this man somehow shared with people like Lao Ma and Eli.
"Alright," she agreed hoping that she wouldn't regret it. But then again she told herself one more day didn't really matter as long as the one didn't become many.
"Well then. Let's start at the beginning shall we. Let me tell you about how I came to meet the small woman that we both know is more than her beauty lets on," he fell into the very same storyteller tone of voice Xena had heard so many times before on the road and in taverns, when Gabrielle or some other bard began their tales.